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The Football Fanatic

By O.B. Usmen


The season is half over and yet the playoff race is still pretty crowded. There is only one team with more than five losses (the woeful 0-7 Bengals) and there are no teams with more than six wins. That means all the other teams are at most three games out of first place. A good run in the next month or so could mean a playoff berth for anybody.

Two of the toughest defenses in the league met this week, with Tampa Bay (6-2) prevailing 12-9 over the Panthers (3-5). Though Carolina has lost five straight games, their defense has the most sacks in the league (31) and is second in points-allowed per game. Tampa Bay’s defense leads the league in yards allowed and has given up only 10.6 points per game. With such solid defenses on the field, it’s no wonder it was a game of only field goals.

The Steelers (4-3) have turned their season around, soundly defeating Baltimore (3-4) 31-18. Tommy Maddox has provided the stability Pittsburgh needed on offense, and everything else has fallen into place. Stepping in for starter Chris Redman, (sidelined with a partially separated shoulder,) Jeff Blake played well for Baltimore, putting up 298 yards passing.

Kansas City (4-4) upset the slumping Raiders (4-3) 20-10. The Chiefs have the worst-rated defense in the league, but managed to keep Oakland’s top-rated offense to only one touchdown. Oakland has lost three in a row now, and they’re starting to panic. Kansas City, on the other hand, continues to cruise behind its high-powered offense. If the Chiefs can pull together on defense, they’ll make some noise come playoff time.

Peppers rocks, Panthers can’t keep up

With another strong showing this week against the Buccaneers, Julius Peppers has pulled away as the leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. With six sacks in the past three games, Peppers has jumped into the league lead with nine on the season. While some questioned his desire before he was taken second in the draft by the Carolina Panthers, Peppers has proven his critics wrong with a strong, first-half of the season.

Peppers has been a force on defense, but his Panthers can't seem to win lately. After starting the season a surprising 3-0, Carolina has nose-dived to a 3-5 record. Of course, the big problems are on offense, where they sorely need both a running back and quarterback who can lead the team. Until they retool the offense, all Peppers can do is try to keep up his dominant play and hope Carolina can pull off some wins behind the strength of their defense.

Atlanta looking good

The Week 8 matchup between Atlanta and New Orleans wasn’t supposed to have major playoff implications, but it did. New Orleans (6-2,) one of the top teams so far, lost to the streaking Falcons (4-3) 37-35. The game was a shoot-out between two “new-school” quarterbacks, cousins Aaron Brooks and Michael Vick. In the end, Vick drove Atlanta 60 yards in 2:20 to set up the game- winning 47-yard field goal by Jay Feely. Vick showed great poise, especially considering he pulled himself out of the game on the next-to-last play of the drive out because he was feeling nauseated.

With this win over New Orleans, Atlanta appears poised to make a playoff run. Their defense has been solid; they are ranked in the top ten in six major categories. The offense lives and dies with their Über-talent, Vick. As long as Vick stays healthy and continues to develop, Atlanta has a good chance of sneaking into the playoffs.

Fantasy pick of the week: QB Tommy Maddox of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since replacing Kordell Stewart, Maddox has thrown for nine touchdowns and a passer rating of 94. Pittsburgh’s resurgent offense has a lot to do with Maddox’s play.