NFL: Where Are The Winners?
By Brian Chase
There are few certain things in sports other than cheating, which everybody does, and choking, which only the Cubs and Red Sox do regularly. Everything else is as dependable as Boston weather. This is especially true in the NFL, which has more turnover from the top ranks to the bottom each year than just about any other team sport. Consider: the two undefeated teams left in the league, the KC Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings, were a combined 14-18 last year, and neither even made the playoffs. Even more interesting are the fates of last year’s Super Bowl teams, the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Let’s break them down. Shall we?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3)
Last year, the Bucs won the Super Bowl on the back of a vicious defense that was fast and tenacious. It is all too obvious that that defense is on hiatus, dead, or just plain gone. The Bucs have struggled to beat good passing teams, and they let the Indianapolis Colts come back from 21 points down in less than five minutes! More than just poor secondary, it has been noted that the Bucs can’t tackle well, and so they sometimes let small plays break into big ones. Vocal defensive lineman Warren Sapp is not having half the year he did last year; in fact, the only lineman really contributing on defense is Simeon Rice. Because their defense cannot provide the constant support it did just a few months ago, their offense has more pressure to win games, and that is not a playoff strategy for this team.
Oakland Raiders (2-5)
As mediocre as Tampa Bay has played, they have nothing on the suicidal free-fall of the Oakland Raiders. Last year, the Raiders were the best offensive team in sports, and I don’t mean their trash talking. They had veteran receivers in Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Jerry Porter, and quarterback Rich Gannon was as dangerous running out of the pocket as passing from it. But this year, everything seems to have caught up to the Raiders at once. Jerry Porter was injured to start the season, exposing the fact that without him, there is little speed in the receivers. Gannon is now stationary in the pocket and getting knocked around like a rag doll by pass rushers, because the offensive line can’t stop anybody. Their defense wasn’t great to begin with last year, and like the Bucs offense, putting more pressure on that squad has had dire consequences. Fingers are being pointed, players are surly, and coach Bill Callahan looks like he has no control. The last ray of light for the Raiders is that Gannon was injured in last Monday’s game, and backup QB Marques Tuiasosopo looks like he could get the passing game going again. It may be too late to save their season, though.
Games of the Week:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys: This could very well be the game where the baton of power in the NFC is passed. The Cowboys, under new coach Bill Parcells, have surpassed everyone’s expectations and look like a playoff-bound team. The Bucs look like a team that has yet to get into the form it had last year. The Bucs are due for their fourth win after being blown out by San Francisco last week, but this Cowboys team has a killer passing attack, exactly the type that the Bucs have lost two games to this season. The trend continues. Dallas wins, 28-10.
Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots: The Browns are an inconsistent team, one week dominating and the next diminutive. The Pats have been playing on pure heart and guts the entire season, and it is starting to give them the confidence to make a playoff run. This will be a good test for them, if the right Browns team shows up. The Browns’ biggest weakness is the run, so the Pats must rely on running back Mike Cloud for a big day. Look for a low-scoring Pats win, 14-6.