It wasn't pretty, but the Browns got the job done again this week, evening their record at three wins and three losses. The Browns rushed for 171 yards, and held the Raiders to just seven points. They were also aided by an amazing nineteen Raider penalties. Given all these facts, it's somewhat mind boggling that the Browns only squeaked this game out by six points, and once again had to fend off a last second drive to stave off defeat.
The reason the game was so gut-wrenching was the Browns inability to connect on any big plays despite another very solid week of work from our offensive line. While we had no "three and outs", four of the team's eight drives ended in punts, and another ended with William Green's 1st quarter fumble. Despite having time to throw, Couch rarely challenged downfield. Whether this had more to do with the Raiders cover two scheme keeping everything underneath them…or Couch "playing it safe" was too difficult for me to deduce while watching the game on television.
I was also very surprised at the lack of play action, especially given how well we were running the ball. Regardless, we got the victory, and there is no reason in my opinion for the team to make any changes at quarterback until at least after our bye week, which comes after this weekend's home game at San Diego and next weekend's road game at New England. While Couch was unspectacular, he led us to another win, and there should be no thoughts of trying to go to Holcomb. Couch is now 9-4 in his last thirteen starts.
How well we were able to run the ball was very encouraging, even if it was against an aging and porous run defense that traveled all the way across the country to play this game. We wore the Raiders down as the game progressed, and it was nice to see.
Phil Dawson and Chris Gardocki both came through with huge performances, as well as Courtney Brown, Ben Taylor, Robert Griffith, and Daylon McCutcheon on the defensive side of the ball. Kudos also deserve to be given to Butch Davis and Dave Campo. Butch made a gutsy call on the fake field goal, and managed the game well. Campo has proven to be our best free agent acquisition, and has our young defense ranked near the top of the league in many categories.
Just two weeks ago, after the disappointing Cincinnati loss, I wrote that it would take back-to-back wins over the Steelers and Raiders to inject life back into the Browns season. That's exactly what the team has done, and at 3-3…we stand just half a game behind Baltimore and a game ahead of Pittsburgh with a very winnable game on deck at home versus the Chargers this week. Things are getting interesting…
- Kansas City Chiefs (6-0, ranked #2 last week): Overcame a seventeen point 4th quarter deficit to beat the Packers at Lambeau. What hasn't this team done this year? Travel to the Black Hole to face the aging Raiders on Monday night.
- Carolina Panthers (5-0, ranked #4 last week): Ran for 189 yards and held the Colts to 76 on the ground in handing the Colts their first loss, staying undefeated in the process.
- Minnesota Vikings (5-0, ranked #3 last week): Bye week comes at the right time, and Culpepper now has a clean bill of health. Good timing too. Denver comes to town this week.
- Denver Broncos (5-1, ranked #5 last week): Fend off the Steelers at home despite not having Jake Plummer to inch up one spot in the power poll.
- Indianapolis Colts: (5-1, ranked #1 last week): For the first time, the Colts felt the effects of a hobbled Edgerrin James. Despite a huge start for Manning, this team will likely need a healthy Edge to win a playoff game.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2, ranked #6 last week): Impressive win over Washington on a short week shows Gruden had the troops refocused after the crushing loss to Indianapolis on Monday night.
- Miami Dolphins (4-1, ranked #7 last week): Have now reeled off four wins in a row since the shocking opening day loss to the Texans. Play at New England this week for AFC East supremacy this week.
- Seattle Seahawks (4-1, ranked #8 last week): Now 4-1 and atop the NFC West, the Seahawks have a chance to strengthen their grip on the division with games vs. Chicago and Cincinnati the next two weeks.
- Dallas Cowboys (4-1, unranked last week): Amazing what Parcells has done already considering this team has only won five games each of the past three seasons. After this week's game at Detroit, the schedule toughens up considerably.
- Tennessee Titans (4-2, ranked #9 last week): The Titans nab the final spot here (barely) over the Patriots despite losing to them a couple weeks back. McNair has been off the hook.
The MVP Race
Going to mix things up a bit this week, and take a look at players I feel have been most valuable to their teams so far this season:
- Peyton Manning, Indianapolis: Despite this past week's setback, no player has been more valuable than Manning thus far.
- Steve McNair, Tennessee: Like a fine wine, seems to get better with age.
- Stephen Davis, Carolina: The centerpiece to the power running game Carolina has added to their lethal defense.
- Dante Hall, Kansas City: Has a chance to re-write the single season punt and kick return records.
- Ed Reed, Baltimore: Has been amazing, picking off four passes and also blocked a punt, scoring his 2nd TD of the year sealing win vs. Arizona.
- Randy Moss, Minnesota: Tice was a year early on "The Randy Ratio".
- Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis: If he stays healthy, has a chance to end his career as the 2nd greatest WR ever with Manning throwing to him in that dome.
- Simeon Rice, Tampa Bay: With eight sacks already, Rice is on pace to shatter Strahan's record.
- Priest Holmes, Kansas City: Despite proving to be mortal the past two weeks, Holmes is one of the league's best and has returned nicely from the hip injury to help lead the Chiefs to 6-0.
- Brian Russell, Minnesota: Who? 2nd year free safety from SD State has five picks already in helping lead the Vikings to an undefeated start.
- David Thornton, Indianapolis: League leader in tackles making Dungy look smart for letting Mike Peterson go in the off-season.
- Ahman Green, Green Bay: Has been better than ever this season for the Pack.
- Jamal Lewis, Baltimore: Has led the Ravens to the top of the AFC North despite little production from the QB position.
- Patrick Surtain, Miami: Four picks already for one of the leagues best cover men.
- Mike Rucker, Carolina: Five sacks and solid play against the run for the "other" Panther defensive end.
Three big games between six of the NFL's elite teams headline the week seven schedule. The Broncos head to Minnesota to try and hand the Vikings their first loss in Daunte Culpepper's return from an injured back. The Titans and Steve McNair will try and hand the Panthers their first loss in a visit to Carolina, and the Patriots and the Dolphins battle for supremacy in the AFC East in a battle in Foxboro. In other games of note, Green Bay visits State Louis, Philadelphia is at the Giants, Washington travels to Buffalo to play the Bills, and San Francisco will try to avenge their playoff beating at the hands of the Buccaneers when Tampa comes to town. There is no Sunday night game because of the World Series, and the unbeaten Chiefs play at Oakland on Monday night.
The College Ranks
Road To The Sugar Bowl
"Separation Saturday" was exactly that, as Florida State, Ohio State, LSU, Arkansas, and Nebraska were all knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten, and Texas and Tennessee had their national title hopes dashed with blowout second losses of the season to heated rivals.
This makes the November 1st game between Miami Fla. and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg even bigger than previously thought. Oklahoma will be favored by double digits for the remainder of their games before the Big Twelve Championship…and that Hurricane/Hokie game is looking an awful lot like a play-in game right about now, despite the fact both teams each face a couple tough games afterwards. Both schools play at Pitt, while Miami hosts Tennessee and the Hokies play at Virginia in the last game of the regular season.
Northern Illinois and TCU still both remain undefeated and the list of powerful one-loss schools from BCS conferences is headed by Georgia, USC, Washington State, Florida State, and whoever wins this week's Iowa-Ohio State game. The one-loss teams are all very much alive, despite the fact that the rest of Oklahoma's schedule looks very manageable.
Very few players eliminated their names from the hunt this week, though many didn't help their cause. Jason White and B.J. Symons vaulted their names to the top of the list, while Phillip Rivers slipped. Steven Jackson, Kevin Jones, and a slew of talented receivers (several named Williams) are stalking the pack.
- QB Jason White, Oklahoma: 17-21 for 289 yards, 4 TD, and 0 INT in a 65-13 pasting of the archrival Longhorns cements White as the frontrunner right now.
- QB B.J. Symons, Texas Tech: This kid came outta nowhere, and is setting the nation on fire in the lethal Red Raider offense. In an off week, completed 45-65 for 486 yards, threw for two scores, and ran for two scores.
- RB Steven Jackson, Oregon State: Was leapfrogged by the two signal callers on his bye week. Jackson is the nation's leading runner and an excellent NFL prospect.
- QB Phillip Rivers, NC State: Had a modest week vs. Connecticut, but still has impressive numbers on the year for the Wolfpack.
- RB Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech: Slowly starting to get on track. Posted 131 yards and 2 TD's in the win over Syracuse.
- WR Mike Williams, USC: 129 and 3 TD's in the win over Stanford. In my mind, Williams slightly holds the lead as top WR over Larry Fitzgerald, Rashaun Woods, and Reggie Williams.
- WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pitt
- WR Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State
- WR Reggie Williams, Washington
- RB Derrick Knight, Boston College
- QB Brad Smith, Missouri
- RB Chris Perry, Michigan
- RB Cedric Cobbs, Arkansas
- QB Eli Manning, Mississippi
- RB Darren Sproles, Kansas State
- RB Walter Reyes, Syracuse
- RB Marion Barber III, Minnesota
- QB Ben Roethlisberger, Miami OH
- RB Michael Turner, Northern Illinois
- RB Carnell Williams, Auburn
- QB David Greene, Georgia
- QB Jeff Smoker, Michigan State
The Games That Matter
Three crucial Big Ten match-ups headline the slate this week in college football.
#9 Iowa Hawkeyes at #8 Ohio St Buckeyes
#24 Missouri Tigers at #1 Oklahoma Sooners
#15 Michigan State Spartans at #25 Minnesota Golden Gophers
#26 Texas Tech Red Raiders at #23 Oklahoma State Cowboys
#10 Louisiana State Tigers at #32 South Carolina Gamecocks
Did very well ‘capping games in this portion of my column last week, as I won four of the five games I offered up. For the season, I stand at 4-3 in the NCAA, and 3-1 in the NFL. The Saturday morning newsletter I send out each weekend to just over 100 readers (email me to be added at email@example.com) saw me split eight selections.
Mississippi State Bulldogs +21 ½ at Auburn Tigers
Talk about a sandwich game. Auburn is coming off huge emotional wins over previously unbeaten Tennessee and Arkansas, and they are at LSU next week. This week, they face a Miss State team they spanked 42-14 in their own crib last year. In that game, they tried a fake FG up 21 points late in the game, a move Miss State coach Jackie Sherril has vowed revenge for. The last time the spread in this one was over 3 points was in '97, when Miss St won 20-0 as 17-point underdogs! I see a battle here, take the points.
LSU Tigers –5 at South Carolina Gamecocks
A gut play here. I feel LSU is the much more talented team, and I like them to respond strongly from last weeks disappointing loss to Florida. The Gamecocks are 4-12 ATS in their last sixteen SEC games as a home underdog. LSU knows they are still in the thick of the national title hunt due to just three BCS teams being unbeaten, and I expect them to play like the powerful team that got out to such a strong start. Take LSU.
Washington Huskies +10 at Oregon State Beavers
I was saying the same thing last year, and profitably at the end of the year. The Washington Huskies cannot be this bad. Had you told me they'd be getting ten in this game at the beginning of the season (when they were ranked #14 in the country), I would not have believed you. Well, last week's loss at the hands of Nevada has the Huskies getting a bundle now against a team they have owned, winning 24 of the last 26 contests! The underdog has also covered 4 of the last 5 in this series. Take the disappointing Huskies.
Houston Texans +3 vs. New York Jets
Line on this one may even climb to 4, as many will fade the Jets thinking Herm Edwards is about to pull off another miraculous run to the playoffs after last week's impressive win over Buffalo. But I'm not about to fall into that trap. Houston is a much improved team, especially offensively, that beat Miami in Miami. Regardless of what happened last week, the Jets are an aging 1-4 team, and have no business giving anyone a field goal on the road. Take the Texans.
Seattle Seahawks –9 ½ vs. Chicago Bears
I will continue to bet against the Bears, and continue to profit off of it. The only reason this spread is not the 13 points it should be is because of the Bears fluke win over an aging and overrated Raiders team two weeks ago. Seattle needs to win to stay ahead of the Rams in the standings, and this week they face a garbage Bears team that has covered only two road games since the start of last season. Take Seattle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers –3 ½ at San Francisco 49ers
Tampa showed us how far superior of a team they are to San Fran in the playoffs last year, and that was when the Niners actually had a competent coach. This could be a long year for San Fran, and I don't see any way possible they get a win here against a Tampa team that was clearly motivated by the Monday night disaster against the Colts, and an undefeated Panther team that they look up at in the standings. Take Tampa.