The ‘Ole Ball Coach: The debut of the "Fun and Gun" failed to disappoint, as the Redskins tallied over 30 points and 442 yards of total offense in a 31-23 win at home against the Arizona Cardinals. Count me amongst the lot elated to see Steve Spurrier finally land in the NFL. The guy is comically nonchalant and oblivious to whom he may be offending when giving his incredibly fresh and painfully honest views on the game of football. I keep getting this mental image of Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel strapped down to operating tables while the ‘ole ball coach pumps life back into their careers with those iron shaped objects used to jump start the heart. I know it's only the Cardinals, but Shane Matthews has no business completing 28 of 40 passes for 327 yards and 3 TD's. I can't wait until the first time the ‘Skins have an opportunity to run it up on someone and really piss some people off. Don't count on it for a while though. Team Spurrier hosts the Eagles on Monday night this week and then makes trips to San Francisco, Tennessee, and Green Bay in three of their next four games.
Early Impressions: Though the advent of the Direct TV Sunday Ticket sometime subjects us to the horror of games like the Ravens-Panthers contest, it also provides a great opportunity to catch glimpses of all the teams in action. I know it's only one week but the following young players looked phenomenal Sunday and could be primed for breakout offensive seasons in '02: Michael Vick, Travis Henry, Deuce McAllister, Brian Westbrook, Rod Gardner, Marty Booker, Quincy Morgan, Donte Stallworth, and Javon Walker.
Bottom of the Barrel: Well, it didn't take long to decipher who the league's doormats will be in 2002. True to my pre-season promise, I carefully notated all the supposed pundits that were predicting such big things from the Bengals this season. I'll give them at least a couple more weeks, but it was damn tough holding back from breaking off an e-mail to Merrill Hoge this morning. Did all of these people predicting 10 win seasons from Cincinnati and Dallas forget who was quarterbacking those squads? In regards to the Cowboys, their embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Texans was the beginning of what will be a season full of hard knocks until they can put a competent signal caller behind center. The Lions are going to be very bad again this season. The over/under on the Matt and Marty show presently stands at February 2004. And in one of the worst football games in recent history, the Rodney Peete led Panthers fought off the Ravens 10-7 in the "Byron Leftwich" bowl. I knew someone had to win, but at times I just wasn't sure.
Looking Ahead: The week 2 slate is headlined by excellent national TV showdowns that will see Oakland travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday night and the Eagles venturing off to the nation's capital to face off against the "Fun and Gun" Redskin attack on Monday night. In other games of note…the Broncos face the 49ers in San Francisco and Green Bay heads to the French Quarter to face the Saints. Just four divisional games are on tap for week 2, and aside from the Monday nighter, the best of the lot sees the Jets and Chad Morton (two kick returns for TD's in week one against Bills!) host the defending champion Patriots. Defending champion Patriots? That still doesn't sound right. Also, former division foes Miami and Indianapolis meet in the RCA Dome in a game that oozes future playoff implications for both teams.
A Rudd-iculous Ending: While posting my "I don't want to talk about the Browns game" sign outside my office this morning I allowed myself some time to reflect on Sunday's disaster that ended the Browns game and ruined my week. I asked myself several questions. Why couldn't Dwayne have waited just a few more seconds to celebrate? Was Trent Green in the grasp? And does that rule even exist anymore? Who taunted on Dawson's field goal that should have won the game for us, and did it even end up mattering in the final outcome? What have the sports fans of Cleveland done to the sports gods to necessitate the cruel and unusual torture we are put through year after year? And how sad is the state of today's athlete when the NFL must institute new penalties to prevent players from removing their helmets to taunt opposing players and fans?
As if the method of defeat wasn't painful enough, the loss puts a lot of pressure on this Browns team early in the season. To make the playoffs, the team can only lose five more games (at the most) all season and still have trips to Tennessee, Tampa, New Orleans, New York to play the Jets, and Pittsburgh on the schedule as well as home dates versus Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Atlanta towards the end of the season. The margin for error is slim, and for this team to go where we expect them to this season, they can ill afford any additional losses to teams they are favored to beat. And along the way, we have some serious issues to address with our running game and run defense.
The eternal optimist in me says that this game was the wakeup call that our talented but a bit too cocky defense needed early in the season. It says that KJ, Quincy, Andre, Andre, and Dennis may end up being the best quintet of receivers this franchise has seen in ages by years end. And it tells me that we have two very capable quarterbacks finally comfortable with an offensive scheme and a line that excels at pass blocking. All things being equal, we do have one of the easier schedules in the NFL this season. And our entire division lost their first game, and as bad as we looked, we looked better than any of them in week one.
Buckle up. The road ahead is rocky. And we just got a flat while pulling out of the driveway….
The Glass Is Half Full: Interesting useless tidbit of information for all my fellow eternally optimistic Browns fans. The last three Super Bowl champions all featured a brand new running back and were led there by a quarterback that came into camp as the backup.
The Battle Of Ohio: You hate to use the words "must win" in week two, but with the hapless Bengals coming to the lakefront off the heels of a 34-6 beating at the hands of the Chargers in their own house on opening day, an 0-2 start for the Browns would be an utter disaster. The Browns must stop Corey Dillon from running wild, and the Bengals will surely look to establish the run early and often after gaining just 36 yards on 13 carries last week. Despite the weak performance on the ground in week one, the Bengals running game is one of their team's strengths and will provide yet another stiff test for the Browns front seven…which was unable to offer any resistance against the Chief running game, especially as the game wore down. Assuming they step up their play from a week ago, the match-up of the Browns secondary against Frerotte and the Bengal wideouts is one that weighs heavily in the Browns favor.
Offensively, the Browns will try to do to the Bengals what the Chargers did to them in week one. Get up early and pound the ball on the ground and control the clock. The Chargers got up 13-0 quickly, and then proceeded to run the ball 45 times for 241 yards en route to coasting to an easy blowout victory. Drew Brees had no trouble throwing the ball when he had to against the perennial weak Bengal secondary, completing 15 of 19 passes for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns against 0 interceptions. Regardless of who starts at QB for the Browns this week, Arians will once again look to exploit weaknesses in the opposing secondary with his stable of young and athletic wideouts and controlled spread passing attack. But you can be assured that the Browns will make much more of an effort this week to finally establish some sort of ground attack in what figures to be a much lower scoring affair.
Regardless of how badly they were pummeled last week, the Browns must not look past this game and I doubt they will after the disaster in week one. A win over the Bengals would erase all memories of Dwayne Rudd's helmet toss and do wonders for team morale heading into their week three visit to Tennessee. While this is the same Bengals team many were predicting to win 10 games just weeks ago, the Browns are the better football team and should be able to beat this team on our home field.
Around the NCAA…
The Games That Matter: College football kicks off it's fourth week of play with what should be an very intriguing showdown Thursday evening in Blacksburg, VA between #11 Virginia Tech and the king of this years mid-major's, the 16th ranked Thundering Herd of Marshall and their high octane offense. For the Herd, this is a chance to make a statement against a national power and convince people that an undefeated mid-major is deserving of BCS consideration. Marshall's only two remaining contests against somewhat competitive opponents (Central Florida and Miami OH) before their likely MAC title game appearance both take place on their home field, so a win against the Hokies makes an undefeated season very possible.
The next two biggest games on the schedule feature rivals Ohio St. and Michigan as the #6 seeded Buckeyes play host the the #10 seeded Washington St. Cougars and the #7 seeded Wolverines travel to South Bend to take on the 20th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, led by first year coach Tyrone Willingham. The Buckeyes will be forced to deal with the potent Cougar passing attack led by the senior trio of QB Jason Gesser and WR's Mike Bush and Jerome Riley. The Wolverines will have to find an answer for the vaunted Irish defense, which shut out Maryland and scored three times in a win over Purdue.
Other games of note include USC traveling to Colorado, Eli Manning and Ole Miss facing off against Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech, Texas at North Carolina, Louisville at Colorado St., and the yearly rivalry game between Iowa St. and Iowa. In some quarters, conference play kicks off this weekend and some of the highlights see Florida St. travel to Maryland to try and avenge the ‘Terps ACC title last season, as well as Georgia Tech visiting Clemson, and Georgia paying a visit to Columbia to face Lou Holtz and his South Carolina Gamecocks.
Heisman Watch: I'll try to keep a pulse on the Heisman race each week in this portion of the Blurbs, and last weeks Hurricane drubbing of the Gators put Ken Dorsey right at the forefront, and did some early but repairable damage to the Rex Grossman Heisman campaign. Dorsey joins Byron Leftwich of Marshall at the head of the pack, and they are followed closely by Charlie Rogers from Michigan St., Onterrio Smith of Oregon, and a couple guys who have played their way into the race early. QB Phillip Rivers of N.C. St and RB Willis McGahee of Miami of Florida. Michael Doss, Ohio St.'s punishing safety leads the pack of defensive players trying to get in the mix, and he has scored twice already this season. Rounding out the rest of the legitimate contenders, quarterbacks Chris Simms, Jason Gesser, Casey Clausen, Eli Manning and Rex Grossman all are viable Heisman candidates that, aside from Grossman, have done little to either help or hurt their campaign thus far.
The HC got off to a tense start, seeing nearly every one of my selections come down to the final seconds and finish right around the posted number. Three of the seven games I picked went into OT, and in two of those games I ended up getting hosed by OT touchdown strikes. For the purposes of tracking my W-L totals for the year, I will always use the early lines I post in this column…and not the final number that the game goes off at. For instance, the Notre Dame/Purdue line went all the way down to 6 (5 ½ in some places) come Saturday morning, and the Browns line fell to 1 ½ in wake of the official announcement that Holcomb would start.
In the college ranks, I posted a 1-0-2 record, winning easily on Utah and pushing on my selections of Purdue +7 and New Mexico getting 6. In the NFL, what looked like it was shaping up to be a very solid week got away from me late when the Browns, Colts, and Bills fell apart down the stretch. I won easy on the Falcons getting more than a TD in their OT affair at Lambeau.
ESPN's "Hammerin' Hank" Goldberg continued where he left off last season, posting a 4-1 mark yesterday morning…losing only on the Bears by half a point. Hank won on the Chiefs, Jets, Titans, and Broncos and is coming off a 2001 season that saw him finish at 69-41 ATS (62.7%). Hank's picks air every Sunday morning on ESPN around 10:45 AM.
The first week of the NFL season was kind to those who played the over, as 11 of the 16 contests went over the Vegas totals, including 9 of the 10 1:00 games. Underdogs went 9-7 on the week and in the 5 games that featured match-ups between AFC and NFC teams, the AFC went 4-1 both straight up and against the spread. On to my selections for this week….
Wake Forest +13 ½ at North Carolina St./Saturday 7:00 PM ET
I love looking for value in point spreads, and this is another one of those situations where a team is laying an inflated number based off of performances against incredibly weak competition. NC St. is coming off of pastings of East Tennessee St. and Navy, and their running up of the score in those contests has driven up this number. Wake returns 8 starters on both sides of the ball from a 6-5 team from a year ago that was the top rushing team in the ACC behind RB Tarence Williams, who is one of those 16 returning starters. Aside from their trip to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles, the Demon Deacons did not lose a contest by more than 7 points last year. Also, Wake has covered 4 of the last 5 in this series and played NC St. to a tough 17-14 loss last season. Jump all over Wake Forest this Saturday getting close to 2 touchdowns.
I like Okie St. a lot in this spot getting a touchdown at home, and maybe even to win thus game outright. The Cowboys are returning 16 starters from the team that went into Norman in late November and shocked the Sooners, winning outright 16-13 in a game they were 27-point underdogs. They face up against a soft Bruins team that is riding high after fending off Colorado St. at home last week and making their first road trip of the season. In the last seven years under Bob Toledo, the Bruins are 6-13 as road favorites and they will have a hard time covering this number against a gritty Cowboy team that will be fired up for this game. Take Oklahoma St. getting the touchdown at home.
Chicago +3 at Atlanta/Sunday 1:00 PM ET
Despite a undefeated pre-season and a valiant effort in Lambeau against the Packers in week one, this may be too soon for the Falcons to be laying a field goal to a team that went 13-3 SU last year and 11-4-1 ATS. The Bears have not gotten any worse this season, and went into Atlanta in week 4 and humiliated the Falcons 31-3 coming off of a win at home against the Vikings, just as they are this year. The Falcons are an improved team but still very raw offensively and I believe the Bears defense will give them a little wakeup call this week. Hopefully this number stays at 3, but I'd be comfortable taking it even if it dropped as low as 2. Take the Bears getting the points.
Tampa Bay –3 ½ at Baltimore/Sunday 1:00 PM ET
Tampa Bay was horrible as a road favorite last season, going 0-4 ATS when in that role but I still like them to get the job done this weekend when they travel to Baltimore. The Ravens are a mere shell of their former selves and severely lack depth and talent on both sides of the ball. This could be the sucker bet of the week, but I'm going with my gut here and saying that Gruden gets the job done on the road with a convincing win against a very poor team. Take the Bucs and give the points.
Buffalo +5 at Minnesota/Sunday 4:00 PM ET
For the life of me, I can't figure out why the Bills are getting more than a field goal here. It's a clear sign that oddsmakers feel that the Vikings are the better team here, and I just don't buy it. Buffalo looked very impressive last week (aside from special teams) and should have walked out of the Meadowlands with an impressive opening day win on the road against the Jets. The Bledsoe, Henry, Moulds trio had the Bill offense looking as good as it had dating back to the Kelly/Th.Thomas/A.Reed days. Minnesota's defense is much poorer than the Jets, and the Bills should have no problem keeping this one inside the number, if they don't win outright. The Vikings will also be without TE Byron Chamberlain and MLB Greg Biekert due to injuries. Take the Bills.