Wednesday Apple Pie

Jerome Bettis made a statement on Saturday. He can still run well against the league's worst defenses. Is that worth a roster spot on a team that seems to be very strong at running back? Well, that's the question, isn't it, Jimmy?

By now, we are all tired of hearing the Jerome Bettis/Duce Staley debate, also known as BettisGate 4. This is the most recent incarnation with other versions being BettisGate 3 (Bettis/Amos Zereoue), BettisGate 2 (Bettis/Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala) and the oft-forgotten BettisGate 1 (Bettis/Richard Huntley).

Every BettisGate and BettisGater, those who look to shut down the Bus, has propositioned the idea that Jerome Bettis was, if not the worst choice of a running back the Steelers could make, then at least the lesser of the two options presented:
Option A being to start Bettis and lose, or Option B - start the other guy and win.

Option B, unfortunately for BettisGaters everywhere, never came to pass. It should be noted that Amos Zereoue and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, after enjoying distinguished careers as backups to Bettis, are enjoying distinguished careers as back-ups to other running backs in other cities.

Option A, unfortunately to non-BettisGaters, has come to pass. The Steelers haven't won any Super Bowls with Bettis. StewartGate proclaimed that the 1997 AFC Championship Game was the fault of said quarterback but, that aside, doesn't absolve Bettis of the crime against Steelerdom which states (Steelerdom Law #5), "Those Who Fail To Bring Ring For Thumb Shall Be Sent To Cleveland, Asked To Take Pay Cut Or Ridiculed On Message Boards Everywhere."

Another little known Steelerdom Law (#78) states, "Those With the Name Of Jason And Gildon Together, Not Separate, Shall Be Forever Demonized As Worst Linebacker Regardless Of Stats." Which also brings us to the most important Steelerdom Law that states (#2), "Stats Lie When Associated With Unpopular Players Or Those Who One With Chin Refuses To Cut."

What makes this BettisGate different? Well, Bettis isn't getting any younger and for the first time, let me repeat, the FIRST TIME, there is another running back on the roster who is better than Bettis. Zereoue wasn't better, not even close. Fu? Was he ever healthy? Verron Haynes? Nope. Richard Huntley? Maybe if he had ever been able to hold onto the ball. But, Duce Staley is better.

His stats may not state it (remember Law #2), but anyone that has watched Duce run when healthy knows that Staley is perhaps the best running back the Steelers have had on their roster since Bettis was acquired. Duce not only has a career 4.0 yards per rush average but he also amassed a 4.8 ypr last season with only 96 carries. But, where Duce really has the advantage is in his receiving skills. In his career he has amassed 2498 yards through the air, which is just over one half of his total rushing yardage. Bettis, on the other hand, is not what anyone would consider a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.

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NFC North

Champion - Green Bay Packers: 10 – 6
Okay, so this may be my first "gut" pick. I'm not a Packer Homer, but I truly love watching this team. And, I for one would be an outright Packer fan if I wasn't born with that little metal chip that keeps me a Steeler fan for life. Why the Packers? Bret Favre and Ahmen Green. But not just them. I love Bubba Franks, Javon Walker and Donald Driver. Perhaps if Donald Driver is not pile-driven into the grass on opening day like last year, he will have a star-quality year.

Second Place – Detroit Lions: 9 – 7
I'm going out on a limb and will say that the Lions are my surprise team of the NFC. Not only will their passing attack put fear into you, but Mariucci is a winner and he'll have this talent-loaded team in the hunt for the division all year. Yes, the defense is a little suspect, but what comes around goes around.

Third Place – Minnesota Vikings: 9 – 7
Oh, how they wish they could have that season finale back. In what seemed like a given win (it was against Arizona for heaven's sake), the Vikings and Mike Tice in true Dennis Green fashion snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They'll have a good season, but they now will need to worry about the Lions, as the division isn't a two-horse race any longer, but…

Fourth Place – Chicago Bears: 5 – 11
…the division isn't up for grabs either. The Bears are still rebuilding. After a year's flirtation with Kordell Stewart, they have rightfully gone young and put their fate into the hands of their future quarterback. Now, if that future quarterback had been not been Rex Grossman, I'd say this team is on the right track, but alas I can not.

NFC East

Champion – Philadelphia Eagles: 12- 4
Okay, they have T. O. Which means this pass-happy West Coast offense now has the weapon they've needed. I'm not that concerned about their woes at running back. Brian Westbrook will do fine and if they trade for another young buck, their situation will greatly change. I AM concerned about that defense. Oft-injured Jevon Kearse isn't the long-term answer and they may have much trouble stopping the opposing air attack, but they still have the best all-around team in the NFC.

Second Place – Washington Redskins: 11 – 5 (Wildcard)
Sorry Cowboy fans, but that addition of Clinton Portis and Joe Gibbs makes this team the scariest group of the NFC. Not only can they run, but they will run. No more fun and gun, Patrick Ramsey may regain those years lost by getting hit so many times last season. But, the real story here is that a team that had a great (underachieving) defense and weapons through the air refused to run the ball with any respect to the institution of the running game, and because of that the ground game and coaching suffered. But now, this all seems to have changed.

Third Place – Dallas Cowboys: 8 – 8
The good? Well, the Cowboys got rid of Quincy Carter and Troy Hambrick. The bad? They replaced Carter with Vinny Testaverde and passed on drafting a first round running back. This isn't as terrible as it sounds. But, it doesn't bode well for this season. Parcells will ride a strong defense and use a conservative offense for one more year. Then, he'll go into the draft and get the running back he's always wanted, and maybe by then Drew Henson will be ready.

Fourth Place – NY Giants: 4 – 12
It's going to be a rough year for Big Blue. They'll start Eli Manning who will have learning pains (everyone remembers Peyton's first year) or Kurt Warner who just isn't very good anymore. They have an aging Tiki Barber and an overrated Jeremy Shockey on offense. This team will also have a new mindset instilled by Tom Coughlin and the players may need a year to assimilate it.

Corrections - Atlanta not Houston was to be listed in the NFC South. It was to have read:
Third Place – Atlanta: 7 – 9
No respect for Michael Vick? Well, let's just say the rest of the team sure floundered and faltered without him last season. They didn't do too well when he returned either. This team needs a lot more than just Vick. How about, deciding on a full-time running back? And while we are at it, how about a better receiving corps?

Next Week: AFC South and West

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