Wednesday Apple Pie

The Pittsburgh Steelers begin the long road to the Super Bowl by hosting the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at 1pm. This will be the third meeting in as many years, but unlike years past, both teams have very different looks. Gone from this old-time rivalry are Jason Gildon, Dewayne Washington, Brent Alexander, Tim Brown, Charlie Garner, Rod Woodson and Barrett Robbins. And except for Charlie Garner, both teams are better for their losses.

What's the difference between the two teams? Well, instead of acquiring a strong receiver, the Raiders continue to bank on Jerry Porter's upside and Jerry Rice's moxie. They also decided to bring in former Steeler Amos Zereoue and the most overrated running back in the NFL, Troy Hambrick. And the verdict on these moves? Well, a very unhappy Hambrick was traded to Arizona and Zereoue has done nothing to instill any confidence into head coach Norv Turner. Instead the Raiders will look within their past ranks and give the starting job to short yardage specialist Tyrone Wheatly. That makes the Raiders 0 - 2.

The Steelers on the other hand have replaced Zereoue with Duce Staley, which is like replacing a toaster oven with a microwave oven. They also replaced Brent Alexander with Chris Hope, which would have been an upgrade two years ago when the switch should have occurred. In fact, the only player that the Steelers have yet to adequately replace is Jason Gildon. That duty goes to Clark Haggans, who is recovering from a broken hand. Second year pro Alonzo Jackson failed to make any sizable contribution during Camp Cowher.

Where does this leave these two teams? Well, this game in any other season would have been a marquee match-up, but now these two teams meet as has-beens looking to make a statement. Look for the Steelers to run away with the game this Sunday. In fact, expect them to look every bit as good as they did last season opener. Considering previous season opener history, the question is whether that's a good thing.

Apple Pie Previews

AFC East

Champion – New England Patriots: 13 - 3 (1st Round Bye)
This is no real surprise. The only team that had shot to displace the Super Bowl champs were the Dolphins until Ricky Williams retired. If they can stay healthy on the line and behind center, this team will once again reach the playoffs in excellent position to visit Jacksonville in February.

Second Place – NY Jets: 9 – 7
The Jets have a serious problem at running back. Curtis Martin isn't getting any younger and there is no long-term replacement in play. Still, Chad Pennington should be able to lead this scrappy team to a second place finish in a rather weak conference.

Third Place – Buffalo Bills: 7 – 9
Tom Donahoe hasn't made many friends in Buffalo after going 17 - 31 since he arrived. Bill Cowher on the other hand has gone 38-25-1. Is there any doubt which team got the better of the two deals?

Fourth Place – Miami Dolphins: 3 – 13
The Dolphins are in a lot of trouble. The only thing they have going for them is Chris Chambers and a stingy defense. But that won't be able to overcome the fact that Jay Fiedler needs a running game.

AFC North

Champion – Pittsburgh Steelers 11 – 5
This may be a bit surprising, especially the projected record, but this team has a new will to win and a renewed sense of urgency. The fact that they have the top wide receiving corps in the AFC is a big plus, but the true fact of the matter is that the offensive line is finally healthy and battle-hardened. There's not much depth here, but in the NFL that situation is more common than you think.

Second Place – Baltimore Ravens 10 - 6 (Wildcard)
The first wildcard team is the Ravens. That's only because of their defense and running game. Would I really make the second wildcard team the Bengals? Why you bet I would.

Third Place – Cincinnati Bengals 9 - 7 (Wildcard)
The Bengals edge out a parity-filled AFC to win the last wildcard seed. Carson Palmer leads this team, however the real story will be Chad Johnson and Rudi Johnson. The Johnson boys lay the groundwork for the newest power trio in the NFL.

Fourth Place – Cleveland Browns 5 - 11
Sure, 5 - 11 is very kind, but this is the most competitive division in the AFC and the Browns will win their share of games outside the division. It's inside the division where they will have heavy problems.

Apple Six-Pack

1. Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (GOTW) – Remember how the Patriots cornerbacks mugged Marvin Harrison all day long last January? Well, the refs said no-no to that and we're about to find out just how much of a defensive genius Bill Belichick really is.

2. Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers – Instead of the Packers upsetting the Philadelphia Eagles in Philly, Carolina took care of the glass slipper and proceeded on to the Super Bowl. The Packers though were a miracle 4th down and 22 away from the NFC Championship, where I believe they would have defeated Carolina.

3. Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins – This game looked great on paper until Ricky Williams walked. Now the best running back on either side of the ball is Chris Brown. The Dolphins can't afford to lose this one right off the bat.

4. Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns – You think Jamal Lewis is excited to open against the Browns? Actually, the most exciting player to watch today might be Lee Suggs, who is my pick for the best new running back in the league.

5. Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Two playoff hopefuls meet in a game where the implications of the outcome won't reveal themselves until later in the year. The Cowboys are struggling to find a running back and even quarterback to lead them (Vinny Testaverde is not a long term answer) and the Vikings are struggling to get the monkey off their back.

6. Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos The top two teams in the AFC West meet in week 1 and the Chiefs have the strong edge over the Broncos because Clinton Portis now resides in Washington. In fact, Portis was the only reason the Broncos were scary, and now an aging Rod Smith, over-rated Ashley Lelie and inconsistent Jake Plummer are the main weapons.

Fearless Playoff Predictions

Pittsburgh Over Cincinnati
Indianapolis Over Baltimore

Kansas City Over Pittsburgh
Indianapolis Over New England

Kansas City Over Indianapolis

Washington Over St. Louis
Green Bay Over Seattle

Washington Over Philadelphia
Carolina Over Green Bay

Washington Over Carolina

Super Bowl – Kansas City Over Washington

Power Core Power Rankings (Top 12)

  1. New England Patriots - The best team? Maybe. Maybe not.
  2. Carolina Panthers – Have offensive line woes.
  3. Kansas City Chiefs – Can the defense be better? Can it ever be worse?
  4. Indianapolis Colts – The last year for the three-headed juggernaut.
  5. Philadelphia Eagles – T. O. doesn't necessarily spell Super Bowl.
  6. Green Bay Packers – Gotta love Bret Favre. Love Ahman Green more.
  7. Tennessee Titans – They won't last this high on the list for long.
  8. Baltimore Ravens – Won't repeat this year.
  9. St. Louis RamsMarc Bulger is not the long term solution in St. Louis.
  10. Dallas Cowboys – Where's the running game?
  11. Minnesota Vikings – When will Michael Bennett return?
  12. Pittsburgh Steelers – In the Top 12 already? Oh yes, and they won't stop here.

Seeds Of Wisdom From the Girl Apple

Girl Apple – So can we go to my aunt and uncle's this Sunday, or do you have rehearsal?

Apple – Actually, I have rehearsal and…let me break this to you gently…

Girl Apple – Is it football season already?

Apple – Yes, and what do you mean already?

Girl Apple – It seems like yesterday you were crying every week and kicking the cat because the Steelers "weren't doing this and weren't doing that".

Apple – Look, it's been a rather long off-season and I think this year it will be different. Besides, we don't have a cat.

Girl Apple – Figure of speech, silly. Well, I can't have you grumbling all week; I need you to be in a good mood sometimes, especially when visiting my family. I want them to know I'm marrying a rather happy person.

Apple – Well, I promise that the Steelers will do better this year and…

Girl Apple – You can't promise that, just promise to keep it in perspective…especially when you write your silly articles…and promise me…no more Wesley Willis comments. I don't want his people to sue you or anything.

Apple – I promise to keep it in perspective and no more Wesley Willis…maybe…but that's your wisdom? "Keep it in perspective", huh?

Girl Apple – Yup, put THAT in your apple pie and bake it…

Apple – Just more wisdom from the Girl Apple.

Apple's Fantasy Football Results

Each week I will recap my three fantasy football league team's games as I try to win my first FFL Crown. In the 8 years I've been playing, I've never once come even close to winning (14 leagues, 2 winning seasons).

TheDallasCowboysSuck (Yahoo! FFL, 4th season in 5 years, finished 4th at 7 - 7)

The Woodside Geminis (In-House League, 8th season, finished last at 3 - 9)

DCFB vs. 69th St. Ruperts (CBS Sportsline, 3 season in 4 years, finished last at 2 - 12)

Quick Bites

  • Those who say the Steelers don't gain national television respect may be correct as a whole, but CBS is sending their number one team to the big Ketchup Bottle to cover opening week. Jim Nantz opens his first season as a football broadcaster in Pittsburgh. Let's hope he finishes this season in Pittsburgh also.
  • Week 2? Kevin Harlan and Randy Cross. Oh well, the dream was great while it lasted.
  • What do Gregg Easterbrook, Dr. Z, Pete Prisco and Chris Mortensen all have in common? Not one has picked the Steelers to have a winning record. Sounds like the time is ripe for another overachieving season for the Steelers.
  • It's great that the Steelers feel that 2 strong quarterbacks are enough for the active roster. I like it even more after the team picked up another special teams ace.
  • Oh, and by the way, the game won't be close this week. I like the Steelers in a double-digit blowout.

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