Sunday Morning Mini-Massacre

<b>AFC NORTH-SIDE NUGGETS</b> <br><br><b>Cincinnati:</b> The Bengals coming off a big-win over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday are gaining a quiet confidence about themselves. After an opening week blowout loss to the Denver Broncos, members of Cincinnati coaching staff believe they gave away two games to Oakland and Pittsburgh before defeating the Browns.

The difference this season is head coach Marvin Lewis and the fresh ideas and attitude he has brought to the Bengals.

Pittsburgh: The Steelers still have their issues on the defensive side of the ball they are working through. The usually reliable Steelers have had some problems in run defense, but the pass defense, much like in the 2002 season has started to breakdown. Head coach Bill Cowher focused extensively this past week on the lack of consistency that has felled his Pittsburgh defense.

Baltimore: It's a bye-week and the Ravens have flown the coup. Actually, Baltimore coaches spend a significant portion of the past week looking to improve an inconsistent passing game and structure an offensive plan to ensure that running back Jamal Lewis doesn't have to be relied upon to carry the team. Good luck, rookie quarterback Kyle Boller may have impressive qualities, but throwing him to the starting lineup as an inexperienced player will cost this team some wins this season.

Cleveland: The excuses are beginning to run out in Cleveland for the Browns, a team that had high expectations heading into the 2003 season. Head coach Butch Davis, normally speaks of the positive efforts of his team, but this past week he couldn't muster a straight-face and tell a story that his team played well, after being dumped by the Bengals on Sunday. We hear that the heat isn't being applied to Davis by the organization, as the injury and salary-cap issues the team has faced is the excuse the team will hide behind.


Buffalo: The heat is starting to come down in Buffalo once again and head coach Gregg Williams is the target. After jumping out to a quick 2-0 start, the Bills have been derailed by the Dolphins and Eagles in recent weeks. If the Bills do not make the playoffs this season, Williams is as good as gone, that is how we hear it.

New England: Scheming Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots organization has been riddled with injury. Now, the latest coming from New England is quarterback Tom Brady's arm/shoulder/elbow issues are worse than originally believed, but the game quarterback will continue to play. Without a rushing attack and an offensive line that is average at best, Brady will take a pounding and continue to toss up some wounded ducks.

New York Jets: Soap-opera, that is the best way to describe the situation in New York. Head coach Herman Edwards is standing his ground on his decisions, but feels betrayed by General Manager Terry Bradway and owner Woody Johnson. Edwards being canned in New York is not a slam-dunk, but the rift between Bradway and Edwards has grown stronger.

Miami: Winning cures all that ails a team that has consistently underachieved when it matters most, down the homestretch of a season and in the playoffs. Now, this Miami organization sits at 2-1 and believes it has the talent to reach the Super Bowl. The consensus from four league personnel evaluators this week tells a different tale. To a man, they believe Miami's defense has slipped a notch, especially at the cornerback and defensive line positions. Head coach Dave Wannstadt will continue to pound the football with running back Ricky Williams, as he does not have confidence that his offense can produce otherwise. Like in New York, it is playoffs or bust for Wannstadt.


Indianapolis: Monday night's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers takes on much more significance than that of playing the Super Bowl champions. The Colts are looking to make statement and prove they are the real deal. Head coach Tony Dungy has his Colts playing defense, we already know they have a solid offense. As one NFC scout tells us this week, "Sure, Indianapolis is good, but watch Peyton Manning. For all the attention he gets, he makes bone-headed mistakes and chokes in the biggest games. The game against the Buccaneers is one the Colts can win, but won't because Manning gets rattled by the pressure."

Jacksonville: The Byron Leftwich era has begun in Jacksonville. Leftwich will make his second-start of the season Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. Veteran quarterback Mark Brunell was forced out of action last week, but is healthy to play this week. Indications coming from our ears on the spot in Jacksonville are the team has not engaged in any discussion about trading Brunell, as most teams believe he will be released in the off-season and the organization does not want to give the impression that the season is over, just after it started. So, Brunell stays and continues to help with the development of his replacement, which he has done from day-one in Jacksonville.

Houston: The Texans headed into the bye-week seeking an answer to improve the inconsistent play of the team. Minor changes within the scheme and play-calling are expected in the coming weeks, as Houston is competitive almost every week, but the coaching staff is under the impression they are leaving too many opportunities on the field.

Tennessee: The 2003 season is one that brought hope of Super Bowl trophies dancing through the streets of Tennessee. The reality is through four-weeks of the season, Tennessee does not appear primed for that, not yet. The Titans have been inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball, the rushing game has struggled and the team goes as does quarterback Steve McNair. Defensively, the Titans are improved, but the defensive backfield remains a question mark. "Tennessee is a hard team to get a read on. One week they are very good, the next week they struggle. If this team expects to get to the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl, they have a long road ahead of them," one AFC scout said.


San Diego: If the San Diego Chargers are to get on the right track, there would be no better time than Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Coming off a demoralizing loss to the Oakland Raiders last week, some players within the ranks in San Diego have begun to grumble about head coach Marty Schottenheimer and the handling of specific situations regarding the team, namely the David Boston issue. Let us get this out of the way, we are glad to see the national media picked up on our reports concerning the Chargers investigation as to recoup some of the salary bonus and base salary compensation paid/due to David Boston. We won't name any specific media entity such as ESPN. Additionally, talk coming from the locker room points to facets of the roster is of the belief that Schottenheimer's handling of players is getting old, don't think the noise isn't making it to the front office. As for the offensive and defensive scheme, well, as one player told us this week, "We do not play to the strengths of the players and we are too predictable.

Denver: Running back Clinton Portis will start Sunday for the Broncos, but do not expect him to play in great length if Denver can get out to a lead against division rival Kansas City. The plan heading into the game is for Portis to be spelled periodically by Mike Anderson. The Broncos are coming off a very good week of practice and head into the battle with the Chiefs with a solid plan in place to attack an improved Kansas City defense. Denver intends on rolling quarterback away from pressure, with the Denver receivers flooding the short-field zones, opening the middle of the field up for against the grain plays and cutback rushes against a Kansas City defense that is aggressive.

Oakland: 2-2 and the Raiders are again breathing in the tough AFC West division. This is an Oakland team that came from 14-points down to defeat the Chargers last week that now believes they have turned the corner and have come together. On both sides of the ball, Oakland has lost a step and are not playing with confidence and consistency, but in the fourth quarter of the game against the Chargers, the Raiders came to life and looked much like the team that was in the Super Bowl only a season ago.

Kansas City: The excitement is growing in Kansas City as the 4-0 Chiefs head into a divisional battle against the Denver Broncos. Head coach Dick Vermeil has this Chiefs team believing in themselves and the added talent on the defensive side of the ball has made them a legitimate team to beat in the AFC. The coaching staff remains concerned about the hip of running back Priest Holmes and have monitored his practice time, if Holmes goes down, the Chiefs are in trouble. Quarterback Trent Green has been consistent. According to an AFC Player Personnel Director, the tide is changing for the Chiefs, "You can see that teams are adjusting to the scheme of the Chiefs. Last Sunday was good examples to what Kansas City will face from here on in, the Ravens were physical, weren't caught by surprise by the blocking schemes and cadences, but the Chiefs speed and quickness will remain their asset, along with some solid line play."

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