In the year of the New NFL, with the Rams and Titans as the teams to beat (Rams? Titans? Did you say Rams?), here are assorted bits and pieces, standard insights, and things you may not have known …
In the year of the New NFL, with the Rams and Titans as the teams to beat (Rams? Titans? Did you say Rams?), here are assorted bits and pieces, standard insights, and things you may not have known and heretofore wish you hadn’t learned:
In 14 major individual stats categories, a different player than who finished the season on top last year is leading each one. Remember Randall Cunningham’s remarkable quarterback rating of 106 in ‘98? Kurt Warner of the Rams is currently at 125, and is on pace for about 45 TD passes on the season, whereas Steve Young finished last year with 36. Other current leaders (and last year’s): Rushing yards and TDs: Stephen Davis, Redskins (Terell Davis, Broncos). Receptions: Tim Brown, Raiders (O.J. McDuffie, Dolphins). Receiving yards: Marvin Harrison, Colts (Antonio Freeman, Packers). Receiving TDs: Marvin Harrison, Colts (Randy Moss, Vikings). Field goals: Orlindo Mare, Dolphins (Al Del Greco, Oilers). Interceptions: Lance Schulters, 49ers (Ty Law, Patriots).
Score a few points for Bill Gates. Actually, make that 20 million points. On October 23, Gates donated $20 million to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a gift that did not go without praise by former quarterback and current ABC analyst Boomer Esiason, whose own eight-year-old son Gunnar suffers from the disease. “This,” said Boomer, “is one of the greatest days of my life. This is a home run for CF research. No, not a home run, but a Super Bowl victory.” Esiason believes that $400 to $500 million would allow enough gene-therapy research to be done to find a cure. “I’ve been praying for years that someone like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or Ted Turner would pick up the CF cause, and this is that kind of tremendous gift. Now I’ve started to think that the potential for Gunnar to become almost normal is phenomenally close.”
Waiting for the Chargers to finally cut Ryan Leaf? Don’t hold your breath, unless you can do it for a year and a half. If the Chargers would cut him now, they would have to pony up $7.5 million in contract dues, which would count against their salary cap. That means letting way too many players go along with him. Sorry, Chargers fans, but you will see the year 2000 come and go with Leaf still on the roster.
The Redskins look like one of the favorites in the NFC, but their defense is allowing almost 14 more yards per game than their offense is gaining. Can the Hogs get back to the glories of the Eighties with the league’s second-best offense and absolute worst defense?
In week four, the Cincinnati Bengals became the first team of the 90s to lose 100 games. However, they can take solace in the fact that even if they would have gone 0-16, they still can’t match the futility record of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first decade, in which they won only 45 games.
The Norsemen aren’t dead, but they’re lacking a killer instinct, not to mention most of the octane that fueled their offensive explosion last year. There are two reasons why the same personnel is not scoring the same points: inexplicably, the same offensive line that sent most of its members to the Pro Bowl last season has wavered between mediocre and substandard, and more significantly, defenses have learned to double up and roll zones on Randy Moss. This means offensive coordinator Ray Sherman is often forced to use Moss as a decoy. However, Jeff George is 4-0 since taking over at QB because he recognizes that doubling Moss leaves Cris Carter or Jake Reed in single coverage. In his 13th year, Carter is having a career season. However, it defense that wins championships and any team that gives up 422 yards to Bears third-string quarterback Jim Miller isn’t ready for another run at the NFC title game.
No matter how bad the Broncos are hurting on the injury front, it’s worse in payroll. Going into last offseason, Denver was $7 million over the salary cap, and it led to the release of Steve Atwater. Next year, Denver will have to shed $10 million, and they know it will cost them Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tony Jones and could also affect TE Shannon Sharpe. Wrote coach Mike Shanahan in his book last spring, “I don’t want to set off the warning bells and screaming sirens, but too many guys are going to be making too much money, and with the salary cap the way it is, we are not going to be able to afford them all. Our team will have to be torn apart.”
Speaking of Denver, with the arrival of the new uniforms two years ago, the Broncos wrestled the title of Team Nike away from the Cowboys. Ever wonder about that funny-shaped stripe that runs down the side of each player’s uniform, curling from the neck down to the knee? Watch carefully when the linemen or back crouches in a three-point stance—the stripe neatly folds itself into a Nike swoosh.
Three weeks ago, Deion Sanders returned a punt for a score against the Redskins, prompting him to comment in an interview later in the week, “Man, when I get downfield and can see that punter’s eyes and he can look into my eyes, maaaan, you better just fold up SHOP.” Two weeks ago, the Colts made the mistake of punting to Sanders, who took it almost all the way back, only to be tackled at the two. The tackler? Indianapolis rookie punter Hunter Smith.