Volume 1, Number 4 -- November, 1996
FROM THE CHEAP SEATS
By Dave Lind
Well, would you look at that. No sooner do we just start to get comfortable with the 1996 football season than we realize it's already halfway over. Where does the time go?
The point was made to me the other day (Rather pointedly, as points often are) that we are closing in on week 10 in the NFL and I still haven't written my mid-season evaluation. Seeking to right this inexcusable wrong, I have compiled my
1996 POST-BYE WEEK EVALUATIONYes, the bye weeks are fully behind us for the rest of the year and all that lies before us is seven weeks of action-packed, nail-biting, wall-to-wall, sofa-denting, go-away-woman-you'll-never-understand-this-sport, 15 games-per-glorious-weekend football season. Followed, of course, by the playoffs.
NOTE:: It's no coincidence that Valentine's day falls in February. After five full months of neglect we need an honest-to-God, state-sanctioned, Suck-up-to-the-little-woman holiday to help us drag ourselves out of the doghouse for a while. At least until the NHL playoffs begin, but I digress.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the bye weeks.
Since the bye weeks are over, we can now give our full attention to the playoff races that are starting to shape up around the NFL. Let's do that now, shall we?
NFC EAST: If you'll all kindly refer to my pre-season predictions, you'll notice that I picked Philadelphia to win this division. I would like to point out with not a small amount of pride that the Eagles are, in fact, tied for first place at 7-2 with a Washington Redskins team that is poised for a second half collapse. The Redskins' seven wins have come against teams with a combined record of 22-32 (with two wins against the Giants). Worse, they still have upcoming dates against Philly, San Francisco, and two against the Cowboys.
PREDICTION: Philadelphia - Champ, Dallas - Wildcard, Redskins - Wildcard.
NFC CENTRAL: OK, so maybe it didn't take a MENSA-like intellect to pick the Packers in the central, but what can you do. The Pack has survived (for now) the loss of Favre's top two targets in Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman. Fortunately for Green Bay, they have the luxury of turning to veterans like Don Beebe, Keith Jackson, and Mark Chmura. Anthony Morgan has also been brought back into the Packer fold for the remainder of the year. As for the rest of the field, Chicago is still trying to overcome the loss of QB Erik Kramer, while Minnesota has been dealt a crippling blow with the loss of Robert Smith for the season. Detroit and Tampa Bay are both about a year away (Tampa Bay from contention and Detroit from the cellar).
PREDICTION: Green Bay - Champ.
NFC WEST: Here's a surprise, the Forty-niners are pulling away from a mediocre field. Who'da thunk it? The Niners are, hands down, the best team in what is, also hands down, the worst division in football. Don't believe me? Think I'm just being bitter? Check the numbers: The NFC West's combined record of 17-28 is by far the worst in the league, trailing the AFC Central's mark of 21-24. Three of the five worst records in the league can be found in the NFC West. Yet, despite that (or possibly because of it), I expect a Wildcard team to emerge from the NFC West. Carolina has been playing solid football all season and in a conference that is top-heavy, that should be enough to enable them to fend off the Giants (Yes, the Giants) for the final Wildcard spot.
PREDICTION: San Francisco - Champ, Carolina - Wildcard.
AFC EAST: Pity the poor Colts. Picked by some of the finest football minds (like mine) to win top honors in the East, injuries have ravaged their lineup and reduced them to probable Wildcard status. Buffalo, on the other hand, has somehow managed to squeeze one more admirable campaign out of an aging lineup. Experience will help them down the stretch, but look out for the explosive offense of New England to carry them to the title. Jimmy Johnson started Miami's post-Shula era with a bang but has fizzled of late, dropping five of his last six and thanking providence he shares a division with the Jets.
PREDICTION: New England - Champ, Buffalo - Wildcard, Colts - Wildcard.
AFC CENTRAL: What was previously thought to be a one-team division has surprisingly turned into a ... well, one-and-a-half team division. Houston snuck up on a lot of teams in the first half of the year enroute to a respectable 5-4 record. Fortunately, with their second-half schedule dotted with dogs like New Orleans, Cincinnati, and the Jets, they no longer need to sneak up on people. Pittsburgh, for their part, have steadily motored along behind the massive butt of Jerome Bettis (Sorry for that bit of imagery) on their way to their inevitable division title. Even the barely adequate play of Mike Tomczak has been unable to derail them as they have positioned themselves as Superbowl favorites along with Denver.
PREDICTION: Pittsburgh - Champ, Houston - Wildcard.
AFC WEST: The AFC West has lived up to its pre-season billing as the best division in football. Its overall record of 27-18 narrowly-edges out the NFC Central's mark of 26-19. Like last season, all five teams have a shot at finishing at or above .500 and should stay in contention for Wildcard slots until the final week. The downside to all of this is that these teams may well drag each other down so far that an inferior team like, say, Houston could sneak past them and claim a Wildcard spot. As for the title, that was all but decided on a brisk night in Oakland when Mike White removed his testicles and flung them into the crowd (he had no use for them, apparently) and elected to punt the division title away to John Elway and the Broncos. The Chargers and Chiefs are both strong playoff contenders but must first survive their own division to get there.
PREDICTION: Denver - Champ.
Well, you're all up to speed now. Come and get me when It's time to set the playoff field. I'll be in front of my TV.
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