Where is this column going, you ask? Is this space going to be filled with another 900 words of Red Sox ranting and raving, claiming that this is the year and so forth? Nope. In fact, baseball will not be mentioned in this column after this sentence. Now, realize the significance of that statement, pick your jaw up off the floor and let’s talk about some football!
You may already know that The Sporting News rated Boston as the best sports city in the country last year. And it wasn’t because of that team that plays in the stadium with the big green wall. Boston was named the best sports city in America because of the New England Patriots. Actually, that’s Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. The best team in the NFL. A superpower. Dare I say, a dynasty? The Patriots are that good; everyone knows it, and no one is denying it.
I know it’s hard to believe, but the Patriots are even better this year than last year! Don’t believe me? Did you see Corey Dillon average 5.7 yards per carry in the first game? Did you see Tom Brady complete 26 of 38 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns? Most importantly, did you see the look on Peyton Manning’s face after Mike Vanderjagt whiffed on his would-be game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter? Priceless. I’ll be the first to admit, this was not the same Patriots defense that completely dominated opponents last season, allowing only 14.9 points per game last season. However, forget about the defense. The offense is UNSTOPPABLE.
Of his 26 completions, Brady completed at least one to seven different receivers, and that didn’t include Dillon or Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown, the team’s third- and fourth-leading receivers last season, who were inactive with injuries. The most amazing thing about the Patriots’ stacked receiver troops is that the majority of them are home-grown and drafted by the Patriots. Of their top five wide receivers, David Patten is the only one who did not begin his career in New England. In addition, their two top tight-ends were both first-round picks, and Faulk, their third-down running back, is a Patriot lifer as well.
As you probably ask yourself every week while reading this column, so what? What’s your damn point? My damn point is that after one game, the Patriots are on their way to another Super Bowl. Looking at their schedule: Seattle in week five and Kansas City in week 11 are the only real challenges for the defending champs. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the schedule and you decide.
When it’s Wednesday afternoon and you start thinking about the weekend, does anyone besides me look immediately towards Sunday? Sunday is a holy day for churchgoers and football fans alike. Can you think of a better way to spend eight hours than sitting in front of the television with four or five friends, watching football, eating pizza and debating whose fantasy team was going to put up the most points this week? I certainly can’t.
The NFL is even more exciting than usual this season. Many players have changed uniforms: Clinton Portis, Champ Baily, Warren Sapp, Terrell Owens. Some coaches have returned: Dennis Green, Joe Gibbs. And some players have checked out of the retirement home for one more season playing a boy’s game. Read: Deion Sanders.
So with that, here’s my predictions for the already-begun NFL season. I like Philadelphia, Green Bay, Carolina and Seattle in the NFC. I like New England, Denver, Tennessee and Cincinnati in the AFC. I like the Colts, the Jets, the Vikings and the Redskins to win the wild cards. And of course, I like the Patriots to win the Super Bowl over the Packers, in Brett Favre’s last hurrah.
Even More Football
If you missed the ending of the Ohio State-Marshall game on Saturday, I sincerely hope you caught the highlights. In one of the most dramatic endings I have ever witnessed, senior all-American kicker Mike Nugent nailed a 55-yard field goal as time expired to give the Buckeyes a 24-21 victory. Nugent, a four-year starter, is 17 for 21 on 40+ yard field goals over the past three seasons. If this guy isn’t worthy of Sebastian Janikowski-type money after he graduates this spring, then I don’t know what kicker is.
As we have already seen this college football season, kickers can and do decide many games. In a season only a couple weeks old, we have witnessed kickers win and lose big games. Last week, the kicker from Oregon State missed three extra points in the Beavers’ 22-21 loss to number three-ranked LSU. The most important and tragic miss was the last one-with LSU up seven in overtime, OSU scored on a 19-yard touchdown strike. Only an extra point away from double overtime, OSU came away from the back-and-forth game with a disappointing one-point defeat.
If you want to talk about kicking disasters, look no further than Florida State. The Seminoles have been on the wrong end of kicking tragedies more times than I can even remember. For a team in national title contention every year, one 35-yard field goal could be the difference between a National Championship and just another 10-1 season.