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NFL ON FOX: 5 Questions with Charles Davis

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Each week, John Czarnecki fires Five Questions at one of our NFL on FOX game analysts. This week, Charles Davis discusses some of the teams searching for legitimacy and others looking for answers to what's going wrong. What's wrong with the inconsistent Arizona Cardinals? Why can't they sustain top-notch play week-to-week? All you hear now is that they've finally addressed the Super Bowl hangover, something we all know exists with every team that makes it to a Super Bowl — and probably a little bit more with the team that loses the game, especially the tough way the Cardinals lost to Pittsburgh. I think they believe, "Heck, we'll get back there." Remember, Dan Marino went through that with the Dolphins long ago. He got to the Super Bowl in his second year in the league, and they did that great commercial with him and Joe Montana. "Next time, I'm buying, Joe." And Marino never got back. When you're young, you just assume you will be back. The Cardinals seemed to have things taken care of, but the biggest problem to their inconsistency is trying to find their offensive identity. They have those great receivers — Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston — and Warner pulling the trigger and that often is enough, but I do know that they want to run the football better. That has just not been the case for them, and that leads to some issues for them, like the question of what is the best balance. They want to keep trying to run it better, but then sometimes their best guys aren't touching the football. They want to be able to run so that Kurt doesn't get killed with a lot of third-and-longs. This past week's loss at home to Carolina really shocked me. I thought they were on the right track when they went to the Giants and won, with their defense doing such a great job. I don't know if that was simply a clunker last Sunday. I still think it's in them to win the NFC West. But I think they would like to win the division a little more impressively than they did last year. It's stunning to me that they have a better road record, but don't forget one of those home losses was against Indianapolis, and the Colts are one of the league's best teams. Are the Texans a true challenger to the Colts in the AFC South? Are they finally a playoff team?
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To me, the Texans are definitely a challenger in the South. But I have one caveat. If they split with the Colts, whom they play twice this month, then I'm jumping fully on their bandwagon and saying they are going to make the playoffs. I mean, how many times do we pick them in training camp because of the late runs they make at the end of the previous seasons? But the late runs have always come after they are out of it. This year they are in it with a 5-3 record and Matt Schaub is playing really, really well. Obviously, Andre Johnson is a monster. Maybe they have figured out their running game with Ryan Moats. Has he really jumped ahead of Steve Slaton? One key for them will be figuring how out to remain a consistent offense without tight end Owen Daniels, who's out for the rest of the season. I know Mario Williams has been playing hurt all year long, and if they could ever get him healthy, that would be a big deal. Rookie linebacker Brian Cushing has really helped DeMeco Ryans. I think they are definitely a contender, but what would solidify it for me is if they can beat the Colts. Just split with them and that will show the rest of the league that you are really there. How good are the Bengals? Can they win the AFC North? Yes, they are good. They have been really consistent, and now the home loss to Houston doesn't look that bad to me. Yes, you always want to win at home, but they had such an emotional win the week before in Baltimore after Mike Zimmer's wife passed away. So, I look at the Houston loss as somewhat of a letdown game, plus that's the game in which Antwan Odom got hurt, their great pass rusher. The thing, though, that impressed me is that they bounced right back after that and whipped the Bears. Yes, they can win the North, but you have to understand that the North is a monster. Think about how much we talk about the NFC East and how good that division is. Well, Pittsburgh and what Baltimore did last week to Denver shows how tough the AFC North is. But the Bengals are built for that division. They are more physical on defense. Now, they can also run the football with Cedric Benson. Carson Palmer hasn't always had that. Benson is running now like he did in college at Texas. He was a horse at Texas. You could hand it to him 30 times and that 30th time was just like the first. The Bengals are physical, they are tough and they have that nastiness to them now. They don't mind taking people on. It's not a big deal to them. The best thing owner Mike Brown did was not firing Marvin Lewis. Which team has been the bigger letdown: Chargers or Giants? Which is closer to finding the on switch?
I think the bigger letdown is the Giants because I don't think any of us saw it coming. The Chargers' fall started early with Jamal Williams getting hurt, and it took them a while to figure out what they were going to do at his nose tackle position. Now, they are rotating three guys in there. Their run defense has gotten better as a result. But when the Giants got off to a 5-0 start, I think a lot thought they might be the best team in the league. To see them plummet like this, I would say the Chargers are closer to finding the on switch than the Giants right now. The biggest problem I see for the Giants is: How are they going to fix those holes in their secondary? Aaron Ross still isn't ready to go this week at cornerback. But the biggest loss was Kenny Phillips at safety. So far, it has been a struggle for replacements like C.C. Brown to replace Phillips. Opposing teams are finding Brown in coverage and having a ball. I think they also have to find a way to get their pass rush tuned up again. They had 14 sacks in first five games and only four in their last three games, all losses. Well, that is not the Giants. I think the Chargers, though, still have a shot at repeating in the AFC West, especially if Pittsburgh goes into Denver and wins this Sunday. They are getting Pittsburgh, coming off a bye. I don't see San Diego as being out of it, because they will get one more shot at Denver later in the season. But if Denver comes back and beats Pittsburgh this Sunday, then all bets are off. There have been a lot of disbelievers in Denver, but if they go to 7-1, then we have to say they are really, really good. In college football, which of these undefeated, non-traditional powers has the best chance of shaking up the BCS bowl picture — Boise State, Cincinnati or TCU? If one or more of them wins out and Texas or Florida slip up, could one make it into the national championship game? I think it's Cincinnati, and I'm saying that believing that all three of these teams could run the table and be undefeated. I say that because I think the Big East's power ranking will trump TCU's in the Mountain West and definitely trump Boise in the WAC. I think the writers' poll will pick Boise because they are used to seeing them and they like their story. Out of the three, TCU may be the best team. But I do have a hard time getting past Cincinnati because I am just crazy about their head coach, Brian Kelly. I say that knowing that Gary Patterson at TCU and Chris Petersen at Boise State — all of them are great head coaches. But Kelly has some magic in Cincinnati. Now, it would take a little carnage above these three for any of them to make it to the BCS title game. In the SEC, either Alabama or Florida figures to get to the title game undefeated. What they need is for LSU to beat Alabama this week. And let's say Alabama comes back and beats Florida in the SEC title game. Well, Alabama is still going to the championship game. A one-loss SEC team will still make it over an undefeated Cincinnati. The problem is: Who is going to beat Florida? And Texas? What's left for Texas? They have to beat Texas A&M. Frankly, I could see all three winning out and not making it to the national title game. We are talking about Cincinnati as a BCS buster even though they are in a power conference. It tells you where the Big East is, huh? If Iowa wins out, they are still on the outside looking in. Even though their computer ranking is No. 2 right now, I just don't see Iowa winning out. At some point, their luck runs out. How happy would the BCS be, though, if Iowa, Boise, Cincinnati and TCU all end the season undefeated and none of them has a chance for a national title? What's impressive to me about Cincinnati is that they lost 10 starters on defense and also changed coordinators and are still winning. They are going to win 11 games for the third year in a row. Just think of that. And they don't even have practice fields!
Tagged: Bengals, Colts, Chiefs, Dolphins, Giants, Cardinals, Chargers, Texans, Mike Brown, Jamal Williams, Carson Palmer, Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Antwan Odom, Ryan Moats, Cedric Benson, C.C. Brown, Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Owen Daniels, Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips, Steve Slaton, Brian Cushing

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