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NFL questions as we endure dog days of summer

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Kevin Hench

An accomplished film and television writer, Kevin Hench's latest screenwriting credit is for The Hammer, which stars Adam Carolla. His podcast, Spider and the Henchman, is available every Friday on iTunes. MORE>>
   
 
The interminable last class of the day for the restless-legged student. The eternal February in New England for the sun-starved non-skier. Water refusing to boil under the gaze of a hungry man. There are intersections of longing and monotony where time grinds to a halt, life force seeping out while absolutely nothing happens. Add to the list: mid-July for the maniacal football fan. Tick. Tock. Sept. 10 is a distant blur on the horizon (Sept. 13 for you non-Steeler or Titan fans). The sports world is a desert now. Hot. Slow. Arid. We make due with ersatz speculation about Michael Vick or Plaxico Burress or Brett Favre, but we are merely subsisting on sawdust, craving the oasis of the games. The real games. Squinting down the hot dusty road — past training camp and the charade of a too-long preseason — we yearn for the answers to so many questions. How will the Dolphins enjoy their first AFC East title defense in eight years? The Fish went 11-5 (with seven victories by seven points or fewer) against a non-divisional schedule with a combined 64-96 (.400) record. This year's non-divisional schedule features 10 games against teams that combined for a 98-62 record (.613). Enjoy. What's the ceiling for a team that went 11-5 last year and then added Tom Brady, Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway in the offseason? In what week will the Terrell Owens time bomb go off? Warning: the Bills' first four opponents had a combined 39-25 (.609) record in 2008. How will 0-4 in upstate New York be for the star of The T.O. Show (premiering Monday on VH1)? Can Rex Ryan tackle? In eight games against opponents with .500 records or better last season the Jets surrendered 27.3 points per game. Then they drafted a QB, RB and OG with their three picks in the '08 draft. Maybe Vernon Gholston will shed the invisibility cloak he donned as a rookie. Who weighs more right now, Ben Roethlisberger or nose guard Casey Hampton? (The leader of the champs earned himself an indulgent offseason, but if he were thrown over the handlebars of his motorcycle and into a Chrysler New Yorker today, the car would be totaled.) Does anyone think the Ravens can repeat last year's shocking run to the AFC title game after losing their leading receiver, second-leading tackler and defensive coordinator? Which will come first this season, the Browns' first victory or their first staph infection? (Last year the Browns' first victory — in Week 4 — was followed immediately by Kellen Winslow's hospitalization for staph.) Will 28 different tight ends (minimum 20 catches) all average more yards per catch than Chad Ochocinco (10.2 ypc) as they did last season? How will Chris Johnson's announcement that he wants to be a solo act affect the future of the Titans' "Thunder and Lightning," particularly given that Johnson has no say in the matter when it comes to splitting carries? (At the very least Jeff Fisher needs to drop a "lighten up, Lightning" on him in front of the team.) Will new Colts coach Jim Caldwell follow in the footsteps of Tom Flores, George Seifert and Mike Tomlin? Like Caldwell, all three replaced coaches (Madden, Walsh, Cowher) in the top 15 in career winning percentage and all three won a Super Bowl within two years. Should the Texans start their own Ring of Honor, beginning with first inductee Charlie Casserly, the deposed GM with the stones to believe that Mario Williams would be a better pro than Reggie Bush or Vince Young? Is this the year Jack Del Rio gets the axe? It's been six years since Del Rio's motivational tool sliced open his punter's leg and the Jags are right where they were then, a 5-11 team looking up at a brutal division. How many games should the Chargers spot the AFC West in September and October before reeling in this wretched division down the stretch? How lucky are the Bolts? Two of their division rivals are paying king's ransoms for jury-still-out quarterbacks while the third ran off a proven stud. What does the Giants' astrological chart look like? There's no discounting luck in winning or losing a championship with this team. The G-Men won one title on the flukiest play in SB history and may have lost a second when a guy's gun discharged in his sweatpants. Can Tony Romo be Senor Macho Solo for the whole season and thereby lead the Pokes to a playoff victory for the first time in 13 years? How will Donovan McNabb and the Eagles come up short this year? Why would a team that finished 28th in the NFL in points scored and sixth in points allowed use its first four draft picks on defense and sign a free agent DT for a guaranteed $41M? (Redskins fans are curious.) Would the Packers (Aaron Rodgers), Bears (Jay Cutler) or Lions (Matthew Stafford) rather have Brett Favre as their QB? Hah. (Tarvaris Jackson had a QB rating of 106.4 in the final month of last season; Favre turned in a 54.3 rating down the stretch.) How many NFL fans can name the six running backs who have rushed for 18 or more TDs in a single season since the year 2000? Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander. LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and ... anybody ... DeAngelo Williams! Has it dawned on Falcons fans that — stomach-turning chain of events notwithstanding — they caught a huge break with the Michael Vick thing? They went from a QB who never had a rating over 81.6 in six seasons to Matt Ryan who turned in an 87.7 as a rookie and led them to the playoffs. Which Buccaneers team will take the field Sept. 13 against the Cowboys, the world-beaters that sailed to a 9-3 record atop the NFC South or the patsies that finished 0-4 and allowed 123 points in December? With Reggie Bush increasing his yards per carry every season in the NFL (3.6, 3.7, 3.8), how many years until he matches Pierre Thomas's career average? Answer: 10. Thomas averaged 4.8 yards per carry in spot duty in '07 and 4.8 again as a starter last year. You geaux, Pierre.
How close did the NFL come to its first outright fluke Super Bowl champion? The 9-7 Cardinals had more playoff wins (three) than regular-season wins over opponents with winning records (2-6). What is the significance of the 2, 1, 0 regression in San Francisco? For six years in the late '80s and early '90s the Niners had arguably the two best quarterbacks in football in Joe Montana and Steve Young. In the six years following Young's retirement, Jeff Garcia made three Pro Bowls. In the six years since Garcia left, well, I could list the names here but a "0" will suffice. While we're on the subject of regression, what's the significance in Seattle of 13.4, 12.3, 12.0, 10.2, 9.8? Those are the yards-per-catch averages for T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the last five seasons. Notice a trend? At least Seattle has the Sounders. What was the only team in football to allow over twice as many points as it scored? The Lions? Good guess. Wrong. Detroit had the widest gap at minus 249, but only the Rams were doubled up: 232 for, 465 against. It's a tear-down, alright, Coach Spagnuolo. So many questions. When will the Lions get off the schnide under Jim Schwartz? (They likely won't be favored until Week 8 at home against the Rams.) Can Kurt Warner (51 TDs over his last 24 games) really play another whole season without getting hurt? Will the Wildcat be declawed this season? Can Tom Brady plant and throw at game speed? Like the man said, the waiting is the hardest part.
Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Panthers, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Michael Vick, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Joey Galloway, Brett Favre, Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, Plaxico Burress, Casey Hampton, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens, Fred Taylor, Larry Johnson, Chris Johnson, Tony Romo, Kellen Winslow, Ben Roethlisberger, Mario Williams, Reggie Bush, DeAngelo Williams, Pierre Thomas, Matt Ryan, Vernon Gholston

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