Chiefs are team to beat in AFC West
The Raiders are going to the playoffs?
Eric Mangini a new man?
The Cowboys have found it?
We stop the insanity, Schein 9 style, with a game of boom or bust.
1. The Chargers are the favorites in the AFC West
The e-mail from my editor made me smile, asking me to figure out the AFC West and declare a winner. You can solve world peace before figuring out this division.
San Diego had a sensational and needed win in Houston. No Antonio Gates, no problem. Seyi Ajirotutu became a household name. Philip Rivers continued to dazzle.
The Raiders made it three straight incredible, thunderous wins by besting the rival Chiefs in overtime.
In this totally zany division, I’m staying with my prediction from September when the Chargers looked totally disinterested in getting back to the playoffs. I’m rolling with Todd Haley and the Kansas City Chiefs. So it’s a bust.
I know, I know. Chargers fans want to knock me out. I took Eli over Rivers for MVP at the midway point and now I like the Chiefs. I know what you are saying. You always start slow. Vincent Jackson is coming back. Marcus McNeill is back. Ryan Mathews can only get better. You hope, you pray, that the Chargers stop getting punts blocked. And San Diego always starts slow under Norv Turner, then finishes strong.
The schedule is favorable. After the bye week, they have the dysfunctional Broncos, the injury-riddled Colts (a team the Chargers always beat), home games against the Raiders, Chiefs and Niners, before ending on the road with the Bengals and Broncos. The optimist says they can win every game. The realist says they are the Chargers.
I don’t trust the special teams. I don’t trust Turner. I don’t love the line play. Mathews has been a colossal disappointment. This team turns it over way too many times during a ballgame.
The Raiders have been on fire. Tom Cable deserves a ton of credit. Darren McFadden has been a top-five back this year. And in talking to Jason Campbell this week on Sirius NFL Radio, he oozed confidence, crediting crisp practices for the three-game win streak. But you still sense a divide between the owner and staff over who should play quarterback when Bruce Gradkowski is healthy. And I don’t trust Oakland when it comes to penalties or discipline.
Plus, look at Oakland’s slate after the bye week. They are in Pittsburgh before coming home to play Miami. They are in San Diego and Jacksonville. Oakland closes the season with the Broncos, Colts, and in Kansas City, which might just be for the division.
Which brings us to the Chiefs.
My pick of Kansas City will be dented severely if they lose to the Broncos, who have self-destructed and folded up. But I’m not going to back down after K.C. loses in overtime on the road against the Raiders. That’s a game Oakland is supposed to win. While Matt Cassel scares me, the Chiefs running attack is lethal. Their well-coached defense makes plays. Derrick Johnson is playing the best ball of his career.
The Chiefs are 5-3 and should win their next four. After they beat the Broncos, it’s the Cards at home, in Seattle, and then home against the Broncos. Then it is the Chargers and Rams on the road, before finishing up with games at their great home-field advantage at Arrowhead taking on the Titans and Raiders.
Now I totally understand that it is so difficult to play the “win-loss” game in this era of parity. But when you are trying to separate three flawed teams, it is important to look at schedules.
Ask yourself this question. Which head coach do you trust? Which coaching staff do you trust? If K.C. can bank a win this weekend and get to six, that’s a legit leg up. Either way, I don’t think any of these teams are capable of a sustained run in January.
2. Eric Mangini has changed
Somebody gag me. I’ve had enough. This “Eric Mangini has changed” spin is insane. Mangini comparing himself to Pete Best, to Rex Ryan’s Ringo Starr, suggesting he laid the groundwork for the Jets under Rex is totally absurd.
Let’s be clear. Eric Mangini sucked the life out of the Jets organization and the team collapsed. He somehow suckered Randy Lerner into a four-year deal, and sucked the life out of Cleveland. Mike Holmgren took over as president after Mangini stabbed his old friend George Kokinis in the back. Holmgren kept Mangini solely because he had three years left on his deal.
Credit Mangini for the last two Cleveland wins, making Drew Brees and Tom Brady look like Derek Anderson and Max Hall. But let’s not say the Browns are back. Let’s not say Mangini has changed. He is trying desperately to save his gig. It’s a bust.
3. The Jets offense will bounce back
I’m going boom here, even though I am skeptical. Talking to Mark Sanchez this week on SNY during an exclusive sit down, the second-year quarterback stressed eliminating the killer penalties and turnovers. The Jets also need to get back to the “ground and pound” approach. Shonn Greene needs more carries. LaDainian Tomlinson has looked like a 31-year-old the last three weeks. And Sanchez, during this three-game span, has tossed two touchdowns against five picks. But the Jets offensive line, highlighted by the underrated Brandon Moore, is too good. Sanchez was fantastic from the New England game to the showdown with the Vikings. And there are too many good players on offense. Dustin Keller must get the ball early.
4. Mike McCarthy is a candidate for coach of the year
I don’t have McCarthy in my top five. But my radio co-host Rich Gannon has sold me on the incredible job McCarthy has done with all of the injuries. The star running back is done for the year. So is the star tight end. The season was on the brink after back-to-back overtime losses to Washington and Miami. But then the Packers rolled off three great wins, beating Brett Favre and the Vikings, stunning the Jets in New York, and blasting the Cowboys. Green Bay is 6-3 and on target for the lofty goals we set for them in the preseason. Boom.
5. Mike Tomlin coached a poor game against Cincy
Tomlin took some heat from the media for his performance against the Bengals. He explained to us on Sirius NFL Radio that he threw the ball as much as he did in the second half because of the rash of injuries to his offensive line. I was wondering, that’s why I asked the question. It makes sense. Thus, this is a bust.
6. The Bengals will never win with Chad Ochocinco
BOOM! That pathetic, selfish act on Monday night made me sick. How do you constantly put yourself before your team? Carson Palmer was angry. So was Andrew Whitworth. Marvin Lewis yanked Ochocinco from the game. And the problem is that Ochocinco is surrounded by enablers, from Mike Brown to Marvin Lewis. Lewis will leave when his contract is done at the end of the year. And then Cincy should clean house.
7. Jonathan Goff is the most surprising player on the Giants defense
I’ve been arguing this was a boom, with his play and leadership at middle linebacker. But Wednesday on Madden Football on Sirius NFL Radio, defensive end Justin Tuck convinced everyone this was a bust when he told us that Barry Cofield fit that description, actually calling him, “the most well-rounded defensive lineman on the team.” While I would give Tuck that nod, Cofield’s had a tremendous season up front for the Giants.
8. The Dallas Cowboys approach will be different under Jason Garrett
This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Jason Garrett has always been calling the plays. Wade Phillips is a better defensive coordinator than Paul Pasqualoni. Jerry Jones needed to fire himself as the president and general manager. The Cowboys won’t win until that happens. It’s a bust.
9. Chad Henne should still be the Miami quarterback
I understand this Dolphins team is stuck in the mud at 4-4. I kicked off my Schein 9 last week ripping them. I expected Henne to take a major step forward and I thought the Henne to Brandon Marshall combination would sizzle. It hasn’t happened. But is Chad Pennington the answer? I don’t think so. Henne still has a ton of talent. I place the blame for the Miami offensive struggles at the feet of offensive coordinator Dan Henning. It’s a boom.