Fan Interference
NFL Preview: The Players and Teams to Watch
By Bob Plain
Sep 1, 2005

The NFL preseason is almost over and the regular season is about to begin. Here are the top stories that have emerged ...

Tragedy in New Orleans

With the complete and utter destruction of their city, it seems vulgar to ask what effect Hurricane Katrina will have on the Saints' season. Football, however, is going to be one of the few respites the poor people of New Orleans are going to have in the brutal months that lay ahead. For this season anyway, it appears that the team will practice in San Antonio and play in nearby Baton Rouge in LSU's recently remodeled Tiger Stadium. Hopefully Saints owner Tom Benson will show some sympathy and slash the price of Saints tickets, or just let people in for free, otherwise the massive, 90,000-seat stadium, eerily nicknamed "Death Valley" will likely be half full on game day.

After this season, though, all bets are off. As much as I want to avoid adding insult to injury, there is absolutely no way that the New Orleans region will be able to support an NFL team any time in the near future. With the city transformed into what is essentially a third-world refugee camp, the last thing anyway is going to want to do is spend hundreds of dollars on tickets and "personal seats licenses."

This means that in all likelihood Benson will move the team to Los Angeles quicker than any one thought possible. How this will play out is anyone's guess. Los Angeles, a city that is cool to the NFL to begin with, is going to have a hard time adopting a team that has been sent to them because of a horrible tragedy. A good first step would be to change the team's name in order to provide some sort of clean slate.

All of this feels ghoulish to speculate about, to say the least, when thousands of lives have been destroyed. The best we can hope for is that the Saints play well this year and give the people of Louisiana something, anything to cheer about.

Meltdown in the Motor City

The Detroit Lions last won a championship in 1957. Lions fans are anxious for a return to glory. I wish I could say that the roar has been restored in Motown but after watching the Lions stink it up in the fourth preseason game against the Rams, I think it's safe to assume that the status quo will remain in effect. What is so alarming about watching the Lions get drilled 37-13 is that the final exhibition game is traditionally the most important, a dress rehearsal where the starters are left in for more than a quarter and the teams generally play for real.

The two most glaring trouble spots for the Lions are their offensive line and their secondary. Beleaguered quarterback Joey Harrington had Rams in his grill as soon as the ball was snapped on seemingly every play. Although Harrington has been a disappointment so far in his Lions career, not even Joe Montana would look good behind such a porous offensive line. Since Harrington has about half a second to make a read and get a pass off, his talented receivers aren't able to complete their routes or stretch the field. Backup quarterback Jeff Garcia looked horrible as well, proving that it's Harrington or bust for the Lions. The secondary didn't look any better; giving Isaac Bruce a 10-yard cushion on every play and leaving him wide open for easy completions.

Unless head coach Steve Mariucci is doing the ultimate sandbagging job, the Lions are going to be awful this year. Lions fans might fly off the deep end if they have to endure another year of painful futility. Joey Harrington, Steve Mariucci, and GM Matt Millen better hire armed guards if they want to make it through the season in one piece.

Can Chicago Win without a Quarterback?

Everyone knows that the Bears are snake bit at the quarterback position. They've had about 2,500 starting quarterbacks in the past decade and no one can remember any of their names. Chicago is the Bermuda Triangle of quarterbacks; as soon as a QB slaps on the Bears jersey, he disappears off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again.

The Bears were already in trouble at the start of training camp, relying on Rex Grossman, he of five career starts and a body made of porcelain, to be their savior. The Bears were so enamored with Grossman even though he's undersized, has a weak arm, and is injury-prone that they failed to sign a veteran backup, despite a great free-agent market. Grossman inevitably broke his ankle in the second preseason game and is out for the year, again leaving the Bears with no real option at quarterback.

General Manager Jerry Angelo should have been immediately fired for complete and utter stupidity. Ninety-nine percent of most fantasy owners wouldn't make the same boneheaded move; the fact that the GM of a billion-dollar organization did is unconscionable.

After watching backup Chad Hutchinson circle the drain in his two preseason starts, head coach Lovie Smith promoted Purdue rookie Kyle Orton to starter. Orton has looked okay in his preseason playing time, although most of it has come against vanilla defenses and scout-team competition. It should be interesting to see Orton get his first taste of real NFL defenses when Orton is thrown to the wolves against Washington.

Yes, the Steelers went 15-1 with a rookie starter. The Bears, while a decent team (aside from their quarterback woes), are nowhere near as good as that Pittsburgh crew. If the Bears are going to have any success at all, they are going to have to follow the Steelers' blueprint: play great defense, run the ball, and throw the ball only 15 times a game, sticking to mostly short-yardage, low-risk routes.

The fact that the Bears will have to rely on camp no-show Cedric Benson to fill the grind-it-out Jerome Bettis role should give Bears fans pause. Although Orton looks like a cool customer in the preseason, don't forget that he fumbled in the closing minutes of last year's Wisconsin game, a game Purdue was about to put away. Orton's mistake resulted in a Badger defender scooping up the ball and running 40 yards to win the game. If Orton can make mistakes like this against Big-10 defenses in the most critical moments of a game, just wait 'til LaVar Arrington gets his hands on him.

Randy Moss and T.O.

Why does Terrell Owens make it so difficult to like him? I want to root for T.O., I really do. The guy is just a joy to watch; with arms that seem to extend to the floor and legs like a giraffe, Owens is the most unique physical specimen that I've ever seen play the game. The guy is so good that he converted the first pass thrown to him for a touchdown — even though he's barely practiced with the team because of a ridiculously long and contentious temper tantrum about his contract.

If Owens weren't such a head case, he'd be the most popular NFL player by miles. Unfortunately, he is a head case and a cancer to a proud franchise. The Eagles are past the point of trading him and are going to have to deal with a mess that they created by signing the guy, whose misadventures in San Francisco are no secret, in the first place. It will be interesting to see if Owens' paranoia and general mental illness will allow him to play at a high level, or at least at a level that makes him worth putting up with.

The Raiders better be paying close attention to the situation in Philly because they have their own malcontent receiver on their hands in Randy Moss. If Owens is the Number One receiver in the league, Moss is 1-A. In some ways, Moss is actually a worse human being than Owens, who remarkably, given his reputation, has managed to stay out of the police blotter. Moss hasn't been as well behaved; his rap sheet includes nearly running over a traffic officer, getting kicked out of FSU, and serving 30 days in jail for probation violation.

The Raiders are a T.O. blow-up waiting to happen. The question is, Can they get enough production out of him this year to make him worth the risk? Most likely, yes. Moss will be on his best behavior this year as he sets out to prove that he is still the best receiver in the league. As he hangs around longer, maybe by the beginning of next season, the rot will begin to set in. Then Moss will take plays off, yell at the quarterback, and be a general nuisance in the locker room. The Raiders will try to shop him around and the cycle will begin anew. In the meantime, both the Raiders and the Eagles will try to eek as much production out of their two troubled superstars as possible before they both self-destruct.

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