Monday, July 17, 2006

NFC East: The Soap Opera Division

Pundits and bloggers are catching on that the most competitive division race will be in the NFC East. What’s missed is the East’s high quotient for drama worthy of any pot boiler. Call it the “All My Children” effect since most of the fireworks involve prodigal players coming home to roost.

Dallas. Fifty percent of all the soap opera in the NFL this year will involve Terrell Owens because, well, he’s Terrible Owens. Turmoil follows him like stink trails a garbage truck. Jerry Jones kept the petulant drama queen in the NFC East by signing him to Dallas. The sky high interest in the Cowboys’ first game on September 10 is purely to see how TO does for the silver and blue. He’ll win over the last Cowboy skeptic when he spikes the ball on the mid-field Cowboy Star after his first touchdown. Fans will take up a collection to pay his fine.

Terrell Owens may be the player you love to hate, but the NFL loves Owens. Why else would they schedule the Cowboys to seven national broadcast games by Thanksgiving? New York, Philadelphia and Washington combined are on eight national TV games by Thanksgiving -- three of them against Dallas.

Who do the Cowboys play in game one, anyway? Who cares! It’s not about the contest. It’s about TO. And no, having TO does not make the Cowboys the instant division winner. It’s not Dynasty. It’s Dallas.

Brotherly Love. Before last season’s playoffs, I wrote about Super Bowl match-ups I’d like to see. One of them was a scenario where Lil Eli faced off against the man he is compared to most, big brother Peyton. Manning’s Indianapolis Colts visits Manning’s New York Giants Sunday night, September 10. Both of these guys have something to prove following their team’s playoff el foldo act. Peyton has the lesser burden. It wasn’t he who missed the field goal that would have won against Pittsburgh. However, questions arose about Eli after the Giants’ collapsed against the Panthers. This game will show a lot about Eli Manning’s development. It won’t make or break the season, but I sense Giants fans are holding their breadth. Which side of the stadium will Archie sit?

Need more family conflict? The Giants will be in four other sibling rivalry games. Santana and Signorice Moss face off twice when the Redskins and Giants play. Matt and Tim Hasselbeck are opposite each other when the Giants visit Seattle September 24, although it's unlikely that Tim sees the field. Tiki and Ronde Barber battle when the Giants host Tampa Bay on October 29. That is the only game when brothers will be on the field at the same time. Tiki is the halfback for the Giants and Ronde is a defensive back for the Buccaneers.

Brad is Back. And he’s not mad anymore. When he was with the Redskins, Brad Johnson’s performance was solid, but under-appreciated. In his Little Danny days, when he thought the owner’s job was to select talent on the field, Mr. Snyder eschewed substance in favor of style. So, Johnson slipped out the door at the end of his contract. Johnson won a Super Bowl ring with Tampa, while Snyder gave us Jeff George, Tony Banks, Shane Mathews and Danny Woeful. (Well, Weurffel was more Spurrier than Snyder, but who put Spurrier in charge?) Put them all together and you still don’t have a decent Johnson. Ironically, in Mark Brunell the Redskins have a Johnson-like quarterback. Savvy game management and low turnovers are these guys’ forte. If Johnson were the starter when Joe Gibbs arrived, maybe the coach wouldn’t have made Brunell his first player move.

This historic showcase game on September 11 is the lead off of the first NFL Monday night double header.

JAG. Mark Brunell was a hero in Jacksonville. Then he got hurt. The new coach and new management handed the starting job to Byron Leftwich, who never gave it back. Brunell was relegated to the bench where he rusted. Then a rusty coach gave Brunell a shot at resurrecting his career and stuck by him when no one else did. The result was Brunell’s 2005 campaign (3,050 yards, 23 TDs, 10 Interceptions, 85.9 QB rating).

I don’t think Brunell has a vindictive bone in his body, but pride will drive him to show well against his old team when the Jaguars visit FedEx October 1. The knock on Brunell is his age and sturdiness. But young Leftwich suffered injury late last season and missed critical games. He lacked sharpness in Jacksonville’s playoff game and it cost them dearly. Nobody questions that Leftwich is the guy for the Jaguars. Virtually everybody fears that Brunell too old to start for the Skins. Enough, already! At age 36, Brunell is one year younger than John Elway was when Elway won his first Super Bowl. Brunell v Leftwich flavors an excellent match-up of playoff teams.

October 8 is Soap Opera Sunday! Before Joe Gibbs became the face of the Redskins (again), LaVar Arrington was the face of the team. He was the best player on a defense that starred Champ Bailey, Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce. He was the best player when defense was the only thing worth cheering for. Then came a mysterious injury and a more mysterious dispute with the owner and somehow Arrington followed Bailey, Smoot and Pierce out the door. But LaVar left with a huge chip on his shoulder. Arrington is not the player he was in his first two seasons, but he would like to give the football finger to the Redskins’ owner and coaches. I bet he plays like the LaVar of old when the Giants visit FedEx at 1:00 PM October 8. Although well liked by Redskins fans, LaVar’s DC return will be greeted lustily and profanely.

At FedEx, profanity is simple bad taste. In Philadelphia, it's an art. Iggles fans will apply all of their artistic talent when Terrell Owens returns to town with his Cowboy friends Sunday night, October 8. Lock up your women and hide the children. Set your Tivos. Movies will be made of this game. Water cooler chatter will carry from Monday through Thursday. Most of the entertainment will be in the stands as Philly fans have their first chance to vent since the drama queen was run out of town. If there is a God, the Iggles win this one.

The Amazing Race. As the world turns like sands through the hourglass, the days of our lives go on game by game. The East gets a healthy dose of reality TV late in the season. The division race will be so close in December that tie-breaker implications will out weigh any personal animus in the soap opera rematch games. Eagles at Cowboys on Christmas Day and Redskins at Giants on December 30 will determine the NFC East winner. Three of these teams could make the playoffs.

What a season that was!


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