- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

POINT-COUNTERPOINT

Each Friday, columnist Dan Daly and Redskins beat writer Ryan O’Halloran debate a football issue. This week’s topic: How surprising is the play of New England quarterback Matt Cassel?

Dan Daly: I can’t believe how far Cassel has come in such a short time. Earlier in the season, I was more aware of his limitations. He didn’t react that well to the pass rush, for one thing, and the offense seemed awfully scaled back. But these past two weeks — wow. I still think you have to be careful, though, not to jump to conclusions about him. Don’t forget, he’s playing with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, two fabulous receivers. When Daunte Culpepper had Moss and Cris Carter, he looked all-world. How does he look to you now? That’s just my way of saying the personnel in New England — and the system — are going to maximize Cassel’s abilities. With, say, the 49ers, who no doubt will be in the market for a quarterback, it would be a different story.

Ryan O’Halloran: After the San Diego game, I thought the Patriots were in big trouble — that’s how bad Cassel looked, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of reason to think he would turn it around. But he has looked great ever since. There wasn’t a lot of doubt offensive coordinator/whiz kid Josh McDaniels would be a head coach, but his work with Cassel — remember, this guy hadn’t started since high school — has only increased his stock. I’m sure he would like to take Cassel with him if he gets a job. The issue New England faces is, can it pay its top two quarterbacks a combined $25 million next year?

DD: There’s no way they can keep both. If Brady were a little older — he’ll be 32 next season — the Patriots could at least consider trading him and holding onto the younger guy. Montana was, what, 37, when the 49ers decided to send him to Kansas City and keep Steve Young at quarterback? But it would take incredible guts to do that to Brady, who’s not just the face of the franchise but the greatest player in franchise history by far. There was a reason they drafted Kevin O’Connell in the third round this year, and the reason is: Cassel’s contract was going to be up, and some team was going to be willing to pay him more than the Patriots were even if he was still something of an unknown quantity. The league is just starved for quarterbacking. Cassel is setting himself up to make a bundle.

RO: The only reason to hang on to Cassel would be if Brady has a setback in his rehab during the next two months, but all accounts say No. 12 is on the right track. I agree that the Patriots would have to deal him. And the team getting Cassel is at a bigger advantage than, say, a team like Houston when it dealt for Matt Schaub. Cassel will have 15 starts (plus playoffs, perhaps) of video to analyze and determine whether he’s worth the draft picks and big-money contract. If I were in charge of Detroit, I would dangle that first overall pick to New England for Cassel.

WEEKEND PICKS

REDSKINS THIS WEEK

GIANTS (10-1) at REDSKINS (7-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 5, 45

Line: Giants by 3 1/2

Outlook: New York is rolling toward a division title and home-field advantage in the NFC. The Redskins are clinging onto the final wild card spot, but a loss this week doesn’t squash their chances. The Redskins’ best hope is what happened last December in the swamp — make Eli Manning throw more than 40 times. Not likely to happen. The Giants are just better right now.

The pick: Giants 20-12

GAME OF THE WEEK

STEELERS (8-3) at PATRIOTS (7-4)

Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

TV: Chs. 9, 13

Line: Patriots by 1

Outlook: Matt Cassel’s streak of 400-yard passing games and the Patriots’ streak of 500-yard total offense games will end at two against the Steelers’ top-ranked defense. But which quarterback would you rather have — Cassel or Ben Roethlisberger? The pick here is Cassel and the Patriots to keep pace with the Jets atop the AFC East.

The pick: Patriots 14-9

UPSET WATCH

FALCONS (7-4) at CHARGERS (4-7)

Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

Line: Chargers by 5

Outlook: The Chargers can’t win a close game, but they’re favored in part because Atlanta hasn’t been great on the road. San Diego is nowhere near .500 but still only two games out of the AFC West lead, a margin that can be cut in half with a win over the Falcons and a Jets win over Denver. The Falcons, though, will win Michael Turner’s first game against his former team.

The pick: Falcons 34-27

THIS WEEK’S LOCK

BEARS (6-5) at VIKINGS (6-5)

Sunday, 8:15 p.m.

TV: Chs. 4, 11

Line: Vikings by 3

Outlook: The NFC North lead is up for grabs. If the Bears win, they have the clear advantage because they begin a three-game homestand next week. The Vikings won at Jacksonville last week by intercepting David Garrard twice. Kyle Orton has only four interceptions in 299 passes this year, but he’ll commit a key turnover or two and the Vikings will take over first place.

The pick: Vikings 22-17

FRIDAY’S FIVE

Top offensive prospects for next spring’s NFL draft:

1. QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia: One look at Daunte Culpepper last week, and it’s clear Detroit needs to start over at quarterback.

2. WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech: If he declares himself eligible, will be attractive for a team needing immediate help, but taking a receiver high is a gamble.

3. WR Percy Harvin, Florida: Why isn’t the Virginia native getting more attention? Probably because Reggie Bush hasn’t done much. Harvin, though, is more dynamic and versatile.

4. OT Andre Smith, Alabama: He’s a junior but gigantic (330 pounds). A red flag should be that some analysts project him as a guard. Teams don’t take potential guards this high.

5. OT Michael Oher, Mississippi: We haven’t heard much about him since being featured in the book “Blind Side.” But most online mock drafts have him in the top 10.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

A look each week at one statistic last week’s games. This week: quarterback rating.

13-3 Record last week among teams whose quarterback posted the higher passer rating. Eight passers were above 100. The only three to have a better rating and lose were Jacksonville’s David Garrard, Carolina’s Jake Delhomme and San Diego’s Philip Rivers.

INSIDE THE AFC

*Another interesting week in Cleveland. QB Brady Quinn’s broken finger will keep him out of the year, but that didn’t stop coach Romeo Crennel from naming Quinn the starter entering 2009. Keep in mind, chances are Crennel won’t even be around to change his mind. Derek Anderson is back in as the starter, and the best he can hope for is showing enough to make himself a trade option.

*Miami not only lost to the Patriots last week but also lost receiver Greg Camarillo for the season with a knee injury. He leads the Dolphins with 55 catches for 613 yards. “Greg was a staple in our offense,” QB Chad Pennington said. “He was a guy that was extremely reliable so it’s a tough loss for us.” The good news for Miami — it faces St. Louis on Sunday.

*Only Denver could lose to Oakland 31-10 at home and still feel good about making the postseason. The Broncos are 6-5 but still two games ahead of San Diego, which can’t win a close game. The Broncos are minus 12 in turnover ratio, are down to their fifth starting tailback, have backups playing at all three linebacker spots and have been forced to play 12 rookies. The Broncos likely will fall to .500 when they play at the New York Jets this week.

INSIDE THE NFC

*Although the schedule is favorable (three out of last five at home), does anybody really believe Green Bay is a playoff team after it was beat up at New Orleans? The defense is in shambles. The Packers’ 18 sacks are tied for 25th in the NFL. That’s still more than the Redskins have, but way off Green Bay’s total of 36 last year. Coach Mike McCarthy said: “Five games to play, we’re not out of anything. It’s right in front of us. We need to win football games.”

*Why did the 49ers wait so long to play former Maryland quarterback Shaun Hill? In his three starts, San Francisco is 1-2 but averaging 27 points a game, and Hill has thrown for 733 yards and six touchdowns. For the year, Hill is completing 60.3 percent of his throws and has a 94.3 passer rating.

*Gutsy move last week by embattled Vikings coach Brad Childress. Playing at Jacksonville, Childress benched running back Adrian Peterson for the opening two possessions after Peterson was late to a meeting Saturday. Chester Taylor started in the 30-12 win, and Peterson carried 17 times. “Everybody understands what the ground rules are,” Childress said.

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