- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2009

POINT-COUNTERPOINT

Each Friday, columnist Dan Daly and Redskins beat writer Ryan O’Halloran debate an NFL issue. This week: The Patriots are on track to win the AFC East but little else. Has coach Bill Belichick lost his fastball with some of his decisions?

Ryan O’Halloran: I certainly think Belichick is forward-thinking in a lot of areas, but this hasn’t been his best year in terms of offseason decision-making and in-game calls. Every time I see the Patriots lose or even struggle against bad teams, I’m convinced Belichick went into the season thinking, “Brady won’t totally be back until 2010. I have a young secondary - I’ll fleece Al Davis in a deal for Richard Seymour, and we’ll contend for the title in 2011.” Just a thought.

Dan Daly: I try not to give coaches too much credit for clairvoyance. The Seymour deal, in my mind, was just a case of “better to trade a guy a year too early than a year too late.” Belichick had decided he wasn’t going to re-sign him, so he could either keep him for one more season and let him walk - for nothing - or try to get something for him. It was the same approach the Patriots took when they franchised Matt Cassel so they could get something for him in a trade. The Patriots didn’t trade Seymour; they traded one year of Seymour - and got a high pick for him. The high second-rounder they got for Cassel was a bonus. I’m surprised more teams don’t do this. If you have assets, don’t lose them for nothing.

RO: Belichick is usually pretty good on which veterans he plucks from other teams - like Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau years ago. But his trio of “veteran” signings this year haven’t panned out. Joey Galloway was cut, Fred Taylor got hurt and Shawn Springs missed four games. The Patriots probably thought they would get more from them. And then there’s Randy Moss, who was ripped by everybody with a keyboard or microphone for his effort last week. That was only a matter time, right?

DD: Here’s what I think really happened in New England: Belichick, who has been a master button-pusher over the years, pushed the wrong buttons this time. He has been famous for getting rid of guys like Lawyer Milloy just before the season and stirring things up, and it’s usually worked for him. Players tend to play a little harder, I think, when they’re feeling a little insecure. But there’s a different dynamic there now. Guys like Brady, Moss and a few others are thinking, “How many more great years have we got left?” And when Belichick traded Seymour, they felt like they were losing one of their better chances to contend for another championship. I’m not sure the team has been the same since then. I think on some level they’re still mad at Bill. The more you see that secondary, though, the more you’re convinced they weren’t going anywhere — Seymour or no Seymour.

WEEKEND PICKS

REDSKINS THIS WEEK

GIANTS (7-6) at REDSKINS (4-9)

Monday, 8:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 20, ESPN

Line: Giants by 3

Outlook: The Giants looked like an NFC contender when they dispatched of the Redskins in Week 1 — and certainly when they rolled to a 5-0 start. But New York is 2-6 since and is broken defensively, ranking 28th in points allowed. The Redskins have reached 30 points in two straight games, and Jason Campbell is playing the best football of his career. Washington plays spoiler.

The pick: Redskins 31-27

GAME OF THE WEEK

COWBOYS (8-5) at SAINTS (13-0)

Saturday, 8:20 p.m.

TV: NFL

Line: Saints by 7 1/2

Outlook: New Orleans has fought boredom the past two weeks, and it almost cost the Saints, who rallied at Washington and held on against Atlanta. Not that they needed to be scared straight, but their attention will return because of Dallas’ record. The last thing the Cowboys want to see now is New Orleans. It’s just a bad matchup, and Dallas’ December swoon will continue.

The pick: Saints 35-24

UPSET WATCH

PACKERS (9-4) at STEELERS (6-7)

Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

TV: Chs. 5, 45

Line: Steelers by 2

Outlook: Pittsburgh is in a free fall and has lost to Kansas City (3-10), Oakland (4-9) and Cleveland (2-11) to throw away a 6-2 start. The Steelers face a Green Bay team that is in the top three in eight defensive categories and has won five straight by an average of 11.6 points. Another Pittsburgh loss ensures a new Super Bowl champion.

The pick: Packers 24-20

INSIDE THE AFC

*LaDainian Tomlinson isn’t having a great year for San Diego (a woeful 3.2 yards a carry), but his touchdown last week in Dallas gave him 10, extending his league record to nine straight years with double-digit rushing scores. The Chargers will be a dangerous out for Indianapolis; they’ve already won at the Giants, Denver and Dallas.

*Always-quotable Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark ranted Wednesday about fans and media being too critical of the Steelers during their five-game losing streak. “This year, increasingly, it’s made me realize that you have to play for your organization, you have to play for your teammates, you have to play for yourself, for your family — because the people on the outside don’t understand the frustration you go through,” he said.

*Even though the Patriots are struggling, they are this week’s lock when they play at Buffalo. The Patriots have won 12 straight over Buffalo, and quarterback Tom Brady is 14-1 in the series with 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 102.6 passer rating. A win would do a lot for Buffalo interim coach Perry Fewell’s status.

INSIDE THE NFC

*Don’t you just love Twitter? On Wednesday, Chicago’s Devin Hester held court and said changes are in store since the Bears will miss the playoffs for a third straight year. “There will be a lot of changes. I know that for a fact, and I hope it’s for the better. Everybody sees it. There are going to be a lot of new players in probably,” he said. Hours later, Hester posted five tweets claiming his interview was “blown out of proportion. … Everything I said was reworded or taken the wrong way.”

*Not only has Atlanta (6-7) slid out of playoff contention thanks in part to losing Matt Ryan (toe) and Michael Turner (ankle), but the Falcons also can’t stay out of the hoosegow. Last week, Jonathan Babineaux was arrested on a marijuana possession charge, and it was revealed this week that Eric Weems was arrested Nov. 16 and charged with driving under the influence. “We don’t like these kinds of incidents, and they’re disappointing,” coach Mike Smith said.

*If Carolina (5-8) needs a good finish to save John Fox’s job, it will be difficult. The Panthers finish vs. Minnesota (11-2), at the Giants (7-6) and vs. New Orleans (13-0). The Panthers’ best way to get back in the NFC South race next year: part ways with Jake Delhomme and make a run at Jason Campbell.

Ryan O’Halloran

BY THE NUMBERS

89 Punt return yards this season for the Redskins, last in the NFL by 31 yards.

ALL-TIME PERFORMANCE

Denver’s Brandon Marshall set the single-game receptions record last week at Indianapolis. He holds two spots among the top five performances:

Player, teamOpponentDateRec.YardsAvg.TD

Brandon Marshall, DenverIndianapolisSunday212009.52

Terrell Owens, S.F.ChicagoDec. 17, 20002028314.21

Brandon Marshall, DenverSan DiegoSept. 14, 2008181669.21

Tom Fears, L.A. RamsGreen BayDec. 3, 19501818910.52

Clark Gaines, N.Y. JetsSan FranciscoSept. 21, 1980171609.40

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