- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The demolition derby known as the NFC East race has reached the quarter pole for the 2-2 Redskins and 3-1 Eagles. The Giants (1-2) and Dallas (2-1) have already had their byes.

What’s most clear is how valuable a top-flight running back is for a team in this division. The Redskins were a shell of themselves without Clinton Portis and Philadelphia had trouble for nearly three quarters against an awful Green Bay team without Brian Westbrook. The Cowboys and Giants will also rely on Julius Jones/Marion Barber and Tiki Barber/Brandon Jacobs.

Whichever running back stays the healthy the longest, his team has the best chance to win the division.

Through the first month, only two division games have been played — the Giants stole a game at Philly and the Cowboys demolished the Redskins in Dallas. But things pick up this week with Redskins-Giants and Cowboys-Eagles. Two teams would be in trouble with a loss: The Giants would fall to 1-3 with trips to Atlanta and Dallas the next two weeks. Plus, a loss would continue to implode the locker room. The second team is Philly. If it loses to Dallas, they would be 3-2, but those two losses would be division home games.

My division power rankings are: 1. Eagles. 2. Cowboys. 3. Redskins. 4. Giants.

Other random thoughts through the first month

1. In the NFC, Chicago (4-0) can’t possibly be that good, right? The Bears routed Seattle, which didn’t have Shaun Alexander, two days ago. I still don’t completely trust a team quarterbacked by Rex Grossman and led in rushing by Thomas Jones. But because they’ve won a division road game (Minnesota) and could go 6-0 in the NFC North, they may claim home field. My Super Bowl pick, Seattle, is 3-1.

Elsewhere in the NFC, I don’t think New Orleans (3-1) can sustain its success and I’m not a big fan of Atlanta (3-1) because their quarterback still can’t win a game with his arm. St. Louis (3-1) is a surprise but they need to show me more and my beloved Minnesota Vikings (2-2) will bounce back from two consecutive losses.

2. My AFC Super Bowl pick, New England, is also 3-1. The Patriots rebounded from the Denver loss to pound Cincinnati on Sunday. The Patriots haven’t lost back to back games in four years — an impressive feat. Indianapolis is off to its typical hot start (4-0) but the Colts will be surrounded by red flags until they perform well in the postseason. Steve McNair has made all the difference in Baltimore (4-0) but the Ravens will lose Monday night in Denver. Cincinnati (3-1) has issues on defense and in keeping players out of the pokey. San Diego (2-1) is the best team in the AFC West, but it had a Marty-type loss at Baltimore on Sunday — late blown lead.

3. Worst teams in the league: Detroit (0-4), Tennessee (0-4), Houston (1-3), Oakland (0-3).

Other musings for a Tuesday morning

4. The Redskins won’t have to worry about Titans DT Albert Haynesworth in two weeks when the teams meet at FedEx. He was suspended five games by the league for stomping on Dallas C Andre Gurode’s head like it was set up on a kicking tee. The suspension is one of the stiffest for an on-field action. If it weren’t for the salary cap implications, I think the Titans should have cut Haynesworth for his blatant cheap shot.

5. Get ready for more All T.O, All The Dang Time. This week Owens makes his return to Philadelphia. No word on whether ESPN will have round-the-clock updates on when the Cowboys’ charter lands in Philly, their team bus arrives at the hotel and what room Owens has checked into. Nobody can make a story out of nothing like the Worldwide Leader.

6. Got a chuckle out of New York Daily News writer Rich Cimini’s blog on Monday. At the Colts-Jets game, he was in the bathroom for Justin Miller’s fourth-quarter kickoff return. I can relate. Last year in Arizona, I was taking a bathroom, getting-a-Dr. Pepper break when I turn around, look at the monitor and see Antonio Brown sprinting down the sideline for a touchdown. Moments later, my Dad — who was in the stands — called me to ask if I had seen Brown blowing kisses to the Redskins sideline as he was running past them.

7. The Minnesota Twins capped an incredible second half by winning the AL Central on Sunday. The Twins won the World Series when I was in the seventh and 11th grades, defeating St. Louis and Atlanta in seven games. I’m less confident this year that they can make it three titles in 19 years but will pick the nonetheless. Baseball predictions: Twins over A’s, Yanks over Tigers, Mets over Dodgers, Padres over Cardinals. … Twins over Yanks, Padres over Mets. … Twins over Padres.

8. Movie review time. Saw “The Last Kiss” and liked it a lot. Zach Braff and Rachel Bilson turn in solid performances, but I really thought Jacinda Barrett was impressive — some powerful scenes. … Not so great (in fact, terrible) was “All The King’s Men.” Wait for it to come out on DVD and then rent it so you can fast forward to Sean Penn’s scenes.

9. TV review time. The best new show on TV is NBC’s “Studio 60.” Aaron Sorkin has the magic touch again after penning “Sports Night” and “West Wing.” Also impressive is “Kidnapped” on Wednesdays and I am eagerly anticipating the season premiere of “Lost” this Wednesday.

10. Book review time. It’s been a good month for new books. I’ve purchased Michael Lewis’ book about left tackles — “The Blind Side” — and fellow North Dakotan Chuck Klosterman’s anthology of articles and essays — “Chuck Klosterman IV”.

We’ll check in tomorrow once the Redskins return to work.

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