- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Can we please start the NFL regular season? I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of reading about Andy Reid’s run-amok kids, Joe Gibbs having to mediate a dispute between Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, and Tiki Barber a retired player! trading barbs with Eli Manning. I’m ready for some football. I’m ready for a guy to get fined $10,000 for a uniform violation.

Amazing, isn’t it? The most tranquil team in the NFC East right now is the Cowboys, Terrell Eldorado Owens’ team. Everywhere else you’ve had on- and/or off-field turmoil — from the Eagles’ unexpected release of popular Jeremiah Trotter to the Giants‘ staredown with Michael Strahan to Joe Gibbs Racing ditching Chevrolet for Toyota. (Oh, and if I’m not mistaken, Clinton Portis missed the entire exhibition season, too.)

On the basis of this alone, you’d have to make Dallas the favorite in the division. The Cowboys have replaced Bill Parcell’s whip with Wade Phillips’ folksy charm and are hoping to improve on last year’s disappointing 9-8 record (playoff loss included). Don’t be deceived; laid-back Wade is no Barry Switzer. He did a decent coaching job in Denver (one playoff berth in two seasons), a better coaching job in Buffalo (two playoff berths in three seasons) and has a pretty good defensive mind (as the Chargers have shown in recent years).

Maybe Phillips is the next Marv Levy. Or maybe he’s the next Eugene Levy. We shall see. But when you hire a strong defensive coach to run a club that already has a formidable offense (Tony Romo, T.O., Jason Whitten, the two-helmeted monster of Julius Jones and Marion Barber) good things can happen. (See Tony Dungy.)

In Philadelphia, the front office tweaked face-of-the-franchise Donovan McNabb by taking a quarterback with its first draft pick (36th overall). But you’ve got to love what you’ve seen so far of Kevin Kolb. Has there ever been a rookie QB who, in his first preseason, completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 540 yards and two touchdowns — and didn’t throw an interception in 86 attempts? Yeah, I know he’s been going against second- and third-stringers, but still … The Eagles might have come up with the steal of the draft. How did Kolb last until the second round?

Turning to the Giants, I’m puzzled by the remark Manning made after Barber questioned his leadership ability. Granted, the timing of Tiki’s retirement announcement last year was curious, but to say he had “lost the heart to play the game” is ridiculous. Did it look like Barber had lost heart when he was running for 248 yards and three TDs against the Redskins in the regular-season finale, almost single-footedly lifting New York into the playoffs? Did it look like Barber had lost heart when he rushed for 137 yards in the Giants’ subsequent loss to the Eagles?

Memo to Eli: This isn’t like Mike Vanderjagt, a measly kicker, talking out of turn on the Colts — and your brother Peyton (rightly) jumping all over him. Tiki bore the brunt of the offensive load for years, buying you much-needed time to “develop.” To cast aspersions about his heart is “almost comical” (to borrow Barber’s description of Manning’s leadership skills).

As for the Hometown Team, their 1½-2 exhibition mark — sorry, they only get half a win for their lightning-shortened game against the Ravens — is a big improvement over last summer’s 0-4 atrocity. Still, the Redskins brain trust continues to be guilty of troubling miscalculations. A year ago it panicked when Portis got hurt and wasted a first-day draft pick on T.J. Duckett — only to have Ladell Betts break loose for 1,154 yards in Clinton’s stead. This year the coaches thought Todd Wade, a tackle his whole career, could step in for departed Derrick Dockery at left guard. It was a calculated risk, and when it didn’t work out the team had to scramble late in camp for an alternative (Pete Kendall).

There’s too much wishful thinking going on at Redskins Park. That’s why the club’s depth is so suspect, why Stephon Heyer, an undrafted rookie, was the most viable option after Chris Samuels sprained his knee in the preseason opener. I mean, this is football. People get injured. A team needs quality backups at important positions, not just high-priced frontline players. Are the Snydermen ever going to figure this out?

Cowboys 11-5, Eagles 10-6, Redskins 8-8, Giants 6-10.

The Seahawks, healthy again, will go back to the Super Bowl. The Patriots, armed with Adalius Thomas and Randy Moss, will beat them. Tiki Barber will be a huge hit in television. That’s all the predictions for now.

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