- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

POINT-COUNTERPOINT

Each Friday, columnist Dan Daly and Redskins beat writer Ryan O’Halloran debate a football issue. This week’s topic: Is it time to start drug testing the Falcons? They’re 6-3 and very much in the playoff mix with a rookie quarterback and a first-year coach.

Dan Daly: Absolutely. I would test them for everything — including ginseng and all known aphrodisiacs. I never imagined them being a factor this year … or next year. The year after that at the earliest. This is a team, remember, that in recent seasons lost Michael Vick, Patrick Kerney and DeAngelo Hall — its face-of-the-franchise quarterback, top pass rusher and Pro Bowl cornerback — and somehow it’s better than before. What are we supposed to conclude from this — that all those guys are/were overrated?

Ryan O’Halloran: Certainly, the Falcons rank as one of the most surprising teams in the NFL this year. Throw in a rookie left tackle (Sam Baker) to the new quarterback (Matt Ryan) and coach (Mike Smith). Vick — completely overrated and now playing for the flag football team at Leavenworth. Kerney — sack total declined in his last two years with Atlanta. Hall — solid player but one who wouldn’t go for a rebuilding effort. Two things have gone right: Arthur Blank scored by hiring Patriots college scouting director Thomas Dimitroff as general manager, and the Falcons have taken care of business at home (4-0). Can they keep it up?

DD: They have four of their last seven at home, including the next two. So they really have a chance to build some momentum heading into the last month. Plus, their games against the Panthers and Bucs are both in Atlanta, where — as you pointed out — they’re unbeaten. I would be surprised now if two teams from the NFC South didn’t make it to the postseason; the trick is figuring out which two. I’ll go with Carolina and Atlanta, even though Jake Delhomme is wildly inconsistent and Ryan could hit a wall at any moment.

RO: The schedule certainly is favorable even if they don’t win on the road the rest of the way. I agree that Delhomme could turn into a train wreck in any moment. But I’ll go with Carolina hanging on to win the division and Tampa Bay finishing second to secure the final wild card spot ahead of the third-place NFC East team. The difference will be the Dec. 14 Buccaneers-Falcons game. Monte Kiffin will scheme well enough to cause big-time problems for Ryan and get the win.

WEEKEND PICKS

REDSKINS THIS WEEK

COWBOYS (5-4) at REDSKINS (6-3)
Sunday, 8:15 p.m.

TV: Chs. 4, 11

Line: Cowboys by 1

Outlook: A must-win game for both teams since the Cowboys can’t afford to fall to .500 in a conference with so many teams with winning records and since the Redskins can’t afford to give away NFC East home games. Tony Romo returns for the Cowboys after missing three games with a busted pinkie, but this game will hinge on the Redskins’ run game. No Portis + No Betts = No Chance. One of them will play.

The pick: Redskins 24-20

GAME OF THE WEEK

RAVENS (6-3) at GIANTS (8-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 9, 13

Line: Giants by 6½

Outlook: This is a pad-popping special. The Giants leads the league in rushing; the Ravens stop the run better than any other team. Brandon Jacobs vs. Ray Lewis. Once the teams pound each other into submission, it will come down to which team can make a play in the passing game. Joe Flacco enters with 112 consecutive passes without an interception, but Eli Manning will be the difference.

The pick: Giants 16-12

UPSET WATCH

SAINTS (4-5) at CHIEFS (1-8)
Sunday, 1 p.m.

Line: Saints by 5

Outlook: Memo to Las Vegas — this is too easy. New Orleans is 0-4 on the road. Kansas City, despite tons of injuries, has lost its last three games to winning teams by a combined eight points. The difference will be Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez. He’s a 100-yard receiving game from tying Kellen Winslow for most ever by an NFL tight end (24). The Saints’ pass defense ranks 27th in the NFL.

The pick: Chiefs 40-37

THIS WEEK’S LOCK

TITANS (9-0) AT JAGUARS (4-5)
Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

Line: Titans by 3

Outlook: Tennessee, up by four games in the AFC South, is trying to become the ninth team since the 16-game schedule began in 1978 to start 10-0. The Titans can put a big dent in the Jaguars’ playoff chances by completing the season sweep. Look for plenty of Chris Johnson Tennessee ranks second in rushing, and Jacksonville’s defense ranks 26th against the run.

The pick: Titans 34-20

FRIDAY’S FIVE

Reasons why the Lions could go 0-16:

1.The schedule — Detroit’s seven remaining games feature only two teams — 4-5 New Orleans and 4-5 Green Bay in the final two weeks — that have a losing record. The Lions host 9-0 Tennessee on Thanksgiving.

2.They stink on offense — The Lions rank 28th in yards and 28th in points. They have lost four games by single digits, and those close-but-not-enough losses deflate a team.

3.They stink on defense — Only Kansas City allows more yards, and only St. Louis gives up more points. Detroit ranks last in the league with two interceptions.

4.Daunte Culpepper is their quarterback — Culpepper signed with Detroit early last week and started five days later. A year from now, the move may look smart. But he shouldn’t be playing yet.

5.The league is due — Tampa Bay 32 years ago was the last team to go winless (0-14), and the Bucs were blanked five times and outscored 412-125.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

A look each week at one statistic and whether it was the difference between winning and losing. This week: total yards.

10-4 — Record among teams that outgained their opponent. Only New Orleans, Houston, Pittsburgh and Oakland failed to win while amassing more total yards. The Saints gained 521 yards after falling behind to Atlanta but lost 34-20.

INSIDE THE AFC

• Tough times in Cleveland, where the 3-6 Browns have blown two consecutive double-digit leads at home, losing to Baltimore and Denver. The Browns play on Monday night in Buffalo. Jamal Lewis said some players quit last week against the Broncos. Coach Romeo Crennel objected to Lewis’ assertion. “When you say that the team quit, that’s saying I quit,” Crennel said. “I’m not a quitter, and my players don’t quit.”

• Count on Indianapolis winning at Houston. The Colts are 12-1 all time vs. the Texans, and Peyton Manning playing in all 13 games has compiled a 72.1 completion percentage, 31 touchdowns, five interceptions, 3,539 yards and a 118.4 passer rating. And watch out for the Colts. They have defeated New England and Pittsburgh the last two weeks to get back above .500 (5-4).

• Desperate for running backs, Denver brought back Tatum Bell this week. The Broncos have lost four backs in the last few weeks, forcing them to sign Bell, whom Denver traded to Detroit in 2007.

• Jacksonville and middle linebacker Mike Peterson are headed for a messy divorce. Sent home twice last week by coach Jack Del Rio and declared inactive (plus fined $10,000) for the win at Detroit, Peterson is running with the second string in practice. He is a free agent after the season.

INSIDE THE NFC

• Green Bay safety Nick Collins’ three interceptions returned for a touchdown are one shy of the NFL single-season record (last achieved by Eric Allen in 1993). Collins is the first safety in 22 years to have three touchdowns off picks. The 4-5 Packers host 5-4 Chicago in a key NFC North game.

• Tampa Bay’s defense has allowed opponents to score a touchdown or field goal in each of their trips inside the red zone this year. Good thing the Buccaneers have allowed an NFL-low 18 possessions inside the 20.

• Arizona (6-3) is off to its best start since 1984. A big reason is Anquan Boldin. The receiver is playing with eight plates in his face and wiring holding together his jaw after a vicious hit in the Jets game. Since his return, he has made 22 catches for 240 yards and five touchdowns.

• Out for six weeks with a back injury, Matt Hasselbeck is expected to return to Seattle’s lineup against the Cardinals. The 2-7 Seahawks in Mike Holmgren’s final rodeo as coach are 31st in passing and have been decimated by injuries at receiver. Not helping matters is a pass defense that also ranks 31st.

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