- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

POINT-COUNTERPOINT

Each Friday, columnist Dan Daly and Redskins beat writer Ryan O’Halloran debate an NFL issue. This week’s topic: In this era of widespread layoffs and cutbacks, which NFL teams would be candidates for contraction?

Ryan O’Halloran: Since the league would have to whack two teams at a time to make sure one team wouldn’t have a Week 1 or Week 17 bye, I’ll start with Oakland. The Raiders don’t draw anymore (the stadium is half empty), they go through coaches like Alex Ovechkin goes through hockey sticks and they’ve been a national punch line since going to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. If it weren’t for Cleveland, the Raiders would be the worst team statistically this year - 31st in offense, 29th in defense, last in points scored. At least they have punter Shane Lechler.

Dan Daly: Now that’s topical. If the NFL weren’t so devotedly socialist and every franchise had to stand on its own, it would look… a lot like baseball, I suspect. The Raiders would be the Pittsburgh Pirates - and serve as a farm club for the Haves. The Lions are in the same category. If they weren’t being propped up by shared revenues, they definitely would be a candidate for contraction because of their blackouts and generally horrendous play over an extended period of time. The Jaguars are another possibility - but for a different reason. They’ve had pretty good success on the field, but they’re struggling in this economy because Jacksonville is only the 47th-largest TV market. Plus, the team doesn’t have very deep roots; it has been around only since 1995. That makes it more vulnerable, too.

RO: I’ll throw Atlanta under the bus. It’s just a miserable sports town, just ahead of Miami. The Falcons don’t have blackout problems, but they have little tradition (this might be the first time in franchise history with consecutive winning seasons). When the Redskins visited last month, Georgia Dome felt like FedEx Field South. The smell test on this topic: Would people outside the city miss the team? Nobody outside Jacksonville would miss the Jaguars (they’ve got the Gators) and nobody outside Atlanta would miss the Falcons (they’ve got the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs and that little golf tournament called the Masters).

DD: If things really got bad for some NFL teams, I wonder whether the answer might not be a merger rather than contraction. Instead of having two doormats that are a drag on the league, why not combine them to create one OK club - and go from there? You could give each ownership group a 50 percent stake in the new club - and that way, maybe, the NFL wouldn’t have to pay owners to fold up their franchises. Believe me, guys like Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones would never want to buy anybody out. But that’s probably what they would have to do to eliminate a few weak sisters.

WEEKEND PICKS

REDSKINS THIS WEEK

SAINTS (11-0) at REDSKINS (3-8)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 5

Line: Saints by 9 1/2

Outlook: There doesn’t appear to be any way the Redskins can slow down the New Orleans offense (first in yards and points). Albert Haynesworth is expected to return at defensive tackle, so maybe they can pressure Drew Brees. The Saints will provide their best shot even though they’re coming off the biggest regular-season win in franchise history - the Vikings are only a game back in the chase for home field in the NFC.

The pick: Saints 34-21

GAME OF THE WEEK

VIKINGS (10-1) at CARDINALS (7-4)

Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

TV: Chs. 4, 11

Line: Vikings by 3 1/2

Outlook: Minnesota might be the NFL’s complete team. The Vikings are fifth in yards gained and eighth in yards allowed, and they stop the run (ranking second). Arizona, though, will challenge the occasionally vulnerable Vikings secondary. But look for another big game from Jared Allen, who will get in the face of the not-very-mobile Kurt Warner or Matt Leinart.

The pick: Vikings 27-20

UPSET WATCH

PATRIOTS (7-4) at DOLPHINS (5-6)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Line: Patriots by 3

Outlook: It was bizarre to see New England so easily handled Monday night. Maybe Bill Belichick traded Richard Seymour before the season because he was amazed Oakland would give up a first-round pick and he knew his young secondary would struggle. The Patriots just aren’t very good defensively and can’t get to the quarterback.

The pick: Dolphins 31-27

INSIDE THE AFC

c Too bad most of the D.C. area doesn’t have billboards, or we would be seeing this happen: A billboard near Oakland Coliseum reads, “Mr. Davis, do the right thing. Please hire a GM.” The group responsible said it gathered 21,000 signatures on a petition to ask owner Al Davis to step down as GM. A Buffalo fan did a similar thing earlier this year - and coach Dick Jauron eventually was fired.

c Jamal Lewis’ career came to a quiet end this week when Cleveland placed him on injured reserve with concussion symptoms. Lewis, who said earlier this year that this would be his last season, finishes with 10,607 rushing yards, 21st on the NFL’s all-time list. He will be in the Hall of Fame discussion in five years.

c Indianapolis goes for its 21st consecutive regular-season victory when it hosts resurgent Tennessee. The Colts haven’t lost in the regular season since falling in Nashville on Oct. 27, 2008. “I’ve lost count [of the wins],” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “To us, it’s just another opportunity to continue playing football.”

INSIDE THE NFC

c The talk of Mike Holmgren returning to Seattle as general manager only will intensify after team president and GM Tim Ruskell resigned Thursday. The Seahawks are 8-19 since the beginning of the 2008 season and used an enormous amount of their salary cap space on linebackers and receivers. Holmgren served as GM/coach during the front end of his Seattle tenure.

c When the Vikings play at Arizona, Brett Favre is slated to set an NFL record by making his 283rd consecutive start - the most by a non-kicker/punter. He tied Jim Marshall’s mark last week. Favre, 40, did not throw an interception in November, the first time in his career he was INT-free in a month (playing a minimum of four games).

c Although he’s likely to play just a few snaps, Michael Vick makes his return to Georgia Dome on Sunday. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I know I still enjoy the city. I’ll never forget the fans. I’ll always be true to them. … I look forward to going back and being in that stadium. That’s going to be like a dream come true, even though I’m on the opposite side.”

c Green Bay has taken advantage of a soft schedule to climb into the top spot in total defense. The Packers are allowing 281.5 yards a game, but they have only one victory against a team with a winning record (Dallas). They face contenders Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Arizona down the stretch.

BY THE NUMBERS

.636 Winning percentage of Dallas’ final five opponents, the toughest schedule among the playoff contenders.

PERFECTION

Quarterbacks have achieved the perfect 158.3 passer rating just 53 times in league history, the latest being New Orleans’ Drew Brees on Monday night. Here are the past five to pass for 370-plus yards and post a perfect rating:

Player, team (year)Opp.Comp.Att.YardsTD

Drew Brees, Saints (2009)NE18233715

Donovan McNabb, Eagles (2007)Det21263814

Peyton Manning, Colts (2003)Den22263775*

Kurt Warner, Rams (2000)SD24303904

Ken O’Brien, Jets (1986)Sea26324314**

* Playoff game; ** Only 400-yard game with a perfect rating

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