Cobbling together a PRs defense

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OK, let me get this straight now. How many enemies did I make this week with my Power Rankings? Cardinals fans hate me for ranking them lower than Miami. Steelers fans hate me for placing them two notches below the Patriots, who, if you haven't heard, are having QB identity problems. Giant fans hate me on general principles (how about normal sized fans?).

Very few questions are involved here, just the usual late week bellyaching, and oh boy, here's an e-mail from Dawn Kelsey, signed "Worn out (already) Rams Fan," and this should be a good one because I ranked her team 31st. OK, let's have your best shot.

"As a season ticket owner for the St. Losers, I mean the St. Louis Rams, I have one question: Why would you put them above the Raiders?" Huh? Next few sentences are about the team's general ineptness, but here's the snapper, and it is why I have bestowed on this little lady my coveted E-mailer of the Week Award.

"Jim Hanifan (color commentator) and D'Marco Farr (sideline reporter) used the last quarter of the Eagles game to discuss why a Cobb salad is called a Cobb salad. It was less painful than having to listen to the play by play."

Oh boy, is this my kind of letter. I ranked the Raiders dead last and the Rams one position above them because of the level of coaching. Oakland was a freewheeling, undisciplined mess Monday night. Ten penalties, etc. Now let's get down to business. Cobb salad. Named after Ty Cobb because it contains Georgia peaches. Leads the dinner table in base hits.

Ha ha. Cobb salad. Named after its creator, Robert H. Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby in Hollywood. Now admit it, isn't this more interesting than listening to a litany of whining about ratings and stuff like that?

• The Arizona gang includes Dave G. of New Jersey and Chad of L.A. They're downright livid because Cards were 25th and Dolphins were... were... good heavens, did I really have them up there at 22nd? Stay cool, boys, it will all be settled on the field of valor Sunday.

• New England drops only to second, despite Matt Cassel's appearance at the quarterback position. This drew a good geographical cross section of anger, from Bob of Washington, Ed of Pittsburgh and Alti of Chicago ("I never thought I could burp and sneeze at the same time"... good one... One more physical descriptive and we've got the hat trick). The Patriots, coming off an unbeaten regular season, get the courtesy of being placed near the top. It's still up to someone to come and displace them. When that happens I will note it in my rankings.

• "Aren't the defending champs No. 1 until they lose?" asks David P, a cheesehead transplanted in Pacific, Mo., and a Giants supporter. Until this year, yeah. And I guess I did kind of apply that criterion to the Patriots. But I'm going to be brutally honest with you, even at the cost of branding myself an illogical fool. I'm so sick of hearing various Giants using that "we don't get no respect" angle that I said to myself, as I was doing the rankings, "Oh you don't, huh? Well, here's some more non-respect to whine about, so I think I'll put you at No. 5, and let's see what happens." I figure that strictly on ability, rather than on noblesse oblige, that's about right.

"You're setting yourself up for a major knockoff with that one," the Flaming Redhead warns. In the words of Conrad Dobler, "Here I am, come get me!"

• Next batter! OK, Buffalo, you're up. What did I do now? First word comes from the Queen City's own Patrick, who writes, "O my god! The Bills cracked the top ten! Thank you so much!" What's this, humility just because I had them at No. 9? Well, thank you so much, sir.

"The Bills have been playing smart and with heart," adds Ian of Rochester. Boy, you never know in this ratings game. Pick up two friends and a barn full of enemies. "Serve them all cookies and milk and maybe they'll go home," the Redhead says. OK, honey, go back to your McCain-Obama tutorial and leave the serious stuff to me.

• And now we say aloha as the sun sinks over the ratings and move on to real football. Victor of Queretario, Mexico, where the foot still is taken very seriously in football, wonders why an onside kick cannot be set up as a bloop, over the first rank and in front of the rear echelon, thus giving your coverage people a great advantage in momentum. It's been done, often with great success -- as a surprise. But once it happened, then all coaches made it part of their onside-kick-return drills. Be ready for the bloop kick. Another variation I've seen is a flat kick, drilled like a line drive at the enemy's front rank, with hopes of a violent ricochet. Works sometimes, doesn't on other occasions, just like my ex-brother in law.

• Garrett from Davis, Calif., where they train budding winemakers, notes that blockers on the line outnumber rushers, so is it logical to assume that the defense will usually win, one to one? Yes. The league learned that the hard way in the 1970's when all the better athletes, among the big guys, were going on defense. The rules have been geared toward evening the odds ever since. So they get outnumbered, 5-4, in a usual set, with as many as eight blockers employed in extreme max, or maximum protection, and only two receivers sent out on a pattern.

The defense counters not by rushing so many people that it becomes an eight vs. eight logjam, but rushing fewer, making the offense waste its troops, and then swarming the receivers downfield, looking for the pick. The eternal tides of warfare, high tide and ebb tide, advance and recede, as analysts such as poor old Z survey the battlefield through their field glasses, like European observers at Civil War battlefields, and then try to put it all into coherent form for their loyal readers.

• Nice comments from Max of Kennebunk, Maine (you ever hear the old Bob and Ray routine in which members of the studio audience were invited to produce a line of verse, after being supplied the first line, and a lady said she had one about her husband, Max. He's brave as a lion. "MY MAX!" He's swift as an eagle. " MY MAX!" He's strong as an ox. "MY MOX"), and thanks , Mox, uh, Max, for what you wrote. He has a little question about my betting formula (only one?). "What happens when your own point spread and the Vegas line differ by three or more points but both support the same team?" You go their way. For instance. I had the Cowboys favored by four over the Eagles. The opening Vegas line had the Boys by 7 1/2. So under my system, my play is on Dallas, giving the points. Gabeesh?

• Matt of "none given," and I know why he gives none because he fears the wrath of Jets fans who see in Brett Favre the Second Coming... anyway, Matt sees a few chicks in the armor. Namely, ahem, whereas No. 4 played with verve and aplomb, he nevertheless threw one, under fire, up for grabs -- to Chansi Stuckey, and lo and behold, the kid snatched it away from a mob and came up with six points. Could have been a pick as easily as it was a TD.

You're preaching to the choir, pal. Next comment.

"Favre was the one who did the Pack wrong, not the other way around." Couldn't agree more. That calls for a drink. "I'm having a dinner party and need a red wine for an Italian meal," he writes. Linda's favorite Italian wine is amarone, and the easiest to find is Masi, but it's not cheap. Another great thing with Italian food is a good, spicy Zinfandel from California. See if you can find a Seghesio Old Vines, Family Vineyard. Again, not cheap but simply terrific.

• Saving the best for last. Am I joking about the Redhead charting a bit of Denver-Oakland for me while I caught a few z's? asks Scott of Raleigh. "If not, I can only say that you may be the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Luck has nothing to do with it. Linda and many others underwent a rigorous charting exam before wedding bells rang... honey, just kidding...for God's sake, just kidding. Now look what I done?