I'll answer the first question Jimmy fed me, then get into the rips, which, as you might have guessed, follow last week's Forecast column like Z's curses follow a Joe Boxer ad.
Dave of Minneapolis can't understand why the Patriots cut Lawyer Milloy, and he especially can't understand the wisdom behind cutting an established team leader a few days before the opening game. Me neither, but I'm trying to understand it because I respect this organization. When I was at Patriots camp in late July no one gave me any indication that they felt Milloy was slipping, or that his paycheck was out of line. I'm guessing they thought he'd redo his contract to help the cap, and when he said no, they gambled that he was bluffing and would fall into line. They guessed wrong. Cutting him after picking up Rodney Harrison, who, at 30, is a year older and probably has more scars on him than Milloy does, just doesn't make sense to me, from an ability standpoint -- unless they have some hotshot safety in the wings whom we haven't heard about yet. I didn't see any indications of same in camp. Or unless the Patriots felt, after the exhibition season, that Milloy is really slipping. Obviously the Bills didn't.
First rip, make that set of rips, is from Aaron of Ashburn, Va., and of, course, it deals with his beloved Skins. OK, we'll take these in order:
"Your a complete idiot if ..." (Correct, but let's get our spelling right, OK?)
"... you think they'll lose all their road games ..." (They won't, of course. Things never come out exactly as your predictions say they will.)
"... you think they're worse of then last year ..." (You could be right, but I notice that as passion picks up, spelling and grammar take a slide. Honestly.)
" ... you think Dallas has a better record ..." (I picked them to have the same record, 5-11.)
"Working for SI must be like being a weather man, you really know nothing and just go with the flow and then hope it happens the way you said." (I resent your assumption that weathermen know nothing. My wife greatly enjoys watching those swirling charts on TV, with the cold air masses meeting the fat hot masses, and all hell breaking loose)
"Steve Superior will get confidence, along with Patrick Ramsey..." (Hmm, Steve Superior, never heard that one before. A bit of cleverness, Aaron, or just another botched spelling?)
"I just hope your not one of those with all the excuses. IS that you?" (Yes, it is.)
You know something, I'm going to clean up the grammar and spelling on these rip queries. It gets tedious, making all you loyal readers wade through them, and besides, it just makes me look like some kind of smartass.
Jeremy of Kansas City wonders if a bend-but-don't-break defensive philosophy will work for the Chiefs. What bend-but-not-break philosophy? That's not coordinator Greg Robinson's style. Last year it was lack of speed, plus, of course, personnel, that hurt the defense. This year the personnel is better. The speed? We'll see.
Tom of Pasadena, Calif., wonders why I'm jumping on the Chiefs' bandwagon, along with everyone else. Because I picked a repeater in the NFC, I have to pick some kind of semi-sleeper in the AFC, or I'll just be Dr.Zzzzzzz. As far as joining others, I can't speak for them. Not even to them, for that matter. Tom asks, "What have they done defensively to turn things around?" Brought in Vonnie Holliday, Shawn Barber and Dexter McCleon. Got Ryan Sims, last year's top draft, healthy and suited up. Got rid of Ray Crockett.
James of Los Angeles wants to know why passers' completion percentages are getting higher every year. Shorter passes. Yards per completion are the lowest they've ever been. The old timers didn't get pats on the back for completing a five-yarder on third-and-eight.
Rogelio of Panama City, Panama, drops some kind words on my work and then invites me down to Panama to "enjoy the sun, the beaches, the food, the canal." Whoops, three out of four ain't bad. How do you enjoy the canal? Swim in it? Fish? Sail a toy boat? The Flaming Redhead comes from Phoenix, where they have irrigation canals that run under the freeways. They're called the Salt River Project Canals, a name that's pure poetry, right? There was a an ugly, evil-smelling thing that was called a canal near the neighborhood in which I grew up in the Bronx. Sorry, I'm getting sidetracked. On to serious things. How do the 49ers">49ers keep from falling into the canal when their LBs are better than their DTs? Why not a 3-4? Because you can't learn it at the last minute. You have to install it during the offseason. Julian Peterson as a pass-rusher in the nickel? Possibly as a mixer, but he's too valuable in coverage.
Mike of Seattle gives me many good reasons why the Cardinals will be a lot better than my gloomy prediction of 4-12. I sure hope they will be. I like your description of Rod Graves as a livewire GM who'll make things happen. But when you say that the Cards' three serious pickups, Emmitt Smith, Jeff Blake and Dexter Jackson, will all be leaders, I wonder. Leaders usually come from your own squad, unless an import becomes a real superstar in a hurry. Thanks for the kind words, Mike. Cardinals fans are invariably polite. They never rip. You listening, Aaron?
Chris of Regina, Saskatchewan, is a "huge Packers fan," and writes that everyone in the media is saying Brett Favre has lost a step. Chris wants me to say it ain't so. OK, it ain't so. Quarterbacks don't lose a step. Wideouts and runners do. Quarterbacks might lose the zip on their fastball, or they might lose some agility, which I guess means mobility, but not their running speed. Sure, at 33, Favre might not be as nifty-footed as he once was, but who is? He can still move well enough. If Favre has a problem, I think it's that he gets impatient with the Packers game plans, and I think it's as much the coach's problem as the QB's.
Jason of Portland, Ore., gives me a whole bunch of Seahawks positives, each framed by the rather nasty preamble of, "Were you aware ...?" Yes, I was, Jason. I was aware of all of them. And not once did you mention the defense, which will, I believe, have them buzzing around the 8-8 I rashly predicted for them. "Maybe you're just vindictive to Mike Holmgren for snubbing you," he adds. He didn't snub me. When I called him before the draft he was very friendly. He told me he'd take a D-lineman in the first round. And if Marcus Truffant picks up about 100 pounds he'll certainly qualify as one.
To Alec of Manassas, Va., a respectful thank you for your trifecta of praises -- football, wine, Redhead. He asks if I have any thoughts about Virginia wines. I'm embarrassed that I can't remember the name of the producer of some really good Cabernet Franc my daughter once brought back from Virginia. Other than that, I've had some good Seyval Blanc (a white wine, a French-American hybrid) from Virginia. The state has a long and noble wine tradition, going back to the days of Thomas Jefferson, but most of the wine in those days was the semi-sweet, foxy Scuppernong, which to me is strictly yukville unless you oak the hell out of it. Second question: Is the Flaming Redhead a football fan? Here's her answer: "She's the biggest fan of the biggest fan of football." Honest, I'm not making it up. That's what she said. Last: Is the Carolina formula of a great defense plus the so-so, play-it-safe QB close enough to the old Baltimore idea to give the Panthers a Super Bowl shot? I don't think so. You just have to get more out of the quarterback position.
Tim of London (and formerly Lowell, Mass.), hits me where I breathe. He cites my disdain for the Patriots' pickup of Ted Washington and the Bills' acquisition of Sam Adams, and concludes, "I've noticed a trend in your writing that seems to indicate a prejudice against big fat guys. ... As a member of the lard-ass fraternity, I must protest. ... So what is your problem with us big guys, doc?" I'll tell you what my problem with fat guys is. I see one every time I look in the mirror, which is why I don't look very often. It's getting scary. I'd say that right now I'm 40 pounds, or 18.2 kilos, above playing weight. Maybe more. I wouldn't know because I don't weigh in any more. I think both the guys I mentioned are on the downside and haven't played well for a while. They just happen to be fat. Warren Sapp, whom you also mentioned, is in a different category. A good player but not a favorite of mine because he underachieves.
Frank of Baltimore has "only one question: What kind of sauce do you like with your crow?" I asked my wife, who spends more time in the kitchen than I do --- make that spends more time cooking. I spend more time eating. "Definitely not a red sauce," she says. "I'd lightly saute it. You don't want to lose the essence." The reason for this bit of culinary invective is the fact that I picked the Ravens to go 7-9, remarking that I didn't think Kyle Boller was ready yet. Frank thinks he is. I say tomato, he says tomahto. Let's call the whole thing off.
Paul of Ithaca, N.Y., thinks my predictions are too timid. He'd like to see more 14-2s and 2-14s and less of a gray mass. Sorry, Paul. I sympathize with you, but, as I've explained countless times, I play the season game by game, and what comes out is registered as the record for that team. I try not to fiddle with it.
Michael of Lincoln, Calif., in a question that smells suspiciously like some kind of search for a fantasy football sleeper, wants my opinion of Trung Canidate, Correll Buckhalter, Troy Hambrick and Onterrio Smith and their chances of doing something this season. I like Hambrick the best -- make that past tense, liked him -- as a backup. Now that he's the man, we'll have to wait and see. But I think he has a real burst. A lifetime average of 4.7 yards per carry is not to be sneezed at. Buckhalter's another guy who never has had to carry the load. Sturdy and functional. Does not thrill me. I don't like Canidate, despite his speed. Not tough enough. I've never seen Smith. Michael mentions some Amador County zinfandels. You're preaching to the choir. I've loved them since their infant days, 1959, when I had my first newspaper job with The Sacramento Bee. My days off were spent either at the downtown poker parlors or driving around the old gold towns of Amador County, enjoying those great wines. More recently, I spent a holiday weekend with the owners of Clockspring Vineyard near Plymouth, and we went over to Montevina and had a terrific tasting. The wines are cheap, too.
To Rich of Starkville, Miss.: You were so kind in your comments that I will accede to your request and give you some way-out picks in the categories you requested. MVP: Steve Hutchinson, guard, Seahawks. Well, where's the sign that says I can't pick an offensive lineman? I went with John Hannah one year. It's a pleasure to watch this guy's technical ability at what I call a skill position. Coach of the Year: Dick Vermeil, Chiefs. Rookie of the Year: Dan Klecko, DE-LB-NT, Patriots. Comeback Player of the Year: Sorry, can't think of one. You pick that one.