Monday Morning Quarterback—Preview Edition

I was thinking, This is the season for an AFC power shift. Then I stopped at Patriots camp and saw the Brady-Moss connection
August 31, 2008 columnistPeter King fills in the big picture for the 2008 season

BY MID-AUGUST,I'd made up my mind: This was going to be the Year of the Jaguar. I'd been toJacksonville, liked the club's off-season tinkering, was sure David Garrardwouldn't be a one-hit wonder and thought to myself, This is the season for anAFC power shift. Not that I ever get the Super Bowl teams right in August. Ifamously picked the Browns to make it in 1995—three months before their seasonwent up in flames with the news that the franchise was moving to Baltimore. Butwhat would a season be without my horrendous forecast? The Jaguars over theCowboys in Super Bowl 43 in Tampa.

Then I went tothe Patriots' camp in Foxborough and sat in the press tent, which was set upbehind an end zone with one side open to the field.

Twenty yardsaway, his back to me, Tom Brady barked signals in an 11-on-11 drill. Randy Mosswas split right, Wes Welker was in the slot and Jabar Gaffney was split left.Brady took the snap. Moss sprinted straight up the seam, a step ahead of thepursuing corner, without a safety over the top. He never looked back. Bradyscanned the field and lofted a pass over the oncoming rush and up the seam. Oneof hundreds of plays in dozens of practices I'd seen over the past month. Therewas nothing special about the route, the decision or the throw.

When the ball wasfive yards out of Brady's hand, Moss had not turned back to look for it.

When the ball was10 yards downfield, Moss still hadn't looked.

When the ball wasabout five yards from him, Moss finally glanced up. As he did, the pass droppedover the corner's outstretched hands, right into Moss's. He caught it instride, 18 yards from the line of scrimmage, and ran untouched upfield.

I thought, Hereare two great players who really didn't know each other at this time lastsummer—and then had the most prolific year a quarterback and receiver ever hadas New England set the NFL record for points in a season. Now Moss and Bradyknow each other's tendencies, communicating with winks and nods and other bodylanguage, the way Mark Duper and Mark Clayton knew Dan Marino, the way JerryRice knew Joe Montana.

It might soundridiculous to suggest a quarterback who threw 50 touchdown passes in a seasonand a receiver who caught 23 of them could be better. But I had just seen formyself how they could, whether or not it would show up in their stats.

Now I'm thinking,Jacksonville is not going to beat New England in January. Not in Foxborough,which is likely where the game would be if they met in the playoffs.

"Please picksomebody else," Garrard had told me on my visit to the Jags' camp."Aren't you wrong every year?"

That never stopsme. Patriots 30, Cowboys 16.

Which means, ofcourse, that if you live in Jacksonville or Cleveland or San Diego orPhiladelphia or anywhere but the six New England states, you should be veryhappy. Your team has a great chance to go all the way.

The Perfect GameDay

After 24 seasonson the NFL road, this is how I would game-plan my dream Sunday

5:30 a.m. Wake upat the Le Méridien (né Park Hyatt) in San Francisco in time to watch MerrilHoge and Ron Jaworski jawing on NFL Matchup. Take a leisurely walk to thePeet's on Mission and get a latte or the Major Dickason's Blend, a very strongcup of dark coffee.

4:15 p.m. Watchthe Colts and Patriots go at it at Gillette Stadium, with the weather stirringthings up, because that's the best matchup the NFL has to offer. WheneverManning and Brady play, there's a chance for history.

10 a.m. Strollthrough the parking lot at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. One time a tailgaterrecognized me and hollered, "Peter, have a sausage!" So I did."Have some cheese!" So I had a huge chunk of cheddar. "Have an OldStyle!" Well, I said, "can I see you later?"

7:15 p.m. Visitthe Panthers' locker room to get postgame comments: Muhsin Muhammad forperspective, Ryan Kalil for a pithy quote, Jordan Gross for a breakdown of lineplay, Jake Delhomme for insight.

11:45 a.m. Findmy seat in the press box at Reliant Stadium in Houston—an extrawide armchairwith room on either side to spread all my crapola. Put me between LenPasquarelli of and Paul Zimmerman of SI, and I'll learn three or fourthings from them I didn't know.

8 p.m. NighttimeTV at Graves 601 Hotel in Minneapolis. Vivid big-screens in every room. I sitthere, Monday Morning Quarterbacking, watching highlight shows as if I'm in atheater. Starbucks in the lobby too.

2:30 p.m. Dine on(sorry, I can't break the tie) the barbecued pork at FedEx Field (I make sureI'm hungry when I go to a Redskins game) and the crab cakes at M&T BankStadium in Baltimore (better than Legal Sea Foods'). Later, an espresso fromthe stand near the Qwest Field press box in Seattle.

3 a.m. Lights outafter getting callbacks from four players who were the stars of their gamesthat day. I'd settle for two: Hines Ward and Braylon Edwards, hopefully,because they're always revealing.

They Want to GrowUp To Be Like Ray Lewis

The position thathas the most talented young players is middle linebacker

REMEMBER THOSElumbering inside linebackers who were your father's favorite players? Theyessentially played like stand-up tackles in many defensive schemes, stoppingpotent running teams cold. Big, bulky Harry Carson and Gary Reasons lined upover the Redskins' guards in the 1980s, and they were as important to theGiants' dominance over Washington as Lawrence Taylor was when he was flying atthe quarterback.

"The commondenominator of middle linebackers today? Wheels," says Mike Peterson, theJaguars' middle man. "See the ball, run it down. See the receiver, coverhim. You're not just in a little box anymore. You're sideline tosideline."

Ray Lewis set thestandard for MLBs, beginning in 1996 as a Ravens rookie. With offensesspreading the field more in recent years, there is a greater premium onathleticism and speed at the position. Though Lewis has been an inside 'backersince Terrell Suggs arrived and Baltimore switched to a 3--4 in 2003, youngMLBs such as the Seahawks' Lofa Tatupu still see Lewis as a model.

Last yearunder-25 middle linebackers Tatupu and DeMeco Ryans of the Texans were Pro Bowlstarters, and rookie Patrick Willis—a half ILB, half MLB for the Niners—led theNFL in tackles. "Today's 4--3 lets the middle linebacker run clean,"says Barrett Ruud of the Bucs. "It's like you're playing running back atlinebacker, looking for the space to run so you can make plays."

The best and thebrightest of the new men in the middle:

    2007 RANK
1. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots 2
2. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts 1
3. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers 3
4. Randy Moss, WR, Patriots 246
5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings 243
6. Drew Brees, QB, Saints 8
7. Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals 9
8. Mario Williams, DE, Texans 220
9. Jared Allen, DE, Vikings 203
10. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams 30
11. Joe Thomas, T, Browns. 170
12. Walter Jones, T, Seahawks 10
13. Kevin Williams, DT, Vikings 14
14. Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers. 4
15. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Cowboys 62
16. Shawne Merriman, LB, Chargers 11
17. Steve Hutchinson, G, Vikings 23
18. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers 85
19. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys. 137
20. Champ Bailey, CB, Broncos 6
21. Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks 20
22. Tommie Harris, DT, Bears 25
23. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants. 93
24. Patrick Kerney, DE, Seahawks 162
25. Antoine Winfield, CB, Vikings 31
26. Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles 96
27. Brian Urlacher, LB, Bears 7
28. Eli Manning, QB, Giants 127
29. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants. 489
30. Luis Castillo, DL, Chargers 116
31. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers. 38
32. Aaron Kampman, DE, Packers. 16
33. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals 58
34. Devin Hester, WR-KR, Bears 69
35. Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers. 15
36. Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts 68
37. Dwight Freeney, DE, Colts 13
38. Julian Peterson, LB, Seahawks 78
39. Braylon Edwards, WR, Browns. 318
40. Wes Welker, WR, Patriots 126
41. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys. 76
42. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions 63
43. Terrell Owens, WR, Cowboys 103
44. Terrell Suggs, LB, Ravens 56
45. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Raiders 45
46. Ed Reed, S, Ravens 12
47. Jason Peters, T, Bills 39
48. Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos 91
49. Bob Sanders, S, Colts 196
50. Patrick Willis, LB, 49ers 253

has you covered with reports from NFL experts throughout the week


Monday—Peter King's Monday Morning QB

Tuesday—Peter King's Mailbag, Don Banks's notes fromaround the league

Wednesday—'Dr. Z's Power Rankings, quick hits fromformer player Ross Tucker

Thursday—Peter King's Weekend Pickoff, Dom Bonvissutoranks the best games

Friday—Dr. Z's Mailbag, Adam Duerson's Game to Watch,Michael Lombardi's Frankly Football

Saturday—Bucky Brooks's Scouts Buzz

Sunday—Don Banks's Snap Judgments