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this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; A team-by-team breakdown of the easiest, toughest schedules: It's interesting how, when the NFL schedule comes out each year, I never hear fans say, "Wow. We got a break this year. What a great schedule!" Everyone seems to think his ...

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Old 04-08-2003, 04:22 AM   #1
The Dark Overlord
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: dirty south
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Monday Morning Quarterback

A team-by-team breakdown of the easiest, toughest schedules:

It's interesting how, when the NFL schedule comes out each year, I never hear fans say, "Wow. We got a break this year. What a great schedule!" Everyone seems to think his or her favorite team got jobbed. This week, I received an e-mail from Brian Wheelin of Monroe, Conn., who wrote: "Does the NFL have something against the Giants? After NFL officials botched their playoff hopes last season and after seeing the Giants' upcoming schedule for next season, one has to wonder. With Dallas and Washington potentially improving, there is virtually no break in this schedule until maybe Week 17 versus Carolina, and by then the break will not even matter."

When the 2003 schedules were released Thursday, I looked at the Giants' slate and thought: Not bad. It's manageable early -- and late. They open against teams (St. Louis, Dallas and Washington) that won seven, five and seven games last year, and play the Rams and Cowboys at home. The Giants close with five teams that didn't make the playoffs last year. I don't see the beef there.

So I thought I'd rank team schedules according to degree of difficulty. Extra adversity points go to teams that face 2002 playoff participants (or tough non-playoff ones like Miami or New England) early, particularly on the road, and to teams that look to have it tough late in the year, when they'd likely be making a playoff push.

Off we go, from toughest to easiest:


Send the funeral flowers now
1. Dallas Cowboys
The above is what what Bill Parcells used to say when he'd see me after a big Giants' win. As a beat reporter covering the team in the mid-'80s, I would predict whether I thought the Giants would win each week, and I usually picked them to lose when they played Washington. I was usually wrong. And Parcells, on his way to the podium in the press conference room after those games, would find me and say: "Put away the funeral flowers for another week." Well, I'm getting ready to call the florist for Parcells' new team. The Cowboys' first five weeks look like this: they host Mike Vick and the Falcons on national TV; they visit the Giants on Monday night; at another of Parcells' former teams, the Jets; the Emmitt Smith homecoming game with Arizona; and the Eagles at home. How about these three roadies: at Tampa (Week 7), at the Patriots (Week 10), at the warm-and-fuzzy Eagles (Week 13). And just when they'd like a breather at the finish, they close by getting whacked in the collective solar plexus by the Saints on the brutal turf of the Superdome. !!!!!!!!!!!

2. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Del Rios open with three of four on the road. Tough. They come home right after that for a homestand of San Diego, Miami, Tennessee. Tough. They finish at Atlanta. Tough. I wonder if they'll be healthy enough to compete when Tampa Bay comes in for the Sunday-nighter to close out November.


I wouldn't want to be in their shoes
3. New York Jets
At the recent NFL meetings in Phoenix, we in the sports media all missed a subtle bylaw apparently passed by the 32 team owners. League rule 16, Subsection D, Paragraph 4 now states: "It shall be ordained that the New York Jets will play at Oakland every year, and preferably twice when the playoff seedings work out just right." I don't know how I missed that one. The two teams met in 1999, 2000, 2001, again in the 2001 playoffs, 2002, and again in the 2002 playoffs. And now the Jets will visit Oakland again Nov. 9, after getting beaten up by the Eagles and Giants in the previous two weeks. But the real bummer for the Jets comes after Thanksgiving. The toughest December schedule in the league has them playing five legitimate playoff contenders (Tennessee on Monday night, at Buffalo during a short week, Pittsburgh, New England in a short week, at Miami). Drink your offseason milk, men of Mawae.

4. Houston Texans
I'll tell you what I hate about the Texans' schedule. They have a young, struggling offense, and right out of the gate they'll get bashed in the face with a game at Miami, then go to New Orleans, where the occasional cheap shot isn't out of the question. Before midseason, the suddenly aggressive Jags, the Titans, the blitz-from-everywhere-with-Julius Peppers-back Panthers and the Jets are on the slate. Will David Carr be shell-shocked by Halloween?

5. Denver Broncos
Not sure how to take this. You'd look at the Broncos' glass as half-empty if you focused on the fact that they open and close with two on the road -- at Cincinnati and at San Diego to start, at Indy and at the Pack to close. You'd look at the glass as half-full if you examined a midseason stretch of eight home, four away; the Broncos don't get on an airplane between Oct. 26 and Nov. 30. But ending with two defending playoff teams bugs me, especially since it appears neither of those teams will have a cakewalk to the playoffs this year and should be playing for something big in December.

6. Indy Colts
You know what I don't like if I'm Tony Dungy? Every non-division road game is against a team that will seriously contend for the playoffs: Browns (that might be a stretch, but they made it last year), Saints, Bucs, Dolphins, Bills. You have to look at those five games and say: We'll be really fortunate to come out of those 2-3, and more realistically we're looking at 1-4. Sure, it helps to have Houston and Jacksonville twice. But that's going to be a tough road.


They're definitely good enough to survive this
7. Philly Eagles
The Eagles start with the Super Bowl champs. Next up: the challenging Patriots, at home, on a short week. Then the best team nobody has discovered yet, Buffalo, on the road. That's September. They open November at Atlanta and at Green Bay. They close with the following three: at Miami, against 49ers at home, at Washington. I hope Andy Reid has a pass-rusher up his sleeve, and that said pass-rusher is more of a 16-game player than Ndukwe Kalu has shown himself to be so far in his career.

8. Tampa Bay Bucs
Doesn't it seem like every year the defending Super Bowl champ has a killer sked? The Bucs' slate is bookended by two ridiculous road games (at Philly, at Tennessee), and while there's a Carolina, a Dallas and a Houston at home thrown in every so often for a respite, the guts of the schedule will mean a challenge almost every week. Four of their first six are losable road games (Eagles, Falcons, Redskins, Niners).


They might not be good enough to survive this
9. Cleveland Browns
This is one schedule I look at and say: "I don't like what I see. Not at all." A rebuilding defense with who-knows-who at linebacker opens against Peyton Manning and the Colts and then travels to face Jeff Garcia and the 49ers in Week 3. The Browns will have six straight tough road games -- Niners, Steelers, Pats, Chiefs, Seahawks, Broncos. The only good thing is they finish up against the Ravens and the Bengals, but by then I fear it will be too late.

10. San Diego Chargers
Although the Chiefs and Broncos weren't playoff teams last year, both will threaten to be postseason participants this year. So opening at Kansas City and Denver at home to start will pose problems. And I certainly don't see having the toughest closing three weeks of any team in the league -- Green Bay (12-5 last year), at Pittsburgh (11-6-1), and Oakland (13-6) at home -- working in their favor.

11. Baltimore Ravens
OK, Ray Lewis will return to terrorize quarterbacks, but I don't like the indoctrination Chris Redman or their guy of the future (Kyle Boller? Byron Leftwich?) will face in Weeks 1 and 3 at Pittsburgh and San Diego, because both of those teams go after the quarterback. And I don't like the closing stretch at Oakland, at Cleveland, Pittsburgh at home. The best part of the Ravens' schedule: Three straight winnable home games (Seattle, San Francisco and Cincinnati) starting Nov. 23.

12. New York Giants
The toughest belly of any team schedule this year. Check out their October and November: Miami, at New England, Philly, at Minnesota, at Jets, Atlanta, at Philly, at Tampa on a Monday night, and Buffalo in a short week. They might be so beat up by the Vikings game that the easiest game of the nine could still be a loss.

13. New England Patriots
Strange dynamics in the Pats' schedule. They start with Bledsoe Bowl III to start, followed by at trip to Buffalo, then at Philly. They finish at the Jets, followed by Bledsoe Bowl IV. There's a nice little underbelly after their November bye -- the Parcells return at home, then at Houston -- but games at Indy and with Miami at home get them back into the fray. Their schedule is tougher than it looks.


The league is tweaking these guys ... again
14. Miami Dolphins
This is the 93rd consecutive NFL season schedule that features the Fish at Foxboro in December (Dec. 7 this season). Then there's the Buffalo road game thrown in for good measure four days before Christmas. Maybe this question pales in comparison to the ones about extra playoff games and extra TV money and the like, but I just wonder why Miami always seems to face two or three of the Pats-Jets-Bills trio at home before Halloween and two of three of them on the road after Thanksgiving. Competitively, it seems unfair, and three of the four venues don't have the conflict with a baseball team as an excuse. I've never understood this one.


Not good, not bad
15. Chicago Bears
The Soldier Field renovation keeps the Bears hibernating away from home the first two weeks (at Niners, at Vikes), and then it's wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. Pack at home, Raiders at home. The rewards come later -- Detroit twice in three weeks, and two of three to close at home, all winnable.

16. Washington Redskins
Who could like a schedule that opens with two teams (Jets, Falcons) that won wild-card games by 41 and 20 points, respectively? Or one that ended at night against Philadelphia? I'll tell you how. After enduring a beating at Miami Nov. 23, the men of Spurrier have the Saints, Giants, Cowboys and Bears, and if they're as good as their head coach thinks they'll be, they ought to be able to make three- or four-game hay out of that stretch.

17. Tennessee Titans
When's the last time a team played the previous Super Bowl teams to open and close the season? The Titans face Oakland to start and Tampa to finish, but in a Seinfeldian sort of way, they're both home games, so how bad can that be? (Remember how Jerry lost one gig in Atlantic City, then five minutes later his phone rang with another, and Kramer looked at him and said: "You know who you are? Even Steven!") Tennessee's even-stevenish late-season stretch: at Atlanta, at Jets, Colts at home, Bills at home. Four very tough games in a row, cut right down the middle.

18. New Orleans Saints
The real test here comes late in the season. Jim Haslett historically has his team at Super Bowl level in September and October, but what happens when the leaves fall? Or, in the Saints' case, when the beignets bake? The final six games feature some toughies -- at Philly, at Washington, Tampa and the Giants at home, at Jacksonville, at Dallas -- but if the Saints can stay healthy late, this is not a slate that will cripple them.


19. Atlanta Falcons
I don't like that they opening against Parcells and Co. in Dallas, though he shouldn't have the Cowboys turned around by Labor Day. But the Falcons' toughest non-division games (Philadelphia, Tennessee) are at home. And the two Tampa Bay tests (Games 3 and 15) are spread out enough to minimize the mental damage. I would worry about Tampa and Carolina blitzing the snot out of Vick in September, but they're division teams. You have to face them twice anyway.

20. Detroit Lions
It may not matter in Steve Mariucci's first year, because who really thinks the Lions can contend? But they open (Arizona) and close (St. Louis) at home. And for the first time since the bicentennial, they don't play Tampa Bay. Good fortune. They'll need it.


They have nothing to complain about this year
21. Minnesota Vikings
I thought the Vikes were the best bad team in football at the end of last season, when they finished 3-0 against the Saints, Dolphins and Lions. Now they have a heck of a chance to exit September .500 or better with Chicago and Detroit on the slate. Assuming Daunte Culpepper can play consistently into December, he'll face some secondaries he can burn late (Seattle, Chicago, K.C. and Arizona).

22. Oakland Raiders
In spite of the fact they open on the road against one of the final four teams from 2002 (Tennessee), and finish on the road against the hated Schottenheimers, this is the least objectionable schedule I've seen the Raiders have in years. They have a favorable non-division schedule (including Cincinnati, Detroit, Minnesota, Baltimore and Chicago) and their two toughest non-division games (Jets, Packers) come at home. I'm sure Al Davis sees potholes here, because every schedule has them, but this is a pretty good slate for this team.

23. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers lost twice to Tampa Bay by a total of 16 points last year, so seeing the Bucs on the schedule twice isn't a death knell. With the toughest non-division game at home -- Philly, on Nov. 30 -- there isn't much to complain about here.

24. Cincinatti Bengals
Every schedule is herculean for the Bengals, but this is an eminently reasonable non-division schedule. Other than Oakland on the road in Week 2, the balanced schedule and the NFL fates make these Bengals' games their toughest outside of the AFC North: at Buffalo, San Francisco, at St. Louis. Take advantage of your breaks, Marvin Lewis.

25. San Fransisco 49ers
Marked with potholes, but nothing insurmountable. Five of the Niners' first six foes lost more games than they won last year. I can see a 4-2 start. Then there's Tampa Bay at home. And Arizona on the road. And then a tough trifecta (St. Louis, Pittsburgh, at Green Bay). And then Arizona again, and Cincinnati. For all the woes Dennis Erickson might remember from his first stint in the NFL, the schedule-maker has done his part to welcome the man back into the league.

26. Buffalo Bills
If I'm a Bill, I'm resigned to the fact Bill Belichick will beat me in Foxboro to close the season (he'll figure out some silly scheme), and I'm thinking: I have to find a way to go 10-5 the rest of the way. I can, because I get warm teams/dome teams Indy, Houston and Miami in Buffalo after mid-November; I get my toughest game, Philadelphia, at home; and I have only two defending playoffs teams on the schedule -- the Eagles and Jets -- in the first 10 games.

27. Pittsburg Steelers
The Steelers' December could be a bear, and I don't mean Chicago. Oakland, at the Jets, San Diego, at Baltimore. (OK, the Baltimore game's an exaggeration.) But other than a few tough road games (at Denver, at Seattle, at the Niners), what else scares you about this schedule? The best thing for the notoriously slow-starting Steelers, other than Kordell Stewart being in Chicago, is that they start the year with three sub-.500 teams (Baltimore, at Kansas City, at Cincinnati).

28. Seattle Seahawks
The 'Hawks have only one game -- Mike Holmgren's return to Lambeau on Oct. 5 -- against a team that won more than 10 games in 2002. They play but six games against teams with winning 2002 records, and four of those are at home. Even though three of the final four games are on the road, if I'm Bob Whitsett or Paul Allen, I'm thinking: You have no reason to fail now, Mike Holmgren.

29. Green Bay Packers
By virtue of schedule alone, the Packers have the best chance in the NFL to start 4-0: Minnesota, Detroit, at Arizona, Chicago. A tough finish (at San Diego, at Oakland, Denver at home in a short week) should not be enough to force them to miss out on the playoffs.


If they're over .500 at Thanksgiving, look out
30. Kansas City Chiefs
Imagine the Chiefs lose a squeaker Oakland at home Nov. 23 to fall to 6-5. Now they're at San Diego, at Denver. They have to steal one of those. They steal the Chargers game. OK, 7-6. Detroit at home. Win. At Minnesota. Tough one. Win. Chicago at home. Win. That's how you dream your Wild Card dreams if you're a fan of the Chefs.

31. St. Louis Rams
It won't be easy opening at the Giants, and it won't easy in Week 3 at the surging Seahawks. But look at the Rams' last seven: at Chicago, at Arizona, Minnesota, at Cleveland, Seattle, Cincinnati, then at Detroit. Just imagine if Kurt Warner or Marc Bulger is healthy and playing well late in the year. Look at the secondaries they'll play against. Sieves, almost all of them. The Rams won't have excuses if they go 7-9 again.

The NFL's doing them a big favor, but it might not matter

32. Arizona Cardinals
Five of the first eight games are in toasty Sun Devil Stadium, all in the oppressive heat of midday. And six of the first eight come against teams with losing records in 2002. To finish, the Cards have Carolina at home, Seattle on the road, Minnesota at home. Don't know about you, but the Bidwills must have some friends in high places to get a schedule that, for such a moribund franchise, fell just right.

Quote Of The Week:

"I don't expect this trend to continue."
--Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon, after the Pirates won in Philadelphia Friday to open the season 4-0.
Good point. I've heard it's pretty hard to go 162-0.

From The Email Bag

Quite a few of you were offended by the story in last week's column about me throwing my weight around to get a foul ball at a spring training game. Brian Howie of New York takes me to task for having "swindled some little kid into believing he had the True Ball, even though you have a job that will give you ample opportunities to get another one for yourself in the future. Karma, my friend, Karma." That, and a good variety of football stuff, fill the e-mail bag this week.

YOU'LL GET YOURS SOME DAY, KING. From Sean Griffin of Washington, D.C.: "Let me see if I've got this right. You, Peter King, fabulously wealthy sportswriter, used your prestige and fame to push your way into a closed-access area so you could get a foul ball. Then you lied to a 7-year-old kid so you could keep the foul ball. Then you brag in your web column about how you cheated this 7-year-old kid out of a foul ball, so all of your readers can share in the joy of your wonderful life. Gee, how heartwarming. It's just too bad you couldn't have published this piece closer to the holiday season -- peace on earth, good will toward men, and screw you kid, I got my foul ball, so there."

Wow. The anger. The rage. I introduced myself to a guard and asked if I could get a foul ball. I walked to get the foul ball. A 7-year-old boy passed through the same gate, without permission, as the guard called after him to come back. I picked up the ball I thought was hit by Miguel Tejada. The kid picked up the ball he thought was hit by Tejada. I'm supposed to convince this kid who snuck through the gate that he doesn't have the right ball and give him mine? I had permission to get the ball I got. The 7-year-old boy stole his. And I "cheated" him out of the ball? I can see how you'd be offended that I tried to make the kid feel good by telling him he had the real ball, because I told what I believed to be a lie, even though it was not a malicious one. Maybe that's wrong. But is it right to be somewhere you shouldn't be and, technically, to possess stolen property?

THE BENGALS SHOULD TAKE CHARLES ROGERS. From Brian Wilson of San Francisco: "Every analyst seems to think it's a foregone conclusion that the Bungles will take Carson Palmer with the opening pick. Also, consensus with most analysts is that this draft will be deep at quarterback. What if, in a brilliant move, the Bungles decide to take Charlie Rogers, and look for QB talent in Round 2? I'd say if you are looking for immediate impact players, you can do no better than Rogers."

Two words for you: Peter Warrick.

ATTENTION, BILL PARCELLS: WYOMING HAS A SUGGESTION. From Devan Kennington of Star Valley, Wyo.: "I have seen about 50 mock drafts so far this year and they all have Dallas drafting defense. You say in your articles every week how bad Dallas' quarterbacks are. And Troy Hambrick at running back? Please! Cincy is trying hard to move down. It couldn't cost Dallas much to move up a few spots and take Carson Palmer or stay where they are and take Byron Leftwich. Is there any chance this could happen? There are also several decent second-round running backs. Defense wins championships, but not when it is supported by offensive stars like Chad Hutchinson, Hambrick, Joey Galloway and Terry Glenn."

Good points. Logical points. I don't think Parcells/Jerry Jones would want to deal up for the first pick because none of the quarterbacks available has Peyton Manning written on him this year, and the first pick would commend a $15 million guaranteed price tag just to sign. A deal like that, if the player doesn't pan out, could haunt your franchise for years. I sense Parcells would gladly move up or down. I just don't think there's a player in this draft he loves enough to move up and pay the additional guaranteed money for.

AN ANSWER, AT LONG LAST. From James Neil of Houston: "Since you never print my mail, I make this brief, and hope for a personal response to something that perturbs me. I can understand that with the Bucs losing to the Eagles the last few years they would have to visit Philly during the regular season. However, in the past three years they have had to play the Eagles six times, including the postseason, and all have been in Philly. Why do the NFL schedule-makers allow this sort of inequity to happen? And now, even after winning the Super Bowl, we have to go there again! What gives?"

James, first of all, I don't see all my e-mail. Some weeks I receive more than 1,000 responses to my column, and the editors pick out a batch of 25 to 50 every week for me to read. Then I respond to some personally and the others in the column. Sorry I've never seen one of yours, to the best of my knowledge.

Some clarifications of your points: The league does not look at which team wins or loses a game and then figure which of the teams is at home the next time they play; it's all done by formula. Before last season, a new formula was established that should make the home/away thing more equitable.

As for what has actually happened during the past three years: Including postseason games, the Eagles and Bucs played once in 2000, a playoff game in which the site was determined simply by the Eagles having a better record in the regular season, 11-5 to 10-6. In 2001, they played twice -- in Tampa during the regular season and in Philadelphia during the playoffs, again because the Eagles had a better regular-season record. In 2002, they played in Philly during the regular season and during the playoffs; that time they both had records of 12-4 but the Eagles won home-field advantage in a tiebreaker. Hope that clarifies things.

WHITHER MCGAHEE? From Scott Cooley of Centerport, N.Y.: "Assuming the Patriots complete the deal with the Saints for Tebucky Jones, do you think they would be the type of team to take a chance on drafting Willis McGahee? They have multiple picks in the first few rounds and a longterm need at running back. I recall Bill Parcells saying that had it not been for the number of picks the Jets had, they would not have been able to take a chance on drafting Chad Pennington. The same scenario might apply to the Pats, Jets and Raiders on McGahee."

Excellent point. I'm not sure the Saints will deal for Jones, though it's still possible. Even if they don't, the Patriots have enough in reserve to take a chance on McGahee in the second round, which I'd do in a heartbeat. You're right about the Raiders. Going for someone like McGahee would be a classic Al Davis pick.


Factoid Of The Week That May Interest Only Me

Sammy Sosa hit his 500th home run on Friday. In Saturday morning's New York Times, Sosa's milestone received eight paragraphs of attention. The Houston-Philadelphia NBA game got 15.

The 10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think the Giants will be better off with Dorsey Levens than they would be with that crushing, first-round-pick failure Ron Dayne. I don't care if Levens has an injury history, and I don't care if he will be 33 on opening day. I care that Levens runs hard consistently between the tackles; Dayne ran hard between the tackles about once a month. What the Giants, and I'm sure many other teams, never realized before the 2000 draft because of the huge holes Dayne benefited from at Wisconsin is that a majority of his yards in college came against air. His offensive line was so strong, and the Badgers scheme was perfect for him. A few times he used his weight to his advantage in the NFL, but not nearly enough. The Giants are smart to realize you can't teach an old Dayne new tricks. Either you're a tough hard-nosed runner or you're not, and Ron Dayne's not.
2. I think I would love to know what made Shaun King re-sign with Tampa Bay and believe he could beat out Shane Matthews and Jim Miller for the No. 2 job behind Brad Johnson. Or what made him think he could win a job at all. I'm not saying King won't be one of the three Tampa Bay QBs. But has his stock fallen so dramatically that King needs to go to a place where three established quarterbacks are already employed?

3. I think Seattle scored big when it landed 27-year-old free-agent defensive end Chike Okeafor. Okeafor has a huge upside and a great chance to be an every-down, Hugh Douglas-type rusher.

4. I think the fastest-rising player in the draft could well be the young defensive tackle from Kentucky, Dewayne Robertson. He has an interesting body type for an interior run-stopper and rusher: 6-foot-1 3/4, 324 pounds. Runs a 4.84 40-yard dash, benches 225 pounds 30 times. I asked him who he'd compare himself to in the NFL. "Maybe Warren Sapp and John Randle," he said. Both? Interesting. Robertson is probably a better pass-rusher than Ryan Simms, the sixth pick a year ago. He could go as high as No. 4, to Chicago, but I expect he'll be picked be three or four spots later than that. Don't be surprised to see him drafted ahead of Jimmy Kennedy, the Penn State DT who a month ago was more highly regarded.

5. I think these are my baseball thoughts following opening week, after watching lots of games via the MLB Extra Innings package:

a. After six games, the Red Sox were 0-2 when Pedro Martinez started, 4-0 when anyone else did.

b. Bullpen-by-committee, the Bill James idea that I wish would work because saves is a dumb stat, might pan out -- but not with the current crop of Red Sox relievers. Ramiro Mendoza handed Baltimore six hits and four runs and almost blew an 8-3 lead Friday night in the ninth inning at Baltimore, and he's probably the best guy the Sox have. Nice week for Chad Fox. He gave up a walkoff, three-run homer to Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford to ruin Pedro's gem in the opener, then the game-ending walk to Tony Batista Saturday in Baltimore.

c. If you haven't seen Tampa Bay center fielder Rocco Baldelli yet, watch this kid run from home to first. Amazing. He had three infield hits in one game against Boston. The Devil Rays will be absolutely awful, because they can't pitch. But Crawford and Baldelli could be a very good 1-2 combination if anyone can ever drive them in.

d. There is some really awful pitching out there, but Runelvys (pronounced Run-elvis, according to Hawk Harrelson) Hernandez is the genuine item. He and Zach Day of the Expos are the best two nobodies I saw all week.

e. With 57 matchups against Tampa, Toronto and Baltimore this season, I can't fathom how the Yankees won't win 103 games, no matter how long they are Jeterless.

f. Why did the Giants let Reggie Sanders go? He has hit 33 and 23 homers the last two years, and he's cheap. I can't see Jose Cruz Jr. putting up better numbers.

g. Best line of the week, from Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe, writing for Tuesday morning's paper after shrewd managerial moves helped the Rays beat the Red Sox in the opener: "Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella, whose statue will be in place outside of Tropicana Field by tonight's game, sent up Terry Shumpert to bat for Al Martin."

6. I think I'd like to hear your thoughts on a possible fantasy football trade. I'm in the middle of a trade discussion with CBSSportsline.com's Jay Glazer. We're in a media fantasy league together, and we'd both like to poll the readers to see if they'd make a trade. I'm in need of a second running back behind Travis Henry. Glazer is in need of a stud wideout. I've offered Marvin Harrison and James Stewart in exchange for Jamal Lewis and David Boston. "I LOVE Harrison," reports Glazer, "but I can't stand Stewart. I'm leaning toward making the move." I am too. Your thoughts? I'll try aggressively to make the deal if more than 50 percent of you respond that I should make the deal. I won't if you tell me to hang onto Harrison. I have Koren Robinson, Donald Driver and Doug Jolley to use as my two wides and a tight end, and I may be better off with Lewis over Stewart as the second back. But, obviously, dealing Harrison will cost me dearly.

7. I think these are my personal thoughts of the week:

a. There is something wonderfully underdogish about the New York Rangers missing the playoffs six years in a row.

b. Three different magazines featuring news of who wore what to the Oscars are in my bathroom reading racks. That does not speak well of me.

c. If you can find it, read the excellent column in last Monday's Hartford Courant by Jeff Jacobs about UConn head women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma blasting his Villanova counterpart for giving so many hoop secrets to Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt. Fascinating reading, and amazing to see one coach bash another so openly.

d. Coffeenerdness: The following drink was ordered by a customer in my local Starbucks Saturday: "Grande half-decaf soy double-white mocha, extra hot, double-cupped. No whipped cream." Imagine putting eight sugars in a large cup of soy coffee. I retch at the very thought.

e. Montclair (N.J.) High School Note of the Week: In between three opening-week postponements (Will this winter ever end? Will this precipitation stop for longer than 10 minutes?), the Mounties opened their 2003 season at Columbia High School, a few long spirals from Seton Hall University. Pretty nice day last Wednesday, 53 degrees and mostly cloudy. For us, that's a heat wave right about now. The last time we were on this field, almost exactly two years ago, southpaw pitcher Mary Beth King made her high school debut in relief, throwing three-and-two-third innings and giving up the winning run in a 2-1 loss in the bottom of the 11th. Last year, Mary Beth got the win as we beat Columbia at our field 2-0. As she warmed up down the right-field line, I had no idea what to expect. Now, as a junior, she is the elder on the pitching staff for the first time. Now her teammates, including the five senior starters, expect her to bring the mail without looking over her shoulder. And at least on this day, she delivered. She retired the first nine in a row, threw five 1-2-3 innings, gave up two infield hits and three altogether, walked one, struck out seven, and knocked in two runs herself. MHS won the opener 7-1. Then came postponements Friday and Saturday. Another one looms today, with a game scheduled at Ridgewood. That's early-April softball in the Northeast, folks.

8. I think, if he knows what's at stake, Byron Leftwich will wake up this morning in Florida and tell himself, "This is the most important day of my life." This is the day Leftwich goes through his NFL workout, and I hear 20 or so team representatives will be present. They want to see the former Marshall quarterback do a lot of things, including just plain being active. He'll need to show how well he can move, having broken his left leg twice during the past two years. When I watched tape on him recently, Leftwich looked like he was lumbering, not quick. Great arm, though. Really terrific. I could see him going anywhere between the No. 1 pick and the middle of the first day of the draft.

9. I think the arbitrator will side with the Jets today in one of two ways in the Chad Morton case. Either the arbitrator will make the Jets match the Redskins' offer sheet for Morton completely (New York took off the last two years last time, with the league's nodding assent), or he will simply award Morton to the Jets as is. Either way, Morton will be fine. He's a good kid, and he understands business is business -- even though he'd rather be a Redskin because there would be more opportunity for him there from scrimmage.

10. I think Carson Palmer is still the No. 1 pick. But that's not set in stone yet.
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