Crystal Ball Sure Looks Cloudy

Now that eight of the NFL's 32 teams have reached the midway point in their schedules, it's a good time to look back and check the accuracy of some preseason prognostications.

Remember when a player getting himself cut didn't involve an ax and a block of wood in the locker room? When we thought THG was an additive in Chinese food? When Dante Hall was the name of a dorm at Cal State Hades?

A look back at a more innocent time:

Then: Michael Vick will be back from his broken leg by mid-October, and, in the meantime, the Falcons will do just fine with Doug Johnson running the offense.

Now: Vick might not return until late November, Johnson has lost his job to Kurt Kittner, and Atlanta has dropped six in a row.

Then: The new 49ers will have an aggressive, attacking offense that stretches the field.

Now: San Francisco has had one pass play longer than 40 yards, and that was on a five-yard reception that Terrell Owens turned into a 75-yard touchdown play.

Then: In Dennis Erickson, Owens has a coach who knows Xs and Oooohs.

Now: Usually, the most wide-open thing is Owens' mouth. He's complaining just the way he did under Steve Mariucci.

Then: Bill Parcells will go through the same growing pains with the Cowboys that he did in his first season coaching the Giants, Patriots and Jets.

Now: Not many growing pains so far. The 5-2 Cowboys have the league's No. 1 defense, a reinvented quarterback in Quincy Carter, and three receivers -- Terry Glenn, Joey Galloway and Antonio Bryant -- who are among the best in the league.

Then: When it comes to Pittsburgh's outstanding receivers, how will teams cover three?

Now: By using Cover-2. Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El have been stymied this season by the popular defensive scheme that features two deep safeties who can help cover receivers. The Steeler running game has hit the skids, the team is getting very little production from its tights ends, and the line is giving Tommy Maddox almost no time to set up.

Then: How will the country respond to the newest ESPN studio analyst?

Now: Hush, Limbaugh.

Then: Dick Vermeil's pattern of third-year turnarounds is over-hyped.

Now: The Chiefs are 8-0 and looking at a second half that features only two opponents with winning records, Denver and Minnesota.

Then: For two consecutive years, Donovan McNabb was one victory shy of the Super Bowl. This is his year.

Now: McNabb, who has a 51.1 passer rating, is one loss shy of the bench.

Then: The Eagles have a great defense too.

Now: Not after all the Philadelphia injuries this season. The Eagles have dropped from first to 28th in the league in sacks, first to 20th in defensive third-down efficiency, third to 27th in take-aways and seventh to 17th in points allowed.

Then: Viking quarterback Daunte Culpepper is determined to shake his reputation as a butterfingers.

Now: So far, so good. Culpepper went four full games without an interception before two of his passes were picked off in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the New York Giants. Last season, he was responsible for 32 turnovers -- 23 interceptions and nine lost fumbles.

Then: If nothing else, Kordell Stewart will help the Bears by scrambling for first downs.

Now: With Stewart in the lineup, Chicago converted 29.5% of its third downs. He has been replaced by Chris Chandler, who has converted 43.8% of his third downs in the two games he has started.

Then: New England's Rodney Harrison didn't make any friends among his new teammates when he clobbered receiver Troy Brown in their first practice.

Now: Harrison has pals aplenty, since he has contributed 67 tackles, seven deflections, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Lawyer who?

Then: The Saints will stop fading at the end of the season.

Now: They've faded at the beginning. Their 3-5 record is the worst of any midway point in the Jim Haslett era.

Then: Calling the league a "slave master" will disqualify you for a job on the NFL Network.

Now: Your microphone, Mr. Sapp.


Strike up the band! The Bengals have catapulted into the modern era!

They've hired a scout.

Yes, one. The team that heretofore used only game tape to study its next opponent, now has someone to go on the road and watch that opponent in person. Every other NFL team does it that way. Now Cincinnati has Greg Seamon, who coached tight ends for the Cowboys last season, attend the next opponent's game, take notes and file a report to Coach Marvin Lewis by the following Tuesday morning.

No wonder the 3-4 Bengals are finally on a roll.


Warren Sapp isn't the only NFL player in trouble with the league for bumping an official. Buffalo's Lawyer Milloy was fined $25,000 for a similar infraction in the Bills' 24-7 victory over Washington, and teammate Izell Reese was slapped with the same fine for the same offense in a 30-3 loss to the New York Jets.


The Raiders have a well-documented history of rescuing players from the scrap heap, but they'll be hard-pressed to get much out of defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, signed this week to help plug some holes in the middle of a porous defense.

Gilbert, 33, hasn't played a full season since 2000. He played the first nine games of the 2001 season for Carolina before suffering a season-ending injury to his left knee. Then, he played the first eight games for the Panthers in 2002 before missing the second half of the season because of a broken hip.


Quarterback matchups to watch Sunday are the ones between Miami's Brian Griese and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, both sons of former NFL quarterbacks, and the battle of the rookies between Baltimore's Kyle Boller and Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich.

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