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Thursday, July 20, 2006
Welcome back to the Truths

By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2

Jason,
You know I love you, Boo. But it's been a long time since you told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the NFL. Baby, could you please write just one offseason edition of your NFL Truths column? I'll give you a foot massage.
Beyonce

Back by popular demand is a heading-into-training-camp edition of my NFL Truths column:

10. Marvin Lewis' ego could be getting in the way of a terrific coaching career.

I've seen what's happening in Cincinnati happen before. A fantastic, grounded football coach is allowing his ego to run wild, and he's convinced himself that he can coach anybody, as long as the players are talented and sober on game day.

Lewis reminds me of Marty Schottenheimer during Marty's final two years in Kansas City. Desperate to win a Super Bowl and smothered by the belief he was the best coach in football, Schottenheimer turned the Chiefs' locker room into a halfway house for ex-cons, and the team absolutely imploded in 1998, earning the nickname "Bone, Thugs and Marty."

Lewis keeps preaching that "character counts," but the Cincinnati Trail Blazers are turning into a team filled with bad characters. Lewis is rationalizing everything, including Chad Johnson's playoff meltdown, the acquisition of three low-character rookies, Frostee Rucker, A.J. Nicholson and Ahmad Brooks, and troubled veterans Chris Henry and Odell Thurman.

Talk about a horrible offseason. Lewis has gone from being the toast of the NFL to being toasted on every talk show across the country. I like Lewis. And I used to really like Schottenheimer.

But Lewis' coddling of Johnson is the key indicator that the Cincinnati situation is going to get out of control this season. I see the Bengals headed back to the toilet this year and Lewis learning a very tough lesson. Bad characters count against you.

The Bengals win six games this year.

9. Brett Favre will regret his decision to return to the Packers by Week 4, when John Madden won't be around on "Monday Night Football" to explain away Favre's terrible performance against the Eagles.

I'm bummed Favre didn't grow a pair this offseason and tell the Packers he wanted to be traded to the Dolphins. Favre, 36, still can play football at a high level. He's just not capable of elevating a weak team to a higher level anymore. He's like Michael Jordan playing with the Wizards.

Favre's spending his last year or two in the league running plays called by the former offensive coordinator of the 49ers -- Mike McCarthy, a product of the Mike Nolan coaching tree, not the Bill Walsh tree -- is just about the dumbest thing imaginable.

I hope Packers fans are happy they're holding Favre hostage in Green Bay rather than allowing him to finish his career with dignity in a winning environment.

8. Phillip Rivers is going to bomb in San Diego.

It's never a good idea to try to develop an inexperienced, weak-armed quarterback with a receiving corps led by a 36-year-old, well-past-his-prime receiver not named Jerry Rice. Keenan McCardell had a great season a year ago -- 70 receptions and a career-high nine touchdowns. He can't duplicate that year. Not at 36. And not with Rivers flinging floaters with his sidearm delivery. The Chargers don't have a reliable receiver to stretch the defense and provide all-world tight end Antonio Gates plenty of room to operate underneath. Rivers' weak arm and San Diego's mediocre receiving corps are going to clog running lanes for LaDainian Tomlinson.

7. As much as I dislike Terrell Owens, I have to admit he's going to have success in Dallas this season.

I've gone back and forth on how I feel Owens will work with Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe. Right now, I'm firmly in the "Owens will have his best season ever" camp. Playing opposite Terry Glenn and with tight end Jason Witten drawing attention in the middle of the field, I can see Owens scoring 18 touchdowns. His number of receptions will be down, but T.O. will get in the end zone frequently. And he'll behave during the regular season.

I like the Cowboys a lot this year.

6. But I don't like the Cowboys as much as I like the Washington Redskins, my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Washington made one mistake this offseason, letting LaVar Arrington escape to a team within the division. Other than that, you have to love what the Skins did.

New offensive coordinator Al Saunders is a bit of a glory hound. He campaigned for the Kansas City head coaching job by gassing up members of the media. But make no mistake, the guy knows how to call plays. He has a terrific imagination, and he has a major chip on his shoulder because he's out to prove he deserves another shot at being a head coach.

The Redskins added two receivers -- Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El -- during the offseason to play with Santana Moss. Wow. Clinton Portis in the backfield, a trio of talented receivers, H-back Chris Cooley and Saunders calling plays. QB Mark Brunell can't screw that up.

And, of course, the Skins play outstanding defense, even without Arrington.

5. Joey Harrington is going to beat out Daunte Culpepper by midseason.

I've never been a Daunte fan. Never. I was irate when the Vikings drafted him just months after Jeff George had a great season. But it's deeper than my allegiance to George.

Daunte is not a student of the game. He doesn't read defenses. He's going to get exposed in Miami because his mobility is gone and he's going to be forced to stand in the pocket and make reads. It won't be pretty.

4. Peyton Manning will not miss Edgerrin James.

That's not a statement about James' talent. He's a talented back. I just think Indy's passing attack puts so much pressure on a defense that James' replacement(s) will find enough running lanes to make the Colts' running game serviceable.

3. Edgerrin James will miss Peyton Manning and the Colts' offensive line.

The weather is great in Arizona, the Cardinals have two fantastic receivers and James received a fat contract. But he's going to run behind the worst offensive line in football.

Once Kurt Warner gets knocked silly and gets injured, the Cardinals will be forced to go with rookie Matt Leinart, who will struggle while running for his life. All the pressure to bail out the offense will be on James.

Denny Green needed to overhaul Arizona's line. Instead, he picked up a USC rookie in the second round of the draft. Do you remember how Jamal Lewis tiptoed all last season? You're going to see a re-enactment of that shameful performance in the desert.

2. Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident will negatively impact his performance this season.

Roethlisberger is supposed to be completely recovered by the start of the season. Great. I just have a hard time believing his mental recovery will be complete this season. He nearly died. Young people, especially young athletes, are emboldened by a sense of invincibility.

Roethlisberger's sense of indestructibility has been shattered. I can see his confidence suffering this season.

1. The Baltimore Ravens are my pick to win the Super Bowl.

I love the acquisitions of veteran Trevor Pryce and rookie Haloti Ngata for Baltimore's defensive line. Price and Ngata should make Ray Lewis unstoppable again. Steve McNair solves Baltimore's QB dilemma. Plus, I recently read John Feinstein's book about the Ravens, "Next Man Up," and the book made me like and respect Brian Billick.

Also, the city of Baltimore needs a feel-good story after suffering through the TV death of Stringer Bell and the incarceration of Avon Barksdale on "The Wire."

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for The Kansas City Star. He can be reached by e-mail at ballstate68@aol.com. Sound off to Page 2 here.