THE NFL'S LETTER OF THE LAW.
From A to Z in the NFL:
A is for Appendicitis, the latest malady for Ben Roethlisberger who has been sent to a hospital for the third time in 10 months.
B is for Bengals, who are earning their stripes -- in black and white. Five players have run afoul of the law since last season, including receiver Chris Henry with a team-leading four arrests. Who knew the hotline the team has set up for fans to report unruly behavior would be so useful?
C is for Centers, which Cleveland is running through like Spinal Tap drummers. The Browns lost four centers to injury, suspension or retirement since the start of training camp, including their big free-agent acquisition, LeCharles Bentley. Hank Fraley, acquired Saturday from Philadelphia, will start the opener -- if he isn't a victim of spontaneous combustion.
D is for Drug testing program, which the NFL has purported to be the strongest program in sports. Then the Charlotte Observer reported that two Carolina Panthers, who had never tested positive, obtained steroids on the eve of the Super Bowl two years ago, and others had taken human growth hormone. Somewhere, Justin Gatlin is wondering how he looks in pads.
E is for Exhibitions. In places like Chicago, where they're gripping over Rex Grossman, or Dallas, where they're wondering about Drew Bledsoe -- here's a reminder of how important the preseason is. A year ago, Ben Roethlisberger had a quarterback rating of 32.8 in the practice games and led the Steelers to a single field goal in 18 drives.
F is for: like Father, like son. After Jim Mora's meltdown during an interview with one of the Falcons' broadcasters at the end of last season, there's no question where a postgame press conference is headed this season if Michael Vick doesn't turn things around: ``Playoffs? Are you kidding me? Playoffs?''
G is for Goodell, Roger. The new commissioner's honeymoon may be short. As owners begin to understand the new CBA deal they signed in the spring, the grumbling will begin about re-opening it next year.
And, as much as the NFL would like it to, don't expect that pesky human growth hormone stuff to go away.
H is for Hamstring, which during training camp was the Achilles heel for a litany of receivers: Steve Smith, Terrell Owens, Hines Ward, David Givens.
I is for IQ. Buffalo general manager Marv Levy, with a master's degree from Harvard, and coach Dick Jauron, with a bachelor's from Yale, may be the smartest guys in the room, so let's see them figure a way out of the AFC East cellar.
J is for Jeff George, who hadn't played in the NFL in five years, but was signed by the Raiders and then released without appearing in an exhibition game.
Apparently, they're waiting for Todd Marinovich to be paroled.
K is for Kornheiser, Tony. His skin may be as thin as his hair, but Kornheiser brings a much overdue journalist's sensibility to broadcasts. Still, until Joe Theismann is removed from the booth, it will be hard to watch ``Monday Night Football'' without a mute button.
L is for Los Angeles, which is entering its 12th season without an NFL team and, as is the custom at this time of year, a whole region waxes nostalgic for the days of Dieter Brock and Rusty Hilger.
M is for Marty Schottenheimer. The only thing separating the Chargers coach from Chuck Knox is ... give us a minute here ... well, nothing. The two winningest coaches never to reach a NFL championship game have each won 186 games.
N is for the No Fun League, which the NFL reminded us again by cracking down again on celebrations. Now we know the litmus test for a spot on the competition committee: Watch Steve Smith ``row'' a Love Boat after scoring against the Vikings or Chad Johnson grab a pylon and make like Tiger Woods and keep a straight face.
O is for Only in the NFL. Lions assistant coach Joe Cullen was arrested recently for driving while ... nude.
P is for Predictions
(* -- denotes wild-card):
AFC East: New England, Miami*, Buffalo, New York.
North: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh*, Cleveland, Baltimore.
South: Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston.
West: San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Oakland.
NFC East: Philadelphia, Dallas*, Washington*, New York.
North: Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit.
South: Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New Orleans.
West: Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco, St. Louis.
Q is for Quarterbacks who are returning from season-ending injuries a year ago: Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Drew Brees, Daunte Culpepper, Chad Pennington and Brian Griese.
R is for Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who has made his mark throwing away cash in the free-agent market, partnered up with Tom Cruise after he was dropped by Paramount. Cruise's pitch: Show me the money. Soon they'll be teaming up for a movie on Snyder's efforts to win a Super Bowl. The working title: Mission Impossible.
S is for Surprise, which the Packers just may do. They lost five games by a field goal or less last season, when they were decimated by injuries. Fading or not, Brett Favre is still the best quarterback in the division. Mix in a forgiving schedule -- Jets, 49ers, Rams, Saints and the NFC North -- and a wild-card berth possible.
T is for Toil, which is what the Bells will do in Denver. With the departure of Mike Anderson, the latest in a line of 1,000-yard rushers, the Broncos are counting on Tatum and rookie Mike Bell (no relation) to make their running game ring.
U is for Undefeated. Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and the rest of the '72 Dolphins can celebrate when the Eagles, after a 6-0 start, become the last undefeated team to fall, Oct. 22 at Tampa Bay.
V is for Vikings, with whom we are finding out that you can take the boys out of the Love Boat but you can't take the Love Boat out of the boys. Safety Dwight Smith was arrested in a nightclub stairwell for indecent exposure -- something the secondary suffered from far too often last season.
W is for Washington, John David. The son of Denzel Washington earned a call back to the Rams practice squad. The former Campbell Hall High running back earned his spot as an undrafted free agent from Morehouse College.
X is for Super Bowl XLI. Colts 28, Eagles 24.
Y is for Y I like Indianapolis. If the Colts are truly serious about being better finishers of games and seasons, at least they have Adam Vinatieri -- and the Patriots don't.
Z is for Zebras. The NFL changed the uniforms on officials this year, tapering the stripes from top to bottom. Now, judging from their performance in the playoffs, if only they change their stripes.
(1) F: Atlanta coach Jim Mora can melt down just as famously as his father.
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(2) I: Will the IQ of Buffalo Bills GM Marv Levy be enough to save the franchise?
(3) M: Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer knows how to win, except...
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(4) Q: Donovan McNabb is one of the many QBs coming back from tough injuries a year ago.
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(5) G: New commissioner Roger Goodell enters with a short honeymoon period.
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(6) R: Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has decided to show Tom Cruies the money.
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(7) Y: With Kicker Adam Vinatieri, the Colts have a much better chance of closing the deal.
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(8) Z: The referee's new uniforms don't really make a fashion statement, do they?
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