NFL Beat

Who will be the diamond in the rough this season?

USA football ball 88 (photo credit: )
USA football ball 88
(photo credit: )
With the NFL season upon us, the guessing has begun. Every fan is trying to predict how their favorite team will perform. For football fans, this time of year is about balancing wishful thinking versus realistic expectations. There is always the question of will there be a team like the 2001 New England Patriots that went from last place one year to a Super Bowl championship the next year? While some teams have enough talent to legitimately expect a Super Bowl championship, others are just hoping to achieve mediocrity. Sometimes it is about small steps in the NFL. For teams like the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, anything less than a Super Bowl trophy might be a disappointment. On the other hand, teams like the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers realize that finishing 8-8 might be considered a minor miracle. At this time of year, every fan and NFL general manager is looking to see who will be that diamond in the rough. In the past, such diamonds have included Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the two-time Super Bowl MVP. He was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft, and most of the players selected before him are employed in something other than football. The Denver Broncos might have found one diamond in former Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler, who was drafted 11th overall behind perennial college all-stars Vince Young and Matt Leinart, might be the most NFL-ready quarterback in 2006. Cutler played extremely well during the preseason, including the preseason finale in which he threw for 200 yards and led the Broncos on a twominute touchdown drive. Names like Bubby Brister, Brian Griese, and currently Jake Plummer have occupied a position that the Broncos did not have to worry about for over 15 years. Last year, Denver won its first playoff game in seven years. It marked the team's first playoff win since John Elway led the Broncos to their second straight Super Bowl victory, over the Atlanta Falcons. Since Elway's retirement, the Broncos have relied on a running attack that has remained strong regardless of the running back, thanks to one of the best offensive lines year after year. Its passing attack, however, could be considered feeble at best, and they are hoping that Cutler can change that. The signing of Jevon Walker this off-season gives the Broncos a second really good receiver, and Mike Bell should be a nice compliment to Tatum Bell (no relation) at running back. With a defense that allowed the third fewest points in football last year and an offense that is much improved, the Broncos might have their best team since their Super Bowl victory seven years ago. Many NFL teams might hand Cutler the keys to their offense, yet despite his impressive performance Plummer will be the starter to open the season. But the question lingers as to what will happen if the Broncos offense struggles early in the season. Will Shannahan turn to the rookie? Surely, Plummer needs to play well. Otherwise, the former "snake" (Plummer's college name) could be watching from the bench. Jewish Football Notebook Jewish football fans should be familiar with Patriots punter Josh Miller. Last year, Miller donated $200 to Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and told Inside the NFL: "As a punter, you don't have too many options. I mean, in baseball you can donate for strikeouts, but what can a punter really do?" No word yet on whether he is doing the same this year. But one would guess he is, since he has done the same for the past two years. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is also Jewish, has matched the total in past years. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut former Miami Dolphins and New York Jets quarterback Jay Fieldler last week, but the Dartmouth product never really had a chance to make the team, since he was recovering from shoulder surgery and could not practice during training camp. Chargers defensive tackle Igor Olshansky is also a member of the tribe, weighing in at approximately 150 kilograms. Although the Oregon product says he is not religious, he still sports a big of Star of David tattoo on his arm. Super Bowl prediction: Broncos 25, Cowboys 13.