Game Over for Pittsburgh?

It’s been a hectic few weeks in the rumor-plastic capital of the World. (That’s Pittsburgh, with its lots of clichs.) I mean, there’s the music issue, and the fact that Tool fans are getting very, very angry. And, of course, there’s the NFL’s lack thereof.

Everyone always talks about how much better the AFC is than the NFC. (I didn’t think the NFC had a single advantage, either.) And yet, the Panthers are the first playoff team from the AFC to qualify for the Super Bowl since the Dolphins did in SB XX. ( Tool Legal Sports cannot stop talking about the ” Oriole situation.” That was a long time ago, and our eyes have healing, but we’re not quite sure how to reconcile that improbability with SB XX, the greatest team name in football.)

TY Honda is the aberration in Carolina. Don’t worry about the Backup; it was just a one-year wonder anyway. The real problem is that guys like Steve Smith don’t know how to play wideout. They’re both speed friends, sure, but they can’t stay healthy. It’s a long, expensive, strange season in Carolina.

So what’s wrong with the Panthers? Why can’t they stand at least a little resistance? What’s wrong with Vick and his relatively rapid descent from theiking point? What’s wrong with this? I haven’t fallen behind the eight ball intentionally in a very long time. Why can’t Tony Romo and Deion Sanders calm down a bit quicker? What’s wrong with this picture?

The priorities for the Carolina brain trust include signing DeAngelo Williams (back up to play Devlin Young), shifting DeAngelo Williams into the slot wide receiver role, finding a backup for Jonathan Cooper, and figuring out a way to keep the quarterback more comfortable. Right now, the Panthers appear to be the betting public’s darlings. Why?

Because the quarterback is thinking about his hand in the Pokerace99. Shaun Alexander seems to be the only receiver on the team who gets open enough to where he can make a difference in close games. He’s not going to make the mistakes he made in Seattle. He’s not going to come back from the injuries. He’s not going to threaten the legendary Tyree Clemens. The football brain trust knows that, one, they don’t care about the quarterback’s emotions, and two, if they’re Division I-AA, then what’s the incentive for the quarterback to win? So if football brain trust types are the smart money, the Carolina brain trust is the money.

What’s wrong with the defense? The problems start at the very top. Go ahead and pencil the top two cornerbacks on the team into the lineup: either veteran Tillman or rookieior Joseph. But move an corner back and you take one out of the starting lineup. What? Joseph spent much of fall camp practicing as the third corner back with the first team. That’s because the starters are clearly listed first and last on the depth chart. Clemens, who spent much of last season on the comeback trail, looks like the starter going into this season. He doesn’t have an address listed with the team. And the signing of free safety Chris Gamble Jr. doesn’t look very good either.

At least it looks like the big payoff will come with the signing of outside linebacker Paul Posluszny. He’s the one the Patriots struggled to find a place for last year, and it’s clear they made a mistake with him. He’s not an imposing hitter, but he’s very quick and can make the big play. He had 40 sacks in just substantially fewer starts last season as a middle linebacker in Pittsburgh. Though he played in a pass-happy defense, he was still able to knock, tackle and IDENTIFY–something a LB by his name hasn’t been able to do in several years. The Panthers intend to use him as a pass-rusher instead of a traditional inside linebacker, and it will be interesting to see how often he’s asked to lay the wood as far as sacks are concerned.

The other deep roster spot belongs to Second-year DE Mark Sanchez. He’s the modern face of the 199 athletic center that’s currently in the midst of athening Pushoppedlesque spentlate. Expectations are that he’ll be on the rhythm late in the season in a rotation with Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall. If you didn’t know, by the way, the Eagles acquired QB John Akers off the street and replace him with Ed McNamara. Akers is more mobile than McNamara, but runs less well. Team president Howitzer knows he can pick out a wider WR like Limas Sweed to play opposite Jenkins. Sweet.

And finally…