5-at-10: Power Poll, chasing the monster and tough weekend for legends

5-at-10: Power Poll, chasing the monster and tough weekend for legends

October 16th, 2012 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Remember the Friday mailbag and to call your mom and say hi. It's a good thing to do.

From the "Talks too much" studios, here we go...

Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, top, tries to avoid Missouri defensive back E.J. Gaines while running for a short gain during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, top, tries to...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Alabama cuts the standard

How much better is Alabama than everyone else in college football today?

Well, how many points would it take for you to bet on Tennessee on Saturday? Would you feel comfortable with the Vols plus-28? How many would Alabama be favored by if they played Florida - only the nation's No. 2-ranked team in the BCS - in the SEC title game? It would start at Alabama minus-11 and grow from there.

It's sick really. And now a Tennessee program starving for a win is trying to milk the baddest cow on college football's block. That's the type of comedic timing that would make Lucille Ball and Barney Fife jealous. It's the irony that Shakespeare longed for and the moment of empathy that makes puppies go "ahhhhhh," for the Vols.

That said, as our ace columnist Mark Wiedmer pointed out here, the Vols have everything to gain and very little to lose Saturday. For likely the last time all season, there will be next to no pressure on Derek Dooley and Co. come Saturday. Even the most fervent anti-Orange Pants member knows beating this Alabama team with your top two running backs banged up is a lot to ask.

Sure, as Weeds pointed out, there was the magic of 1982. We'd also like to note that of Alabama's six loses in the last four-plus years, one of the mirrors the set-up of Saturday.

It was roughly two years ago, on the road, against an up-and-down quarterback who played a nearly perfect game and used a big, athletic NFL-bound wide receiver. Yep, Stephen Garcia, Alshon Jeffery and South Carolina were nearly flawless in that 35-21 win over Alabama two years and a week ago this morning.

Is it likely? Of course not. This is an Alabama team that hates the spread, hates its opponents, hates losing, hates winning, hates failure, hates helping little old ladies cross the street, hates the media and hates anything that dares to get in its path. It's impressive to watch, really.

Is it impossible, though? Of course not. And it will likely be something that Nick Saban mentions at least twice, since the toughest part of Saban's job currently is finding ways to make sure his team does not look past an inferior opponent - and let's be clear here, they all are inferior opponents right now.

That said, there will be a growing momentum built around the Vols this week and whether they can make this a competitive Third Saturday in October. And the memories of South Carolina will only help that thought.

The talented-and-troubled Garcia mirrors Tyler Bray in a lot of way, and the Vols have a puncher's chance against anyone - and will scare defensive coordinators across the country - simply because of the ability of their receivers. A fast start - USC jumped to a 21-3 lead 105 weeks ago - could involve and ignite a Neyland crowd aching for the rush of competing with the nation's elite.

Yes, as StuckinKent will certainly point out today, Alabama has not seen a passing game as potent and potentially powerful as the Vols.

So what if the cosmic tumblers align? What happens if these Vols find themselves locked in 28-24 game with four minutes left? That's almost as scary as the thought of playing Alabama in the first place, no?

So let's say everything plays out perfectly and it's tied at 27, and UT has the ball with 90 seconds left. How confident are Johnny Vols Fans out there that Bray, Dooley, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and the Vols kicking debacle can complete the miracle?

----

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel (22) runs back an interception for a touchdown with teammate Sean Weatherspoon (56) out in front against the Oakland Raiders during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel (22) runs back...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NFL Power Poll

And then there was one. There's only one unbeaten NFL team, which means that the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team in league history to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, are on the clock. The living members of that Dolphins team wait until the final unbeaten team is knocked off and then celebrate being the lone undefeated champs.

The last perfect team in the league is your Atlanta Falcons, and something tells us that the Dolphins are not overly worried just yet about Mike Smith's team running the table. This is hardly the look of the Patriots a few years ago who lost in the Super Bowl after winning every game before it. Nor does this look like some of Peyton's Colts teams that started 12-0 and looked awfully good.

No, these Falcons topped a shaky Raiders bunch Sunday by using the old-school Al Davis mantra of "Just win, baby." Indeed.

Here's the Poll

1) Atlanta (6-0): The league's hierarchy is governed by a simple premise - you are what you're record says you are. These Falcons may not be perfect, but they're perfect. See that makes sense in the NFL, right?

2) Houston (5-1): The Texans were humbled Sunday night by a desperate Packers team. That was hardly a shock, and while the loss of stud-duck linebacker Brian Cushing will be felt at some point this year, that had little to do with Houston's first loss of the season. Nope, that set back was because Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay needed that game more than Houston did.

3) Chicago (4-1): Another team whose only blemish was to an emotionally charged Green Bay team. Sure, it's tough to put Super Bowl hopes on Jay Cutler, but the Bears' QB has been better than expected and the surrounding pieces are there and improving.

4) New York Giants (4-2): An offense that is in the top-10 in passing and rushing gives the Giants one of the league's most balanced attacks. With their impressive whipping of the 49ers in San Francisco, the defending Super Bowl champion Giants served notice that to be the champs, you'll have to beat the champs.

5) Baltimore (5-1): This may the exception to the rule of being what your record says. In a painful win over the Cowboys on Sunday, the Ravens lost middle linebacker Ray Lewis and top corner Lardarius Webb for the season. The Ravens are waiting to see if top pass-rusher and last year's NFL defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs will be able to return this year after suffering an Achilles' injury during the offseason. Plus, stud nose tackle Haloti Ngata injured his MCL. Ouch-standing.

----

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18). (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18). (AP Photo/Steven...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Welcome back Peyton

Anyone have any more questions about the neck? How about whether the old guy can take a hit? Any lingering doubts about his competitive fire or his ability to make plays or any part of his game?

Didn't think so.

Welcome back to the elite circle Peyton Manning. Manning was 13-of-14 for 167 yards in a dizzying second half to help lead the Denver Broncos to a 35-24 Monday Night win after San Diego led 24-0 at the half.

The 24-point rally is tied for the fourth largest in NFL history and exiled one of Manning's personal demon teams (he had been 1-5 against the Chargers before Monday's second-half magic).

Manning and the Broncos lead the AFC West after the rally, and like it or not Manning is part of the MVP short list, just like old times.

Whether it was Manning's return to form - or the halftime miss by golfer Phil Mickelson, who could not get within 5 feet of the target from 100 yards away to earn $1 million for the charity First Book - that lifted the Broncos to the dramatic win, it was fun and comforting having Peyton looking like Peyton.

Welcome back indeed.

----

This and that

- OK, if you could image a worst-case playoff scenario for a baseball club, let's try this one. Captain and emotional leader injured for the year. Check. Bats go colder than a February morning on Signal Mountain. Check. Drop the first two games of a seven-game series at home. Check. Go into an absolute must-win Game 3 against Justin Verlander. Check and double check. Ladies, gentlement and Spy, that's what's facing the New York Yankees.

- On the other side of the baseball dial, the San Francisco Giants thumped the Cardinals on Monday night to draw even in the NLCS. Of all the teams that made the divisional series, a Tigers-Giants match-up would be the worst for the 5-at-10. And after really enjoying the playoffs, that looks more and more likely with each passing inning.

- The last time Metta World Peace made this kind of splash in the stands, it was one of the worst moments in NBA history. Now, the basketball artist formerly known as Ron Artest, is kissing hands and making friends. That cute cuddly Lakers team. Add two future Hall of Famers and everyone is a good mood all of a sudden. (Side note: Even if you're a Celtics fan are you not rooting for a Lakers-Heat NBA Finals? How great would that be? We'll surely get into this more in the coming days, but we're legitimately excited about the NBA.)

----

Today's question

Three of the biggest sports icons of today had differing injury storylines in the last four days.

Derek Jeter broke his ankle. Peyton put the neck injury firmly in the rear view with Monday's highlight-filled performance.

And then there's Ray Lewis, the 17-year veteran who will miss the rest of the season with a torn triceps muscle.

There is talk that the injury may end the Hall of Fame career of Lewis. We don't know if that's the case - especially since Lewis was such a warrior that it's tough to see him leave on any other terms than his own.

That said, if Lewis never plays another down, what's your Rushmore of NFL linebackers, modern era, say post-1980? We'll take Lewis and Singletary in the middle and LT and Derrick Thomas on the outside.

Discuss.