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NFL PREVIEW

Best & Worst

September 01, 2007|Sam Farmer

Which is the NFL's worst team?

We should know the answer in a month or so.

And its best team?

Check back around 7 p.m. on Feb. 3, 2008, once the Lombardi Trophy has been hoisted.

Look back at last season. Could anyone have predicted the New Orleans Saints would be so good a year after their nomadic nightmare of a season?

Or that Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger would have struggled so mightily?

Or that Carolina's Jake Delhomme would have lost his touch?

Or that Indianapolis would find its defense?

Who's best? Who's worst? Really, it's anybody's guess.

So here -- with the help of STATS LLC -- are a few educated guesses:

* Best quarterback with a defender in his face: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis. Nobody has a better grasp of an offense -- partly a byproduct of all those years with coordinator Tom Moore -- and no regular starter has a higher passer rating against the blitz than Manning's 124.4.

* Worst quarterback with a defender in his face: Roethlisberger. He was horrible against the blitz last season, when his successes (six touchdowns) were far outweighed by his failures (10 interceptions, 22 sacks).

* Best tackle-breaking running back: Frank Gore, San Francisco. He was a beast with the ball, breaking a league-high 35 tackles on his way to rushing for 1,695 yards.

* Worst tackle-breaking running back: Tatum Bell, Detroit. With Denver last season, Bell ran for 1,025 yards but shook loose only six defenders who got their arms around him.

* Best off-to-the-races back: LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego. The record-setting tailback had five touchdown runs of at least 50 yards -- 51, 51, 58, 62 and 85.

* The other best off-to-the-races back: Gore. He had five too -- 51, 53, 72, 50 and 61 -- although he scored on only one of those.

* Best offensive line if you're dropping back to pass: Baltimore. The Ravens get the nod here, even though Indianapolis gave up two fewer sacks (15). Why? Because Colts left tackle Tarik Glenn retired, leaving a rookie to start in his place.

* Worst offensive line if you're dropping back to pass: Oakland. The Raiders surrendered an NFL-worst 72 sacks last season, exactly twice the league average.

* Best back in short-yardage situations: Steven Jackson, St. Louis. He got the ball 19 times on third and one or fourth and one -- and got first downs on all but three of those carries.

* Worst back in short-yardage situations: Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Tampa Bay. Three handoffs within a yard of a first down. Stuffed on all three.

* Best forward mover: Lorenzo Neal, San Diego. Tomlinson's personal bulldozer at least got back to the line of scrimmage on each of his 29 carries.

* Worst forward mover: Kevin Jones, Detroit. He was caught behind the line of scrimmage in 26 of 181 carries.

* Best hands, team: Chicago. Rex Grossman had a lot of bad games, but he didn't blame his receivers. Here's why: the Bears dropped a league-low 4.1% of balls that could have been caught.

* Worst hands, team: Seattle. The Seahawks dropped 11.8% of balls that could have been caught. No wonder Matt Hasselbeck is balding prematurely.

* Best holder: Kevin Shaffer, Cleveland. The Browns tackle was whistled for holding a league-high seven times, five of which were accepted by the defense. Or does that make him the worst holder?

* Worst reflexes: Alex Barron, St. Louis. The Rams offensive tackle was flagged a league-high 13 times for moving before the snap, all of which were accepted. That's four more than the next-closest offender, former Arizona lineman Leonard Davis.

* Best pass harasser: Aaron Kampman, Green Bay. Quarterbacks heard his footsteps all season. Kampman just beat out Kansas City's Jared Allen in this department, collecting 25 1/2 quarterback knockdowns and 23 hurries.

* Worst cornerback in coverage: Quentin Jammer, San Diego. Jammer was targeted 126 times last season and gave up 72 receptions -- both league highs. Granted, teams had to throw a lot to keep up with the high-scoring Chargers last season.

-- Sam Farmer

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