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Just get it right

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Joel from Atlantic Beach, FL:
It doesn't seem like the AFC is dominating the NFC in interleague play like they did last year, and this could bode well for the Jaguars' playoff chances. Could you provide us an in-depth analysis of the AFC vs. NFC so far this year and how it could affect the Jaguars?

Vic: Thirty-one interleague games have been played so far this season. The NFC has won 17 of those games. The AFC was ahead until this past weekend, when the NFC went 6-0 against the AFC. Most of the sportswriters I know consider the AFC to be superior to the NFC in quality and depth – I believe that to be true, too – so, this past weekend's results are somewhat surprising. We'll see if it's the start of a trend or just a fluke. Any time an AFC playoff contender loses it has an effect on the Jaguars and every other AFC playoff contender. That doesn't mean, however, that a loss by an AFC team is always a good thing. In my opinion, Denver's loss to the Giants was bad for the Jaguars. Why? Because that brings the Broncos back to the pack in the AFC West race, and the Jaguars would prefer that the Broncos go ahead and win the West and stay out of the wild-card race because the Broncos have already beaten the Jaguars and would win a head-to-head tie-breaker. San Diego's loss in Philadelphia, however, is a major positive for the Jaguars because it worsened the record of a potential wild-card competitor. All games, as you can see, are important, but the most important games are the ones played within the conferences and the divisions. They go directly to the tie-breakers which are big, big, big in deciding the wild-card and division title races.

Brent from Palm Harbor, FL:
I've heard the term "downhill runner" quite a bit lately. It's been used to describe a few different backs in the league (Pittsburgh's running game, Denver's and Kansas City's). I was wondering if you could provide me with an explanation of what this means and what makes a back a "downhill runner."

Vic: A "downhill runner" is how you would describe a pads-down back who runs with lean. He is not a stop-and-start kind of guy. He builds momentum and uses that momentum against defenders. Jerome Bettis is a "downhill runner." Marshall Faulk is more of a stop-and-start guy.

Amit from Atlanta, GA:
You stated that eight of the 32 teams in the league today were once in a different city. Weren't the Raiders in Los Angeles?

Vic: Yeah, I should've included the Raiders, who were in Los Angeles through the 1980's and into the '90's. That would make nine teams in the league that had once called another city home. The reason I didn't include the Raiders is because they are back to where they started, Oakland.

Jonathan from King George, VA:
I'm a huge Jaguars fan and "Ask Vic" reader. I'm also a loyal fan of Mark Brunell. A couple of weeks ago you said Brunell and Leftwich were statistically equal. Since then Brunell has exploded. Some of his stats are actually better than Peyton Manning's stats. As of now, do you think Leftwich and Brunell are equal? Brunell is on pace for 32 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Is Brunell playing at a higher level now than what he played at with the Jags?

Vic: Mark Brunell and Byron Leftwich are clearly not equal statistically at this stage of the season. Brunell's current passer rating, 98.3, is higher than any passer rating he's had for any previous season in his career. His 12 touchdown passes are just eight shy of the most he's ever thrown in a season. His two interceptions have him on pace to have the lowest interceptions total of his career. In every way, he is on pace to have the finest season of his 13-year career.

Ben from Phoenix, AZ:
You always say the rule is "no cheering in the press box," but after listening to a handful of games on satellite radio on Sunday, I wonder if that rule extends to the hometown play-by-play guys, or do they have their own booths?

Vic: They have their own booths. There is no cheering in the press box. Trust me on that.

Candice from Fort Lee, NJ:
Would you please share a good Brunell/Coughlin story leading up to their big game in the Meadowlands for first place in the NFC East? What do you think they would say to each other before the game if they had 10 seconds to do so? They both seem like class acts from the little I have heard of them.

Vic: I have no doubt they will greet each other on Sunday, and I have no doubt it will be a brief exchange. Mark knows Tom Coughlin is all about business and doesn't go for a lot of nicey-nice stuff. I don't have any particularly funny stories to tell about the two. What I can tell you is that they out-did each other in giving of themselves to the hospital community in Jacksonville. Mark spent huge amounts of time at Wolfson's Childrens Hospital and any time I made a request of him that he visit a certain kid, he did it without having to ask a second time and the time he spent was cherished by the kid and his family. Mark always made it a quality visit. Tom's thing, of course, was the Jay Fund and aid to families with children stricken with life-threatening illnesses. Coughlin's hospital visits and stadium ice cream parties are also legendary, and I can tell you that a lot of what Coughlin did went unpublicized. I found out first-hand about the two men's sensitivities to others when, during the 2002 season, I became ill. They are similar people: sincere, concerned, involved and giving. They are also very stern men and that, at times, created a love-hate relationship that has produced a lot of legendary winning combinations: Graham-Brown, Starr-Lombardi, Staubach-Landry, Bradshaw-Noll, etc.

Roger from Jacksonville:
I was struck by your comments on the officiating of last Sunday's games. Vic, you are as much a football purist as I have ever met, so I'd have to guess you argued against the notion of reviewing officials' calls when it was first adopted by the NFL owners in 1986. I have mixed feelings about reviewable plays; the correct call should be made but the system has become so complex and, it seems, contrived to favor offense (big surprise, there). Many times, you've argued a compelling case that NFL games usually come down to just a handful of pivotal plays, which can hinge on an official's call. What are your thoughts on the current implementation of instant replay review in the NFL?

Vic: I was adamant in my opposition to instant replay. In some ways, I think every ill in officiating today can be traced to instant replay. The "eye in the sky" has literally become the officials' greatest adversary. It has, in my opinion, compromised their decision-making ability in a major way. We never had the number of post-play officials conferences we have now. Officials called them as they saw them. If they didn't see it, how could they call it? Now, I think they call a lot of plays as they think the "eye in the sky" sees them. I also hate the fact that we, the media and fans, have become so unaccepting of mistakes. We demand that the right call always be made, even at the expense of games getting longer and plays becoming fewer. And still we don't get it right. All of that, however, is meaningless conversation because replay-review is here to stay and we have to find a way to deal with the negative effects of having the "eye in the sky." The first thing I would like to see done is get rid of the "coaches challenge" system. It's a ridiculous concept that includes too many loose ends. The idea of replay-review isn't to beat the system; it's to use the system to get it right. When a team hurries to the line to snap the ball before the other coach gets a chance to decide whether to challenge, in my opinion, borders on cheating. Though the letter of the law isn't being violated, the spirit of the law certainly is. If we're going to do this, then let's do it right. Put a review guy in the press box and make him responsible for stopping the action after each and every suspicious play. Don't tell me about being out of time outs or the buzzer didn't work or the coach left his red flag in his other pants or the play began outside the two-minute warning. Get it right or get it out. When the games reach 10 hours in length, maybe we'll decide we've had enough.

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