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NFL Network is quality product

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

Kevin from Jacksonville:
I've been hearing on sports talk and reading on news websites that teams are going to have boatloads of money to spend this offseason. Is the salary cap expected to rise that much or have teams just done a better job of managing the salary cap?

Vic: It's a combination of both. The salary cap is going up and, because it's going up so fast, most teams are having to spend more conscientiously. You know what I mean? The new CBA and the increase in revenue, as driven by the large-market teams, have left several of the league's teams hard-pressed to spend to the level of the cap. They've had to be especially conservative in their cash-over-cap (bonus money) spending, which is giving those teams a lot more flexibility from year to year than they had, say, 5-6 years ago. The Jaguars are a prime example. The cap in 2005 was $85.5 million and it'll be $109 million in '07. That's a big jump.

Andrew from Ft. Lauderdale, FL:
I completely agree with your ranking the 49ers a spot ahead of the Jags. Mike Nolan has done a simply amazing job with that team. No one, and I mean no one, thought the 49ers would be 5-6 after the first 11 games of the season. They play in the NFC, but who would have ever thought they might be in the playoff race? The Jags have significantly more talent than the 49ers, yet, they have only one more win.

Vic: Yeah, the 49ers have done a great job, but that's not the reason I have them ahead of the Jaguars. The reason I have them ahead of the Jaguars is that I screwed up the cut and paste.

Matt from Jacksonville:
I am interested in seeing how successful our running game will be next season when Greg Jones is back. Is there a formation the Jags could use to have all three RBs in the lineup so the defense never knows who's going to hit them?

Vic: Yeah, it's called the T-formation, but I think they buried it with Woody Hayes.

Brooks from Orange Park, FL:
I was looking at the upcoming free agent market for wide receivers and it is weak at best. What are some other viable methods to pick up a high-quality wide receiver that won't leave your salary cap in shambles afterwards?

Vic: Every year, I say it's too early, and nobody listens. You can't judge the free agent crop, yet, because the list you're seeing doesn't include the players who have the voidables, the players who have roster bonuses that won't be paid, the players who will become salary cap casualties. Derrick Mason was one of those types of players. You have to wait, folks.

Ben from Fayetteville, AR:
Make up your minds, people. One day you hate all the showboating, the next day Matt Jones doesn't celebrate enough. Jones is a cool cat. When he was a kid, there was a tornado hitting his house and he slept through the roof being ripped away. Jones just acts like he has been there before. Just because he doesn't beat his chest and go crazy, who are you to say he has no passion?

Vic: Did he really sleep through a tornado?

Billy from Orange Park, FL:
The home game on Dec. 10 vs. the Colts is a one p. m. kickoff, however, it is on the flex schedule. Is there a chance it will become the late game and, if so, when will the NFL make that decision? Thanks for all you do with this column.

Vic: The starting time of that game won't be moved. That decision was made this week. The only remaining Jaguars game whose starting time could be moved is the regular-season finale in Kansas City, which could be moved from one o'clock to four o'clock or eight o'clock.

Jon from Jacksonville:
Boy, is that win by the Bengals a crippler for any postseason hopes we have. It makes a loss this Sunday in Miami a potentially season-ending one, depending on how the rest of the games work their way out, right?

Vic: The Bengals have a tough finishing schedule. They have to go to Denver and to Indianapolis. I don't think their win last night is the death knell for the Jaguars. The challenge for the Jaguars is simple: Win. How many? I think five in a row would do it. Would four more wins get the Jaguars in? It might, as long as one of those wins is against Kansas City. I can't ignore what happened last season. Kansas City didn't get in at 10-6. The wild cards were Jacksonville at 12-4 and Pittsburgh at 11-5 and 11-5 won it all. Forget about scenarios. Just win, baby. That's what the Steelers did.

Jared from Orlando, FL:
While speed is always an asset at wide receiver, I would settle for someone who catches the catchable balls on a regular basis. That's where the Jags miss Jimmy Smith most. Agree?

Vic: It doesn't do any good to have fast receivers if they don't catch the ball. A wide receiver's ability to catch is assumed. Your expectations are way too low. Did you see the Bengals receivers on Thursday night? I guess you may not have seen the game but, if you had, you would've seen guys making finger-tip catches, in-a-crowd catches, leaping catches, etc. Those are my expectations. I expect wide receivers to do special things, not just catch the ball. I expect them to catch the seemingly uncatchable ball, which is what Chad Johnson did last night. When you find those guys, put a stopwatch on them and keep the fast ones. You gotta have speed at wide receiver. If you don't have speed, the field will compress. Jimmy Smith was a speed receiver. Don't ever think he was just a good pair of hands. In his prime, Smith was lightning. That's what the Jaguars miss the most. They miss the speed.

Nikesh from Orlando, FL:
What do you think about the NFL only showing games on NFL Network? It should be illegal.

Vic: What's illegal about it? The NFL is a business. It's a business that's been giving away its product for a lot of years, and that wasn't by choice, it was by an act of Congress. How many American businesses have been forced to give away their product? Was Ford made to give away its cars? NFL Network is a business venture. It's an attempt by the NFL to grow its business. I became a subscriber for Thursday night's game between the Ravens and Bengals. Comcast sent a guy out just before the game and he had me hooked up for kickoff. Really nice young man, by the way. I even tipped him. Anyhow, I'm sitting on my couch watching NFL Network's telecast of the game and it hits me that I'm watching the future of television football. There's no doubt in my mind. If you see one of these productions, you're going to want it all of the time. The quality is beyond anything I have ever seen. I even think the commercial breaks were fewer and that hit me as a way the league could hold down the time of the game and not decrease the actual playing time. The way the broadcast segued from its pregame show to the kickoff was especially impressive. Those watching at home on network TV don't get to see and feel those moments leading up to the teams' arrivals on the field and the energy in the stadium just before kickoff. NFL Network gave that to its viewers last night. They made you feel as though you were at the game, and that's the way it has to be. That's what's going to drive this product. Yes, it is a form of pay-per-view, but I think it's an acceptable form. I think it's a great product and I don't see anything wrong it.

Howard from Homestead, FL:
How are the ratings for the NFL Network Thursday night games?

Vic: Ratings have nothing to do with anything because too few people have access to NFL Network right now. The issue isn't ratings, it's complaints to cable companies that don't offer NFL Network, and it's going to be difficult to get a count on complaints because the cable companies aren't likely to tell. In time, we'll get a read on the situation through media outlets and public opinion. In my opinion, this is going to work. In my opinion, this could do for Paul Tagliabue's reputation what the first big network TV contract did for Pete Rozelle's.

Kevin from Dunkirk, MD:
I just realized Vince Young has a 49 percent completion average.

Vic: : I already said I was wrong. What more do you want? He's a great quarterback.

Joni from Jacksonville:
Why is it that a storied football program such as Alabama is having such a hard time finding a replacement for its head coaching position? It seems like nobody wants that job.

Vic: I think they made a big mistake firing Mike Shula. I think they may have too high of an opinion of themselves. Haven't they noticed that things have changed since Bear Bryant was in his glory?

Fred from Portland, OR:
You say "football is a young man's game," but what about the Patriots? They have to have the oldest roster in the league. I'm counting 17 vets, or roughly one-third of their roster is over 30.

Vic: How much longer do we have to go over this? What's your point, that football is an old man's game? Is that what you want to say? Take a harder look at the Patriots' roster, Fred. Is Tom Brady over 30? Is Richard Seymour? Laurence Maroney? Chad Jackson? Matt Light? Logan Mankins? Asante Samuel? Vince Wilfork? Ty Warren? Ben Watson? Eugene Wilson? Those players represent the nucleus of the Patriots. Forget about Vinny Testaverde and Larry Izzo, etc. Those guys are patches. They're on the roster for now, not later. No long-term financial commitment has been made to those types of players. Bill Belichick won't do that. He believes in committing to young core players, then patching with veterans. I don't have a problem with that, as long as you can keep finding those patches in cheap free agency or street free agency. I'd rather provide for "jars on the shelf," but it can be done the other way, too. What you can't do, in my opinion and in Belichick's, is spend a lot of money on an old player who's on his last legs. We talked about this yesterday and I agreed that the Ravens are getting more return than I thought they would for Steve McNair, then I watched last night's game and I thought, "What am I supposed to like?" McNair is clearly an old player in decline. He doesn't move as he once did. He doesn't have the arm he once did. The Ravens spent a lot of money and committed a large portion of their salary cap future to a player who's in decline and, frankly, is getting more credit for the Ravens' resurgence than he deserves.

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