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San Diego is legit contender

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

Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
You know you have a great offensive team when everyone knows what play is being called and nobody can stop it. The great teams have always been predictable.

Vic: They don't take what you give them, they take what they want.

Tom from Melbourne, FL:
What criteria does Mr. Smith emphasize when evaluating a player? How about scouts in general?

Vic: Without getting into the particulars, scouts are looking for good players who offer the potential to be even better players. It's all about growth. Their arrows have to be pointing up. We know what they are. The question is: What are they gonna be?

Robert from Keystone Heights, FL:
I'm watching the 1982 Sugar Bowl matching Pitt vs. Georgia. There is a position on the Pitt defense called MG. Is this middle guard?

Vic: Middle guard and nose guard are the same position. Middle guard may have been a way of saying he didn't always play on the center's nose. The key word is guard because it pertains to a five-man line. In this case, you're talking about two stand-up ends, two down tackles and a down middle guard or nose guard. If there are two linebackers in the game, it's a 52 defense. Now move the stand-up ends off the line of scrimmage and you've got a 34 defense and the tackles are ends and the nose guard is a nose tackle.

Terrence from Jacksonville:
What are the chances the Jaguars franchise Khalif Barnes and try to trade him for a second-round pick?

Vic: The franchise tender for an offensive lineman would pay a salary of $8.2 million and the money would be guaranteed the moment the tender was signed. If you can't trade the player, you're on the hook for the $8.2 million. I don't think that's a chance you wanna take.

Roberto from Mandarin, FL:
How about those two stats, Garrard being the most knocked down QB and his receivers have the most drops in the NFL?

Vic: Can't block and can't catch is a bad combination.

Eric from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Earlier in the year when fans talked about how the defense stinks versus last year, you mentioned that statistically they weren't much different from one year to the next. Considering how our secondary was torched during the past two games, do you continue to hold the view that the Jag defenses of 2007 and '08 aren't much different?

Vic: Let's look at the stats. This season, the Jaguars were 17th in overall defense, 13th against the run and 24th against the pass. Last year, the Jags were 12th overall, 11th against the run and 15th against the pass. I think you would agree their pass-defense got roughed up pretty hard in the final two games of the '07 season, too. When I look at all of their rankings, I count a decline in 14 of 19 categories. Thus, it would appear the situation has worsened, but I maintain my belief that '07 wasn't satisfactory, either.

Mike from Jacksonville:
With 2008 in the books, I would like you to reveal when you first had concerns that it could get ugly for the team, and what the tell-tale sign was for you.

Vic: The first sideways look was in the preseason game against Miami. I didn't like the way Miami was the more physical team. I brushed it off because it was a preseason game, but it had a look to it that I genuinely didn't like. The next one was the Buffalo game. Trent Edwards looked like Tom Brady and I thought that was reason for genuine concern. The crowning blow was the Cleveland game. When Derek Anderson, who was having a horrible season, lit up the Jags defense, I knew this was going to be a long year.

Mark from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Who do you think is the better team right now, New England or San Diego?

Vic: There's no doubt in my mind it's San Diego. Let's not forget that they thrashed New England earlier in the season. The Chargers are playing at a high level. Forget about that 8-8 record. They are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. I respect what the Patriots did this season, especially considering that they had to overcome the loss of Tom Brady, but let's not forget about that schedule: Chiefs, 49ers, Rams, Seahawks, Raiders and a Cardinals team that had shut it down and was playing in the snow.

John from Alexandria, VA:
That was a wonderfully insightful look at 2008. Now there are so many holes to fill. What do the Jaguars have to build upon?

Vic: They have a durable quarterback, a versatile, star-power running back, some young players of intrigue on defense and the eighth pick of the draft.

Chris from Stafford, VA:
How were the playoffs decided when there were only three divisions?

Vic: Following the merger, the league adopted a four-team playoff system; the three division champions and one wild-card team in each conference, resulting in two divisional round games and one championship game in each conference. In 1978, the league added a second wild-card team per each conference and the two wild cards played each other on wild-card weekend, leaving four teams to play the next two weeks in the old system. It was a simple way of adding a playoff weekend for TV. In 1990, the league added a third wild-card team, requiring the lowest-seeded division champion to play on wild-card weekend. That system remained in place until 2002, when the league realigned into four divisions. The playoff field was kept at six, with one division champion added and a wild card deleted. That's the system in place today.

Bobby from Jacksonville:
I took your test, Vic, and I was shocked. I guessed right 72 percent when guessing run/pass. When it came to guessing run direction or short/medium pass, I was a dismal six percent. I guess they are not that predictable.

Vic: First of all, guessing run or pass is nothing. If you just select for each play the team's greater of two tendencies, you're likely to score over 50 percent. The tough part is right or left, short or long. Look at the Ravens' blitz on the touchdown pass to Alvin Pearman. The Ravens guessed right on pass, but they apparently didn't expect Pearman to circle out of the backfield.

James from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
Has a backup QB ever had to come in around the postseason and won?

Vic: Jeff Hostetler immediately comes to mind. He replaced Phil Simms at quarterback late in the 1990 season and then led the Giants to the Super Bowl title.

George from Jacksonville:
I thought your analysis of the 2008 season was spot-on. From your perspective, what do great organizations, like the Steelers and Giants, exhibit that distinguishes them from their competition?

Vic: Ticket sales are the difference. Teams such as the Steelers and Giants never have to worry about selling tickets, therefore, all decisions they make are based solely on football, not fan approval or dissent. What that does for those teams is it allows them to be patient. It allows them to draft and develop. I saw an old interview with Wellington Mara in which he explained the Giants' poor performances during the 1970's. He spoke of concerns he had about maintaining the team's fans as the team moved from Yankee Stadium in The Bronx to the Yale Bowl to Giants Stadium in New Jersey. His worries about keeping his team's fan base caused the Giants to make bad decisions, signing older players such as Larry Csonka because they had name recognition and repeatedly trying to catch lightning in a bottle instead of being patient. In retrospect, Mara said the Giants' real mistake was underrating the team's fans. They remained intensely loyal to the team through the move to Jersey and the Giants never had reason for concern, nonetheless, it shows how teams can be impacted by fan opinion when ticket sales are an issue.

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