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Sixth seeds look good

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

Kevin from Savannah, GA:
Listening to you over the years, I have heard you speak about the unimportance of team chemistry. Jack Del Rio mentioned it in his recent press conference as a main part of the demise of the season. Someone is full of baloney. Have you been to a deli recently?

Vic: I don't think I used the word unimportant. I think I've used the word overrated to describe the importance of team chemistry. I acknowledge that a sour locker room can ruin a team, as it may have in Dallas this year, but those situations are few and far between. What I've said over the years is that team chemistry is not the reason teams win and lack of team chemistry is not why teams lose. If you believe it is, then I guess I'm the one who's full of baloney because I'm just not buying this baloney about a lack of team chemistry ruining the Jaguars' season. Yeah, I think they started reading their press clippings, and I warned against that in my OTA's-ending column before vacations began. Yeah, I think this team got drunk on its success of 2007 and, yeah, I think its focus was dulled by contract issues and jealousies about money some players were making and other players weren't. The fact of the matter is that I've covered a lot of teams that have overcome those circumstances to have a winning season. It's pro football, it's about the money for all teams, winners and losers alike. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that this team had a talent shortage. The front end got old and the back end couldn't pick up the slack. When I look at the Jaguars' 2008 schedule, in my opinion there isn't one team that didn't have a better receiving corps than the Jaguars'. Team chemistry was going to change that? Sorry, but I'm not buyin' the team chemistry thing. Yeah, it wasn't good and it hurt the Jaguars, but I think we're deluding ourselves if we think trying harder will fix everything.

Will from Orlando, FL:
Who is your darkhorse favorite heading into the playoffs?

Vic: Both sixth seeds offer the potential to go far. They have strong defenses and can rush the passer. If they get postseason-caliber play from their quarterbacks, and the Eagles have a veteran in Donovan McNabb, it wouldn't surprise me if they continued the recent postseason success of wild-card teams. Frankly, I think the top two seeds in the AFC, Tennessee and Pittsburgh, might qualify as darkhorse teams.

Gabe from Jacksonville:
Do you think the result of the Florida-Oklahoma game will reveal anything about conference strength as in are the Big 12 quarterbacks that good or are the defenses that bad? Or is one game too little evidence, even if it is a blowout for either team?

Vic: If you wanna judge, go ahead because the conference pride thing seems to drive college football. I don't get it but I know a lot of people get off on the regional pride thing and that's OK with me. After you decide, however, if Big 12 quarterbacks are that good or the defenses are that bad, would you please answer this question for me: Who's the last Big 12 or even Big Eight quarterback that did anything in the NFL, and please don't say Vince Young, Vince Ferragamo or my cousin Vinny? Is it Kordell Stewart? Troy Aikman only started four games at Oklahoma before he transferred to UCLA, so he doesn't qualify. Help me out.

Greg from Carlsbad, CA:
Since you're in a Navy town, I guess you've already been informed that "Gene has the conn," not the "con."

Vic: You're the first and only and I thank you for correcting me. I assure you, it was not a Freudian slip.

James from Jacksonville:
Do the successes by Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco put a hole in the sit-the-rookie-QB theory or are they just anomalies?

Vic: I think Ben Roethlisberger poked a hole in that theory when he was a rookie and that's why teams are more willing to plug rookies in at quarterback right away. Playing quarterback in this league has never been easier. Yeah, it's still the most demanding position but compared to what quarterbacks of the past faced, playing the position today is much more doable for rookies than it was in the old days. The coaching and preparation is more concentrated, today's quarterbacks don't have to call their own plays, they're in direct communication with their coordinators and the rules have never been more protective. The major point of emphasis on illegal contact was the crowning blow. The NFL knows the importance of the quarterback as he relates to the game's popularity with fans and the league has done everything possible to favor the position.

Andrew from Washington, DC:
Haynesworth has a checkered past but he's surely been a more productive player than Jerry Porter or Drayton Florence. A year from now, when the middle of the Jags defense still can't stop anyone, you might have a different opinion.

Vic: The money the Jaguars spent on Porter and Florence combined won't get Albert Haynesworth's name on a contract. You wanna take that risk with a guy who's played his best football in contract years? I don't and I'm absolutely sure I won't regret that opinion.

Vince from Indianapolis, IN:
Not saying the Chargers won't give the Colts a game; I believe they will. Colts will win but it will be a good game, however, why would you say the Chargers are better than the Colts on the field by predicting they'll win and then put the Colts so far ahead of them in your power rankings? It does contradict your prediction. If a team is better on the field, then they are just better.

Vic: The better team always wins? My power rankings are my opinion of the relative current strength of each team. With their wins over Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Diego and, most recently, Tennessee, I think the Colts deserve to be regarded as the top team in the AFC. Now we turn into the postseason, however, and I think you know what that means. I offer no offense to your beloved team, it's just a fact that they haven't played as well in the postseason as they have in the regular season. The same quarterback that has dominated the regular season for a decade and has a 94.7 regular-season passer rating is 7-7 in the postseason and has an 84.4 passer rating, and let's not forget that you're only allowed one loss per postseason. I think the Colts' resurgence this season from a slow start is fantastic and I have great respect for them, but they lost at home to San Diego in last season's playoffs and now they're playing in San Diego against a Chargers team that's also on a roll and I just happen to like the Chargers. No offense intended.

Gregg from Ocala, FL:
I was watching a television show, part of a series, which recounted a certain baseball team's season from back in the 1970's. In the show, reporters were shown to have wide access to the team's players and managers. In fact, reporters would go out with the team's manager and certain players for drinks after games. Certain comments were off the record and there seemed to be genuine friendship. From what I can tell, that does not seem to be the case these days. My question for you is three-fold: Did reporters and coaches/players truly have personal relationships like that once upon a time, what happened so that this is not the case now and, as a reporter in the 1970's, did you ever have a unique relationship with a player or coach?

Vic: I covered a lot of baseball and because they play 162 games and because teams and the reporters that cover them are on the road together so much, relationships are inevitable. Roger Kahn's "The Boys of Summer" perfectly describes how those relationships develop and they still do today. Yes, players are more guarded today, especially in gang interviews, but trust still exists and a lot of reporters have relationships with players and coaches that include friendship. The key to those relationships, however, is an understanding and respect for the reporter's job. He must not be forced to choose between doing his job or maintaining his friendship. The player has to know where the line is and those players who are media-savvy know where that line is. I've enjoyed friendships with players and coaches throughout my career, but in every case they've been with guys who've had that media savvy. Fred Taylor and I are friends, but Fred also knows that nothing is off the record. I repeat, there is no such thing as off the record. To give a reporter information and expect him not to use it is disrespectful of his job and the relationship and it's also unrealistic. I think you may be confusing off the record with unattributable. That's where times have changed. In the old days, newspaper editors allowed their reporters to write without attribution, which allowed for "off-the-record" news. Now, everything has to be attributed, and that may be the difference you're sensing. Columns such as this one allow for the unattributable and that's one of the reasons I love this format so much. It's about the trust I've built in you to believe what I've written without having to "burn" my sources.

Omar from Jacksonville:
What is it about the USC Trojans that makes their players so successful in the NFL? Is it that they just recruit the NFL-type talent or is it their system?

Vic: Yeah, that's it, they just elect to recruit NFL-type players and then use them in an NFL-type system, which is to say they recruit the best athletes in America and then put them into a system that requires great athletes for it to be successful. Omar, if you watched the Rose Bowl, what you saw was the closest thing to an NFL team college football has to offer. The USC team that thrashed a good Penn State team has an NFL-caliber player at nearly every position. USC has players on defense who are frightening and their quarterback may be the best pro prospect at that position I've seen all year. After watching that game, anybody who doubts that USC has the best talent in college football is not being honest with themselves. For that team not to be in the national title game cheapens the whole process.

Ryan from Ancaster, Ontario:
How about that Roy Williams trade by the Cowboys? A first, third and sixth for a guy who gave them less than 200 yards in 10 games. Yet, more evidence that you do not trade draft picks.

Vic: If ever a trade looked bad from the start, that's the one. Why do people fall in love with the look-good-in-the-shower under-achievers? When he was coming out of Texas, the rap on Williams was that he wasn't a try-hard guy and that he under-achieved. If he was a premium-position player it would be easier to digest the gamble, but a wide receiver?

Ryan from Jacksonville:
Since the Jags missed big on a playmaker at receiver again, do you think it would be a good idea to go after T.J. Houshmandzadeh?

Vic: Sure, everybody needs a wide receiver who's critical of the owner that pays his salary. That'd help team chemistry.

Jon from Kittery, ME:
I just read that Arizona and Minnesota have needed extensions to sell out their respective stadiums for the playoff games this weekend. Arizona has been given two and has yet to sell out. How does a franchise like Arizona's, which hasn't had a home playoff game in decades, justify this to the league?

Vic: The Cardinals have only played one postseason game at home in their history, the 1947 NFL title game, which the Chicago Cardinals won, 28-21, over Philadelphia. Be that as it may, selling tickets for playoff games is normally difficult, even for the best of franchises, simply because it's a quick turnaround. In the Cardinals' case, they've known for a long time they would host a playoff game, so it says something about the lack of passion in Phoenix for the Cardinals that they're struggling to sell out the first home playoff game in the history of the team's years in Phoenix. In the Vikings' case, however, they didn't know they would be hosting a playoff game until they won last Sunday, which makes it much more understandable that they're struggling to get the tickets sold. The Jaguars faced the same situation in 1998 and '99 and they struggled to move the tickets, too.

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