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Take the predictability test

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

Richard from Jacksonville:
I've been a season ticket holder since day one. With Tom it was run left and run left again; our play-calling has always been predictable. Now with Jack it is the same old thing. What do we have to do to open up the offense not to make it so predictable? Watching the premier teams in the league, they seem to keep opponents on their heels. It seems that every team that plays us plays on their toes, knowing exactly where the play is going. The key to NFL success is deception.

Vic: When you say Tom, are you referring to the coach of the reigning Super Bowl champions and the team that'll be favored to make it two in a row? Are you referring to a man who is by and large considered to be one of the top offensive minds in the game and is a strong candidate to earn induction to the Hall of Fame? And when you say Jack, are you referring to the coach who went for it on fourth down at his own 31-yard line most recently and is absolutely the biggest fourth-down gambler I've ever covered? Here's my advice to you: For this Sunday's game, predict whether the play will be run or pass and then tell me if you think they were predictable. If you really want to test your theory of predictability, try to predict whether it's a run to the left or to the right, a pass short or long. Put it down on paper; chart plays as a scout would. Don't include obvious pass or run situations, such as when a team is behind and has to pass or is ahead and is trying to kill the clock with the run. By the way, the key to NFL success is not deception, it's talent. Players, not plays.

Scott from Delray Beach, FL:
What is the BLESTO scouting organization?

Vic: The letters stand for Bears, Lions, Eagles, Steelers Talent Organization. It is the NFL's first combined effort to evaluate talent and share information, which is an ingenious idea for saving money and doing a thorough job. I just had a conversation with someone about whether or not the letters should be capitalized. Technically, they should be capitalized but, then, technically the writer would be responsible for explaining what they mean in parentheses. Years ago I stopped doing that and just lower-cased the word, turning it into a noun I hoped everyone knew stood for a scouting consortium. Another reason for doing that is because "Blesto" is no longer just four teams, so just explaining the nomenclature would not explain what "Blesto" is. Teams were added. When the Vikings were added, it became BLESTO-V. Another team was added and it became BLESTO-VI. Then another team was added and it became BLESTO-VII. And then they just dropped the extra stuff and called it BLESTO. So, for the sake of not having to explain in parentheses what "Blesto" means and then not have actually explained it, and for the sake of not having to use the caps lock or shift keys and shortening my writing career with unnecessary key strokes, I'm going to begin a campaign to officially change BLESTO to Blesto. By the way, when a team joins Blesto, it agrees to hire a Blesto scout and pay his salary. Gene Smith was the scout Blesto provided the Jaguars way back in the beginning.

David from Durban, South Africa:
It strikes me that the team could shore up the left tackle spot by moving to sign Jordan Gross, which would free them up to truly draft BAP in April. I am concerned that as a result of the free agency debacle of 2008 that the team will shy away from acquiring a top player like Gross or Haynesworth. What are your thoughts?

Vic: How would that free them up to draft the best available player? What if the BAP was a left tackle? If Gross is available in free agency, it'll be because the Panthers plan to move sensational rookie Jeff Otah from right tackle to left tackle. Instead of signing Gross, maybe the Jaguars should've just drafted Otah, who they really liked. It's about the draft, baby. That's how you build a team. If you wait for other teams to "draft" your players, you're going to pay more money than you can afford, and then the real risk begins. Carolina did it the right way; stay young, stay affordable. It's not a game of maintenance, it's a game of replacement, and there are no bargains in expensive free agency. The player will usually win and the team will usually lose.

Chuck from Severn, MD:
I just discovered your column here. Nice work and fun to read. Without making assumptions about the outcome of Sunday's game, should the Ravens win, how do you see them doing in the playoffs?

Vic: I like the Ravens a lot. I admire what they've done up front with their offensive line. I think Joe Flacco is getting too much credit and the Ravens' offensive line isn't getting enough. They have the defense to go all the way, but I would have two concerns about them: 1.) Has Flacco hit the rookie wall? 2.) Why has that defense gone soft at crunch time? It caved at crunch time in both losses to the Steelers and did the same against the Titans. It tried to lose the game against the Cowboys. If the Ravens win their first playoff game – they've already clubbed the Dolphins in Miami once this season – they'll go to Tennessee for a divisional round game. That would be a top matchup of physical teams, and the Ravens would be out to avenge their earlier loss to the Titans, when a controversial personal foul allowed the Titans' game-winning touchdown drive.

Jay from Edgartown, MA:
Wes Welker was fined 10 grand for making a snow angel. There is no smiling in football, huh? Even Ebenezer Scrooge wouldn't go there now, would he?

Vic: League to Wes: Celebrate this.

Mark from Sunnyvale, CA:
What is the purpose of the playoffs? Isn't it to decide who can be the league champion? In that case, how can a team complain about not getting a chance to play for the league championship when they can't even win their own division? Who cares if a team gets into the playoffs at 8-8? If you can't win your division, you have no right to complain about not having a chance to prove you are the best.

Vic: I totally agree and here's why: The schedule may not be standardized within the conferences, but it's very close to being the same for all of the teams within their respective divisions. You want a home playoff game? Win your division. It's just that simple. The playing field is level within the division, so there's no room for whining and crying. Just beat the other three teams in your division and you've got what you want. Is that too much to ask?

Mac from Fernandina Beach, FL:
If Mr. Smith inherits a roster he helped shape, bad shape I might add, why on earth would you hire him to repair what he already helped screw up?

Vic: There's a difference between evaluating and selecting. Gene Smith's previous responsibility was for evaluating talent, not the selection of it. Now he's the boss. Now he's on the hook. If the picks are bad, he'll take the fall. He knows that; all personnel directors know that. One of the great scouts and personnel directors in NFL history, Art Rooney Jr., told me a long time ago that it's a "crystal ball business." He said, "We don't get paid to tell you who's good. We get paid to tell you who's going to be good." It's a daunting task. There are no excuses. You live according to your picks. When your picks are good, you're good. When your picks are bad, you're bad. Smith's in the hot seat now.

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