Prognosticator picks from a plane

Posted: Friday, October 10, 2008

The moment the words left her mouth, the passenger in seat 40A realized he had his column.

"Please fasten your seatbelts and return your seats to their full, upright position as we're heading into some heavy turbulence," the stewardess announced as we were cruising 15,000 feet somewhere above Oregon.

Perhaps the public address announcer at Texas Stadium should inform Dallas Cowboys fans the exact same thing.

Following their puzzling 31-22 home victory over the winless Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, fans and members of the media ripped into the Cowboys for barely hanging on. After exploding to a 17-0 first-half lead, Dallas conceded 16 unanswered points before clinging to a win many thought would, and should, be by 20 to 30 points.

These are the Cowboys. Those were the Bengals.

Fasten in Texas, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

At 4-1, the Cowboys aren't even in first place in their own division. That spot belongs to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who are sitting comfortably at 4-0 after destroying Seattle last week.

But the Giants, too, precariously slipped by Cincinnati earlier this season, winning on a field goal in overtime, and Cowboys fans are quick to point that out.

"Funny how that works. The Super Bowl champs barely beat Cincy in OT, yet the media is gaga over how the Giants stuck it out to beat them. Meanwhile, the Cowboys beat Cincy by nine points and led the entire game," DallasBlues wrote on a forum on mbdscout.com. "I don't care how you spin it, the Bengals didn't outplay the Cowboys. Yet, here come the mediots. What's wrong with Dallas? What's wrong is the mediots need to get a clue.

"Those great 90s Cowboys won ugly, too. They lost ugly to boot. Cowboys can never seem to get a break with the media. Always being bashed and for really no good reason. Every game isn't sunshine and rainbows."

Always being bashed for no good reason?

I guess going 13-3 in the regular season last year and bowing out in their first playoff game isn't reason enough to be bashed? Losing at home to the despised Washington Redskins doesn't warrant criticism? Terrell Owens yapping again, calling out his teammates for not getting him the ball enough doesn't spell controversy?

I hope those seatbelts are securely fastened.

Because it's not getting any easier with the first-place Arizona Cardinals next on the docket.

Yes, that's correct. It's not a misprint.

The first-place Arizona Cardinals.

The 3-2 Cardinals.

Arizona, which is all alone atop the NFC West standings.

Anyway you put it, the Cowboys, favored by just 5, are sure to be tested this week when they head to the desert in a matchup reminiscent of the former NFC East.

After years of boasting an inept offensive line Soldotna probably could run over, the Cardinals have finally mended the primary weakness preventing them from actually competing.

And the decision to start former league MVP Kurt Warner over Matt Leinart, who could still be passed out at the Playboy mansion for all we know, couldn't have worked out any better.

The 37-year-old has already passed for 1,472 yards and 10 touchdowns and has officially adopted the Rocky mind-set now, contemplating retirement yet still slinging the pigskin as proficiently as anyone.

Following a three-interception, three-fumble performance in a loss to the Jets two weeks ago, when receiver Anquan Boldin was viciously knocked out and lost indefinitely with a fractured sinus, Warner discussed an imminent retirement. He's well aware that Father Time is not his friend. He wants to exit on his own healthy terms.

But a 41-17 win over previously unbeaten Buffalo last week, Warner completing 33-of-42 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, got him thinking again, perhaps he can knock out Clubber Lang one more time.

"Games like that make you want to play forever," he said.

While Leinart's been dubbed the future of the franchise, ownership has got to be praying Warner's immortal body holds on.

A talented young receiving corps has always been Arizona's strength since the arrival of Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. And even in Boldin's absence, the Cardinals high-flying attack has continued to thrive, Fitzgerald reeling in his usual haul and youngster Steve Breaston filling Boldin's Size 12's nicely.

After catching just four passes for 72 yards through the first three games of the season, Breaston has amassed 199 yards on 16 receptions over the last two.

"When the ball comes my way, I have to make a play, be a reliable resource for Kurt," Breaston said following the Cardinals win over the Bills.

Perhaps a subliminal message directed at his next opponent?

Take notice, T.O.

Can you feel the turbulence?

The Cowboys can.

"I guess everybody expects us to be some kind of superheroes," said Dallas linebacker Bradie James. "I come in here on Monday and I'm trying to enjoy my win and people are, like, beating us up. So it's really tough, man. With us having so many expectations, the only people we can make happy is in this locker room, and that's really it."

It's not always sunshine and rainbows, Brady.

Especially in the desert.

CARDINALS, 27-26.

Chicago (minus 2) at Atlanta

Falcons a playoff team? Not yet. BEARS, 24-14.

Oakland (plus 7 1/2) at New Orleans

Saints won't lose two straight at home. Not to another one-win team. SAINTS, 38-17.

Baltimore (plus 5) at Indianapolis

Being in Delaware, have to go with Flacco. RAVENS, 24-21.

Carolina (plus 2 1/2) at Tampa Bay

Winner may take the NFC South. BUCCANEERS, 17-14.

St. Louis (plus 13 1/2) at Washington

I said it last week, the 'Skins will be 7-1 in three weeks. REDSKINS, 38-20.

Cincinnati (plus 5 1/2) at N.Y. Jets

Favre, meet the Jets fans. BENGALS, 41-24.

Detroit (plus 13) at Minnesota

Minnesota's playoff push began last week. VIKINGS, 35-10.

Miami (plus 3) at Houston

Three in a row for the Fins? Probably not. TEXANS, 24-17.

Jacksonville (plus 3) at Denver

Cutler and Marshall get back on track. BRONCOS, 24-20.

Green Bay (plus 2 1/2) at Seattle

Possibly Mike Holmgren's last game against his former team. SEAHAWKS, 31-28.

New England (plus 6) at San Diego

How's LT going to get out of this one? PATRIOTS, 28-21.

Philadelphia (minus 4 1/2) at San Francisco

Finishing this column from the City of Brotherly Love, how could I go against Philly? EAGLES, 33-23.

Monday

N.Y. Giants (minus 7 1/2) at Cleveland

Browns take advantage of a rare MNF appearance. BROWNS, 24-23.

LAST WEEK: 4-7-2 (spread); 6-8 (straight up)

SEASON: 36-34-3 (spread); 42-32 (straight up)

Comments and criticisms may be sent to Clarion sports reporter Matthew Carroll at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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