by Scott Benson

Hey, was that Niner Watch I saw mentioned in Mike Reiss’s mailbag today? Mike, you shouldn’t have!

It was an appreciated mention – and timely, as it turns out. Big doings on the old bottom feeder chart this week. Last Sunday, the surrogate mother of the Patriots’ first round draft pick, the 2-7 San Francisco 49’ers, reached down deep and lost a HUGE matchup with the 1-8 St Louis Rams – at home, mind you, as if the loss itself wasn’t enough – to vault themselves from last week’s fourth spot to the NUMBER TWO PICK IN THE NFL DRAFT, if it was held today.

Even better, the 1-8 New York Stoolies somehow managed to beat the Pittsburgh “We’ll stop them, America” Steelers in the Meadowlands, meaning that the Jets dropped from (last week) the pick just ahead of the Niners to (this week) the one three slots after them. I am still checking every twenty-minutes to make sure this wasn’t a mistake.

I’ve told you about my dream before, since Spygate – the Pats go undefeated, win Three Games to Glory, sign Randy Moss to a series of incentive-laden one year contracts (“$750,000 if you catch a touchdown pass between your knees.”), AND, just to send a disconsolate, embittered nation completely over the edge, the Pats get the number one pick in the draft, just ahead of the Jets.

So far, so good. Getting that first pick might be rough, in light of the historically awful Dolphins, but otherwise….I have a dream today.

Anyway, now we have the Niners, Rams, Raiders and Jets all tied at 2-8, but they get stacked on the basis of the second tiebreaker (after winning percentage), which is strength of schedule. Here, the Niners have all the advantage they need: their opponents have a meager .463 combined winning percentage, followed by the Rams at .506, the Raiders at .519, and the Jets at .538. Are these percentages going to swing that much to erase San Francisco’s advantage? The Niners’ remaining opponents are road games in Arizona (an improving 5-5) and Carolina (4-6, and they are horrible at home. This one worries me), then home games (where San Francisco is 1-4) with Minnesota (4-6), Cincinnati (3-7), and Tampa Bay (6-4), before a road finale in Cleveland, where the Browns could be playing for a playoff spot. A lot of promise in that slate.

The Bengals and Falcons, both 3-7, are still threats to jump into that first pool of teams, though the Bengals have the easiest remaining schedule of all and might have to deliberately lose in order to stay in the race.

We say goodbye to a handful of teams at the bottom of our list – the Cards, the Texans, the Broncos and the Eagles – who went to .500 with wins this week. Unless they all lose six straight, its unlikely they’ll be in contention for the top few picks in the draft. We’ll be leaner without their dead weight.

As Warner Wolf says, let’s go to the videotape!

I marvel that I can put a spreadsheet right on the Internet. As Warner says, come on!


Jets at Cowboys – In Dallas, four days after a major upset at home? I don’t expect the Jets will do anything other than keep the pace on the big spreadsheet for another week. I’ll pull for another shocker, but I fear it will be in vain.

Niners at Cards – I’m encouraged by the Cardinals’ two game romp over the Lions and Bengals, which got them back to 5-5. Now, just one game off the pace in their division, Arizona has a home game against a team that has lost eight straight. As Warner (not Kurt, but Wolf) says, come on!

Dolphins at Steelers – No. I won’t say it. I won’t. It would be too, too much to ask for.

Raiders at Chiefs – Despite this matchup, the Raiders have a horrifyingly tough schedule the rest of the way (.627). They will be a factor.

Thanks for shopping with us and thanks again to Mike for the support. Be sure to check back next week.