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Sunday, December 16
No team's more complete than Steelers

By Joe Theismann
Special to

ESPN analyst Joe Theismann answers five key questions after Week 14 of the 2001 NFL season:

Which team looks the most playoff-ready?
The Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Oakland Raiders' run defense is still suspect -- for the Raiders to win, it looks like they'll have to outscore opponents. The Chicago Bears have had a fantastic season, but QB Jim Miller -- while he's been effective -- has missed some opportunities.

The St. Louis Rams have been inconsistent, turning the ball over too many times. Kurt Warner and Mike Martz say they aren't concerned about turnovers because they feel they'll score enough points. Maybe so, but if turnovers cost you a game in the playoffs, you don't get to come back the next week.

The Steelers are the most complete team in the NFL -- other than kicker Kris Brown. And of course poor kicking can haunt you in the playoffs. Steelers coach Bill Cowher has a tough decision to make.

The question Cowher has to answer is "What are his options at this point in the season?" He's got to seriously consider doing something because Brown isn't getting it done. Brown even went right on an extra-point attempt Sunday night (though he made it). He's got a bad case of the "rights."

Besides the kicking game, everything has been clicking for Pittsburgh: the NFL's No. 1 defense has been suffocating opponents, QB Kordell Stewart and his receivers have been connecting, and Jerome Bettis has gained better than 1,000 yards.

Should Carmen Policy and Al Lerner have been more critical of Cleveland's fans?
A Browns fan throws a bottle onto the field after a first-down catch by the Browns was overturned.
This beer-bottle-throwing incident was an embarrassing situation for the Cleveland Browns. The best thing Policy and Lerner can do is ban the sale of beer bottles in the stadium. If fans can't control themselves any better, don't give them a chance to throw those objects on the field.

I saw some video that showed people throwing bottles from the upper deck -- which is dangerous not only for the players and officials but also for other fans.

I played in front of the Dawg Pound when I went to Cleveland. Fans used to throw biscuits at us -- that's no big deal. But when people start throwing full beer bottles on the field, if they can be identified, they ought to lose their season tickets.

Looking at the game from a fan's perspective, I can understand why they were upset. I thought it was a bad call.

But to do what those fans did, risking harm to so many people, was absolutely wrong. It's like throwing icy snowballs in Denver -- if officials can identify the fans who are responsible, they should be prosecuted and then lose their seats.

That'll solve that problem in a hurry.

How do you see the AFC East shaking out?
I think the AFC East race will go down to the last week. That's what is so intriguing about this season -- with just three weeks left, there's still so much yet to be decided.

The Patriots look like the hottest team in the AFC East right now. Miami struggled on Sunday, getting shut out by the 49ers. The Jets struggled in their win over the Bengals. The Colts have been hurt by injuries but have shown they can beat anybody.

Next week's Sunday night game is huge: Jets at Colts (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Colts can put points on the board, especially at home. Can the Jets slow them down and match them point-for-point?

Saturday's AFC East game is even bigger: Dolphins at Patriots. I thought Miami QB Jay Fiedler would make a run at the Pro Bowl this season. But Patriots QB Tom Brady, who began the season as Drew Bledsoe's backup, should be considered for the Pro Bowl. Brady has played that well and led his team that effectively. Football is a game of opportunity, and Brady has seized his.

The outcome of these games will tell us much more about the status of the AFC East race.

Will Notre Dame hire an NFL head coach? If so, which one?
First of all, I've gone back and checked my resumé -- something anyone in the public eye should do before sending one out again. First, I'm going to delete my MBA from Harvard. Also, I've never sky-dived, so I'll take that off my list of hobbies. And I was not a member of a Space Shuttle mission. All kidding aside...

If Notre Dame waits for an NFL coach, it could be well into January before school officials are even able to interview the candidates they want. So the question is, what does that do to recruiting? The other issue is, will the guy the Irish want accept the offer?

I don't think Jon Gruden will leave the Raiders -- I think they'll make Gruden an offer he can't refuse. The Raiders would be stupid to let him go. And the 49ers would be stupid to let coach Steve Mariucci go. I don't see Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin going to Notre Dame either.

There are some NFL assistants who would make good candidates for the Notre Dame job. Two offensive coordinators -- Gary Kubiak of the Broncos and Matt Cavanaugh of the Ravens -- would be excellent. The Irish really need to upgrade the offense, which has become archaic and disorganized (though I think Bob Davie did a good job with the defense).

Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache would be a strong choice -- he would be a good head coach anywhere. Mike Tice, the Vikings' offensive line coach, would also be a good college coach.

Back to the resumé issue ... actually, I have to be careful sometimes, because people often say to me, "Joe, congratulations on winning the Heisman Trophy." But I never won it, although I was the runner-up at Notre Dame in 1970 (Stanford's Jim Plunkett won it).

Will the Ravens even get the chance to defend their Super Bowl title?
Yes -- I think the Ravens will make the playoffs.

They're 8-5, and they've got three games left -- against the Bengals, Bucs (in Tampa) and Vikings. And now, after this loss to the Steelers, the Ravens are like a wounded animal. But their defense should propel them into the postseason.

Sunday night's game was decided by a big play -- the 90-yard touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart to Bobby Shaw. But some questionable calls also hurt the Ravens.

We didn't really get a good view of the fourth-quarter taunting penalty on Ravens QB Elvis Grbac, but he doesn't seem like the kind of player who's going to throw a football at someone. It seemed that he was simply tossing it in the air. That call took the Ravens out of field-goal range.

In an intense rivalry game like this one, officials need to have a sense of the flow of the game. You can be sure there was all kinds of taunting going on as emotions ran high during this contest, but throwing a flag on Grbac in that situation seemed like an overreaction by the officials. It was not a well-officiated game.

The Ravens are a tough football team, and I expect them to bounce back. As was the case last season, the D has to make plays for Baltimore. And the D will have to step up if the Ravens are to defend their Super Bowl title.

A game analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Football, former NFL QB Joe Theismann won a Super Bowl and a league MVP award. He reviews the NFL each week for in Cup o' Joe.

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