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Monday, January 7
Patriots more surprising than Bears

By Joe Theismann
Special to

ESPN analyst Joe Theismann answers five key questions after Week 17 of the 2001 NFL season:

Who were the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment this season?
Even though many people believe the Chicago Bears were the biggest surprise, my choice would be the New England Patriots. In Chicago, at least there was consistency and continuity. The Patriots had to undergo several changes during the season. Plus, name someone on that team? Terry Glenn has had problems all season. Their quarterbacks coach died. Drew Bledsoe got hurt, giving an opportunity to Tom Brady. Another pleasant surprise has been running back Antowain Smith, who has given the Patriots a running game they haven't had the past few years.

The Denver Broncos were the biggest disappointment. The Broncos had no running game. You wouldn't believe that the loss of Ed McCaffrey would change their entire season, but it did. Brian Griese did not play as well as he did a year ago. The Minnesota Vikings were another disappointment, although it was more expected because Robert Smith retired. I'm disappointed the Miami Dolphins' offense wasn't more productive. But they are in the playoffs, and that's all that matters.

Who will win the NFC's wild-card games?
Philadelphia will be tough for Tampa Bay to beat at home. The Eagles' secondary has the ability to shut down the Bucs' passing game, and they should be able to pressure Brad Johnson. And containing Donovan McNabb is always a challenge.

San Francisco has to travel to Green Bay, where the Packers have never lost a playoff game. Everybody will focus on the Packers' offense, with Brett Favre and Ahman Green, but their defense is solid. In the playoffs, games become more defensive, and the Packers have the ability to get after Jeff Garcia, who is on a roll. The Packers will have the edge at Lambeau Field.

Which AFC teams are looking the strongest heading into the playoffs?
Pittsburgh is playing the best football entering the playoffs. The Patriots will be a very dangerous team. Other than the Steelers and the Patriots, who have the first-round byes, Miami is beginning to step up its defense again, especially in the secondary.

The Jets have found ways to win, but I don't think they can afford to turn every game into a 60-minute contest, as they have done during the regular season. So much will depend on Curtis Martin's ability to run the football. We don't know which team will play in Oakland next weekend, but the Raiders are struggling. While the Jets have won close games at the end, the Raiders have lost them the last three weeks.

If the Baltimore Ravens win Monday night, they could go on and defend their Super Bowl championship if Elvis Grbac plays only decent football. He doesn't need to be great. He must become like Trent Dilfer.

Who'd be a better coach for the Redskins: Steve Spurrier or Marty Schottenheimer?
Schottenheimer is the better coach for the Redskins. You can't ignore how the Redskins went 8-3 to end the season. He started the season with Jeff George at quarterback and still hasn't gotten much production from the position. Yet they are finally getting some continuity. Schottenheimer is the man in Washington. In fact, he deserves credit as a coach-of-the-year candidate. Schottenheimer is the coach of the Redskins and should remain in that role.

Should the Colts stick with Jim Mora? If not, who should they hire?
Colts GM Bill Polian knows more about that situation than I do, but I believe Mora should continue as their head coach. The Colts have done a fairly good job under Mora. It's a five-year building program in Indianapolis, and they have spent three years working on their offense. Now they need to find defensive help, especially along the line. Edgerrin James' injury hurt the Colts' offense, but his return wouldn't cure their defensive woes. Look at what Chicago did in the offseason, acquiring two big defensive tackles, Ted Washington and Keith Traylor. Look at the presence of Norman Hand in New Orleans. Look at what the Steelers did, drafting defensive tackle Casey Hampton with their No. 1 pick. The first thing the Colts need is a big run stopper in the middle.

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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