The way the Philadelphia Eagles have been going, the NFC may as well be a race for second money. That said, the team closest to Donovan McNabb and company may well be the St. Louis Rams.
At 4-2 and atop the NFC West, the Rams are starting to look like the Super Bowl contenders they were not so long ago.
A big reason is the return of the bomb to the arsenal of the Greatest Show on Turf.
Quarterback Marc Bulger has thrown eight passes of 30 yards or more compared to just two in the final five games of 2003.
"For a while, he wasn't throwing it as well," Rams coach Mike Martz said in preparation for tomorrow's game against the winless Miami Dolphins.
"I think he is very confident right now about throwing the deep ball, very confident. He's putting the ball right where he wants to."
So far, the highlight has been a 52-yard touchdown pass to Shaun McDonald in overtime of a 33-27 win over the Seattle Seahawks and another 52-yarder to Torry Holt in a 28-21 over the Tampa Bay Bucs this past Monday night.
"I haven't done anything different, but we're hitting them, and that's all that matters," Bulger said. "So, I'll keep winging it."
Actually, Bulger says there is much more to making the long ball work than just heaving it as hard and as far as he can.
"People think throwing the deep ball is just taking five steps and throwing it 50 yards down the field, but it's not that easy," Bulger said. "I'm throwing it way before they cut, and it's all depending on the coverage. It's a different landing point every time."
READY FOR PRIME TIME?
This was supposed to be the year the Bungles became the Bengals.
The NFL certainly thought it was going to happen and staked its confidence by putting a Monday night game in Cincinnati for the first time since 1989.
Instead, this week's Monday nighter at Paul Brown Stadium features the Denver Broncos (5-1) against the still lowly Bengals (1-4).
The Bengals have been ravaged by the worst run defence in the league, yielding an average of 160.4 yards a game. In last week's 34-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, they gave up a miserable 449 yards of total offence.
"The good part about this is the lights are on Monday night," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "But we need to continue to work a little smarter and see things and react to things together and do it when the lights are on."
There is hope for the Bengals in the first Monday nighter at their new stadium. Seven of the past 10 teams have been winners the first time the ABC crew paid a visit for the prime-time game.
Which is worse: The Seattle Seahawks allowing legendary Jerry Rice to take sweater No. 80, which the team retired in honour of Steve Largent? Or, the ego-driven Rice having the nerve to ask it?
When Rice was traded to Seattle by the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday, he called Largent to ask if he could wear No. 80. Put in an awkward position, Largent had little choice but to say yes.
Meanwhile, coach Mike Holmgren doesn't plan to waste any time getting Rice the ball as the Seahawks work to snap a two-game losing streak tomorrow against the Arizona Cardinals.
"He will get his hands on the ball," Holmgren said. "He will be a part of this offence. I didn't bring Jerry in here and he didn't agree to this for him not to play."
Much has been made about the death of the mystique of Lambeau Field, the venerable stadium where the Green Bay Packers are 0-3 heading into tomorrow's meeting with the Dallas Cowboys.
But the Pack isn't the only team expected to have a strong season that is struggling at home. Green Bay, Tennessee, Miami, Kansas City and Tampa Bay are a combined 0-13 at home.