Ask Vic: Could economy hurt International Series?

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Question: LaDainian Tomlinson pondered who the crowd at Wembley on Sunday will be supporting. He was right: Football. I am a Bills fan, but on Sunday I will be there sporting his name across the back of my prized, powder blue replica jersey. Yet, bizarrely, I think I want the Saints to win because they're the "home" side. In the long term, for the International Series to continue to have support from the owners and teams, how important is it that the "home" side has a winning record in the fixture? Should I be making noise for the Saints? -- Edward G., Kent, England.

Make noise for anyone you like. A victory by the designated "home" team, which in this case is the Saints, would have no influence whatsoever on the long-term future of the International Series.

The fact you and so many others are supporting the game is what matters as much as anything when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league owners consider whether or not to continue staging regular-season games overseas.

Given these tough economic times, I suspect the series will be viewed with greater scrutiny going forward, as is the case with all aspects of league business. The NFL, which reimburses travel expenses for both teams, is making a substantially greater investment in this year's London game than the one last year. That is because the Chargers and Saints arrived in England four days earlier than the Giants and Dolphins did in order to give the players a greater opportunity to adjust to the time difference. That's four more days of hotel rooms, four more days of practice/office/meeting accommodations (the Chargers and Saints have literally needed to replicate their respective training facilities in England; the Giants and Dolphins only held walk-through practices after arriving about 48 hours before the game), and four more days of food consumption.

The Bills are in the first year of a five-year agreement to stage regular-season and preseason games in Toronto, but those, of course, truly are extended Buffalo home games and don't involve anywhere near the same cost. Generally speaking, coaches and players will always oppose the idea of having to make such a long trip (with all of its many related disruptions) during the season. Other respected football figures, such as John Madden, will continue to be vocal in their opposition to it as well.

My sense is that the owners are going to have to be convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the league is showing true financial growth globally in order to continue to give their support to playing games out of the country.

Question: Which are the real Patriots? The ones that didn't show up against the Chargers or the ones that pounded the Broncos? Is it possible that they finally understood that Tom Brady is not on the field? I hope Sammy Morris stays healthy and Matt Cassel limits his mistakes. -- Cristi A.

I'm hesitant to read a whole lot into the Denver game, but I think you might be onto something with the Patriots finally coming to grips with the fact that Brady is not their quarterback and won't be for the rest of the season.

Obviously, the players and coaches were aware of this after Brady suffered his season-ending injury in the opener against Kansas City. But I'm not sure how many of them genuinely accepted it or made the necessary changes in their respective games to account for Brady's absence until they faced the Broncos.

On Monday night, I noticed a Patriot team that seemed much looser and having a whole lot more fun than the one that had played in those five previous games and especially the one that was so lifeless in San Diego. The New England players have clearly resigned themselves to the fact that Brady is gone and are more focused on having fun than trying to meet the lofty standard that had existed with the reigning league MVP at quarterback. They understand they are a vastly different team and need to do vastly different things, individually, to make up for Brady's void. Perhaps the clearest example of that is the performance of Randy Moss, who knows he has to do more in route running and in battling with defensive backs to help Cassel than was the case with Brady.

Still, if the Patriots are to continue to have success, it is vital for Morris to stay healthy and for Cassel to limit his mistakes. Let's also not forget that the Pats' offense likely looked a lot better than it actually is because of Denver's atrocious defense. I am more interested to see how it performs in the next few weeks, against St. Louis and especially against Buffalo in Week 10.

One more thing: Rodney Harrison's loss is a serious blow to a secondary that relied heavily on him to get younger players properly aligned on a consistent basis.

Question: What is it going to take for the Kansas City Chiefs to make the Super Bowl in the future? I personally don't think that Herm Edwards is the right fit in Kansas City or anywhere to be exact. Please let me know what you think. -- John C.

As bleak as the Chiefs' future looks, I don't necessarily agree that a coaching change would solve their problems.

Before this season, the team determined that its best chance for long-term success was to get dramatically younger. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt realized the club would pay a steep price, in terms of losses, for having so many young players. Therefore, I think he might very well take that into account while assessing Edwards' future. Another huge factor is the Chiefs' disastrous situation at quarterback, where they lost starter Brodie Croyle and backup Damon Huard to season-ending injuries.

Still, Hunt no doubt is paying close attention to the teams that have already made coaching changes. The Rams' two victories since Jim Haslett replaced Scott Linehan is on everyone's radar, and it would be naïve to think that continued success by St. Louis or other clubs with new coaches wouldn't play into the thinking of Hunt or any other owner of a struggling club.

But I am still not convinced that it is a foregone conclusion that Edwards is on his way out in Kansas City.

Question: How do you think the Titans will fare playing Indianapolis, Green Bay and then Chicago over the next three weeks? I'm thinking their perfect season in going down soon, just like Dallas, Philadelphia and Green Bay, who were in the top three power spots early in the season also due to fairly easy schedules. I can see the Titans losing possibly six or seven of their last 10 games, leaving them 10-6 or 9-7 on the year. I don't know about you, but I am going to be watching the AFC South; it's going to get really interesting there. What say you, Vic? -- Terry D., Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Provided they stay mostly healthy, I think there is reason to believe the Titans will fare pretty well through the balance of the season, including the upcoming three-game stretch.

I believe their defense and running game are legitimately strong and not merely a reflection of a soft schedule. They obviously have excellent coaching. And I don't agree with the many pundits who say that having Kerry Collins at quarterback will prove to be the Titans' undoing because of his ability to effectively complement that defense and running game.

I find it interesting that so many people are quick to point to the Titans and other teams with impressive records and question whether they truly belong among the league's elite based on their respective schedules. All it tells me is what we have known from the very first week of the season: The NFL's competitive balance has never been flatter. And if what you and other skeptics believe is true, then a bunch of teams are going to suffer multiple losses in the second half of the season -- and we are still going to sort them out based on their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Maybe the Titans won't be undefeated, but they'll likely still look pretty good. And I, too, will keep a close watch on the AFC South.

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