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Recent top picks having a real bad year

If there's a jinx of No. 2-ranked teams in college football, then there's a jinx of the No. 1-picked players in the NFL.

Sneak a peek at the No. 1 overall picks in recent years and look how this year has adversely affected their careers, with the most recent example coming Monday, when quarterback Michael Vick began serving his jail sentence in Virginia for federal felony dog-fighting charges in advance of his Dec. 10 sentencing.

Vick's example is the most extreme and the most troubling, but hardly the only one.

On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers benched the 2002 No. 1 overall pick, David Carr, in favor of 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde, the No. 1 overall pick from the 1987 draft.

The roll call of other notable No. 1's on a no-good streak ...

» Quarterback Tim Couch (1999): After Jacksonville cut him this summer, the NFL suspended Couch six games for violating its steroid policy. Couch has not found another NFL home, and likely never will.

» Defensive end Courtney Brown (2000): After he failed a physical in March, the Broncos released him. Before they released Brown, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan suggested to the defensive end that he retire. Since then, Brown has not resurfaced in the league and it would be a shock if he did.

» Vick (2001): This is the saddest case of all. Earlier this season, Vick pleaded guilty to federal felony charges that tied him to an interstate dog fighting ring. Vick is now incarcerated in Virginia, awaiting sentencing in December. His NFL career could go the way of his personal freedom.

» Carr (2002): When Panthers coach John Fox opted to start Testaverde over a healthy Carr last weekend in Green Bay, it became apparent that the former No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Texans had lost his standing in Carolina and elsewhere around the league. After Houston cut Carr last off-season, few teams wanted him then. Even fewer would now.

And the list of failed former No. 1 picks might not be finished yet. The No. 1 overall pick from the 2005 draft, quarterback Alex Smith, has had a dreadful season in which he has separated his shoulder and left others wondering whether he can be the player the 49ers once thought he would be.

Now, with the 2008 NFL Draft only five months away, seniors such as Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan and Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson need to be on alert.

Being a No. 1 pick assures riches. But it hardly assures greatness.

The Patriots are coming

When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined the Patriots earlier this season second- and third-round picks if they didn't make the playoffs or a first-round pick if they did, everyone expected what the outcome would be.

But it will become official Sunday night, with a New England victory.

A win over the Eagles not only will clinch the AFC East title and a playoff spot, but also the penalty of a loss of a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft.

Not to worry, though. The Patriots still have the 49ers' first-round pick, which is now looking like a surefire top-five selection.

New England would rather, and rightfully, focus on its other accomplishments.

If the Patriots beat the Eagles, they will become only the fourth team since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978 to clinch a division title by its 11th game. The others were the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1997 49ers and the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles.


Read the transcript of Mike McCarthy's Monday press conference from Lambeau Field, where the Packers coach addressed some key injuries and the team's 31-17 win over the Panthers. Full story ...

Winning is everything

Green Bay is, rightfully, agog over its 9-1 start this season, its best since 1962, when the Packers opened 10-0.

But Green Bay also needs to be leery. Back in 1962, when Vince Lombardi led Green Bay to a 10-0 start, it lost its 11th game of the season –- in Detroit, on Thanksgiving Day.

This year's Packers will spend its 11th game in Detroit, on Thanksgiving Day.

But this Packers team also is helping Mike McCarthy accomplish feats no other Green Bay coach ever has. Through his first 25 games in Green Bay, McCarthy has compiled a 17-9 record, better than Lombardi's 15-11, better than Mike Holmgren's 15-11, better than Mike Sherman's 16-10.

No wonder the Packers already have approached McCarthy about a contract extension, talks that are expected to gain steam after this season.

Another Thanksgiving treat

For the second time in the past four years, the Jones brothers -– Julius, the Cowboys' 25-year-old running back, and Thomas, the Jets' 28-year-old running back -- will get to share Thanksgiving, though not in the way they were accustomed to while growing up.

Julius' Cowboys will be hosting Thomas' Jets on Thanksgiving, as was the case on Thanksgiving Day 2004, when the Cowboys beat the Bears 21-7.

On that day, Julius ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns, and would hope to duplicate that performance on Thursday. But Thomas is coming off maybe his finest game as a Jet.

Against a Steelers defense that had not allowed a running back to rush for more than 100 yards in 35 games, Jones carried the football 30 times for 117 yards, helping the Jets pull Sunday's biggest upset.

Surprise, surprise

At the beginning of the season, few would have thought that Cleveland and Arizona would be two of this year's biggest surprises, each playoff-bound.

But combining their solid starts with their favorable end-of-the-season schedules makes the Browns and Cardinals favorites to be a part of this postseason.

Cleveland's final six games give the Browns a chance to catch, and even pass, the Steelers for the AFC North title. Take a look at the Browns' schedule: Houston, at Arizona, at the Jets, Buffalo, at Cincinnati, San Francisco.

Similarly, at a time the Cardinals are trying to catch and pass the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona's schedule also improves its chances. The Cardinals' final six games are against San Francisco, Cleveland, at Seattle, at New Orleans, Atlanta and St. Louis.

If Arizona can keep it close with Seattle until the final two weeks of the season -- and with a defense that has forced 10 takeaways the past two weeks, that's possible -- the Cardinals' chances of winning the West go up.

But this also is new territory for Arizona. The last time the Cardinals were .500 this late into the season was 1999, when they were 6-6.

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