For former greats who've come close to getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Bob Kuechenberg, Art Monk, Thurman Thomas, the late Derrick Thomas), as well as for lesser lights with borderline Canton résumés (Dermontti Dawson, Fred Dean, Andre Tippett) and players eligible for the first time (Terrell Davis, Bruce Matthews), the vote in February 2007 may be their best chance for induction for the next several years. With strong classes coming up in '08, led by Darrell Green and Cris Carter, and '09, featuring Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson, there should be intense lobbying of the 39 voters by this year's candidates. The Hall admits three to six new members a year, and here's one voter's best guess at the class of '07: Matthews, Monk, Derrick Thomas, Thurman Thomas (above), former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and tight end Charlie Sanders, a Seniors Committee candidate.
"Mario! Mario! Mario!" That was the chant at Reliant Stadium on Sunday after Texans rookie end Mario Williams sacked Miami's Daunte Culpepper and then helped drag him down again on the next play. The cheers—and the sacks—were a long time coming for Williams, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft. After barely generating pressure during Houston's 0--3 start, he was harshly criticized by coach Gary Kubiak. "I deserved it," Williams (left) said following Sunday's 17--15 win. "I expect a lot out of myself, and I was just letting the game overwhelm me. Today I just went out and played football—had fun."
Ray Lewis has ruled the Ravens' defense for a decade, but a new linebacking star is emerging. Bart Scott, who was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois in 2002, cracked the lineup only last season, but here's how his stats in his first 14 starts compare with those of Lewis (in 1996--97).
1 Coach of the Year (through Week 4): Sean Payton, who in nine months on the job for New Orleans has pulled together 16 new assistants and 27 new players, named 10 new starters and produced a solid team. The 3--1 Saints are no fluke.
2 The Bengals won't be a dangerous playoff team until run-stuffing tackle Sam Adams comes to play. He had zero tackles against Pittsburgh (170 yards rushing) and New England (236).
3 None of the Dolphins' first four foes rank among the NFL's top 10 in pass defense, yet Daunte Culpepper has been sacked a league-high 21 times. While his line may be weak, that indicates he's also taking too long to throw and can't escape the rush.
Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, every week at SI.com/football.
JOE TRAVER (THOMAS)
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