AFC North: New York Giants

Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green provided some bulletin board material for the Giants today. “I feel like they’ve got a lot of holes in their defense,” Green told WFAN’s Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton on Thursday.

Green
If Green sees some weak spots, that likely means trouble for a Giants pass defense that ranks 26th in the NFL. Few teams have been able to quiet Green and fewer have been able to keep him out of the end zone.

Since failing to score in the season opener at Baltimore, Green has produced a touchdown in seven straight games. If he scores a touchdown against New York, he would tie T.J. Houshmandzadeh (2007) for the league's third-longest streak with a receiving touchdown over the past 10 seasons. The longest streak over the past decade belongs to Randy Moss, who caught a touchdown pass in 10 consecutive games in 2003-04, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Green did show a lot of respect for the Giants' defensive line.

“Their front four, they get so much pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have that much time to get the big plays on them. We just have to be solid up front and then we’ll see what happens."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Green has become the top threat on the outside this season, leading the NFL in receptions (35) and touchdowns (six) on throws outside the painted numbers. Green already has more touchdowns this season than all of last season (four) on such throws.


In the video, Tedy Bruschi and Damien Woody make their predictions for the Steelers at the Giants.

Here's what the other ESPN experts are predicting:

Eric Allen: Giants
Mike Golic: Steelers
Merril Hoge: Steelers
Ron Jaworski: Steelers
Chris Mortensen: Steelers
Adam Schefter: Giants
Mark Schlereth: Steelers
Seth Wickersham: Giants
Tom Jackson: Giants
Keyshawn Johnson: Giants
Mike Ditka: Steelers
Cris Carter: Giants

Let the debate begin: Eli or Big Ben

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
11:00
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Manning/RoethlisbergerAP Photo/US PresswireSunday will be the third meeting between Eli Manning, left, and Ben Roethlisberger; each is 1-1.
When the Steelers play the Giants on Sunday, there will be something swirling at New York's MetLife Stadium that has nothing to do with a superstorm. It's the long-running debate over whether Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning is the best quarterback from the 2004 draft.

Roethlisberger and Manning are known for winning Super Bowls (they've combined to win four of the eight played since they entered the league). They're known for making big plays in big moments. They're known for being tough, albeit in different ways. And they have been forever linked since the day they were drafted in the first round eight years ago. Manning was selected first overall, and Roethlisberger was taken at No. 11. The margin between them is much, much closer now.

Choosing between Roethlisberger and Manning is difficult because there really isn't a right answer or a wrong one. It ultimately comes down to preference and perspective. In his preseason quarterback rankings, John Clayton put Roethlisberger at No. 4 and Manning at No. 5. In Ron Jaworski's rankings, Manning is No. 5 and Roethlisberger is No. 6.

"By any measure, in terms of how you would grade them -- wins, production, leading your team from behind, frightening the other team, forcing the other team to adjust to what they do -- they're virtually identical," said Bill Polian, an NFL analyst for ESPN Insider who spent 24 seasons as a general manager in the league.

If I had to choose one, the nod goes to Roethlisberger by the slimmest of margins. It's based on his reputation of being a winner. Every defense in the league would acknowledge that it's as hard to beat Roethlisberger as it is to bring him down for a sack. In his eight seasons, he's led the Steelers to the playoffs six times and guided them to the Super Bowl three times (winning twice).

Media and fans aren't the only ones keeping track of these quarterbacks. Roethlisberger acknowledged that watching Manning win last season's Super Bowl has inspired him to win more.

"Now that Eli has tied me with his second, I have to try to get back up on him," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in February. "So I have a little extra motivation."

Here's the tale of the quarterback tape:

Efficiency. Roethlisberger is more accurate and takes care of the ball better than Manning. Counting this season, Roethlisberger has completed more than 60 percent of his passes in seven seasons and has posted a passer rating over 90 in seven seasons. Manning has connected on more than 60 percent of his throws in five seasons (never higher than 62.9 percent) and has recorded a passer rating over 90 in just two years. Roethlisberger has been the more consistent and effective quarterback. Edge: Roethlisberger.

Production. Manning puts up more passing yards and points than Roethlisberger. In each of the previous three seasons, Manning has passed for more than 4,000 yards and has thrown at least 27 touchdowns. He recently had a streak of 24 consecutive games with 200 or more passing yards broken (it was the second-longest in NFL history). Roethlisberger has two 4,000-yard seasons in his previous three, but he hasn't thrown more than 26 touchdowns during that span. Edge: Manning.

Clutch play. It's hard to be better than Manning in this category when it comes to the Super Bowl. He led two last-minute touchdown drives to win a couple of Lombardi trophies and Super Bowl MVP awards. Manning set the league record with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes last season, and he's helped the Giants to 10 fourth-quarter comebacks over the past two seasons. Roethlisberger's resume is equally as impressive and also includes a last-minute winning touchdown throw in the Super Bowl. His 19 comeback victories and 25 game-winning drives were the most through a quarterback's first seven seasons, and he was the only quarterback to produce 20 fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories before he turned 30. Edge: Even.

Victories. This is where Roethlisberger separates himself from Manning. He has an 84-36 record (.700) in the regular season, which dwarfs Manning's 75-52 record (.590). Roethlisberger became the fourth quarterback of the Super Bowl era to reach 80 wins in 113 or fewer starts, and he led the Steelers to four AFC Championship Game appearances in his first seven seasons. Manning, though, is right there with Roethlisberger in the postseason with an 8-3 mark. Roethlisberger is 10-4 in the playoffs. Edge: Roethlisberger.

This quarterback debate is unlike any other, because the 2004 draft is the only one to produce two quarterbacks who've won multiple Super Bowls. Roethlisberger and Manning are among the three active quarterbacks who have won two or more titles (Tom Brady is the other one).

"You can't predict Super Bowls. What you can predict is whether they're going to be winning quarterbacks in the National Football League who can take your team into the playoffs and advance," said Polian, who personally scouted both quarterbacks in the 2004 draft. "In the NFL, you want a quarterback who can win for you those three or four games a year when nothing else goes right and can win games that look they're lost. Are they those types of quarterbacks? Absolutely. You could see that in college."

How close are Roethlisberger and Manning as quarterbacks? They've even split their two meetings against each other. Roethlisberger won at New York in their 2004 rookie year. Manning won at Heinz Field in 2008. The winner Sunday gets bragging rights over his 2004 classmate. But, as Polian pointed out, this debate doesn't carry much weight on the field.

"They're both going into the Hall of Fame. They're both probably going to be first-ballot Hall of Famers," Polian said. "It doesn't matter who is first or second. It only matters if you have one or don't have one. Of their generation and class, these guys are the two best."

Also: Check out ESPN Stats & Information's analysis of Manning and Roethlisberger.
Few people are giving the Browns any chance of beating the New York Giants on Sunday. It was the same way in 2008, when the Browns pulled off the 35-14 upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Giants.

Can the Browns knock off the Giants again only a few months removed from a Super Bowl title? Eli Manning has some bad memories from that loss at Cleveland. He threw three interceptions and had one pick returned 94 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Eric Wright.

Not as many current Browns remember that game. Only five players remain from the Cleveland team that upended New York: offensive tackle Joe Thomas, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, kicker Phil Dawson, receiver-returner Josh Cribbs and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin. The Browns were led in that game by wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who had five catches for 154 yards.

There is a similarity between the two meetings that will help the Browns. In 2008, Cleveland faced the Giants after a bye week. This year, after playing last Thursday night, the Browns have nine days of rest before playing New York.

Unlike four years ago, the Browns won't have the benefit of playing at home. The Browns have lost nine straight road games. The last time Cleveland won away from home was Sept. 18, 2011 (at Indianapolis).
Bill Cowher wants to teach men about melanoma, a form of skin cancer that led to the death of his wife in 2010. But Cowher's name is in the headlines for another reason as well.

NFL analyst Boomer Esiason recently speculated on a couple of landing spots for Cowher, the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach who is his CBS Sports colleague.

“The only two coaching spots that I think that he would ever come out of retirement for ... one would be the New York Giants and the other one would be the Chicago Bears, because he’s that type of guy,” Esiason told WSCR-AM 670, via the Chicago Tribune. “Being so close to him over the last few years and watching him go through his total personal-life upheaval with the death of his wife and watching how he’s handled that with great dignity and professionalism, I’m just telling you, there is no dirt on that man. This guy is as good as he seems. He’s everything that you’d expect him to be.”

Cowher would instantly become the NFL's hottest coaching commodity if he makes it known he wants to coach again. But I'm not sure we'll ever see that jutting jaw on the sideline ever again. This will mark his sixth season out of coaching.

It was only December when Dan Marino, another one of Cowher's pregame show colleagues, said he didn't think Cowher would coach again.

"I would love to see [Cowher] be the Dolphins' coach or if he wanted to coach again because that would be great for the NFL, but I don't think his mindset is that he wants to coach again," Marino said told the Dolphins' official website six months ago. "And he may change that over time, but my feeling is that he's a pretty straightforward guy that tells the truth most of the time ... and he said on TV that he doesn't have any plans of coming back, and I believe him."

When he left coaching at the end of the 2006 season, his 161-99-1 record ranked him fourth among current-era coaches in career wins. He won a Super Bowl in the 2005 season after six trips to the AFC Championship Game and took the Steelers to the playoffs 10 times.
Eli Manning won the Super Bowl but he failed to win the hearts of the AFC North blog family.

In a SportsNation poll, 69 percent of voters say the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is the best quarterback of the 2004 draft. Manning, who was selected first overall in that draft, received 23 percent in a poll that drew over 12,000 votes.

The results aren't surprising, and it would probably be reversed if this poll was taken in the NFC East. Honestly, it comes down to a matter of preference because the numbers are close.

Manning is coming off his second Super Bowl championship and captured his second Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award. He has thrown for 27,579 yards, with 185 touchdowns and 129 interceptions. Manning has directed 21 fourth-quarter comebacks and his overall record (including postseason) is 74-53 (.582).

Roethlisberger is also a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, although he has yet to win the MVP award. He has passed for 26,579 (exactly 1,000 less than Manning), with 165 touchdowns and 100 interceptions. Roethlisberger has 20 fourth-quarter comebacks and his record is 90-36 (.714).

My vote would have gone to "Too Close To Call," which only garnered 5 percent of the vote. Philip Rivers, who was taken fourth overall in the 2004 draft, received 3 percent of the vote.
Ahmad BradshawAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesAhmad Bradshaw was supposed to stop short of scoring the touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It's easy to second-guess coach Bill Belichick because you have the best argument: the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl 21-17 to the New York Giants.

But Belichick was right in letting the Giants score the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter. He was right in telling his defense to give Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw a clear path to the end zone from 6 yards out.

Here are the two options that the Patriots faced late in the fourth quarter:

  • Belichick's decision to give up the touchdown: Down by four points (21-17), Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense needed to go 80 yards in 57 seconds (with one timeout) to score the winning touchdown.
  • The alternative of holding the Giants to a field goal: Down by one point (18-17), the Patriots would have had 20 seconds (or possibly less if the Giants decided a squib kick) to march about 50 to 55 yards to get into field-goal position with no timeouts.
"Bill [Belichick] has always put us in the best position to succeed no matter what. We trust him," safety James Ihedigbo said. "We want the ball in Tom's hands. That's his call. We are behind him in everything."

Belichick did put New England in the best position to win its fourth Super Bowl. It wasn't like the Patriots could bank on another Billy Cundiff moment.

As Belichick put it after the game: "[The ball] was inside the 10-yard line. A 90 percent field-goal conversion [in that territory]."

If you want to be angry with someone in the fourth quarter, it should be the receivers that dropped passes: Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez. If you want to be angry with Belichick, it should be for his decision to throw the ball on the Patriots' second-to-last possession which stopped the clock and gave Eli Manning more time for the winning drive.

Honestly, the one at fault is Bradshaw for scoring the touchdown.

As soon as Bradshaw took the handoff, Manning was telling him to go down and not to score. Bradshaw ran through the huge hole and tried to stop at the 1-yard line. He twisted around before awkwardly falling backward into the end zone.

"I tried to declare myself down and tapped down," Bradshaw said. "My momentum took me into the end zone."

Bradshaw needed to stop short of the end zone so the Giants could have run more time off the clock. He was a Hail Mary catch away from being remembered as the player who gave the ball back to Brady for the winning touchdown pass.

"They didn't score at the end and that's all I was hoping for," Bradshaw said.

The Patriots said it didn't matter if Bradshaw would have stopped short of the end zone. "We were going to drag him into the end zone," linebacker Jerod Mayo said.

New England put itself in such a precarious position after five straight Manning completions of 38, 16, 2, 14 and 4 yards moved the Giants to the Patriots' 7-yard line with 69 seconds left. After a Bradshaw 1-yard run, the Patriots called their second timeout to stop the clock with 64 seconds remaining.

The Patriots' defense then just stood up as soon as the ball was snapped and watched Bradshaw score the 6-yard touchdown. Defensive end Mark Anderson, who had never given up a touchdown like that, wasn't totally sold on the idea.

"I still wanted to try to get a turnover," Anderson said. "But the captain says what to do and I follow his orders."

Belichick's plan almost worked. Unlike his previous three Super Bowl comebacks, Brady couldn't carry the Patriots to victory this time, although his desperation pass into the end zone on the final play fell just beyond the grasp of tight end Rob Gronkowski.

"You want to let them score so you can get your offense back on the field," Mayo said. "It's situational football. We go over those situations all the time."

This isn't like Belichick's controversial fourth-down decision in Lucas Oil Stadium two seasons ago. He was right in this situation. Belichick just doesn't have the victory to support it.

INDIANAPOLIS -- If the pregame predictions are any indication, this will be a very, very closely contested Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and New York Giants.

In the SportsNation poll, it's split right down the middle -- 50 percent say the Giants and 50 percent say the Patriots. This poll has included votes from 760,000 fans and comes an hour before kickoff.

It's almost as close on the predictions on ESPN.com: 39 picked the Giants and 32 went with the Patriots.

This is a tough one to call because both teams are confident and are on a hot streak. The Patriots have won 10 straight games (their last loss came Nov. 6 against the Giants). The Giants' winning streak is only at five games, but New York defeated the top two seeds in the NFC to reach the Super Bowl.


INDIANAPOLIS — I posted a video roundtable from the Super Bowl. How does that fit into the AFC North blog? Well, it features myself and former AFC North blogger James Walker, who shifted to the AFC East this season. The roundtable is hosted by NFC East blogger Dan Graziano. Hope you enjoy.
The Baltimore Ravens and pass-rushing specialist Osi Umenyiora would have been a great match. But, reportedly, that window has slammed shut.

ESPNNewYork.com and the Newark Star-Ledger are reporting the New York Giants are no longer allowing Umenyiora to seek a trade. The Ravens, who are seeking help for their pass rush, were one of several teams interested in landing the veteran defensive end.

Baltimore had the cap space to reach a new contract with Umenyiora. But the original price tag of a first-round pick was too much. The Baltimore Sun reported the Giants lowered their price. But reports from New York conflict that, saying the door was shut after the Giants didn't get a first-round pick.

The Ravens will look elsewhere in free agency to improve their pass rush. Umenyiora would've been their best shot at improving in this area via trade. But for now that ship has sailed.
The New York Giants have set the bounty for defensive end Osi Umenyiora -- and it starts with a first-round draft pick.

Are the Baltimore Ravens willing to go that high? I would be surprised.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome values his draft picks, especially those in the first round. Also, Baltimore would have to give Umenyiora a substantial raise, which is why he's unhappy with the Giants in the first place. The combo seems a bit much for the Ravens.

But it's New York's job to get the highest bid possible for Umenyiora. Pass-rushing specialists do not grow on trees, and the Ravens know that better than anyone. The team had just 27 sacks in 16 games last season.

Last week we mentioned Baltimore as a great landing spot for Umenyiora, and if the Ravens can get him for anything less than a first-rounder, I think it's worth pursuing.
The Pittsburgh Steelers met early Saturday morning with free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress. According to Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, the meeting went well and there's interest from both sides.

Burress

Burress


That part is no surprise. But the next step is the most important and probably will determine whether Burress plays in Pittsburgh in 2011 or somewhere else.

The Steelers have to determine a price tag for Burress. That will be challenging given the rapidly changing market and Burress' absence from football since 2008.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus will be seeking the best deal possible for Burress, who was a very good receiver when he last suited up. Pittsburgh, in contrast, has to weigh Burress' age -- he turns 34 on Aug. 12 -- and his need to shake more than two years of rust.

Is Burress worth $5 million per year, $2 million or the veteran minimum?

"Things change by the minute, because you don't know what it's going to require you to get any player," Colbert explained. "Other teams are doing the same thing we're doing. So sometimes the demand will drive that market and we have to decide if we want to be in it or not."

In addition to Pittsburgh, Burress' other former team -- the New York Giants -- already met with the wide receiver and are showing significant interest. More teams could join as the process moves along, which would be good for Burress but not the Steelers.

Colbert will meet with Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin later today to gauge his feelings on Burress and where he might fit. But Colbert and Pittsburgh's players appear willing to move forward. So I don't see any reason Tomlin wouldn't feel the same.

Pittsburgh is already making tough decisions to fit under the salary cap. Veteran leaders such as receiver Antwaan Randle El and offensive tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams are among the early cap casualties.

Depending on the price tag, fitting in "Plax" could lead to more salary cuts.

"If we do get in it, what’s it going to cost us on the other end and can we handle it?" Colbert said. "That's something we’re trying to judge daily."

According to the popular "Madden NFL 12" video game, Cincinnati Bengals rookie receiver A.J. Green is expected to have a pretty good season.

Green, the No. 4 overall pick, earned a respectable 80 rating by EA Sports, which was the fourth-highest ranking for first-year players. Only Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (82), Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Marcell Dareus (82) and New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara (81) received better ratings.

The Bengals expect Green to be a franchise cornerstone and replace veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco in Jay Gruden's West Coast offense.

"Madden NFL 12" will be released next month.
SafetiesESPN.com IllustrationPittsburgh's Troy Polamalu (43) and Baltimore's Ed Reed (20) were the consensus top picks in the ESPN.com safety Power Rankings.
ESPN.com's NFL writers rank the top 10 safeties in the league today. Next week: top 10 owners.

When it comes to rating NFL safeties, there's Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed followed by a huge gap before everyone else.

As expected, the star safeties for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens dominated ESPN.com's positional Power Rankings this week. No other safety received a vote higher than third place.

But what is surprising is that Polamalu -- the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- became the first player in this year's series to sweep all eight first-place votes. Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots did the same among head coaches.

This should finally put to rest the "Troy Reed" debate that has been raging for years between these two great safeties. According to our panel, there is a clear separation between the two. Reed received all second-place votes to finish with 72 points.

"Polamalu and Reed are the secondary's version of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They are the gold standard of safety play," AFC West blogger Bill Williamson said. "While Reed is great, Polamalu is stunning. I've never seen him play and not make a jaw-dropping play."

Both safeties have different styles. But our panel preferred Polamalu's versatility to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau uses Polamalu all over the field to help defend both the run and the pass.

Reed is more of a ballhawking safety who defends the deep portion of the field. He led the NFL with eight interceptions last season despite missing six games because of offseason hip surgery.

"Taking nothing away from Ed Reed, who is a great player in his own right, but Troy Polamalu is the first guy I think of when I think of safeties," NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas said. "He's been a huge force in Pittsburgh's recent championships. He's just a great all-around player and still in the prime of a career that's going to land him in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot."

Don't fret, Reed supporters. Someone is in your corner.

Earlier this year I interviewed former five-time Pro Bowl safety and current ESPN analyst Darren Woodson, who said he would choose Reed over Polamalu.

"As far as changing the game, I would probably start my defense with Ed Reed, to be honest with you," Woodson explained. "I know I can put him in any situation. I know I can put him on any team, and he will be the free safety in the middle of the field who makes plays on the ball. Now, Troy, it will be a little different. If you put him in a conventional defense, he's probably not going to be the same guy."

The best of the rest: There wasn't much of a consensus after Polamalu and Reed.

Fresh off a big interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV, Nick Collins of the Green Bay Packers finished third with 56 points. But Collins received votes as high as third and as low as seventh. He was a distant 24 points behind Polamalu and 16 points behind Reed.

Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals finished fourth, but he drew the widest range of votes among safeties in the top 10. ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and Bill Williamson ranked Wilson No. 3, and NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert ranked Wilson No. 10.

In the final tally, Kansas City Chiefs upstart Eric Berry was fifth, Michael Griffin of the Tennessee Titans placed sixth and Donte Whitner of the Buffalo Bills finished seventh. New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather was eighth, Antrel Rolle of the New York Giants was ninth and the Indianapolis Colts' Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry of the Washington Redskins tied for 10th.

"There is a pretty wide gap for sure after the top two," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "Nick Collins would be my third safety, but the gap is pretty large. I think it is because Troy and Reed are just so good."

Seventeen safeties received votes, which was the second-highest total to date in our Power Rankings. Last month, 23 cornerbacks received votes for our top 10.

In addition, every voter had at least one player on his ballot who failed to make the cut. For example, NFC West blogger Mike Sando and I both voted for longtime St. Louis Rams safety and current Redskin Oshiomogho Atogwe, who finished 14th.

"I really struggled putting together the list after Polamalu and Reed," Sando said. "I kept shuffling around names and eliminating various guys, only to revive them out of necessity. This wasn't a list to feel good about."

What about Bob? It was not long ago when Bob Sanders was mentioned in the same sentence as Reed and Polamalu. When healthy, Sanders was a game-changing safety and helped lead the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl title after the 2006 season.

But for the past three seasons, Sanders has been injured and spent more time off the field than on it. The Colts cut Sanders, and he was picked up this offseason by the San Diego Chargers.

It's dramatic how fast and how far Sanders has fallen out of the conversation. He didn't receive a single vote from our panel.

"Sanders just hasn't played," AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky explained. "In his prime and healthy, he's fantastic. But who knows if we will see that again. He's played nine games in the last three years. There is no reason to even consider him for a list like this at this point."

The next generation: Polamalu (30) and Reed (32) will not play forever. Therefore, someone needs to step up as the next great safety to carry the torch Polamalu and Reed will leave behind.

Berry, 22, is the most likely candidate. The 2010 first-round pick was voted in the top five after helping lead the Chiefs to the postseason. Berry recorded 92 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions his rookie season.

"I think it's safe to project that Berry will be the premier safety in the NFL in the second half of this decade," Bill Williamson said. "He became the signature player on a surprise playoff team as a rookie. Soon, he will be the face of a rising organization."

Other up-and-coming candidates include Whitner (25), Bethea (26) and Landry (26). Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, 21, also garnered votes from two panelists.

"Eric Berry and Earl Thomas should lead the next wave of top safeties," Sando said. "Berry's peers voted him among the top 100 players in the game for 2011, but I think it's premature to say Berry or any other second-year player is going to become the next Polamalu or Reed. Those guys have set such a high standard."

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