NFC East: Antonio Bryant
What's the issue with Bryant, who looks like an elite wideout at times and disappears at others? There are, unsurprisingly, a number of theories. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones suggests Bryant needs to concentrate harder on learning and running his routes, for instance. And Bryant is a second-year pro who's missed chunks of his first two seasons due to injury, so it's possible time will take care of that.
But as Tim MacMahon writes on ESPNDallas.com, Bryant wears No. 88 for the Cowboys. And because of a couple of guys who wore that number in the past -- Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin -- there's significance and no small bit of pressure that comes with that uniform number. Tim worries that Bryant may be at risk of emulating another, far more disappointing No. 88:
This is such a rare talent that Jones deemed it worth the risk to trade up to end the first-round freefall. The Cowboys decided they could live with the downside to get top-10 quality with the 24th overall pick despite being burned by a similar gamble on Antonio Bryant, a Biletnikoff Award winner whose character issues caused him to slide to the bottom of the 2002 second round.
While Dez Bryant has a clean criminal record, he is guilty of chronic immaturity and irresponsibility. That has manifested itself in many ways during his brief pro career.
There haven't been any unforgivable incidents -- like, oh, throwing a sweaty jersey in the head coach's face on the practice field -- but Bryant's behavioral paper cuts have caused plenty of blood to be lost.
He racked up six figures worth of fines for being late to meetings and rehab sessions as a rookie, an issue he has improved but not eliminated this season. There was the well-publicized, silly run-in over sagging pants with off-duty police working as security at an upscale mall. He still hasn't settled one of his two six-figure debts for jewelry and tickets acquired before the draft. And on and on and on.
That immaturity is also evident in Bryant's game.
A worthwhile point, but again, too early to say. Bryant can be anything he wants to be if he hones his talent and works on his game. But that "other" Bryant who wore 88 so recently for the Cowboys stands as a worthwhile reminder of what can happen when you don't. And until we see Dez Bryant perform with the kind of consistent, healthy brilliance that represents his talent level, we're always going to wonder if his other issues will end up being the story of his career.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
DENVER -- I've arrived in the Mile High city and will be making my way over to Invesco in about 30 minutes. The Beast will be focused on Cowboys-Broncos beginning at 4:15 p.m. ET, but right now I'm watching Giants-Chiefs in my hotel room. The Chiefs did exactly what a bad team can't afford to do at the start of the game: They fumbled the opening kickoff.
Bryan Kehl, who is becoming a special-teams star, pounced on the fumble and the Giants quickly scored on a touchdown pass to Steve Smith. On their first possession, the Giants gave Eli Manning all day to throw the ball. On a third-and-5, Manning had at least five seconds to roam around the pocket before finding Smith for a first down. Right now, the Giants receivers do as good a job as any group in the league during the scramble drill. And if Smith's not a No. 1 receiver, he sure acts like he is.
I'm afraid this one will be over quickly. In other news, the Bucs already have a 7-0 lead over the Skins at FedEx. Josh Johnson fired a touchdown pass to Antonio Bryant. Does Jim Zorn get fired if Washington loses this game? Are we going to do this every week?
Since many of you (six) have asked for my predictions for Sunday's games, let's go ahead and knock it out. But first, let's take a look at what ESPN's panel of experts came up with in their first week of picking games. All eight pickers predicted that the Cowboys would beat Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Merril Hoge, Ron Jaworski and newcomer Adam Schefter predicted that the Panthers would beat the Eagles. And these picks went up before we knew that right tackle Shawn Andrews had been ruled out because of a back injury.
Chris Mortensen was the only member of the panel to pick the Redskins over the Giants. He told me Thursday that he thinks Jason Campbell has done an outstanding job of overcoming adversity and he believes he'll have a strong season. In an interesting move, Schefter turned around and predicted the Redskins to beat the Giants in his debut column, "10 Spot."
OK, here are my predictions:
Cowboys 24, Bucs 14: I just don't think Byron Leftwich should be a starter in the league. Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware is licking his chops over Leftwich's glacier-like delivery. Leftwich was all over the map in the preseason, and he hasn't had much time to work with the team's top returning receiver, Antonio Bryant.
Eagles 35, Panthers 17: I just don't respect the Panthers' defense. There, I said it. Yes, you should worry about Winston Justice, but the Eagles will give him some help with tight end Brent Celek. I predict a huge game for DeSean Jackson. Carolina doesn't have anyone who can cover Jackson. The Eagles will hold DeAngelo Williams under 100 yards, which will be the key.
Giants 20, Redskins 17: I think the Giants will have trouble moving the ball on the Redskins in the first half. The Skins will jump off to the early lead on the strength of a deep ball to Santana Moss. It concerns me that rookie cornerback Bruce Johnson may have to be on the field quite a bit for the Giants. But in the end, Brandon Jacobs and the Giants' offensive line will wear the Redskins down. I've seen Albert Haynesworth play three great quarters and then run out of gas late in the game (see Chargers-Titans '07). Hardfought game, but the Giants find a way to scratch out the win.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
It's been several years since I've spoken to former Cowboys second-round draft choice Antonio Bryant, so I made the drive out to Valley Ranch on Wednesday to visit with him via conference call. I was covering the team that fateful summer of 2004, when Bryant became upset with Bill Parcells and tossed a sweaty jersey onto the coach's head. Parcells didn't immediately release the wide receiver, but he eventually traded him to the Cleveland Browns for Quincy Morgan.
"I know that at the end of the day he probably felt like, 'I saved that guy's career,'" Bryant said Wednesday. "I can give him some credit. I've always had a hard head. Hard heads have to bump into walls sometimes. It's just a matter of, are you going to go knock into the wall again?"
Here's what Parcells had to say about the jersey incident five years ago: "This is not my first bout."
On Wednesday, Bryant sounded excited about the prospect of playing with Byron Leftwich. He said he hasn't played with a quarterback who can throw it that far downfield since Vinny Testaverde was in Dallas.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Bryant just echoed the sentiments of many NFC South fans, who've been saying the division gets slighted by the national media in favor of the NFC East.
"It's sickening because they look for any little thing," said Bryant, who previously played for the Dallas Cowboys. "For instance, they look for the Pacman [Jones] situation and everything with that. They try to find positives with things and negatives with things and look for anything and nitpick about it when you've got Tampa Bay over here second in the NFC and nobody's really acknowledging that."
But Bryant said that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"It's cool," Bryant said. "As the season goes along, more and more teams begin to be eliminated and their opportunity to further along their season dwindles, then we're going to have to deal with some type of attention, so all we can do is play hard, play football and continue to find ways to win games."
Note from Mosley: If Bryant hadn't thrown a sweaty jersey onto Bill Parcells' head a few years ago, he could've remained part of the Cowboys circus. And don't you just feel awful for guys like Bryant who have to play in divisions that don't receive a great deal of national attention? If not for Yasinskas, we wouldn't even realize that the Bucs were 9-3 and fighting for a division crown.
IRVING, Texas -- We've just kicked off at Texas Stadium, where it's a gorgeous 70 degrees. Cowboys will have the ball first. From everything I've heard at Valley Ranch this week, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has added a lot of max-protection packages in an effort to give quarterback Brad Johnson more time in the pocket.
On the first possession, Johnson threw a weak pass over the middle to Marion Barber that was broken up. The next two plays weren't any better. The only highlight for the Cowboys was a perfect-form tackle by punter Sam Paulescu. Former Cowboys wide receiver Antonio Bryant is putting on a show for the Bucs.
Tampa Bay finishes the drive with a 36-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. One thing you should keep your eyes on is the chess match between Johnson and longtime Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. They know each other really well. Kiffin does a tremendous job of disguising blitz packages, and he won't take it easy on the immobile Johnson.