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Thursday, October 2, 2008
Haynesworth, Titans making presence felt

By Scouts Inc.
ESPN.com

The roundtable weighs in on the NFL's MVP thus far, Super Bowl picks and sure-thing matchups. After watching all the film, Scouts Inc.'s pro scouts debate the hot topics heading into Week 5.

Who is your MVP to this point?

Albert Haynesworth
Even though he plays defense, it's tough not to pick Albert Haynesworth for MVP.
Jeremy Green: While it is very easy to choose an offensive player, I am going to go against the norm and pick Titans DT Albert Haynesworth. When you watch the film, you can't help but notice he is dominating on a consistent basis. He is a player that keeps offensive coordinators up at night because he can change the game. I love his ability to one and two gap showing the ability to play on the edges or take a blocker and drive him into the backfield. Haynesworth possesses phenomenal strength with excellent speed, quickness and agility for a man his size (6-foot-6, 320 pounds). He has been impressive thus far versus the run and as a pass-rusher. He must be accounted for at all times, usually with a double team. However, sometimes that isn't enough because he beat the double team of Vikings Pro Bowlers C Matt Birk and LG Steve Hutchinson in Week 4. He has 15 tackles and five sacks, which is very impressive for an interior lineman.

Gary Horton: Right now, it is Jets QB Brett Favre for a variety of reasons. Statistically he has the most touchdowns (12), the best QB rating (110.8) and has the second-best completion percentage (70.2). Beyond the stats, he has energized the entire Jets organization -- players and fans -- and has this team believing it's a playoff contender. If his coaches keep opening up the play book and let Favre air it out like they did versus Arizona, then the future Hall of Famer is going to put up some big numbers on the season.

Keith Kidd: For me, it's QB Drew Brees, with his uncanny ability to continue to lead the Saints' explosive offense. Due to Tom Brady's season-ending injury in New England and the struggles by Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, Brees is playing at a level that is better than any quarterback in the NFL right know. On top of that, he's done it with limited contributions from his No. 1 WR Marques Colston, TE Jeremy Shockey and RB Deuce McAllister.

Doug Kretz: I know it's not popular to vote for defensive players when it comes to MVP, but I can't help but look at what Haynesworth is doing in Tennessee. He is not only dominating the middle of the line when teams try to run it up the middle, but he is collapsing the pocket and is third in the NFL with five sacks. Tennessee is one of the toughest teams in the league to run on and is currently second in the league in sacks with 15 and that is, in large part, due to Haynesworth's play.

Ken Moll: I am going to go with Favre. He has been extremely effective in the first quarter of the season, throwing for 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He joined a club that floundered to a 4-12 record a year ago and gives them a chance to make a run at the postseason. Plus, he has led the Jets to a 2-2 record with a rushing attack ranked No. 28 and a defense ranked No. 24. Favre has done an outstanding job of putting points on the board and making throws that Jets fans haven't seen since the late 1960s. This may not have a happy ending, but for now Favre has to be considered one of the most valuable players in the league for carrying his team in the first quarter of the season.

Tag Ribary: A case could be made for Eagles QB Donovan McNabb due to all the injuries his team has endured, but after the first four games of the season Brees is the MVP in my opinion. He has been efficient in every game, and he is keeping the Saints competitive. Despite injuries to the WR and TE positions and some shaky defense, Brees is showing leadership and making smart decisions.

Matt Williamson: There really hasn't been one specific guy who really stands out, but I would give it to Brees. He has been spectacular. New Orleans hasn't had McAllister for most of the season, Shockey was lost to injury and most importantly, Colston has been out for three weeks. In Colston's first 30 NFL games, he caught 168 passes, yet Brees' play has elevated those around him to the point where Colston hasn't been drastically missed.

You get a mulligan on your preseason Super Bowl pick. Who do you think makes it now, after watching a quarter of the season?

Green: It's San Diego and Dallas. Though I'm not excited about the way the Chargers are playing, this was a second-half team last year. I like that defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell is starting to realize that without OLB Shawne Merriman he can't get to quarterbacks with four defenders, and is dialing up more blitz packages. And I don't think the Chargers' offense has hit its stride. LT Marcus McNeill and C Nick Hardwick have missed games. RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates have been less than 100 percent. But all of them are getting healthy, and in the meantime WR Chris Chambers has elevated his game. The Cowboys may have lost last week, but they're a better team than the Redskins. Dallas has more talent than anyone in the NFC, and I believe the offense and defense will mature. Watch QB Philip Rivers outplay QB Tony Romo and lead the Chargers to a title down in Tampa.

Philip Rivers
Can Philip Rivers take the next step and lead the Chargers to the Super Bowl?
Horton: I never would have dreamed it before the season, but after four games I'm going with the Tennessee Titans to win it all over the New York Giants. The Titans have the best defense in the NFL, and they play with great intensity -- which will remain a constant throughout the season. On offense, they have an effective run game, an underrated offensive line and a stable journeyman in QB Kerry Collins, who only has to manage the game. This formula has worked in the past (remember Baltimore?), and there's no reason to believe it won't work again.

Kidd: What? Don't even go there, because it's a long, long season. I'm staying with my original pick: the Cowboys over the Chargers. I love the offense, and I think the defense will improve as the season goes on. Still, if the reports out of Dallas are correct, they need to get WR Terrell Owens under control right now. This team is too talented to allow one player to create this kind of a distraction.

Kretz: I'm a firm believer in defenses taking teams to the Super Bowl. Last year the Giants dominated opponents with Steve Spagnuolo's blitzing defense. This year the Titans rank first in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. Plus, the addition of rookie RB Chris Johnson gives the Titans an explosive threat to go with the power running of RB LenDale White, which takes the pressure off the passing game. Collins is doing a great job of managing the game and avoiding turnovers. I see the Titans beating the Cowboys in Super Bowl XLIII.

Moll: There are pretenders early in every season, but talent usually rises to the top. The Cowboys are one of the league's most talented clubs and, barring injuries, they'll likely still be standing on Super Bowl Sunday. They have a balanced offense and one of the best 1-2 punches in football (RBs Marion Barber and Felix Jones). Romo and his weapons are very dangerous when they're on. They aren't great on defense, but are very solid. The special teams maintain field position and are extremely effective. The Titans have been outstanding, and it's tough to see how they can be knocked out of a deep postseason run if they stay healthy. The defense is scary, but they may be too one-dimensional on offense. Coach Jeff Fisher is one of the best in the business, but I don't think they have enough juice on offense to win it all. It'll be Dallas over Tennessee on the last Sunday of the season.

Ribary: It's awfully early, but I'm going with the Giants and Chargers. New York obviously has a strong, balanced team with playoff experience and a record of success when they get there. San Diego hasn't been spectacular, but I also think that team's best football is ahead of it. But the defense needs to show improvement for the Chargers to break through.

Williamson: I took Dallas over New England before the season started and will stick with the Cowboys to win the whole thing, but I am now going to take San Diego in the AFC. Dallas simply has too much talent at every position. On paper they are without glaring weaknesses. Of course that doesn't earn you a Super Bowl ring, but I expect Romo to erase any doubts about his ability to perform in the clutch and get it done.

Based on matchups, which player do you expect to have a big Week 5?

Green: I like Buffalo QB Trent Edwards versus Arizona's suspect and beat-up secondary. Favre threw six touchdown passes last week versus the Cardinals, and Edwards understands his system better than Favre does his. The Cardinals' weak link on defense is the cornerback position, and they are not very healthy there right now. I like the way the offensive coordinator Turk Schonert has opened up the offense. The Bills are showing a lot more versatility by allowing Edwards to throw the ball on early downs. Plus, they are using more shotgun formations with empty sets, which will help them this week. The Cardinals are a heavy-blitz team, and playing from the shotgun versus the blitz should allow Edwards time to deliver the ball quickly and allow his receivers to make plays. Look for Edwards to connect on some big plays this weekend with his star receiver Lee Evans.

Horton: The more I watch Haynesworth, the better I like him. He will match up this week versus Baltimore C Jason Brown, who has good size and strength, but he cannot handle Haynesworth by himself. Brown will likely get help from a guard, tackle or back and that leaves Titans RDE Kyle Vanden Bosch on the edge in man-to-man. Haynesworth can penetrate inside with unbelievable arm extension, hand use, and leverage. Plus, he is athletic enough to switch with Vanden Bosch and rush off the edge.

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning should get back on track in Week 5 versus the Texans.
Kidd: Without a doubt, Manning and the Colts have not started the season like they had planned. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore and Manning have had two weeks to prepare for a Texans team that is 0-3 and is depleted on the backend due to injuries. In two games, Manning threw for 584 yards with four touchdowns versus Houston in 2007. Look for Manning to get back on track this week.

Kretz: Most teams like to focus on the run when they play away from home, especially when playing in a dome. The Vikings are a run-oriented team to begin with, so I definitely expect them to feed the ball to RB Adrian Peterson in New Orleans on "Monday Night Football". With the return of LT Bryant McKinnie, the Vikings could end up being a left-handed running team again. Peterson is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and the more touches he gets, the better chance he has of breaking a long run.

Moll: Barber should have a big game versus one of worst teams in the league defending the run. He only carried the ball eight times in their loss to the Redskins, and it's likely coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will force-feed Marion the Barbarian to set the tone in the trenches. Cincinnati may stack the line of scrimmage, but Dallas has enough talent in the passing game to stop the Bengals from playing too many eight-man fronts. Barber may be the best downhill runner in the league and the Bengals aren't a great tackling team, which bodes well for a bruiser like him.

Ribary: I like Chicago RB Matt Forte against the Lions' defense. The rookie has been a pleasant surprise and the Lions are currently ranked last in the league in run defense. Detroit had a chance to make some corrections during the bye week, but I'm pretty sure the Lions couldn't get all their problems solved in a week.

Williamson: Romo will explode all over the Bengals. Cincinnati is a mess right now, and I think they will have a tough time moving the football against Dallas. That will give Romo and company plenty of opportunities to make plays. This should really be a group award to the entire Cowboys offense. Behind this dominating offensive line, Barber and Jones should have plenty of success on the ground, TE Jason Witten will catch his share of passes, and Owens might just have a little extra something for Cincinnati after last week. Get your popcorn ready.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.