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NFL Week 3 Power Rankings: Patriots a real scream

They're holding on to the fourth spot in our poll this week, just barely.

Tom Brady and his fix-it-on-the-fly offense was blessed this season by the scheduling gods. It's as if someone on Park Avenue knew that Brady would lose all his favorite targets in the offseason and would need what amounts to seven preseason games to figure it all out.

The Bills, Jets and Bucs. That's a 3-0 start if Brady is throwing to you, me and Mayhem.

Right now, Brady is ranked 22nd in ESPN's Total QBR chart among NFL passers with a score of 45.5. That puts him behind such stellar field generals as Terrelle Pryor, Jake Locker and EJ Manuel.

It's enough to make anyone scream, even if you're the handsome part of the second-highest-earning celebrity couple [$80 million last year, just behind Jay-Z and Mrs. Carter at $95 million].

New England's defense has looked stellar against not-so-stellar competition. If fans ever wanted proof that the defense can gut-out a victory while the offense sputters, last Thursday's game against the Jets was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, at least from defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who was in for all 71 plays, and Aqib Talib, who had two interceptions and a forced fumble.

Brady has vowed better body language and a milder temper this week when dealing with the kids, namely his two rookie receivers. Any struggles against the Bucs will put that vow to an early test.

The Patriots' offense won't be the only nationally televised car wreck in New England on Sunday. The Sylvania 300 goes green at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday a little after 2 p.m. [ESPN]. It's the second race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The irony here is that the drivers racing around Loudon's "Magic Mile" at the largest sports venue in New England face a lesser threat of injury than those titans of the gridiron will in Foxborough.

That wasn't always the case. Adam Petty was killed in a crash at the Speedway in May of 2000 while testing. Two months later, Kenny Irwin Jr. crashed and died during testing on the same track at nearly the same spot. His death was followed seven months later by that of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona. After Earnhardt's death, NASCAR got deadly serious about driver safety, mandated head-and-neck restraints, installed soft-walls and implemented a series of other precautions that have kept the sport free of such tragedies at the Sprint Cup level ever since.
No NFL player has ever died immediately as a result of an on-field hit [Chuck Hughes suffered a fatal heart attack while playing for the Lions during a game in 1971]. There's a mountain evidence that pro football, however, has eclipsed auto racing and every other competitive endeavor as the most life-threatening sport in America.
Contact sports, whether the uniform is made of sheet metal, steel and carbon-fiber or pads, helmet and an officially licensed jersey, mean injury.
NASCAR drivers go to work on Sundays knowing the risks of driving 180 MPH three-wide heading down the home stretch. There are always pre-race prayers and final hugs for wives, girlfriends and children. NFL players, too, suit up aware that one hit may end their season or career.
The NFL should take a page out of the NASCAR playbook in how to handle this perception and reality of player safety. It took the loss of the sport's most dynamic and beloved/hated driver for safety devices like the HANS device to become commonplace in NASCAR. In the past 12 years, NASCAR has done everything possible that's known to mitigate what is an inherently a dangerous sport.
There's no real evidence anywhere that NASCAR is not doing something it should be doing to protect its drivers. Its fans, on the other hand, continue to be at risk from flying tires and crash debris, as we witnessed the day before this year's Daytona 500. Bigger, higher and stronger fences will help to fix that.
There are, no doubt, technological advances to come in the future that will make the sport even safer for its drivers.

When it comes to player safety, the NFL is where NASCAR was a decade or so ago. There's much than can be done. NASCAR evolved from leather helmets, to open-faced helmets [see Earnhardt] to the space-suit like outfits worn by Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.

It's time for the NFL, colleges and high schools to consider taking a step backward in that area.

The helmet, just by its nature, gives any football player, solider or fireman a feeling of protection, if not invincibility. Football helmets these days are too good. Players deliver hits and don't feel a thing, until their 40th birthday. There are no more cuts, gouged eyes, facial bruises, broken teeth or smashed jaws. All the smaller injuries that made sure the head was not used as weapon have been eliminated. Boxers and MMA fighters feel every blow. The pain usually doesn't catch up to football players for days, weeks or years.

While asking for a return to leather helmets might be too much, there must be something available that can fix the current situation.

We don't need to lose the NFL's equivalent of The Intimidator for that to finally happen.
Here are this week's rankings, with the team's record and last week's rankings in parenthesis.
1. Seahawks (2-0: 3) - The Seahawks broke the Guinness world record for the loudest crowd cheer ever Sunday night against San Francisco.
And then did it again.
The fans at CenturyLink Field proved they were the loudest in the world when Michael Bennett sacked Kaepernick with 1:15 left in the first quarter. The noise on that play was 131.9 decibels, passing the previous record of 131.76 by a soccer crowd in Istanbul back in 2011.
Midway through the third quarter, during a goal-line stand that stopped the 49ers, the noise reached 136.6 decibels, according to the Seattle Times.
Just imagine how loud the f-bombs will be across New England if the Patriots lose this weekend to the Bucs?
2. Broncos (2-0; 2) - The pressure will be on the Broncos' defense to pitch a shutout and Peyton Manning not to throw a pick-six this week. A Colorado appliance store has offered customers who buy products from their stores this week a full refund if the Broncos shut out the Raiders this week. The company pays between $20,000 and $40,000 each year for insurance that will cover the cost should the Broncos come through. The Appliance Factory told it expects to do between $1.2 million and $1.4 million worth of sales when the promotion is running. Any item sold for between $399 and $3,000 is included in the promotion.

Sapp will be inducted into Bucs Ring of Honor

The team formally announced Thursday NFL Betting Lines that the four-time All Pro defensive tackle will be honored on Nov. 11 at Raymond James Stadium, a little over three months after Sapp is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Sapp will join Lee Roy Selmon, John McKay, Jimmie Giles and Paul Gruber in having his name displayed in the club's Ring of Honor, which was created in 2009. The club also said Sapp's No. 99 jersey will be retired during halftime of that night's nationally-televised game against the Miami Dolphins.

''His days on the field were headlined by incredible passion, overwhelming talent and, of course, his larger than life personality,'' Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said. ''His accolades and accomplishments peak for themselves.''

The 40-year-old played nine seasons of a 13-year career with Tampa Bay, redefining what's known as the under tackle position and helping transform the Bucs from a laughingstock of the NFL into a Super Bowl winner.

Sapp was the 12th overall pick of the 1995 draft, part of a class that also brought linebacker Derrick Brooks to a franchise once jokingly referred to as the ''Yucs.''

''It's unbelievable. I couldn't dream of anything like this,'' Sapp told a packed auditorium that included his mother, aunt, ex-teammates and former coach Tony Dungy, who arrived in 1996 - Sapp's second as a pro - and challenged him and Brooks to ''chase Joe Greene and Jack Ham'' and become the best players they could be.

Together with safety John Lynch, Sapp and Brooks formed the heart of a defense that not only reshaped the image of the Bucs but ranked among the best in the NFL for nearly a decade.

''I want to thank anybody that had anything to do with,'' Sapp said. ''Anybody who put up with my wildness, that overlarge personality and this big ol' mouth of mine.''

Tampa Bay ended a stretch of 12 consecutive seasons with double-digit losses by going 7-9 in Sapp's rookie year, made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years under Dungy in 1997, then reached the NFC championship game two years later, with Sapp posting 12 1-2 sacks and being selected the NFL defensive player of the year.

Sapp had a franchise-record 16 1-2 sacks the following season and helped Tampa Bay win it's only Super Bowl title during the 2002 season. The Bucs have not won a playoff game since.

He holds the franchise record for sacks with 77 in nine seasons with Tampa Bay from 1995 to 2003. He played four seasons with the Oakland Raiders before retiring with 96 1-2 career sacks.

A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Sapp was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and on Aug. 3 he will join Selmon as the only player who spent the majority of his career with the Buccaneers enshrined in Canton.

''They said Tampa was a place where careers came to die,'' Sapp said. ''That's a lie. Tampa's a destination. Tampa's a place where champions live. And we all did it together. I wouldn't trade it for a day in any other uniform, any other place in the world.''

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