Mike Freeman: No one saw 4-0. Not even the Saints, but I did see them being a playoff team. Sean Payton brings something to that team besides the tangible. He's the best play-caller in football but he's also able to get inside the head of each one of those players. I don't even think the majority of players in that locker room even like him. I think they just respect him and listen to every word he says. I was told he introduced some sort of crazy Cross-Fit routine at the beginning of training camp for their conditioning test. Players bought into it and everyone passed the test. He's always keeping them off balance and they buy into it. So his return means trouble for the rest of the conference and league.
RR: Who is the best team in football right now – Denver, New Orleans, or Seattle?
MF: It has to be Denver. When Manning is playing like this, they are hard to beat. But when Denver's defense is this solid and aggressive, they are almost impossible to beat. They don't even have their best players on defense yet.
RR: What’s your take on the 1-3 Falcons and are they good enough to get their season turned around in order to make a fourth straight trip to the NFC playoffs?
MF: Of course they can get back in it. The Falcons are damn good. The team didn't become stupid or awful in the few months since the NFC title game. I think
RR: After four games – one quarter of the 2013 NFL season – what’s been the most interesting storyline in the league for you?
MF: To me, it's the Chiefs. The fact Andy Reid has done this so fast, and then he goes to Philly and beats the snot out of the team that fired him. Great story. Now, we have to see how long the Chiefs can keep this up.
RR: New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith will be in the spotlight on Monday Night when the Jets take on the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. What are your impressions of Smith and the Jets?
MF: I still think Smith will be good, but it's a rough start. That offense is horrible, but that defense is no joke. Probably a top five defense in football because of that nasty D-line. If that team could ever just get some basic offense going and not turn the ball over, they'd be a playoff team
RR: Jacksonville is off to a 0-4 start, but several NFL observers say Gus Bradley will be able to turn the team around. What’s your take on the Jaguars?
MF: The Jaguars are putrid. Easily the worst team in football and maybe the worst I've ever seen. The one guy I feel bad for is Maurice Jones-Drew. He's a great back but his talents are just wasted there. I almost wish a guy like that could be traded to a good franchise.
RR: And finally, give us your picks for the six AFC playoff teams and six NFC playoff teams for 2013?
MF: I'm the wrong person to ask for playoff picks. My Super Bowl picks were the worst ever made in the history of mankind (Pittsburgh-Washington). But here goes:
NFC—Saints, Washington, Bears, Seahawks, 49ers, Packers
AFC—Denver, Pats, Chiefs, Colts, Dolphins, Ravens