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Ask the Expert: Ira Kaufman


Reggie Roberts: Give us your take on Tampa Bay's 16-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. How big of a win was that for Tampa Bay?

Ira Kaufman: After missing out on the final NFC playoff berth in a tie-breaker, the Bucs are determined to win the NFC South in 2011. Beating Atlanta and ending that five-game slide against a division foe was a major step for the NFL's youngest team. It was an important psychological hurdle and head coach Raheem Morris declared Monday that with a 2-1 record, the Bucs are the best team in the NFC South.

RR: Give us your take on the Green Bay Packers. Are they better than last year and are they the best team in NFL?

IK: The defending champs display no signs of a Super Bowl hangover and they are still the team to beat in the NFC North. As long as Aaron Rodgers remains healthy, the Packers will be favored to be representing the NFC at Indianapolis in February. Pass defense, however, has been erratic.

RR: What's going on in Minneapolis with the Vikings, who have led all three games at halftime, but are 0-3 on the season?

IK: Poor Leslie Frazier. The Vikings play like an elite team as they race out to halftime leads. They play too cautiously on offense in the final 30 minutes and they play not to lose on defense. Frazier also must take some of the blame with his decision-making. In the Week 2 loss against the Bucs, Frazier refused to call timeouts down the stretch, even though Tampa Bay was well within FG range trailing 20-17. The Bucs ended up scoring a TD and Minnesota had no time to mount its own comeback.

RR: Are the Buffalo Bills for real?

IK: There are a lot of positive vibes coming out of Orchard Park these days and long-suffering Buffalo fans are being rewarded with an exciting, young team. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has engineered back-to-back rallies at home, stoking the crowd and generating confidence among his teammates. The Bills are also yielding a lot of points along the way in their 3-0 getaway, so the euphoria doesn't figure to last. Still, it's a heck of a start for fans starving for a winner.

RR: Let's switch back to Atlanta. In your view, what do the Falcons need to get going and do you think Mike Smith's bunch are good enough to turn things around?

IK: The Falcons looked lethargic for long stretches of Sunday's game in Tampa and they gave up on the run game way too early. Atlanta's winning formula doesn't include Matt Ryan throwing 51 times in 66 snaps. If Atlanta can address its issues along the offensive line, the Falcons should return to the playoffs. Rookie WR Julio Jones looks like the real deal, but Ryan needs better protection to find all those dangerous weapons.

RR: Philadelphia and Chicago – division winners from a year ago – are both 1-2 on the season and both have some injury issues. What are your thoughts about both of those teams?

IK: The "Dream Team" Eagles went for broke this fall and this isn't the start Andy Reid envisioned. The secondary is stellar, but Philly can't stop the run and now Michael Vick is hurt. There's plenty of time for Philadelphia to improve, but the NFC East is looking strong at the moment. Those Jay Cutler issues won't go away in the Windy City and the Bears were just slapped around at home by Green Bay. After opening with an impressive win against Atlanta, the Bears haven't established a running game and the defense appears soft. Given Detroit's turnaround, the Bears will be hard-pressed to avoid a third-place finish in the NFC North.

RR: Drew Brees is off to a red-hot start. Are he and the Saints good enough to get back to the Super Bowl?

IK: The Saints don't mind shootouts because they know how to win high-scoring games. The defense isn't up to 2009 standards and the Saints have posted only two takeaways, so coordinator Gregg Williams has plenty of work to do if New Orleans wants to go deep into the postseason. Offensively, there's plenty to crow about. Drew Brees is off to a great start and free agent RB Darren Sproles has been a terrific addition.

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