Web heightens football mania

Internet surfers can ride a wave of NFL playoff information

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Ravens Extra -- Fans Guide To Nfl Playoffs

January 05, 2007|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,Sun reporter

With the playoffs starting tomorrow, an NFL fan might have one important question that has little to do with Marty Schottenheimer's postseason history, Rex Grossman's shaky passing or whether Bill Belichick has learned how to simulate fellowship with Eric Mangini.

How do you navigate the Internet to enhance your football fix all the way through the Super Bowl?

Pro football knowledge abounds on the Web. But identifying the best information while searching through league-wide sites, team pages, media-affiliated operations and independent bloggers can be overwhelming.

The kickoff of this journey starts at NFL.com. As expected, the site acts as the league's house organ (look elsewhere for exposes), delivering basic information and stuff for sale.

But the site features a bounty of useful analysis by people ranging from former NFL executives Pat Kirwan and Gil Brandt to former players Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason to a jester like Nick Bakay.

Beyond the home base, ESPN.com is the most familiar of the major non-affiliated sites, joined by operations from Fox Sports, America Online, Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and CBS Sportsline.

They tend to be similar, with varying mixtures of wire reports, rumors, analysis and the occasional self-generated scoop. ESPN.com probably leads the way, though one wonders whether the casual fan would spend $40 per year for the network's subscriber wing, Insider, which hides most of the good stuff.

Among the sites that won't ask you for a credit card number, Sports Illustrated's online product, SI.com, boasts the most-respected name in sports journalism, anchored by the analysis of Peter King and Don Banks.

You'd expect foxsports.com to be the last place for an egghead to seek out unconventional football wisdom. But the Moneyball-esque musings of Aaron Schatz and the FootballOutsiders.com crew wait behind the site's Chevy truck veneer.

Yahoo.com's sports site might be the pound-for-pound winner as it continues to add beef to its coverage, evidenced by its exclusive on improper benefits allegedly received by 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. It also incorporates analysis from SI.com and The Sporting News' Web site.

The Web-savvy fan also has the option of trolling team-operated sites or fan sites run by a network of sites, such as AOL, Most Valuable Network or Scout.com.

Ravens fans won't find everything on baltimoreravens.com, the official team site, but it acts as a starting point to get basic information on the team along with some multimedia doodads. Plus, it looks good, as evidenced by the award it received this year from the NFL Internet Network for best design.

Most Valuable Network (mvn.com) presents Ravens Roost, run by Eastern Shore resident Mike Brown. The site seems to add new commentary every day, while also providing quick access to division rivals in the AFC North.

For those willing to pay $80 per year for unlimited service, Scout.com is another option for hardcore fans, with Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times doing the honors for the local site (ravens.scout.com).

Finally, AOL has its Fanhouse Blogs (ravens.aolsportsblog.com), which might be best for the drop-in fan. Unlike the other two, there's no writer exclusively devoted to the Ravens, so there might be some time gaps between posts.

Another reservoir of knowledge can be found on The Sun's Web site, baltimoresun.com, which devotes a page to the Ravens that features news articles, blogs and podcasts.

christian.ewell@baltsun.com

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