Archive

Archive for the ‘2009 NFL Weekly Previews’ Category

2009 NFL Season – Week 14 Preview by Lloyd Vance

The San Diego Chargers (TE Antonio Gates pictured) are one of many NFL teams making their push toward the playoffs in Week 14

I am calling Week 14 of the 2009 NFL season, “Do or Die Week”, as several “on the bubble” teams can either join the push toward the playoffs or start planning for their off-season this week.  Though the NFL is still full of the “Have’s” (10 teams with 8 wins or more including the league’s two undefeated teams – Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints both 12-0) and the “Have Nots” (8 teams with 4 or less wins, who are now basically spoilers). 

There are still a multidude of teams (14 teams) currently in the league’s parity-laden middle (records ranging from 7-5 to 5-7) who are still are playoff dreaming, even if some are by a thread.  “It’s that time of the year, the last quarter,” said Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid – just received a 3-year extension.  “If you’re still in the hunt, things get a little faster, guys play a little faster and so on.  That’s the nature of the game.  That’s where we’re at”.  Overall, 26 teams are still mathematically in playoff contention, so let the race for the NFL’s 10 remaining playoff berths continue – Saints and Colts already have claim two of the league’s 12 coveted spots. 

The most important thing in the month of December around the NFL is to keep winning.  Teams that are strong contenders for the playoffs need to keep putting up wins to “Get In”, On-the-bubble teams need to keep winning to survive and the teams already having clinched playoff spots want to stay “Hot” entering the postseason.  “We always look to play our best football in December,” said San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who leads the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in December since 2000.  “That’s when we want to be at our best.  We focus more in December because we know what’s coming up.”  Tomlinson and his Chargers probably know better than any team in the NFL right now the value of winning in the year’s last month.  Dating back to a 24-21 win at Buffalo on December 3, 2006, the San Diego Chargers have won an NFL-record 15 consecutive games in December.  Prior to the Chargers’ current streak, the record was held by the Dallas Cowboys, who won 13 consecutive December games during a run that spanned from 1968 to 1972.  Tomlinson added, “We seem to finish strong.  We’ve talked about it and really made it one of our mottos.  I think that has a lot to do with our mindsets in December.  We want to play our best football in December going into January”.

Even with the Chargers (9-3) current 8-game winning streak, they still are not at the top of the NFL’s food chain due to the success of the undefeated Saints and Colts, who are reaching new heights in NFL history together.  The two unblemished teams are the first two 12-0 teams in league history to have that record within the same season.  This week, the Colts take on the Denver Broncos in key AFC playoff matchup and several streaks will be on the line for Indy.  The Colts of course will be attempting to extend their 12-0 start plus they will be trying to break a tie with the 2006-08 New England Patriots for the longest streak in NFL history (21 games).  This season the Colts have been resilent to say the least and so far they have overcome a fourth-quarter deficit six times in 2009.  With one more 4th quarter comeback by MVP candidate QB Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts, Indy will become the first team since the AFL-NFL merger (1970) with seven fourth-quarter comeback wins in one season.  

The Saints — lead the NFL with 440 points scored with an average of 36.6 ppg — also are etching their names on some records too.  With four games to play, they need to score 60 points to join the NFL’s elite 500-points in one season club – 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556) , 1999 St. Louis Rams (526), 2000 St. Louis Rams (540), 2001 St. Louis Rams (503) and 2007 New England Patriots (NFL Record 582 points scored).  However as good as both undefeated teams have been, they better watch their step this week as only five teams have made it to 13-0 in NFL History – 1972 Dolphins, 2007 New England Patriots, 2005 Indianapolis Colts, 1998 Denver Broncos, and 1934 Chicago Bears.  Even with having such outstanding records to this point, nothing is guaranteed for the Saints or Colts as the five 13-0 teams have had varying end of season success.  Only the 1972 Dolphins and 1998 Broncos ended up their 13-0 season starts with an NFL title. 

I think a lot of fans and media are hoping that both the Saints and Colts can ride into Miami, Florida for Super Bowl XLIV with perfect 18-0 records.  But if I have learned anything from my years covering the NFL it is that nothing is predictable about the world’s most popular league.  Since 1990, only 17 of 36 number one seeds in the playoffs have made it to the Super Bowl with only 8 of those teams winning it all.  The last time two No. 1 seeds faced-off was in 1993 for Super Bowl XXVIII with Buffalo vs. Dallas.  There was an interesting factoid from last week that further showed nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.  By virtue of the Saints clinching the NFC South last week, 2009 marks the seventh consecutive season that at least one team has gone from last place to first place in its division from one year to the next — longest streak in NFL history.  Of the 32 teams to go from “worst-to-first” in NFL annals, 15 of them have done so in this decade (2000-2009).  

So right now with 63 regular season games left to be played, I don’t think  anyone has an  idea of who is going to represent the AFC and NFC in the Super Bowl.  It could be the Chargers vs. Saints, Colts vs. Giants, Broncos vs. Eagles, Bengals vs. Cardinals, Colts vs. Vikings, Chargers vs. Cardinals or any of a number of combinations.  But teams right now need to take one game at a time and focus on “successful”  team tenants — Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense that produces turnovers, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” — in looking to qualify for the playoffs.  

This week’s Thursday Night Football game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers also showed the unpredictable nature of the NFL — BTW:  I cannot stand games on Thursdays as too often the short week lends to sloppy boring games.  The Steelers came into the game having lost 4 straight games, but surely the 2008 Super Bowl Champs would beat up on the 1-win Cleveland Browns (defense ranked 32nd overall going into Week 14).  The Steelers had won 12 straight against the Browns, so Thursday Night should have been P-Burgh’s re-entry into the playoff dance.  But hold-up, Wait a minute…as no one told the Browns that they were not supposed to show-up.  On a bitterly cold night (temperatures in the teens with a 20 mph wind that produced subzero wind chills), where you wouldn’t blame Eric Mangini’s team for quitting, the Browns dug deep for a tough 13-6 win that sent the defending champs to their 6th straight loss — longest losing streak in six years. 

The Browns (2-11) sacked Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger eight times on their way to beating their hated rival in Cleveland for the first time since 2000.  The man of the hour for the Browns was Wildcat QB/WR/KR Josh Cribbs, who rushed for 87 yards out of the wildcat formation, had 104 return yards and caught one pass for 9 yards. Cribbs never let the cold get him down as he badly wanted to beat the Steelers (6-7) for the first time in his career.  The former Kent State dual threat quarterback picked up probably the game’s biggest first down on a tough 14-yard run in the fourth quarter when the Browns were winding the clock.  Of the win and the Steelers’ long ride back to Pittsburgh Cribbs said, “They’re going to hear that bus’ engine all the way back”.  The Steelers are now pretty much on the outside looking in on the playoffs and you can point directly to their 3 recent upset losses to the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns — a combined record of 9-28 – as a reason you can never pencil-in wins in the NFL.

Some key games that will either make or break a team’s playoff hopes include:

Philadelphia Eagles at NY Giants –   In a highly anticipated NFC East black-and-blue game, the Eagles will travel up the turnpike to face the rejuvenated NY Giants on NBC Sunday Night Football.  Here in NFC East country this is the number one game on everyone’s mind. The Giants are looking for payback for the Eagles knocking them out of 2008 playoffs in a disappointing home loss.“This will be a big game,” said New York head coach Tom Coughlin this week.  “It’s a division game, against the Eagles, at this time of year.  December is such a critical time for all the teams in our league.”  The Eagles (8-4 and on a 3-game winning streak) are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys atop the division, but with thoughts of the Cowboys going in the tank again in December, both the Birds and Giants want to capitalize.  To me, this game is for the NFC East title even though 3 more games will need to be played after this one.  Expect a tough physical games as it should be cold and windy in the Meadowlands at game time.   The biggest key of the game will be the quarterbacks as Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (has won 10 of past 14 starts vs. NYG including the playoffs) and Giants QB Eli Manning (passing numbers: 225-379, 2925 yards, 20 TDs, and 11 INTs) have faced off many times and usually the team that wins is the one with the passer who has made bigger plays.  In the Eagles November win over Giants, McNabb hit explosive player WR DeSean Jackson for a 54-yard touchdown and the game was never the same.  Watch for turnovers as the Eagles are (+12) in turnover ratio (3rd in the NFL) while the Giants have a rating of (-1).  On defense, the Eagles will look for CB Asante Samuel (7 INTs this season) to make a big play and conversely the Giants need to get pressure from their front four led by DE Justin Tuck (G-Men have won 11 in row when he has 1+ sacks).  One of two Eagles streaks will prevail in this game, Philadelphia has thrived in December with a record of 12-3 since 2006.  But the Birds are also (1-7) on Sunday Night Football. 

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons  — With their season on the line, the Falcons maybe facing “Mission Impossible” when the high-flying undefeated New Orleans Saints come to town for a huge NFC South game.  The Saints quite possibly could be the best team in the NFL, but they will need to be on their guard as Atlanta still has some fight left.  The key will be whether the Falcons get back their injured offensive weapons QB Matt Ryan (turf tow) and RB Michael Turner (ankle).  Last week, the Eagles had no problems with the depleted Falcons.  However the Saints are undefeated and the Falcons would like nothing more than to stop their streak and inch back into the NFC wildcard race.  Watch for Saints QB Drew Brees and his track team of pass catchers (Meachem, Henderson, Colston, Moore, Bush, Shockey, and others) to light up the NFL’s 29th rated pass defense.  Plain and simple if struggling back-up QB Chris Redman starts for the Falcons, this game will be a “laugher” for the Saints who are looking to wrap up a 1st round playoff bye  with a win.

Denver Broncos at  Indianapolis Colts —  It is time for the Broncos to show if they are truly a playoff contender as they travel to Indy to face the undefeated Colts.  I love this match-up, because it has a playoff feel to it.  Both teams are making their playoff push and the Broncos (8-4 and have won 2 in a row) want to show they can play with the “Big Boys” in the AFC.  The Colts have so many streaks on the line, but they better be careful as the Broncos still have a good chance of winning the AFC West or claiming one of the AFC’s wildcards.  The match-up I will be most interested in is the battle of two future hall of famers, Colts QB Peyton Manning’s offense versus Broncos safety Brian Dawkins’ defense (NFL’s 2nd ranked pass defense).  Watch for the Broncos to continue running the football with their two-headed monster (rookie Knowshon Moreno and veteran Correll Buckhalter – ran for 199 yards last week) as QB Kyle Orton  (torn ligaments in ankle) is banged-up.

San Diego Chargers at Dallas Cowboys – Simple and plain, the Dallas Cowboys season is on the line.  The Cowboys are sick of everyone talking about a December Swoon (5-9 since QB Tony Romo) so now it is time for them to turn-up the heat in Jerry Jones billion-dollar playground.  Unfortunately for the Cowboys they are playing the red-hot Chargers, who are on an 8-game winning streak and are 15-0 in December going back to 2006.  The key will be whether Romo (392-yard passing last week) and WR Miles Austin can hook-up for some big plays against the Chargers stingy defense led by LB Shawne Merriman.  Also watch for Chargers Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers throwing the ball against the Cowboys’ 20th ranked defense.  A final storyline to this game is that Romo has been enlisted to hold for struggling kicker Nick Foulk – remember the last time “butterfingers” held for kicks causing Dallas to lose 21-20 to the Seattle Seahawks in a 2006 Wildcard Game.

Other games of interest

Miami Dolphins at  Jacksonville — In a “Battle for Florida” special, the Jaguars will host the Dolphins and it should be a good one as both teams are making their playoff push.  The Dolphins have shelved the “Wildcat” for QB Chad Henne throwing the ball and the Jags will be looking for a big game from Maurice Jones-Drew aka “Pocket Hercules”.

Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots — With the Dolphins and Jets getting dangerously close, the Patriots will need to find their playoff pedigree when they host the Carolina Panthers this week.  The Patriots have lost 3 games in a row and they desperately want to find their swagger back to stay in the lead in the AFC East.  The key will be the Patriots defense stopping the run and getting pressure on Panthers QB Matt Moore (Pats only have 20 sacks this year).  Maybe new daddy Patriots QB Tom Brady and his favorite targets (WR’s Wes Welker and Randy Moss) can get back on track in the bad weather of New England.  Watch for corners Leigh Bodden (Patriots) and Chris Gamble (Panthers) making big plays in this game.

Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings – In a true test that will show the NFL where the Bengals stand in the league’s pecking order, Cincy will hit the road to Metrodome to face the angry Vikings.  Hard to believe, but could this improbable pairing of two soon-to-be divison winners be a preview to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.  I love the match-up of RB’s Bengals Cedric Benson and the Vikings Adrian Peterson in this game.  Benson is rejuvenated and looks like the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and Peterson is a workhorse.  Both pass defenses should be tested on the Metrodome’s fast track, so expect the Bengals Chad Ochocinco (What will he do next?) and Vikings WR’s (Percy Harvin, Benard Berrian, and Sidney Rice) to have huge games.  Also watch for the play of Vikings veteran QB Brett Favre, who finally had a bit of a hiccup last week (2 INTs in a loss).  

I also wanted to remind fans to vote for their favorite players as balloting for the 2010 Pro Bowl will conclude soon http://www.nfl.com/probowl/ballot

Week 14 Games

Thursday, December 10

Browns (2-11) over Steelers (6-7), 13-6

Sunday, December 13

New Orleans (12-0) at Atlanta (6-6), 1:00 PM (FOX)

Green Bay (8-4) at Chicago (5-7), 1:00 PM (FOX)  

St. Louis (1-11) at Tennessee (5-7), 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Denver (8-4) at Indianapolis (12-0), 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Buffalo (4-8) at Kansas City (3-9), 1:00 PM (CBS) 

NY Jets (6-6) at Tampa Bay (1-11), 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Miami (6-6) at Jacksonville (7-5), 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Detroit (2-10) at Baltimore (6-6), 1:00 PM (FOX)

Seattle (5-7) at Houston (5-7), 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Cincinnati (9-3) at Minnesota (10-2), 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Carolina (5-7) at New England (7-5), 1:00 PM (FOX)

Washington (3-9) at Oakland (4-8) 4:05 PM (FOX) 

San Diego (9-3) at Dallas (8-4), 4:15 PM (CBS)  

Philadelphia (8-4) at NY Giants (7-5), 8:20 PM (NBC)

Monday, December 14

Arizona (8-4) at San Francisco (5-7), 8:30 PM (ESPN)

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Advertisements

2009 NFL Season – Week 11 Preview by Lloyd Vance

RB Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jags will look to stay in the playoff hunt as they host the Buffalo Bills in Week 11

As the 2009 NFL Season moves closer to the third quarter pole and it is quickly becoming apparent that this season is going to come down to the bitter end (week 17) before everything is said and done.  After 10 weeks of play, there are still the “Have’s” including two undefeated teams (Colts and Saints both 9-0) and the “Have Nots” (six teams with 2 or less wins).  But there are also 15 teams currently caught in the league’s parity-filled middle (records ranging from 3-6 to 5-4) that still need to figure out, real fast, if they are joining or jumping out of the playoff hunt. 

There are currently 17 teams at .500 or better, so over half of the teams in the parity-laden league have a shot for one of the NFL’s 12 coveted playoff berths. Two teams that are very much in the driver’s seat for two the NFL’s playoff spots are the league’s  unbeaten teams  – the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.  The Colts and Saints are just the third pair in NFL history to start a season 9-0, joining the 1934 Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears and the 1990 New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.  Winning early in the year is nothing new for the Colts, who are 9-0 for the third time in the past five years and have won a franchise-record 18 consecutive regular-season games — tied with the 2003-04 Patriots for the second-longest streak in NFL history.  This week, the Colts will be pitted in  “The Charm City Grudge Match” as they return to Baltimore for a battle with the Ravens (5-4).  Colts rookie head coach Jim Caldwell said of his team’s good start, “We can’t be any better, but the fact of the matter is, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

As great of a story the Colts run back up the NFL ladder without head coach Tony Dungy has been, an even better story this season has been the New Orleans Saints.  With their 28-23 win over St. Louis in Week 10, the Saints reached a record of 9-0 for the first time in franchise history.  Hard to believe, the Saints  were 4-5 at this time last season.  However this season with an embarassment of offensive weapons (QB Drew Brees, RB Pierre Thomas, scatback Reggie Bush, WR Marques Colston and others), the Saints have been the scoring machine of 2009 as they have put up an NFL-best 330 points (next highest is the Vikings with 271).  This week the Saints have a dangerous NFC South game in Tampa Bay against a Bucs (1-8) who play better than their awful record.  The Saints along with the Cincinnati Bengals (7-2 in 2009; 1-8 in 2008) and Dallas Cowboys (6-3; 5-4) are current division leaders who were in last place after Week 10 a year ago.    Speaking of division races, the nine 2009 division leaders (Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers are tied for first in the AFC West) are a combined 63-18 (.778) through Week 10, which is 22 wins better than their records from a year ago at this time (41-40, .506). 

For the second week in a row, the NFL’s weekly action began on Thursday night.  This week the Miami Dolphins (5-5) behind veteran running back Ricky Williams powered their way passed the Carolina Panthers (4-6) for a hard earned 24-17 road victory – more on this game in the Week 11 review.  Whenever I see that the NFL is playing games on Thursday Nights and the Thanksgiving holiday is approaching, I know that NFL bye weeks have concluded.  In Week 10, the NY Giants and Houston Texans completed the NFL’s off-weeks until the playoffs.  Without having byes and teams playing on short rest, teams have to study and prepare much quicker for their next week’s opponent.  Players will also have to heal quickly, which is always a challenge in the NFL this time of the year as team’s rosters sometimes resemble a MASH unit. 

But the good teams that have a chance to win the NFL’s championship rounds (Weeks in late November, December, and early January) will make the adjustments needed, will not turn the football over, and most importantly establish a running game on their way to the playoffs.

Since the real fun is beginning, I thought now was a good time to look at the remaining games for all of the NFL’s contenders (9-0 to 3-6 teams)

ARI (6-3)                @STL      @TEN     MIN        @SF        @DET     STL          GB

ATL  (5-4)               @NYG     TB            PHI          NO          @NYJ      BUF         @TB

BAL  (5-4)               IND         PIT          @GB       DET         CHI          @PIT      @OAK

BUF  (3-6)              @JAC      MIA         NYJ          @KC       NE           @ATL      IND

CAR  (4-6)                              @NYJ      TB            @NE       MIN        @NYG     NO

CHI  (4-5)               PHI          @MIN    STL          GB           @BAL      MIN        @DET

CIN  (7-2)               @OAK    CLE          DET         @MIN    @SD       KC           @NYJ

DAL  (6-3)               WAS        OAK        @NYG     SD           @NO      @WAS    PHI

DEN  (6-3)              SD           NYG         @KC       @IND     OAK        @PHI      KC

GB (5-4)                 SF            @DET     BAL          @CHI      @PIT      SEA          @ARI

HOU (5-4)              TEN         IND         @JAC      SEA          @STL      @MIA     NE

IND (9-0)            @BAL      @HOU    TEN         DEN         @JAC      NYJ      @BUF

JAC (5-4)             BUF         @SF        HOU        MIA         IND         @NE       @CLE

MIA (5-5)                               @BUF     NE           @JAC      @TEN     HOU        PIT

MIN (8-1)               SEA          CHI          @ARI      CIN          @CAR     @CHI      NYG

NE (6-3)                NYJ          @NO      @MIA     CAR         @BUF     JAC          @HOU

NO (9-0)                 @TB        NE           @WAS    @ATL      DAL         TB            @CAR

NYG (5-4)             ATL          @DEN     DAL         PHI          @WAS    CAR         @MIN

NYJ (4-5)                @NE       CAR         @BUF     @TB        ATL          @IND     CIN

PHI (5-4)              @CHI      WAS        @ATL      @NYG     SF            DEN         @DAL

PIT (6-3)                 @KC       @BAL      OAK        @CLE      GB           BAL          @MIA

SD (6-3)                  @DEN     KC           @CLE      @DAL     CIN          @TEN     WAS

SEA (3-6)                @MIN    @STL      SF            @HOU    TB            @GB       TEN

SF (4-5)                  @GB       JAC          @SEA      ARI          @PHI      DET         @STL

TEN (3-6)              @HOU    ARI          @IND     STL          MIA         SD           @SEA

WAS (3-6)           @DAL     @PHI      NO          @OAK    NYG         DAL         @SD

Week 11 in the NFL will features: 

Six divisional match-ups  — Redskins at Cowboys, Chargers at Broncos (first place in the AFC West on the line), NY Jets at Patriots,  Saints at Buccaneers, Cardinals at Rams, and Titans at Texans (Monday Night Football)

Some interesting reunions  —

  • The Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) return to their former home city to face the Houston Texans.  Too bad this game couldn’t be played at the Houston Astrodome.
  • Arizona Cardinals QB and former Rams’ Super Bowl winner Kurt Warner returns to the Edward Jones Dome to face the St. Louis Rams.  Also remember the nomadic Cardinals once called St. Louis their home from 1960 to 1987.
  • The Indianapolis Colts return to the Charm City again to play the Baltimore Ravens, but some Baltimore residents will never forgive the Irsay family for moving their beloved team 25 years ago. The Colts-Ravens game will also mark the first game in Baltimore for Colts kicker and former longtime Raven Matt Stover
  • The New England Patriots will play host to the NY Jetsand their emotional head coach Rex Ryan, who got real mouthy after the Jets’ Week 2 win in the Meadowlands.
  • The Niners will travel to Green Bay to face the Packers in a revival of one of the ‘90s greatest rivalries – who could forget their 1999 Wildcard Game where T.O caught the game-winner for San Francisco.

Some teams that I believe in must-win situations this week – Philadelphia Eagles (at Chicago), New York Giants (host the Atlanta Falcons), Houston Texans (host the Titans), Baltimore Ravens (host the Colts) and Dallas Cowboys (host the Redskins)

Featured Game

Buffalo Bills (3-6)  at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4), Sunday 1:00 PM ET (CBS) , Jacksonville Municipal Stadium

Broadcast Team: Bill Macatee and Steve Beuerlein

Surprisingly these two teams seeming to be going in opposite directions will meet for the fourth consecutive year – have split their last 4 meetings.  To say the least the 2009 NFL Season has been nothing like what the young Bills thought it would be.  They have had too many injuries, poor quarterback play, lack of production from their first round pick and a multitude of other problems through the first 10 weeks of the season.  All the disappointment came to a head this week as 90-year old owner Ralph Wilson (wants to win now) fired former head coach Dick Jauron this week.  Wilson had seen enough of his 3-6 team to know that a third 7-9 season in row would not be very popular in Western New York.

The Bills will regroup with interim head coach and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell at the helm.  Fewell’s first order of business was re-installing heady former Ivy leaguer Ryan Fitzpatritck (38-77-362-2-4)as the team’s starting quarterback and benching Trent Edwards.  The Harvard grad can run with the ball and seems to have found a nice repoirre with ticking time bomb receiver Terrell Owens (only 26 catches for 366 yards and 1 TD in 2009).  Speaking of T.O, the mouthy one only needs 92 yards to pass former Colts WR Marvin Harrison for fourth all-time in receiving yards – currently has career numbers 977 catches for 14,488 yards, 14.8 ypc, and 140 TDs.   However it is more than likely that the Bills will try to lean on their RB’s Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch  in attacking a Jaguars defense that allows average of 357 total yards per game.  The key for the Bills will be protecting Fitzpatrick behind a make shift O-line, but keep in mind the Jaguars only have 8 sacks as a unit this season.

With two teams that don’t play much defense, the real fun will be on offense.  The Jaguars can match the Bills in terms of big names on offense, but no name is bigger than “Pocket Hercules” for the Jags.  Running back Maurice Jones-Drew  is putting together another Pro Bowl season and Sunday’s game should be a showcase for him.  MJD’s numbers are amazing (169 rushes for 860 yards (2nd in AFC), 5.1 ypr, and an NFL leading 12 TDs) and he is a threat to take it to the house at anytime in the game.  Jones-Drew also should get help from efficient quarterback David Garrard (178-292, 2088 yards, 7 TDs, and 5 INTs) and emerging receiver Mike Sims-Walker (39 catches for 603 yards,  and 5 TDs).  The player the Jaguars offense will have to keep an eye on his possible defensive rookie of the year safety Jarius Byrd.  The second round pick from Oregon has been an unbelievable ballhawk producing an NFL leading 8 INTs including one in 5 consecutive games.

This game will also mark a homecoming of sorts for former Jags and current Bills players DT Marcus Stroud and CB Drayton Florence.

LV’s Pick:   Though the Bills won their last meeting in September of 2008 by a score of 20-16 and they have a narrow 5-4 overall series advanteage, Buffalo has been a mess this season.  As stated before Jauron is gone leaving Fewell, who has limited coaching experience, both their offense and defense has a ton of injuries, their quarterback is not a downfield thrower and T.O is about to have a T.O moment real soon.  The Jaguars are on a roll at home — won three consecutive home games – and I don’t expect that to change on Sunday, especially with Jags head coach Jack Del Rio trying to save his own job.  Jaguars 31, Bills 17

NFL Week 11

THU, NOV 19 

Miami (5-5) over Carolina (4-6), 24-17 (NFL Network)

SUN, NOV 22 

Washington at Dallas 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Cleveland at Detroit 1:00 PM (FOX)  

San Francisco at Green Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Pittsburgh at Kansas City 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Atlanta at NY Giants 1:00 PM (FOX)  

New Orleans at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Buffalo at Jacksonville 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Indianapolis at Baltimore 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Seattle at Minnesota 1:00 PM (FOX) 

Arizona at St. Louis 4:05 PM (FOX) 

NY Jets at New England 4:15 PM (CBS)

Cincinnati at Oakland 4:15 PM (CBS) 

San Diego at Denver 4:15 PM (CBS)

Philadelphia at Chicago 8:20 PM (NBC)

MON, NOV 23 

Tennessee at Houston 8:30 PM (ESPN)

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Season – Week 6 Preview by Lloyd Vance

 

eli-manning-photo

QB Eli Manning will lead the Giants  against the Saints  in Week 6’s featured game

Week 6 of the 2009 NFL Season is upon us and hopefully this week will bring some much-needed better match-ups than Week 5.  Last week, the NFL needed some more spicing up as there were six games where the winning team won by 19 or more points.  Even though the laughers last week did not hurt the NFL’s TV ratings.  Everyone, including yours truly, is looking forward to action on the field that equals the inordinate amount of weekly hype surrounding the NFL.  However I am not holding my breath just yet for more competitive games this week as six of the 10 games being played feature favorites of 9 or more points.

The  good news is that as bad as some pitiful teams are in the NFL (St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, KC Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and others), there are also five undefeated teams ( Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants) entering Week 6.  Vikings QB Brett Favre said about undefeated, “This is the first time in my career to be 5-0, I’m very proud of this team.  It’s important to start fast.  But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.  It only gets tougher from here on out.”  The five unblemished teams are the most undefeated clubs through the first five weeks of a season in NFL history.  We will see how long each of these teams can continue chasing the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, but despite the red-hot Colts being on a bye, there will be at least one less undefeated after Sunday.  The reason being, the undefeated NY Giants and New Orleans Saints will do battle in the Bayou to see who is the NFC’s top team.  The Giants-Saints match-up is one of the most intriguing games thus far (See Featured Game).

Despite the entertaining Colts, Cowboys, Niners and Dolphins being on a bye, the Giants-Saints and a few other games fans are counting on to carry this week’s action. The Seahawks hosting the Cardinals and Broncos-Chargers are two good West Coast battles, but most fans are high on a key inter-conference battle. The Minnesota Vikings (5-0) host the angry Baltimore Ravens (3-2) in a game that will pit two former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid disciples in Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and Vikings head coach Brad Childress.  This Sunday’s game at the Metrodome will be all about the running game as both the Vikings and Ravens love to run the ball and stop the run, which are always big keys to winning in my book.  Since the start of the 2007 season, the Vikings led by All-World RB Adrian Peterson have been the league’s best in rushing offense (150.1 yards per game) and run defense (78.2).  Meanwhile, the Ravens’ ground game ranks fourth (130.8) over that span and their rushing defense is second (79.7).  There is also the interesting subplot of two surefire hall of famers on opposite sides of the ball in this match-up as Vikings QB Brett Favre (103-149, 1069 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs, and 104.1 rating) and Ravens ILB Ray Lewis go at each other.

There are is also a great showdown of two of the NFL’s best passers as strong arm Bears QB Jay Cutler and his team travel to Atlanta face Matt Ryan’s Falcons.  And NFL fans cannot forget that there are six division rivalry games (Detroit at Green Bay, Carolina at Tampa Bay, Cleveland at Pittsburgh, Arizona at Seattle, Buffalo at NY Jets, and undefeated at San Diego on Monday Night Football) as the teams start taking on familiar foes that will hopefully lead to more competitive games.  There are also several reunion games as former players and coaches renew “acquaintances” and some may not be so friendly.  Seattle Seahawks RB Edgerrin James will go against the Arizona Cardinals, who benched him for most of last season and then put him on the 30-year old running back scrap heap this past offseason. Jacksonville Jaguars WR Tory Holt goes against the St. Louis Rams — played for 10 seasons and won a Super Bowl title — but the Rams new regime thought his knees were shot.  Holt totaled 12,670 receiving yards with the Rams and he will become just the sixth player in NFL history to face a team for which he had 10,000+ receiving yards. Holt is also 34 receiving yards from 13,000 in his career.  Lastly, New Orleans Saints TE Jeremy Shockey goes against the NY Giants, who didn’t even want him on the sidelines when they won Super Bowl XLII and soon after sent him packing to Bourbon Street.

The factor that everyone hopes will lead to more competitive games is “adjustments”.  The NFL is a copycat league where teams can catch-up quickly and adjustments are the only way to stay ahead of the pack and combat falling behind.  With the third round of bye weeks, it is time for the “good” coaches to make the adjustments necessary to get their teams back on track or keeping them at the top.  Remember early season results are important (don’t want to get too far behind), but good coaches realize that they want their team peaking in the championship months of November and December when it is playoff push time. 

But all is not lost for most NFL teams going into Week 6 –- well at those with 1 or more wins…yes even the in-fighting Washington Redskins (2-3).  Since the current 12-team playoff format was instituted in 1990, 11 teams have rebounded from being at least three games under .500 after the season’s first five weeks or later to qualify for the postseason.  Of those 11, six won the division, including last year’s San Diego Chargers, who won the AFC West after a 4-8 start.  Remember last year the Indianapolis Colts record stood at 3-4 going into a crucial game against the AFC champion New England Patriots, Peyton Manning and the Colts answered the bell winning 18-15 then rattled off eight straight wins to make the playoffs with a 12-4 record.

Some Lloyd’s Leftovers for Week 6 include:

2009 NFL season has been one of turnarounds – Everyone knows about the woes of former 2008 playoff teams the former AFC South champion Tennessee Titans (from 13-3 to 0-5 this season) and former NFC South champion Carolina Panthers (from 12-4 to 1-3).  But there is the unique case of Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre.  Last season for the New York Jets, the graybeard quarterback go off to a slow start throwing only 2 TDs and having 9 interceptions on the way to an NFL leading 22 INTs for the season.  This season Favre is 5-0 for the first time in his career and his passing numbers are the exact inverse from last year at this time – 9 TDs and 2 INTs.

Dome Sweet Dome – With two touchdown passes against the Ravens on Sunday, Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre will record his 11th consecutive two-plus passing touchdown game at the Metrodome (eight with Green Bay, three with Minnesota).   Favre already holds the NFL record with at least two touchdowns in 12 consecutive games at Lambeau Field from 1994-96, which was equaled by Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner at the Trans World Dome (now Edward Jones Dome) from 1999-2000.

Injuries will be a factor in Week 6 – As is the case with every NFL week, injuries are going to play a huge part in many games.  Returning are Bills LB Paul Posluszny (forearm), Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (Achilles), Steelers RB Willie Parker (toe), and Steelers S Troy Polamalu (knee).  Some bigger names listed as either “Out” or “Questionable” are Cardinals WR Steve Breaston (knee), Seahawks OT Walter Jones (knee), Seahawks OT Sean Locklear (ankle), Seahawks OG Rob Sims (ankle), Ravens OT Jared Gaither (neck), Ravens DT Haloti Ngata (back), Vikings DE Ray Edwards (hamstring), Vikings OG Steve Hutchinson (back), Vikings WR Percy Harvin (shoulder), Jets WR Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring), Jets OT Damien Woody (foot), Bears LB Hunter Hillenmeyer (rib), Lions QB Matthew Stafford (knee), Texans LB Brian Cushing (foot), Chiefs OT Branden Albert (ankle), Redskins DE Phillip Daniels (biceps), Redskins OT Chris Samuels (neck), Titans CB Cortland Finnegan (hamstring), Patriots OT Matt Light (ankle), and Patriots RB Fred Taylor (ankle)

NFL Trade Deadline is approaching – Tuesday October 20th is the NFL Trade Deadline and for the first time in a while, there is some “buzz” around the date.  Already the NFL saw the trades involving former Browns receiver Braylon Edwards to the New York Jets for picks and former Bucs D-lineman Gaines Adams to the Chicago Bears for a 2010 2nd rd pick.  Watch for the names like Bills WR Terrell Owens, Eagles WR Kevin Curtis, Titans QB Vince Young, Chiefs DT Glenn Dorsey, Browns QB Brady Quinn, Browns WR/KR Josh Cribbs and Chargers LB Shawn Merriman to possibly be changing teams around the deadline.  Of course I never hold my breath around the trade deadline, as trades like 2005 deal where former Niners QB Tim Rattay went to the Tampa Bay Bucs for a future 6th rd pick at the trade deadline are usually the norm.

NFL Week 6 – Featured Game

 New York Giants  (5-0) at New Orleans Saints (4-0), 1:00 PM ET (FOX)

 Broadcast Team: Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver (Field reporter)

“The Battle of the Unbeatens” will take center stage this week.  “This is certainly the game of the week,” said NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci.  The former NFL head coach added, “It’s a battle of undefeated teams and it could be a preview of what’s to come in the playoffs.  These two clubs will probably meet at some point in the postseason.”

 The Giants have feasted on a rather light early season schedule, including a 44-7 blowout of the hapless Raiders last week and are 5-0 for the third time in team history.  The G-Men are also 3-0 on the road this season and boast the NFL’s top-ranked defense (210.6 yards allowed per game) and second-ranked offense (417.4 yards per game).  The Saints, who are coming off a bye in Week 5, are no slouch either — third 4-0 start in franchise history.  The NFC South leaders have combined a high-scoring offense – a league-high 36 points per game – with an aggressive defense – an NFL-best 13 takeaways – this season.  We always knew with Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees (87-129, 1031 yards, 9 TDs, and 2 INTs), RB Pierre Thomas, scatback Reggie Bush, and WR Marques Colston could score points.  But this season the story of the Saints’ 2009 season has been a defense led by new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and free agent pick-up S Darren Sharper (NFL leading 5 INTs).

The Giants despite a weak schedule are clearly a complete team (offense, defense, and special teams) and have maintained the number #1 spot in my Power Ranking for a couple weeks.  “This game is going to be a real test for us,” said Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce.  The Giants defensive leader added, “The Saints are going to be prepared.  They’re a well-coached team.  They’re playing well on both offense and defense.  It’s one of our biggest challenges so far.”  On offense, the Giants have balance led by QB Eli Manning (87-135, 1212 yards (2nd in NFC), 10 TDs, and 2 INTs) and Thunder-and-Lightning RBs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.  Plus WRs Mario Manningham and Steve Smith (NFL leading 37 receptions, 481 yards, and 4 TDs) have made everyone forget Plaxico Burress.  On defense, the Giants game is pressure, pressure, and more pressure from a D-line led by Mathias Kiwanuka, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck (3.5 sacks) that usually leads to turnovers.

Injuries are also a big part of this game as the Giants injury list includes LB Michael Boley (knee), DT Chris Canty (calf), and CB Aaron Ross (hamstring) – all are probably out.  Conversely the Saints maybe missing CB Malcolm Jenkins (ankle), CB Leigh Torrence (hamstring), T Jermon Bushrod (knee, ankle), G Jahri Evans (toe), and RB Mike Bell (knee)

LV’s Pick:  Everyone will talk about all of the offensive weapons in this game including QBs Eli Manning and Drew Brees.  But to me this battle comes down to each team’s offensive line.  The Giants O-line has been together for 30+ consecutive starts and the veteran group will need to protect Manning (heel) and get Bradshaw and Jacobs going.  The Saints defensive line has been getting pressure from ends Charles Grant (4 sacks) and Will Smith, so the G-Men’s line led by center Chris Snee will have their hands full.  The Saints group has some injuries, but after a week off they will need to be ready because the Giants have the best D-line rotation in the league.  Many are predicting a high-scoring affair, but I believe both teams will look to establish the run and look for turnovers on defense.  Despite maybe a big play or two from the Saints, I still believe that the Giants’ NFC East bred physicality will be the difference.  Expect a big day from Bradshaw and Jacobs on offense and their attacking D-line. – Giants 24, Saints 20

NFL Week 6  

SUN, OCT 18 

Houston at Cincinnati 1:00 PM (CBS)

Detroit at Green Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)

Baltimore at Minnesota 1:00 PM (CBS)

NY Giants at New Orleans 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Carolina at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)

Kansas City at Washington 1:00 PM (CBS) 

St. Louis at Jacksonville 1:00 PM (FOX) 

Cleveland at Pittsburgh 1:00 PM (CBS)

Arizona at Seattle 4:05 PM (FOX)

Philadelphia at Oakland 4:05 PM (FOX)

Buffalo at NY Jets 4:15 PM (CBS)

Tennessee at New England 4:15 PM (CBS)  

Chicago at Atlanta 8:20 PM (NBC)

MON, OCT 19 

Denver at San Diego 8:30 PM (ESPN)

 Bye: Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami, San Francisco

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)