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2010 NFL Season – Week 6 Preview by Lloyd Vance

RB Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings (1-3) will host the Dallas Cowboys (1-3) in a key Week 6 match-up being called “The Desperation Bowl”

I am dubbing Week 6 of the 2010 NFL Season, “Moving Week”.  This is the time where teams start to distinguish themselves as “Contenders” and “Pretenders”.  Teams will either soon be preparing for key November and December games with playoff implications or eventually start their studying  for the 2011 NFL Draft.  As hard as it is to believe, the NFL season is moving closer to being half over.  But the important thing for everyone is to enjoy the wackiest and quickest league around while it is lasts. 

There clearly is a sense of high anticipation for Week 6 of the 2010 NFL Season.  Some great storylines for this week are the return of Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger from his 4-game suspension (Steelers host Cleveland), Brett Favre’s alleged “Sexting” incident investigation, coaches fighting to stay off the “Hot Seat” (fill-in Carolina’s John Fox, Browns Eric Mangini and the Niners’ Mike Singletary), the Return of Receiver Deion Branch to New England and most importantly on the field there are 8 match-ups where teams at .500 or better will be playing each other. 

Already the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins have celebrated their past perfection as there are not any undefeated teams left – hard to believe a record five teams were 5-0 entering Week 6 in 2009.   Parity is extremely prevalent as there are currently 20 teams with a winning percentage of .500 or better….so please let the sorting out begin.  However from week to week, you don’t know which supposed “powerhouse” is going to be falling back to the pack as “Any Given Sunday” still rules.  In Week 5, it was the former 2009 AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals’ turn to get upset.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went on the road in a “Mission Impossible” situation and shocked many by producing a hard-fought 24-21 win over the highly favored Bengals.

The current standings show that there is little separation in this parity-laden league.   There are the “Elite” teams at (4-1) are the NY Jets, Ravens, Falcons, Bears (4 teams) along with (3-1) teams Chiefs, Bucs, Steelers, Patriots (4 teams) – Is anyone penciling any of these teams in Super Bowl XLV?; The “Contenders” at (3-2) are Colts, Jags, Eagles, Redskins, NY Giants, Titans, Cardinals, Texans, Saints, and Packers; The “Stuck In the Middle” teams at (2-2) are the Seahawks, Dolphins  along with (2-3) teams Rams, Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, and Bengals; The “Pretenders” currently stuck  at (1-3) are the Vikings and Cowboys (will play this week) along with (1-4) teams  the Lions and Browns; and of course bringing up the rear are the “Putrid” teams at (0-5) (i.e. You should just skip to the 2011 NFL Draft) Panthers, Bills, and Niners.

The division leaders after 5 weeks feature also have some unexpected surprises — Washington Redskins (NFC East – 3 teams at 3-2 in this division), Chicago Bears (NFC North), Atlanta Falcons (NFC South), Arizona Cardinals (NFC West), Baltimore Ravens (AFC North), Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West), New York Jets (AFC East), and Tennessee Titans (AFC South – Every team in AFC South is 3-2). Sadly some of my division winner picks from my 2010 predictions are not looking too well – they were the Cowboys, Niners, Packers, Saints, Ravens, Broncos, Colts, and Patriots – but it ain’t over yet. Brash New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan said of his team’s current place in the NFL standings, “We’re 4-1 and right on schedule.  We want to have the best record in the NFL at the end of the season and right now we’re on schedule”.

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 about to take place, 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 as usual I am cautioning NFL fans to not jump off their respective teams’ bandwagons.  All is not lost for most NFL teams going into Week 6 –- well at least those with 1 or more wins…yes even the in-fighting Dallas Cowboys (1-3) still can turn things around.  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 their division, including the 2008 San Diego Chargers, who won the AFC West after a 4-8 start.  Also in 2008, the Indianapolis Colts record stood at 3-4 going into a crucial game against the New England Patriots. Quarterback Peyton Manning and the Colts answered the bell winning 18-15 then rattled off nine straight wins to make the playoffs with a 12-4 record.

Some match-ups already being discussed around water coolers are:

Kansas City Chiefs (3-1) at Houston Texans (3-2) – The old Texans — KC Chiefs were once the AFL’s Dallas Texans — take on the new Texans.  Both these teams are looking to make the jump into “legitimate” contenders.  The Chiefs definitely want to show the NFL that they are not done yet after suffering their first loss last week to the Colts by a score of 19-9.  Kansas City will need better quarterback play from Matt Cassel while the Texans better find a running game, if Arian Foster can’t go. LV’s Pick – Texans

Indianapolis Colts (3-2) at Washington Redskins (3-2) – This one is a battle of two veteran quarterbacks as Peyton Manning faces-off with Donovan McNabb.  The Redskins have been winning “ugly” and continue to play very good defense plus former Pro Bowl DT Albert Haynesworth will be back after attending the funeral of his brother.  While the Colts may have turned the corner after a physical win over the Chiefs last week.  Indy still needs to run the ball better and play better on defense to get the win.  LV’s Pick – Colts

Miami Dolphins (2-2) at Green Bay Packers (3-2) – The physical Dolphins will want to establish the run behind RB’s Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams – possibly some Wildcat — against the Packers’ injury depleted defense.  The Packers’ offense will definitely be without their two top tight ends and possibly quarterback Aaron Rodgers (concussion), so it will be interesting to see how they generate points on offense against the Dolphins attacking defense.  LV’s Pick – Packers

Atlanta Falcons (4-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) – The young Falcons want to show the NFL that they are indeed a top team as quarterback Matt Ryan returns to Philly.  Look for Atlanta to pound the ball with RB Michael Turner (NFL’s 2nd ranked rushing attack) against the Eagles’ 25th ranked run defense – No DT Broderick Bunkley (elbow).  For the Eagles expect to see starter Kevin Kolb again as Michael Vick (rib cartilage) is too beat-up to face his old team.  Maybe Kolb will be able to get back in synch with WR’s Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. But the Eagles’ O-line is banged-up including LT Jason Peters (knee) being out.  LV’s Pick – Falcons

Baltimore Ravens (4-1) at New England Patriots (3-1) – The top undercard bout to the Cowboys-Vikings main event as two teams that met in the 2009 Wildcard round renew acquaintances.  In last year’s playoff game, the Ravens pounded the Patriots in a 33-14 victory, in particularly QB Tom Brady (2 INTs and 1 fumble in the loss), but this looks like a different New England team.  Expect a physical black-and-blue battle.  The team that can most effectively run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense is going to win this game.  Watch for the match-up of the Ravens LB’s (3rd ranked NFL defense) and the Patriots offensive line.  Surprisingly the Patriots are 5-0 in the regular season against Baltimore. LV’s Pick – Ravens

Lloyd’s Leftovers

NFL Trade Deadline is approaching – Wednesday October 19th 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 sending former New England Patriots WR Randy Moss – along with a 7th rounder — to the receiver-desperate Minnesota Vikings for a 3rd rounder in 2011.  Watch for the names like Chargers holdout WR Vincent Jackson, New England Patriots holdout OG Logan Mankins, Philadelphia Eagles QB Kevin Kolb, Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars WR Mike Sims-Walker, and Green Bay Packers LB AJ Hawk.  Speaking of holdouts V. Jackson and Mankins, the NFLPA has instructed them to report to their respective teams in order to not lose an accrued season of service — the deadline for Mankins is November 16. Of course I never hold my breath around the trade deadline, as trades like the 2005 deal where former Niners QB Tim Rattay went to the Tampa Bay Bucs for a future 6th rd pick are usually the norm.

Next Man Up – Whether in training camp or Super Bowl week, injuries are always going to be an unfortunate part of the NFL….and owners are pushing for an 18-game regular season (yeah right!), but that is a conversation for another time.   Some key injuries that will have to be dealt with leading up to Week 6 are Rams WR Mark Clayton – Knee (season), Chargers OLB Larry English – Foot, Packers TE Jermichael Finley – MCL (season??), Packers QB Aaron Rodgers – Concussion, Lions WR Calvin Johnson – Shoulder, Colts RB Joseph Addai – Shoulder, Texans RB Arian Foster – Knee, Browns RB Peyton Hillis – Quad, Cowboys WR Dez Bryant – Ankle, Browns QB Seneca Wallace – Ankle, Browns QB Jake Delhomme – Ankle, Packers OLB Clay Matthews – Hamstring, NY Jets CB Darrelle Revis – Hamstring, Eagles DT Broderick Bunkley – Elbow (season??), and Eagles OT Jason Peters – Knee (season??).  However some good news on the injury is that Baltimore Ravens S Ed Reed is very close to returning from a hip injury that has sidelined him since the start of the 2010 season.

Just Send Him to the Hall – It may have not been a masterpiece, but Arizona Cardinals quarterback Max Hall (25) did just enough to get his first win — over the New Orleans Saints by a score of 30-20 – in his first NFL start. The nephew of former Dallas Cowboys QB Danny White finished the game with numbers passing numbers: 17 of 27 for 168 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT.  The former BYU star became the first undrafted rookie free agent quarterback to start and win against the defending Super Bowl champs in more than 42 years, since the Steelers’ Kent Nix did it against Green Bay on Dec. 17, 1967.  Cardinals’ teammate WR Larry Fitzgerald exaggeratingly praised his new quarterback by saying, ‘He’s 29 years old, man”.  Fitzgerald added, ‘He’s the oldest rookie in the history of the NFL. He’s been on his mission for about 10 years, then he went back to BYU, he went to ASU, he was a sixth-year senior out here at Mountain View, he’s been at it for a long time.’

Further Proof that the NFL is a Pass-First League — Quarterbacks Philip Rivers (1,759) of the San Diego Chargers, Kyle Orton (1,733) of the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning (1,609) of the Indianapolis Colts have each passed for over 1,600 yards in their team’s first five games in the 2010 NFL Season.  The pass-happy quarterbacks have made history as for the first time in the NFL, there are three quarterbacks with at least 1,600 passing yards through their team’s first five games of a season.
 

Week 6 Feature Game

DALLAS COWBOYS (1-3) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-3) (Sunday, FOX, 4:00 PM ET) – Mall of America Field    

Broadcast Team: Thom Brennanaman, Troy Aikman, Chris Myers and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

High anxiety will be in the air at the Metrodome in a game that everyone is appropriately dubbing “The Desperation Bowl”.  This game is a rematch of the 2009 NFL Divisional Playoffs (won handily by the Vikings 34-3).  But this early season game has taken on an even bigger aurora as both the Cowboys and Vikings enter this game with a record of 1-3.  Though a “lose” in this match-up is technically not a death sentence, there will be little hope for the loser — Since 1990 only five out of 240 playoff teams have started with a record of 1-4, which is only 2 % . Especially when both teams entered the 2010 NFL Season with extremely high hopes. 

The expected raucous crowd should be hyped for this “Loser Leaves Town” match-up and a big reason will be each team’s respective quarterback.  In last year’s playoff lose, the Cowboys QB Tony Romo (sacked 6 times and hit often in the playoff loss) was a disaster and had trouble dealing with pressure brought from the Vikings’ D-line, especially DE Jared Allen.  It will be incumbent on the Cowboys’ shaky offensive line (allowed 6 sacks in Week 5 loss to the Titans) to protect Romo (119-174, 1346 yards (2nd in NFC), 7 TDs and 5 INTs) this time around.  The key person on the offensive line will be OG Montrae Holland who is replacing benched inconsistent high-price tag player Leonard Davis (seven-year, $49 million contract). Romo will definitely be trying to get the ball to his stellar receiving corps of TE Jason Witten, rookie WR Dez Bryant (ankle), WR Roy Williams, and Pro Bowl WR Miles Austin (31 receptions for NFC-leading 474 yards, 15.3 ypr, and 2 TDs). 

But in my opinion, the Cowboys would be best served by slowing down the Vikings speedy attacking defense by re-establishing their dormant rushing attack — Felix Jones leads the team with only 197 rushing yards and 0 TDs.  Surprisingly even with head coach Wade Phillips on Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones’ Hot Seat, young offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has chosen to put the ball in the air over and over instead of going to his three-headed monster of Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice.  Romo has averaged 43.5 attempts per game including a high of 47 in a Week 1 loss to the Redskins.  The Cowboys must bring back forgotten player, Barber (has just six carries in 2010), to have any chance to win this game. However finding holes against the Vikings D-line led by the Williams Wall (DT’s Pat and Kevin Williams) will not be easy.

However everyone knows that Romo is a just a “bit” player in this marquee match-up as the NFL’s media circus has descended on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.  To say the least the 2010 NFL Season has been a nightmare for No. 4.  The 41-year old passer/grandfather came out of another brief retirement looking recapture his 2009 form, but all hell has broken loose.  Favre (74-131, 861 yards, 5 TDs, 7 INTs (same number as the entire ’09 season) and a 67.0 quarterback rating) has been battling an elbow injury that clearly has made him “less” than effective in his first 4 games and he is even contemplating sitting out a game or two, which would end his NFL record 289 consecutive games ironman streak.  He has been hit often (sacked every 14 pass plays) and his receiving corps has be decimated by injuries — leading receiver Sidney Rice has been out all season due to hip surgery and former Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin is battling migraine issues. 

Madden’s favorite kid-like quarterback has looked beleaguered, old, and disinterested as his team has stumbled out the gate.  And to make matters worse, the married Favre has been embroiled in an alleged “Sexting” controversy courtesy of his 2008 stay with the NY Jets.  The website Deadspin.com has been driving the story that Favre made inappropriate advances toward former Jets’ reports Jenn Sterger including some salacious voicemails and photos.  The NFL’s favorite future Hall of Famer has tried to stay above the fray, but now the league is getting involved and you know it has to be affecting the 19-year veteran’s play – only was 14 of 34 and had a bad game-closing interception (returned for a TD) in a 29-20 loss to the NY Jets in Week 5.  The good thing is that the Favre does have new buddy, receiver Randy Moss, more acclimated after a whirlwind couple of days last week (traded at mid-week and played against the NY Jets on MNF).  We see if the two can hook-up again after they connected on a 37-yard touchdown against the NY Jets.  Also I want to see if the Vikings equally inconsistent offensive line can stay away from penalties and stop the Cowboys explosive pass rushing tandem DeMarcus Ware (2nd in the NFL with 6 sacks) and Anthony Spencer.  The position on the Vikings’ O-line will be their center position which has not been the same since starter John Sullivan has a calf injury.

As is the case with Romo, the Vikings would be best served giving Favre some run support, especially with his on-going elbow problems.  Outside of Moss and Harvin, the rest of the Vikings receiving corps are “just guys”.  So Minnesota needs to establish running back Adrian Peterson (88 rushes for an NFC leading 480 yards, 5.5 ypc, and 3 TDs plus no fumbles).  The aggressive runner would be the perfect medicine to soften-up the Cowboys speedy 3-4 defense, so Favre doesn’t have to throw the ball over 30 times.  

The Cowboys allowed 158 yards rushing last week to the Tennessee Titans in a 34-27 loss. The Cowboys will surely pack the box in order to take away Peterson and make sure that Favre is healthy enough to beat them.  A key player on the Dallas defense should be run stuffer and emotional defensive leader, ILB Keith Brooking. The 13-year veteran is fighting mad after he registered one solo tackle in the Cowboys’ playoff loss and he also thinks that the Vikings ran the score up in the that game.   The Vikings will also look to attack a Dallas secondary that, outside of veteran CB Terrence Newman, has looked vulnerable at times.

LV’s Pick:  This is a tough game to pick, because these two teams’ backs are against the wall and they also are evenly matched — All-Time Regular Season record is tied at 10-10. This game is almost a pick’em as Minnesota is favored by only a point and a half.  I expect the Cowboys to try to get some pressure on Favre, but they will need to watch Peterson first.  If Peterson gets going, expect play-action from Favre down the field to Moss and Harvin.  Conversely the Cowboys will have to deal with extremely loud crowd noise and fix a shaky O-line to come away with the victory.  As always watch for turnovers — both passers have more than 5 INTs so far this season — and big plays on special teams from both sides.   In making my pick, I believe that the Vikings have too many advantages going in their favornot to win this game (home field, noise, Peterson, a very good D-line going against the Cowboys bad O-line and much more).  Also the Vikings have won 5 of the last 6 regular season games against the Cowboys.  Expect some high scoring as Moss and Austin put on a show  – Vikings 31, Cowboys 24

2010 NFL Week 6 Games

Sunday, October 17 

ATL @ PHI, Lincoln Financial Field, 1:00 PM ET —- FOX          

CLE @ PIT, Heinz Field, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS           

SEA @ CHI, Soldier Field, 1:00 PM ET —- FOX          

DET @ NYG, New Meadowlands Stadium, 1:00 PM ET —- FOX          

BAL @ NE, Gillette Stadium, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS          

SD @ STL, Edward Jones Dome, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS          

MIA @ GB, Lambeau Field, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS          

NO @ TB, Raymond James Stadium, 1:00 PM ET —- FOX          

KC @ HOU, Reliant Stadium, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS          

NYJ @ DEN, Invesco Field at Mile High, 4:05 PM ET —- CBS          

OAK @ SF, Candlestick Park, 4:05 PM ET —- CBS          

DAL @ MIN, Mall of America Field, 4:15 PM ET —- FOX          

IND @ WAS, FedEx Field, 8:20 PM ET —- NBC          

Monday, October 18 

TEN @ JAC, Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, 8:30 PM ET —- ESPN          

Byes: Cardinals, Bills, Panthers, Bengals

 

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

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Favre to Re-Re-Retire?? by Lloyd Vance

  

 

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is supposedly “retiring” again…I think we have heard this before 

Everyone out there must have thought Tuesday August 3rd was a network re-run as news leaked that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was going to re-re-retire. According to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune, the 40-year old passer told teammates late the prior night that he was not coming back for a 20th NFL season.  Like New York Yankees baseball legend Yogi Berra once said, “It was dejavu all over again”.  

Apparently Favre’s surgically repaired ankle – last year it was his surgically repaired shoulder – could not survive workouts with Hattiesburg, Mississippi high schoolers enough to get ready for the rigors of another NFL season.  So with this enormous news coming forward, I decided to go back into my archives to see if once again the public “could” be part of another waffling melodrama.  On July 31, 2009, I ran a piece called “Favre tells the Vikings “No Thanks”, but is he really retired”.  The entry gave quotes from No. 4 saying he was finally done and that his ailing shoulder would not allow him to comeback….Does any of this sound familiar.  

I wasn’t buying Favre’s conciliatory retirement talk in late July 2009 and until I see backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson starting under center September 9th against the New Orleans Saints in the NFL’s opening game, I am not buying it in August 2010.  Don’t even think about writing Favre’s final NFL career stats in ink, because last year on August 19th there was a piece titled “Favre unretires again and joins the Minnesota Vikings for the 2009 season”.  Yes, maybe the soon to be 41-year old (October 10th B-day) is really too tired and beat-up from the hellacious beating he took in New Orleans last January in the NFC Championship Game overtime loss to gear-up for one more season.  

But the greatest waffler in NFL history since Orlando “Pancake” Pace, just cannot stay away from the spotlight.  Favre’s final pass from the 2009 season was a risky cross-field pass that was intercepted by Saints DB Tracy Porter near the end of the regulation (19 seconds left in the game) and you know that is still haunting him.  There is no way that Favre is not ready with a crowbar to jimmy the door back open on his career.  The Vikings have assembled too much talent and Favre is such an ego-maniac that he will not let anyone else lead a team loaded with the NFL’s most Pro Bowlers (8) in 2009.   

Let’s also remember that Vikings management including head coach Brad Childress (picked Favre up at the airport in August 2009) and GM Rick Spielman will continue to rollout the red carpet for the league’s reigning old-time king.  And don’t forget that the 3-time MVP is coming off probably one his greatest statistical season ever too — in 16 starts led his team to a passed numbers of 363-531, 68.4% (career high), 33 TDs, 7 INTs (his fewest in a season), and a career-best 107.2 quarterback rating. So until I see Favre standing at the podium in Canton with his gold jacket on….I will always believe the NFL’s graybeard gunslinger quarterback thinks he has one more season left in him.  

Here’s what Tarvaris Jackson had to say about a possible Favre retirement, “I haven’t heard anything about it. I’m not looking at it any different. I’m still going to show up and work hard every day…If something happens, we’ll see…It’s always back and forth with Brett. It’s a decision. He deserves the opportunity to decide when he’s going to retire or not, whether he wants to retire or not. It’s up to him. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on getting better.”  

No. 4’s back-up added on the on-going melodrama, “”It’s been about three years now I’ve been getting asked the Brett Favre questions…It’s kind of part of my life now. I actually might miss it. Like I said, it’s his decision. He deserves however long he takes to make the decision. It’s on him and I’m just going to come out here and try to get better.” 

If Favre’s decision is his final one, then hallelujah and let’s move-on to the litany of other topical stories heading into the 2010 NFL season.  I have to admit that I have been a Favre follower since his early days with the Packers when he made magical plays out of nothing almost every game.  His childlike joy for the game was like none other. But my bro-mance and the love of many NFL fans and media has definitely been stretched to its limits by his flip-flopping retire/unretire ways which definitely has tarnished his legacy.  

Though I refuse to be fooled by Favre again – trust me he will be back for $13 Million reasons and rising.  But if this is truly it — yea right — No. 4’s final legacy will be that he had a “quality” that made everyone root for him even if he was on the opposing team’s sideline. Favre’s passion for the game brought childhood “street” football to the masses and he truly was a true gambler at heart. Good Luck Brett riding off into the sunset on your tractor and please stick with staying on your farm this time. 

However you know the cynical and probably “right” side of me says that in a couple of weeks, Favre’s ankle will be magically healed in time for the Vikings’ 3rd or 4th preseason game. 

  

  

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

Let the Flip Flopping Begin: The NFL is waiting for Brett Favre’s Decision Again by Lloyd Vance


Brett Favre’s “Thank You” note to fans on his website has started speculation once again whether he will or will not retire

Immediately after the Minnesota Vikings’ disappointing Championship Round loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion, New Orleans Saints, everyone wanted to know what was Vikings quarterback Brett Favre’s decision on the 2010 NFL Season.

Even after throwing another heartbreaking interception to end another season –  Favre the last 3 seasons while playing for the Packers, NY Jets, and Vikings has ended his year by throwing an interception  – the graybeard wanted to focus more on the fun that he had competing against the Saints with the youngster Vikings.  However it now looks like another offseason and another flip-flopping affair for the “John Wayne” of quarterbacks.

As only he could do, Favre left a thank-you note to his fans on his official Web site, acknowledging their support during his 19th season. Of course there was no exact indication of his future plans.  There were only vague statements like, “Regardless of what the future holds, I want everyone to know that I will cherish the memories of the past year for the rest of my life”.  You could tell from Favre’s message that retirement may have been on his mind again.  But like the last three offseasons, it will be see you in the spring or summer for any decision.

The Vikings have said, via GM Rick Spielman, that they will allow Favre to take his time to decide.  “I think you go ahead and let Brett decide what he wants to do,” Spielman said. “I know the organization, from our ownership, from our coaches and I think from our fans out there, we’d love to have Brett Favre back for another year and see if we can make another run at this.” And who could blame the Vikings for leaving the ball in Favre’s court.

The 2009 NFL Season truly was a bounce-back season for Favre.  There wasn’t even a hint of the worn-down gunslinger from the 2008 season that the New York Jets threw on the scrap heap after Favre threw an NFL-high 22 interceptions with the J-E-T-S losing down the stretch to miss the playoffs.

The 3-time NFL MVP looked like a legitimate candidate for a fourth honor as he led the Vikings to a 12-4 regular season record (second seed in the NFC) and Minnesota won the NFC North title plus came within a 31-28 overtime loss of making the Super Bowl.

Individually, Favre arguably had his best season statistically in his 19-year NFL career.  He completed 68.4% of his passes for 4202 yards, 33 touchdowns, a career-low 7 interceptions, and a 107.2 passer rating.  Those numbers were good enough for Favre to make his 11th Pro Bowl, though he took a pass on the actual game as he recovered from the battering that the Saints delivered to him in the playoffs.

Even though I made a pact a couple of offseasons ago that I would not try to predict what Brett Favre would do.  In this “one” circumstance, I will try to read the tea leaves surrounding this surefire Hall of Famer.  Despite Favre taking a vicious beating at the hands of the Saints in the NFC Championship Game, I still believe that he still has the competitive fire to play.

The Vikings were a drastically improved team last season and should be considered Super Bowl contenders again in 2010.  Plus the team rallied around Favre all season as he made players around him like receiver Greg Lewis better — remember his game-winning catch against the Niners in Week 3.  There also is the little matter of the 40-year old having one-year remaining on his two-year contract with a base 2010 salary of $13 million dollars.

The key to me will be how long the Vikings are willing to wait for an answer.  You have to wonder if they will want to know by the 2010 NFL Draft — scheduled from April 22-24 – because that’s when teams map out their future direction.  The real fun will be, if Favre does indeed finally retire and sticks to it (doubt it).  The Vikings would then have to look to either make a trade (current Eagles QB’s Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick prime targets) or turn over the reins to one of their inconsistent backups, Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels.

Anyway stay tuned for the next installment of “As the Favre Turns”, because this melodrama is not going away anytime soon.

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 Championship Round Review by Lloyd Vance

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the “Who Dat” Nation were all smiles as New Orleans made their first Super Bowl by defeating the Minnesota Vikings.  The Saints will play the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV

We now know that the 90th NFL Season will culminate at Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida with the Indianapolis Colts (16-2) against the New Orleans Saints (15-3).  Both teams, who seemed to be on a collision course earlier this season, showed their mettle by turning back extraordinary efforts by the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings to earn their respective tickets to the NFL’s biggest stage. 

For a long time this year’s Super Bowl match-up seemed predestined as both of these teams remained undefeated teams through 14 weeks – first time two 13-0 teams in NFL history —  and an 18-0 undefeated showdown seemed very possible.  Of course any talk of the “Perfection” Bowl ended with the Saints losing to the Cowboys in Week 15 and the Colts choosing to “rest” their players in a Week 16 loss to the NY Jets.  Though the match-up will be sans the undefeated part, many people’s intrigue around the Colts-Saints big game should be increased as two of the NFL’s top quarterbacks will be taking center stage.  This season, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning became the NFL’s only 4-time MVP while Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw more regular season touchdowns (34) than anyone else in the league.  Offensive fireworks are sure to fly in Super Bowl XLIV as both teams can put up points while their defenses are not known to be the stoutest — Colts ranked 18th in defense and the Saints finished 25th

Before we move onto the inordinate amount of hype that is sure to follow in the 2-week build up to the Super Bowl, let’s review the two Championship Games from this past Sunday that has brought us the NFL’s first No. 1 Seed battle since 1993 (Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII). In a very odd side note, my crystal ball for the 2008 season said the Colts over the Saints in the Super Bowl.  Of course I am a year late and my picks for this year, the Steelers and NYGiants,  are nowhere to be found.

2009 AFC Championship Game

In the end, surefire Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and rookie head coach Jim Caldwell held the Lamar Hunt trophy, signifying the AFC Championship, aloft  after a dominating 30-17 win over the scrappy New York Jets.  After enduring much talk during the week of their inability to out-tough the physical New York Jets, the Colts showed their gumption by scoring 24 unanswered points after trailing by a deficit of 17-6 late in the 2nd quarter.

This time around Manning and the Colts’ regulars played the entire game and there was no “rest” until the job was complete.  The Colts showed the heart of a champion as they had to endure the brash young New York Jets, who turned their swagger into some early points.  The Jets continually throughout the 2009 regular season got early leads on teams and then allowed their vaunted defense to close the door.  But this time was different as Manning and the rest of his mates knew a 60-minute effort would be needed to make their 2nd Super Bowl in the last four years possible.

“We talked about being patient against these guys,” Manning said. “We knew it would be a four-quarter game.”  The road warrior Jets answered early Colts’ field goals by putting up two quick touchdowns and definitely seemed to be following in the footsteps of the old J-E-T-S of Joe Namath who beat the Colts in Super Bowl III.  Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, the fourth rookie quarterback to lead his team to the conference title game, brought Jets’ nation to their feet with an 80-yard touchdown pass to  Braylon Edwards giving New York a 7-3 lead.

Then Jets Wildcat QB/receiver Brad Smith, a former dual threat passer at Missouri, connected with receiver Jerricho Cotchery for a 45-yard pass to the Colts 12.   Just three plays later, Sanchez hit TE Dustin Keller with a 9-yard touchdown pass to give the Jets a 14-6 lead and cause many Colts fans to recall playoff disappoints of the past.  The doom and gloom only got worse for Indy when running back Joseph Addai’s fumble set up Jay Feely’s 48-yard field goal to make the score 17-6 with halftime looming.

Alright queue the NFL Films music…Knowing that going into halftime down to the Jets, who sported the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense coming into the game, was recipe for defeat, the Colts offense answered the bell.  Manning led the Colts on an 80-yard scoring drive in only four plays.  The 4-time MVP found one his new favorite young targets, rookie Austin Collie, three straight times with the drive culminating with a 16-yard touchdown pass to the former BYU player with little over a minute left in the first half.  By leading the Colts to a more manageable 17-13 deficit, Manning and Caldwell (fifth rookie coach to reach the Super Bowl) grabbed back the momentum for the second half. 

After stopping the Jets to start the second half, Manning and Colts took the lead for good when the veteran quarterback hit the Player of the Game, receiver Pierre Garcon (11 catches for 151 yards and 1 TD), in the end zone to make the score 20-17 with 8:03 left in the third quarter.  The Colts never looked back and there were a variety of players that made their Super Bowl trip a reality.  Manning finished with unbelievable numbers of 26/39, 377 YDS, and 3 TDs while becoming first player to pass for three touchdowns against the Jets this season.  The veteran quarterback made the Jets pay for their blitz-happy ways as he moved the ball around to five different targets throughout the game. 

The Colts had to find other options than No. 1 receiver Reggie Wayne and they did.  With the Jets focusing their entire scheme on getting pressure on Manning and having Pro Bowl sticky corner Darrelle Revis shadow Wayne. Manning’s other targets Garcon, Collie, and TE Dallas picked up the slack with each catching a touchdown pass in the win. Collie and Garcon, both had career highs in yardage, combined for 18 receptions for 274 yards and two touchdowns while repeatedly coming up with big receptions in the clutch.  With the Colts’ O-line keeping the Jets at bay, Manning — first player in league history with seven 300-yard postseason games — got the ball out his hands quickly and dropped passes into “shoeboxes” despite tight coverage in the win. Caldwell said of his on the field leader, “Peyton had just an outstanding game. He’s one of those guys that can adjust to different situations. … A real champion.”

Credit for the win must also be given to the Colts often maligned defense, who shutout the Jets in the second half.   The Colts knew shutting down the Jets’ vaunted rushing attack was key and they did.  After averaging 170 rushing yards in their first two playoff games, the Jets’ top-ranked ground game was held to just 86 yards on 29 attempts – knocked rookie runner Shonn Greene out of the game with a rib injury.  And allowed the Colts to win the time of possession battle 31:25 to 28:35.  To his credit Sanchez (17 of 30 for 257 yards with two TDs and 4th quarter interception) did play some good football and produced some plays, but the Colts veterans on defense played with pride and forced one turnover.

The Colts are now headed back to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years and their fourth time in franchise history. To make things even more magical, the Colts will be playing at the same venue where they won Super Bowl XLI to close out the 2006 season.  Manning will also be facing the team he grew-up rooting for, the New Orleans Saints, who won 31-28 in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings in NFC Championship.  Peyton’s father, Archie Manning, who played many years for New Orleans said of the upcoming Super Bowl match-up, “I’m pulling for the Colts 100 percent, it’s not even close”

“We’ve been here before, we had seven comeback wins this year. I think the guys were a little rattled at first, I think we took their best shot, but we came back,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “I think we did a great job of being the hunters and imposing our will today.”  The Colts their resiliency after the win, but they need to remember that is still one more game to go.  I know their fans will remind them as they will accept nothing less than a Super Bowl title to put “Rest-Gate” truly to rest.

2009 NFC Championship Game

Some will call this overtime thriller, where little known kicker Garrett Hartley connected on a 40-yard game-winning field goal to send the New Orleans Saints to their first  Super Bowl, an Instant Classic.  But I am not so sure as the Saints’ hard fought 31-28 overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings was thrilling  however it was very sloppy too. 

The great ending overshadowed a tough game that featured 9 fumbles (4 lost) and 2 interceptions between both teams including five turnovers by the Vikings.  Of course the “prettiness” of the win didn’t matter to the Saint’s faithful who packed the Superdome – franchise’s largest of 71,276 – then afterwards flooded Bourbon Street for a celebration that New Orleans had not seen in years. 

The biggest play of the game of course was Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre’s risky cross-field pass that was intercepted by Saints DB Tracy Porter near the end of the regulation (19 seconds left in the game). The Saints defense had harassed and battered Favre the whole game and the aging quarterback wanted to make a play so bad that he made a huge mistake that setup overtime.   “I’ve felt better,” said Favre after the game. “It was a physical game. A lot of hits. You win that and you sure feel a lot better.”  Favre’s final pass as a member of the Packers, Jets and Vikings are all interceptions.  I wonder when old No. 4 is going to start his retire/unretire talk this offseason.

The seesaw game also showed the good and bad of Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who ran for 122 yards and three touchdowns, but also lost two fumbles.  Overall, the Vikings piled up 475 yards and 28 points but were undone by five turnovers and penalties.  Conversely, Saints quarterback Drew Brees (17 of 31 for 197 yards and three TDs) was cool and calm in the pocket as he led one of the NFL’s most downtrodden franchises to their first Super Bowl.   Brees showed the savvy and leadership that caused New Orleans to embrace him before the 2006 season.

In overtime, New Orleans won the coin toss and Brees quickly guided the Saints to the Minnesota 22 mixing both the pass and run.  Before Hartley’s field goal, the biggest play of the drive was RB Pierre Thomas converting a fourth-and-1 with a goal-line type leap.  After Hartley’s game-winner, the Superdome that once serve as a refuge for many after Hurricane Katrina was now alive as the “Who Dat” Nation” celebrated their unlikely hero.  New Orleans is the first team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl after entering the playoffs with a losing streak of three or more games. The Saints’ record at home improved to 14-4 since 2008, including the playoffs.

Now former paper bag-wearing Saints fans could finally put their No. 1 fingers in the air as they had made it to the NFL’s ultimate game.  “It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for a long time and obviously we’re not done yet,” said Brees.  The Saints (15-3) will meet Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (16-2) in the Super Bowl in two weeks in South Florida.  The Super Bowl match-up will be a highly anticipated offensive match-up, but Brees and the upstart Saints will have to finish the job against the veteran-laden Colts.  Immediately following Sunday’s game, Indianapolis was installed as 4-point favorites and already the line is moving higher.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • With the NFC Championship Game ending in overtime on the Saints’ first drive after winning the coin toss of the extra session, there is sure to be much discussion around the league of giving both teams a chance to score in overtime.  However recent history has shown that no one around the league is really “crying” over the current rules other than some fans and media.  Back at the 2009 NFL League Meetings, the Competition Committee listened to the evils of sudden death overtime and they decided to not vote on any proposals to change the existing overtime rules. Despite the fact that back when the discussion occurred after the 2008 season that 63 percent of overtime games were won by the coin toss winning team.  Most players that I have talked to, do not mind the current overtime format and want to fight it out in sudden death – just have your defense stop the other team.  And I must admit that I am also in agreement with the Competition Committee.

 

 

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 NFC Championship Game Preview by Lloyd Vance

Quarterback Drew Brees leads the home team Saints against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (13-4) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (14-3) (Sunday, FOX, 6:40 PM ET) 

Broadcast Team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Chris Myers and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

This features two of the NFL’s best passers, Saints QB Drew Brees and Vikings QB Brett Favre squaring off in a highly anticipated offensive pinball type game.  This meeting marks the 5th time in NFL history top-2 scoring teams in NFL meet in Conference Championship Game.  Minnesota since signing veteran Brett Favre before the season has pointed to playoffs for the future Hall of Famer to make a difference and against the Dallas Cowboys last week, he paid dividends by producing a 34-3 dominating win.

Though the quarterbacks are the marquee players, I believe the team that can run the ball more effectively and gets the most defensive pressure is going to win this game.  The Vikings are more than just Favre (363-531, 4202 yards, 33 TDs – 2nd in the NFL, 7 INTs, and a rating of 107.2 – second in the NFL) as the 40-year old passer has many offensive weapons at his disposal including Rookie of the Year explosive receiver Percy Harvin, Pro Bowl receiver Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian, and TE Visante Schiancoe. But don’t forget the key part of the Vikings offense is their formerly ground-churning running attack led by Pro Bowl RB Adrian Peterson – hasn’t been over 100 yards rushing in 8 games — and a huge offensive line built around Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson. 

The main key for me will be the Saints (+ 11 in turnover ratio, placing them 3rd in the NFL) ability to rattle Favre as the veteran will make mistakes when he is harassed – threw over 20 INTs last year for the NY Jets.  New Orleans will have their hands full as they will be missing pass rusher Charles Grant, who is on I/R, but expect veteran safety and former Packers Favre teammate Darren Sharper (9 INTs) to spearhead New Orleans’ defensive effort.   Gregg Williams’ Saints defense will also have the 70,000 plus Super Dome noisy crowd behind them to rattle Favre and the Vikings high flying offense. “There’s no fan base that deserves a championship more than New Orleans and the ‘Who Dat’ nation,” said Brees.  “Just the bond that we have with them is special.  They give us strength.  They give us motivation.  We want to do it for them.”

On offense the Saints, ranked No. 1 in the NFL with an average of 403.8 yards per game, need to find their explosiveness that allowed them to score over 500 points this season (510).  Though the Saints struggled down the stretch (lost last 3 regular season games), Brees and rest of the team proved last week against the Cowboys (dominated in a 45-14 win) that these are the new-look Saints in the postseason – now have an all-time 3-6 postseason record. The Super Dome will be rocking as it should be a Mardis Gras type atmosphere for the home team Saints and their raucous fans. 

The Saints offense has many weapons (WR Marques Colston, RB Mike Bell, TE Jeremy Shockey, and others), but last week they re-discovered explosive jitterbug running back Reggie Bush.  The former Heisman winner got the home crowd on their feet as he produced 217 total yards and became just the second player in NFL postseason history to score a touchdown on a rush and punt return in the same game.  “He’s a guy who can change the game,” said Saints head coach Sean Payton.  Surely the Vikings’ veteran defense led by Pro Bowl corner Antoine Winfield and All-World pass rusher Jared Allen (14.5 sacks to lead the NFC) will look to rattle Brees before he can get the ball to his speedy receivers (Colston, Bush, Robert Meachem and others).  And Saints head coach Sean Payton will probably look to help Brees by using their three-headed backfield monster of Bell, Bush, and Pierre Thomas against the Vikings D-line led by the Williams Wall (DT’s Pat and Kevin Williams). 

These two teams are meeting in the postseason for the 3rd time with the Vikings currently holding a 2-0 advantage.  In the overall regular season series, the Vikings lead that too by a count of 18-7.

LV’s Pick:  This is a tough game, because both teams have a ton of weapons offensively.  But the two “X” factors of running the football and getting to the quarterback will be prevalent.  I still believe the Vikings’ defense, led by Allen, can get to Brees as the Saints O-line has been a little leaky since losing LT Jamal Brown.  Expect a motivated Peterson to show-up and for Favre to be relaxed in his 5th NFC Championship Game (current record of 2-2).  The Saints home crowd should make it tough on the Vikings, but I believe Minnesota is more ready to go to the Super Bowl –Vikings 31, Saints 27

 

 

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 Playoffs – Divisional Round Preview by Lloyd Vance

New York Jets multi-purpose threat Brad Smith leads the J-E-T-S versus the host San Diego Chargers in one of this weekend’s four divisional round playoff games

The “Elite Eight” round better known as the NFL Divisional Playoff Round starts the “real” games as far as I am concerned.  Most fans and media live for the hype of the NFL Conference Championships and Super Bowl, but you can put my hearty vote in for the NFL Divisional Playoffs as the most exciting portion of the league’s now year-round calendar.  The splendor of the divisional playoff round is that the four best teams from the NFL’s regular season, after a well-deserved bye week, finally get to enter the playoff fracas to take on pumped-up wildcard weekend upstarts.  The wildcard round usually does a pretty good job of removing some of the teams that I like to call “Frauds” from the playoff picture.  But if some frauds are leftover surely the divisional round will sniff them out.  The final eight usually brings out the best in teams leading to highly competitive games before the suffocating hype, pressure, and “big stage” mentality of getting to the Super Bowl sets in. 

The great thing about the NFL divisional playoff games is that now teams that excelled in the regular season have to “Prove It” when it matters most.  “Everything that’s happened previously, you can throw out the window,” said Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell.  The outstanding rookie head coach added, “Those records don’t matter.  All that matters is what happens from here on, and we know that we’re facing a solid team.”  For a long time teams coming off byes seemed to have it made in the playoffs.  Since the league went to 12 playoff teams in 1990, which gave the top two seeds in each conference first-round byes,  the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are 57-19 (.750) in their first playoff game. However since 2005, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are just 7-9 (.438).  A prime example was in the 2008 NFL playoffs, both No. 1 seeds (Tennessee Titans and New York Giants) and the number two seed Carolina Panthers came off byes and lost. Only the AFC’s No. 2 seed, the Pittsburgh Steelers, won in the divisional round and then they went on to win the Super Bowl.  Definitely keep an eye on the winners from the Wild Card round as teams advancing from the round have won the Super Bowl 6 times including three of the last four. 

I usually also like to look at the hottest teams going into playoff games as favorites and no team is hotter than the San Diego Chargers.  The Chargers enter the postseason with 11 consecutive victories, the NFL’s longest current win streak.  San Diego is the No. 2 seed in the AFC and they carry the fifth-longest win streak to enter the playoffs since 1970.  Other teams currently on a roll are the Dallas Cowboys (4), NY Jets (3), Baltimore Ravens (2), Arizona Cardinals (1) and Minnesota Vikings (1).  Conversely the New Orleans Saints (3) and Indianapolis Colts (2) are entering the postseason on losing streaks.  Speaking of this year’s No. 1’s, the Colts and Saints both came out the gates with unprecedented 13-0 records, but now none of that not matters.  The Saints (13-3) surely will have their hands full with the Arizona Cardinals, who are coming off an impressive 51-45 shootout win over the Green Bay Packers.  The Saints will have to show that they are back in playoff form after trying for perfection and stumbling home with three straight losses to end their season.  The Cardinals are one the NFL’s most exciting teams and quarterback Kurt Warner has been in and won many big playoff games over the years.  While the nation will have an eye on the Saints-Cardinals game, interest in the Colts match-up with the physically tough Baltimore Ravens will be high too.  Since the Colts are at the center of the national “Rest or Play to win down the stretch” debate. 

The Colts having locked up the AFC’s No. 1 seed way back in Week 15 and with 2 games remaining, decided to acquess a legitimate shot at matching the 2007 New England Patriots 16-0 regular season mark.  To the ire of Colts’ fans, the team’s management decided that “resting” players for the playoffs was more important than any regular season glory.  Colts President Jim Irsay said before resting players, “We’d love to get to 16-0. But the biggest focus is going to be on being prepared for that first playoff game.” GM Bill Polian and Irsay’s plan began in the second half of the Colts-Jets game in Week 16.  With the undefeated Colts (14-0 at the time) holding a faint 15-10 lead, Indy sent in backup QB Curtis Painter and host of second stringers.  The Jets fueled by Colts’ mistakes, responded in the game’s final 25 minutes to win 29-15. Of his team resting players in a home loss and the fans reaction, veteran Colts center Jeff Saturday said, “I don’t blame them a bit, man, I probably would have booed, too. I don’t blame them. They pay to come see us win games, and we didn’t get it done.”

Think about it, the Colts (14-2) haven’t played a meaningful game since beating the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 17th and now they must turn the switch back on.  Their record says that they were the best team in the NFL during the regular season, but the hungry Ravens are waiting to pull an upset. The decision to throw away “perfection” so easily and not ride into the playoffs “hot” has firmly put a bull’s eye on the collective backs of rookie head coach Jim Caldwell, Polian, and Irsay.  And given the Colt’s poor history in gaining the bye this past decade, you would have thought team management would have wanted their guys hitting on all cylinders for the playoffs.  History is difficult to ignore if for no other reason than how poorly the Colts have fared in similar situations. The Colts record with Peyton Manning at quarterback after earning a postseason bye stands at 0-3.  While it is nice that the Colts have earned a playoff berth in 10 of the last 11 seasons, too often they have been one-and-done (six occasions), including the past two years losing to the upstart San Diego Chargers.  Right now the Ravens are looking a lot like the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers who led by their strong defense stormed out of the Wild Card round and came to Indy to face a “rested” Colts team with a similar 14-2 record.  In the game, the Colts were out-physicalled by the hungrier AFC North tested Steelers and went down to defeat by a score of 21-18.  I know Colts fans are hoping for a different result this time, but all of the pressure is on Indianapolis.  If the Colts do go on to win the Super Bowl, sure all will probably be forgotten within their fan base, but nothing is guaranteed.  If my two cents matters, I thought the Colts should have tried to enter the playoffs on a good note.   BTW… In the AFC since 1990, the No. 1 seed has compiled an 11-8 (.579) record in the Divisional round.

Others storylines to follow in the divisional round include:

Cowboys know how to win in the playoffs – As if the Cowboys’ Week 15 win over the formerly undefeated Saints and their total domination over the Philadelphia Eagles wasn’t enough, there is more evidence that Dallas is a dangerous team in the playoffs.   In fact, the Dallas Cowboys have won 33 postseason games, the most in NFL history.  With a victory against Minnesota in the Divisional Playoffs on Sunday, Dallas would advance to its 15th NFC Championship Game, surpassing the Pittsburgh Steelers (14) for the most appearances in a Conference Championship Game since 1970.

Jets head coach and quarterback attempting to enter new rookie ground — New York Jets rookie head coach Rex Ryan and his rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez can reach two milestones when they play Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.  Sanchez can become the second rookie quarterback to win his first two playoff games (Joe Flacco in 2008) and Ryan can become only the sixth rookie head coach to reach that mark.

The Cardinals are flying high after their pinball machine win last week – In their huge 51-45 overtime win over the Packers, the Cardinals used an offensive display for the ages.  Arizona and Green Bay combined for an NFL postseason record 96 points and 13 touchdowns.  The game featured 1,024 yards of total offense, tied for the third-most in an NFL playoff game.  Yet, the decisive score came on a defensive touchdown when Arizona cornerback Michael Adams forced a fumble that was returned 17 yards by linebacker Karlos Dansby for the game-winning touchdown. 

Warner can still play at age 38 – Despite constant “retirement” questions, Cardinals veteran quarterback Kurt Warner is playing at a very high level.  Warner was nearly flawless as he completed 29 of 33 passes (87.9 percent) for 379 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the Cards’ overtime win last week.  The former Super Bowl MVP also improved his postseason record to 9-3.  He had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), becoming just the sixth starting quarterback to accomplish that feat in a playoff game.  Warner outdueled Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who passed for a team postseason-record 422 yards and threw four touchdowns in his first career playoff start.  It marked just the second playoff game in the Super Bowl era in which both quarterbacks threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns.  With 253 passing yards against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, Warner will reach 4,000 passing yards in 13 career playoff games, making him the fastest player in NFL history to reach the milestone

The Ravens are tough on the road — This Saturday marks the 13th playoff game in Ravens’ history and the club’s ninth on the road.  Baltimore holds a 6-2 playoff record away from home, which stands as the top road winning percentage (.750) in NFL playoff history (minimum five games).  Baltimore looks to improve the mark against Indianapolis in the Divisional round. 

Favre to add to his legacy – Certain Hall of Famer and Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre will not only be looking for a win against the Cowboys, but also the game is an opportunity for him to extend his playoff numbers.  No. 4ranks second in NFL playoff history in completions, attempts, passing yards and touchdown passes.  Favre needs 23 completions, 14 passing attempts, 462 passing yards and seven touchdowns to set postseason records in each passing category.  But getting a win against the Cowboys may prove to be tough for the graybeard passer as he is 0-3 for his career against Dallas in the postseason.

We will have to see this weekend if the trend of No. 1 seeds not making it to the Super Bowl holds true.  Hard to believe it has been fifteen seasons since the last time two No. 1 seeds faced each other in Super Bowl (1993 season, Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII).  But remember playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” will be the key factors as to which teams move on to the Conference Championship round on long treacherous road to Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida.

Surprisingly all four home teams are favored this week by Vegas after a Wild Card round where home teams went 2-2.  Remember to watch for turnovers in all four games as nothing can put a dagger in a team’s playoff hopes quicker than turnovers, especially ones that go to the house.

2009 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Games

ARIZONA CARDINALS (11-6) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-3) (Saturday, FOX, 4:30 PM ET

Broadcast Team: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa (Field Reporter)

After the Cardinals shootout win over the Green Packers last week, everyone is expecting another high-scoring affair.  In a game that features two of the NFL’s best passers, Saints QB Drew Brees and Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, I believe the team that can run the ball more effectively and gets the most defensive pressure is going to win this game.  The Cardinals are no longer just Warner and his awesome receivers (Fitzgerald, Boldin, Breaston, and Doucet), Arizona can also run the ball with rookie Chris “Beanie” Wells and Tim Hightower.  The main key for me will be the Saints ability to rattle Warner as the veteran will make mistakes when he is harrassed.  New Orleans will have their hands full as they will be missing pass rusher Charles Grant, who is on I/R.  On offense the Saints need to find their explosiveness that allowed them to score over 500 points this season (510).  Though the Saints struggled down the stretch, Brees and rest of the Saints want to prove that they can win in the postseason – only 2-6 postseason record in franchise history. The Super Dome will be rocking as it should be a Mardis Gras type atmosphere for the home team Saints and their raucous fans.

LV’s Pick:  Though not the pinball machine game from last week, there will be plenty of scoring dowin in the Bayou.  Look for Brees and WR Robert Meachem to hook-up for a big play or two — Saints 27, Cardinals 23

BALTIMORE RAVENS (10-7) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (14-2) (Saturday, CBS, 8:15 PM ET)      

Broadcast Team: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf

The pressure will be on the Colts to prove that they can win after coming off a bye.  The Ravens are a tough physical team that loves to run the football with emerging second-year running back Ray Rice and attacking defense led by veteran linebacker Ray Lewis.  If the Colts are to succeed and shutup a very disgruntled fan base, QB Peyton Manning will need to protect the football and make some plays down the field to Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne.  Even as good as Manning and Wayne are, the Colts must find a running game to keep the Ravens from pinning their ears back on every play.  Running backs Joseph Addai and Donald Brown will need to find a way to move the chains against big defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg.  On defense, the Colts will have to apply pressure from DE Dwight Freeney and the rest of their D-line as Ravens QB Joe Flacco is essentially a caretaker right now – only 10 passing attempts last week.  However Freeney and the rest of the Colts defense will need to shutdown Rice and a rejuvenated Willis McGahee as the Ravens want to pound the rock on the way to an “ugly” win.  There is no love lost between these two teams as the Colts will forever be known as the team that left the Charm City for the “greener” pastures of Indy.  These two teams will be meeting in the postseason for 2nd time and the last time in January of 2007, the Colts beat Ravens 15-6 in Divisional Round.

LV’s Pick:  This is a tough one as every bone in my body wants to say that the Colts by virtue of “resting” in their last two games will lose.  But I just believe that the Colts will find a way to knock Flacco around and that will make all the difference in the world – Colts 20, Ravens 14

DALLAS COWBOYS (12-5) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (12-4) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)      

Broadcast Team: Joe Buck, troy Aikman, Chris Myers and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

This is the game that a large portion of the country really wants to see.  TheCowboys are probably the hottest team in the NFC right now and have found a swagger that has not been seen in Dallas since 1996.  Dallas got their playoff monkey off their backs with a dominating 34-14 win over the Eagles and now they are looking to knock off the second-seeded Vikings.  Minnesota since signing veteran Brett Favre before the season has pointed to playoffs for the future Hall of Famer to make a difference and now is the time for him to pay dividends.  Favre and the Vikings were the darlings of the NFL earlier in the regular season, but after stumbling a little down the stretch, some are saying they are ripe for the picking.  If the Vikings and their head coach Brad Childress are smart, they will try to get RB Adrian Peterson going – hasn’t been over 100 yards rushing in 7 games.  Surely the Cowboys highly ranked defense led by pass rushers Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware will look to rattle Favre before he can get the ball to his speedy receivers (Berrian, Rice, and Harvin).  For Dallas offensively the plan is simple, run the ball behind their huge offensive line to help quarterback Tony Romo.  The Cowboys three-headed monster of Felix Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice will have to find holes against the Vikings D-line led by the Williams Wall (DT’s Pat and Kevin Williams).  Romo will also be looking for emerging WR Miles Austin.

LV’s Pick:  This is a tough game, because both teams have a ton of weapons offensively but you are not sure about their quarterbacks.  Favre has been known to throw interceptions in playoff games and Romo just finally has proven that he can win in the playoffs.  However in this kind of match-up I always like to look at the defenses.  The Vikings of late of struggled without MLB EJ Henderson while the Cowboys are playing a dominating brand of “D”.  Look for the Cowboys to return to New Orleans for a huge rematch with the Saints – Cowboys 31, Vikings 24

NEW YORK JETS (10-7) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (13-3) (Sunday, CBS, 4:40 PM ET)      

Broadcast Team: Jim Nance and Phil Simms

Jets QB Mark Sanchez returns to the West Coast in search of another playoff win.  But this time the NFL’s hottest team, the San Diego Chargers, await.  The absolute key to this game will be the Chargers ability to take away the Jets’s NFL leading running game and thus forcing Sanchez to beat them.  Remember the rookie quarterback is in his comfort zone when he is throwing the ball 20 times or less.  However look for Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to dial-up pressure from his linebackers and secondary to force some turnovers.  Another intriguing match-up will be the Jets’ NFL leading defense’s ability to shutdown a Chargers offense that has Pro Bowl players everywhere.  San Diego triggerman Philip Rivers has an embarrassment of weapons at his disposal (RB LaDanian Tomlinson, RB Darren Sproles, and gang of giant pass catchers including TE Antonio Gates).  The Chargers can beat you with the run or the pass and it is going to be a difficult challenge for Jets rookie head coach Rex Ryan to design a scheme that can shutdown such an explosive offense.

LV’s Pick:   Of all the games this weekend, I am the most sure of this one.  The Jets are a tough team, but I just don’t believe you can hide your quarterback in the playoffs.  No matter how great the Jets’ defense led by Pro Bowl CB Darrelle Revis can be, I just believe the Chargers have too many weapons — Chargers 38, Jets 10

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)

Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson is still battling by Lloyd Vance

August 29, 2009 1 comment

 tjack

To his credit Vikings 4th year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is still fighting to stay in the team’s quarterback picture

Lost in all of the hype surrounding the ballyhooed return of legendary quarterback Brett Favre from Mountain High and being handed the starter’s job is what is going to happen to the Vikings former starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson — career starting record of 10-10 including 0-1 in the playoffs.

The much maligned passer has had a pretty good preseason despite battling through a knee sprain and now the team bringing in veteran Favre.  Jackson has continued to maintain a solid professional attitude on and off the field.  In the Vikings’ recent 17-13 win over the Chiefs, which was also the much anticipated return of Favre (1-4, 4 yards), it was the 4th year veteran who shined the brightest.

Despite being initially booed by his “home” crowd when entering the game versus the Chiefs,  Jackson had a perfect passer rating finishing with passing stats of 12 for 15 for 202 yards and two touchdowns including a 13-yard touchdown strike to TE Visanthe Shiancoe. 

The performance probably further enhanced the young passer’s trade value, but you would have liked to have seen Vikings head coach Brad Childress give T-Jack a “legitimate” shot at fighting Favre for the starting position.  Mostly likely, barring injury, Jackson will be stuck behind Favre — NFL record “iron man” most consecutive starts quarterback streak (269 and you can make it 291 if you include the playoffs — for the entire season as an insurance policy and after the season then Childress will re-evaluate his former second round pick from 2006.  

Jackson said after the Chiefs’ game, “Whenever you play well, you always feel good”.   The Vikings former playoff game starter added, “Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, it felt good. It was a long week for me. It just shows that if you just stay focused, you’ll be fine.”