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Colts’ M*A*S*H Unit Gets Ready for Texans’ Rematch by Lloyd Vance

Former Colts’ reserve running back Mike Hart and the rest of the team’s backups will need to step-up as injuries are mounting in Indy

With an eye on getting “revenge” on the Houston Texans in a crucial Monday Night Football AFC South grudge match at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indianapolis Colts (4-2) are dealing with a slue of injuries.  Right now it is “Next Man Up” time in Indy and superstar quarterback Peyton Manning has to be looking around the team’s lockerroom and saying, “Who are these guys?”

There is no doubt that injuries are a huge part of life in the NFL.  Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles have suffered 6 concussions on their roster in 2010 and the Packers also have resembled a M*A*S*H unit at times – lost franchise RB Ryan Grant in Week 1 and it was downhill from there in terms of injuries.  But after seven weeks of play, the Colts should be crying more about the “injury bug” more than probably any other NFL team.

Here is a list of some of the injuries and to say the least many of the players listed were considered core team members when the season started.  TE Dallas Clark (Wrist – I/R), WR Austin Collie (right thumb injury  – 4 to 6 Weeks), RB Joseph Addai (Shoulder – Indefinite), Safety / Special teams co-captain Melvin Bullitt (knee – I/R), safety Bob Sanders (bicep – indefinite), OT Charles Johnson (foot – questionable), LB WR Anthony Gonzalez (ankle – should be back for WK8), RB Donald Brown (hamstring – should be back for WK8), rookie LB Kavell Conner (foot – I/R), and too many others for GM Bill Polian and Caldwell’s liking – had 18 players listed on their Week 5 Injury Report.

And to make matters worse for their in Week 8 game, punter/kickoff specialist Pat McAfee will be serving a team-mandated 1-game suspension resulting from his Oct. 20 arrest on a public intoxication incident. Free agent Jeremy Kapinos, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, will step in this week to do the punting duties and veteran Adam Vinateri will handle the kickoff duties.

Colts’ head coach Jim Caldwell said of the team’s many injuries, “I call it the ‘Gideon Principle’ in this league.” He added, “At some point in time, you get pared down to the absolute bare minimum. So you see who can stand tall and who can function in their present circumstances.”

So far this season, Manning (passing numbers 171-254, 1916 yards, 67.3%, 13 TDs, 2 INTs, and a rating of 103.4) has looked like he is in the running for an NFL-record 5th MVP award.  But now he will need non-household players like TE Jacob Tamme, TE Blair White and RB Mike Hart to help out in the starting line-up.  The Colts’ 2nd teams will also have to help out wherever the coaches need their services including special teams injured starters.  Even former Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea has been called upon to help out on special teams as the Colts need help from everyone.

The Colts will surely be looking to show not only the AFC South, but the entire league that after a bye week, they are ready to put up more of a fight against the surging Texans (4-2).  In Week 1, the Texans out-physicaled the Colts in a dominating home victory — improved to 2-15 all-time vs. Indianapolis.  The breakout star of the game was unheralded, at the time, running back Arian Foster who rushed the ball 33 times for 231 yards and three touchdowns.  Houston out-rushed Indy 257-44, setting a franchise record for most rushing yards in Texans’ franchise history and most rushing yards allowed in Colts’ franchise history.

Texans QB Matt Schaub only had to throw 17 times as Houston dominated up front.  The one bright spot for the Colts from their Week 1 loss was that they were able to move the ball against the Texans’ defense.  Despite poor O-line play at times, penalties, and dropped passes, Indianapolis put up 463 total yards and on their last three drives of the game showed that they were coming back after being down 20-10 after three quarters. Produced two touchdowns and another drive where WR Pierre Garcon fumbled inside the Texans’ 10.  We will see this time if Manning and his crew can overcome the Texans attacking defense – Houston will be without LB DeMeco Ryans (Achilles – I/R) – to get a playoff implication win. 

Caldwell said of the challenge of playing through so many injuries, “My job is to win, plain and simple… I have to deal with the here and now, what we have to play with. The guys we have, have plenty of talent. We have more than enough to get it done.”

The biggest keys for the Colts, in my opinion, will be their ability to run the ball with Hart and company – ranked 25th in the NFL in rushing at only 94.8 yards per game – and stopping the run on defense (ranked 26th as Indy has allowed an average of 137.3 yards per 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)

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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)

2010 NFL Week 2 Preview by Lloyd Vance

September 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Manning Bowl 2 is one of the highlights of 2010 NFL Week 2

After the glitz and glamour of the opening week of the 2010 NFL Season is over, Week 2 begins our standard weekly journey around the league. I am so glad that this week’s schedule only has two game days with 15 games on Sunday and our usual one game match-up on Monday Night Football.

 Week 1 had a lot of drama including an NFL-record 11 games that were decided by 7 points or less and ton of surprises — Houston Texans led by RB Arian Foster dominating the Colts, Chiefs taking out the Chargers in the 2nd MNF game, Seahawks pounding Niners who were supposed to be the NFC West favorites and several photo finishes.  But I am expecting Week 2 to provide just as much excitement along with starting the separation process that is inevitable every football.  As I like to always like to say, “NFL teams are either preparing for the playoffs or the upcoming draft”.  And now is the time where teams start their trek toward one destination or the other.

 Unfortunately after only one week of play, some NFL fans are already panicking a little over whether they think their team is a pretender or contender.  I know some fans, like the San Francisco 49ers’ faithful, have to be a little disappointed by their team’s effort from Week 1 – Niners suffered a lopsided 31-6 loss at the hands of the resurgent Seattle Seahawks.  But everyone around the league should remember that it is way too early to start making season-long assumptions based one week of play.  To anyone feeling the pinch of the NFL season after one week, please relax as the NFL regular season is a 17-week marathon with many twists and turns ahead. 

 It is way too early to paint broad conclusions on teams and players’ futures.  Sure injuries and areas to fine tune are prevalent throughout the NFL, but take the results from Week 1 as partial results.  I am urging all fans to wait until at least 5 to 6 games have been played before jumping on or off their respective teams’ bandwagons.  As we saw last year with the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints unsuccessful quest for perfection (both started their seasons 13-0), it is almost unthinkable that a team can get through an entire season undefeated in today’s NFL –– this fact should make you truly appreciative of the Herculean effort of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins.

 An interesting stat is that at the end of Week 2, no more than 14 teams will be able to claim a perfect 2-0 record, leaving at least 18 clubs at 1-1 or 0-2.  However whether a team is 2-0, 1-1, and 0-2 after two weeks of play, it still doesn’t matter as everyone has a chance to make a playoff run — even the hapless Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns who were both bad losers in Week 1. Since realignment in 2002, 54 of the 96 playoff teams (56.2 percent) began the year at either 1-1 or 0-2.  Four of the past nine Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-1 or 0-2 record. Plus last year half of the NFL’s 12 playoff teams started 2-0 and the other half at 1-1 before righting themselves. 

 Even though records should not be first on NFL teams’ minds, they still should be mindful that you don’t want to dig too big of a hole to recover from in time to make a playoff run.  Sure, history has shown that 0-2 teams can advance to the playoffs — since 1990, 22 teams have started 0-2 and still qualified for the postseason, including three teams in 2008 – Miami Dolphins (won NFC North), Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers (won AFC West).  But it is still a daunting task to comeback from 0-2 and a season death sentence of 0-3 is too close for comfort to that record, so teams should be fighting for more than pride in Week 2.

 This is an odd weekend as there are only 3 divisional games (Baltimore at Cincinnati, Tampa Bay at Carolina, and the New England Patriots at NY Jets), but there six inter-conference games.  We will see if all of these non-familiar match-ups will equate to some great action on the field. 

 Some Games to watch are:

 New England Patriots at New York Jets — One of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries will take center stage at New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday as the Jets host the Patriots in a clash of AFC East contenders.  Both clubs advanced to the postseason last year, with the Patriots winning the division and the Jets securing a Wild Card berth and advancing to the AFC Championship Game.  The HBO series Hard Knocks has heightened the Patriots-NY Jets rivalry even more.  Brash NY Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan who definitely likes to take a page from his father, former NFL defensive guru Buddy Ryan, has stirred the pot talking about the AFC East is their division. Several NY Jets have said that they don’t like Patriots QB Tom Brady and his team. With Captain America countering by saying, “The feeling is mutual”.  So we will see if Ryan’s team can knock-off the Patriots, like they did early in 2009.  Before that win, Ryan said of the J-E-T-S playing the vaunted Patriots, “I didn’t come here to kiss (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick’s rings. I came here to win. … I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else.”   — LV’s Pick: New England Patriots

 Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions – This is a must win for the Eagles as they travel to Detroit very injured.  The Birds lost FB Leonard Weaver (ACL) and center Jamaal Jackson (torn triceps) for the season to injuries.  Plus concussed players QB Kevin Kolb and MLB Stewart Bradley will sit this one out too.  However the Eagles do have quarterback Michael Vick – had 100 yards rushing and over 170 yards passing in last week’s 27-20 loss to the Packers – making his first start in the NFL since December 31, 2006.  The Lions will look to their young rookie playmakers RB Jahvid Best and DT Ndamukong Suh to make plays.  — LV’s Pick: Philadelphia Eagles

 

Week 2 Featured Game

 NEW YORK GIANTS (1-0) AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-1) – Sunday Night Football @ 8:20 PM ET on NBC

 Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Andrea Kremer (Field Reporter)

 Manning Bowl 2 – Sunday night’s matchup on NBC will feature the Manning brothers.  I guess former NFL quarterback Archie Manning and his wife will be wearing ½ Giants and ½ Colts jerseys this week in Lucas Oil Stadium.  There will be some serious in-fighting within the NFL’s first family as Big Brother Peyton Manning’s Colts host younger brother Eli’s NY Giants. For only the second time the two poster boy brother quarterbacks will meet as pros.   

 In 2006, the Colts defeated the Giants 26-21 in the first game in NFL history that two quarterback brothers started for opposing teams.  “It is rare that you get to face your brother,” said Eli Manning.  “You kind of appreciate that when the National Anthem is being sung and you look over and see your big brother.  That’s pretty special.  You have to try and enjoy it and have fun with it and understand it’s something that doesn’t happen often.”  Indy is coming off a disappointing opening loss to the Houston Texans, so I fully expect No. 18 to be an in formidable host to younger brother Eli. 

 The Giants showed last week that they can bring defensive pressure as they dominated the Carolina Panthers 31-18, mostly by producing turnovers. Also New York wide receiver Hakeem Nicks led the way with three touchdown catches and became the first player in more than 20 years to score three touchdowns in the first game at a new stadium. Indianapolis will look to rebound from a rare September loss. 

Entering 2010, the Colts had posted a 26-6 (.813) record in the opening month over the past 10 years (2000-09).  However all is not lost as Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell said, “The season is a long haul.”  Caldwell added, “It’s Round One of a 16-round fight.  What we have to do is continue to get better each and every week.  That’s what we’re focusing on.” 

The Colts look as vulnerable as we’ve seen in a long time and the Giants’ pass rush (featuring four defensive ends) will be a handful for Indianapolis’ depleted offensive line. Could the Colts possibly go 0-2???

 In their favor, the Colts have won five straight against NFC opponents.  And Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney has a sack in his last four games vs. NFC opponents.  I am sure Eli’s team will try to control the clock by running the ball and letting their defense attack the Colts’ suspect offensive line.  Simply put the Colts have to do better in stopping the run and running the football.  Last week the Houston Texans outrushed them 257 to 44, which was a record-high for the Colts’ franchise.

 You can expect a ton offense in this game, but in the end how can you go against Peyton Manning in his home-opener

 LV’s Pick: Colts 24, Giants 17

2010 NFL Week 2

 Sun, Sep 19 

 BAL @ CIN, Paul Brown Stadium 1:00 PM —- CBS          

 MIA @ MIN, Mall of America Field 1:00 PM —- CBS          

 CHI @ DAL, Cowboys Stadium 1:00 PM —- FOX          

 PHI @ DET, Ford Field 1:00 PM —- FOX          

 ARI @ ATL, Georgia Dome 1:00 PM —- FOX          

 KC @ CLE, Cleveland Browns Stadium 1:00 PM —- CBS          

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

 PIT @ TEN, LP Field 1:00 PM —- CBS          

 TB @ CAR, Bank of America Stadium 1:00 PM —- FOX          

 STL @ OAK, Oakland Coliseum 4:05 PM —- FOX          

 SEA @ DEN, Invesco Field at Mile High 4:05 PM —- FOX          

 HOU @ WAS, FedEx Field 4:15 PM —- CBS          

 JAC @ SD, Qualcomm Stadium 4:15 PM —- CBS          

NE @ NYJ, New Meadowlands Stadium 4:15 PM —- CBS          

NYG @ IND, Lucas Oil Stadium 8:20 PM —- NBC          

Mon, Sep 20 

 NO @ SF, Candlestick Park 8:30 PM —- ESPN     

 

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)

Breaking Down John Clayton’s 2010 NFL QB Rankings by Lloyd Vance

Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan is ranked as the 13th best quarterback in the NFL by ESPN’s John Clayton, but he should be higher…in my humble opinion

If I have said it once, I have said it 1,000 times…”The NFL is a quarterback driven league”.  So one of my favorite past times is comparing league quarterbacks against each other.  And this year, ESPN’s John Clayton helped further the debate by recently posting his annual quarterback rankings.  Clayton broke down the league’s starters into 3 divisions (The Elite, The “Chad Pennington” Division – i.e. “Caretakers”, and Hit-Or-Miss).

As usual the Professor did a nice job in weaving stats, analysis, and opinion.  But it would not be any fun if I didn’t poke any holes into his rankings.  Though I don’t have many contentions, I definitely think Clayton should have used my favorite quarterback barometer, Playoff Wins, more.

  • I think the Elite Division should only be Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, and Ben Roethlisberger.  These quarterbacks have gotten it done in postseason (i.e. Super Bowl winners) and they also have had great stats for more than 5 years.
  • There needs to be another division called “Fantasy Footballers”.  These are quarterbacks that have put up big stats in the regular season, but have not yet sustained postseason success.  Heck a couple of them haven’t even made it to the postseason or won one playoff game. This group would be Matt Schaub (no playoff appearances), Aaron Rodgers (no playoff wins), Jay Cutler (no playoff appearances), Tony Romo (playoff record of 1-3), and Carson Palmer (playoff record of 0-2 with both losses at home).
  • Another division also needing to be created is “The Old Heads”.  These are good quarterbacks that are a 5-year plus veterans that have had some success in the past.  I will put Donovan McNabb in this group — despite his 9-7 playoff record – but he can’t be considered “Elite” without the ring.  You can also add Philip Rivers — sorry San Diego fans…this 3-time Pro Bowler has a career 3-4 playoff record — Matt Hasselbeck and Eli Manning.  I know Archie’s youngest has a Super Bowl ring, but he also is a “team” quarterback that has only one 4,000-yard passing season and one 25+ touchdown season on his mantle -– both in 2009.
  • The “Young Guns”, who are quarterbacks working their way up.  I know some of them have already had some playoff success, but it is still too early to draw long term predictions.  This group would include Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Vince Young, Kevin Kolb, Chad Henne, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Matthew Stafford, Matt Cassel and Sam Bradford.
  • No list would be complete without a group called “The Journeymen”.  These are guys just happy to be called a starter…well for now.  Byron Leftwich, Matt Leinart / Derek Anderson, Matt Moore, Jake Delhomme, David Garrard, Alex Smith, Jason Campbell, Trent Edwards, and Kyle Orton — Don’t let his 29-19 starting record or last year’s almost 4,000-yard passing season fool you.

Here is my ranking list for the NFL’s marquee position

1) Peyton Manning

2) Drew Brees

3) Tom Brady

4) Ben Roethlisberger

5) Brett Favre

6) Philip Rivers

7) Aaron Rodgers

8) Donovan McNabb

9) Matt Ryan

10) Joe Flacco

11) Tony Romo

12) Carson Palmer

13) Eli Manning

14) Matt Schaub

15) Vince Young

16) Jay Cutler

17) Matthew Stafford

18) Kyle Orton

19) David Garrard

20) Jason Campbell

21) Kevin Kolb

22) Matt Hasselbeck

23) Mark Sanchez

24) Chad Henne

25) Matt Cassel

26) Alex Smith

27) Byron Leftwich

28) Matt Moore

29) Josh Freeman

30) Sam Bradford

31) Michael Vick

32) Jimmy Clausen

33) Derek Anderson / Matt Leinart

34) Trent Edwards

35) Jake Delhomme

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)

2010 NFL Pre-Training Camp Top Stories – Holdouts by Lloyd Vance

Even 3-time Super Bowl winning QB Tom Brady is a potential holdout before training camps start

Holdouts are a rite of passage leading up to training camp. When one player gets a shiny new contract (See Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall’s deal for four-year deal worth $47.5 million with $24 million guaranteed), there are five other players who are saying they deserve equal or more.

Of course NFL owners are pointing to the 30% rule, an uncapped 2010 season and the certain times around the CBA (owners want an 18% roll-back on player revenues), as the major reasons that they are taking a tough stance with potential holdouts.  But the NFLPA also is monitoring potential holdouts as overall player salaries for 2010 are lower than last year and it has been a very slow free agent market — can you say, “Collusion”… I know NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith can. 

Also owners will not say it, but they do not want to pay a signing bonus on new player deals which could potentially cover lost salary during a lockout.  That is why future Hall of Famer and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who is in the last year of his 2004 contract extension – 7 years, $99.2M with a $34.5M signing bonus (due $15.8M in 2010), has not received a new deal yet.  Manning and Patriots QB Tom Brady are expected to get new contracts with at least $50 million guaranteed.

However I have found most players talk tough about holding out during OTAs and the offseason until the prospect of fines — $14,000 to $16,000 dollars daily for missed training camp days — and missed game checks in the regular season come into play. The dollars can pile-up quickly — Seahawks receiver Deion Branch lost over $600,000 dollars in fines and 1 game check of $65,625 dollars during his 2006 holdout with the Patriots.

Holdout players under contract definitely need to understand that a prolonged stay away from their team could cause them to lose accrued seniority towards free agency. Under NFL rules, players under contract must report at least 30 days before the overall first NFL regular season game (August 10th deadline) or they will forfeit an accrued season of seniority.  Players talking tough about a holdout that might end up in this category are Brady, Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth, NY Jets CB Darrelle Revis, Titans RB Chris Johnson, Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley and others.

As for unsigned draft picks, franchised players and restricted free agents that are thinking “Holdout”, the Week 10 of the regular season is huge.  Because players not under contract, who eventually sign after a holdout, need to be part of the team for at least in six regular season games in order to earn an accrued season towards free agency.  The biggest potential 2010 holdouts in this category are Chargers restricted free agents WR Vincent Jackson and OT Marcus McNeil.

Everyone associated with the league also is monitoring “Holdout” talk around unsigned rookie players. With training camps about 2 weeks away (Cleveland Browns rookies report on July 23rd), there are currently no first round selections signed at this time including first overall pick St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford –  expected to receive a contract greater than Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s – 6 years, $72M with $41.75M guaranteed.  Hopefully the NFL will avoid the rookie signing problems that force San Francisco 49ers WR Michael Crabtree to sit-out well into the 2009 regular season — 20 of the 32 first-round picks in 2009 were unsigned when their teams opened up training camp.  My guess for the longest 2010 first rounder holdout is Buffalo Bills RB CJ Spiller (9th overall pick)

In the end… if McNeil, Vincent Jackson, Haynesworth and the rest of the NFL’s many holdout candidates do continue to stay away, they need to understand that holdouts are a no-win situation everyone involved. The holdout game also usually produces animosity, lost team chemistry, and injuries. Plus most players coming back from holdouts quickly realize that their team’s have moved on without them as the “NFL Never Sleeps”. 

2010 Holdout Watchlist

Patriots QB Tom Brady

Colts QB Peyton Manning

Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth

NY Jets CB Darrelle Revis

Titans RB Chris Johnson (received a $2M escalator payment early)

Saints OT Jermon Bushrod

Cowboys WR Patrick Crayton

Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett

Chargers OT Marcus McNeil

Chargers WR Vincent Jackson

Colts WR Reggie Wayne

Broncos DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil (Signed new deal)

Ravens OT Jared Gaither

Browns LB D’Qwell Jackson

Eagles WR DeSean Jackson

Texans WR Andre Johnson

NY Jets center Nick Mangold

Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis

Chargers LB Shawne Merriman

Redskins LB Rocky McIntosh

Titans TE Bo Scaife

Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley

Bills RB Marshawn Lynch

Vikings DE Ray Edwards

SF 49ers NT Aubrayo Franklin (Unsigned Franchise Player)

 

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)

Super Bowl XLIV Preview: Colts-Saints by Lloyd Vance

Head Coach Sean Payton leads the underdog New Orleans Saints against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV

The 2009 NFL season themed, “Own the Moment”, will climax  with Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida as the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints take center stage in the biggest game in sports. The catchy Don King-esque box office selling theme for Super Bowl XLIV should be “History Book vs. Storybook”. 

The Colts have been one of the NFL’s cornerstone teams since their Batimore heyday with NFL legend quarterback Johnny Unitas in the late 1950’s.  In fact Unitas, who led the Colts to victory in the 1958 NFL Championship Game – some call it the Greatest Game Ever – definitely has passed his  winnning ways along to current Colts’ certain Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, who already has led his team to a Super Bowl win back in 2006.  While the Colts have usually been a winning franchise — second Super Bowl in four years and their fourth trip in franchise history — the Saints have always been the NFL’s version of the heartbreak kids – only a 4-6 postseason record in an over 40-year franchise history.  Many years since their inception in 1967 have ended in disappointment for the folks in the Bayou – only ten winning seasons in franchise history. 

There was the brown paper bag wearing years back in the early 1980’s and Peyton’s father, Archie, also took a beating as the Saints starting quarterback during their struggling years (1971-1982).  But the Saints have perservered and now the city known for Mardi Gras is ready to put the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina behind it by the Saints bringing home a Super Bowl title in their team’s first trip to the Big Dance. “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.” However former Saint Archie Manning will still root on his son’s Colts.  The former Ole Miss legend and Saints first overall pick in 1971 said of the upcoming Super Bowl match-up, “I’m pulling for the Colts 100 percent, it’s not even close”

“Super Bowl Sunday” is America’s unofficial holiday filled with fellowship, trash talk, and of course eating.  Everywhere you turn, people are talking about the Colts and Saints locking horns this Sunday.  Even my 80-year old plus grandmother, who usually is not in front of the television on Sunday’s watching NFL gridiron action, will be attending a Super Bowl party.  She and almost 200 hundred million other folks will be watching this Sunday as the upstart Saints led by former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush take on the Colts and the NFL’s best pitchman, Peyton Manning.  It will be interesting to see if Super Bowl XLIV ends the ‘09 season with a bang or a blowout, which seems to have happened way too much in Super Bowl history.  One of the bigger storylines is that Manning will also be facing the team he grew-up rooting for, the Saints.

No matter how the Super Bowl ends, the 2009 NFL Season will be remembered for explosive offenses and will most likely be themed “The Year of the Quarterback”.   This season, 10 quarterbacks each passed for at least 4,000 yards, which is the most in a single season in NFL history – Texans’ Matt Schaub (4,770), Colts’ Peyton Manning (4,500), Cowboys’ Tony Romo (4,483), Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (4,434), Patriots’ Tom Brady (4,398), Saints’ Drew Brees (4,388), Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (4,328), Chargers’ Philip Rivers (4,254), Vikings’ Brett Favre (4,202) and NY Giants’ Eli Manning (4,021).  The previous record was seven in 2007.  Also twelve quarterbacks passed for at least 25 touchdowns this year, which is the most in a single season in NFL history – Brees (34), Favre (33), P. Manning (33), Rodgers (30), Schaub (29), Brady (28), Rivers (28), Bears’ Jay Culter (27), E. Manning (27), Roethlisberger (26), Romo (26) and Cardinals’ Kurt Warner (26). The previous record was 10 in 2007. 

Not surprisingly two of the quarterbacks who are both great leaders and can really fling-it, Manning and the Saints‘Drew Brees, will meet in Super Bowl XLIV.  Colts head coach 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.”  Both teams, who seemed to be on a collision course earlier this season — combined 27-0 starts — showed their mettle by turning back extraordinary efforts by the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings in their respective Championship Games to earn 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. “Everything that’s happened previously, you can throw out the window,” said 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.” 

Though the match-up will be sans the undefeated part, many people’s intrigue around the Colts-Saints big game should be maximized by the NFL’s first No. 1 Seed battle since 1993 (Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII).  Of course, the two aforementioned marquee quarterbacks taking the field for America’s Game, doesn’t hurt either.  This season, Manning became the NFL’s only 4-time MVP while 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

All the hype around the Super Bowl will be at a fever pitch once Carrie Underwood belts out the national anthem.  The pressure for some players can be suffocating.  But the key for both teams will be focusing on their precious opportunity to win a Super Bowl and forgetting everything else that has transpired in the past 20 weeks leading up to the big game.  As for on the field, don’t forget about our usual 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” all factorin in on who wins this Sunday.

Before we move-on to our preview, 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.  But no matter, who cares who predicted this match-up all the way back during training camp in July as Super Bowl XLIV should provide some fireworks.

To everyone, I want to wish you a  Happy Super Bowl Sunday !!!

Lloyd’s Leftovers for Super Bowl XLIV

Not much Trash Talking at this Super Bowl – With the mutual respect between the Colts and Saints there has not been the obligatory player trash talking. Remember in Super Bowl XL how then Seattle Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens made some comments about Steelers that got the dander up of then Steelers linebacker Joey Porter.  This time both teams were complimentary and guarded during media day interviews. 

NFL Television numbers support that the league is more popular than ever – Expect a huge contingent of NFL fans and fringe viewers to be watching  this Sunday. There is no doubt,  that the 2009 NFL season kept fans glued to their televisions.  Across America, fans  tuned into NFL games in the largest numbers in two decades.  According to Nielsen Media Research, the average 2009 regular-season game was watched by 16.6 million viewers – up 2 million viewers per game from last year and the NFL’s highest viewership average since 1990 (16.7 million).

Caldwell trying to make history – If Caldwell wins, he will become the 3rd rookie head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl win.  He also would become the third African American head coach to lead his team to victory in football’s biggest game – would join Tony Dungy (Super Bowl XLI) and Mike Tomlin (Super Bowl XLIII).

Watch for everyone’s favorite Super Bowl Ads – Every year one of the bigger events of the Super Bowl is watching the ads.  It was feared with the economy going south that not many companies would be buying time.  I heard CBS will be charging  $3 million or more for a 30-second commercial.

Game Notes and Prediction

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (15-3) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (16-2) (Sunday February 7th, CBS, 6:25 PM ET)      

Broadcast Team: Jim Nance and Phil Simms

The AFC #1 seeded Indianapolis Colts and the NFC #1 seeded New Orleans Saints will square off in Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida.  The road for these two teams was similar (both started the regular season 13-0), but also different.  The Colts won the AFC Championship by dominating the scrappy New York Jets in a 30-17 win.  While the Saints won the NFC Championship in an overtime thriller 31-28 over the Minnesota Vikings when little known kicker Garrett Hartley connected on a 40-yard game-winning field goal. 

The AFC Champion Colts even though they have made it to their second Super Bowl in four years still have something to prove to themselves and their fanbase.  Don’t forget that the Colts still want to prove that they were right in “resting” key players down the stretch of the regular season in order to be prepared for the playoffs.  Colts President Jim Irsay said before resting players at the end of the regular season, “We’d love to get to 16-0. But the biggest focus is going to be on being prepared for that first playoff game.” The AFC’s No. 1 seed chose to not chase the perfect 1972 Dolphins (NFL’s only undefeated Super Bowl winner) in order to chase a Super Bowl victory.

If the Colts are to succeed and shutup their very disgruntled fan base, Manning (regular season stats: 393-571, 4500 yards – 2nd in NFL, 33 TDs (first in AFC), 16 INTs, and a 99.9 QB rating) will need to protect the football and make some plays down the field to his multitude of weapons including Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark, and emerging youngesters Pierre Garcon – the pride of Haiti had 11 catches for 151 yards and 1 TD  in the AFC Championship Game — and Austin Collie.  Even as good as Manning and his offensive passing weapons are, the Colts must find a running game with RB’s Joseph Addai and Donald Brown to keep the Saints from pinning their ears back on every play.  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 Darren Sharper (9 INTs) to spearhead New Orleans’ defensive effort.  

I am sure Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ will have something up his sleeve to rattle Manning (+ 11 in turnover ratio, placing them 3rd in the NFL) and the Colts high flying offense.  But they better be careful as the 4-time MVP is known to dissect a blitz-happy team, just ask the New York Jets (five different targets throughout the AFC Championship).

On defense, the Colts may have to rely on D-linemen Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock to apply pressure as Pro Bowl DE Dwight Freeney (13.5 sacks) is very iffy with a much-reported about ankle injury.  The Saints are very explosive and scored over 500 points this season (510), so they want to make the Colts’ defense chase them.  The Saints also ranked No. 1 in the NFL with an average of 403.8 yards per game.

Brees (17 of 31 for 197 yards and three TDs in NFC Championship Game win) will have many weapons at his disposal (WR Marques Colston, RB Mike Bell, TE Jeremy Shockey, and others), but you know Saints head coach Sean Payton wants the ball in jitterbug running back Reggie Bush’s hands.  The former Heisman winner has really picked it up this postseason and look for Colts playmaking linebacker Gary Bracket and safety Antoine Bethea (4 INTs in 2009) to keep an eye on him at all times.  Look for Payton to slowdown Mathis and Freeney by using his three-headed backfield monster of Bell, Bush, and Pierre Thomas.

LV’s Pick: Now that all of the hype and talk around Super Bowl XLIV is almost finished, our attentions can turn to Sun Life Stadium in South Florida.  The Colts have been installed as a 6-point favorite, but I truly believe that the youthful Saints will make this a game.  In this battle of marquee quarterbacks, I still believe that the team that runs the ball more effectively and causes turnovers will win.  The Saints have really picked it up since losing their last three games of the regular season, but they have also been a little sloppy.  Expect the veteran laden Colts to play smart and opportunistically, especially Manning.  The Colts win their second championship this decade and Manning will add to his already Hall of Fame resume — Colts 27, Saints 20 

 

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)

The Colts resting Manning & Company in their first loss sends the wrong message by Lloyd Vance

December 28, 2009 1 comment

The decision by Colts’ management including head coach Jim Caldwell to “rest” players in the team’s first loss of the season sent the wrong message

The champagne corks popped in South Florida on Sunday, but the 1972 Dolphins’ celebration of perfection had to be a hollow one this year.  Sure the Indianapolis Colts (14-1) lost for the first time this season to the New York Jets by a score of 29-15. But “C’MON MAN”, the “real” Colts, namely quarterback Peyton Manning, left Sunday’s game in the 3rd quarter.  Sure the Colts had staked their second stringers to a 15-10 lead, but from the time when Manning & Company took a seat on the bench — 5:36 left in the third quarter — Indy was outscored 19-0. 

Colts’ backup quarterback Curtis Painter was awful, to say the least, as he produced putrid numbers of 4/11 passing for 44 yards, 0 TDs and 1 interception in an effort that made most Colts fans long for former quarterback Jack Trudeau.  The former Purdue signal caller’s biggest play of the game, a fumble recovery for a touchdown by the Jets, came immediately after Colts’ fans realized Manning was done for the game and serenaded the young quarterback with boos.  Painter was hit by NY Jets linebacker Calvin Pace and lost the ball, with Marques Douglas recovering and scoring. A 2-point conversion pass from NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez to TE Dustin Keller made the score 18-15 and New York never relinquished the lead.

After the game, Manning as he always does said all of the right things.  The soon to be 4-time NFL MVP said, “Until any player in here is the head coach, you follow orders and you follow them with all of your heart. That’s what we’ve done as players. We follow order”.   Okay Peyton we get it that Colts owner Jim Irsay, GM Bill Polian, and rookie head coach Jim Caldwell had all agreed that it would be better for the veteran laden team to rest rather than go for the NFL’s second 16-0 regular season.  But you have to think the Colts players, by their competitive nature, wanted to show the world that they were just as good if not better than the 1972 Dolphins or 2007 New England Patriots (finished 18-1 after a perfect 16-0 regular season).  The  Colts’ management decision robbed everyone from NFL historians to Colts fans to Caldwell’s players.

The Colts were so close after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars last week in dramatic fashion that they should have “Gone For It” in their two remaining games against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills (combined record of 13-17).  Rest is overrated in the National Football League as “momentum” is omnipotent going into the playoffs.  History has shown that resting for the playoffs after attaining the #1 seed and securing home field advantage in the postseason doesn’t guarantee success in the playoffs.  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. 

The Colts were already riding an NFL-record 23 game regular season win streak and by not letting Manning, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne and any other Colts’ player that was rested on Sunday not go for perfection is a travesty.  The NFL has been around for 90 years and the fact that only the 1972 Dolphins can put up their fingers as true unblemished No. 1’s, is an unbelievable accomplishment.  Manning and his guys had the unbelievable chance of joining the 1972 Dolphins, but they were robbed of that opportunity by a non-players who think they know more than the guys on the field.

Could the 2009 Colts (Manning, Freeney, Wayne, Brackett, and others) have walked in destiny with the 1972 Dolphins (Cszonka, Griese, Warfield, Scott, and others), we will never know.  Cause the Colts just rolled over and the NY Jets – record of (8-7) and clinging to a chance at the playoffs — gladly accepted their belated Christmas gift.  I have to equate what Indy did yesterday to the 1980 US Hockey (eventual gold medal winners) walking away from the challenge of playing the vaunted Soviet Union team in the medal round at Lake Placid.  You see before that historic game that lives forever in sports lore, many felt the young US team had zero chance given that just a short period before the Olympics, the Soviets had soundly beaten the US upstarts… boy I am glad Herb Brooks never listened to the naysayers and told his players to fight with all of their might.

 The Colts may have initially thought “resting” players was not a “give up”.  But the move of taking out their key starters when the game was still winnable was a true “Throw Your Hands in the Air” surrender moment.  The reason for always trying is that nothing is guaranteed in sports and most players, if not all, never want to look back and have a “What If” stamped on their career. 

The Colts’ management better hope their decision doesn’t backfire in the playoffs — like in 2005 when their former 13-0 regular season team lost in their first playoff game —  because they robbed their players an opportunity to make history.  If the Colts go on to win the Super Bowl, sure all will probably be forgotten within their fan base, but nothing is guaranteed and you should always play to win the game. 

“I don’t blame them a bit, man,” Colts’ center Jeff Saturday said. “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.”

 

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)