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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)

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 – Conference Championships Preview

January 25, 2010 2 comments

Everything will be on the line “Championship Sunday” as the Colts (TE Dallas Clark pictured) take on the Jets in the AFC Championship and the Vikings square off with the Saints in the NFC Championship

The Conference Championships of the 90th NFL Season, titled “Own the Moment”, are upon us and for the final four teams (Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, and Minnesota Vikings) it is time to show their mettle, in order to achieve their goal of playing in Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida. 

For a long time this year’s Super Bowl match-up seemed destined to be the NFL’s two undefeated teams through 14 weeks, the Colts and Saints, meeting in an 18-0 undefeated showdown.  Though the match-up could still materialize, sans the undefeated part, there is no denying that the 2009 NFL Season has truly been a wild rollercoaster type affair.  Not even the best prognosticators could have predicted two undefeated 13-0 teams through 14 weeks (first time ever), two rookie head coaches squaring off in the AFC Championship Game, the NY Jets going from last season’s Brett Favre led collapse to making the Conference Championship round, Favre unretiring and looking like the Vikings’ last piece for Super Bowl glory, and many other storylines that flipped the script on NFL history. 

Unfortunately last week’s divisional round was very ho-hum as the higher seeded Colts, Saints, and Vikings all won by double-digits.  Only the Jets-Chargers game produced a competitive battle, where rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez — only the 4th rookie quarterback to start in the Conference Championship since 1970 – led the J-E-T-S to the next round.  But there is no denying that this year’s NFL Final Four has produced two marquee games that feature some great storylines. 

These extraordinary teams have a combined regular/postseason winning percentage of 78% — combined record is 53-15. And did I mention this Sunday’s action on the field will feature the NFL’s career leader in quarterback wins and touchdown passes (Brett Favre), the NFL’s only 4-time MVP (Peyton Manning), the NFL’s number one rushing attack and defense (NY Jets) plus the NFL’s regular season passing touchdowns leader (Drew Brees – 34 TDs).

In Sunday’s early game, the Indianapolis Colts (15-2) will attempt to wipe away the nasty taste of their first defeat of the season, a 29-15 loss to the NY Jets in Week 15, and justify their “resting” players philosophy by winning a rematch this weekend in Indy.  You know irrate Colts’ fans, who have been ballistic since the team used back-ups in the Week 15 loss to the NY Jets, want revenge on Rex Ryan’s brash young upstart team. 

This game also has some of the same subplots of the historic Super Bowl III game between these two teams  — a heavy underdog Jets team, a young borderline-cocky NY Jets quarterback, a fiery Jets’ defense led by a Ryan, a good Jets’ running game and defense going against the an established team with a great record over a decade with a future Hall of Famer (Johnny Unitas) on their roster.  The Jets’ 16-7 win in Super Bowl III over 40 years ago put the AFL on the map and a win by the 2009 version of the J-E-T-S in the AFC Championship Game would be huge, but sorry…not historic. 

As good as the anticipation for the Colts-Jets “Rest-Gate” rematch game has been, the majority of NFL fans that I have talked to — via Twitter, email, and radio – all are looking more forward to the NFC Championship Game featuring the No. 1 seeded Saints against the No. 2 seeded Vikings.  After Week 12 of the 2009 NFL season, this match-up seemed a no-brainer, but both teams led by a pinball machine offense and an opportunistic defense had their moments where doubt crept into the conversation.  However both teams last week put up huge points on offense and their pass rushes were fierce in dominant wins over the Cardinals and Cowboys respectively.  So everyone is anticipating  a shootout in  the Super Dome between Pro Bowl quarterbacks Drew Brees and Brett Favre as the NFC Championship is on the line.

With three of the NFL’s best teams playing on Sunday, there is a distinct feeling that the cream of the NFL has risen to the top.  There is even a chance of the NFL’s two number one seeded teams can meet in the Super Bowl for first time since the 1993 season (Dallas and Buffalo).  Of course with the majority of the top teams still being in the playoff hunt, some NFL fans are asking, “Has parity finally left the NFL?”  I am not sure, but while some people like teams like the 2008 Arizona Cardinals going from a poor 9-7 regular season to the Super Bowl, it is wasn’t for me.  Though it has been nice to see Wildcard Round winners taking home three of the last four Super Bowl titles.  As someone who grew-up watching  perennial Super Bowl contenders like the Steelers, Dolphins, Niners, Cowboys, and Raiders serving as the bully for the rest of the NFL, I like watching the best teams fight it out.  Nothing against the upstart NY Jets, who are trying to match the 2007 NY Giants as a Cinderella team made good.  But I have always believed having the top teams in the Conference Championship round leads to more competitive games.

Whatever happens in this Sunday’s games, this round of the playoffs is truly special as the NFL’s junior prizes — conference championship trophies (George Halas Trophy for the NFC and Lamar Hunt Trophy for the AFC) — and a trip to the Super Bowl are all on the line.  However players on all four teams better focus on first winning this Sunday before looking ahead to confetti laced on-field celebrations and planning trips to Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida.  All the prepartion that the players and coaches have been through from OTA’s to training camp to the long grueling 17-week regular season, and two playoff rounds all hangs in the balance.  As Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre recently said about his team trying to achieve their goal of making the Super Bowl, “This is what I came back for”. 

Some Lloyd’s Leftovers for the Conference Championship Round:

NFL Television numbers support that the league is more popular than ever — There is no doubt that all of the excitement from the 2009 NFL season kept fans glued to their televisions and Football fans across America 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), before the explosion of viewer choice on television and online.

Jets 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 Sundday.  Sanchez can become the first rookie quarterback to lead his teawm to the Super Bowl  — already tied with Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco, who won two playoff games on the way to the AFC Championship game  in 2008.) and Ryan can become only the sixth rookie head coach to reach that mark.

Ryan and Caldwell make history – When the Jets and Colts meet in the AFC Championship, their respective head coaches (Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell) will become the first two rookie head coaches to oppose each other in the game.  In a great non-story, Caldwell if his team wins will be the 3rd African American head coach to lead his team into football’s biggest game – will join Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, who opposed each other in Super Bowl XLI.  After the Jets’ divisional round win over the Chargers, Ryan became the sixth rookie head coach in the Super Bowl era to win at least two playoff games.  But this is a much bigger prize and with the win, the winning coach will become the fifth rookie head coach to lead his team into the Super Bowl.  . 

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 Saints on Sunday.  But the NFC Championship Game  is an opportunity for him to extend his historic playoff numbers.  No. 4 ranks first in NFL playoff history in completions, and attempts.  But he is still second in passing yards and touchdown passes.  Favre needs 224 yards and three touchdowns to set postseason records in each passing category.  But getting a win against the Saints may prove to be tough for the graybeard passer, who 2-2 for his career in the NFC Championship Game including throwing a bad interception to end the 2007 rendition against the NY Giants.

With both No.1 seeds (Saints and Colts)  in action, we will see this Sunday if the trend of the top seeds in each conference  seeds not making it to the Super Bowl holds true.  Hard to believe it has been sixteen 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, 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. 

Not surprisingly both home teams (Saints and Colts) are favored this week by Vegas –- Saints are a 3.5-point favorite while the Colts are a suprising 9-point  favorite over the underdog Jets. Everyone including yours truly will be pontificating on what will happen, but luckily the games will be played on the field and anything can happen — Any Given Sunday…right??  “It’s the playoffs, anything can happen” said New York Jets rookie head coach Rex Ryan this week.

My predictions are to follow and one game I have strong feelings about while the other is a lot tougher to pick.  But as is the case with most games, I still believe time-tested playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense causing turnovers, 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 determinants in all of the team’s fortunes this Sunday.

2009 NFL Playoffs Championship Round Games

NEW YORK JETS (11-7) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (15-2) (Sunday, CBS, 3:00 PM ET)      

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

 

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

2009 NFL Season – Week 8 Review by Lloyd Vance

moats

Houston Texans RB Ryan Moats was one of Week 8’s Game Ball winners for his efforts in the Texans 31-10 win over the Buffalo Bills

With the 2009 season officially hitting the halfway mark, the league celebrated with a magnificent week of action in Week 8.  This was a great week in the NFL filled with upsets, big wins, and playoff picture shaping moments.  Despite six teams on a bye (Bengals, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Patriots, Redskins, Steelers) and some blowouts that have been too plentiful this season – 8 teams won by 12 points or more — there were compelling storylines everywhere that kept viewers glued to their seats.  The NFL is clearly winning the battle for sports fans weekly and I am sure Week 8 will be a landslide too when the numbers are reported, especially with FOX having both the Eagles-Giants NFC showdown and then Favre’s return game to Green Bay — during Week 7, FOX’s doubleheader drew 28.4 million viewers for the most viewership since the Super Bowl. 

You cannot review the action from Week 8 without talking about the highly anticipated Lambeau Field return of former Packers legend and current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.  No. 4 playing for the hated Vikings not only returned back to his home of 16 years, but he clearly showed his “former” fans and employers that he has plenty left in his right arm.  Favre and the Vikings dominated the Packers 38-26 in a game very similar to the Vikes’ Week 4 win in Minnesota. The Vikings defense didn’t give Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (26-41, 63.4%, 287 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs plus 52 rushing yards) any time in the pocket (6 sacks) and Favre put up some big numbers with a little help from his friends.  Emerging rookie WR/KR Percy Harvin had a big game producing 5 catches for 84 yards and 1 TD plus five kick returns for 175 yards.  And All-World running back Adrian Peterson (25 carries for 97 yards and one touchdown) was tough till the end, but the day clearly belonged to Favre.

 After enduring a week of being called a “Waffler”, “Flip-Flopper”, “Drama Queen” and “Traitor”, Favre stepped on the field and put aside a booing crowd to “Stick It” to his old team.  Favre threw a season-high four touchdown passes and was never even touched in the pocket (zero sacks) as he piled up superb passing numbers 17-28, 244 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 INTs.  And of course like he always seems to do every week, Favre set a record of most completions in one venue (passed John Elway’s record) and tied Dan Marino’s NFL record of 21 career games with at least four TD passes.  After the game, Favre hugged several members of the Packers team and staff including former favorite receivers Donald Drivers and Greg Jennings.  The future Pro Football Hall of Famer left the field surrounded by media everywhere and pumped his fist to a mix of cheers and boos.  Favre said after the game, “I’m not going to sit here and throw any daggers…We played about as good as we can play. We can play better, but that’s what it was going to take to beat that football team. That’s the satisfying thing.”  Favre added, “I’ve never been one to rub it in anyone’s face…The guys I’ve played with as a Packer, I’ve got a lot of respect for, as I do (for) this organization and these fans.”

So with Favre-a-palooza over for the second time in less than 1 month, let’s take an inventory of what happened.  Favre in two “big” wins over the Packers  — scores of 30-23 in Week 4 and 38-26 in Week 8 — finished with passing numbers 41-59, 515 yards, 7 TDs, 0 INTs, no sacks allowed and a passer rating well over 130.  The Packers on the other hand have a 10-13 record since sending their former franchise quarterback to exile in the Meadowlands in 2008.  Favre stated at his postgame press conference, “What I’ve done here (Green Bay) speaks for itself.”  For those unable to interpret Favre’s last comments, I will translate them for you.  “Hey Packers GM Ted Thompson and the rest of you haters…How do you like me now, What!!”

With everyone caught up in the Vikings-Packers and all the drama that followed Favre’s revenge homecoming, there were some other serious stories this week that I felt were a little neglected.

The Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints were both tested but still continued on their unbeaten ways – both 7-0 — The Indianapolis Colts are the NFL’s number one team (very quietly), but even they have to sweat one out here or there.  In their 16th straight win (franchise record), the Colts rallied from a 14-12 deficit to finally beat the scrappy San Francisco 49ers 18-14 in Indy.  The win was a testament to how well rookie head coach Jim Caldwell is keeping a veteran group of players on track without future hall of fame coach Tony Dungy.  With the win, Caldwell joined Potsy Clark (1931 Portsmouth Spartans started 8-0) as the only rookie head coaches in the past 80 years to start the season 7-0.  Caldwell leaned on veteran quarterback Peyton Manning (31-48, 347 passing yards, 0 TDs, and 0 INTs) in the win, but it was a great halfback pass from RB Joseph Addai (former high school quarterback) to Reggie Wayne (12 catches for 147 yards and 1TD) that was the game-winning score.  Also special recognition needs to go out  to veteran kicker Matt Stover who was 4 for 4 on field goal attempts. 

The Saints, who tied their best start in franchise history (1991 team was also 7-0), were involved in a tough game too.  The Atlanta Falcons led by their quadruplets (QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, TE Tony Gonzalez, and WR Roddy White) and their attacking defense were not going to give New Orleans their usual 40 points and another easy win.  The game came down to the final seconds after the Falcons had recovered an onside kick.  But Saints S Darren Sharper (NFL leader with 7 INTs) intercepted Matt Ryan’s desperation heave with 3 seconds left to preserve a 35-27 win. The Falcons on offense ran the ball effectively with Turner (20 times for 151 yards and a touchdown) and their defense put more pressure on Saints QB Drew Brees than I have seen all season (2 sacks and numerous other hits).  However the Saints once again proved that they are the “real deal” and it is going to be difficult to stop them.  Right now their offensive line is providing good protection, Brees is looking like a MVP candidate, the Saints have too many offensive weapons to write down, and their defense has 6 TDs off turnovers – the Cleveland Browns offense only has 5 TDs total.  I won’t bring up the 1972 Dolphins’ undefeated season yet, because the Saints have a long way to go but other than games against the Patriots (Week 12), Falcons (Week 14), and Cowboy (15) every other team that the Saints face from here on out has a losing record through 8 weeks.

The St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans both got off the “schnide” by winning their first games of the season — The Rams broke their 17-game losing streak with a road win over the Lions by a score of 17-10.  I would like to have said that quarterback Marc Bulger had a lot to do with the win, but the star of the game clearly was RB Steven Jackson.  The hard-runner and perennial Pro Bowl player finally was rewarded for his efforts with some good blocking as he piled up 149 rushing yards and scored his first touchdown of the season.  The Rams other big play was a touchdown pass from kicker Josh Brown to FB Daniel Fells on a fake field goal in the second quarter.

The Tennessee Titans after a very long bye week decided to go back to the future by inserting 2006 Rookie of the Year QB Vince Young back into the starting lineup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The former franchise quarterback had not started in 22 games and was finally lobbied into the starting lineup by Titans owner Bud Adams.  Young responded passing for numbers 15-18, 125 yards, and 1 TD plus rushing for 30 yards including moving the chains on a couple 3rd down runs.  As good as Young was in the Titans 30-13 win, running back Chris Johnson (see Game Balls) was even better.  One of the NFL’s fastest players streaked to two long touchdown runs in the second half that closed the door on the Jaguars and plucky running back Maurice “Pocket Hercules” Jones-Drew.

There was also:

  • The rested Baltimore Ravens dominated the previously undefeated Denver Broncos 30-7, knocking them from the unbeatens.  The bye week sure was a good thing for Ravens head coach John Harbaugh’s team as the Ravens were focused and energized by their home crowd.  The Ravens defense limited the Broncos to a season-low 200 total yards, forced 1 turnover, produced 2 sacks and on special teams they had a kickoff return for a touchdown.
  • The Carolina Panthers pulling a total reversal from their 2008 playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals.  Quarterback Kurt Warner (see Lloyd’s Lackey) looked like Panthers QB Jake Delhomme in an embarrassing 34-21 home loss.
  • The Philadelphia Eagles tore apart the NY Giants on “Sports Sunday” in South Philly
  • The Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans jumping back in the playoff hunt
  • The Cleveland Browns continuing to look like the NFL’s most pathetic team in a loss to the Chicago Bears

Game Balls

Miami Dolphins WR/KR Ted Ginn – Who needs to play offense anyway?  After being demoted from his starting job (too many drops), Ginn made the most of his opportunities on special teams in the Dolphins 30-25 win over the J-E-T-S.  A special returner coming out of Ohio State, the former track star looked like the real deal again.  Ginn helped pick up the Dolphins’ flagging offense by producing two touchdowns on lengthy 3rd quarter kickoff returns of 101 and 100 yards.  Ginn became the first player in NFL history with two touchdowns of 100 yards in the same game and is the eighth player in NFL history with two kick-return touchdowns in a game.  Ginn also became the first player to record two KR-TDs in the same quarter since Green Bay’s Travis Williams in 1967.

Honorable Mention

Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson – “Every Coach’s Dream” was in full affect as the mercurial running back sprinted the Titans to a much-needed 30-13 win over the Jaguars, for their first win of the season. Johnson ran for a franchise-record 228 rushing yards on 24 carries and scored on two long touchdown runs (52 and 89 yards) that displayed his game-breaking speed.

Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre – In the ultimate “In your face” moment of this week, Favre returned to Lambeau with both guns blazing.  The former Packers legend and current Vikings quarterback threw a season-high four touchdown passes and was never even touched in the pocket (zero sacks) as he piled up superb passing numbers: 17-for-28, 244 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 INTs.  Favre also in his 90th win at Lambeau (2nd only to John Elway’s 95 wins at Mile High) tied Dan Marino’s NFL record of 21 career games with at least four TD passes.  Favre’s record since the second half of the 2006 season is 33-10 games (.767 winning percentage), which is amazing considering the guy is 40 years old.   

Carolina Panthers DE Julius Peppers — And you thought his salary of $1M per week salary was too high (2009 salary of $16M).   Peppers in leading the Panthers to a revenge road win over the Arizona Cardinals had 2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 force fumble, and returned an interception for a touchdown.

Houston Texans running back Ryan Moats – This former Eagles running back, who many in Philly thought didn’t have the football smarts to play the game, busted out in a big way this week.  With starter RB Steve Slaton fumbling his way out of the lineup, it was Moats turn to carry the rock in the Texans 31-10 win over the Buffalo Bills.  The small speedy back ran for 126 yards and 3 TDs plus he was able to block when needed and catch the ball, which are two things Moats had trouble with in Philly.  The Texans are now two games over .500 for the first time in franchise history.

Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd – If you don’t know this rookie’s name, you better learn it quick.  Byrd, a second-round pick from Oregon, had two more interceptions in the Bills’ loss to the Texans.  Byrd also tied an NFL record with three straight games of at least two interceptions. Byrd now has 7 INTs in only 8 games and is on pace to break former Bears’ hard-hitting safety Mark Carrier’s NFL rookie record of 10 picks.

Other Honorees: Titans QB Vince Young (was efficient finishing with solid numbers 15 of 18 passes for 125 yards, 1 TD, and ran 12 times for 30 yards in the Titans first win of 2009); Atlanta Falcons RB Michael Turner (rushed 20 times for 151 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ MNF loss to the Saints); Saints CB Jabari Greer (had a crucial 48-yd interception return for a touchdown in the Saints’ MNF win); St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson (had 149 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season in the Rams’  first win since  October 2008); Eagles FB Leonard Weaver (had a career-high 75 yards rushing yards including a 40-yard touchdown run in the Birds 40-17 win over the G-Men); San Diego Chargers LB Shawne Merriman (registered his first 2 sacks in nearly two years in the Chargers win over the Raiders); Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (scored on a 54-yard touchdown reception in the Eagles’ 40-17 win over Giants.  Became just the second player in NFL history with six touchdowns of 50 + yards in his team’s first seven games of a season – tied HOF Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, LA Rams 1951); Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew (MJD only eight carries  but rushed for 177 yards and two scores 80 and 79 yards in the Jags’ loss to the Titans); Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte (Had 121 yards from scrimmage, including 90 rushing yards, and two touchdowns in the Bears’ win over the Cleveland Browns); Houston Texans LB Brian Cushing (produced 10 tackles, one sack and an interception to end Buffalo’s final drive of the game in the Texans’ 31-10 win over the Bills); Baltimore Ravens CB Lardarius Webb (had three tackles and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Ravens’ 30-7 win over the Broncos); Carolina Panthers’ two-headed running back combo DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (the pair thrashed the NFL’s former #1 rushing defense with Williams finishing with 23 carries for 158 yards and Stewart adding 83 yards and 2 TDs).

Lloyd’s Lackey

Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner – In a game that could have shown that the Cardinals were truly back, Warner was awful in a bad home loss to the Carolina Panthers 34-21.  To make matters worse the Cardinals could have gained ground on the Niners and Seahawks, who both lost.  Warner looked like his counterpart QB Jake Delhomme who was awful and frazzled in the Panthers 2008 playoff loss to the Cardinals.   Warner’s final numbers tell the whole story (27/46, 242 YDS, 2 TD, career-high 5 INTs and 1 lost fumble). In all the Cardinals had six turnovers, all committed by Warner.

Dishonorable Mention

The New York Jets – It is so much easier to talk trash and eat hotdogs on the sidelines when you are beating up the hapless Oakland Raiders.  A week after saying they were going to turn the tables on the AFC East rival the Miami Dolphins this time.  The Jets might have suffered their worst loss of the 2009 season, going down at home by a score of 30-25.  Even though the Dolphins had only 104 yards, they scored on special teams (Ted Ginn) and on defense (Jason Taylor’s fumble return for a touchdown) to put the J-E-T-S away.  And embarrassingly Jets LB Bart Scott refused to give the Dolphins credit for beating his team twice this season.  Maybe their upcoming bye week will be the cure that the Jets need as they are 1-4 record in their last five games.

Cleveland Browns QB Derek Anderson – With rumors swirling that the Browns don’t want to pay incentives on backup QB Brady Quinn’s contract, inexplicably the Dawgs have stuck with Anderson.  In another horrible performance in a bad 30-6 loss to the Chicago Bears, Anderson threw for putrid numbers 6/17, 76 YDS, and 2 INTs.  Anderson’s 2009 statistics stand at a passer rating of 40.6 (lowest-rated quarterback in the NFL), 605 passing yards, 2 TDs, and 7 INTs.  Maybe the Browns should put WR/KR Josh Cribbs (former college QB0 as he is the best quarterback on their roster.  Anderson said after the game as a personal policy he doesn’t look at his statistics, because he knows they’re not pretty.”Honestly, they are garbage,” Anderson recently said.   According to STATS LLC, only Ryan Leaf (34.5 in 2000) and Kerry Collins (37.5 in 2006) have started a season more poorly.

Baltimore Ravens WR Derrick Mason — Totally lost his cool in the Ravens win over the Broncos.  Granted he was upset about a bad call by the officials – imagine that…sorry head of officials Mike Pereira – where they missed a defensive holding call. But Mason went too far screaming an official’s face and then slamming his helmet down on the sideline.  Of course he was flagged for his actions for unsportsmanlike conduct, but enough was enough.  Eventually Ravens head coach John Harbaugh had to calm his star receiver down and cooler heads prevailed.

St. Louis Rams safety James Butler – Made a boneheaded move after picking off Lions QB Matthew Stafford.  Butler caught the ball in the endzone ran out then went back into the endzone where Lions RB Kevin Smith tackled him for a safety. Luckily for Butler the gaffe only cost the Rams two points and they won the game anyway for their first win of the season.

Houston Texans RB Steve Slaton – The former 1,000-yard rusher in 2008 lost the ball again (5 lost fumbles in 2009 including one in the win over the Bills) and may have lost his starting job to emerging runner Ryan Moats.

Seattle Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant – Returned from a back surgery for the first time this season and really struggled as he committed 3 Pass Interference penalties.

Week 8

Sunday, November 1

Baltimore Ravens (4-3) over Denver Broncos (6-1), 30-7

Houston Texans (5-3) over Buffalo Bills (3-5), 31-10

Chicago Bears (4-3) over Cleveland Browns (1-6), 30-6

Dallas Cowboys (5-2) over Seattle Seahawks (2-5), 38-17

Miami Dolphins (3-4) over New York Jets (4-4), 30-25

Indianapolis Colts (7-0) over San Francisco 49ers (3-4), 18-14

Philadelphia Eagles (5-2) over New York Giants (5-3), 40-17

St. Louis Rams (1-7) over Detroit Lions (1-6), 17-10

San Diego Chargers (4-3) over Oakland Raiders (2-6), 24-16

Tennessee Titans (1-6) over Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4), 30-13

Minnesota Vikings (7-1) over Green Bay Packers (4-3), 38-26

Carolina Panthers (3-4) over Arizona Cardinals (4-3), 34-21

Sunday, November 2

New Orleans Saints (7-0) over Atlanta Falcons (4-3), 35-27

Byes: Bengals (5-2), Buccaneers (0-7), Chiefs (1-6), Patriots (5-2), Redskins (2-5), Steelers (5-2)

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)