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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)

A Glimpse at the 2010 NFL Season according to a so-called expert by Lloyd Vance

September 7, 2010 1 comment

NFL Insider Lloyd Vance believes that the 2010 NFL season will be a big year for the Baltimore Ravens and their on-the-field leader Ray Lewis

Once again it is time for me to get out my crystal ball and see if I can prognosticate the upcoming NFL season. However as all of my friends can attest, I have never been totally right or wrong in my predictions.

I can already tell you now that I have never gotten the Super Bowl match-up or champion completely right. Because in the NFL, nothing has ever been won on paper and you always need to remember former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell’s famous line, “On Any Given Sunday”.  Our usual game keys of injuries, luck, preparation and pure want-to will all be huge factors as to who ends up playing at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Super Bowl Sunday (February 6, 2011).

And please tell me who could have predicted in the 2009 NFL Season that the hard-luck New Orleans Saints would finally shake off their long history of failed seasons to win the Super Bowl.  Maybe this is my year to be the envy of my doubters (Big V, I am specifically talking to you).  However you know I will have to eat some crow later this NFL season for some of these predictions.

Of course, my NFL tea-leaf reading is all in good fun, so with the season ready to kickoff –Thursday September 9th with the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints hosting the Minnesota Vikings in a 2009 NFC Championship Game rematch…. We can rejoice and say “Hallelujah” as the 2010 NFL Season is finally here.

NFC  

NFC South

New Orleans Saints       11-5

Atlanta Falcons               10-6

Carolina Panthers            5-11

Tampa Bay Buccaneers    3-13

NFC North

Green Bay Packers      11-5

Minnesota Vikings     9-7

Chicago Bears            6-10

Detroit Lions             5-11

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys         12-4

Washington Redskins 10-6

Philadelphia Eagles      8-8

New York Giants          7-9

NFC West

SF 49ers                     10-6

Arizona Cardinals      9-7

Seattle Seahawks       5-11

St. Louis Rams           3-13

AFC

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts     13-3

Houston Texans         11-5

Tennessee Titans       8-8

Jacksonville Jaguars  3-13 

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens       12-4

Cincinnati Bengals     10-6

Pittsburgh Steelers    9-7

Cleveland Browns      4-12

AFC East

New England Patriots 11-5

New York Jets              9-7

Miami Dolphins          7-9

Buffalo Bills                 2-14

AFC West

Denver Broncos            10-6

San Diego Chargers      8-8

Oakland Raiders           8-8

Kansas City Chiefs       4-12

Playoffs

NFC

Division Champions: Dallas Cowboys (Bye), New Orleans Saints (Bye), Green Bay Packers, SF 49ers

NFC Wild Cards: Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins 

NFC Wild Card Round: Green Bay Packers over Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons over SF 49ers

NFC Divisional Round: Dallas Cowboys over Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers over New Orleans Saints

NFC Championship: Dallas Cowboys over Green Bay Packers

AFC

Division Champions: Indianapolis Colts (Bye), Baltimore Ravens (Bye), New England Patriots, Denver Broncos

AFC Wild Cards: Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals

AFC Wild Card Round: Cincinnati Bengals over New England Patriots, Houston Texans over Denver Broncos

AFC Divisional Round:  Cincinnati Bengals over Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens over Houston Texans

AFC Championship: Baltimore Ravens over Cincinnati Bengals 

Super Bowl XLV: Baltimore Ravens over Dallas Cowboys

Awards

NFL Coach of the Year: Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals

NFL Offensive MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

NFL Defensive MVP:  OLB DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys

NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year:  RB Ryan Matthews, San Diego Chargers

 **Also keep an eye on Detroit Lions RB Jahvid Best, Cincinnati Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham, and Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant

NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: DT Ndamukong Suh, Detoit Lions

** Also keep an eye on Philadelphia Eagles DE Brandon Graham, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, and Oakland Raiders ILB Rolando McClain

NFL Comeback Player of the Year: WR Mike Williams, Seattle Seahawks

** Also keep an eye on Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler, Cincinnati Bengals Cornerback/Kick Returner Adam “Pacman” Jones and New England Patriots WR Wes Welker

Co-NFL Breakout Players:   RB Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders and WR Johnny Knox, Chicago Bears

First Pick of the 2011 NFL Draft: University of Washington QB Jake Locker by the Buffalo Bills

 

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)

Two Players selected in the 2010 NFL Supplemental Draft by Lloyd Vance

Former BYU running back Harvey Unga (Chicago Bears, 7th Rd) was one of two players selected in the 2010 NFL Supplemental Draft

The 2010 NFL Supplemental Draft is in the books and now two players have new homes.  Former BYU tough runner Harvey Unga (taken in the 7th Rd by the Chicago Bears) and former Illinois DT Josh Price-Brent (also taken in the 7th Rd by the Dallas Cowboys) will now go to training camp with their respective teams in hopes of beating the odds and making the 53-man regular season roster.

The Cowboys and Bears will now lose their 7th Rd pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, which will take place next April.  The two other players eligible for Thursday’s dratt, Truman State H-Back Vanness Emokpae and Northwestern State RB Quentin Castille will now hope for a training camp invite as an undrafted free agent or they will have to go the Arena Football / CFL / UFL route into professional football.

Here is a profile of the two players selected:

Dallas Cowboys DT Josh Price-Brent – Another big body for Wade Phillips 3-4 scheme.  Price-Brent will have to learn quickly, but practicing with Pro Bowl NT Jay Ratliff should help.  The former Illini fire hydrant is a big (6’2, 321) tough two-gapper.  Price-Brent had some academic difficulty at Illinois, but he is a cat-quick defensive lineman that compiled stats of 71 tackles, 17½ tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries in 3 years for the Illini. 

Chicago Bears RB Harvey Unga – The Bears were smart to take a flier on this bullish runner from BYU.  Unga (6’1, 244) should help as a FB, HB, 3rd down back and on special teams.  With Chester Taylor and Matthew Forte higher on Chicago’s depth chart, there is a good chance that we may see this former three-time 1,000-yard rusher – compiled stats: 3,446 yards on 692 carries with 35 touchdowns with an additional 102 catches for 1,085 yards and 9 TDs – on his team’s practice squad.

 

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)

The Cowboys re-tender receiver Miles Austin

Cowboys WR Miles Austin may soon be entering Brandon Marshall’s pay level

Recently the Dallas Cowboys re-issued their restricted free agent tender offer to unsigned wide receiver Miles Austin — worth $3.168 million.  Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones has smartly said that his organization wants to work out a long-term deal for Austin, who earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2009 while establishing career highs in receptions (81), yards (1,320) and touchdowns (11).

In my opinion, even though the Cowboys already have pass catchers WR Sam Hurd, WR Patrick Crayton, WR Roy Williams, and TE Jason Witten under contract plus drafting Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant too (1st round of the 2010 NFL Draft) it would be behoove them to get the 25-year old emerging star locked-up.  The former special teamer turned No. 1 receiver was one of the main reasons that Dallas scored 361 points in 2009, set a team single-season mark with 6,390 total net yards and won their first playoff game since 1996.

Austin led the NFL with 8 receiving touchdowns of 20+ yards and he also joined former Cowboys’ greats Michael Irvin and Terrell Owens in the team’s 1,250+ receiving yards in season club. The former Monmouth star, like all other restricted free agents, will have until June 15 to sign his tender. If Austin doesn’t sign, by that date the Cowboys could cut his salary to $1.65 million.

Other prominent restricted free agents recently receiving a second tender offer included: Cardinals OG Deuce Lutui, Vikings DE Ray Edwards, and Packers safety Atari Bigby.

2010 NFL Restricted Free Agent Notes

Here is a team-by-team look at their remaining unsigned restricted free agents along with the RFA’s tender information. 

The Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, SF 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and St. Louis Rams don’t have any unsigned RFA’s entering 2010 training camp.

Arizona Cardinals  

Deuce Lutui, G, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $1.1705M

Baltimore Ravens 

Jared Gaither, T, three (3) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First Round, $2.396M; Reduced Tender Amount: $506,000; Difference: $1.89M

Le’Ron McClain, RB, three (3) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First Round, $2.396M; Reduced Tender Amount: $506,000; Difference: $1.89M

Dawan Landry, S, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $1.111M; Difference: $648,000

Carolina Panthers

Thomas Davis, LB, five (5) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.268M; Reduced Tender Amount: $2.42M; Difference: $848,000

Richard Marshall, CB, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $1.17M

Cleveland Browns

Abram Elam, S, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $1.265M; Difference: $494,000

Jerome Harrison, RB, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $1.1705M

D’Qwell Jackson, LB, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $704,000; Difference: $1.055M

Matt Roth, LB, five (5) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.809M; Reduced Tender Amount: $770,000; Difference: $1.039M

Lawrence Vickers, FB, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $1.1705M

Dallas Cowboys

Miles Austin, WR, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.168M; Reduced Tender Amount: $1.6995M; Difference: $1.4685M 

Denver Broncos

Elvis Dumervil, LB, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.168M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $2.5795M

Green Bay Packers

Atari Bigby, S, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $1.6995M; Difference: $59,500

Johnny Jolly, DE, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First Round, $2.521M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $1.9325M

Tramon Williams, CB, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.043M; Reduced Tender Amount: $577,500; Difference: $2.4655M

Houston Texans

Owen Daniels, TE, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.168M; Reduced Tender Amount: $3.0712M; Difference: $96,800

Indianapolis Colts

Antoine Bethea, S, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First Round, $2.521M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $1.9325M

Kansas City Chiefs

Jarrad Page, S, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $1.6995M; Difference: $59,500

Miami Dolphins

Ronnie Brown, RB, five (5) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First Round, $3.969M; Reduced Tender Amount: Not Applicable – Tender amount already 110% of 2009 base salary

Anthony Fasano, TE, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Original Round, $1.176M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $587,500

Minnesota Vikings

Ray Edwards, DE, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First Round, $2.521M; Reduced Tender Amount: $1.111M; Difference: $1.41M

New England Patriots

Logan Mankins, G, five (5) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.268M; Reduced Tender Amount: $1.54M; Difference: $1.728M

New Orleans Saints

Jammal Brown, OT, five (5) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.619M; Reduced Tender Amount: Not Applicable – Tender amount already 110% of 2009 base salary

Roman Harper, S, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First Round, $2.521M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $1.9325M

Lance Moore, WR, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $1.6995M; Difference: $59,500

Pierre Thomas, RB, three (3) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.684M; Reduced Tender Amount: $506,000; Difference: $1.178M

San Diego Chargers

Malcolm Floyd, WR, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.168M; Reduced Tender Amount: $1.6995M; Difference: $1.4685M

Vincent Jackson, WR, five (5) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.268M; Reduced Tender Amount: $682,000; Difference: $2.586M

Marcus McNeill, OT, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.168M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $2.5975M

Shawne Merriman, LB, five (5) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.269M; Reduced Tender Amount: Not Applicable – Tender amount already 110% of 2009 base salary

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Donald Penn, OT, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First and Third Round, $3.168M; Reduced Tender Amount: $3.0712M; Difference: $96,800

Tennessee Titans

LB Stephen Tulloch, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: First Round, $2.521M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $1.9325M

Washington Redskins

Rocky McIntosh, LB, four (4) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Second Round, $1.759M; Reduced Tender Amount: $588,500; Difference: $1.1705M

Carlos Rogers, CB, five (5) accrued seasons

Tender Level, 2010 Base Salary: Original Round, $1.542M

Reduced Tender Amount: Not Applicable – Tender amount already 110% of 2009 base salary

 

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)

2009 NFL Playoffs – Divisional Round Preview by Lloyd Vance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others storylines to follow in the divisional round include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2009 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Games

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

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

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

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

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

Broadcast Team: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broadcast Team: Jim Nance and Phil Simms

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

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

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

The 2009 Philadelphia Eagles season ends by Lloyd Vance

With the Eagles’ disappointing lopsided playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys, many questions surround the team going into the offseason including will QB Donovan McNabb be back

The Philadelphia Eagles once promising 2009 NFL season came to a sudden and disappointing end as the Dallas Cowboys sent the Birds home with a dominating 34-14 victory in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.  I will not go into the gruesome game details, because in every phase the Cowboys dominated. 

The Cowboys removed their playoff monkey from their back – first playoff win since 1996 — by running the ball with effectiveness, some timely passing, and by smacking the Eagles offense — 3rd in the NFL in scoring coming into the game — in the mouth again and again.

Eagles’ receivers were unable to get off the line of the scrimmage and their rebuilt offensive line looked like they had not played together at all.  I could go on and on, but I know in the end, Eagles QB Donovan McNabb will receive the brunt of the playoff loss.  McNabb was not at his best, which is being kind.  He was harassed in the pocket and when he did throw the ball he was often times inaccurate.  The 33-year old quarterback finished with numbers 19 of 37 for 230 yards, with a touchdown and an interception plus a fumble lost.

In watching McNabb, I had the same feeling that I had watching former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham struggle in his final game with the team, also a playoff loss to the Cowboys.  The much maligned quarterback was already on a very hot seat entering the season and his playoff performance will only add fuel to the fire of his doubters.

McNabb has said, “I want to be here and don’t want to be anywhere else”.  We will see after a season where the Eagles set a scoring record of 429 points if they believe that indeed that McNabb is the leader to take youngsters DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy, and others to the next level.  My feeling is that the Eagles have already made their bed by conceivably letting McNabb enter the 2010 season in the last year of his contract.

Of course McNabb is the focal figure on the hot seat after the Cowboys’ playoff bludgeoning, but he is not alone.  Eagles head coach and VP of everything Andy Reid is right next to his struggling quarterback.  After the game, Reid tried to over and over tip his cap to the Cowboys.  But the real story was the Eagles inability to keep up with a Cowboys team that has now passed them – outscored 78-30 in three losses to Dallas.  Yes the Eagles won over 100 games last decade, but past success doesn’t mean anything to loyal fans that have not seen a Super Bowl trophy during Reid’s tenure that started in 1999.

Some fans and evaluators may point to the team’s woes against Dallas of being McNabb, turnovers, non in-game adjustments, failing to run the football, poor coverage by the safeties and linebackers plus other excuses. But I believe that personnel is the largest problem for the Eagles.  Defenders of the team will point to overcoming injuries and an 11-win regular season, but in the end the Birds only beat one winning team in 2009 – Atlanta Falcons (9-7) – and were 0-5 against 2009 playoff teams. 

Over and over in his press conference, Reid said the Cowboys kicked his team’s butt and he was right.  Though the Eagles have some young studs, there are some glaring holes and Reid – makes all of the personnel calls – has to take a hard look in the mirror to move this team back to the NFL’s elite. 

Throughout the 2000’s no one ever thought that the Eagles could match-up with any opponent, but Dallas had a game plan (run the ball, look for turnovers, harass McNabb, and attack the Eagles’ smallish defense) and executed it to perfection based on positive personnel battles. 

Will year twelve of the Andy Reid regime bring a championship? We will have to wait and see, now it is on to the 2010 draft in trying to catch the Cowboys and the rest of the teams that will be playing next week.

The Eagles’ 2010 Draft List should include:

  1. LB – The season-ending injury to MLB Stewart Bradley (knee) in the pre-season hurt, but this unit had too many coverage lapses and missed tackles.  Sure veteran Jeremiah Trotter came out of retirement, but this group needed so much more.  The entire linebacking unit only had 4.5 sacks and 4 interceptions.  The NFL is now built on hybrid players and schemes at the LB area – see Cowboys LB’s Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware.  4-3 teams often incorporate 3-4 schemes and pass rushing based on the talent at LB.  The Eagles biggest problem is the aforementioned game-changing plays, but coverage is also a concern as teams like to run play action and screens on them.
  2. Safety — Sean Jones and Macho Harris were not the answer to replace Brian Dawkins (35-year old made the Pro Bowl for the Broncos).  Too many missed tackles and blown coverage assignments.  Also SS Quinton Mikell struggled without Dawkins.
  3. O-line – The guys upfront were influx all year and it looked like they never got on the same page.  From the Andrews brothers fiasco to Jason Peters struggling to center Jamal Jackson’s season-ending knee injury.  The Eagles could not run in some key short yardage situations and McNabb was sacked too often.
  4. DE – The Eagles got heat from a variety of players (44 sacks), but other than Pro Bowl player Trent Cole (12.5) no one had double digits.  Another young two way DE that can rush the passer is needed.
  5. RB – Brian Westbrook after missing 8 games and at age 30, just doesn’t look like he has much left in the tank.  LeSean McCoy is a good young back, but a partner better than Eldra Buckley is needed.

 

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 – Wild Card Round Saturday Games Preview by Lloyd Vance

NY Jets (9-7) AT Cincinnati Bengals (10-6), Saturday January 9th, 4:30 PM ET on NBC

Broadcast Team: Tom Hammond, Joe Gibbs, Joe Theismann, Tiki Barber (Field reporter)

Let’s Do It Again…but this time, the game will be in Cincy.  Last week, the NY Jets needed a win to get in the playoffs and they dominated the Bengals by a score of 37-0.  I don’t know if the Bengals are suffering from playing a long hard 2009 season, where they lost both WR Chris Henry and the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, but they need to look more like the team that swept the AFC North (6-0) than the group that has gone 3-4 in their last 7 games.

The Bengals have been a great turnaround story this season – won AFC North for the second time under head coach Marvin Lewis after starring on HBO’s Hard Knocks – but they are playing a young and energetic NY Jets team led by brash rookie head coach Rex Ryan.  The veteran defensive minded coach is trying to become 10th rookie head coach since 1990 to win his playoff debut.  Much like his father, former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator has brought a “swagger” and a defensive presence to New York.  The Jets won five of their last six games after losing six of their previous seven games to make the playoffs.  New York allowed 252.3 yards per game and 14.8 points per game, which were both NFL-lows.

However as good as the Jets has been on defense, other than their vaunted running game – led the NFL with 172.3 rushing yards per game – New York has struggled to move the football offensively.  Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Ryan have developed an offense that relies on RB’s Thomas Jones (1,402 yards and 14 TDs – both 3rd in the NFL) and rookie Shonn Greene plus Wildcat QB Brad Smith (92 yards rushing yards including a 32-yard TD run last week) in an attempt to hide rookie starting QB Mark Sanchez (196-364, 2444 yards, 12 TDs, 20 INTs, and a 63.0 QB rating).  The USC rookie played well through the Jets’ first few games, but lately he has been a turnover machine.  Even in last week’s blowout of the Bengals, Sanchez had mediocre numbers of 8 for 16 passing for 63 yards.  If the Jets are to win, Sanchez is going to need to provide more and may have to throw the ball more than 20 times, mostly likely to his favorite target Braylon Edwards (35 catches for 541 yards and 4 TDs with the Jets). Look for the Jets to run at the injury-depleted Bengals defense — 257 rushing yards in Week 17 — that earlier lost big D-linemen Pat Sims (forearm) and Domata Peko (season-ending knee surgery).  Conversely, the Bengals (301.4 yards allowed – 3rd in AFC) will be looking to pressure Sanchez in the hope of more picks to their talented cornerback duo of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph (career-high 6 INTs).

Offensively, the Bengals have a Fantasy Football roster of weapons including former Pro Bowl players QB Carson Palmer (282-466, 3094 yards, 21 TDs, and 13 INTs), RB Cedric Benson (over 1,200 yards), RB Larry Johnson, and WR Chad Ochocinco.  But last week the Bengals were pathetic against the Jets’ defense and will need to do better –1 for 11 on third downs and finished with just 72 net yards on offense.  In front of their home crowd, the Bengals will need to establish Benson and Johnson against the Jets’ stout defense led by their LB’s Bart Scott, Danny Harris (ankle), and Calvin Pace.  If the Bengals running game can produce some yards, then Palmer can go play-action which should help his mediocre numbers from last week — career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7).  But the Bengals will need find a way to get their catalyst Ochocinco (72 catches for 1,047 yards and 9 TDs) going.  The talkative receiver last week after bragging and “Tweeting” that he would show NY Jets Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis (6 INTs), “How to play the game”, never showed up.  Ochocinco was held to no catches (first time since September 29, 2002, a span of 120 games) and to make matters worse he tweaked his knee in warm-ups after slipping on the cold Meadowlands turf.  All indications are that No. 85 will play in the game and the Bengals will need him.

LV’s Pick: Last week you saw that the Jets are surging while the Bengals have not been able to sustain their early season success. But to me this game boils down to “physicality”.  The Jets can run the ball, control the clock, and produce turnovers.  The Bengals despite some good running backs are a passing team that is missing that does not have a deep threat any longer.  Unless Sanchez has an interception party, expect the Jets to win an ugly defensive game in the cold of Cincinnati – Jets win 17-13.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-5), Saturday January 9th, 8:00 PM ET on NBC

Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Andrea Kremer (Field reporter).

If you thought the stakes were high in Week 17’s NFC East title showdown, then buckle-up because this is the playoffs and Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar playpen will be rocking.  The Eagles and Cowboys will play for the 3rd time this season after Dallas swept the other two games for the first time since 2005.  Not to bring up some awful info for Eagles fans, last week in one of the league’s most anticipated Week 17 games, the Cowboys won in dominant fashion by a score of 24-0 to claim the NFC East crown – first since 2005.  So with the thought that just 6 days earlier they dominated the Birds, the Cowboys are hoping to duplicate the efforts of the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers.  Last year’s Super Bowl champs beat the Baltimore Ravens three times, including in the AFC Championship game, on their way to the title.  Since 1970, 19 teams have gone 2-0 against an opponent in the regular season and then faced that club in the playoffs.  Surprisingly, the sweeping team has won the postseason meeting 12 times (63.2 percent).  On the other side of the rubber match, the Eagles will be trying to follow in the footsteps of the 2007 New York Giants who defeated the Cowboys in the Divisional round after Dallas had defeated them twice in the regular season.

The history between these two teams is lengthy (played 98 times with the Cowboys holding an edger of 55-43), but you know the recent Dallas’ star spitting incident involving Eagles web guy Dave Spadaro will make fans from both sides even more heated.  This will be the 4th time these two teams have met in the playoffs, but Saturday’s meeting will be the first time since 1995 when the Cowboys thumped the Eagles 30-11 – the Cowboys have won 2 of previous 3 playoff meetings.  The key player of the game will be much-maligned Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who broke three team single-season passing records this season — completions, pass attempts and yards – but as everyone knows he is 0-2 in two playoff starts.  Romo will be trying to put away his bobbled snap on a potential game-winning field from the Cowboys loss to the Seahawks in 2006 and his Cobo trip during the team’s bye week before their loss to the Giants.

But Romo and the Cowboys definitely have a new swagger about themselves after winning the NFC East for the first time since 2007 and putting up a respectable 3-2 record in December and January this season. Included in that end of season success were a huge win over the formerly undefeated New Orleans Saints and posting back-to-back shutouts in Weeks 16 and 17 over the Redskins and Eagles.  Make no bones about it, the Cowboys are a hot team right now, they won their regular-season finale for the first time since 1999, have won 3 straight games and swept the Eagles for the first time since 2005.  The Cowboys in their Week 17 win over the Eagles established the run early with power running Marion Barber and speedy Felix Jones (ran for 179 yards on just 19 rushes).  Then Romo hit some big throws to WR Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten as he was only sacked once by Philadelphia.  To show the Cowboys dominance in Week 17, Dallas had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession.  Look for the Cowboys to go right back to that same plan unless Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott can dial-up “pressure” that his mentor the late Jim Johnson was so great at doing against Romo and the Cowboys.  The key players for the Eagles defense will be Pro Bowl players CB Asante Samuel (9 INTs) and DE Trent Cole (11.5 sacks), but others, namely the Birds underachieving linebackers, will need to step-up.

When the Eagles have the ball offensive, they will need to get more out of their running game (only 37 rushing yards last week) and establish veteran running back Brian Westbrook and rookie LeSean McCoy on screens.  The Eagles lack of a running game or balance, allowed the Cowboys to harass Eagles QB Donovan McNabb all-day with 4 sacks to show for their efforts.  The Birds were never able to find explosive Pro Bowl WR DeSean Jackson (An NFL record 8 TDs of 50 yards +) or rookie Jeremy Maclin.  The Eagles failed to score and had their 6-game winning streak snapped – in 21 possessions against the Cowboys this season, Philly has produced 7 points.  With Dallas Cowboys head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips running the show, the Cowboys defense has been awesome — allowed 37 points in their last four games and became the first defense to post back-to-back shutouts since 2000.  The Cowboys 2nd ranked NFL Defense will count on pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer plus Pro Bowl NT Jay Ratliff.  If the Eagles are to have any success against Ware and his mates, McNabb will need to make plays in and out of the pocket plus spread the ball around to everyone and not just emerging TE Brent Celek.

LV’s Pick: Last week the Cowboys dominated by a score of 24-0 and everyone is now picking them to finally end their playoff futility by beating Philly – Dallas has not won a playoff game since 1996.  However when I look at this match-up I have to point to the quarterbacks and head coaches.  Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid has never lost in an opening playoff game (7-0) while Phillips has zero playoff wins under his belt going back to his days in Denver.  McNabb is 9-6 playoff games and Romo has well documented playoff struggles.  With all of the pressure on the Cowboys, expect a looser Eagles teams to be more prepared.  The Eagles win a hard fought game on a David Akers field goal.  — Eagles win 23-20