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NFL 2017 Inc.

No matter where you fall on the side of excitement over football this year two things are for certain:

  1. It has waned for everyone thanks to the issues of long term effects and all the information being fed to parents about it.
  2. Football still remains far and away the most popular sport in America.

The fact that its still a ratings bonanza for every network means it still gets to swing its dick in every room its in.  So when Roger Goodell gets to play cop and supersede the investigation done by law enforcement and hand a six game punishment to Ezekiel Elliiot, which got reversed by a federal judge on Friday, a mere 24 hours before the Cowboys and Giants were set to open the season against each other.

Of course in a weird twist, he was eligible to play in Sunday’s game but that’s neither here nor there.

The NFL has gifted its Commissioner with a brand new contract extension but i wonder if Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft, two of the most powerful owners are waking up this morning exactly thrilled with the Commissioner’s powers.  He suspended Tom Brady four games for his dubious role in DeflateGate, which while it thrilled me as a Giants fan, always seemed like payback for the Patriots constantly getting themselves into these investigations after the Commissioner slapped them on the wrist for Spygate and told them “don’t do that again”.

But the NFL isn’t suffering because Roger Gooddell sucks as a Commissioner.  Or because of a looming (in 2021 no less) labor strike that’s almost guaranteed to happen.  Oh and once the new TV contracts come in the owners may be working off numbers that the players may not necessarily like.

The NFL is suffering because its retired players are and its current personnel are taking notice.  Consider that the average NFL player’s career lasts four years.  Most will never take home the millions that playing in a major professional sports league promise, but all will take home scar tissue created by sometimes almost a decade spent sustaining car crash like hits to the head and body.

Consider players like 23-year-old Su’a Cravens from the Washington Redskins who will spend the next month contemplating retirement.  Or the slew of 20-somethings who have already decided to retire early before the damage becomes permanent and affects their post-football life.

The NFL’s contract structure guarantees its players very little and gives ownership outs once the player is no longer fit to compete.  It seems unfair to ask players to continue risking its body for an opportunity that isn’t guaranteed but that’s how the NFL has always been and it doesn’t seem like it will change despite what Odell Beckham will try.  It remains to be seen what change the NFLPA can affect in the next labor negotiations but many things will be on its mind, namely the safety of its constituent base.  If not for a bigger share of the profits to then be put into a retirement fund, but at the very least to reduce the Commissioner’s power as its only legislative body dispensing his justice.

The best theory I heard about Gooddell’s recent run of challenging his sport’s best players is to do the bidding of the owners (his bosses) to undermine the players.  If you reduce them to interchangeable parts and tell everyone that nobody is special then you can negotiate from that position.  That’s where the biggest challenge will be.  It will be interesting nonetheless.

But it may blind them from the bigger issue which is to reduce the number of games (i’m looking at you preseason) that puts its best stars in dangerous spots in meaningless situations.

Moving on, I’m going to preview the season by doing my first power rankings in four tiers: Tier IV- No shot, Tier III- long shot, Tier II- raised eyebrow, Tier I- contender.

I have my picks for week 1 in the next column- enjoy

TIER IV- NO SHOT

32. New York Jets-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 1000-to-1

Outlook: Call this season what you will but the Jets are like that Delta jet that decided to race Hurricane Irma.  Sounds dumb but you have a duty to your customers.  The Jets should consider forfeiting the season but have a duty to their customers to show up physically for 16 games but every move they made this offseason from trading Sheldon Richardson to releasing Brandon Marshall was done with the future in mind.  Much of the Jet fanbase will be watching college football more intently than they do any of their games but consider this.  The defense is decent, but with a paper thin offense it will be tough to watch.  The Jets will need another season or two, after this to fully rebuild itself from this doldrum.  Not like the owner will be around to enforce any of this anyway.

31. Buffalo Bills-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 200-to-1

Outlook: The Sean McDermott led Bills made a conscious decision to remove a bunch of its former young stars via trades or letting them walk out of the complex (mostly to New England) to greener pastures.  What it did is set them up for a bountiful future.  What the Bills will do this year is play decent up front on both sides and figure out if Tyrod Taylor has any trade value.  They long ago wrote him off as a starting NFL QB and will hope to recoup some value by the trade deadline (my guess) to get more picks in the event that a team that fancies itself a playoff contender will need a competent QB.  At the very least they have a ton of picks to fall back on while the season plays itself out in Western New York.

30. Cleveland Browns-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The only reason i have them ahead of the Bills is because their rebuild is in the second phase.  The Harvard bred, forward thinking front office of the Browns has built the team in a very old school way.  They handed out a ton of money to help build one of the better offensive lines and are using the draft to build its defense.  Myles Garrett looks like a generational talent at the defensive end position and the position-less Jabrill Peppers will likely line up in the backend and use his athleticism to affect the deep pass accuracy of his opponents.  But the Browns are betting they have hit on QB already by naming third round draft pick DeShone Kizer as their starting QB.  Is it truly hard to think that a team with a stout offensive line and a rookie QB can make some noise this season?  Where have i seen that before?

29. Chicago Bears
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: This seems like a good time to mention that the John Fox tenure at Chicago is about to come to an end.  That’s the deciding factor in why I put them behind the San Francisco 49ers.  The Bears have a bad front office but have the pieces that should make them attractive to any coach-GM candidate.  The key to this season will be when Mitchell Trubisky becomes the starting QB and the city of Chicago will be on edge.  The future of GM Ryan Pace will be on the line.  If he shows any kind of promise it may be enough to keep him on the job but if this season ends as disastrously he may be on a one way ticket out.

28. San Francisco 49ers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: We can all agree that Jed York is a bad owner and his decision to pick Trent Baalke over Jim Harbaugh likely set his franchise back.  But now he’s armed a GM with no experience and a head coach with zero prior experience.  While every decision will be viewed from that perspective, I liked their draft, and their steadfast nature to select the best player available.  That’s how every rebuilding team should approach the draft.  Kyle Shanahan has decent pieces on offense to make them a threat to any team that thinks they can sleep walk to a win.  It makes them intriguing for the season and should help the Niners start moving forward.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Even with dictator Coughlin manning the front office rather than the sideline expect the team to be fashioned in his image.  An imposing defense and hopes that the run game keeps the offense on the field long enough to give the defense rest and makes the defense play closer to the line so Blake Bortles can throw it deep to Allen Robinson.  While I think that seems unlikely, they will make betting against them tough.  MY prediction is that Leonard Fournette is the least likeliest to succeed in the NFL.

26. Miami Dolphins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: Jay Cutler.  Every Bears fan, and every Denver Broncos fan know what this means.  Cutler is a nightmare to predict and the fact that many predict him to have his most productive year now that he’s reunited with former OC Adam Gase is beyond foolish.  What makes people think that Jay Cutler will be better than he was in his other stops in the NFL?  What makes people think Jay Ajayi is a top 10 back in the NFL?  His overall stats were solid but consider that outside of 3 games (1 against Pittsburgh, and 2 against Buffalo) where he had nearly half his year’s output, he had only one other 100 yard game.  I just don’t think this team will be the main deterrent to New England that some think.

25. Washington Redskins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: the offseason was mired in a standoff with QB Kirk Cousins who may already have one foot in San Francisco.  If that happens, the Redskins will be left to head into next season without a QB of the future and outside of a drafting slot to get one of the top QB’s expected to enter next year’s draft.  But there will be enticing options and Jay Gruden has shown that he can turn a late round draft pick into a good QB.  Kirk Cousins is in the Alex Smith memorial hall of fame of guys who seem to lead their teams to respectability at the least while not scaring any defense or opposing fan base.  That Week 17 game where the Redskins had everything to play for and the Giants had nothing to play for shows you exactly who Kirk Cousins is: he can get you to the door, he doesn’t have the ability to walk through.

TIER III: Long Shot

24. Los Angeles Rams
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: I like them even without Uncle Wade having his best toy to play with heading into Week 1 at the least in Aaron Donald.  But regardless, the Rams should be improved with Wade’s aggressive scheme.  Hiring a QB-guru-centric coach is the right way to go but getting a home crowd advantage may prove difficult in a town that has rarely shown an interest in football before.  Consider the improvement in the defense and a safer approach to Jared Goff’s development and the addition of Sammy Watkins as steps in the right direction.

23. Detroit Lions
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The Lions paid Matthew Stafford on a season where he improved his efficiency and helped his team to an above average record in close games.  The Lions were 8-4 in one possession games.  Make them even .500 and the division race isn’t even close.  The Lions will hope that games don’t end up that close by upgrading the offensive line but their defense remains suspect and that’s going to be too much to overcome.

22. Indianapolis Colts
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Scott Tolzien is starting week 1.  Which means all of the proclamations of Andrew Luck’s health improving were all fluff.  You have to worry about the organization’s franchise guy if the reports of him missing a significant portion of the season are true.  Not when Tennessee has a chance to be legit contenders this year.  Let’s see.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  The Ringer’s Robert Mays put it best: the Bengals don’t do anything particularly well.  They are just solid on both fronts.  Losing their first round pick for a few games will hurt Andy Dalton but then Andy Dalton wasn’t likely to lead the Bengals to anywhere but 8-8.  Dalton and the Bengals need to break up for both their own good.

20. Denver Broncos
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  The Broncos ultimately won the Brock Ostweiler deal even if they don’t have much to show for it.  Their defense will remain elite, but their offense won’t be unless Jamaal Charles returns to Chiefs form.  The Broncos play the style of one cut line play that fits what Charles can do but without his elite burst it may be a lot of 2nd and 8’s in the Broncos future.

19. Baltimore Ravens
Odds to win Super Bowl: 50-to-1

Outlook: This is one of two teams I’m leaving out of the contender talk but I can see a scenario in which they challenge for the division crown.  I love their defense and John Harbaugh coaches the team well.  Joe Flacco will have a decent set of weapons (none inspiring enough to make me consider them legit contenders) but ultimately won’t prove enough to overthrow the Steelers from taking the division.

18. Houston Texans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Ton of positive momentum stemming from JJ Watt’s incredible work as humanitarian/fundraiser stemming from Hurricane Harvey’s relief efforts.  But while this defense will remain elite, consider the offense’s ceiling to depend on when they feel comfortable enough to run Deshaun Watson out there.  He will take some lumps this season but this is about the future and the quicker Bill O’Brien realizes it, taking a step back, to potentially take a few steps forward, the better off the Texans will be for the future.

17. New Orleans Saints
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: These are ridiculous odds based solely out of some gumbo-eating handicapper.  There is nothing the Saints did this offseason that make them 25-to-1 odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl.  Nothing.  Drew Brees will do his thing on offense but losing Brandin Cooks was bad but necessary.  Not getting Malcolm Butler was a curious decision in that trade but a first rounder on the OL was another curious decision.   This is a big year for the Mickey Loomis/Sean Payton team.  If this season turns bad, expect major changes in the Bayou.

TIER II: RAISED EYEBROWS

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  I’m taking points off for being on Hard Knocks.  Jameis has all the weapons on offense to realize his true potential.  This is the year we find out if he can overcome his mental mistakes.  There’s just too many moments where we heard Dirk Koetter scold him for making a poor decision.  He takes way too many chances.  This team is good enough to be 12-4 this year but it will all depend on how many times Dirk Koetter has to scold Winston.

15. Los Angeles Chargers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 60-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s a dark horse candidate to legitemately surprise people.  There’s been too many times this team has been snakebitten for one year not to go their way.  Rivers has a very good complement of weapons to put up his usual stats and the defense has an absolute stud in Joey Bosa who will terrorize opposing QB’s alongside Melvin Ingram.  Expect this team to be the talk of LA and the one difficult ticket in their 30,000 seat stadium.

14. Arizona Cardinals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  If everything about Bruce Arians wanting to chuck it deep more is true, expect Carson Palmer to have a really good year.  David Johnson is enough to scare defenses that they CAN be aggressive deep because of the many ways that he threatens a defense.  Expect the Cards to be terrific and Hasaan Reddick to have the best year from any defensive player from this draft.

13. Carolina Panthers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 30-to-1

Outlook:  The great white hope Chrisian McCaffrey will be a test in where the RB position is headed.  Teams are now looking for the next David Johnson and the Panthers may feel like they have their guy in McCaffrey who will line up in multiple ways.  Keeping him on a pitch count will help keep Jonathan Stewart AND Cam Newton healthy.  I would not be shocked by a F U year from Cam and the Panthers to put them back in the discussion as among the league’s best.

12. Tennessee Titans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 20-to-1

Outlook:  The trendy AFC contender pick.  Mariota still seems like a gimmick QB to me and for me he’s the one guy that can drive this ship to be champions or not.  They will win the South but I have my reservations in putting my faith in a gimmick QB and a coach named Mularkey.

11. Minnesota Vikings
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook: Ton of Super Bowl talk with a defense ready to contend but I still don’t see them being better than the Packers.  Do you?  Regardless, Sam Bradford is on injury alert for me.  His stats were misleading last year as he led the league in accuracy but his yards per attempt were the lowest out of all QB’s who started atlas 15 games.  The Vikings need Bradford to take a step forward.  It might be too much as he’s now in journeyman phase of his career.

10. Philadelphia Eagles
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s the other team that could potentially upset the natural order of things in the division. There’s a clear path forward for this team.  They improved a receiving corps that hindered QB Carson Wentz’ development.  Even a slight improvement by Alshon Jeffrey and co will make the Eagles a looming threat to both the Giants and Cowboys.  I can see them being no less than 3rd in this division and can easily see them playing important games in late December for playoff positioning.

9. Kansas City Chiefs
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: Double check those odds after a decisive Week 1 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots where it looked like they cloned dynamic offensive talent Tyreek Hill in Kareem Hunt, their rookie RB who had the best debut fantasy performance by a rookie running back in history.  I still don’t trust Alex Smith to lead an NFL franchise to the promised land.  With Eric Berry landing on IR with a ruptured achilles the back end of KC’s defense takes a huge blow given how many athletic tight ends there are in the league.  Berry was an equalizer far too few teams in the NFL have.

TIER I: The Contenders

8. Dallas Cowboys
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: Someone will have to explain the Cowboys rosy outlook given the turnover they had on defense.  I get what they are doing on defense, but have they really improved?  Wasn’t last year the high watermark for Dak’s efficiency?  Isn’t losing two of their offensive line starters going to cost them? They can’t possibly better thant hey were last year when they went 13-3 right?  Am i clouded by my Giants fan bias?

7. New York Giants
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: The offensive line still makes me uneasy.  But the defense only gets better with continuity and adding a big hulking receiver in Brandon Marshall makes them better in the red zone.  A lot of guys played beyond expectation last year and expecting that kind of projection to continue would be unrealistic.  But I think this offense plays better and my spidey-senses are tingling about this season.

6. Oakland Raiders
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: I don’t get this line.  If there’s one team that can have all the goodwill undone from the previous year, its this team.  I don’t buy the Marshawn Lynch addition as a reason to push them over the top but a good QB like Derek Carr can offset a lot.  Ask the Giants from last year.  I think Carr is a top 8 QB in the NFL.  But I don’t buy this team as a legit Super Bowl threat.  I’m just not willing to bet that they take a huge fall from last year but the first four games will be telling.

5. Atlanta Falcons
Odds to win Super Bowl: 16-to-1

Outlook: There’s got to be a Super Bowl hangover.  You don’t lose that game, THAT WAY and come back like nothing ever happened.  Matt Ryan is in a contract year and seeing what QB’s are making must have him salivating.  Steve Sarkisian, new OC for the Falcons won’t shy away from taking chances and that’s exactly the mindset you need after losing the Super Bowl for, taking chances.  Kudos to coach Dan Quinn for wanting to maintain that identity despite what the naysayers will say.  Expect a YUUUUGE year from Julio Jones.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 10-to-1

Outlook: If there’s a team that can dethrone the Patriots its this team.  If the Chiefs showed that you can play man-defense and the Pats are really going to be that thin on defense, the Steelers may have the offense to beat the Pats even in Foxboro.  But for the Steelers to have any chance in January, they better be hosting the Patriots.  Even then it may not matter given their recent history.

3. Green Bay Packers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: Sunday’s season opener between the Seahawks and Packers will legitimately have a chance to decide who hosts who in the NFC championship game so writing off Week one won’t be easy for the loser of this game.  The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and a bevy of weapons on offense against that spectacular defense.  I still think the Seahawks are a better team overall and John Schneider made sure of that with the slew of trades he made to fortify this team’s depth.  Sunday afternoon should be eye opening.

2. Seattle Seahawks
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: The Seahawks doubled down on their strengths and moved the needle slightly on offense which may have given Russell Wilson another half second to play with which may be enough.  The responsibility of keeping Wilson upright falls on a very shaky O-line which had two more starters go down with season ending injuries but expect Wilson to play almost MVP-like to lead the team to the Superbowl in a rematch against…

1, New England Patriots
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 11-to-4

Outlook: We’ve been down the road before where early in the season Tom Brady doesn’t look like himself and his demise is prematurely being discussed because…ratings.  But make no mistake, this team beefed up on offense and I trust Bill Belichieck to get his team ready on defense every week.  Against the Chiefs the Pats seemed to play against their natural instinct to be aggressive and made some uncharacteristic mistakes which swung the game in KC’s favor.  Don’t expect those mistakes to continue.  Brady is mad.  And when Brady is mad, that usually means good things for the Patriots and bad things for the rest of the league

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Daily Rounds 1/15/2012

On a relatively quiet sports….ok fine, even I couldn’t hold back.  The 49ers defeated the Saints 36-32 in a 60 minute thriller/Instant classic game that will go down as this season’s best game likely.  While people are trying to come up with a proper title for that amazing comeback engineered by Alex Smith (the Post?), thirty years after “The Catch”, these Niners are writing their own legacy writes Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.  Tim Kawakami of the Contra Costa Times (bad ass name for a newspaper by the way), says that Vernon Davis authored one of the greatest moments in Niner legacy which, looking at team history, is extremely difficult to do, but he may just have done it.  Monte Poole of the Contra Costa Times says that despite Alex Smith’s modesty claiming this was just one more step, let’s face it, it was his moment and one that he deservedly could take bows on.  Don Banks of SI.com writes that Alex Smith, “ran out of town years ago”, stayed home and rallied his team to victory.  Jeffrey Chadiha of ESPN.com writes that San Fran was just the toughest team out there yesterday and it showed up in jarring hits that forced 5 turnovers for the Saints.  John DeShazier of the Times Picayune writes that this loss is going to hurt for a while for these Saints.  

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the game of the year and its not even close.  Let’s put this up there now in the top 10 greatest games ever played in the NFL.  It had everything you could ask for.  It had a great offense against a great defense.  It had a maligned QB seeking redemption.  It had a head coach looking for further validation that he is indeed the coach of the year.  It had a super team going for a ninth victory in a row.  It had the hits that will be played over and over again in those epic NFL Film highlight videos.  It had that five minute stretch in the final quarter that saw one huge call (the Alex Smith 3rd and 7 play which in my mind is one of the gutsiest calls you can make in that situation), one huge game breaking play (the Jimmy Graham catch and run and think about it this way: the guy had back spasms where he could barely move) and then Vernon Davis replying on the other end with two great plays to seal the win for the Niners.

I can’t begin to describe how much emotion was flowing through me during that game.  I was at my anniversary dinner with my wife and I’m sitting there almost choking on a T-Bone Steak (no homo), watching the game.  The owner of the shop is watching with me and keeps going its over three separate times when both teams traded punches.  I thought it was over when Brees hit Graham for that big play when Patrick Willis lost his footing and Graham turned and ran with the ball.  But there was too much time for (gulp) Alex Smith with 1:32 remaining and anyone who thought Alex Smith was going to finish that comeback had to be on meds.  Or a 49er homer.

As far as the rest of the game is concerned.  I can’t remember a game where one team hit the other harder and faster than the 49ers.  Every time Donte Whitner hit somebody there seemed to be chunks of the other player flying off him or he just unconscious.  The guy was hitting people like somebody slapped his momma in the stands before the game (stolen from Deion) and played like this guy.  The Niners were so fast limiting the ability of the Saints to run their screens that the Saints had to go north and south ONLY as opposed to using all parts of the field.  That’s what having Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis can do for you when they are spying on guys like Sproles.  But when the Saints lost RB Pierre Thomas who was slipping tackles all last week against the Lions, I thought that the Niners had effectively eliminated their complement to Sproles.  I love Sproles but when the Saints were winning their Super Bowl it was due to Pierre Thomas’ own ability to shed tackles and be a tough run after the catch or run after the first guy gets their hand on him.  He’s so hard to stop and when the Saints got him on the field he was being laid out by Donte Whitner who hit him with a helmet to helmet and aside from the hit you knew something was wrong when Thomas just went limp while going down.  Those are the toughest hits to watch because its not about pain, because the guy can’t feel anything and you just hope that the guy gets up.

But on this day it was about Alex Smith.  Everyone will talk about Alex Smith’s amazing finish and about how he’s seeking redemption and not to jump on the bandwagon but has any guy been under more scrutiny?  We all knew coming into the league he was a smart kid having completed a bachelor’s in Econ in 3 years at Utah.  He was Urban Meyer’s last great QB prospect.  He had the pedigree heading in to the NFL but as most great college QB’s do he fell into a terrible situation.  The Niners have had five offensive Coordinators heading into this year.  He has been called out by the media, the fanbase who wished they took North Cali’s own Aaron Rodgers, and by former head coaches who either called him soft (Mike Nolan) or just never believed in him (Mike Singletary.

Enter John Harbaugh.  It takes a former maligned QB to know one and that connection has propelled this Niner team.  They had the defense but they never had an offense help out and that’s what happened.  If ever there was a game to show a microcosm of a team’s season it was yesterday.  The defense playing lights out for most of the game and just giving up one big play and needing their offense to come through, and them coming through was kind of a watershed moment for this team when you think about it.  The 49ers will be a great team for a few years.  It starts with Alex Smith who doesn’t make mistakes.  Who doesn’t beat himself.  A guy that follows the game plan and is athletic enough to make plays when the original one breaks down.  The bottom line is this: the San Francisco 49ers have made over the organization on the fly in a year.

That is the hallmark of this great coach.  I said before the season that perhaps Harbaugh left a year early from a plum Stanford job JUST to tank the season so he could get Andrew Luck with the number one overall pick.  I felt that in my heart of hearts, that would be the best situation for this team in the longterm and that Harbaugh had the job security to do that.  But of course what we got instead was a dominant defense, an All-Pro filled Special teams and an offense that controlled the clock built behind a good offensive line and a physical running back that runs hard behind his blockers.  No mention of their QB yet right?  Because he was a liability heading into this season but Harbaugh’s greatest job coaching was building back that quarterback from Utah.  Six years of naysaying and doubting had to be erased in order for Harbaugh to get Smith prepared to handle his job and what a remarkable job he’s done in such a short limited time.  That week they spent in the east coast when they had to travel two straight weeks was a blessing in disguise and one that Harbaugh used to unify the team.  Small things like that give you a sense of what kind of coach he is and how much he understands the nuances of his title.  Its not just about drawing up game plans, its about instilling in your team a sense of togetherness and pride.  Its not players that win games, its teams.  The 49ers beat Drew Brees yesterday and that’s all you need to know.

From a great team finish to a complete rout.  The Denver Broncos got blindsided by the New England Patriots yesterday in what was a mismatch from the moment the teams took the field.  Peter King of SI says that Tom Brady and the Patriots have never looked better.  Jackie MacMullan of ESPN writes that everyone was worshiping the wrong guy coming into the game.  Greg Bedard of the Boston Herald wrote that the Pats defense hadn’t played that well from beginning to end since they faced a fellow southpaw in Tyler Palko.  Woody Paige of the Denver Post writes that the wild ride of Tebow time came to a close because there was never anytime for Tebow to work his magic.  Forget the negativity of the loss says Dave Krieger of the Denver Post, the rebuilding process that was supposed to take years is way ahead of schedule.  

I’m not here to jump on everyone’s parade about this guy but let’s put things into perspective for everyone to understand how Tebow crazy this entire country had gotten.  We love a great story and that’s what Tebow was.  He was a crazy, improbable, out of the loop and out of left field kind of success that we weren’t ready for.  Our football sensibility tells us that Tim Tebow is not a good quarterback capable of doing the things he did over this NFL season and yet those who hold out belief and understand that sports can stop reality for a moment and have us seeing things that suspend our own understanding of things and believe in something magical know that anything was possible heading into Saturday night’s contest between the Pats and the Broncos.  Take for instance that the Patriots had a running two game losing streak.  The Pats secondary was a maligned group who could be taken advantage of.  The Broncos had this feel about them as riding a wave of something into their contest.  It was probable and I get all of that emotion.

But the reality set in early.  And often.  The Broncos couldn’t run.  And when they can’t run, we know they can’t pass.  And there was Tebow scrambling around like a chicken with his head cut off and trying to make something happen and one too many three and outs cost them against an offense that never stopped moving from the moment the opening kickoff got lofted into the cool air of Massachusetts.  Gilette Stadium was the arena in which Tim Tebow and all his Tebowmaniacs would get a lesson in Football 101.  NO QB that played with such an unconventional and simplistic offense could win in the playoffs against the best of competition and that’s what the Patriots were.

The Pats defense put the clamps on and held on tight to Tebow affording him no room, maintaining gaps and not giving him outside lanes.  Their secondary covered the limited options that they had.  Let’s be real, the Broncos offered a subpar receiving group that couldn’t possibly offer up any kind of contest to a former 3 time Super Bowl winning team.  Brady and Belichiek though were the major players in this game.

Two full weeks to rest and get their team playing sharper and install new wrinkles.  The Josh McDaniels from the Patriots returned in time to see the offense move with a rhythm and execute on a scale that hadn’t been seen before.  Aaron Hernandez as a running back?  Yessir.  Julian Edelman getting more and more snaps as a cornerback?  Sure why not.  Brady with the hurry up through much of the first half? Yep.  Six touchdowns later the Broncos had long thrown in the towel and were left wondering exactly what had been done to them.  I watched only portions of that game but never was there any doubt.  Even when Brady threw that interception.  He made a bad throw.  He knew it.  He also had enough confidence to know that he would NEVER give them another chance.  He was methodical and so dominating in a performance that made you think that the Patriots were conjuring up remnants of that 2007 offense that blitzed the league and gave defensive coordinators nightmares.

And trust me, with McDaniels back, the Patriots have gotten the right guy back at the right time to make it work.  They have an almost unguardable TE in Gronkowski.  They have the best slot receiver in football in Wes Welker.  They have an offensive line that’s relatively healthy.  They have a creative playcaller in Josh McDaniels.  They have a great QB and a great defensive minded head coach.  They have the elements to make another Super Bowl Run.  Watch out.  The Patriots are now the Patriots of their great teams from the earlier part of the milennia.  Big time QB play.  Solid defense.  Good offense.  Great game planning.  Watch out NFL.

As for the Broncos, look: you have a decent QB.  Next year will be super important and it will be interesting to see how the Broncos go about this offseason especially draft wise.  The Broncos aren’t trading up to take any QB’s.  But let’s say a kid like Russell Wilson falls to them in the first round (unlikely) or a Taylor Martinez (more likely in the third or fourth), why wouldn’t the Broncos take him and stash him away?  The Broncos need immediate help on the defensive end.  They need defensive tackles to stuff the middle.  They need help in the back end.  They need another pass rusher to help Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil who has taken a step back.  They need to get better playmakers.  But let’s say next year the Broncos don’t duplicate the magic carpet ride run they had this year which is a near certainty.  Remember, literally every team they faced had something go horribly wrong either due to injury or having already had a few guys injured, before they faced Tebow and had a lot of defensive coordinators not taking Tebow seriously.  That won’t happen next year.  Tebow won’t sneak up on anybody.  The team will see what they have in Tebow as a QB.  Let’s see what improvements Tebow makes.  Yes, the intangibles are out of the planet for this kid.  Yes, he will try his hardest to improve.  If nothing is improved and Tebow remains the same mechanically flawed QB he is today trust me the Broncos organization will scrap the Tebow Time t-shirts and send those to needy kids in Africa and chart ways to get a franchise QB.  The Broncos are a rebuilding project and yes, they are ahead of schedule.  But the question still remains: WHAT do we do with Tim Tebow?  The answer to that question will come next year.  Unless we’re in for another crazy season next year, hold on to your bottoms.

And now to today’s game.  Mike Lupica of Daily News writes that despite the similarities that people want to draw, this time beating the Packers at the Frozen Tundra will be far more difficult.  Stefan Bondy of the News writes that the Big Blue offensive line are out to be tougher Sunday than BJ Raji gives them credit for.  Mike Vaccaro of the Post writes that winning at Lambeau is as difficult as they come because of the history and fable surrounding the place.  Steve Serby of the Post writes that if the Giants are All In like they claim to be, they will write their own history.  Paul Schwartz says that if the Giants want to win today, replaying that Road Warrior mentality in their heads will be a good start.  Tom Rock of Newsday says despite Justin Tuck saying there’s nothing to gain from their last meeting on December 4th, there is plenty of material to be gained for their next showdown.  

Let’s manage to calm down all the hype and glamour out of the match up and let’s say this for the Giants: they are not the 2007 Giants.  They are the 2011 New York Giants.  A completely unique identity and entity unto themselves.  Fifteen players remain from the team that went on that improbable run in 07 and frankly I, like them, are tired of hearing the remarkable similarities in seasons.  We all need points of comparison to draw up some kind of response to everything and we all want to believe that THIS version of the New York Giants will duplicate that run but that would be an injustice to both THIS current squad and the group of men who marched into the sure-fire no doubt coronation of the greatest team ever, New England Patriots and decimated their dreams and sent Patriot fans packing as Super Bowl chumps.

Yes, that team deserves its credit and its OWN unique place in Giant and NFL lore and don’t deserve the injustice that’s been placed on them by the media over the last few weeks.  Comparing the two teams are like apples and oranges and we all know that using numbers we can conjure up any comparison we want and have anyone believing anything we want.  Yes, that 38-35 score is indicative of something.  But its only telling you what the score was on December 4th.  Not some harbinger of things to come today at the Frozen Tundra.  I believe what’s happening here is that a team is coming together.

Now, you all may be asking yourselves, wait is this the same guy who wouldn’t change his underwear or game day traditions because he had some remote belief that it ultimately mattered in the context of the Giant playoff run?  Yes.  I’m not saying I don’t believe in de ja vu.  I’m not saying that these events don’t bear a striking resemblance to the one from 07 and that having several players from that team on this one doesn’t make these comparisons apt.  I’m just saying that we should appreciate what 07 did and not overshadow what this team is doing currently by comparing the two.  They are two different teams with different identities on offense and newer leaders on defense.

I said this when it happened and I hold on to this one belief: what the 07 Giants did will stand the test of time and I am assured that I will never see a run like that EVER AGAIN.  But that’s not to say that this team can’t put together a run that could rival the one the 07 team did.  That’s not to say that the championship earned at the expense of a 18-0 team is any less credible if they do it again against a team that had a loss coming INTO the Super Bowl.  All I’m saying is that let’s leave the comparisons at home because it would only be right for both teams.  MMkay?

Moving on, here are my final thoughts on this game before it happens:  The Giants must run the ball and rush the passer.  They can pass on this team but if the Packers only have to defend the pass they have the corners to make game changing plays that can eventually cost the team the victory.  Erase the Clay Mathews pick six and the Giants win that game 35-31.  The fact is, the Giants held the ball for only 26 minutes and allowed Aaron Rodgers to hold the ball for 34 minutes and no matter how good your defensive line is, in those 7 minutes that offense can score two- three touchdowns in that time.  The Giants must control the clock and take their chances deep.  Drawing in their linebackers, who they have healthy today will be key.  If AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop aren’t in coverage and the Giants can  get their running game going and keeping Rodgers on the sideline, and their pass rush constantly gets the Pack off the field because of hurried throws and bad decision making, the Giants can win.  But it won’t be easy.  Not against Aaron Rodgers who seemingly performs under ANY kind of condition given to him.  Want him to run wtih the ball? Sure.  He was the leading rusher in the game.  He, like Alex Smith won’t beat himself.  He wont give you a game.  You have to beat the Packers square.  So what the Giants need is a great game from Eli (or a continuation from last week minus the safety), and a great game from their front four who need to play lights out.  The Packers have a good offensive line but Chad Clifton and Josh Sitton haven’t played for quite some time and only got reps in Week 17 after missing chunks of the regular season.  Bryan Bulaga is hurt.  That banged up front is going against a defensive line that is aching to continue their great stretch.  IF the Packers front keeps the Giant pass rush at bay it will be a long day.  Expect the Pack to go two tight end a lot and having them chip and giving Rodgers 3 to five step drops early and get their guys running slants.  They will run into the middle of the defense because they know that the Giants best attribute is speed and those ends can cover the run.  They will run off tackle every once in a while but doing that at Jason Pierre Paul will be disastrous and I expect the Pack to stay away from his side.  They want Rodgers sitting in the pocket.  In my opinion the Giants MUST win the battle up the middle.  THEY MUST have Chris Canty, Justin Tuck win their matchups against the guards.  They MUST have Mathias Kiwanuka be able to come right over the middle and go after Rodgers and have him running.  If they win the interior battle, I have no doubt they can win the outside battles against the two tackles.  Osi’s speed and JPP’s overall play are excellent.

Here’s where I think the Giants may have problems.  The Pack may play hurry up depending on personnel.  They may run the ball against the Nascar package (four defensive ends) if they get it and when they see Osi off the field, they may hurry up to keep the big guys Canty/Rocky Bernard in the game and wear them down.  JPP is going to see a majority of the snaps as is Tuck and Canty.  A pristine Giant game has Osi playing between 40-50 offensive snaps and coming off either end.  I don’t think the Giants can be effective with JPP coming as a speed rusher by standing up.  They must attack him as as down lineman.

The matchups for the Giants are out there.  The Giants have the offensive weapons to light up the scoreboard and must lean on their strengths.  They are a passing offense.  But I do think they MUST run the football effectively.  They may not need 170 yards today but they need Brandon Jacobs running over people and Ahmad Bradshaw catching passes out of the backfield.  They MUST win time of possession handily.  Even then, if they don’t score touchdowns it won’t matter.  If the Giants can get off to a fast start and have the ball at the end of the game, which I think will be a close game they can win.  OTHERWISE, Aaron Rodgers will torch them.

If the Giants don’t get enough of a pass rush, or the Giants can run the ball or you give Aaron Rodgers even a three minute advantage in possession time, you’re asking for trouble.  He does NOT get rattled under pressure.  He won’t beat himself by forcing passes into tight coverage.  He has really good receivers who have a very good relationship with him that can understand when to abandon a route so that he can move the ball forward.  Unlike the Saints who you know are looking for the deep ball, the Packers are more than happy to just hit short passes and move the chains.  They can live either way.  The fact is, this Packer team coming in will play lights out for their head coach who lost his son.  The Giants must remember that.  Absorb the early blow and go out and punch them in the mouth and then knock the Pack out.

Its going to be close and that’s all I’m going to say on that.

 

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Sports Round up 12/05/2011

So many stories to begin with but to start it all off, a New York superstar is now leaving his nest for beachier pastures:

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The Jose Reyes era in a Met uniform is (un)officially over.  According to reports that began popping up last night, the former Mets shortstop had apparently agreed to a 6 year $106 million contract.  And here are the opinions flowing in first from John Harper of the Daily News who says the Mets were justified somewhat in letting Reyes go.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post says now the job of Sandy Alderson will be to repair the image of the Mets.  Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald says move over Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes is here.  Finally the voice of Met fans, Matthew Cerrone of Metsblog.com gave his opinion about why this sucks.  

They say its always darkest before dawn.  Ok fine, so that was a line from the Dark Knight.  But it holds true.  Here are the facts:

1. The Mets knew him better than anyone else.
2. They were never going to guarantee that sixth year so the Marlins knew what it would take for them to absolutely score Jose Reyes.
3.  The Mets were virtually transparent throughout this whole process about their lack of immediacy to move on resigning their superstar.
4.  The Mets are broke and this was eventually going to happen and the Met front office played this perfectly to reflect on that.

Those are the indisputable facts of this.  I disagree with Harper who believes that Jose will NEVER be better than he was last year.  I think he has the potential to be the guy everyone was gushing over from 2006-2009 and then again last season.  He’s a speedster capable of stealing 60 bases a season.  He’s the prototypical top of the order bat.  He can hit for average and has shown flashes of power.

But that injury bug had to worry Met officials and no longer is Omar Minaya and staff involved in negotiations where they would’ve certainly pushed for a Reyes resigning.  But Joel Sherman is right, in baseball senses, this is absolutely the right move.  Could the Mets have gone to $100 million?  Not likely.  So the Marlins knew that he wanted a $100 million deal and a 6 year commitment something that everyone knew the Mets were never going to guarantee.  Stories are coming out that some officials within the Met organization were scared to even guarantee 5 which apparently would’ve been the Met offer.  Of course we don’t know that because the Mets never gave him an offer which I find is the only indefensible thing about this whole process.  The Mets were never involved.  They never got up to make an offer.  They practically pushed him out saying they didn’t want to set the market.  They told him to come back with the best offer and then the Mets would then tell him if they were willing to compete with it.  All the Marlins had to do was put a desperate deal together that fit the rumored parameters of what he wanted and they knew they had their man.  This was so easy that the Marlins couldn’t have botched such a thing and they didn’t.  You knew they were desperate to make a splash with their new stadium being built.  The Mets and the front office never had any intention of matching any crazy offer.  Even the first 6 year $90 million deal that was reported, was probably something the Mets would not have matched had Reyes come back to them with that offer but Reyes and his agent never did, knowing that if they got over $100 million from practically the only team that was offering him a contract he would take it.  Now Reyes joins his homie in South Florida, Hanley Ramirez, who will not be thrilled to be shifting positions though it is the right move in baseball senses.  Ramirez is way too big to be playing shortstop anyway and a corner infield position is probably best for a guy losing his lateral movement.  You put Reyes who has a cannon of an arm and the ability to make huge plays.

Its clear what the Marlins are doing.  They are building a Latino-emphasized team for a Latino fan base to embrace.  Their move to Miami was about the money but their success will be predicated on how much they can depend on that fan base to come out.  Latin countries love their baseball, so fielding a team that caters to that fan base ONLY makes sense and financially they will need to begin filling up that park to justify their spending spree.  Either way, the Marlins got an excellent corner stone player and now will have to win and sustain a winner for a long time for the first time EVER in their history.

As for the Mets, I think Sherman is way too judgemental on the Mets for my taste.  Rebuilding their image?  The Mets have an image problem yes but THIS is not something that would rebuild it.  Met fans have to be realistic about their owners current financial situation.  Sadly, the owners have to be realistic too.  When I first heard about Reyes signing with the Marlins I was upset and ready to just blast the Coupons but I woke up calmer and with more understanding.  I realized one thing about this whole mess: Alderson has to face all the blame and all the questions surrounding this mess.  But the Wilpons, as long as their buddy Bud Selig is commissioner, has an enabler that will allow them to pay back their loans on their time and so financially they will be solvent for the foreseeable future.  Alderson is also the right play at GM.  He is a former Marine who can face all the questions about credibility with a stone face and give the politically correct answers back to a media who will want him to admit two things: the Mets are broke and the Coupon family is no longer able to carry the burden of fielding a big market team.  Unfortunately the Coupons will stay in ownership for as long as they like.  That Madoff judgement doesn’t look like it will leave them broke (in terms of rich people, so if the Madoff ruling took them for a large sum of money or whatever they were rumored to be paying, they wouldn’t be rich enough to own a sports team but rich enough to still be hundred times richer than you or me….isn’t that rich?) so they will be around and will expect you to come to the stadium and fill the seats.

Unfortunately if history is any indicator and if last season and the season prior are any kind of model by which to go on, believe you me, the Mets are in trouble more financially than anything Madoff could ever do.  The saving grace?  The Mets field a winner.  But first they will have to build a team.  Want to prove that you aren’t broke and that the Reyes decision was strictly smart baseball business?  Fine.  Spend that money you would’ve spent on Reyes back into the team.  Lets see you do that.  I doubt they will.  Sigh, the life and times of a Met fan.

Speaking of disappointments the Giants ALMOST came away with the upset of the year when they took the defending Super Bowl champs and current undefeated team and current MVP of the season Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to the wire .  Unfortunately there was :51 left on the clock and Aaron Rodgers needing ONLY to get into field goal range to clinch it and that he did.  Gary Meyers says the Giants gave their best effort and it wasn’t enough.  Mike Lupica says, nice try Giants.  

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In the end, they were the defending champs and the Giants were a reeling team fighting in desperation and showing their true colors.  Lets face it, since losing their secondary and much of their depth throughout the season the Giants have fought and clawed and been the antithesis of the Philadelphia Eagles.  They were not supposed to beat them and were not even supposed to be in the same league with them yesterday unless the Giants summoned a fight and resolve that had gone missing the last two weeks.  Shows how important Michael Boley is to a linebacker unit that was pretty much decimated with injury and lack of experience.  Then losing Osi Umeniyora and JPP for period of the game had to be troubling but the Giants kept fighting.  I said it prior to the game, if the Giants could get stops they would win the game because their offense could put up points.  But a killer pick six early on in the game came back to haunt them and then a phantom hands to the face penalty also kept a drive going for the Packers who eventually scored.  Tom Coughlin used up challenges and the Giants were absolutely terrible with time management last night.  He challenged two plays that had no chance of being over turned which left him with none.  No play after that looked like it needed reviewing to over turn but the Giants were fortunate.  However, this idea that the Giants were right to throw it on the first two downs when they were at the Packer goal to go situation in under two minutes to go is absolutely insane.  You don’t leave QB’s like Aaron Rodgers time like that to go the length of the field to kick a chip shot field goal.  The Packer offense is SO explosive and we all know that and yet the Giants mindset was to make sure they scored.  Well, the Giants know that should they run would they have necessarily gotten it in on first down?  No.  Second down?  Probably but not a certainty.  Then on third down you throw it up for Nicks to make a play on it.  That Nicks play was in their back pocket the whole time and yet Gilbride, the Giants OC, refused to go to it.  Leaving Aaron Rodgers with the time to do what he does best.

Those are the many negatives I take back from this game.  The positives?  Lets count them shall we?  The Giants played toe to toe with the best team in football and almost won.  The Giants finally showed some heart.  They had a lot of calls go against them but they remained composed and kept fighting.  Michael Boley and Ahmad Bradshaw reportedly stayed healthy throughout this game but we’ll know once the week progresses as to how they feel.  This looks eerily similar to the last time the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007?  They will have to win out from here to ensure they win the division.  Even though the Lions and Bears (who look like they will be without Matt Forte which should effectively end their season) are reeling, the Giants still have to handle business on their end beginning in Dallas which I can assure you is MOST realistic.  Look, this was statistically and hypothetically the toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of games and the Giants were 6-2 heading into it.  They beat the Patriots, hung in there with the 49ers and almost won that game.  Played poorly against the Eagles and Saints and then looked rejuvenated against the Packers.  If they take yesterday’s attitude into their remaining schedule, Antrel Rolle’s prediction that the Giants and Packers will meet again WILL come true.  The Giants have to handle their business moving forward.  The G-Men can do this and now is the time for the famous Jim Fassel speech. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ab2pnlWkd4

The Jets went into Washington in basically Giant territory of win-it all and came away with a commanding 34-19 victory over the Redskins who’ve lost 7 straight.  Filip Bondy says Sanchize commandeered the Jets to victory.  Mike Vaccaro believes this could be the start of something huge for Gang Green.  

I’m not going to pretend like I saw this game from beginning to end.  Unfortunately the rigors of married life throw a monkey wrench into those things.  But what I did see, I saw Mark Sanchez and a game plan centered around trying to protect him.  I saw a close game up until about 5 minutes left in the game when Sanchez led a drive that culminated in a TD pass to Santonio Holmes which was as beautiful a pass as you’ll see perfectly lobbed over the defender’s head who Holmes had beaten anyway.  I saw the defense force a turnover immediately on hapless Rex Grossman.  I saw the Jets punch it in for insurance.

But I also saw more miscues on special teams and an offense that somehow could NOT trust Sanchez with anything more than a quick slant pattern.  The Jets are a terribly conflicting team but they have the elements of a defense that can be great.  They have the elements of an offense that has weapons there to be great.  Their special teams has been sloppy at best these last 6 weeks but they have the elements of a team that can make another run but they have the elements of a team that can and will give Jet fans heartburn and asthma attacks on the way.  Do I think the Jets are a Super Bowl contender?  No.  Do I think they can beat the Patriots?  OH YEAH.  The Pats are NOT unbeatable.  For that matter, the Pack are not unbeatable.  The Jets HAVE to play on top of their game though.  Giving teams like the Patriots those kind of turnovers will cost them.  Be thankful they were ONLY playing the Redskins.

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And the Broncos just keep winning.  Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post writes more so than the Tebow-factor, John Fox has quietly pulled ALL the right strings.  

Look, I can’t begin to explain to you how this Tebow thing is going.  I just know that its bigger than you, me, Denver or the great sport of football.  Its in that grey area that nobody can quite put their finger on.  The Broncos have now won 5 in a row and it should be written in the rulebooks of the NFL that if the game is close against the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow is playing in that game, the game should be called because Tebow is going to do something that makes this liberal country get into the silly conversation about religion that has me tired even thinking about it.  Tim Tebow is amazing.  Tim Tebow is fantastic.  He’s a great kid.  You can say till your blue that his style of quarterbacking won’t get it done but the Broncos aren’t winning solely on the left arm and legs of Tebow.  Or his heart.  Its the defense and a coach, John Fox, that was given a QB that if you gave him a polygraph today would admit he didn’t want.  Now the Broncos and Tim Tebow are linked and no matter what John Elways says or does, barring a collapse and Tebow completely blowing games down the stretch, John Elway will be hard pressed to find an immediate successor for the Broncos QB job which up until two weeks ago even was open for applicants.

I know that Elway believes that Tebow can’t be a conventional QB.  But credit John Fox for realizing that early on.  The job of the head coach is to put the team in the best position to win and he has done that.  Fox’s coaching staff has protected Tebow within the confines of a system that he can win in while teaching Tebow the finer points of throwing the football and the system they are running.  Some of the throws Tebow has made have been exceptional including that sideline throw to Demairiyus Thomas who had a huge day for the Broncos.  BUT, the fact is that more than Tim Tebow, the Broncos have been putting together wins as a team.  At some point all the detractors have to realize that and just give up this ill fated discussion UNTIL Tim Tebow gives us a reason to.

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Week 11 picks and suggestions

If you’re trying to put together a list of traits a team needs to be successful and you gloss over the championship teams of the past, more times than not they had a good to great defense and a strong running game.

Don’t believe me? Look at the Jets of the past two years. A rookie qb not being asked to do much, a strong offensive line that made holes for a good running game and a great defense. If the last week has been evidence of anything its that Mark Sanchez has been holding them back and changing the formula to a pass heavy offense was a big mistake.

So when Ravens players are clamoring for Ray Rice to get the ball 30 times they aren’t talking smack about the passing game as they are telling the offensive game planners that the offense should do what they are successful at already. What about the Packers you ask? They didn’t go on their run until James Starks established himself and gave them the threat of a competent running game.

The Giants and Packers have success because their QBs have been playing at such a high level (Eli during the 4th and Aaron during, well, very quarter). Their running games notwithstanding are the anomaly and not the rule. Teams that run well and can hide the inadequacies of the passing game will always be more successful than teams who force the issue and go for the home run.

Teams who can run in December and January will be successful. This is why the Packers of the world, can parade themselves as world champion favorites all they want, but if they can’t run the ball and don’t give off the threat of a run game, will suffer.

Now on to week 11 games and picks:
Editors Note: I picked the Jets by -7 which I lost. New rule: never bet against Tebow.

FALCONS (-6.5) over Titans- Its difficult to pick the Titans who can bring it defensively one week and not the next. By the way, a poll conducted by Forbes said Michael Vick was the most hated man in the NFL. Now this was done by fans. Within the confines of the white lines that is the furthest from the truth. Vick is the most liked player in the NFL amongst players. Why bring up Vick? Because if you asked players they would say Cortland Finnegan. The guy is a douchebag and that’s when you just look at him. He picks fights with players. Shows you exactly who and what level fan is voting for this.

Bills (+3) over DOLPHINS- I gotta admit, the Dolphins had me going. They were looking like a pretty solid team but I see that they have 2 wins now so they can rest easy. By the way, it looks promising that they are going to end up with Matt Barkley who in my opinion is in the class of Andrew Luck. So maybe they DO KNOW what they are doing.

Bengals (+7) over RAVENS- I like this Bengal team. I really do. I think AJ Green is a beast and will play. I love their run game and without Ray Lewis, the Ravens are playing without its heart and soul. Will be interesting to see what happens..

Jags (+1) over BROWNS- next.

Raiders (+1) over VIKINGS- Carson Palmer I want to believe in you. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see.

LIONS (-7) over Panthers- here’s a litmus test for the Lions. If they blow out the Panthers its a big deal and a huge momentum boost heading into Thursdays showdown with the Packers. If they beat the Panthers by a FG, they may not be ready for Thursday but there’s still a grey area to see where they are skill wise. If they lose, let’s quit the restore the roar crap.

PACKERS (-14) over Bucs- Trap game. Or warm up for Thursday? I pick the latter. Go Pack GO!

Cowboys (-7) over REDSKINS- This will be a litmus test for these Cowboys. Either they go in and DESTROY the Redskins after which every single waking hour on NFL Network will be dedicated to Tony Romo and the Boys being contenders and only team able to challenge the Packers. OR they are the Cowboys of old and have a let down. Let’s see.

NINERS (-10) over Cardinals- Two points:
1. I think Rodney Harrison is becoming my favorite in studio analyst. He speaks from the heart and is often proved right.
2. His opinion that the Niners MAY BE the best team in football isn’t that far off, unless you are drinking the yellow colored kool aid.

Last week, I saw Jim Harbaugh out coach, out wit and out fundamental Tom Coughlin who preaches fundies on a daily basis. As for this game, I expect the Niners to continue to unleash Alex Smith: the passer on the world with Frank Gore nursing an injury and a big game against Baltimore coming on Thursday.

Seahawks (+3) over RAMS- Hawks have an underrated D.

BEARS (-4.5) over Chargers- Its not December yet and I am aboard the Bear train. Go ahead jump on board. This may be the only team capable of knocking off the Packers.

GIANTS (-6) over Eagles- classic letdown game for the G-Men with Vick AND Maclin not coming to Metlife and Jackson playing with a broken heart. Gives way for guys who are fighting for a roster spot and those guys are the most difficult to oppose. Prepare yourselves Giants fans for the Dream Team himself: Vince Young. If the Giants can’t cover a 6 point spread at home against a disappointing Eagle team playing without two of its biggest offensive weapons, they don’t deserve to win the NFC EAST plain and simple.

PATRIOTS (-15) over Chiefs- You’re trying to tell me that Tyler Palko is his real name and not a stage name? So this isn’t a make believe game? So how come that guy Brady’s hair looks like he stepped off the set of a Vidal Sassoon commercial? Yeah ok- I’m sure this is “real.”

Enjoy week 11 football fans!

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Football is back. 46 Things I know that will take place before Super Bowl 46!

“Congrats to our players & teams and thank you fans for your patience. The NFL will be better than ever #backtofootball
@nflcommish Roger Goodell 
Thanks to the “graciousness” of both the NFLPA and the NFL, football fans did NOT have to miss a single game.  However, this was not news to me.  The NFL makes money hand over fist and if this entire lockout was just one big game of chicken between both sides, it promised to end without a single game being missed.  Fact is, the NFL had too much to lose by NOT agreeing on a new labor deal before any games were missed than standing there with their pride and stalling a season and losing possibly millions.
Don’t get me wrong, the possibility always existed that the NFL would miss games due to its popularity.  Regardless of how many games were lost during the season, the fans would’ve came back in droves.  That’s how solid the product is, no matter how many ways the NFL plans on softening the game to limit injuries.*
*= Tell that to Giants fans who’ve seen any and everyone go down with season ending injuries. 
But football is back for yet another go of it, and thanks to a shortened offseason without minicamps, full training camps, teams looked rusty and rookies looked even more confused.
This season all hinges on ONE player.  Fantasy and actual season.  Michael Vick.  IF he plays 16 games, and you draft him in your league, you will win your league.  IF he starts 16 games in the actual league, the Eagles will win homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and have the best chance to return to the NFC Championship game.
Those are two very big IFs.  Consider the following statistic: in his 8 year NFL career, he has finished 16 games only once.  But Vick fans can be happy in this following stat, he’s finished 15 games in 3 other seasons including a 5 season stretch where he played: 15, 5, 15, 15, 16.  Not bad for a player who’s supposedly such an injury risk.  His style of play makes it difficult for his team to watch him without popping pills to calm their nerves.  Of course, on the other side, head coaches are needing to do the same because of all the anguish he causes coordinators and coaches alike.  His athleticism, his skill set make him a player who can TRULY change games.
Think about it this way:  in the last 50 years the game of football has seen only 4 absolute game changers.  Players who defenses had to do the “close-your-eyes-and-pray-that-you-got-him” defense because there was no game plan in place to stop them.
1. Jim Brown.
2. Barry Sanders.
3. Bo Jackson
4. Michael Vick.*
The only way those four guys could be stopped is if they were injured, got caught abusing animals or decided to retire abruptly following their best season.  And that’s exactly what happened to all of them.  There’s an asterisk next to Vick because I believe this is the second reincarnation.  In Michael Vick 1.0, we saw a player who relied far too heavily on his God-given ability to elude defenders and played video game football.
In a recent interview with GQ, Vick intimated that he was “advised” by Roger Goodell to go to the Eagles.  Now, while this can be seen as tampering by our fair commissioner I think it makes absolutely perfect sense.  Vick is a once in a generational talent that when playing can be the face of an entire league and the NFL wasn’t about to let him ruin that by allowing him to enter a free market where he could’ve ended up in a bad organization.  By all accounts, the Eagles are a model franchise with plenty of stability and an ownership group committed to winning and continuity which for any troubled athlete is important.  It was either there or New England and they already have a QB.
But Vick 2.0 also was greatly helped by having longtime friend Donovan McNabb in place, along with a bevy of good QB coaches to help his maturation- something that wasn’t given to him in Atlanta where his best receiving threat was Alge Crumpler.  The commissioner was pretty much securing his lottery ticket and using the excuse of Vick’s development as a human being as the forefront for any discussion about Vick.
Make no mistake that this year’s NFL depends completely on the health of Michael Vick.  And that begins my annual column of 46 truths leading up to Super Bowl 46 in Indy.
2.  Ben Tate will be the featured Houston RB when the fantasy football playoffs start.
3.  The Eagles will NOT win more than 11 games.
4.  The Eagles WILL NOT win the NFC EAST.  That honor will go to the Dallas Cowboys who will have a huge bounceback season from Tony Romo and a more determined Dez Bryant.
5.  The NFC East will go like this: Dallas, Philly, Giants, Washington with NO TEAM finishing less than 8-8.
6.  The worst team in the entire NFL will be the Seattle Seahawks.  Even in that pathetic NFC West division in which we may see another 7-9 team make the playoffs, they won’t win more than 3 games.
7.  This will mercifully end the pathetic Pete Carroll regime in Seattle.
8.  The Jacksonville Jaguars will be announced as the team that will eventually go to play in Farmer’s Stadium in downtown Los Angeles.
9.  The Buffalo Bills will be the surprise team of the AFC by going a respectable 7-9.
10. The AFC East will play out like this:  Patriots, Jets, Bills, Dolphins.
11.  Out of the six AFC teams that made the playoffs last season, the Colts and the Chiefs will NOT make the playoffs this year.
12.  The Jets will NOT make the Super Bowl this year.
13.  The Ravens WILL make the Super Bowl this year.
14.  The AFC North will go something like this:  Ravens, Steelers, Browns, and Bengals.
15.  The offensive rookie of the year will be Cam Newton.
16.  Defensive Rookie of the year will be Von Miller from the Broncos.
17.  Offensive MVP of the league will be Drew Brees now that they will have a much better running game with Mark Ingram in the fold.
18.  Defensive MVP of the league will be Ndamkong Suh.  This is not a stretch.  I’ve been a fan of this guy since this.  People say he’s dirty, of course those guys probably were breast fed till the age of 12 so what do they know?
19.  The number one defense in the NFL will be the that of the New York Football Jets.  The number one offense?  San Diego Chargers.  Seen their recievers?  I’d take any of their receivers as the number 3 on my fantasy team any day of the week with the exception of Vincent Jackson who could be in line for a monster year.
20.  The best fantasy QB will be Philip Rivers.  The best fantasy RB will be Chris Johnson who WILL go over 2000 yards.  The best Fantasy WR will be Larry Fitzgerald who will catch over 100 balls and 17 TD’s in Arizona who quietly may have rebuilt that offense to elite form.
21.  The best record in the AFC will belong to the New England Patriots while the best record in the NFC will belong to the New Orleans Saints.
22.  The Brett Favre saga will reconvene in Week 4 when all the crops will have been destroyed by a mysterious fire in Mississippi forcing Favre to realize he has no other hobbies and begin to “throw the football around with the local HS team.”
23.  The NFL will catch up to 5 players using the new blood test when checking players for performance enhancing drugs.
24.  The NFC East will be the most overHYPED division while the NFC North will suddenly be the division with the best in-house games.
25.  Cam Newton will rush for more yards than Michael Vick this season. Yeah, I SAID IT BITCH!
26.  Carson Palmer will be traded midseason by the Bengals for a fourth or fifth round pick to the…drum roll please-  Miami Dolphins.
27.  Bill Belichiek will release Ocho Cinco by week 8.
28.  Ben Tate will be the more valuable fantasy option than Arian Foster on the Texans roster.
29.  Speaking of the Texans, they will win the AFC South.  The division will go Texans, Titans, Colts and Jags.
30.  Matt Schaub will be one of 4 QB’s in the league to throw for 4500+ yards and pass for 26+ TD’s and throw for less than 15 INT’s.  He will be joined by Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
31.  Peyton Manning will win fantasy football titles once he comes back from his surgery in about week 8 to face off against the Titans at home.
32.  The Chargers will DOMINATE the AFC West and finally put together a quick start to coincide with their routinely good finishes.  They face the Vikings, Patriots, Chiefs, Dolphins, Broncos, bye, the Jets and then the Chiefs.  So in their first eight weeks, they could possibly go 5-2.  Got to love the odds of that happening.
33.  Speaking of the West, the division will round out this way:  The Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos.  No offense, but the Broncos are going to need Jesus Christ to come down and physically take over Tim Tebow’s body in order for him to have success this year.
34.  The Ravens and Steelers will play two very boring, low scoring games and will NOT face each other in the playoffs.  Each team will win one game in the other team’s stadium.
35.  Michael Vick will play ONLY 13 games this season thanks to the offensive line of the Eagles which will sport an 80% new line.
36.  Jeremy Maclin will play all 16 games and out perform DeSean Jackson who will ONLY play in 12 games this season due to injuries and such.
37.  The NFC West will go something like this, Rams, Cardinals, 49ers, and Seahawks.  It won’t be pretty, but Sam Bradford will throw up huge numbers thanks to Josh McDaniels installing his offense.
38.  The NFC South will play out this way:  Saints, Falcons, Bucs, and Panthers.  Even with Cam Newton’s impressive rookie campaign, the NFC South is loaded with really good teams.
39.  Finally the NFC North will be the Packers, Vikings, Lions, and Bears.  I tend to agree that the Bears were extremely lucky last year and rode that wave of luck to a 13-3 record.  Their defense is good, but not that good and does anyone trust Jay Cutler?  I’m talking to you Bears locker room.
40.  The Six playoff teams from the NFC WILL BE Dallas, Philly, Packers, Saints, Falcons, and Rams.  The Packers and Saints will have byes.
41.  The Six playoff teams from the AFC WILL BE Pats, Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Chargers, and Texans.  The Pats and the CHargers will have byes.
42.  In the wild card round the Cowboys will defeat the Falcons and Philly will beat the Rams. In the AFC, the Jets will beat the Steelers, and the Ravens will beat the Texans.
43.  In the Divisional round the Cowboys will beat the Packers and the Saints will beat the Eagles.  In the AFC, the Jets will lose to the Pats and the Ravens will beat the Chargers.
44.  In the conference championship the Cowboys will beat the Saints while the Ravens will beat the Pats.
45.  The coaches who will lose their jobs will be the following:  Norv Turner, Pete Carroll, Tony Sparano, and Todd Haley.
46.  The Superbowl Champion will be the Baltimore Ravens.
That right there are my picks.  Put them down, lock it up and let’s go.
As for today’s game I pick the PACKERS (-4.5) over the Saints.
FOOTBALL IS BACK LADIES AND GENTS!  Enjoy

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Giants vs. Packers Week 16 Loss

With the Giants needing only a victory to punch their ticket into the playoffs, the Giants forgot to deplane Green Bay, Wisconsin and the G-Men fell to the G-Force in G. Bay.  Ok, so that little word play worked about as well as a Kevin Gilbride game plan but hey, you get where this is going.  Here are some musings, observations and the occasional genius point by yours truly on another Giants loss.

– Let’s start with the first half.  This was DEFINITELY a playoff atmosphere.  There are just some tell tale signs.  It has nothing to do with the dramatic music Fox plays or anything of that nature though the NBA on NBC always seemed to have those openings that would pump me up.  That and the WCW/WWE opening monologues, but I digress.  The fans were great throughout the game as Green Bay fans are because let’s admit it, what else are you going to do in Green Bay?  But more importantly, Aaron Rodgers came into this game as pumped up as he could be.  The same Aaron Rodgers who had to sit the New England game the previous week due to concussion.  The same Aaron Rodgers who saw his back up come within a field goal of beating the hottest team in the NFL, and Tom Brady.  The same Aaron Rodgers who once looked like a career back up because Brett Favre never wanted to retire.  The same Aaron Rodgers who got drafted in the 20’s after being told he would be a Top 10 pick in the NFL draft, the same NFL draft that saw Alex Smith go to the 49ers at 1 and who we remember fondly as that poor white boy who sat in that really expensive suit looking like he was waiting for his prom date to come and pick him up if we had cameras watching that sort of thing.  The same Aaron Rodgers who may have felt like he had this stigma of being a concussion prone QB and doubt creeping in.  The same Aaron Rodgers who understands his GM is all about results and not about emotion- you know the guy who cut the cord between Brett Favre and Green Bay?

Ok, so now that you know the guy, understand that this game was huge for Aaron Rodgers.  Personally it was a statement game.  It was the kind of game that quieted whispers.  The same whispers that said, boy that Matt Flynn looked real good against the Patriots- the same team that no one else can get within 30 points of.

So for Aaron Rodgers to put up this stat line: 25-37 404 yards and 4 TD’s and 0 INT’s is pretty much steeping up big time.  Everyone can breathe easy in Green Bay.  The star QB put his foot down and re-established himself as the man and put to rest any lingering doubt relating to his concussions which total 2 this year.  Remember, this concussion thing is a huge deal.

–  The first half went something like this: Aaron Rodgers dropped back to pass and more often than not found his receiver and seemed to gain some real rhythm especially on a beautiful pass up the middle of the field that Jordy Nelson took 80 yards for a touchdown.  It was one of those blown coverage deals for the Giants that left them looking around to see who should’ve been where.  I hate it when you’re team gets stuck having that look.  The Giants of course went and turned the ball over immediately but the Packers went on a methodical 10 play drive and went up 14 when John Kuhn (insert racial joke here) took it in for a touchdown.  So here’s what the first quarter looked like for the Giants offensively:

13 plays, 30 yards, 2 punts, and 1 INT.  Yup.  That’s offense at its lowest.  Meanwhile the Packers had scoring drives of 1 and 10 which both led to scores which sets up the point I want to make: they played the game the way the Giants want to play the game.  The Giants believe that their best option now is to offer up a mixing aerial assault with a ground game instead of working the passing game as a complement to the juggernaut running game.  Ask any offensive linemen, they HATE pass protection.  It means they have to take the on coming defensive linemen and hold them off for as long as they can with their hands in their facemasks and constant twists and pulls and stunts they pull.  When the offense runs the ball it means that the offensive line finally gets to be offensive where they can push and shove and put their hands on the defense in an aggressive manner.  When a team becomes to reliant on pass protection, it wears down an offensive line much more than a team that relies on a mixed bag.  The Giants were excellent when they ran the ball more than they passed.

– The second quarter was a completely different story: In 11 offensive plays, the Giants were able to accumulate 175 yards and 14 points to get back into the game including a forced fumble on Jordy Nelson and immediately following up with a deep passing play that Mario Manningham made a play on Tremon Williams to get separation and score on Eli Manning’s longest career passing play.  Offensive coordinators love to go with the long pass play after the defense forces a turnover and it works a lot of the time which is pretty incredible that most teams dont see it coming.  That was after they went down the field, 70 yards in 4 plays and that brings me to the bigger point.

Throughout the season analysts have pointed out Eli Manning’s career high in interceptions and quickly deflected to the fact that much of them were NOT Eli Manning’s fault.  Many of the interceptions were balls that were catchable by the receiver but right off the finger tips and right into a defender’s hand and all thrown out to bad luck.  That was true.  But not in this game.  ALL of his interceptions were his fault and throwing the football where there was absolutely NO ONE there.

INT #1- 6:49 Left in the 1st- Pass off his back foot into not one, not two, not three, but four defenders around Hakeen Nicks and it was 4 yards short of Nicks and easily picked off.  (Resulted in 7 points)

ALMOST INT #2- :54 left in the 2nd quarter- Manning throws it to Manningham who had slipped and fell in his route but there were two defenders there that bumped into each other trying to make the pick.

INT #2- 9:47 left in the 4th quarter- Manning back to pass on a 2nd and 18 after a Hakeem Nicks offensive pass interference call, and Manning under throws Derek Hagan with a comfortable pocket and no rush in sight.  None.  This was Manning.  Here’s where Tom Coughlin comes in to challenge the ruling on the field, but Coughlin had used his two challenges already so he couldn’t challenge the call on the field of interception even though replays showed the defender’s second leg was out of bounds.   Of course it leads to 7 more points.

INT #3- 6:31 left in the 4th quarter- Very next offensive possession, yet another penalty that goes against the Giants.  Very next play, Manning just heaves the ball into double coverage and with Manningham covered well by Tremon Williams to begin with gets intercepted by Nick Collins at midfield.  Totally, on Manning. Another 7 points.

INT #4- 2:10 left in the 4th quarter- Ok, so this was another case of an unlucky bounce off a receiver’s hands into the defense, but Manning is being wrapped up for the sack and yet forces a throw into Ahmad Bradshaw.  One of those “why would you throw that Eli” passes that brings up the next natural conversation that me and my friends had.

– I’ve had this conversation plenty of times before but it bears repeating that I’ve always defended Eli Manning.  While watching the game with my friends following interception number 2 they turned to me and said Eli sucks.  Mind you, I’m defending Eli Manning to a bunch of Giants fans, and one Peyton Manning fan.  But the simple fact is this: Eli has NEVER EVER been his brother yet the natural impulse is to compare him to his brother.  Well if you must compare him to his brother and we MUST look at his most important games, let’s consider those first three playoff games of both brothers:

First big brother Peyton:

Comp/Att Yards TD INT Result
19/42 (45.2%) 227 0 0 L- 16-19
17/32 (53.1%) 194 1 0 L- 17-23
14/31 (45.2%) 137 0 2 L- 0-41
50/105 (47.6%) 558 1 2 0-3

And here’s Eli by comparison:

Comp/Att Yards TD INT Result
10/18 (55.6%) 113 0 3 L- 0-23
16/27 (59.3%) 161 2 1 L- 20-23
20/27 (74.1%) 185 2 0 W- 24-14
46/72 (63.9%) 459 4 4 1-2

Consider the lone victory.  Eli had understood his role as a game manager.  Trusted his coaches.  Trusted his receivers.  Trusted the talent around him.  And he won.  Look at him when he loses.  No confidence.  Poor throwing and poor mechanics and poor inept judgement.

The Green Bay game was weird for this simple fact: Eli was over-confident.  He loves his receivers.  In fact, he thinks the world of them.  Some of the throws he’s made this season he’s literally thrown it and said to the receiver “go make a play”.  He believes in his receiving corps too much to the point that it has hurt the Giants.  Those interceptions weren’t just bad throws, they were poor decisions.  Decisions that were purely based on his over confidence that his receivers would make a play on the ball.  I think Giants receivers are great too, but not that great.  Not at the expense of the game plan.

Speaking of game plan: the last two weeks, the Giants have rushed for 100 yards against the Eagles and 90 yards against the Packers.  They have given up 197 yards to the Eagles (130 to you know who), then 119 to the Packers who had nobody go over even 40 yards rushing but still.  Numbers are beginning to pile up.  I’m not worried about the rushing defense, I’m worried about their rushing offense which is clearly beginning to become a worry.  When the Giants don’t run the football well, they fall into the lull of their passing game.

One reason that the Giants passing offense has been out of sync for a while has been the absence of Steve Smith.  I’ve said it since his rookie season, he has a knack for understanding where to be and when.  He’s a classic possession receiver.  He’s not the sexy vertical deep threat that most fans love to talk about, but he’s the more important receiver.  The guy the quarterback trusts absolutely to be the professional and be where he needs to be when he needs him to be there.  Two perfect situations that Steve Smith would’ve been necessary in:

Last week right before the Eagles scored to tie the game, the Giants had a 3rd down in which the Eagles blitzed and you saw Eli throw it short to his receivers.  That’s what you saw, but what should’ve happened due to the pass rush, was the receivers should’ve broke from their routes early to help Eli out and Derek Hagan didn’t.  Hagan continued on his route and never got a chance to turn around in time and thus Eli threw it to no man’s land and it went incomplete.  Eli demonstratively pointed with his arm where Hagan should’ve gone.

Fast forward to the Green Bay game.  The Giants are down 24-14 and they’ve come all the way to the Green Bay 20 with 7:18 left in the 3rd and its 3rd and 4.  The Giants have the right play called, but Hagan takes too long to break inside where there were no defenders and he would’ve had an easy touchdown.  Eli ends up holding on to the football too long and misfires on a pass play.  The replays show Kevin Gilbride absolutely rip into Derek Hagan for not breaking inside.  These are the plays that a Steve Smith type of player makes and Derek Hagan does not.  Flat out.  The Giants miss him.  He’s their real play maker.

 

So what does loss mean?  Well, they had better hope the Eagles win this Tuesday Night Football game.  Why?  Because if the Eagles lose, then the Bears sow up the second seed which is hugely important.  Why?  Because no one wants to play Philadelphia and to avoid that, the Bears would want the number 2 seed and have the Eagles come to Chicago.  So if the Eagles win, the Bears would most likely play to win to avoid having to go on the road.  Who might the Bears be playing next week?  You guessed it, the Packers.  The same team fighting the Giants for the sixth and final playoff spot.

Of course this is all moot if the Giants dont beat the Redskins next week which is no gimme.  My only problem with this Giant team is this: I believe that this team is strong.  They are really good.  This defense can play really well setting aside the last 60 minutes.  But the offense is anyone’s guess.  If the offense can be run heavy and stick to it they will go far.  But if they fall in love with their passing offense and Manning is over confident in his receivers, they will most certainly fall.  Its do or die.

 

Lets go G-MEN!

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