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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


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.


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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Bounty on NFL safety

Over the next few days the NFL will hand down punishment on the New Orleans Saints players for what they are alleging was a bounty program ran by their former defensive coordinator Greg Williams against opposing players. Forget that the NFL, led by Roger Goodell, has led a revolution to try and make the game safer for its current players it’s been such a sensitive topic for the NFL since former players began coming forward and speaking out against the NFL’s post playing days benefits.

The NFL’s surge against protecting its players is more about what it hasn’t done in years past than making the game safer. One aspect of the collective bargaining agreement was how to improve its benefits to retired players; many of whom were suffering from an assortment of ailments as a result of their playing days.

The cautionary tale here should have been: improve the quality of life for retired players who helped make the NFL the huge corporation it is today. But of course, like any good large company, the idea is to keep a large portion of its profits in the pockets of the suits. And so Goodell stuck between a rock and a hard place made an unfortunate compromise: he decides to be stricter over the play of its current crop of players and water down the sport which made it harder for defenses to do its job: stop the offense.

Is it that the NFL is now suddenly more sensitive to its stereotypical image of being a violent sport played by behemoths? No. If so, then explain the reason that the Commissioner is clamoring for more games and hiding behind the notion that it’s the fans who want it. Well how does player safety get trumped by fans, the same fan who complains against the sissification of the sport? This is the pickle that the Commissioner faces. Or rather the contradiction he faces because he has to make the game safer while trying to create higher profits for a game that makes billions without any of the added pyrotechnics. For instance, put the rights to NFL games on a year to year basis and watch in utter shock how much networks are willing to spend each year to secure the rights.

So what choice does Goodell have in this Saints bounty other than to come down extremely hard on them? Suspensions? Fines? Both? This is almost half the team, a reported 22-27 players including a defensive coordinator who ran it. Then there’s an owner, GM, and coach who all knew and did nothing to stop it. Goodell has to keep up appearances as steward of this safety program he is trying to make his landmark achievement over his era. He has to lay the lumber and nobody will complain.

But ask yourself this: will the NFL fan believe that things like this will go away? Judging from statements by many former and current NFL players in the aftermath of this controversy this kind of thing is commonplace among teammates. Goodell won’t be changing culture as much as sending a message that we don’t like stories like this getting out. This is the darker side of the game that Goodell had hoped wouldn’t come out and part of a culture that the commissioner can’t hope to change.

You can’t change ugly as they would say: the NFL is what it is. It doesn’t matter how many rules and safety nets the NFL creates to make it a safer game, the reality of the situation is this: the NFL has to make a decision. It can either live with the fact that this game is a dangerous one ripe with danger. Or it can continue to run this sham of an idea which is to make the NFL safer while not sacrificing the violence that makes the NFL so much fun.

I’m not condoning this action at all. I’m just saying please stop acting like all this is being done with the genuine interest of making it safer when you aren’t interested in that when you make decisions like increasing regular season games and not taking a higher percentage of profits to help former players with their healthcare. It’s time for the NFL to get real and stop living a contradiction.

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Week One picks

I’ve got to warn you, I’m on a football rush.  I just devoured 3 magazine previews, the last episode of Hard Knocks followed by the America’s Game series on the Saints, last year’s Super Bowl champions.  I’m going to say that my first weeks worth of picks are void of any favoritism after watching the shows and reading the “experts” predictions on the upcoming season.

In my last piece I wrote that its dumb to write prediction pieces but it was almost part of the job of doing so.  What’s great about writing one is that everyone all but expects you to get about 90 % of your predictions wrong.  If you get a division winner right you get all the praise.  Following the Super Bowl year the Giants had, I picked them to win the NFC East and be a dominant team.  Maybe I was right because I watched that team every single week and consumed every single article like I was Joey Chestnut on the Fourth of July facing a batch of hot dogs.  I went with my gut feeling on that team and I was right, they went on to have a great year, winning their division and locking up the number one seed.

Of course I also picked the Bills to make a surprise run that season so what the hell do I know?  But that’s the point, everyone has that really genius moment and the really dumb moment.  Its a fact, no one gets them all right.

But you stick by your picks and you stick by what you know and what you feel.  So with that bit of overused advice I give you my week one picks:

(home team in caps)

THURSDAY, Sept. 9th

SAINTS (-6) over Vikings-  This is the most hyped up match up of the opening weekend for the obvious reasons.  Brett Favre.  Super Bowl banner being unveiled.  New Orleans, Gulf Coast region celebrating.  The first game of the NFL season.  The NFL has made it a point to feature the defending Super Bowl champion on the first week and usually the whole moment of unveiling their championship in front of their home fans usually adds up to a victory and I’m not going against that.  Also add to the fact that the Saints are 10-0 in their last ten home openers.  The Super dome will be rocking and I think the Saints jump on the Vikes early and often.  I was going to say that it was a close game but I remember being in the stands when the Giants opened up the 2008 season with Michael Strahan coming out of the Lombardi Trophy blow up and seeing how pumped up the stadium was and the feeling never relented.  I remember when New Orleans re-opened the Super Dome after Katrina and just watching the fans celebrate when they blocked that punt early in the game, sometimes you don’t need to be in the stadium to know that it was probably one of the loudest scenes in any sporting venue.  I don’t expect it to be any less noisy.  Saints win this one going away.

Sunday, September 12th,

GIANTS (-7) over Panthers- This has to be the game where the Giants set the tone for the rest of the season.  The last time these two teams faced off, Matt Moore looked like Joe Montana and the Panthers bullied the Giants in the very final game at the old Giants stadium.  Enter 2010 and guess who’s up first in the new Meadowlands stadium?  There’s a sense of pride here to restore order in the NFC and the East, in a division that should be competitive right out of the gate.  One interesting factor could be Steve Smith (you know, that other Smith in Carolina), who is seeking revenge on Michael Johnson who he said took a cheap shot on him and plans to give him a nice present on the field.  But the new Steve Smith has been excellent when he’s seen the field.  A few Giants are hurting and are going to be playing less than a hundred percent for the rest of the season but that’s a fact of life in the NFL.  No one plays 100 percent unless you’re the punter or the kicker.

I do see signs of cracking here with the Giants.  I’m not sure what to think of Brandon Jacobs silent treatment to the media when being asked about his new role on the team, being the back up.  As any prideful player, he took it hard but if this team is going to succeed, its with Brandon Jacobs playing a role and it can’t be as the pouty faced giant.  It has to be the angry Giant and maybe that’s the Brandon Jacobs we get for the remainder of the season.  He has NOT looked good and Ahmad Bradshaw has looked like the more capable back because of his ability to slip tackles and make guys miss.  Jacobs’ run you over style can only work for so long before teams begin to wear you down.  At some point Jacobs has to get used to the back up role because of the price he pays playing his style.  He’s a complementary back and to be honest so is Bradshaw.  The Giants have had complementary backs since Tiki Barber retired but they’ve done well because of the Offensive line who’ll be asked to step up from their performance a year ago in which they were bullied.

What I’m most looking forward to is watching the safety tandem of Antrell Rolle and Kenny Phillips.  If Phillips is healthy, it could be the best tandem in the league and they will be very necessary if the Giants hope to win the division like I said they would.

Miami (-3) over BUFFALO-  I’m surprised that the Dolphins aren’t getting more love but I will take this sure win.  The Chan Gailey era should open up but its looking more and more like the CJ Spiller era is the one that will last longer than Chan will.  The Bills have RB’s on the roster but they picked CJ Spiller with the 9th pick and in his preseason debut he showed why, flashing the juke, the moves and the speed that make him one of the more exciting players in the league.  What the Bills have to worry about is that they have NOBODY else.  They made one mistake during this entire process and that’s not trying to trade Fred Davis who had trade value coming off a 1,000 yard season.  He could’ve netted them an extra 3rd at the very least and the Bills could’ve used that to move up in this year’s draft to take a defensive or an offensive linemen.  The Bills continue to move at a snail’s pace in terms of rebuilding and this year should be no different.  They are playing in one of the toughest divisions in all of the National Football League and they play a Miami team that should be a lot better than people expect.  I think they will finish second in the division barring major injuries.  Chad Henne is a good QB, and he now has a marquee receiver and a good running game in support.  The 3-4 is a system that is working well for the Dolphins and their growth should only continue.

Atlanta (+2.5) over PITTSBURGH-  This is not because I think Pittsburgh is going to lose with Dennis Dixon or that the Falcons are a sexy preseason pick.  I think its because I see the Falcons pulling one out against a team that is very thin at the QB position and doesn’t have many avenues to go through  on this.  IF the Falcons can put enough pressure on Dixon and keep him running and moving and not let him set and throw the young’n should make more mistakes than Matt Ryan who I dont think will take a huge step forward but a step in that direction nonetheless.

Lions (+6.5) over BEARS-  Forget the fact that the Bears are bringing in as many new fresh faces as the Jets, the most hyped team in the NFL, is.  They are bringing in the most overhyped offensive coordinator ever.  Mike Martz has done nothing.  He came up with an innovative system but its clear that Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk were pretty good and that’s why they won that Super Bowl.  The Lions are going to be my surprise team.  They are going to sneak away with some wins over the Packers and Vikings and Bears and I say that they sweep the Bears this year.  The Lions have a few weapons that they haven’t had since the Wayne Fontes regime when they had Scott Mitchell and Herman Moore and Barry Sanders.  Now I’m not saying Jahvid Best is Barry Sanders because NOBODY is Barry Sanders (right Reggie Bush fans?  Can we finally put that baby to bed?).  But the fact remains that the Lions are a sneaky team and I look for them to pull of the upset of the week against the Bears.

Bengals (+4.5) over PATRIOTS-  And this was my thinking before Tom Brady got into a minor fender bender today before practice.  No truth to the rumor that it was Bernard Pollard trying to recreate the magic of 2008.  I picked the Bengals to win their division and I think they will come out with a very good game plan and win this game going away and scare the daylights out of the rest of football.  Recently I’ve seen a few more people getting on the Bengal bandwagon and I dont blame them.  The Bengals are a pretty good football team on both sides of the ball and they should do enough on defense to keep the Patriot defense out there longer which is a very good thing for the Bengals.

Browns (+3) over BUCS-  This is probably the least likeable match up on opening weekend but the Bucs, with rookie QB Josh Freeman won 2 out of their last 3 and the Browns won 4 out of their last 5 so heading into this season both are feeling pretty good about themselves.  How to grade the Browns on their pick up of Jake Delhomme?  Its not like the guy didn’t have a full season to correct his playoff horror show.  Oh wait, he did.  But he’s looked good in the preseason thus far throwing for 2 TD’s and completing almost 80% of his passes for over 345 yards.  That could be his line for this game.  In fact, I am betting that it WILL be his line for the game.

Broncos (-3) over JAGS-  Look, this game comes down to one fundamental fact and its all I need to sway me in this pick:  Jesus Loves Tebow.  Tebow plays for the Broncos.  I predict Tebow sees at least 5 snaps at QB running a spread offense like he did in Florida.  The Jags don’t have the personnel to stop them.

Colts (-2.5) over TEXANS-  This is the biggest test for the Texans.  Can they beat the Colts?  They always play them tough and especially at home.  But I see Peyton being sharp and going about his business and despite the fact that the Texans have all their guys healthy, this could be Peyton’s deepest pool of receivers that he’s ever had.

TITANS (-6) over the Raiders-  Not that I don’t think the Raiders are going to be any good, because I do feel as though the Raiders have the potential to shock some people, but progress can be a slow process especially when it comes to the Al Davis run Raiders.  The Titans pound them with the pass early and run late.  –

Packers (-3) over EAGLES-  One of the better late afternoon games, the Packers look like a team on the mend after a disappointing end to their season.  I like their team and the personnel they have and the offense, but their defense rarely gets credit.  Kevin Kolb is the new guy in charge of what is being deemed a very deep set of skill position players in the NFL.  But we’ve seen teams with the deepest roster do a whole lot of nothing in the past.  Remember last year when the Giants had the deepest pool of defensive ends?  They had the deepest hole in the sack statistical category.  Remember how the Cowboys have had the deepest pool of overall talent in the NFL?  They’ve won exactly one playoff game in almost 2 decades.  Having the deepest pool of whatever means nada in this league, its about being the most prepared and the best equipped to handle the pressure and rigors of the NFL on a weekly basis.  This is not the Eagles year this year.

49ers (-3) over SEAHAWKS-  I don’t know what Pete Carroll is up to in the great North west, but I hope that there is a semblance of a plan because that is a pretty good WR they ran out of their.  By the way they are paying TJ Houshdmandzedeh next year whatever the difference is between what the Ravens gave him and his $7.5 mil he’s owed.   The Niners have the team capable of winning that division.  That’s not to suggest that they are an elite team or a team to watch for in the NFC because it won’t take much to win the division.  It will take a little bit more time for Alex Smith but he’s getting there.  How good the Niners are is going to depend on how quickly Smith grows up.

RAMS (+4) over Cardinals-  The former team from St Louis against the current one.  I give the Kurt Warner trophy to the winner of the game and that would be the Rams.  Yes, I know their best WR is out and they are starting a rookie at QB.  Yes, I know that they are going up against a team that went to the NFC Divisional round last year and have Larry Fitzgerald on the team (the best WR in the game).  But I like Sam Bradford.  Some guys are winners and while watching him play at 2AM on NFL Network (who upheld their promise to show every single NFL preseason game), I thought that he was a winner.  He’s a confident guy amidst an offensive line that could potentially get him seriously injured.  Meanwhile the Cardinals have Derek Anderson.  If I had a friend who was a Browns fan that could tell me about how confident he is of an offense led by Derek Anderson I’m sure it wouldn’t be too good.

Cowboys (-3.5) over REDSKINS-  Awesome Sunday night game.  Honestly, this Albert Haynesworth situation has me totally confused and reminds me of instances where a guy has completely lost his mind and should have a mental check up before he ever gets a physical one.  He accepted a $21 million check to play this season and blasted the franchise?  Maybe on his list of grievances he should’ve put “gave too much money to players who don’t appreciate it”.  Somehow Daniel Snyder has come away looking like the good guy in this saga if you could even imagine a situation that he’d be in to deserve that.  Getting back to the game though, the Redskins are a decent enough team and with McNabb, they should have a few more wins than they had last year.  The Cowboys though should put a lackluster pre season behind them and score points in bunches.

Monday, September 13th

Chargers (-5) over CHIEFS-  Seems a bit high for a game that is a little bit closer in terms of team than people think.  I still like the Chargers and think that the Philip Rivers to Legedu Nanee connection should be a popular radio call amongst the youtubers come Tuesday morning.

Ravens (+2.5) over JETS-  forget the fact that the Jets have Darrelle Revis coming back.  Did you see their offense?  Their first team offense will not have Santonio Holmes and they are going up against a team that picked up yet another offensive weapon in TJ Toolongtotypehisnameh.  The fact is, the Jets have looked sloppy and despite the old adage that its the preseason and it doesn’t mean much, well does it mean much if the offense has been looking the exact same way every single week?  The defense looks for real and they will have a much better defense than the Ravens but I just think the Ravens score enough to give the Jets their first L of the season.


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Finally, the ending America wanted

Happy endings are always fun aren’t they?  Nowadays, you sit and watch a movie that run as long as Indian movies (think almost 3 hours), and hope that you will be rewarded with an ending that you want to see.  We’re cynics nowadays anyway right?  Sometimes the happy ending isn’t what we want to see.  I remember watching “Departed” and loving the scene where basically every person got shot in the end.  Then I thought to myself, what kind of sick human being am I that I could love seeing 3 human beings shot and killed and finding some enjoying in it.  Then again, in our American culture, we glorify killers, thugs and gangs so it stands without reason that we’ve been conditioned to like these darker heroes.  After all, we didn’t like Batman with George Clooney and the hard nipples, we liked Christian Bale and the darker Batman.

But happy endings nowadays are few and far between.  So how great was it to see the images of Drew Brees, with tears in his eyes, holding his kid and chatting it up with him.  Tom Benson lifting the Super Bowl trophy and the city’s hopes over his head in triumph.  Sean Payton, on the shoulders of his players, emphatically swinging his cap with force which might have suggested him saying “hell yeah.”

If you weren’t a Colt fan before this game, how could you possibly rationalize rooting for them?  You could be a Peyton Manning fan and still want the Saints to win.  So before the game I was asked who I was rooting for and I said I really had no particular rooting interest but my money was on the Colts to win and for the reason I stated (that being Peyton Manning), I felt pretty good about my choice. But something interesting happened when the game began.

Since the Super Bowl’s intended purpose of making it a neutral site is to allow fan bases of both teams to have equal numbers there, it goes without saying that nothing happens the way we’d like it to so what I enjoy doing is to hear the crowd noise for the first series.  Every pass completed, and every pass dropped and everything else in between.  Whichever fan base is the loudest, you know who the “home team” is.  Go back to the first series and tell me that it wasn’t an overwhelmingly pro-Saints crowd.  But the Saints weren’t just the home team last night, they were America’s team.  The team America wanted and as the game wore on and they got down 10-0, I found myself firmly planted in the Saints corner.

I imagine that’s what happened to most of America.  This was not the way we wanted it to end.  Ask Dan Marino, no one is ever promised multiple trips to the Super Bowl.  Its tough and its grueling and almost impossible to replicate greatness over a long stretch to where a team will end up in the Super Bowl year after year.  When the Colts went up 10-0 and Peyton did his defiant fist pump and nonchalantly jogged off the field, I was almost feeling a sense of anger.  Why anger?  Because the storyline of Katrina and the devastation it had caused crept in me.  Sean Payton the former OC of the Giants who they let go after a dispute with Jim Fassell deserved a chance to justify everyone’s belief in him.  Because Drew Brees, the guy who was on his way to break out status with the Chargers injured his shoulder was put to the back of the line and was given a chance with a city that would need rehab just a year later.  Because somewhere deep in my heart, through all his antics I could see how Jeremy Shockey felt more a part of this championship than he ever did with the Giants and I wanted to see him hoist one up.  Because there was just so much to like.  Because their “Who Dat” trademark is so a part of that culture that it almost seems like a different language and cool at the same time.  Because the next shot of Peyton’s family just giving their best golf clap, assured of yet another Super Bowl trophy to put on the mantle seemed almost aristocratic that it rubbed me the wrong way.  Tell me I wasn’t the only one waiting for the “the Manning family wardrobe sponsored by IZOD” ad.  Because their team name is the Saints.  Think about it.  How could you root against a Saint?  How could a Saint be a bad guy in any scenario?  Even Boondock Saints with excessive violence are considered the good guys.

So at that point, I became a Saint fan.  I was ready for a hot plate of gumbo, some beads on my neck and some jazz music in the back ground.  I dont want to say that I was the reason that the Saints outscored the Colts 31-7 the rest of the way or to say that somehow from where I was watching I put it in Sean Payton’s mind to go for the onside kick to “ambush” the Colts the way they did to begin the second half.  I wasn’t.  But as any fan who likes the end result of any contest, I feel I had a bit part and a very very very tiny stake in their championship and other than my Giants or the Jets, there’s no other city I would rather see win a championship than the city of New Orleans.

As for the game here are some of my thoughts:

SEQUENCE OF THE GAME: Its probably the least attractive title for this but it must be said.  I will get to the play of the game which is obvious to anyone who watched the game.  Let’s set it up:

The Colts score with 0:36 left in the first quarter and lead 10-0.  The Colts seemingly have all the momentum.  Manning just drove 96 yards and hit Pierre Garcon with one of three passes that you just had to shake your head at how good he is.  Over the top of defenders and right into the hands of a player in mid stride.

Saints take over with :30 left at the 11 after a holding penalty.

Here’s the play call:

Run,(end of first quarter). Pass to Colston for the first down.  Run with Bush for 8.  Run with Bush for a yard and a late hit penalty that gave them an extra 15. Pass to Pierre Thomas for 9 yards (Broke two tackles).  Run by Pierre Thomas for a yard and a first (Broke a tackle).  Pass to Colston for 11 and another first. Run by Pierre Thomas for a yard.  Pass to Devery Henderson for 6 yards.  Sack by Dwight Freeney on 3rd down (on a bull rush by the way; how’s that ankle Dwight?).  Hartley field goal for 46 yards.  By the way, it was his longest field goal outdoors.

Drive length: 43 yards in 10 plays and 5:54 in game time.

Colts take over with 9:27 in the second quarter

here’s their play call:

Pass to Joseph Addai  for 9 yards.  Run by Addai for minus 3.  Incompletion to Pierre Garcon on a very good throw by Manning.   3 and out.

Drive length: 6 yards in 3 plays and 1:04 in game time.

Saints take over at the 27 after a punt and 8:14 left on the clock.

here’s the play call:

Pass incomplete to Shockey (high throw and almost intercepted).  Pass to Pierre Thomas for 7 yards (another tackle broken).  Pass to Colston for 13 yards and a first down.  Run by Bush for a yard. Pass to Shockey for 7 yards. Pass to Lance Moore for 21 yards. Devery Henderson on a reverse for  minus 7.  Pass to Marques Colston for 27 yards.  Pass to Lance Moore for 0 yards. False start by offense for a loss of 5 yards. Run by Pierre Thomas for 7 yards. 2 minute break.  Loss of a yard by Mike Bell. Fourth down and a yard and they get stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

Let’s pause here for a second.   Here’s why I am not a head football coach.  I thought it was a huge mistake to go for it on fourth down.  Peyton had been stopped for one 3 and out but the reason was that Pierre Garcon had missed a ball that hit him on his hands so the chances of that happening again were slim.  The Super Bowl is one game sudden death and so having the correct feel for each moment of the game is crucial and I felt if I were Sean Payton that getting 3 points as opposed to going for a touchdown was far more important because you needed to keep putting up points.  The fact that they got stopped was the absolute worst thing that could happen.  But Payton went for it.

Then when the running play went to the same side as the play before it, I was baffled.  Why not throw it up to one of your 6 feet and taller recievers to see if they couldn’t come down with it?  Suddenly the Saints were playing power football?  Also, they ran to the outside which plays to the strength of the Colts defense which is predicated on speed and closing in on the football.  By jumping to the outside, the Colts used that advantage and got to the attack point quicker.  At this point, I thought uh oh, Peyton’s now going to drive 99 yards and score before the half and all the air is going to come out of that Saints bandwagon I had jumped on after 36 seconds in the first quarter.

Drive length: 72 yards in 12 plays 6:25 of game time. 0 points.

We can all agree that at this point, the Colts had the momentum.

Manning from the 1 here’s the play call with 1:49 on the clock to end the half.  Remember that the Colts are set to get the ball back.

Run by Mike Hart for 4 yards. Run by Addai for 5 yards. Timeout Saints.  Run by Addai for 0 yards. Time out Saints. Colts punt.

Now think about that for a second.  Manning and the Colts just saw the Saints stonewalled with a yard to go so they dont want to make the same mistake and can’t afford to being backed against their end zone so I don’t fault them at all for not going for it here although if there’s one QB that can draw up a play and get a yard its Peyton, but let’s not fuss over that.  Remember how I said that I wasn’t cut out to be a head football coach?  Well here’s why.  The Saints had 3 timeouts.  When Peyton called a run play that surprised no one, I figured ok, why aren’t the Saints calling timeout?  It was then brought to my attention by Phil Simms that they were trying to use only 2 timeouts during the Colts possession and use one for their possession which is smart and economical.  That’s all predicated on the Saints stopping them in the next two plays.  When Addai ran for 5 and set up a third and one, the Saints didn’t call a timeout until they let 11 seconds run off the clock which who knows what the Saints could’ve done with an extra 11 seconds but let’s not play that game.

Ok, so let’s resume.  Punt to Bush run back 5 yards.  Saints start off at the 48.  0:35 left.

Pass to Devery Henderson for 20 yards.  Run up and spike to stop the clock (15 seconds elapsed between catch and spiking the ball).  Pass to Henderson for 6.  Pass to Bush for a yard and he steps out of bounds.  Hartley hits a field goal from 44 yards.  His second of the quarter and only the second player to hit two longer than forty yard field goals in the Super Bowl.

Drive length: 27 yards in 5 plays and 0:35 seconds of game time and 3 points.

Why was that entire quarter summarized?  Because the flow of the game and momentum switched three times.  That quarter was one big pendulum swing and the team that ended it with the momentum went on to win the game.  Remember when I thought they wouldn’t get those 3 points back and thought it was a mistake that they didn’t come away with points to end the half?  Well let’s now look at it from the perspective that we see it played out from.  The Saints went for it thinking, even if we don’t hit the field goal, we pin the Colts at the one and now they have to play conservative run football just to get out of the endzone and try to milk time off the clock.  They are going to play conservative.  We stop them on 3 plays, use two timeouts and we still have a little under a minute to drive to get back those three points anyway.  Or we hit a big play and score a touchdown.  That’s how it played out.  That’s why the momentum went back to the Saints, because even when geniuses like me thought they were losing the momentum, it still worked.  So much for me as a head coach.

PLAY OF THE GAME:  Obviously its the onside kick and I will tell you why.  Its ballsy.  Its exactly what they called it: an ambush.  That’s what Sean Payton called that play to his kicker who had NEVER attempted the kick in his life.  Think about that.  A punter who had just started practicing that kick 12 days ago in what is one of the biggest gambles of the coach’s career.  Either its successful and he’s a genius or it doesn’t work and he’s a fool.  Credit Peter King for all this info since I read it in his MMQB (a must read for any real football fan).  In the article, Peter mentioned how Payton had seen how the Colts kick off teams cheated sending two players back to defend the run back which left the Colts woefully thin up front which left them susceptible to the onside kick.  Why not attempt it earlier?  Payton wanted to set it up and now with the Saints having the momentum and half time being longer than usual since its the Super Bowl and it takes time for Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend to put down their pipes and get off the field, Payton figured why not get momentum while its there to be had.  Great play by a coach who obviously didn’t blindly go for it and had reason to believe it would work.  Solid reasoning based on information he had gathered while scouting the Colts.  That’s why Payton won the game.  His game management skills and properly assessing the flow of the game helped win this game.

MVP:  DREW BREES. Sometimes, the Super Bowl MVP award goes to the most popular player on the team or the QB.  No other way.  But in this case, who else to give it to?  Drew Brees tied the record for completions in a Super Bowl and went a methodical 29-32 after the first half which included a spike in those 3 incompletions.  So really its 29-31 after the first quarter which gives him a 93.5% completion rate.  He ended with  a 32-39 line (82 % for those scoring at home) for 288 yards and 2 TD’s.  A completely efficient performance which fully cements him in the conversation of upper echelon QB’s of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

INDY REACTION: On facebook, an interesting question was raised by a friend of mine.  Brett Favre throws that INT and he’s an idiot and a moron.  Manning throws it and its a bad route run by Reggie Wayne or a great play made by the defender.  Well, to clarify the point I made, Favre’s backbreaking INT’s as evidenced by the one that he threw against the Saints in the NFC Championship game are head scratchers.  The ones that make you immediately yell out “what the %$#@ were you thinking?”  This interception by Peyton was his worst throw of the afternoon considering he wasn’t facing as much pressure.  Peyton played a great game in the first quarter and then was rendered useless for the remaining 3 quarters which is more a credit to the Saints defense and Offense winning the time of possession battle.  That second quarter was so crucial for the Saints because they kept Peyton off the field for the most part.  Credit Tracy Porter for jumping the route.  That was all Tracy Porter on that interception and return.  We can all point the finger at Peyton but let’s give credit where its due and not look to play the blame game on this one for once?

For the most part, Peyton continued to show why he’s still the best QB in the business throwing 3 passes that have to be shown in loop to every young QB in the game.  His pass, while moving to his right and hitting Dallas Clark in the fourth quarter over 4 defenders had to be one of the greatest throws I’ve ever seen.  Talk about putting it right where it had to be.  His other pass was the very first completion to Dallas Clark, just an incredibly tight window and he fit it right where it had to be.  Throws like that make it hard to put anyone else number one.

When Peyton got the ball and down 24-17, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t believe that Peyton wasn’t going to drive down the field and score and tie the game.  I was waiting for it to happen.  Then when he got intercepted, I looked up at the clock and despite common sense and everyone in the room telling me it was over, I still held out hope that if any QB on the planet could pull this one off, it was Peyton.  That’s how good he is ladies and gents.

All in all a very good Super Bowl.  Not quite as good as the last two years but then again expecting three games in a row that came down to the final minute would be a bit much.  Hopefully 2011 in Dallas will be a great one considering we might not see another one for a while.

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DIVISIONAL REACTION pt 1- the other guys

Ok, so I know you’ve all been anxiously awaiting my detailed explanation as to why the Saints, the Colts, Vikings and Jets won.  Well I’m going to tell you why, but more on the Jet game in a later post.

Cards vs Saints-  As I wrote in the previous prediction column I mistakenly ignored all the good karma that the city of New Orleans had going for it and the good karma that they added on by bringing back fan favorite Deuce McCalister on a one day contract, simply so he could lead them out of the tunnel.  Peter King said it best, they had 52 healthy players and needed a player to fill in number 53 and that more than anything speaks volumes to who Sean Payton is as a coach and as a person.  He gets it.  He understood how important and how well it would be recieved by both his players and this city that has had nothing but hills to climb since Katrina.  Something is going right for this city and its this time and no one symbolizes that climb more than Deuce.

But more so, I took into account the layoff between the last good game the Saints played and equated that to being rusty.  While that’s good sensible logic (really i’m grasping at straws here to defend such a, now looking back, atrocious pick), I also failed to take into account the Super Dome.  This weekend, the dome teams went out and dominated.  Flat out.  Nothing more to say than that.  The Super Dome is one of the loudest stadiums.  Ever.  I mean, who can forget that first home game following Katrina?  I bet the Falcons walked into that stadium and from the word go probably realized they had a negative chance at winning that game, that stadium was rocking that hard that night and similarly so too was the stadium last Saturday.  It was a party from the very first Saint touchdown to the very final bell.

In between the Saints discovered a few things that I hope the Vikings were paying attention to.  Their secondary got much healthier than they had been all season.  Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Randall Gay were all 100% and raring to go for the first time in a long time and perhaps in the everlasting debate over rest or ride for meaningless games, rest may have been the formula here.  Their secondary gave Kurt Warner nothing but little dink and dunk passes.  I expected both teams to limit big play opportunities but little did I know that the Cardinals would not play any defense at all.  Poor tackling, missed assignments and awful secondary play (albeit after Rodgers-Cromartie went down), contributed to the lack of defensive intensity but another huge factor missing in all this was: holy crap, that was Reggie Bush that everyone thought he would be.

Was it me or did he look huge, like cartoonish huge.  I’m not trying to say he’s on something but you’d be hard pressed to find a more physical player than Reggie Bush on saturday.  He was running over people like he was Brandon Jacobs.  He invited contact instead of trying to make the “And-One” play all the time and making people miss.  I love Reggie when he tries to but in the NFL, players are just as fast as him and bigger.  I think Reggie finally embraced his natural ability and became who he was meant to be.  North to south, east to west, ability to break things open and ability to run between tackles.  Another wrinkle that came out of this is the fact that Reggie Bush is owed a sizable roster bonus during March.  This was pretty much a resume he handed into Saints management who will have to consider him at the very least now.  Michael Lombardi said it best when he commented “he was once an accessory to this offense, and on Saturday he looked like a legitimate part of it.”

Biggest turning point of the game had to be the Kurt Warner injury.  If that weren’t sign enough that it was time to leave, i’m sure when he came to his senses, his mind was made up.  Even his suddenly much younger looking and much hotter wife, had a look of resignation as Warner was attended to as they had discussed this possibly being his last season as an NFL player.  Warner leaving will be a huge blow to the Cardinals because, i don’t know if anyone else saw what I saw from Matt Leinart but his shoes will be hard to fill by anyone they have currently on their roster.

COLTS vs. Ravens-  Let’s be clear here, Peyton Manning’s brilliance is once in a life time and his knowledge of the game is unparalleled.  I used that disclaimer before I tell you that the mistakes the Ravens made in this game cost them the game more than Peyton Manning playing his usual killer self at the QB position.  Go ahead, look at the stats.  Most of the stats are pretty similiar.  Even the turnover game: technically the Ravens picked off Peyton twice but the stat sheet will only show one.  Why?  Because one of them was nullified thanks to a penalty.  The other was returned only to have Ed Reed (the interceptor on both of those plays, back to back in fact) get the ball knocked out of his hand and the Colts recover.  Two opportunities, and both missed thanks to bad play by the Ravens.  We haven’t even talked about how many huge drops there were, and the interception that Joe Flacco threw to close the game and the other one that was tipped off the hands of Ray Rice and right to the Colts.  All rally killers and all mistakes that cost the Ravens.

We know to give credit where credit is due, but let’s go ahead and remember what was truly at work here.  The Colts defense was fast and opportunistic, while the Ravens offense was giving and slow.  One 11 of their 13 first down opportunities they ran.  Yes, they are a power running game, but their passing offense wasn’t too bad.  Looking at the stat sheet of the game, of their 12 first downs 10 were gained by passing now that means that they were left in mostly 3rd and more than 5 or 6 which meant that the Indy defense knew they were going to pass which plays into Indy’s strength.  If they had reversed the trend and ran after passing on first down, it would’ve greatly affected 3rd down on many of those occasions.  Baltimore kept making mistakes which allowed the Colts better field position and just better overall manageable situations.  That penalty on Ray Lewis was a bit of a touchy call but still, the rule is very clear: anytime the defender leads in with his helmet and hits another helmet, it is a penalty and that should NOT be something to quibble over especially if you’ve been reading the New York Times very expertly written research into the link between brain damage and football players.

VIKINGS vs. COWBOYS-  A lot of people, including me, bought into the hot Cowboys.  They were America’s team and they were putting each demon behind them as the season wore on and after decisively beating the Eagles two weeks in a row, many considered the Cowboys the second best if not best team heading into the playoffs.  Only, once again, I refused to consider how dominantly the Viking front four would play and answer the call.  I only spoke of the fearsome pass rush that DeMarcus Ware and Co. were putting together and yet glossed over the fact that the Viking front four could be equally as destructive.  In fact, I spoke so highly of the Cowboy offense that I misremembered how good the Viking offense was.  Actually, no I didn’t, I in my continued hatred for how poorly the Giants played those last few weeks, saw that last game as a mirage.  A byproduct of playing a team that no longer cared.  But in fact, the Vikings came out and executed excellently.  They never had to depend on Adrian Peterson who played yet another subpar game.  20 carries for 63 yards is a rather meager output but when you consider that his presence alone made the Cowboys come up on the line, and gave the receivers one on one on the outside.  It seems as if Brett Favre and Sidney Rice are really catching on.  Sidney is tall and athletic enough to make some catches that normally aren’t good throws but you can’t get a better thrown pass than the one Brett threw him for the first touchdown.  It was literally there on his hands and it was such a good job of Rice to act as if he wasn’t the intended target that the safety never turned around or ever put his hands up either.  It fell right in his lap and he took it the rest of the way for the touchdown.

The chop block for the second TD was a bit sketchy but stood simply because it was a heads up play to never give up.  Favre really had no other options and found Rice open in the middle of the field.  The third one was a perfect throw again which really the Cowboys couldn’t have defended any better.

The game was lost because of the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys.  You can make a case that Romo lost the game but that again is the simple answer.  Romo never had any time to step into a throw and was constantly pressured to the point that he was constantly running around like a headless chicken.  What’s more is that the Vikings did it with a conventional 4 man rush which goes to show you how much depth they have on the front line.  Ray Edwards, up until his knee injury, was a beast and the Cowboys never had a shot at defending him.

A major question to come out of this is will Wade Phillips be fired.  According to Ed Werder he will NOT be fired and will be back next season.  Here’s the thing, working in an environment where you are evaluated year after year is something we all have to go through but Wade knows that he won’t be anyone’s head coach next season and Dallas is the only place that will put him at head coach.  Also, Jerry Jones knows the players love playing for Wade and not just that, he’s a guy who he can manipulate and control and won’t fight back.  Jerry has always loved those guys and stick by them.  As long as Wade isn’t impeding on Jerry’s team, he’s not going to make a move although many Cowboy fans will be upset by this, its the truth.  Forget the fact that Wade is in my top five of dumb head coaches.  Forget that Wade will never get further than where he is right now.  Forget that the Cowboys have built up enough bad karma over the last twenty years that Wade’s dumb ass can’t undo.  Forget that Romo always has that deer in head lights look when his team gets down.  Forget that Flozell Adams is the dirtiest player in the game.  Ok, so he had nothing to do with my point, but i just wanted to hate on him a little bit.  Forget all that and remember this: like the Chargers and Cowboys, during the regular season, both teams have shown that they CAN beat the top tier teams in the league, yet fail to do so when it comes to the post season.  Why?  Because their coaches have reached the limit of where they can guide those teams.  They need someone else to come in and get them over the hump.  Dan Reeves proved it during his career that no team that he coached could win with him despite having one of the greatest QB’s of all time John Elway.  It took Mike Shanahan to come in and win for Elway to finally win.  Some coaches are in front of the door unable to find the right key to get them in, and other coaches are ones that answer the door and Wade Phillips, Norv Turner, those guys will always be great assistants but will never lead their team to the promised land.  Sorry Dallas, and sorry San Diego, no matter what you will say in the coming weeks, nothing will make me think otherwise that your coaches will ever get further than they got their teams thus far.

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Divisional Predictions

We all claim to know a lot about a certain topic. I figured after last week’s 3-1 weekend, I knew all there was to know about playoff football. Last night, I figured that I knew enough to figure that the Arizona Cardinals were good enough to beat the New Orleans Saints. The reason I figured, was that
1. they had more momentum going into the game.
2. Kurt Warner hinted at retirement prior to the playoffs starting and of course God loves him so…can’t really go against that logic.
3. They were battle tested after surviving against the Packers.
4. The Saints were reeling.

Those are all fine and well, unfortunately I failed to properly analyze all the factors the Saints had going for them:

1. The Superdome. Many call it the loudest place for a visitor to come, and one of the last true home field advantages left in the NFL.
2. They resigned fan favorite Deuce McCalister to a contract simply to lead them out onto the field. On the cool scale that rates a 8 and it rightfully sends chills down my spine for them to extend that courtesy to a guy who symbolized the Saint franchise for so long.
3. Louisiana. If any one place has karma stored up, who beats N’awlins, right? This entire state deserves everything good coming to them.

So for todays game, I refuse to look past obvious signs when picking today’s games.

(Home team in caps)
Dallas (+3) over MINNESOTA- Calling it for what it is, I just don’t think the Vikings are playing the kind of football that would warrant me having any kind of confidence in them. Plain and simple. More importantly, I think the Cowboys are finally playing up to their ability which was always their knock. Whether it was Romo’s inability to win in December (which, while really funny and good to use in trash talk to Cowboy fans, shouldve never fell solely on his shoulders), the T.O. distraction, or Wade Phillips (come on, stupid coach theory in full effect here), there were always silly factors legitemately holding them back.
What’s changed? Maybe watching himself on the humongo screen has finally wisened up the bunch that they need to play better. Maybe, having all those distractions finally cast aside has freed all parties from this imaginary weight hanging over this franchise. Or maybe they realized how good they were and they decided to play hard each snap. Regardless, I believe firmly in that “a-ha moment”. That moment of epiphany which seldom few have. The Boys had it against the Saints when they decided to go all out and beat the Saints, then unbeaten. Its similiar to when the Giants, having nothing to play for, played all out against the Patriots and gained confidence from the mere fact that they could hang with what many people were already crowning the best team ever. You know how that story ended. The Cowboys walked into the Superdome needing to win that game to stay alive in the playoff race, and in a performance that was flat out dominating, thoroughly out-played the best team in football at the time. That was the sparkplug, which eventually has led them to the Hubery Humphrey Dome in the Twin Cities. Its led them to Brett Favre, Tony Romo’s idol growing up. No need to tell you that in my mind these offenses match up very well against each other. However, the strength of the defenses is a little different. The offensive line of the Vikings have played absolutely atrociously. No doubt in my mind, I see the combo platter of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, having a field day and spending so much time on Brett Favre that they may become permanent stitches of his jersey. Brett might have been his idol, but today the student will beat the master. Now, I know, you may be saying, but Swith, what about Wade Phillips, don’t you feel he will make a stupid mistake to ruin it for the ‘Boys? My answer is, remember that Brad Childress is his counterpart today. A man, I’m convinced, got that beard, and head mic for the sole reason that he felt as though no one was taking him seriously. I still don’t.Wade, you’ve met your match.

Jets (+8) over Chargers- The closer I’m getting to game day, the more I want to pick the Chargers here, but let’s see, the Chargers have one of the worst run defenses and the Jets have the best run game in the league. On the flip side, the Chargers have one of the best passong attacks in the league, while the Jets blitz from every angle exposing their secondary to one on one match ups on a receiving corps that averages 6’4 and taller. I get that the Chargers will score points regardless of how many Darell Revis’ there are on the field. I get that the Chargers won’t be run heavy today and put Darren Sproles split wide to use his speed. I get that Norv Turner is excellent at spreading the field against blitzing teams. Ok, so what is my case for the Jets? No homer-ism. I think they can control the clock. They can get enough stops, and Mark Sanchez can be capable enough for another 12-18 effort. Will he throw a pair of picks? Likely. Will he get sacked? Yes. But will the running attack go over 200 yards? Yes. Will Brad Smith be feautured? I think so. Will Jets, regardless of outcome, have a better time of possession. Yah.
As long as the Jets do that, they have a chance to keep it close. My prediction is this: either a very close Jet win, OR a San Diego blowout.

Enjoy Divisional Weekend!

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