Reid Fischer's World of Rants

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Posts Tagged ‘National Football League’

Week 1 & Season Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 9, 2010

Well clearly the first week of the NFL season somehow snuck up on me.  Here we go for a quick hit preview.  Think of it as quick hit thoughts on each team, a gut reaction if you will.  Teams are listed in predicted order of finish.  An asterisk indicates a wild card team.  Playoff predictions as well as selections for the week one matchups can be found at the end. 

AFC EAST:

1. New England Patriots (11-5) – I know better than to pick against them.  Tom Brady is in a contract year and there is a new infusion of youth.  Bottom line is this team wins more often than they don’t.  This is the safe pick.

2. New York Jets (10-6)* – The Jets made a lot of sexy additions to build off last season’s AFC title game appearance.  It’ll be interesting to see if Mark Sanchez can continue to improve and be an offensive leader. 

3. Miami Dolphins (9-7) – Miami’s offense got better with Brandon Marshall.  The question is will his attitude cost them?  Defense isn’t quite up to par with other division contenders.

4. Buffalo Bills (3-13) – Lack of offensive weapons and a mediocre defense equal a terrible combination.  I hope C.J. Spiller’s confidence isn’t destroyed running behind a terrible offensive line.

AFC NORTH:

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-3) – I don’t see why everyone is so down on the Ravens defense.  It’s the same guys that have dominated for years.  Now they have a scary good offense to go with it.  Look out AFC.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) – Cincy is here more because of their defense than because of the offense with all the egos.  I still somehow think T.O. and Ochocinco will co-exist and Carson Palmer will have a bounce back season, but they will miss the playoffs by a hair.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) – I somehow feel like I know this is wrong, but I don’t like their prospects in the four games without Ben Roethlisberger and their defense is aging.  If Rashard Mendenhall can’t stay healthy they’re done.

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12) – Jake Delhomme is way past his prime.  There is a complete lack of talent at virtually every position.  They’d better hope they can groom Colt McCoy in time to start next season.

AFC SOUTH:

1. Indianapolis Colts (14-2) – Come on, do you really think I’m foolish enough to pick against Peyton Manning?  He has all the old weapons at this disposal and the Colts are nearly unbeatable indoors. 

2. Houston Texans (11-5)* – It seems like this my annual surprise pick, but this time I think they’ll finally get into the playoffs.  There is too much talent on both sides of the ball for them not to.  If they’re 8-8 again this year, Gary Kubiak should be in trouble.

3. Tennessee Titans (8-8) – Chris Johnson is amazing, but he can’t do it all by himself.  The Titans are the epitome of a class organization, but they don’t quite have the goods to be a playoff team this year. 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) – The Jaguars have Maurice Jones-Drew and, well, ummmm….  Jack Del Rio will be gone after this season.

AFC WEST:

1. San Diego Chargers (9-7) – Yes, this division will be mediocre enough that the Chargers can win it with this record.  They need to get Vincent Jackson and their other holdouts back in short order.  Fortunately Philip Rivers and their running game can carry them.

2. Denver Broncos (8-8) – I don’t know what to expect from my home team.  Frankly anything between 6-10 and 10-6 wouldn’t surprise me.  We’ll go in the middle.  They’ve already been beset by injuries and the schedule is very rocky.  Kyle Orton will have a very good season, but if the running game can’t get healthy, it won’t matter if Orton plays well.

3. Oakland Raiders (6-10) – The Raiders believe Jason Campbell is the answer at quarterback.  I still have reservations as long as this team is owned by Al Davis.  That said, they should be improved over last season.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (5-11) – The running game should be very solid with Jamaal Charles leading the way, but I’m still not a Matt Cassel fan.  Plus the defense doesn’t appear as though it’s going to be very good.

NFC EAST:

1. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) – This could be a huge season for the Cowboys since they are hosting the Super Bowl this year.  They’ll have enough to at least win the division, for it seems as though Tony Romo has finally figured out how to win.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) – Eagles fans may quickly regret running Donovan McNabb out of town.  Kevin Kolb is good, but he’s no McNabb.  Brian Westbrook could be missed even more. 

3. Washington Redskins (7-9) – Mike Shanahan will very much be in transition mode during his first season.  McNabb is an upgrade at QB, but do any of his running backs have anything left in the tank?  Plus the Albert Haynesworth saga has the making of a dark cloud over the defense.

4. New York Giants (6-10) – The Giants fell to Earth last season and don’t seem to have done much to change their personnel.  I like Ahmad Bradshaw in the running game and Eli Manning is capable, but something still doesn’t seem right.

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (14-2) – I sense a big breakout year for the pack, highlighted by Aaron Rodgers who is without question the real deal.  The offensive talent is solid at every position and the defense overall might be the best in the league.

2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5)* – The Vikings are still a playoff team, but it remains to be seen if Brett Favre can stay upright for the entire season.  The loss of Sidney Rice to injury is significant, but the running game and defense are still among the best in the league.  If Tarvaris Jackson comes in, the record obviously goes south quickly.

3. Chicago Bears (6-10) – I sense major disaster with the Jay Cutler-Mike Martz marriage offensively.  Given Cutler’s league leading 26 picks last year, an offensive designed on throwing all the time doesn’t seem like a good idea.  The running game is only so so, but the defense may keep them in games. 

4. Detroit Lions (5-11) – Detroit seems like they are improving, but it still appears 2011 is their target.  They are developing young talent, and they may exceed expectations.  If fans are patient, the team is moving in the right direction.

NFC SOUTH

1. New Orleans Saints (12-4) – The Saints appear to have all the pieces necessary to have a shot at repeating.  The same cast of characters as last year can’t be bad thing in any way.  The only question is how will they handle the pressure of repeating?

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)* – I think the Falcons will return to the playoffs this year.  Matt Ryan is an excellent quarterback and the running game and receivers are in place.  This team is capable of winning the division if breaks go their way.

3. Carolina Panthers (7-9) – The Panthers are in transition with Matt Moore at QB.  I think it’s almost certain Jimmy Clausen will start before the year is over.  The defense is not as good as it was but the running game will help win them some games. 

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) – A young Josh Freeman still has a lot to learn about playing quarterback in the NFL, but he has talent.  This is a young team that simply doesn’t look like it’s going to be very good. 

NFC WEST

1. San Francisco 49ers (9-7) – Both west divisions will be highly mediocre, but San Francisco looks like they might finally be able to break through.  There is immense talent at the skills positions on offense, the question is if Alex Smith will finally be ready to take advantage of all of it.  The defense is as solid as they come. 

2. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – They lost a lot of talent (Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, and several defensive players).  Derek Anderson is no Kurt Warner, but he still has talent around him.  Still, a drop off is inevitable.

3. Seattle Seahawks (6-10) – Pete Carroll is inheriting an odd team.  Matt Hasselbeck has been very injury prone at QB, and frankly the overall talent level leaves a lot to be desired.  It’s hard to respect Carroll after he left USC in such a mess.

4. St. Louis Rams (4-12) – Sam Bradford is the real deal.  The problem is he has no help.  Steven Jackson is still a terrific back, but he’s bound to get worn down if he’s asked to do too much.  The defense is very young. 

Playoff Picks:

AFC:

Wild Card games: (6) Texans over (3) Patriots, (5) Jets over (4) Chargers

Divisional games: (1) Colts over (6) Texans, (2) Ravens over (5) Jets

AFC Championship: (2) Ravens over (1) Colts – Baltimore’s defense figures out Manning

NFC

Wild Card games: (3) Saints over (6) Falcons, (5) Vikings over (4) 49ers

Divisional games: (1) Packers over (5) Vikings, (2) Cowboys over (3) Saints

NFC Championship Game: (1) Packers over (2) Cowboys – Lambeau advantage too much for Cowboys

Super Bowl Pick: Ravens over Packers.  I like Baltimore’s complete team, they have the passing game, the running game, and the defense.  This is in every way a complete team, and I like them to take the whole thing this year.

Now for quickie week one selections:

– Saints over Vikings: This is a fantastic way to kick off the season tonight.  I like the Saints largely because of the emotion of the home crowd, but this will be very close and entertaining.

– Dolphins over Bills: Miami’s new weapons are enough to beat a struggling Bills team in a tight division contest

– Bears over Lions:  An upset by the visitors wouldn’t surprise me, but a hunch says the host Bears pull this off.

– Titans over Raiders: Complete mismatch, Tennessee rolls at home behind Chris Johnson

– Patriots over Bengals: I almost went with the visitors here in a mini-upset, but picking against New England is usually a bad idea in Foxboro

– Panthers over Giants: This is a coin flip game.  I don’t think either team is very good, but I’ll go with the Panthers in a mini-upset

– Falcons over Steelers: Dennis Dixon is under center for the Steelers.  This presents a huge problem.  Matt Ryan and Roddy White lead Atlanta to the road win.

– Buccaneers over Browns: My sympathies if you’re stuck with the dud game of the week.  Tampa Bay wins a boring game at home.

– Broncos over Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew will get his yards, but I think Kyle Orton is in line for a nice year.  This one won’t be pretty either, but I think Denver takes it.

– Colts over Texans: I do think Houston is line for a breakthrough season, but I decided I’m not picking against Indy unless they give me a compelling reason to do so

– Cardinals over Rams: Arizona may be down this year, but they’ll have enough to beat one of the worst teams in the league

– Packers over Eagles: Aaron Rodgers begins what should be an outstanding season.  I think Kevin Kolb will struggle in his real action as the starting QB

– 49ers over Seahawks: Seattle has one of the loudest crowds in the league, but I think the Niners’ running game will carry the day

– Cowboys over Redskins: Washington will be fired up for Mike Shanahan’s first game, but the Cowboys are much better. 

– Ravens over Jets: I think the Jets will be good, but as you saw above I think Baltimore is winning the Super Bowl.  They are going to open with a bang.

– Chargers over Chiefs: Arrowhead hasn’t hosted a Monday night game in years so it will be rocking, but the Chargers will want to show they are still the class of division. 

 

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Bad news for Broncos backfield

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 3, 2010

The Broncos received some really bad news today regarding their running game. Adam Schefter reports that LenDale White is out for the season after tearing his Achilles. This is devastating for the Broncos, who are still waiting for Knowshon Moreno to get healthy and just getting Correll Buckhalter back. White was going to miss the first four games of the season due to suspension anyway, but now the Broncos won’t have him at all this year. White was expected to be the goal line back and help shore up some of the team’s red zone deficiencies. Now the Broncos will have to rely on Moreno and Buckhalter to carry the running game this year.

This is why I hate preseason. White got hurt in a completely meaningless scrimmage on artificial turf. Of course injuries can happen at any time, but this one occurred in a game that didn’t count and now the Broncos are without one of their key signings for the year.

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18 game season? Why not?

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 26, 2010

You’ve probably heard by now that the NFL is targeting 2012 for an expansion of the regular season from 16 to 18 games.  I think ultimately I am on board with the owners on this one, although there are plenty of reasons to hesitate. I so agree with some of the reasons from folks that think this is a bad idea, but I don’t think any of them are a deal breaker.  I think this is a case where the benefits end up outweighing the negatives.

I think the single biggest reason to do it is it would cut down on preseason football.  I don’t think there is any question that preseason football is the biggest rip off in sports.  Season ticket holders across the league are forced into paying full price to attend these useless scrimmages.  No one can say with a straight face that preseason NFL even closely resembles the regular season product.  I’m a football nut, and the only reason I watch every play of the Broncos’ preseason games is because I’m being paid to as part of my job.  An 18-game regular season would also mean a reduction in preseason from four to two games.  This seems like a no brainer that most fans would want to see two more meaningful games as opposed to two extra scrimmages that don’t count and feature many players who ultimately won’t make the team.

Fewer preseason games would also include the benefit for teams and players of less training camp.  Football has evolved considerably from even 15 years ago, for players are now keeping in shape year round, and thus don’t need lengthy training camps to get ready.  This is also another argument for reducing the preseason.  Four games are simply not necessary to get ready.  They don’t play any preseason games in college, and that has never seemed to be a problem in regards to the quality of play in week one.  I’d much rather see more games that count and reflect the true nature of the product as opposed to scrimmages where both teams are openly attempting not to win.

Now, I do acknowledge the problems with this.  The biggest one would be increased risk of injury given two extra regular season games, but to me this argument is voided completely by the removal of two preseason games and a shorter training camp.  Teams can lose guys to injury at any time; preseason, regular season or practice.  Just ask the Broncos about losing Elvis Dumervil for the season in a one on one drill.  It is unavoidable that these things happen, but I don’t believe there is any increased risk with a regular season game over a preseason game for any particular player.

One concern might be that some of the later games could be rendered meaningless if a team clinches too early and elects to rest players.  We’ve already seen cases where teams have sat guys for the last week of the year or even the final two weeks after clinching a division title or home field advantage.  While this is possible, it’s something that’s already a problem now anyway.  It is also equally possible that we could see even more fantastic races down the stretch for playoff positioning.  I think there would be enough excitement down the stretch that this wouldn’t be any bigger deal than it is now.

What about the record books?  This is a problem that baseball experienced when it went from 154 to 162 games.  When Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927, he had eight fewer games than when Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961.  Football could have similar issues with records for yards, touchdowns, etc.  For example, a running back would only need to average 59 yards a game to crack the 1,000 yard barrier for the season if it were 18 games.  The flip side of that is that this milestone is already less impressive than it was even 10 years ago.  More and more backs are already hitting that barrier now anyway, so what if more hit it over 18 games?  I say make 1,500 yards the new rushing milestone and this isn’t a big deal.

Of course there is the issue of player salaries.  The players of course would want to get paid for the two extra regular season games.  Their salaries are based on a 16-game schedule, and thus they do not get paid for preseason games.  This would also mean the owners lose one of two preseason home dates where they get full gate receipts and the players don’t see a dime of it.  It is perhaps fitting that the collective bargaining agreement is a really hot topic right now with a lockout perhaps looming in 2011.  If the owners want to push this through, the players are going to sign off on it as part of this agreement.

Despite the issues that come up with an 18-game season, I think more football is never a bad thing.  Two more games that count at the expense of two that don’t is not going to dilute the product.  If you were talking about making it  a year round operation or something like that, then dilution would be a valid argument, but this is a modest enough increase in real games not to be the case.  I think the extra meaningful games will only enhance pro football.  Are you really going to watch every play of your team’s fourth preseason game when all of your key players are going to see little to no action?  Unless you really want to see the guys that are about to get cut, you’re not missing much there.  Will you watch two extra regular season games?  Of course you will.

I think this will ultimately happen, and I think it will ultimately benefit the NFL.

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Settle down on Tebow, please!

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 18, 2010

I am extremely sick and tired of hearing about Tim Tebow.  Look, I hope he succeeds.  I really don’t want to see yet another first round pick wasted by the Broncos a la Marcus Nash or George Foster.  I hope Tebow can learn how to play in the NFL.  What I am getting infuriated by are headlines such as the following from supposedly reputable news outlets:

“Tim Tebow will start for Broncos this season” – Orlando Sentinel

“Tebow will start by December” – Miami Herald

“Tim Tebow mania overtaking Broncos” – USA Today

“Orton will have Tebow monkey on his back” – MSNBC.com

Whoa, slow down people!  So far all Tebow has done in the NFL is lead one touchdown drive in a preseason game against a vanilla prevent defense played by third stringers, many of whom will probably be bagging groceries in two weeks and not playing in the NFL.  He has done NOTHING to give even the slightest consideration that he can be an NFL starter.  The fact is way too many people are praising Tebow’s performance Sunday night.  I’ll admit he threw a beautiful pass to Matthew Willis that was dropped and he did show some guts on his touchdown run, but Tebow’s mechanics still need a lot of work.  He still holds the ball too low when he starts his throwing motion.  You think Dwight Freeney wouldn’t knock the ball right out of his hand?  Even on Sunday night against third stringers, Tebow got bailed out by the tuck rule on what otherwise would have been a Bengals’ fumble return TD by virtue of Tebow’s poor throwing mechanics.  He still has a lot to learn about reading NFL defenses, and if he keeps running like he did on Sunday night, someone like Ray Lewis is going to really bust him up.

I’m saying this to bag on Tebow.  He is just like any other rookie at the position.  He has actually had a pretty good camp and seems way ahead of Brady Quinn for the backup spot.  The fact is that Tebow is a project that will need time to transition to the NFL.  I do like his intangibles in terms of locker room presence and leadership, and I do admire his toughness on the field and willingness to do anything to win, but physically he’s got a ways to go before he can be an NFL starter.  This is not a Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco scenario where he is likely to come in and make that kind of impact right away.  Those guys made impact as rookies, but were also much more equipped to make the transition to the NFL because they had the physical tools.

Look folks, Kyle Orton is so far ahead in the race to be the Broncos starting quarterback this season that Tebow can’t even see his tail lights.  Orton has had the best camp of any player on the team.  He is throwing the ball with much more velocity and accuracy than he did last season, and all he did in his first preseason appearance was lead two touchdown drives against a playoff team from a year ago.  Unlike Tebow, who played against many players who are not likely to make the Bengals’ final roster, Orton played against the first team unit.  Oh, and Orton did this without any running game to help him because all of Denver’s running backs are injured.

I feel like people are so blinded by Tebow mania that it has long gotten beyond ridiculous. He is a rookie.  At that, he is a rookie that is a project.  Kyle Orton is playing incredibly well, and I think he may in line for a Pro Bowl type season (yes you read that right: Pro Bowl).  The only way that Tebow starts a game at quarterback for the Broncos at any point this season is if Orton gets injured, or the Broncos’ season has completely fallen off the wagon (say 3-7 or worse).  The only way Josh McDaniels will even think about starting Tebow at quarterback this season is if this season becomes a lost cause and he is looking ahead to next season.

I feel very strongly that this Tebow mania is very unfair to Orton and I feel like no one is acknowledging how well Orton has performed in this training camp.  I will even take it a step further and say that anyone who thinks Tebow should be starter over Orton either doesn’t know much about how football is actually played or is highly delusional.  Tim Tebow may blossom into a starter eventually, or he might not.  Until he does, let’s say off and give him time and a chance to develop.

For now, this is Orton’s team, and I think it should be really obvious that is best for the Broncos in 2010.

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Please, stop with the injuries!

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 9, 2010

First of all, my sincere apologies for being a big delinquent and not posting anything for the past three months.  I have slapped a big penalty on myself and promise to post with a lot more regularity.   It is not a coincidence that I am posting on the night of the first NFL preseason game this year between the Cowboys and Bengals.  Honestly I happen to find preseason football completely useless, primarily because it is nothing more than chances for players to get injured.  I am fearful of what this preseason is meaning for the Broncos, because they have already had a dozen players suffer injuries of varying severity during the first week of training camp, and we’re still a week away from the first of Denver’s meaningless four scrimmages.  Of course I realize that players can get hurt at any time, I just get extremely frustrated when they occur during the preseason period during a time in which we’re a long way away from any kind of meaningful football.

The biggest injury of course is that to Elvis Dumervil, who led the Broncos with 17 sacks last year.  No one else on the team had more than four.  You don’t have to be a football expert to see that this is a major blow to the Broncos’ defense.  The Broncos know how important Dumervil is, for they signed him to a $58 million extension over five years just weeks ago.  It appears in a best case scenario that the Broncos MIGHT see Dumervil in December, although it seems like the smart move would be let him have the season ending surgery to repair his torn pectoral muscle and make sure you don’t lose him for more than just this season.  The Broncos will obviously miss his ability to rush the passer.  What makes it worse is the guy they were counting on to replace Dumervil, Jarvis Moss, is out for a couple of weeks at least with a hand injury.  The good news for the linebacking core is that Robert Ayers, last year’s first round pick who had no sacks, has dominated training camp and looks like he is showing great improvement over last season.

While Dumervil is lost for the season, the Broncos are optimistic that most of the other injured players have a chance to ready for week one at Jacksonville.  Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and Correll Buckhalter (back/neck) both suffered injuries on the first day of training camp.  This one day after the Broncos traded J.J. Arrington to the Eagles for special teams ace Joe Mays, a move that made sense at the time given Denver’s desire to upgrade the special teams unit, but made a lot less sense after the running core had been significantly depleted with the injuries.  Denver signed LenDale White to add some depth in that area and give them someone who could run the ball during the preseason besides guys who are sure to get cut, and then White got hurt as well during his first day of practice with the Broncos.  Worse for Denver is that White is facing a four game suspension from the league, so he won’t be available until October anyway.

Then there are the injuries to the wide receivers.  First round pick Demariyus Thomas, who was already dealing with a foot injury suffered before the draft, re-aggrivated the injury while making a spectacular touchdown catch in practice Saturday night.  Third round pick Eric Decker also suffered a foot injury during a goal line drill in Saturday night’s practice.  The good news is the Broncos don’t believe either of these injuries is serious.

The Broncos did cancel their scheduled practice on Sunday, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it was partially because they were concerned other players might get injured.  I do think it’s fair to say that most if not all of these injuries have been fluke in nature and they don’t appear to be the result of anything related to the team’s training or practice regimen.  Of course there are other teams that have had the injury bug bite them during this preseason, but clearly there is no injury around the league that is near as significant as Dumervil’s.  Factor in the other injuries the Broncos have suffered, and Denver has clearly been the most injury riddled team in the league so far in camp.  It needs to stop, or else the Broncos’ season will be stopped dead in its tracks before it even has a chance to get rolling.

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Tebow in Denver

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 23, 2010

Let’s cut to the chase with this: the selection of Tim Tebow by the Denver Broncos at number 25 overall is without question the craziest, riskiest pick I have seen from an NFL team in years, maybe ever.  Here you have a guy in Tebow who just two months ago was being projected as a fifth or sixth round selection, largely due to a poor performance in the Senior Bowl and his showing the scouting combine.  We were told there are major flaws in Tebow’s mechanics and footwork.  Many still think he is nothing more than a backup quarterback at best.  There are others however who have seen him work insanely hard to improve his mechanics in the past two months and value his intangibles of hard work and leadership, thus valuing him much higher.  Rumor has it the Broncos weren’t the only team targeting Tebow tonight.  Reports have the Buffalo Bills as extremely disappointed, and others say perhaps the Patriots or Vikings were hoping Tebow would fall to them.  Bottom line: Tebow is perhaps the most polarizing player I have ever seen.  People either love him or hate him, there is no middle ground, and how he does in Denver will almost certainly define the Josh McDaniels era.

I think it is safe to say that the pick was a surprise, no surprise is too soft a word.  Let’s try shock.  That’s much better, I would say everyone in Broncos Country, and heck the entire league, was shocked to actually see Tebow selected in round one.  Many think he was selected too high.  Clearly, Josh McDaniels values him enough to have made him a first round selection.  This does seem very curious considering the recent trade for Brady Quinn and the other needs on the roster, not the least of which is the offensive line, of which there is no center currently on the roster.  I think it is safe to say that Tebow will not be starting at quarterback right away.  Right now that job still belongs to Kyle Orton, although he will certainly have competition breathing down his neck.  I could see Tebow being used initially in short yardage situations, perhaps some Wildcat formations, and basically deployed at specific times in a game to try and generate an impact.

Frankly, I think it will take minimum two and probably three seasons to truly judge this pick.  It will take time for Tebow to develop, and maybe that’s the problem that many fans have.  People want impact players in the first round, guys who will step in right away and make a difference.  Broncos fans are upset that Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall have been traded and they are having a hard time seeing what the Broncos got for those two players.  My views on Cutler are very clear (short version: if he keeps leading the league in picks, Chicago can have him) and Marshall was clearly someone who no longer wanted to be in Denver.  While the frustration is understandable, I think it’s clear that McDaniels wouldn’t have made those moves if he didn’t feel they made the team better.  Clearly he thinks Tebow can help.  So in that regard, I say let’s give the guy a chance to see what he can do before we label the pick as a bust.

Here is what I like about Tebow: His track record at Florida is outstanding.  He is the winner of two national championships, and his stats were off the charts.  The guy won games, he proved to be a superb leader in the huddle and in the locker room.  He has many qualities you want in a quarterback; he exudes confidence, has an ability to take charge, is very intelligent, and knows the playbook inside and out.  With his skillset he can also be very capable as an H-back type out of the backfield, and he is as tough as they come on the field.  He is one of those guys who is the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave.  This is a guy who will do whatever it takes and then some to improve, be a leader and win football games.  He has proven adept to running Urban Meyer’s offense at Florida, which is more similar to an NFL offense than that used by many other colleges.  He is in many ways an ideal teammate.  He is a team first player all the way, someone who will not worry about contracts or individual stats.  He is also not a guy who will get in trouble a la Ben Roethlisberger.

Now here is what I don’t like about Tebow: His improved mechanics have only been on display for two months, so it will be very interesting to see how he will do against real NFL competition.  I still wonder if he has the ability to throw the deep ball, something that was noticeably absent in the Broncos offense last year.  I also pause when I think of how many other Heisman Trophy winners and good college quarterbacks have struggled mightily in the NFL.  The NFL is completely different from the college game, so there is no guarantee his success at Florida will translate to the Broncos.

There is another reason I have not to this point been the biggest fan of Tebow, and it’s perhaps one that won’t make me very popular.  While I admire his character off the field, I am not at all a fan of the way he sometimes uses football as a launching pad for his personal and religious views.  It is for this reason that I have found him to be a very difficult player to root for.  I realize this sounds strange considering he hasn’t gotten himself into any embarrassing trouble, and this is not to say that I resent him for his views.  Plenty of NFL players share Tebow’s views, you just don’t see them using the NFL to fuel political or religious agendas.  I would say the same thing whether I agreed with Tebow or not: there is a time and place for expression of such views, and game interviews and press conferences are not the time.  I guess what I’m saying is I don’t want the starting quarterback of my team telling me that his off the field views are correct and that mine are wrong.  I do respect that he is very confident in himself and who he is.  Obviously I don’t want Ben Roethlisberger on my team, or anyone else who would behave as irresponsibly as he has, so I’m not saying the Broncos shouldn’t draft/sign players of good character.  Tim Tebow has very good character and I admire him for that, and I’m glad the Broncos are pursuing players with high morals.  I just think at times Tebow has gone overboard with his message.

Overall I think Tebow is a player worth taking a chance on because he is a sure bet to be a good teammate and he has the intangibles necessary to be a good quarterback and good leader of a football team.  While I may personally not care for the way he expresses some of his views, that doesn’t change the fact he is a person of good character and is someone who will clearly put the team first, and that is something that has been missing from the Broncos locker room, specifically at key positions.  I think in time if he continues to work on his mechanics, he can develop into a good quarterback.  Nothing is guaranteed of course.   There is no question McDaniels is taking a huge risk, especially if the Broncos could have gotten him at a later slot in the draft than the first round.  There is no way to know for sure, but the common opinion seems to be Tebow was selected too high, that the Broncos might have been able to wait until Friday to take him.  I think if Tebow turns out to be a good player that won’t matter.  If Tebow is successful, it might just restore the opinion of McDaniels in Bronco land.  It might be enough to make people forget about Cutler and Marshall and even Mike Shanahan.  If Tebow is a bust, McDaniels will be run out of town on a rail and his tenure will be defined by the moves he made and the risks he took.  He could well be remembered as the coach who blew up the Broncos.  What will it be?   It’ll probably be at least two years before we find out.

One footnote: Let’s not forget about Demaryius Thomas, the receiver from Georgia Tech that the Broncos selected three spots before Tebow.  Thomas is a playmaker with a body type very similar to Brandon Marshall.  He has the ability to make tough catches in traffic and McDaniels believes he is faster than Marshall.  He is the type of receiver that could be able to make an immediate impact alongside Eddie Royal.  I like this pick very much.  Now they need to address the offensive line.

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Marshall to Miami – Now let’s move on

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 16, 2010

By now you should know the specifics of the deal: Brandon Marshall has been traded to the Miami Dolphins for a pair of second round picks, one in next week’s draft (number 45 overall) and another in 2011.  At first I thought the Broncos got robbed, that they didn’t get enough in return for Marshall.  When looking at the receiver market around the league however, the Broncos actually did as well as could realistically be expected.  The Cardinals only received a third and fifth round pick for Anquan Boldin, and the Steelers got only a measly fifth round pick for Santonio Holmes.  It could be more than a reasonable argument that Marshall has not accomplished as much as those two wideouts, but at the very least Marshall is in their class from a talent standpoint.  While it would have been nice for the Broncos if a team signed Marshall to an offer sheet and had to surrender the tender of a first round pick, that just wasn’t going to happen because teams knew he could be had for less.  That’s just the way it works.

I know many Broncos fans are feeling frustrated because they feel like the talent of the team is being destroyed (Tony Scheffler is almost certainly on his way out too, perhaps to rejoin Mike Shanahan in Washington).  While I admit I am a little concerned about who will be there to throw the ball to in September (Eddie Royal MUST have more than 37 catches for starters), I think the move was so inevitable that Marshall’s presence in the locker room would have caused more of a distraction than it would have helped.  Let’s make no bones about this, Marshall wanted out of Denver.  He may have put on a happy face last year, and he did get his 100 catches, but he was never playing for the team.  Let’s not forget he did earn a one game suspension from Josh McDaniels at the beginning of last season, and only when he returned from that did he even start playing hard.  Let’s also not forget that he couldn’t figure out a way to get on the field in the finale against Kansas City, even though it was obvious (and even stated by McDaniels) that other players were gutting it out with worse injuries.  The fact Marshall was too hurt to play in a do or die game where the playoffs were on the line but managed to be on the field in the completely meaningless Pro Bowl just a few weeks later says a lot about his character or lack thereof.  Marshall was only concerned with a big payday and as far he was concerned he had his 100 catches.

As far as I’m concerned (I said this about Jay Cutler as well), if a player doesn’t want to be here, get rid of him.  Marshall had several reasons for wanting out of Denver, not the least of which is the Broncos weren’t about to reward him with a large contract when he is just one more transgression away from a major suspension by Roger Goodell.  Marshall’s off the field behavior has been questionable at best (which is probably the biggest reason he was a fourth round draft pick), and I frankly shudder to think of what might happen when Marshall takes his new paycheck to South Beach.  Marshall is certainly a very talented receiver, and I’ll be the first to say they just don’t fall off the tree, but in the NFL a good locker room environment is just as important as the talent on the field.  In this case, an unhappy Marshall was just going to cause more of a distraction.  Think of Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, and other receivers with large personalities.  How many playoff games have those receivers won?  Think about the distractions those receivers cause.  Good receivers are important, but good character is more important.  That’s why the Broncos made this trade, and really why they felt they didn’t have much choice.

I do think this a team with many more questions than answers.  I think this is a very important draft for the Broncos, for they still have major holes at guard and center along the offensive line.  They also could use another linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.  Speaking of linebacker, they need to figure out a way to make Elvis Dumervil happy.  Dumervil missed out on a big payday thanks in large part to the uncapped year as a result of the collective bargaining agreement not being renewed.  The Broncos did address the defensive line in the offseason and that should be much improved.  It will also be interesting to see if the Broncos try to tab a receiver somewhere in the draft, and of course how the quarterback battle between Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn shakes out.  The Broncos are definitely a team with major questions, but I am always the eternal optimist.  Let’s see what happens next week in the draft and we’ll go from there.

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Brady Quinn is a Bronco

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 15, 2010

Josh McDaniels continues to waste very little time rebuilding the Broncos.  In recent weeks he has made major changes along the defensive line, bringing in Justin Bannon, Jamaal Williams and Jarvis Green.  Today McDaniels sent Peyton Hillis and a sixth round draft pick to Cleveland for Brady Quinn.  I have to say that I like this move primarily because it is very low risk.  Hillis wasn’t being used anyway (although many Broncos fans think he should have been) and Quinn is only 25.  Quinn has proven to be successful running a very similar offense at Notre Dame, so perhaps we might get to see how good Josh McDaniels really is at working with quarterbacks.  I do think that Orton will open up camp as the default starter, but Quinn will definitely get a chance to compete.  The price the Broncos paid to get him is very low for a former first round pick.

I know the easy reaction here is to be negative.  This is understandable given Quinn’s struggles in Cleveland to this point.  While this is true to an extent, Quinn also never had the confidence of the Cleveland organization and didn’t have any talent around him to speak of.  He does have a good arm and when he’s been on his game can be very accurate.  Quinn does have the tools to be a very capable quarterback in Josh McDaniels’ system if he is willing to work and does indeed benefit from a fresh start in a new place.

As for losing Peyton Hillis, part of me is disappointed about that.  I think Hillis could have been a valuable asset to the Broncos in short yardage situations last year, but for whatever reason McDaniels elected not to use him.  Given this, it is actually easy to argue that the Broncos aren’t giving up much of anything.  I know many Broncos fans are going to be upset about losing a fan favorite, but this could prove to be a good move in the long run.  If McDaniels can get Quinn to produce like a first round talent, he’ll at the very least be a major upgrade over Chris Simms (he is anyway right now), and at best he could end up running the offense efficiently and take the Broncos to the next level.  Let’s see how this develops heading into the offseason and give this a chance to see if it works.  It just might.

I think the Broncos still have a lot of questions, with the chief one being the offensive line.  I think one of the main reasons Knowshon Moreno’s numbers dipped toward the end of the year was because he had no holes to run through.  Too many times he had to dodge a defender or two before even getting to the line of scrimmage.  The Broncos need a left guard and a center (Casey Wiegmann returned to the Chiefs) and that should be their top priority going forward.  Of course I am also interested to see if Brandon Marshall stays in Denver or ends up playing elsewhere.  My money is on him remaining a Bronco because I don’t think anyone out there is willing to surrender a first round pick for a receiver with a problem reputation.  The onus is going to be on Marshall to show the correct attitude whether he plays for the Broncos next season or not.

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Random Stuff

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 12, 2010

What we’ve got here is a series of quick hit thoughts without any order or organization.  Topics include the Super Bowl, the NFL season as a whole, the Broncos and other random stuff.

– Congratulations to the Saints on winning the Super Bowl.  I cannot think of a more deserving city or fan base to celebrate a championship.  the fact alone that the Saints had never made the Super Bowl before makes this a good story.  Throw in Katrina and the devastation of the Superdome five years ago, and you’ve got a terrific story.  Plus, there are a lot of good guys on that team.

– As for the game, I thought the Saints were going to need to be able to pressure Peyton Manning to win.  As it turned out, the Saints only deployed one blitz the entire night, and that came on the clinching pick six.  The Saints were able to confuse Manning by continually changing up the looks of their secondary and defensive alignment.  This  combined with the ability of the Saints’ offense to control the clock and keep Manning watching on the sideline for long stretches proved to be the difference. 

– It wasn’t as if Manning had a bad game (he threw for over 300 yards), but it was shocking to see him throw a fourth quarter interception with the game on the line.  Frankly, if any Colt is at fault for that play it would be more Reggie Wayne than Manning.  Wayne failed to get inside position on the defender, and as a result was in no position to prevent the pick.

– I thought the other difference was that the Saints played to win, whereas the Colts were playing not to lose.  New Orleans went for it on 4th and goal late in the second quarter, and although they didn’t get it, they were still able to force a three and out thanks to a very tentative Colts offense calling three runs up the middle.  The Saints ended up getting a field goal before the half anyway.  Think about it: If the Saints took the chip shot three points at the end of the half, the Colts could well have had time to get a drive going to go up 13-6 or even 17-6 at the half.  As it was, the Saints gave Indy the ball at their own 1 yard line, and the Colts were playing not to make a mistake.  This played right into the Saints’ hands even though they didn’t get the touchdown.  Brilliant coaching by the Saints, and very tentative, poor coaching by the Colts in the final two minutes of the first half.

– Then there was the onside kick to open the second half.  Another very gutsy call by Sean Payton, one that would have backfired miserably if the Saints didn’t recover the kick.  However, it worked, and the Saints capitalized for a quick touchdown.  The Colts were very clearly not expecting the kick, and in fact several Colts players were retreating to try and set up a return, rather than be in position to recover the surprise onside.  Contrast this decision by Payton with the coaching of Jim Caldwell, who called for a 51-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter even though the odds of Stover making the kick were slim to none based on his lack of leg strength.  Granted the Colts were facing a 4th & 11, and at least Caldwell didn’t order a punt, but had the Colts gone for it and missed, the Saints’ field position wouldn’t have been near as good as they got with the missed field goal.  Sean Payton played to win, Jim Caldwell played not to lose, and that was the difference.

– Interesting stat: discounting games in which the Colts waved the white flag and made no attempt to win, Indianapolis has won 23 regular season games in a row while going 2-2 in postseason games.  Such is the legacy of Peyton Manning, who himself is 8-8 in playoff games.

– It is interesting to look back at the Colts’ decision to rest their starters during the final two weeks of the season instead of going for 16-0.  It is hard to say in retrospect whether that had any impact on their Super Bowl loss.  Did the decision put more pressure on the Colts to win the Super Bowl, or would they have had more pressure with an undefeated record?  It is hard to say, but if I was the coach I would have gone for the undefeated record.  That’s probably one reason of many why I’m not a coach.

– We certainly have a lot of interesting offseason storylines to keep track of, but I think the biggest one is the collective bargaining agreement, or lack thereof.  The current deal is set to expire at the end of the 2010 season, and calls for an uncapped year next season.  The only way the uncapped year will be avoided if agreement can be reached on a new deal before March 5, the day free agency opens.  Let’s just say that I have better odds of winning Olympic gold next week in Vancouver for tv watching than we have of seeing an agreement reached by March 5.  The sides are so far apart right now that there is no communication.  If we have an uncapped year, the owners are going to find it nearly impossible to get the players to agree to go back to a salary cap, and we will very likely see a work stoppage in 2011.

– Obviously a work stoppage would be bad on so many levels, not the least of which is you’ve got owners and players bickering over how to split millions of dollars while the rest of us are dealing with a terrible economy and many are unemployed.  Many fans are not renewing season tickets because they can’t afford them.   I think the NFL is rapidly heading down a slippery slope where they’re about to make so many fans irate that they may well be killing the golden goose.  The NFL is without question the most popular sport in America, and frankly it’s not even close, but if owners and players can’t see common sense it may not stay that way if there is no 2011 season due to greedy owners and players.  If there is a work stoppage for any reason, it’s because both sides are selfish and greedy.  If they can’t agree on how to split an $8 billion pie, than there is no way they are anything but selfish and greedy.  That’s not exactly the right message to send to fans in this economy. 

– As for the uncapped year, it may not be as beneficial to players as they think.  Yes, some owners (esp. Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones) could well start throwing all kinds of money around, but I think a larger number or owners would go the other way and try to save money, and not offer big time contracts to free agents.  See, without a cap, there also isn’t a salary floor, and thus teams like the Bengals and Lions and other teams that are struggling financially won’t have to spend money if they don’t want to.  I think an uncapped year would benefit roughly 8-10 players who will cash in with mega contracts, but for most of the players, I think this could actually be a detriment.  In any case, this will be the big story of the 2010 season: will the owners and players be able to avoid a work stoppage in 2011?

– There are of course other storylines to follow: Will Donovan McNabb remain an Eagle?  Will Brett Favre come back for another year?  If he doesn’t will McNabb end up in Minnesota?  Will the Cardinals actually start Matt Leinart in the wake of Kurt Warner’s retirement?  Do the Saints have a shot to repeat?  In light of the Saints winning this year, are any of the four franchises that have never made the Super Bowl (Texans, Jaguars, Lions and Browns) even close?  Will Jay Cutler ever get it figured out in Chicago?   Will the Steelers bounce back to playoff form?  Of course there are many other questions besides these, and others that will come up once we see what the offseason movement will be.

– Of course I have to mention the Broncos.  As we get closer to free agency I’ll offer a detailed review of the season and what I think they need to do.  For now, let’s just say that the sting of falling from 6-0 to 8-8 is still significant, and I think there is a lot of work the Broncos need to do.  I think the top priority is the offensive line, followed closely by the defensive front seven.  They do have a top 10 pick courtesy of Chicago, so it will be interesting to see what direction they go.  I don’t see them being very active in free agency because they don’t really have a lot of cash to throw around, so they’ll probably try to find some bargains and fill some holes that way. 

– I do think the departure of Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator is very significant and could well be very devastating for the Broncos.  The Broncos showed great improvement on that side of the ball from the previous three seasons and it is a little disconcerting that he just couldn’t get on the same page as Josh McDaniels going forward.  Hopefully the Broncos don’t drop off in that area next season.

– I’m not sure the Broncos should get rid of Brandon Marshall.  He is a great talent, but he does need to get his head on straight.  Still, I don’t think he should be given away without getting equal value in return.

– The Broncos drew the short straw and will play in the London game next season against the 49ers.  I’m just glad the Broncos aren’t the one giving up the home game.  I’m on record as saying the London game is a bad idea all the way around, because I think the NFL needs to do a better job of taking care of its fans at home and I think it’s really unfair to the team surrendering the home game.  I also hope it doesn’t prove to be a midseason distraction that causes problems for the team in the second half of the season.

– Last week I got another reminder of why college basketball is roughly 20 times better than the NBA.  I went to the Nuggets-Suns game and observed one sequence two Suns players got tangled up going for a rebound and fell to the floor, which should have allowed a Denver 5 on 3 opportunity.  Thing is, two Nuggets players stood there doing nothing and watched the 3 on 3 action on the other end of the floor.  The Nuggets missed two shots, and eventually Phoenix got the rebound when their two players rejoined the action.  There was no visible show of emotion from George Karl, who presumably didn’t want to rock the boat with his high priced lineup.  This was one example of a game where I saw lots of bad shots, several instances of lazy passing, and very little effort on the defensive end by either team.

– By contrast, the Missouri-Colorado game I attended in Boulder was a display of much better effort and intensity by the two teams on the floor.  Missouri’s J.T. Tiller took an elbow to the face two minutes into the game, had a broken nose to show for it, needed to change his jersey because it was all bloody, and he was back on the court less than five minutes later.  The broken nose didn’t deter him from hustling, defending, diving for loose balls, and being physical when necessary.  The difference between college and the NBA is absolutely staggering when you watch both in person.  I much prefer college for the team play, actual effort on defense, crowd intensity (rowdy student sections versus corporate folks that probably can’t name half the players on the floor and are more concerned with what kind of premium malt they’re drinking) and most of all you can tell the players are very passionate and want to win at any cost.  You just don’t see those things in the NBA. 

– I am somewhat puzzled this is being referred to as a “big sports weekend”.  Granted, the opening ceremonies of the Olympics are tonight, and that is a big deal, but the only event I care to watch in the winter Olympics is hockey, and that doesn’t start until Tuesday.  Even then, I’ll watch college hoops over the Olympics any day.  The other events this weekend are NASCAR, which I refuse to watch and can’t understand the facination of, and the NBA all-star game, which is a big display of every reason why the NBA isn’t as good as the college version.

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Conference Championship Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 22, 2010

Last week we had three blowouts and one very close game.  It tells you all you need to know about the NFL that the one close game was the one yours truly thought would be a blowout, and to boot it went the other way from my (and most people’s) selection.  I have to admit I thought there was a zero percent chance that the Jets would even stay close against the Chargers.  Maybe it’s time for me to give the Jets some credit, for I have really been slamming them the last two weeks for backing into the playoffs.  I also thought the Chargers were the clear choice for favorite in the AFC.  Maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think it’s more a reflection of how fantastic the NFL is and why it is the clear king among pro sports leagues.  As for the other games, we saw terrific performances from the three winning teams, and it shapes up for some great action on Sunday.  Now, on to the picks.

Last week: 2-2  Playoffs: 4-4

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts: I have to admit that perhaps I should be eating some crow regarding both of these teams.  I picked both to lose last week and in the Jets’ case I said they didn’t even deserve to be in the playoffs.  In the Colts’ case I thought they would suffer disastrous consequences from tanking the last two weeks of the season and voluntarily torching their perfect season.  Well, I was wrong in both cases, but it still doesn’t change the fact that one of the big reasons this is the AFC Championship Game matchup is because the Colts laid down in week 16, allowing the Jets to coast to a 29-15 win and thus allowing them to vault ahead of several other AFC contenders for tiebreakers.  If the Colts played to win, it stands to reason that the Jets would not have made the playoffs, and the Texans or Steelers or some other team would have made it instead.  We’ll of course never know how differently things might have unfolded, and thus here we are with a compelling AFC title game in Indy. 

Of course it is hard to read too much into the teams’ previous meeting in week 16, which the Colts treated like an August scrimmage and the Jets played all out to win, but there are some interesting numbers to crunch from that game:

– The Colts led just 9-3 at halftime, with their starters in for the entire half

– The Jets’ Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene combined to rush for 200 yards (granted some of that in the second half came against some Colts backups).  The Colts got just 62 combined yards from Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. 

– Peyton Manning was 11-14 when throwing to someone other than Reggie Wayne.  He completed three passes to Wayne in seven attempts, with Wayne being shielded by Darrelle Revis a majority of the time.

– Mark Sanchez threw for just 106 yards, which is very typical of his numbers throughout the season.

– The Colts’ special teams allowed a 106 yard kickoff return TD to Brad Smith to open the second half. 

– The Colts’ received just 44 passing yards from backup quarterback Cutris Painter in the second half, along with one interception and one fumble lost. 

Now, again all of this is with the asterisk that the Colts were openly making no attempt whatsoever to win this game.  For all we know, the Colts’ offensive game plan may have been vanilla and could resemble nothing of what they plan to do on Sunday.  It is however interesting to note that even when the Colts’ starters were in, it wasn’t as if they were lighting up the scoreboard.  Truth is, that’s been typical of a number of Colts games this season.  Indianapolis hasn’t been put 30 points on the board every time, and in fact has won a number of tight, low scoring games with running and defense, along with precision mistake free passing by Manning.  One thing I think that Colts should be wary of in this game however is the Jets’ ability to run the ball.  That clearly has not been a fluke in the playoffs.  Last week the Jets ran the ball effectively and controlled the clock, keeping Philip Rivers and company on the sideline for much of the game.  No doubt they will try to do the same and keep Manning standing on the sideline Sunday instead of on the field. 

While the quote-unquote sexier matchup in this game will be Colts offense against the Jets defense, I think this game will be decided based on what happens with the Jets offense against the Indy defense.  The Colts’ defense has been extremely underrated all season, and last week they did an unbelieveable job shutting down a Baltimore running game that had absolutely shredded the Patriots the week before.  They put Joe Flacco in a position where he needed to beat them and he couldn’t do it.  The Jets offense is very similar in that they need the running game to be effective because they don’t want to put Mark Sanchez in a position where he has to win the game through the air on the road.  While Sanchez has proved to be an effective game manager and has made timely throws when necessary, the Jets aren’t about to want to rely on a pass heavy attack if they don’t have to.  So I think the key to the game is how well the Colts defense can stop the Jets’ running game.  If the Jets run the ball as effectively as they have for the past month, they will have a great chance to win.  If they can’t, and it becomes Sanchez’ game to win or lose, then I think the Jets are in big trouble.  I’m going to be watching the battles up front with the Jets’ offensive line and Colts’ defensive line.  That is where the game is going to be won or lost for either side.

As for Manning and the Colts passing game, it is foolish to think they aren’t going to be able to move the ball through the air.  We know that Revis is going to be on Wayne most of the time, but Manning is smart enough to know when to pick his spots to go there, and it’s not as if the Colts don’t have other targets to throw to.  Heck, I’m convinced that the Colts could pick a random fan from row 11, plug him in at receiver, and Manning could manage to find him for four or five receptions.  Manning also will be handle the Jets’ exotic blitzes because he is able to get rid of the ball so quickly and accurately.  In fact, Manning seems to thrive when teams try to blitz him. 

I think this could well be a lower scoring game than many people expect, but that has been the norm for both of these teams during the course of the season.  The Colts have the home field edge, and that over the years has proven to be a big deal late in the playoffs.  I think the Jets will be able to stay in this game, but in the end there is a reason the Colts started 13-0, and last week they emphatically proved they are not rusty.  Indianapolis 20 NY Jets 10

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints: I think this will be the game of the year (at least until we may see a really dynamic Super Bowl matchup).  Both teams looked extremely impressive last week in rolling through their divisional round matchups.  I think the Vikings, as I’ve said all season long, are the most talented team in the NFL when they are clicking on all cylinders, and they showed why last week.  They got four touchdown passes from Brett Favre, they made big plays offensively, they sacked Tony Romo six times, put pressure on him countless other times, and in short they completely dominated both sides of the ball.  In particular, they won the battles up front, which is absolutely necessary to win this time of year.  As for the Saints, they woke up from a December long slumber and looked like the team they were the first three months of the season.  Drew Brees and the passing game were making big plays, Reggie Bush had a flashback to 2005 at USC, the defense smothered Kurt Warner and blanketed the Cardinals’ receivers, and the Saints’ even overcame the 70-yard touchdown they allowed on the first play of the game.  All told they gave a complete effort, and now the city of New Orleans is giddy with excitement, as the Superdome will host the first NFC Championship Game in its existence.  This alone is a big edge for the Saints, being that the Superdome is one of the few remaining actual home field advantages in the NFL (and that’s because it’s not a new stadium with zillions of luxury suites, but that’s another topic). 

I don’t think there is much question that lots of points are going to be put on the scoreboard by both teams.  Drew Brees and Brett Favre combined to throw a staggering 67 touchdown passes this season, and that number doesn’t include the seven they combined to throw for last week in the divisional round.  Both teams feature a dynamic group of receivers that can make plays in space and gain boatloads of yards after the catch.  So be ready for lots of big plays in the passing game thanks to two of the great quarterbacks in the league.  I think on paper it seems like the Vikings would have an edge on the ground with Adrian Peterson, but his numbers have slipped significantly in the second half of the season, and he hasn’t had a 100-yard game on the ground since November.  That said, he still rushed for over 1,300 yards on the season with 18 touchdowns, and he’s still Adrian Peterson, so it’s not as if the Vikings are completely helpless in this area.  The Saints have a quietly effective running game with Pierre Thomas, and if Reggie Bush continues to make big plays out of the backfield, screen passes to him are just as effective as running the ball. 

While the offenses no doubt have the spotlight in this game, the onus will be on the defenses to make things happen, and the game could well hinge on which defense is more effective.  I think the Minnesota front seven is downright scary with Jared Allen leading the way.  The Vikings all year have been a brick wall against opposing running games, and their ability to rush the passer is unmatched by any front seven in the league.  It will be a challenge for them to contain all the weapons in the Saints’ offense, particularly if Bush is making plays and lining up everywhere.  Drew Brees also has a quick release, so it could be hard for the Vikings to actually get to him.  The key for Minnesota is they need to be able to put pressure on Brees and not allow him time to find open receivers in space.  As for the Saints, they have struggled big time against the run in the second half of the season, but it will be interesting to see how that matchup unfolds on Sunday given the Vikings’ struggles to run the ball in the second half.  If Minnesota is able to get Peterson going, that will make it a big challenge for the Saints’ secondary to cover the receivers as well as make it difficult for the pass rush to get to Favre.  If the Saints are successful in shutting down the run, than it could lend to Favre trying to force plays down the field.  Darren Sharper is known for making big plays in big games, so don’t think he won’t be looking to try to pick off an errant Favre pass. 

I think it’s very possible the Vikings could regret that they didn’t get home field advantage and that they won’t get the game at the Metrodome.  Minnesota was undefeated in front of their home fans this season but suffered all four of their defeats on the road, including December road losses to non-playoff teams in Carolina and Chicago.  The Vikings in many ways have looked like two different teams all year: a dominant one at home and a so-so product on the road.  Other than their November win at Green Bay, the Vikings have no significant road wins they can claim this season.  The Saints have obviously been extremely tough in the Superdome, although they did lose to Dallas and Tampa Bay at home in December.  Minnesota also has a rather dubious conference title game history to contend with, specifically a rather embarrassing 41-0 road loss to the Giants in 2000, and a home loss to the Falcons two years earlier in which the Vikings were clear favorites.  The Saints meanwhile lost their only NFC title game appearance in 2006 in Chicago, and should benefit from the emotion of the crowd for their first ever NFC title game at home.

A lot of the numbers do point to New Orleans here, especially the home field edge.  I think in the end this will be a highly entertaining game where lots of points will be scored, but I also suspect we’ll see a big defensive play or two.  I think it will hinge on which defense does a better job getting to the quarterback as well as how well Minnesota can run the ball.  I think it will also be interesting to see which Brett Favre we see: the one who’s had a great year, or will we see a repeat of Favre two years ago, when costly interceptions allowed the Giants to win the NFC title game at Lambeau en route to a stunning Super Bowl victory?  Will the Saints secondary lure him into picks, or will Favre make good decisions and find his open receivers? 

This game almost seems too close to call, and to be honest I’m a little surprised at how most people are picking the Saints without hesitation, many cases in a runaway.  I know the Vikings have struggled on the road, but over the years it’s been proven in the playoffs that regular season history is irrelevant, because this is one game, and what happened previously has no bearing, especially the deeper you go in the playoffs.  I have a sense that Favre is going to show up big, and Brees will too.  I do think in the end the Vikings have a better defense especially up front, and I think Peterson will find holes to run through late in the game.  Minnesota 31 New Orleans 28

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