Monday, February 22, 2010

LaDainian Tomlinson is No Longer a San Diego Charger

So the moment has finally come. It shouldn't be a surprise because the clock had been ticking since 2007, but now that the moment is here it's sort of weird.

If LaDainian Tomlinson getting cut by the San Diego Chargers doesn't signify that the decade of the 00's is over I don't know what will.

For the past nine years Tomlinson has been the face of the Chargers franchise. He won the MVP for the 2006 regular season, and helped launch the careers of both Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. It's hard to argue that LaDainian Tomlinson wasn't the best halfback of the past decade.

Though it means that time has elapsed, and we're all getting older, Tomlinson's move was probably the right one for both parties. At this point in time the Chargers offensive line simply isn't good enough to support a back like Tomlinson. When the Chargers decided to go with Norv Turner in 2007 it pretty much launched an era of pass first football in San Diego, essentially kicking the player who rebuilt franchise to the curb.

But it's what the Chargers have to do. The Chargers invested so much in passing offense that the running game is there as a mere decoy for the passing attack; much like the Chargers rival Patriots and Colts offenses. Essentially the Chargers just need to add any back who can carry the ball inside the 20 and they'll be fine. In today's NFL situational backs are a dime-a-dozen and that'll be enough to suffice in San Diego.

The move is going to be tough for Tomlinson. The league has passed him by and there are probably few situations where he'd be the right fit next year. There's a chance that Tomlinson could end up back in Texas with either the Cowboys or Texans but I couldn't see him being much better there than in San Diego. Essentially, for Tomlinson to succeed he's going to have to accept being a situational back, and there is some question as to whether or not he can do that.

There is a reason that since 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson has picked up the moniker "Complainian Tomlinson." The guy is a baby. He evaporates in the big game, and is the first to open his mouth after it. Never once in his career did Tomlinson show up in the big spot, and that's what separates him from the backs like Smith, Payton, and Brown; the backs that Tomlinson will have similar stats to but never be compared to.

So as Tomlinson and the Chargers prepare to move on, this seems like it's going to be the better move for San Diego, which is a good thing for that franchise. After all, the last high profile player they let walk out the door just picked up a ring in the season that the Chargers were supposed to win one.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV: The Final Word

The long season, all the stories, the countless debates, it all comes down to today. The top two teams for most of the 2009 season will be on the field when the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints kickoff from Miami. As far as the NFL goes, this is the way it should be.

Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have played each other three times in their careers. The first meeting was in 2004 when Peyton lead his team on a fourth quarter comeback, a game which he threw his record breaking 49th touchdown pass. The following year, Brees got the final word when he lead the Chargers to victory in a game that saw the Colts dreams of an undefeated season go down the toilet. The final meeting was the first game of the 2007 season where Manning and the Colts ripped apart a weak Saints defense 41-10, making the series Manning 2, Brees 1.

Today's game in entirely different. First of all, two of the games were Colts vs Chargers games. Second of all, the 2007 teams, though still very similar, are also pretty different. In a lot of ways that is what makes today's game so special; We're getting a match up we have never really seen before.

So today when you watch the Super Bowl, just enjoy the game. Whether it's a blowout or an all time classic, just stay in front of your television. Because either way, this is going to be a game that will be talked about for a long, long time. And even if it's not, it's been a great season.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Peyton vs the 4-3 Defense

More than any player of the past decade, Peyton Manning's strengths and weaknesses have been heavily documented. Though his struggles with the 3-4 defense early in his career have been well documented, Manning mastered the 4-3 defense very early in his career.

This Sunday, Manning well get to square off against the New Orleans Saints and their 4-3 defense. The 4-3 is build around a blitzing front line and a strong secondary that induces turnovers. Part of the reason Manning has been so successful against the 4-3 in the past five seasons is because Manning responds well to the blitz, and doesn't really cause too many turnovers.

In the past five seasons (since 2005), the Colts have only lost to a 4-3 defense only 6 times when playing all of their starters. Of those six losses only one was too a non-divisional opponent, the 2008 Chicago Bears on opening day. If you recall, the Colts started 2008 very slow because Peyton Manning missed all out training camp with a knee infection that he was still recovering from early in 2009.

Much of Manning's success against the 4-3 stems from the fact that the Colts have run the 4-3 for Manning's entire career, so he has seen it every day. Since 2005, the Colts have run one of the most effective 4-3's in the NFL. Even when the Colts defense was bad, Manning still had Tony Dungy as his head coach, one of the revolutionaries of the 4-3 Cover 2 defense. To put it plainly, Manning understands the 4-3 defense better than any quarterback in the NFL. Then again, Manning probably understands every defensive formation and scheme better than every other quarterback in the NFL.

So when the Colts line up on offense tomorrow, look for Manning to feel the Saints out early, before going ballistic on their 4-3 scheme tomorrow. The only difference between this Saints team and the other 4-3's that Manning has played in the past is the fact that the Saints offense is extremely potent. Much like when Manning faces the Houston Texans, he won't have much time to adjust to the Saints defense before he'll find himself in an early hole.

Friday, February 5, 2010

NFL Super Bowl Pick

New Orleans Saints vs Indianapolis Colts

If you haven't already, expect to hear thousands of predictions and picks for this weekends game. Some predictions will be good, others will be awful, and some will be confusing. If you have followed this blog all season you understand that I put a lot of thought into each of my picks and I try to play it as even as I possibly can.

For that very reason I spent the bulk of the 2010 season considering the New Orleans Saints the best team in the NFL. This assessment was made absolutely clear after the post-Thanksgiving edition of Monday Night Football where the Saints ravaged a New England Patriots team that was healthy and holding on to Super Bowl aspirations. After that game the Saints began to look beatable, almost falling to the Redskins and Falcons before finally losing at home to the Cowboys and on the road to the Bucs. The Saints would also lose their final game of the regular season to the Panthers, but we can't count that game given the Saints starters were mostly on the bench. With those three loses aside, the Saints were able to dominate the NFC for most of the 2010 season, and in turn became America's darlings.

The Colts of 2009 entered the season disrespected by the media and continue to be just that. Entering the season questions surrounded the franchise and whether or not they could win without retired Head Coach Tony Dungy and wide receiver Marvin Harrison. After getting manhandled by the Dolphins on Monday Night but still coming up with the win the Colts were written off as a "second class" team in the AFC behind the Steelers, Chargers, and Patriots. When the Colts beat the Patriots on Sunday Night football excuses were made. When the Colts decided to give up on their perfect season and choose health over 16-0 they were ridiculed by their fans, and everyone else's fans alike, even after Anquan Boldin and Wes Welker got injured to the point where it cost their teams playoff longevity. Entering the divisional playoffs many suspected the Colts would again be "one and done," entering the AFC title game the media and the Jets fans alike spent an entire week bashing the Colts. But all the 2009 Colts have done is win every game that they have tried to; Which is why they're in the Super Bowl.

One group of people have backed the Colts for pretty much all of the 2009: the bookies of the United States of America. Outside of their week three showdown with the Cardinals, those who set the lines for gambling on the NFL have favored the Colts in every game they have played in this year, and there's a reason for that. Bookies aren't in the business of losing money. It sounds stupid, but these people know what they're getting into when they move a line from -3.5 to -6.

I know that pointing to the bookmakers is dumb, but a huge jump like that deserved at least a little attention.

If I really want to point out a dumb, inconsequential statistic for you, it would be the curse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and it's relevance in this game. Since 1976, their first year a franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have never beaten the eventual Super Bowl champion. As I said earlier in this post, the 2009 Buc's have defeated the 2009 New Orleans Saints. If the Saints win this game they will become the first team to ever lose to the Buccaneers and win the Super Bowl in the same season. Like the 2009 Saints, the 2001 Rams got to the Super Bowl this decade in a season where they lost to the Bucs, and we all know what happened in that game.

Okay, enough of the issues that have nothing to do with this game.

This game is going to be a real treat because it's the first time that this generation of players can claim an undisputed champion. This decade I have had little to no problem with the champion crowned every year, but there has always been the proclamation "well if this team had played such and such." You can't make that argument this year. The Colts are 16-0 in games they have tried to win, the Saints are 15-2 in games that they have tried to win. Combined these two teams started 2009 27-0. Both were one seeds in their conferences and for the first time since 1993 the two one seeds are squaring off in the Super Bowl. In other words; We're finally getting a titanic bout for the Super Bowl.

The Saints enter this game with the more "high powered" offense. Like the 2001 Rams or the Colts teams of the early part of the decade, the Saints entire game plan runs through their offense. Their defense isn't bad, but it relies on turnovers and the fact that opposing teams are often playing from behind. This strategy makes for a strong pass rush and turnover driven secondary.

The Saints biggest strength is also their biggest weakness entering this game; All Pro Quarterback Drew Brees. Brees is without a doubt one of the best QB's in the NFL, but he also hasn't exactly played his best football in big games. In the NFC Championship game, both in 2006 and 2009 Brees has looked shaky. Brees' size, though not always an issue, can hurt the quarterback going against a defense that has done well taking away the big passing play in 2009. Overall the Saints will need to rely on Brees this Sunday to bring the city of New Orleans it's first championship, and that's a lot of pressure.

The Colts are certainly a more balanced team than the Saints, though the statistics don't always prove it. Joseph Addai hasn't had a lights out season in 2009, but he has quietly been one of the most productive backs in the league, at times willing the Colts offense to success. I wholeheartedly believe that Addai will have a positive impact on this game for Indianapolis, and he will be a key to victory.

On defense the Colts just need to do what they do. The Saints can score, and they probably will score on Indianapolis, the Colts just need to make sure that they don't lose their composure. Since 2005 this Colts defense has gone into every game like a fighter ready to take punches. This team has done amazingly adjusting throughout games and forcing turnovers; like in the 2006 and 2009 AFC Championship games. It will be very important for this Colts team to keep their composure after 20 yard receptions or back to back 6 yard runs.

The final key to the Colts winning their second Super Bowl since 2006 is their four time MVP quarterback Peyton Manning. In Super Bowl XLI Manning was the games MVP, leading his team to victory over a very good Bears defense. Since then, Manning has been called one of the more undeserving Super Bowl MVP's of the decade, and you know that bothers the inner historian in Manning. Manning can't let this control him though, and I'm sure he won't. At the end of the day Manning knows the two rings is more important than great stats in the Super Bowl. In Kurt Warner's last two Super Bowl appearances he had amazing stats but no hardware. Manning would much rather be on the Ben Roethlisberger side of the fence with two average performance and two rings.

There has been a lot of talk about this game coming down to who has the ball last. Maybe it will, though I doubt it. I have a feeling that this game will be close early, but come celebration time, you'll be seeing a lot more Blue and White in Miami than you will Gold and Black.

I'm taking the Colts to win the Super Bowl

USC Commits 13 Year Old Quarterback

Every once in a while you hear stories as ridiculous as this story about the 13 year old kid, David Sills of Delaware, committing to USC to play Quarterback. I can rant forever about why this is dumb, un-newsworthy, and pretty much a disgrace to recruiting rules past and present, but let's take a step back from everything and take a look at who is behind this disasterpiece.

That would be Lane Kiffin.

You know Lane, the guy who couldn't cut it in the NFL but get a top tier job at Tennessee, and could barely cut it there so he got an elite tier job at USC. Yeah, that guy. The one who has gotten three sweet gigs while accomplishing nothing in his life. Besides being the son of a Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator I suppose. And Lane was a successful assistant under Pete Carroll at USC, but c'mon folks, what assistant wasn't successful under Pete Carroll at USC.

Anyway, one of the reasons that this story is un-newsworthy is because the kid is still in 7th grade. Between now and the time he hits his senior season in High School a number of things could happen; his body may not develop the way a successful quarterbacks body is supposed to, a number of quarterbacks may pass him by, many of whom probably won't put on pads until they get to 9th grade, and finally, this 13 year old kid now has an "X" on his back in every game he plays in between now and the time he puts on the Trojans colors.

Do you really think that undersized but downright nasty defensive end that lines up against Sills is really going to take it easy on the kid? Because I don't.

Perhaps what Kiffin is doing is setting the Trojans up for success for a few years down the road. You know, when their NCAA punishment is lifted. I don't project their punishment to be "SMU death penalty" status, but I expect it to be pretty harsh. Harsh enough to give Kiffin an excuse to fail at least.

So I guess I'll make it clear before we never talk about this kid again, David Sills will never make it to USC as their quarterback, chances are he won't even make it to the FBS, and Lane Kiffin will not be USC's head coach by the time Sills is a senior in High School.

Trust me, I'm not Nostradamus, but this is common sense.

Signing Day Winners and Losers

Some like to compare signing day to the NFL draft. I'm not one of those people. There are way too many intangibles when it comes to recruiting high school seniors to consider it even close to the NFL draft. For every 4 and 5 star recruit that pans out to be what he's supposed to be, there is another recruit of the same status that falls flat on their face. The same cannot be said for the NFL draft. Also, for every 4 and 5 star recruit to make it, there is a 3 or 2 star recruit that everyone passed on because they didn't go to the "right" school, or show the right flashes.

Hence it's hard to immediately judge a signing day, or even think about judging a signing day, but if you look at where certain teams finished the day, you can start to shine a light on certain programs and the direction they're moving in.


- Finishing #1 in the country after falling out of the top 10 at one point this season was a huge accomplishment for Lane Kiffin. I had actually foreseen Kiffin falling flat on his face; Obviously I was wrong and it looks like Kiffin will, on paper, have a team capable of winning a national championship in the next couple of years.

UCLA - For as impressed as I was with Kiffin and USC, I was probably more impressed with Rick Neuheisel who was able to get UCLA into the top 10, even after a relatively poor 2009. The fact that UCLA showed flashes of improvement in 2009 makes this 2010 recruiting class that much more dangerous for the rest of the NCAA, especially their PAC 10 rivals.

Tennessee - Losing their head coach actually may have helped this team in recruiting. With Kiffin still in town, the Vols were recruiting well, but not great. Kiffin's departure had little to no effect on the Volunteers recruiting efforts, raising the question if Kiffin ever had any swagger in the SEC to begin with?

Hawaii - Hawaii jolted to number 65 yesterday after swimming around the mid 80's most of the season. Though it sounds pretty bad, consider that Hawaii's recruiting class was the strongest of their rivals in 2010, including Boise State, Nevada, and that school in Texas coached by June Jones. This recruiting class is a great morale boost for this program.

Missouri - The team in the Big 12 no one really talks about but is actually pretty good. Mizzou picked up six four star recruits en route to catapulting the team to the #21 spot in this years recruiting class. Though Missouri have flirted around this area for the past couple of years, for Mizzou to still be doing this well after a year that saw the program come back down to earth is a sign that this program is for real.


- What the heck is the U doing at #24? No five stars? Only six four stars? Ouch. Something needs to be done to revitalize this program and it starts at head coach. This is a program that should be winning championships, not struggling to outrecruit USF.

Notre Dame - A number 14 finish is great on a national scale, but for a program that notoriously finished top 10 in recruiting under Charlie Weiss, you have to wonder how good Weiss really was at that whole recruiting thing. Recruiting for Notre Dame is harder than it sounds, especially with bigger, more party friendly schools going after some of the same recruits. I've got a feeling the Irish will be back in the top 10 of recruiting next year.

Michigan - If this team wants to rebuild successfully recruiting classes finishing 20th aren't going to cut it. If this is the last year of what looks to be a faile Rodriguez expirement, whoever takes over the program will bare the burden of this mediocre class.

- A BCS team in the state of Texas that finished 46th in recruiting? Ouch. I didn't expect the Horned Frogs to finish top 20, but top 40 was reasonable. Something has to be up if this team can't tap into that talent pool. There are enough quality players in Texas to get this team a top 40 recruiting class. Especially after their past two seasons. To give the program some credit, being top 50 in the country is a sign of progress for a program that at one point was considered lower tier in Texas.

Boise State - I know it's the system, not the players that wins on the Smurf Turf, but number 82? For a team that expects to be in the National Championship game next year, recruiting number 82nd doesn't exactly help the Broncos when it comes to being taken seriously by the media. Personally, I think the Broncos deserve a shot at the top, but I also think they should be recruiting better than Hawaii, Kent State, and Toledo.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Where Will History Place a Champion Saints Team?

There has been a lot of talk about the place of the 2009 Colts in the history books if they win Super Bowl XLIV, but what place would a Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints team hold in the record books?

Similar to Indianapolis the Saints started off the season incredibly hot, getting off to a 13-0 start before losing back to back games to the Cowboys and Bucs (their backups lost a third straight game to the Panthers) to finish the season 13-3. Unlike Indianapolis, the Saints actually tried to win in their two losses, but like Indianapolis there is no questioning who the best team in the Saints conference was in 2009.

It's rare to have a situation where two teams in one Super Bowl are playing each other for the spot of "best single season team of the decade," but that may be exactly what is on the line in Super Bowl XLIV. A lot of attention has been drawn to the 14-0 Colts, with their four time MVP quarterback and various other Hall of Fame players, but similar stories could be written about the 13-0 New Orleans Saints. Both teams have had exceptional seasons with about a dozen trademark moments on the field.

The 2009 Saints, if they beat Indianapolis, would have beaten the AFC #1 seed, the NFC #2 seed, and the defending NFC champion to win a franchises first Vince Lombardi trophy. With that sort of resume it will be difficult to keep the 2009 New Orleans Saints out of the top two Super Bowl champions of decade, behind maybe the 2004 New England Patriots. The Saints dominant offense would give the team a trademark unit, and their defense has enough of a face in Jonathan Vilma and Darren Sharper to give the 2009 Saints plenty of recognition in the history books. Not to mention a Super Bowl victory would put Drew Brees in the same sentence as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, at least for now.

We can talk for hours about what a win would do for the legacy of this Indianapolis Colts team, but the truth of the matter is, the game means just as much to the Saints. Though I honestly feel that the Colts have a much heavier boulder on their backs, I can't neglect the fact that this game means almost as much for a team that started 13-0.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What If The Colts Lose? Pt 3: Return to Miami

The 2009 Colts are one win away from going down as one of the greatest single season teams of all time. They'll join the 1972 Miami Dolphins, 1984 San Francisco 49ers, and the 1985 Chicago Bears in the discussion for what team was the single greatest team in NFL history.

What the 2009 Colts have working for them is the amount of adversity they have overcome. Whether it was replacing a Hall of Fame coach with a rookie head coach, replacing a Hall of Fame wide receiver, losing Anthony Gonzalez week one, losing Bob Sanders and Marlin Jackson for the year, or facing media scrutiny for "giving up" on perfection, the Indianapolis Colts have faced adversity all season, and have overcome it each and every week.

Now, the Colts face their final test. Scrutiny for resting their players and the excuses of player injuries no longer exists, the goal is the same as it has always been for the Colts, win the Super Bowl or the season was a failure. Like the divisional round and the championship round, the Colts have a lot of pressure on their backs. In a lot of ways the pressure is off the Saints because they at least got to the Super Bowl. Of course the Super Bowl is the most pressure filled game one could ever be a part of, but there was such a sense of anxiety for New Orleans in the NFC Championship game, it sort of feels like a Super Bowl is just another game for them.

The Colts on the other hand need to win ring number two to get their core team listed in the annals of great teams in NFL history. The Colts of the 00's may have won more games than any team in any decade in the history of the sport, but their one ring to show for it is completely pedestrian. Considering the whole spygate scandal and what still has yet come from that episode, it's completely logical to consider the Colts, with their second ring, the team of the 00's. Personally, I'll still consider the 00's the Patriots decade, though their one more ring will eventually be evened out in time by the volume of Hall of Famers these Colts teams produce.

More so than anything for the Colts, that is what is on the line this week: Hall of Fame candidacies, legendary statuses, and most importantly; legacies. As it stands now, Manning Wayne, Saturday, and Freeney could probably punch their tickets to Canton now. A second Super Bowl ring for each and you could start to add their names to the All Time greats. A second ring could also do wonders for Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis, and maybe even Gary Brackett's candidacy for the Hall of Fame. There's also Adam Vinatieri who may not even dress on Sunday, but with a win would get his fifth Super Bowl ring. For the Colts, a second Super Bowl would transform all of these all stars to all timers, the type of names we'll hear about for the next fifty years.

If the Colts lose on Sunday than it all takes a huge step back. Even if the Colts go on to win another Super Bowl with this core, the one loss will always resonate. The sort of loss that those 49ers, Steelers, and Cowboys teams never had. The difference between these Colts and these Saints may be that the Colts, more than any other franchise in the NFL, understand this. They understand that they're on the verge of transforming a franchise that was on the verge of moving in 1997 into a dynasty entering 2010.

In order to do that the Colts will need to do something they have already done once, win a Super Bowl in Miami with Peyton Manning as their quarterback. If Manning and the Colts succeed on Sunday, then the NFL may not only be a coronation for it's 44th Super Bowl champion, there may also be a coronation for their Gretzky, Jordan, Woods, or Ali; in other words their greatest of all time.

A loss, and Manning and the Colts take a huge step back. One that even Manning may not be able to come back from.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Freeney Question

Right now the media is buzzing with Dwight Freeney stories, making the All Decade defensive end's ankle the biggest story of Super Bowl week.

Personally, I fully anticipate on Freeney participating in this Sunday's game, though it's impossible to expect him to be 100%. Some have called it a "miracle" if Freeney plays this week, but I wouldn't call it that. Freeney has done this before, he's done it this season. Dwight Freeney is a gamer, and he's going to make sure he can at least get in there a little bit.

If Freeney does sit, it would mean that the Saints would get a Colts defense without Marlin Jackson, Dwight Freeney, and Bob Sanders. If the Saints heard that in week one they would take it in a second.

What the Saints, and most football fans don't understand is that the Colts defense is now, and always has been, a deep pool of similar players. Bob Sanders goes out, Melvin Bullitt steps in and pulls off a great season. Marlin Jackson goes down, Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey step in and do great. If Dwight Freeney goes down, the Colts trust that Raheem Brock and company can get the job done. Robert Mathis would flip over to Freeney's side for create better matchups for Brock.

What I expect to happen is for Freeney to play, but on limited downs. That would make the Colts defense a pass rush by committee.

With or without Freeney the Colts will have their hands full. This season against offenses in a similar range as the Saints the Colts let up points. The Pats scored on the Colts, the Texans scored on the Colts. The Colts let up points. Perhaps the best display of effort the Colts put on this year was against the Cardinals in week 3. In order to win this week the Colts are going to have to replicate that 31 to 10 effort to prevent Manning and the offense from being pressured into putting up points on every down.

Either way though, the Colts coaching staff is probably smart enough to know that blitzing and getting to Brees isn't going to be the easiest thing to do on every down. In order to beat the Saints, strong play from the secondary and ball control is probably more important.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The All Decade Team is Here

Last week I created a lot of buzz and debate when I released who I projected to be on the All Decade team.

The All Decade team is voted on by the same committee that votes for the Hall of Fame. Overall our two teams are similar, but I honestly think mine was better.

Before I explain let me introduce you to the NFL's "official" All Decade Team (players listed in alphabetical order):

Quarterback - Tom Brady, Peyton Manning.

Running Backs - Shaun Alexander, Jamal Lewis, Edgerrin James, LaDainian Tomlinson.
Offensive Tackles - Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, William Roaf.

Guards - Larry Allen, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Will Shields.

Fullback - Lorenzo Neal.

Tight Ends - Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez.

Wide Receivers - Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens.
Centers - Olin Kreutz, Kevin Mawae.

Head Coaches - Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy.
Defensive Tackles - La'Roi Glover, Warren Sapp, Richard Seymour, Kevin Williams.
Defensive Ends - Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, Michael Strahan, Jason Taylor.

Linebackers - Derrick Brooks, Ray Lewis, Joey Porter, Zach Thomas, Brian Urlacher, DeMarcus Ware.

Cornerbacks - Ronde Barber, Champ Bailey, Ty Law, Charles Woodson.

Safeties - Brian Dawkins, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Darren Sharper.

Punters - Shane Lechler, Brian Moorman.

Kickers - David Akers, Adam Vinatieri.
Punt Returners - Dante Hall, Devin Hester.

Kick Returners - Joshua Cribbs, Dante Hall.

Now here is the Funk Football All Decade Team:

WR Terrell Owens
WR Randy Moss
WR Marvin Harrison
WR Larry Fitzgerald
TE Tony Gonzalez
TE Antonio Gates
T Jonathan Ogden
T Walter Jones
T Orlando Pace
T Chris Samuels
G Steve Hutchinson
G Will Shields
G Larry Allen
G Alan Faneca
C Kevin Mawae
C Olin Kreutz
QB Peyton Manning
QB Tom Brady
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
RB Shaun Alexander
RB Marshall Faulk
RB Adrian Peterson
FB Lorenzo Neal

DE Michael Strahan
DE Julius Peppers
DE Jason Taylor
DE Dwight Freeney
DT Shaun Rogers
DT Warren Sapp
DT Tommie Harris
DT Richard Seymour
LB Ray Lewis
LB Brian Urlacher
LB Zach Thomas
LB Derrick Brooks
LB James Harrison
LB Joey Porter
CB Champ Bailey
CB Ty Law
CB Ronde Barber
CB Charles Woodson
S Ed Reed
S Troy Polamalu
S Brian Dawkins
S John Lynch

P Jeff Feagles
P Craig Hentrich
K Adam Vinatieri
K Jeff Wilkins
PR Devin Hester
PR Ed Reed
KR Dante Hall
KR Josh Cribbs

Coach Bill Belichick
Coach Tony Dungy

Okay, you have had time to look at it... now let's debate.

Offensive tackle... the Hall of Fame voters selected Willie Roaf while I selected Chris Samuels. Willie Roaf was great this decade going to 5 Pro Bowls in six years. In that team he also helped Priest Holmes develop into one of the leagues premiere backs and also helped jump-start the career of Larry Johnson. More importantly, in this time span Roaf earned one All Pro first team selection. Chris Samuels on the other hand played the entire decade (besides 2009 which he missed with a neck injury) and was selected to six pro bowls. I suppose in this instance it's a wash considering Roaf was one of the best in his time span, while Samuels was simply just consistant.

The longevity versus dominance debate is what makes the All Decade team debate so great. Do I choose the guy who was the good for longer or the player who flashed brilliance but didn't have the longevity of his counterpart?

In this instance the NFL chose Willie Roaf over Chris Samuels.

At running back the NFL chose longevity over brilliance. Edgerrin James and Jamal Lewis were selected to the All Decade team over Adrian Peterson and Marshall Faulk in a debate that is easy to argue either way. From 2000 to 2002 Marshall Faulk was the undeniable best running back in the NFL, and arguably the best player in the league. From 2007 to 2009 Adrian Peterson has been the sure-fire number one back in the league, with Chris Johnson recently joinin the debate. Edge and Lewis were never the best backs in the NFL, even when they were elite.

Lewis has one Pro Bowl, one All Pro, one Super Bowl ring, but seven 1,000 yard seasons. In the ten years that filled the 00's, Lewis was probably considered a top five running back only one season, 2003 where he rushed for 2,066 yards. This decade James has zero All Pro selections, three Pro Bowls, one rushing title, and six 1,000 yard seasons. James also lead the league in rushing yards in 2000. What James doesn't have is a Super Bowl ring, something the Indianapolis Colts were able to get with Joseph Addai in 2006, the year after James left Indianapolis for Arizona.

Though James and Lewis both had a lot of yards in the 00's, their consistency was never accompanied by dominance. Like Chris Samuels, James and Lewis played at a high level for a long period of time, but were considered amidst the best of the best for only a brief span.

Like Willie Roaf, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson dominated for short spans of the decade but do not have the body of work that spans ten years (in this particular decade at least). In 2000 Faulk was the leagues MVP, in 2001 he got his second All Pro selection of the decade, and in 2000 and 2001 he had over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Faulk also picked up three pro bowls in this time span. After the 2005 season, Faulk called it a career, but there was no denying that from 2000 to 2002 he was the best player in the NFL.

In 2007 Adrian Peterson burst onto the NFL scene and immediately supplanted LaDainian Tomlinson as the best running back in the league. In his short three year tenure this decade, Peterson has earned three Pro Bowls, two All Pro selections, picked up three 1,000 yard seasons, and has been received MVP votes twice. Though he has only been in the league for three years, his dominance at the running back position has been far more noticable than James or Lewis'. Oh, and in case you forgot, in his rookie season, against a then very good Chargers rush defense, Peterson broke an NFL record rushing for 296 yards on 30 carries, picking up 3 touchdowns. In that game, the eighth of his rookie campaign, Peterson pulled the plug on Tomlinson's run as the best in the league.

I'm not going to argue with the James/Lewis over Faulk/Peterson selections, but I will just point out it goes against the logic of the Roaf over Samuels decision. Unless of course Roaf's six elite years of service are more valuable than Peterson and Faulk's three.

The rest of our teams were pretty similar. Torry Holt vs Larry Fitzgerald is a wash. You can't get rid of Moss, Marvin, or T.O because they're without a doubt the three signature receivers of the era. Fitzgerald vs Holt is just a case of longevity at it's finest. This decade Fitzgerald has four dominant seasons under his belt while Holt has seven. While Fitzgerald in his four years of dominance may have been better than Holt, you cannot deny Holt the fourth spot on the roster.

My biggest grievances come on defense. The Hall of Famers and I agreed on Cornerback and Defensive End, but our disagreements at Safefy, Defensive Tackle, and Linebacker an inexcusable. Let's start with Safety.

As hard it was, I left Bob Sanders off the All Decade team in favor of Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, and John Lynch. Sanders' dominance in the 2006 playoffs and the 2007 regular season are enough to make him an NFL legend, perhaps more so than Dawkins and Lynch, but they're not enough for me to put him on this list over those two (potential) Hall of Famers. The Hall of Fame committee selected Darren Sharper over both Sanders and Lynch. Seriously though? I can understand Sanders, but Sharper over Lynch? That's ridiculous and I'm not even a John Lynch fan. From 2000 to 2002 Lynch was probably the best safety in the league, and from 2004 to 2007 he still earned Pro Bowl berths every year (though his last was a little suspect to fan ignorance). To be honest, Sharpers selection is just dumb despite his large amount of interceptions. What that selection showed me is that Sharpers strong 2009 canceled out Lynch's entire 2000 to 2007 (which included a stint on arguably the best unit of the decade), seriously altering the legitimacy of this list.

The selection of DeMarcus Ware over James Harrison is a wash. It really could have gone either way. They selected Ware, I selected Harrison, you have to pick your battles. Harrison has three Pro Bowls, two rings, one All Pro selection, one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history, and the ever important defensive player of the year award. Ware has four Pro Bowls and three All Pro selections, no rings, but that's not his fault. I'll consider this one a wash, but concede the results to the Hall of Fame committee.

Defensive Tackle was just downright sloppy on their part though. Funk Football selected Shaun Rogers, Warren Sapp, Richard Seymour, and Tommie Harris; The Hall of Fame committee selected Warren Sapp, Richard Seymour, La'Roi Glover, and Kevin Williams. I'll give you Kevin Williams over Shaun Rogers, that one was a blunder on my part though Rogers is probably the better player stuck on the worse teams. That's a debate for a different day, though. Tommie Harris vs La'Roi Glover though? That one just screams of Dallas bias. I understand that Glover has more Pro Bowls in a longer span, but anyone who watches the game of football knows that Tommie Harris was just the better player. Harris was the key to a Bears defense that went to the Super Bowl in 2006, and his absence that game was part of the reason the Bears could not contain the Colts running game. Also, Harris' presence on a Bears team that did damage on NFC opponents from 2005 to 2006 is more than you could say for Glover who made two playoff appearances in his career.

Simply put, Tommie Harris belongs on this roster over La'Roi Glover. Make the change, please.

Dungy over Cowher is hard to disagree with for these purposes, though I honestly believe that Gruden was probably the second best coach of the decade. He may have a chance to be the coach of the decade for the 10's though if he lands in the right place, (cough... Dallas... cough).

ESPN Saves the Pro Bowl

All week we dreaded the game. The average football fan never watches the game. The general media slams the game as if it were the worst event on the pro sports calendar.

About 40% of the selected players dropped out of the game, but the game also saw a 40% ratings increase.

I believe that some of the increase has to do with the game being played the week before the Super Bowl. It adds an extra edge to the game. Even though it means that some of the leagues premiere players aren't active in the game, we still get to see players that had great seasons, and are owned in every fantasy football league. Whether it's Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers, or Matt Schaub, David Gerrard, and Vince Young out there doesn't matter. It's still NFL superstars, and it's still players that people watch on a regular basis.

The biggest aspect in the success of yesterday's game had to be the ESPN production. The pre game show was phenomenal and exciting. The on field interviews with the stars were as good as they have been all decade. The coaches voices, though they noticeably sounded like 1960's technology, were great, even if it was two of the most un-intriguing coaches to have mic'd up... ever.

ESPN bringing out their Monday Night Football crew to do the Pro Bowl was also a great idea. It gave an otherwise illegitimate game a sense of legitimacy. Though we didn't get to see Peyton connect with Reggie, or Brees fire one for Fitz, we did get to see an exciting game.

The Pro Bowl shouldn't allow blitzing. Stop saying it should. The Pro Bowl should never be more than an offensive exhibition with solid coverage. I'd take a non-defensive 100 point game over Mario Williams injuring his shoulder any day. Mainly because I watched the Pro Bowl on Sunday to cap off what was a great season for some of the best NFL players. Did it have to be the best 100 players in the league? No.

But it was still better rosters than we're used to seeing, in a game that showcased players talents in a way we rarely get to see.

FUNK Sports and FUNK Baseball Now Up!

As of today, the new hub of Funk Sports and the latest addition to the Funk Sports family, Funk Baseball, are now up and running.  From here on out, you will be able to access these pages using the links to the right.  For now, you may access them here:

FUNK Sports Homepage                             FUNK Baseball

We genuinely hope that you will support these additions as much as you have this blog.  We appreciate your support and hope to provide you will the best and most insightful updates to football and baseball, with more sports to come!

Please feel free to offer any and all comments as our posts are meant to encourage your thoughts and debates.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Funk Sports Community Expanding Monday

This Monday the Funk Sports community will expand with a new Funk Sports page and a Funk Baseball page.

Also coming soon will be a few team oriented blogs.

In the meantime, check out a friend site of Funk Sports, Loaded Fries, a media website which Funk Sports contributes to.

Please continue to check Funk Sports throughout Super Bowl week for the best insight on the internet about the biggest game of the season.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Kurt Warner Retires: The Time Has Come For Leinart

Today the 12 year career of Kurt Warner came to an end. I can't say I'm surprised, but I will say a few things about Warner.

First things first, any debate over whether or not Warner is a Hall of Famer is irrational. Though Warner only had (being generous) six good seasons, five of those seasons resulted in a playoff berth, four of those seasons ended with a Pro Bowl, three of those seasons ended with a Super Bowl berth, two included MVP awards, and one ended with a Super Bowl victory and game MVP award. In other words, when Warner was good he was great.

For his career, his numbers compare well to Troy Aikman's, Jim Kelly's, and Terry Bradshaw's; all Hall of Famers.

To sum things up for Warner, before 2007 he wasn't going to be a Hall of Famer. After 2008 he looked like he was going to be one. Now after 2009, Kurt Warner is definitely a Hall of Famer, and he's one of the rare instances where a players talent may not have been astonishing, but his will and positive attitude helped him achieve the highest level of success there is to achieve in professional football.

I will make one last comment about Warner, and it is a thought to chew on in your head. How much did having Orlando Pace, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin help Warner get to the Hall of Fame? All were All Pro talents without Warner. Warner was never an All Pro talent without them. I'm not saying Warner doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, because he does. I'm just wondering if Kerry Collins, Drew Bledsoe, or Vinny Testaverde could have put up the same numbers in the same systems with the same results.

Anyway, the real story in Warner's retirement now becomes Matt Leinart. This past season Leinart had to fill in for Warner a few times and looked "alright," but for the most part his career has been a disaster. And while his draft day partners Vince Young, Reggie Bush, and Jay Cutler haven't exactly been excellent, compared to Leinart they've been Hall of Famers.

Part of the problem for Leinart is that the Cardinals quarterback job has never been "his." In 2006, Leinart's rookie year, he started on the bench but performed well in some instances. Leinart entered 2007 looking to take the next step, but lost his job midway through the season never to regain it. From 2007 to 2009 Kurt Warner revitalized a Cardinals franchise that had been dead for decades, leading the franchise to it's first Super Bowl, and in turn keeping Leinart on the bench.

Now Leinart enters 2010 as the probable candidate to take over the Cardinals quarterback job, and in all reality the franchise has no choice. The Cardinals have invested too much money over the past four seasons in Leinart to not find out if they already have their future quarterback. If the Cardinals can satisfy Boldin's needs, Leinart will inherit the most explosive offense in the NFL in a division that doesn't look to be more difficult in 2010 than it was in 2009.

In other words things are looking good for Matt Leinart.

2010 is actually a big year for all of those 2006 to 2007 quarterbacks. Vince Young and Jay Cutler need to prove themselves in Tennessee and Chicago, a failure in 2010 could lead to a new team in 2011 for either. Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell of the 2007 draft need to prove themselves in 2010 or both will be unemployed come 2011. But nobody has the pressure that Leinart has entering 2010, after all, Leinart is inheriting the undeniable best team of the bunch.

Anything short of a division title next year and Matt Leinart's tenure as the QB in Arizona becomes unsuccessful. The pressure is on for Leinart, the Cardinals coaching staff, and the Cardinals franchise in general to get back to the elite level of the NFC next year.

And that, at the end of the day, is why Kurt Warner was a Hall of Fame quarterback.

Norv vs Wade: Just One of the Many Reasons to Watch the Pro Bowlt

For some coaches, coaching the Pro Bowl sounds right. Jon Gruden in 2001. Tony Dungy in 2004. Bill Belichick in 2007. Bill Cowher in 2005. Mike Shanahan in 2006. Andy Reid almost every year.

But Wade Phillips and Norv Turner? Is this really the year pair those two in the Pro Bowl? Only two weeks after both of their teams crushed the hearts of their fans, Norv and Wade, perhaps the two most ridiculed head coaches of the past three seasons, will square off as the head coaches of the NFC and AFC Pro Bowl squads.

Perhaps that explains the record number of player withdrawals we're seeing this year.

Norv and Wade "earned" the right to coach the Pro Bowl by being the teams in the Divisional Round to lose with the best regular season record.


So instead of giving the Pro Bowl to the conference championship loser, the NFL, with it's new week-before-the-Super-Bowl format has decided to create inspiration for under performing workers everywhere by giving the Pro Bowl coaching duties to the two coaches who flopped in the divisional round.

Makes sense to me.

But look on the bright side for Wade and Norv; the two have managed to keep the jobs they were unqualified for when they were hired, continue to fail, but continue to keep their jobs. Heck, as long as the Chargers and Cowboys dangle in mediocrity it's going to be hard to get rid of either of them.

And maybe, just maybe, it we're very, very lucky, this Wade vs Norv thing can become an annual contest.

And more players will withdraw.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Projecting the All Decade Team

This Sunday at the Pro Bowl the NFL will commemorate the 00’s, a decade that saw the NFL go from America’s third favorite (and at times arguably 4th) sport, to not only America’s number one sport, but perhaps it’s greatest passion, with the All-Decade team.

I’ve followed the same format that the NFL uses to commemorate each decade, and though this format leaves a lot of great players off the list (only two QB spots saved a huge head ache and a lot of debate), when you see this list of names the majority of the players probably already have some blacksmith (I just wanted to use the word blacksmith) working on their bust for Canton.

An important thing to note when looking over this list is that the All Decade team is not a marathon as much as it is a sprint. The list commemorates the players who performed the best this decade. Two to three years of dominating at your position are more valuable than six good seasons and one great one (see Jamal Lewis, Edgerrin James, and Curtis Martin vs Adrian Peterson and Marshall Faulk).

The 2000's Funk Football All Decade Team:

WR Terrell Owens
WR Randy Moss
WR Marvin Harrison
WR Larry Fitzgerald
TE Tony Gonzalez
TE Antonio Gates
T Jonathan Ogden
T Walter Jones
T Orlando Pace
T Chris Samuels
G Steve Hutchinson
G Will Shields
G Larry Allen
G Alan Faneca
C Kevin Mawae
C Olin Kreutz
QB Peyton Manning
QB Tom Brady
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
RB Shaun Alexander
RB Marshall Faulk
RB Adrian Peterson
FB Lorenzo Neal

DE Michael Strahan
DE Julius Peppers
DE Jason Taylor
DE Dwight Freeney
DT Shaun Rogers
DT Warren Sapp
DT Tommie Harris
DT Richard Seymour
LB Ray Lewis
LB Brian Urlacher
LB Zach Thomas
LB Derrick Brooks
LB James Harrison
LB Joey Porter
CB Champ Bailey
CB Ty Law
CB Ronde Barber
CB Charles Woodson
S Ed Reed
S Troy Polamalu
S Brian Dawkins
S John Lynch

P Jeff Feagles
P Craig Hentrich
K Adam Vinatieri
K Jeff Wilkins
PR Devin Hester
PR Ed Reed
KR Dante Hall
KR Josh Cribbs

Coach Bill Belichick
Coach Tony Dungy

A Final Word on Favre

If you have followed Funk Football during the 2009 NFL season you understand that I have been critical of Vikings Quarterback Brett Favre all season. Much of that criticism stemmed from his 2008 collapse with the Jets, and his inability to win the "big game" from 1998 to 2007.

Throughout most of 2009 Brett Favre shut me up. But in the game where it mattered most, Brett Favre resorted to "classic-Favre" from and threw another game losing interception in a huge game. In comparison to 2003 and 2007, Favre's other game-losing-interception-overtime-games, this one may have hurt the most because Favre played well all season leading up to this game. Unfortunately, Favre's interception in the 2009 NFC Championship game may have been the worst of his career.

There's no denying that Brett Favre is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, but it's also hard to argue Favre as a top 5 quarterback of all time, as well. Favre's statistics and "streak" are great and extremely commendable; because those accomplishments belong to Favre it's perfectly fine to include him in the "best ever" debate.

But let's be honest: Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, John Elway, those players don't make the same mistakes that Favre made in the NFC title game.

Those stats? Chances are Peyton Manning will surpass all of them, including the games started streak. There is one Favre record that Manning will not come cloes to though; All time leader in interceptions.

Brett Favre coming back for a 19th season did help cement his legacy as the NFL's biggest name. To date no other player has received the in-sport celebrity status that Brett Favre has obtained. The season also served as a pallet for Favre to show what he might have been able to do with a more complete team over the past ten years.

But the truth remains that Favre is an NFL quarterback who in 19 seasons won one Super Bowl, a game in which he wasn't the MVP, and has a lot more memorable playoff losses than he does wins. In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers hasn't missed a beat in succession to Favre, and the Packers offense is more potent in Favre's departure than it was with #4 in 2007.

If Manning gets ring #2 this year, Brett Favre will undeniably fall out of the top five all time (behind Montana, Graham, Unitas, Elway, and Manning in no particular order), and he may also at some point find himself staring at the back of Tom Brady's head, as well. This all may sound ridiculous to you considering that I'm ridiculing Favre by putting him in the top .00001% of quarterbacks ever to play the game, but if being #1 ever wasn't Favre's reason for coming back, than what was?

Essentially, Favre's legacy will become his longevity. Favre's three MVP's were great, but Manning has surpassed that. Favre's one Super Bowl ring is completely pedestrian. When his name fades away from the #1 spot in the record book, much like Dan Marino, Brett Favre will begin to slip further and further down the ranks of all time quarterbacks until he joins the ranks of names like Marino, Bart Starr, and Troy Aikman.

And if you really think about Brett Favre, at his best and at his worst, that's exactly where he belongs.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is Drew Brees The Greatest Free Agent Signing Ever?

Entering the 2006 free agent market, the Miami Dolphins controlled their own destiny of who they would choose as the high profile free agent quarterback to take their franchise into the future. The obvious choice was between former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper who ended his 2005 season with a devastating knee-injury-trifecta and Drew Brees who ended his 2005 season with a shoulder injury in the Pro Bowl.

Both Brees and Culpepper were established Pro Bowlers, but Culpeppers amazing 2000 and 2004 seasons gave him the advantage over Brees who was far more erratic in his professional career in San Diego. Still, many medics warned that Culpeppers knee injury was far more serious than Brees' shoulder injury.

Still, the Dolphins sided with Culpepper, a decision they regretted tremendously by week two, while Brees immediately signed a long term deal with the New Orleans Saints. That season the Dolphins lined themselves up for a top ten pick while the Saints went to the NFC Championship game.

Since 2006 Brees has developed into a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback and has been an MVP candidate in three of his four seasons with the Saints, throwing for over 5,000 yards in 2008. If it wasn't for Peyton Manning, a strong argument could be made for Brees as the best quarterback in the NFL since 2005.

Next Sunday Drew Brees will face Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV; the game will be the Saint franchises first Super Bowl, and removes the stain of "worst franchise in the NFL" from the New Orleans football team. Brees' ability to take the Saints from perennial loser to contend also raises the question, is Brees the greatest free agent signing in NFL history?

The answer is definitely "not yet." But Brees could be on his way.

For me personally, I can't think of the phrase "NFL free agent signing" without immediately thinking of Reggie White, who in 1993 joined an on-the-verge Green Bay Packers team and helped take them over the top. In White's six seasons in Green Bay he notched close to 70 sacks, won an NFL defensive player of the year award, and lead the Green Bay defense to its first Super Bowl title since Super Bowl II.

After White, the next trend setter in free agency is Curtis Martin, who in 1998 left New England to join his former coaching staff in New York. Martin signed a then-tremendous six year thirty-six million dollar deal, and immediately made an impact leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game in his first season in the Parcells coached backfield. From 1998 to 2005 Curtis Martin was a guarantee for 1,000 yards every season, earning multiple Pro Bowls and a rushing title. Most Jet fans would agree that though he wasn't drafted by the team, Curtis Martin is the second greatest Jet of all time. Second only to the immortal Joe Namath.

Signing a 33 year old journeyman quarterback is usually not worth mentioning, but in 1999 an old Rich Gannon joined a young Jon Gruden in Oakland and history was made. In Gannon, the Raiders got arguably their most prolific quarterback in franchise history, an MVP, Pro Bowler, and Super Bowl quarterback. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they had the right quarterback in place, but Gruden was on the opposing sideline for Super Bowl XXXVII when he lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory over Gannon's Raiders. Still, without the Gannon signing of 1999, chances are the Raiders never get to the Super Bowl that year, and Gruden doesn't have the profile to sign with the Bucs in 2002. Imagine that.

In 2005 Plaxico Burress jumped ship from Pittsburgh to New York to become sophomore quarterback Eli Mannings go-to-guy. That season Ben Roethlisberger, another sophomore, lead the Steelers to an improbable Super Bowl XL victory while Burress' team was embarrassed at home in the snow on wild card weekend. Over the next three seasons Burress' presence helped Eli Manning develop into one of the leagues premiere passes, and two years later in Super Bowl XLII it was Burress who caught the perfection-ending touchdown to bury the Patriots dreams of being the NFL's first 19-0 team; granting the New York Giants their Super Bowl victory, and establishing Burress as one of the leagues elite wide receivers. Unfortunately for Burress, a gun related incident at a club in 2008 ended his what-could-have-been-hall-of-fame career, and sent Burress to prison.

Drew Brees' 2006 signing definitely belongs on this list. If Brees wins the Super Bowl, chances are one day it will probably be considered number one. Heck, if the Brees wins Super Bowl XLIV that signing will probably be number one the second the clock ticks to 0:00. But for now, it's not quite White or Burress considering they have rings, Gannon has an MVP, and Martin is a Hall of Famer.

Though what Brees has done for the Saints franchise is immeasurable, and somewhere a Chargers fan is pissed (and lets not get started with those Dolphins fans).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tebow Turns It Around For Day 2

Yesterday, while the entire sports blogosphere was destroying his pro career before he was even drafted, Tim Tebow was apparently receiving medical treatment for a throat ailment.

Today, Tebow came back and performed at a much higher level. Tebow's coach in the Senior Bowl, Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano stated that Tebow looked a lot more comfortable under center and his release was becoming quicker. Tebow has also done well processing information, and learning the playbook.
What this shows is just how smart and coachable Tim Tebow is. Though it's impossible to guarantee that Tebow will translate his talents to the pro game, but at this point in time things are starting to look better for Tebow. Rebounding from a nationally publicized "awful" day of practice is the first of the endless hurdles that Tim Tebow will have to overcome in order to become a successful professional quarterback.

For everybodys sake, let's hope that Tebow excels or fails sooner than later this way stories like this one become less relevant.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gearing Up For the Senior Bowl

It's that week of the year. The week where we reminisce on the past college football season while evaluating some of the best NFL prospects as they gear up for a meaningless game. And while the Senior Bowl does have slightly more of a competitive edge than the Pro Bowl, it's the week of practices that makes the Senior Bowl something special.

This year the huge story entering Saturday's game is Tim Tebow and how his game will translate to the pro level. Earlier today Chris Mortensen reported via Twitter that Tebow looked really bad at practice. Though I'm sure Tebow, who is arguably the greatest college football player of all time, will heat up at some point, his draft stock is definitely on the line this week, despite a performance for the ages in the Orange Bowl.

While Tim Tebow is definitely the "A" story this week (and once the Super Bowl is over he'll become the "A" story of the next 2 months), several of his South Team teammates will be interesting to evaluate as well. Taylor Mays, Terrence Cody, and Dan Williams are all projected to be first round picks. Though you're probably saying to yourself "why would I watch a game if a team has only three projected first round picks on it?" Understand that this is an opportunity for a lot of these players to raise their draft stock in a year that features more junior prospects than ever before.

The North team is lead by quarterback Tony Pike of Cincinnati who looks to get his revenge on Tebow for the Orange Bowl blow out. A few potential first rounders that Pike is going to war with include Mike Iupati, Jared Odrick and Sean Weatherspoon, and Jon Asamoah.

Pike and Tebow will also be battling one another for their position in the bottom three of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL draft.

Pike and North team are lead by the Detroit Lions coaching staff while Tebow and the South are lead by Steve Spagnuolo and the Miami Dolphins coaching staff. This bit of information is important because in the past Bill Parcells has given Tim Tebow the biggest endorsement the Heisman winner has ever received by stating that Tebow is a first round pick.

This will be a perfect opportunity for Tebow to prevent Parcells from eating his own words.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV: Indianapolis Colts vs New Orleans Saints

So the field of 32 has narrowed down to two, and for the first time in two decades we're treated to the two undeniable best teams playing one another. I know I may have just offended some Chargers and Vikings fans, but the Colts and Saints both got to 13-0, and for most of the season looked unflappable.

The Colts handled the New York Jets today after a really close first half that saw the Jets go up 17-13 on Indianapolis. The Colts would dominate the second half and easily close out the Jets in the fourth quarter to win their second AFC title in four years.

The Saints won their first NFC championship today by beating a Vikings team that actually outplayed New Orleans today, but caused a lot of errors. All season we watched and waited for Brett Favre to implode and it finally happened today. For the second time in three seasons the final play of Favre's career was a game losing interception.

The Colts versus the Saints should be a dream come true for football fans. Both teams have great offenses lead by two of the leagues premiere quarterbacks; Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Each teams defense has their strengths and weaknesses. On paper the match looks even, but the intangibles tell a different story.

Since the 2005 season, the year that Indianapolis succeeded New England as the elite franchise of the NFL, the Colts haven't lost very many games (excluding week 16 and 17 contests). When Peyton and company have lost it's been mostly to teams that run the 3-4 defense such as Dallas in 2007, the Chargers in 2005, 2007-08, the Steelers in 2005, Packers in 2008, and the Patriots in 2007. Other than divisional opponents in late 2006 and early 2008, the only 4-3 team that has been successful against the Colts since 2005 are the Chicago Bears of 2008.

That's correct. The ONLY 4-3 team outside of the AFC South to defeat the Indianapolis Colts since 2005 are the 2008 Chicago Bears. Take into account that (excluding AFC South opponents, though what am I hiding? Since 2005 the Jaguars are 2-8, Titans are 2-8, and Texans are 1-9 vs. Indianapolis. That's a 25-5 record against pretty good 4-3 teams) the Colts have played over twenty 4-3 opponents.

So that's going to be the key to victory for the 2009 New Orleans Saints; replicating the 2008 season opener where the Chicago Bears beat Indianapolis 29-13. That game Matt Forte ran for 123 yards, but the key to the Bears win was a Lance Briggs 21 yard fumble return.

You may call me crazy for bringing up this irrelevant game, but you need to learn from those who were successful in order to be successful yourself. I understand that the Colts played this game with an injured Peyton Manning, but still, it was a 4-3 having success against the Colts.

A game that the Saints will not want to repeat is the 2007 season opener, where the Colts dominated the saints 41-10. Though 2007 seems like a long time ago, the Colts will return seven starters on offense, and six starters on defense. The Saints will return six starters on offense, but only four starters on defense. More or less, these two teams are very similar to the two teams that met in 2007. At least personnel wise.

Systematically, neither team should not expect anything they hadn't seen before. The Saints do what the Saints do and the Colts do what the Colts do. The winner of this game will be the team that does what they do better in fourteen days.

Colts May Add a Dent in Tony Dungy's Legacy Today

After the 2001 season Tony Dungy was fired by the Buccaneers and hired by the Colts. The following season, Jon Gruden lead the Buccaneers franchise to its first ever Super Bowl, something Dungy couldn't do in his entire time in Tampa.

Today, if Jim Caldwell and the Colts are able to beat the Jets in Indianapolis, it would mark the second time that a team in their first post-Dungy year went to the Super Bowl.

To Dungy's defense, he was able to lead the Colts to a victory in Super Bowl XLI, but many people think that a "tougher" head coach could have guided the Colts to Super Bowl victories in 2005 and 2008 as well.

Gruden and Caldwell are much tougher than Dungy. You can tell by the ferocity and focus that the 2002 Bucs and 2009 Colts have played with it that there is something ant-Dungy to them.

Maybe it's just that the Bucs and Colts were ready to become Super Bowl champions and it took the focus of a "new system" to motivate them to that point.

But then again, maybe it has something to do with Dungy be just a little too "soft."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Type of Game Where Bob Sanders May Be Missed

In 2006 the Indianapolis Colts rode safety Bob Sanders to the AFC Championship game. All season the Colts run defense was awful with Sanders sidelined, but dominated the run in the first two rounds of the playoffs with Sanders fully healthy.

The following season Sanders won the Defensive Player of the Year award, only to get injured in the Colts divisional round game against the Chargers. When Sanders came out of the game the Colts were winning. The Colts ended up losing in the fourth quarter though.

Since that game Bob Sanders has not been the same, and while Sanders started the 2009 season hurt, many expected him to return and give the Colts a boost of energy in stopping the run. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, Sanders 2009 season consisted of two games, three tackles, and an interception off of 49ers QB Alex Smith.

Fortunately for Indianapolis the Colts run defense has stepped up in Sanders absence, with players like LB Clint Session making a name for themselves this year.

While the Colts have done well this season against the run, they could still use Sanders as a lights out run defender this week when the Colts host the Jets in the AFC championship game. The Jets may not have the physical running machines that the Colts have gone up against this year like Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and of course Chris Johnson, but the Jets do have a solid back-tandem of Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene that has the NFL's first ranked running attack.

The Colts are familiar with teams trying to "shove the ball down their throats." Every year teams like Jacksonville, Tennessee, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh attempt to run, run, run, on Indianapolis. More often that these Colts win those games (since 2006 the Colts have a combined 15-3 record against those four teams). Since 2006, many, if not most of those games were played without Sanders.

The one team who may have put out the recipe on how to beat Indianapolis are the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers have traditionally used a balance of short passing, lots of running, and blitzing 3-4 defense to beat the Colts. The Chargers have also manipulated field position in the past to beat the Colts. If the Jets intend on beating the Colts, they're going to have to do those things. If the Colts intend on beating the Jets, they're going to have to prevent those things.

That would be a lot easier done with a healthy Bob Sanders.

Still, the Colts intend on moving forward without Sanders and they have gotten this far without him for 15 games. In the past, where the Colts defense would play less confident without Sanders, now the Colts defense is fine on their own. A big part of that is likely because most of the defense starting on Sunday wasn't there for the 2006 run.

What a Super Bowl Victory Would Mean For Each of The Remaining Franchises?

With twenty four hours remaining until kickoff of championship weekend, the fans of the final four franchises, the Jets, Colts, Vikings, and Saints, are likely both nervous and excited today.

Each franchise has something different invested in winning a Super Bowl, and it's important to explore what a Super Bowl victory might mean for each franchise.

New York Jets

The Jets are opening a new stadium stadium next year and need to sell a lot of Personal Seat License's (PSL). Though this playoff run has helped sell plenty of new ones, plenty remain. A Super Bowl victory for the Jets would absolutely energize the New York market enough to not only sell every PSL available, but also create a waiting list like there was at the old Giants stadium.

A Super Bowl win for the Jets would also give the franchise some punching room in the debate between New York teams. Since the early 1980's the Jets have been the undeniable second-best-team-in-New-York, but a Super Bowl victory would put the Jets in the same sentence as the Giants. It wouldn't put the Jets above the Giants, who went to two Super Bowls in the 00's and won one in 2007, but it would even the debate out for now. Though it sounds childish, this competition is important for revenue, more specifically merchandise sales.

A win for the Jets would heal a lot of the franchises post-Namath wounds; drafting Ken O'Brien over Dan Marino, missing out on Brett Favre in 1991, missing out on Peyton Manning in 1997, Bill Belichick resigning at Jets head coach to coach the Patriots in 2000, Mo Lewis knocking Drew Bledsoe out in 2001, the Favre debacle of 2008, and all of Chad Pennington's injuries just to name a few. A win in Super Bowl XLIV would heal many, if not all, of those wounds.

The 2009 Jets would also be remembered as the first team to win a Super Bowl with a rookie; something that Marino, Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Young, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco (other impressive rookie QB's) could not do. That alone would make a Super Bowl for the Jets this year even more significant.

Indianapolis Colts

Even before Peyton Manning came to town, the Colts were considered one of the greatest franchises in the history of the sport, it just took Manning to make them relevant in Indianapolis. A win in Super Bowl XLIV would give the Indianapolis Colts their second Super Bowl, and the Colts franchise its third. Counting the Unitas pre-Super Bowl wins, it will give the Colts their fifth undisputed football championship.

A Super Bowl victory this year for the Colts would mean countless things historically; the Colts would have gone undefeated in every game that Peyton Manning played four quarters, and they would likely change the way that teams went about handling the final weeks of the regular season for a long time. A win would also put the Colts in the elite company of teams with three or more Super Bowls, and would put the franchise back into the mix of the top five franchises in the sport.

A win would also do wonders for Peyton Manning's career. Manning is widely considered the best player in the league right now, but a second Super Bowl ring mixed with his four MVP awards, would likely put him in the debate for the best ever. It would also solidify Manning as the player of the decade, and put the Colts in the discussion for team of the decade (though they would have one less ring than the Patriots, they would have more overall wins and two more playoff appearances).

Though it's probable a Super Bowl win wouldn't give the decade to the Colts franchise, it's an absolute truth that the 2009 Colts would be considered the best single season team of the decade, and amidst the all-time elite.

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings are a championship-less franchise that has suffered more heartbreak than maybe any other franchise in the league. In the 1970's the Vikings lost four Super Bowls, and since then have failed to return, losing in the playoffs countless times since in the past 30 years. A Super Bowl win would do wonders for a Vikings fan base that has stayed loyal throughout the franchises existence.

Right now "wonders" may be what the Vikings need to stay in Minnesota. The team has what many consider to be "major" stadium woes, and no deal is in place to renovate the building or create a new one. In other words, the Vikings are in danger of moving to Los Angeles, but a Super Bowl victory this year may be able to prevent that. After all, when a team is winning no one talks about them moving.

A Super Bowl victory would also solidify the Vikings as a "major" franchise in the league. Historically the Vikings have always drawn well nationally, and adding a Super Bowl to the Vikings repertoire will add some validity to that stat.

A Super Bowl win for the 2009 Vikings would also be the bookend in Brett Favre's career that transforms him into the greatest of all time. Favre is already the most popular Football player to ever, winning his second Super Bowl with a franchise that has never won one would be an incredible achievement; especially since no QB has ever won a Super Bowl with two different franchises to begin with.

New Orleans Saints

Hurricane Katrina may seem like a long time ago, but to the people in New Orleans it's not. Not only would a Saints Super Bowl victory give the Saints their first championship, it would be the cities first major championship as well. For a city that has gone through what New Orleans has gone through this decade, a Super Bowl would mean a lot. There's not much else to say besides that.

Saints fans have been through a lot of bad times. In the past they have had some good players, sometimes even great players, but they were never able to get a team together. Finally, for the first time in franchise history, the Saints have a team that could contend. More than any of the four teams still alive, the Saints are carving out their franchises history right now; Because the history before 2006 was miserable.

For Drew Brees, a Super Bowl victory would add his name to the list of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and put him right in the debate with Manning, Brady, and Roethlisberger. For some other Saints it would mean different things; Jeremy Shockey will no longer be the guy who helped the 07 Giants by getting hurt. Reggie Bush, if he continues to perform, will be worth his hefty contract. Marques Colston will have what all the receivers who make it to the Pro Bowl each year over him don't have: a ring. Pretty much the entire Saints team has something to prove with a Super Bowl win.

But then again, so does every player left in the final four. When it's all said and done, a champion will be named based on what team deserves it the most.