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.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Is It Time To Cancel The Pro Bowl?

Every year it's fun to debate whether or not a specific player is "having a Pro Bowl season." It's fun to do because usually a great player gets left off the roster.

For example, this year for quarterback in the AFC the race was pretty much between five quarterbacks for three spots: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Philip Rivers eventually ended up being chosen, while Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub were left off.

When the rosters were announced leading into week 16, they meant something. Now, a month later, they mean absolutely nothing... at least to the players.

Earlier this week Tom Brady dropped out of the Pro Bowl as he does almost every year. Roethlisberger, the first alternate to the Pro Bowl, then dropped out as well, opening up a roster spot for Matt Schaub, QB #5 in voting. Though the star appeal of Brady or Roethlisberger would be great for the game, it's also good to see Matt Schaub get some respect for his very good season.

Then, about a day later, Philip Rivers dropped out of the game citing injuries (I suppose a bruised massive ego counts as an injury), opening the door for Vince Young to go to his second Pro Bowl. Though Young's 2009 deserves some appreciation, the guy only starter ten games. It also would have been nice to see Philip Rivers put a good ending on a year that has turned sour for the San Diego QB. At the very least, Rivers could have benefited from being around the other Pro Bowl players.

If Peyton Manning wins Sunday's AFC Championship he too will skip the Pro Bowl considering this year it is the week before the Super Bowl. At that point the AFC would go fishing for its seventh quarterback. Considering there are sixteen starters in the AFC, the seventh quarterback is pretty much going to be about as mediocre as they come.

And mediocre he would be; either Carson Palmer, David Gerrard, Kyle Orton, or Joe Flacco would be named to the Pro Bowl in the event of the Colts winning this weekend.

Not to mention the other six Pro Bowl spots that would open up in the AFC if the Colts went to the Super Bowl.

At this point it looks as if a little over half of the selected players to the Pro Bowl will participate in next weekends game. If the Colts and Vikings win this week, the two rosters will lose at least 15 participants.

Though the game will still go on, it will almost all of it's luster. It will go from being the game that features the best of the best, to the game that features the guys who have a lock on their jobs but aren't exactly franchise players.

The NFL will not be getting rid of the Pro Bowl anytime soon given they have a contract set up to go back to Hawaii in a few years. The only solution to this mess is for both the fans and the media to disregard the Pro Bowl from here on out and look only at All-Pro selections when pondering a players validation for the Hall of Fame.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

NFL Championship Weekend Picks

While everyone else considers divisional weekend "the most exciting professional football weekend of the year," for me nothing has ever come close to conference championship weekend; even if there are no games on Saturday.

This weekend we're in for a particular treat. Even if the games fail to be legendary, this will be a weekend that football historians will look back on because of the significance of the four quarterbacks involved.

Mark Sanchez is the fourth rookie quarterback to take his team to a championship game in the past 11 seasons (Shaun King 99, Ben Roethlisberger 04, Joe Flacco 08). Up to this point Drew Brees has been this generations Warren Moon; great stats, few important wins, a win this weekend would put Brees in an enetirely different category historically. Brett Favre and Peyton Manning are both trying to get ring number two; Otherwise known as the ring that would validify either quarterbacks claim as the best ever.

Even when the games don't have this sort of historical significance it's still a cool weekend considering the winner goes to the friggin' Super Bowl. That's why we watch right? To crown a champion.

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts - In week 3 a Jets @ Colts AFC title game wouldn't have been quite the shocker it would have been entering week 16, the week the Colts gave up on their perfect season to avoid injuries, consequently allowing the Jets to "back in" to the playoffs.

Personally I loved the week 16 Jets @ Colts game because it added to the name Curtis Painter to the "all time most hilarious players in NFL history list." Other than that there is little to take from the outcome of that game.

This week, uneducated Colts fans and Jets fans have been at each others throats over the implications of that game. "We beat 'dem once, we can beat 'dem again," proclaim the Jets fans calling into WFAN NY, while Colts fans continue to defend (half-heartily) Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian's decision to pull Peyton and company.

Though the outcome of the game is completely useless, it may actually have lead to the deciding outcome of this game.

Peyton Manning is notoriously a film-hound. The guy, more than any quarterback in NFL history, lives in the film room. In 2 quarters and one drive in the third quarter, Manning was on pace to have the best game against the Jets defense of the season. The Jets were giving 110% with their playoff hopes on the line, but Manning was able to move the ball. Save for a few off-target throws. Manning and the Colts could have put the game away early.

Fast forward to wild card weekend. Reports were coming out all over the place that the Colts were firing on all cylinders at practice, practicing harder than any first-round-bye team has ever practiced. You know who the Colts were preparing for that week?

The New York Jets.

It turned out the Baltimore Ravens would come to town instead. Not exactly the worst thing for Manning. After all, if any team in the NFL resembles the Jets the most it's the Ravens: young QB not asked to do much, ridiculously talented running game, top tier defense.

The Colts beat the Ravens 20-3. From 2005 to 2008 when Ryan was defensive coordinator of the Ravens, Manning and the Colts beat the Ravens top tier defense 24-7 in 2005, 15-6 in 2006, 44-20 in 2007, and 31-3 in 2008. Obviously the Jets of 2009 are a different batch of players than those Ravens teams, but the looks will be similar. Simply put, it shows that Rex Ryan doesn't scare Peyton Manning.

Counting week 16, Manning has now had three weeks to prepare for the Jets number one ranked defense. If there is one player in the NFL you don't want to give time to prepare, it' Peyton Manning. The key to the Jets winning is going to be somehow creating something new to throw Manning off on a few plays that cause turnovers.

Peyton Manning is far from infallible. He can make mistakes and we've seen it this year. The key to a Jets victory will not be forcing those mistakes, but capitalizing on them. One way or another the Colts are putting at least twenty points on the board, the Jets are going to somehow have to match that number, and raise it by a few.

The wild card in this match up is the Colts defense. Last week they shot down a brilliant Ravens offense that ran all over the New England Patriots the week before. This season the Colts have been successful stopping the run by being persistent. In years past where the Colts would allow teams all the way down the field, now the Colts give every down 100%, forcing teams into red zone turnovers and field goals instead of touchdowns. If there's one thing the Jets cannot afford this week it's field goals. A great day of field goals equals only twelve points; a bad day for Peyton is 17 points.

In order for the Jets to get those points they're going to have to pass the ball in the red zone. Unfortunately for the Jets they'll be going up against the leagues top ranked red zone pass defense, with the leagues bottom ranked red zone quarterback.

When all is said and done it's going to be hard for the Jets to win this one. Cincinnati and San Diego featured favorable match ups against teams that aren't mentally or physically tough. The Colts are neither a favorable match up or soft. All season long the Colts overcame adversity, coming back from immeasurable deficits in games to win. They're going to win this one, too.

I'm taking the Colts at Home.


Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints -
The Saints and the Vikings both got off to hot starts in 2009 before limping into the playoffs. Fortunately for both teams, they ran into self-destructing teams at home last week, allowing both teams to advance to the conference finals. For both teams, this is their second trip to the conference finals this decade. Their combined conference championship record is 0-2 this decade, after Sunday that will change to 1-3.

The team that wins this game is going to be the team that plays better defense. It sounds simple but it's true. At times this season both teams have look incredible on defense, and at times both teams have looked miserable on defense. Naturally, the Vikings have the higher ranked defense so you would assume they'd win.

Not necessarily.

Having the better defensive unit and playing better defensively are two different things. The Saints defense will also be given a slightly easier task, considering the Vikings offense is undeniably less explosive than the Saints offense. The key to a successful defensive game for the Vikings is a strong offensive ground attack. If Favre starts throwing the ball, at some point he's going to make a turnover, and at some point he's going to force a quick three and out. Both situations favor the Sains immensely in this game.

The Vikings are going to need to control the ground, to control the clock, and keep Drew Brees off the field. That sort of tactic will add pressure to Brees and a young Saints team that the team is not used to. It will also open plenty of opportunities for Favre and the Vikings potentially dominant passing game.

To put it plainly, if Adrian Peterson is sick of hearing about how Chris Johnson is the best tailback in the NFL, this week would be a good time to shut that debate up.

For the Saints the key to victory will be putting the ball in Brett Favre's hands. Though forcing one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history to win a game doesn't exactly sound like the smartest idea ever, remember that in his 19 year career, Brett Favre has only one Super Bowl victory, and this decade is 0-6 in playoff berths ending with a Super Bowl berth. Favre has come out sour more often than not in big game situations this decade, and the Saints cannot be afraid of putting the ball in his hands if they want to win.

The second key for the Saints is going to be avoiding interceptions. All season Drew Brees was good with handling the ball. This Sunday he needs to be great. One turnover against the Vikings can be the difference maker in this game. Brees cannot fear the Vikings defensive line. At some point they're going to get to him, put him on his back, and make him wish he was still in San Diego. A sack is better than an interception, especially with an offense like the Saints where losing yardage doesn't exactly change the game plan on the following down.

This game will probably be competitive entering the final moments of the game, but I'm going to give the advantage to the team that puts up a better ground performance. For this game I'm going to assume that will be Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, and the Minnesota Vikings.

I'm taking the Vikings on the Road.

Suh Seems Headed for St. Louis

Reports are starting to come in that the St. Louis Rams are absolutely going to take Ndamukong Suh with the first overall pick in this April's NFL draft. The news soothes those scouts and talent evaluators who feared that the Rams might make the wrong decision and draft a quarterback this year, despite having the first overall draft picks in a draft consisting of the most sure-thing defensive player in over twenty years.

Before I get into why it only makes sense for the Rams to draft Suh, let me first state that I totally agree that the Rams have a desperate need at the quarterback position. In today's NFL it's impossible to win without a solid quarterback, but it's also almost impossible for a young quarterback to get behind center in an already bad offense and succeed.

Take the two quarterbacks drafted in the first round this year. Mark Sanchez inherited a relatively successful team from the season before and was able to get plenty of protection and learn the game while not having to be the team MVP. Matthew Stafford on the other hand, had to get injured and end his season just to get his team a win against the Browns.

See what I mean?

The Rams offense is in no position to put a 23 year old kid under center and expect him to succeed. The only thing starting a rookie could do for the Rams is set the franchise back another five years... if they're lucky.

The 2010 Rams are lucky though; Lucky because the 2010 draft is loaded with a lot of quarterbacks, all of whom are projects in one way or another. Jimmy Clausen and Sam Bradford are the consensus one and two quarterbacks on draft boards, neither of which comes without questions surrounding their ability to start in 2010. Chances are these two quarterbacks will end up in Washington and Buffalo if a team doesn't trade down to acquire them. In either case, the franchises that land these two players will be better suited to start a rookie at QB than the Rams.

The Rams have a unique opportunity though. In 2007 they drafted Chris Long to play defensive end. Though Long hasn't been the lights out pass rusher they expected him to be, he has still done very well with relatively little support, on a team that plays from behind most of the time. Last year the Rams drafted James Laurinaitis at linebacker. As a rookie Laurinaitis performed incredibly well, picking up tackles at a Patrick Willis-like pace.

Adding Ndamukong Suh to this defense would solidify the Rams identity as a defensive minded team, and with Steve Spagnuolo as their head coach it only makes sense to go in that direction. Suh's numbers will probably never be Reggie White-like, but that's because he's a DT not a DE. His presence will absolutely enhance Chris Long's ability to get in on more plays.

If the Rams defense can take the next step next year, and offensive tackle Jason Smith can develop into an elite level tackle, the Rams will be ready to take a rookie quarterback in 2011, or make a move at a free agent. Under any circumstance, adding Suh gives the Rams the opportunity to be the defensively dominant team of the 2010's that they were never close to being in the 00's.

And I suppose that's why they'd hire someone like Steve Spagnuolo and not Mike Martz.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Report: Chargers At Strip Club Saturday Before Jets Game

Though NFL players being idiots isn't exactly new news, it's always fun to mention players doing dumb things before big games.

You have probably heard by now about Vincent Jackson's second consecutive playoff time traffic-related arrest, but today XX1090 in San Diego was treated to a pretty unique call.

The manager of a well known strip club in the San Diego area named "Pure Platinum" called in this afternoon around 1:00 PM Pacific time to alert host Darren Smith that at least eight Chargers were at his strip club into the early hours of the morning less that 36 hours before the game with the Jets on Sunday.

Though this isn't the worst crime in the world (it's not like they were there the night before the game) it still goes to show the discipline of this Chargers team and proves why they're not ready to be champions yet. This news, mixed with the Jackson news, Cromartie's bottle breaking incident, and the whole Merriman-Tila Tequila thing just makes the San Diego Chargers look like the complete opposite of the Indianapolis Colts or the Pittsburgh Steelers. Throw in Philip Rivers' "school-kid-complaining-because-his-team-is-losing" demeanor, and Tomlinson's music video and the San Diego Chargers look like the team in the NFL that needs Tom Coughlin (circa 2005) to coach them the most.

To be fair to the Chargers, had Nate Kaeding hit a few field goals, this probably wouldn't be a story. Still, the Chargers continuous lack of discipline on and off the field is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Edited 1/21: The call from the Strip Club manager was made to Darren Smith, not the previously stated John Cantera (actually spelt Katera). My apologies.

The NFL Raises $22 Million for Haitian Relief

It's not everyday a positive off-the-field story is worth mentioning, but the news that the NFL helped raise $22 million from these weekends games via text message is an enormous achievement for both the league, and it's fans.

If you watched the divisional games this weekend, you probably saw the running advertisements to text "HAITI" to "90999" to make a $10 dollar donation. Initial reports came out that the NFL was raising $500,000 per hour for Haitian relief, blowing away expectations. Though I'm sure a lot of the NFL's decision making in this situation was purely PR, it's good to see the league that has given us so many horror stories off-the-field in the past decade, do something this positive.

To add some icing on the cake, it was great to see Pierre Garcon, the Colts receiver who became the poster boy for Haitian-American Athletes last week, make arguably the play of the weekend when he forced a fumble on an Ed Reed interception.

Hopefully the NFL can raise more money this weekend. It's obvious that the Haitian people are grateful for our presence and support in this relief effort. This money earned will hopefully go towards food and supplies to help in the nations rebuilding process.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Divisional Weekend Losers: Where Do They Go From Here?

The Jets are playing the Colts, and the Vikings are heading to New Orleans to play the Saints. Those games are loaded with storylines, but as we transition into really focusing on those games, today serves as a great opportunity to take a look at Saturday and Sunday's losers.

Arizona Cardinals

Entering 2010 the Cardinals will benefit from playing in a tumultuous division. The Seahawks, 49ers, and Rams are all surrounded with too many questions to seriously consider them opening day division title contenders. The X Factor in this division is going to be Kurt Warner and whether or not he retires. Personally I foresee #13 announcing his retirement sometime before Super Bowl XLIV.

I think Anquan Boldin will remain in Arizona for at least one more season, making the transition from backup to starter a lot easier for fifth year quarterback Matt Leinart. It will be interesting to monitor the free agent quarterback market this year with Arizona in mind. If, by some odd turn of events, Donovan McNabb is let go by Philly, expect him to immediately sign with Arizona. McNabb would be the perfect fit in Arizona, and could benefit from the weak division and excellent indoor playing conditions.

If McNabb doesn't end up in Arizona, it's not the end of the world for Cardinal fans. Giving Matt Leinart the job, and an ounce of confidence, could be exactly what Leinart needs to succeed. Time has passed and Leinart can learn a lot from the recent successes of Joe Flacco and former USC teammate Mark Sanchez. I mean, how hard could it be to go behind center with Boldin, Fitzgerald, Wells and company?

Long story short, the Cardinals don't need to worry about too much in 2010. They'll be the same type of team they were in the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons with or without Kurt Warner.

Baltimore Ravens

Unlike the Cardinals, the Ravens do not benefit from playing in a weak division; As a matter of fact the AFC North looks to be even more difficult to win next year than it was this year. I fully anticipate the Steelers being a playoff team in 2010, and the Bengals and Browns will both be competitive.

What the Ravens do have going for them is a defense that has been as continuously good as an unit this decade. They are to the defensive side of the ball what the Colts have been to the offensive side of it. Their success in the 00's will carry over into the 10's, especially with the announcement that Ed Reed will return for the 2010 season.

For the Ravens, anything other than a division title will make 2010 an unsuccessful season. The Ravens have clocked into the playoffs as the six seed for the past two seasons, but the whole "road warrior" act has gotten in their way each of the past two seasons as they've ran into rival franchises in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. If the Ravens want to get to the next level next year they're going to have to win their division at the very least; In order to do that Joe Flacco is going to need to be the MVP; not of the NFL, but at least of the AFC North.

There's no reason to believe the Ravens can't do that next year. The past two drafts have gone so well for Baltimore that they've arrived sooner than they were supposed to after 2007's disaster season. With Flacco and Rice entering their third seasons, and Oher entering his second, the Ravens should be poised to take that next step. Watch out for Brandon Marshall as a 2010 signing for this franchise, as well.

Dallas Cowboys

Of all the teams who lost this past weekend, the Cowboys will probably have the toughest road back. Not because of a lack of talent, but because of the division they play in. The Eagles are the Eagles, the Giants are the Giants, and with Mike Shanahan in town, the Redskins will no longer be the Redskins. The Cowboys also are stuck with a schedule the includes the the Vikings, Bears, Packers, Saints, Cardinals, Colts, Titans, Texans, and Jaguars. With 15 of their 16 games on their schedule being against those teams (the 16th being the Lions) nothing is guaranteed in 2010 for Dallas.

Moving forward, putting the Cowboys together for 2010 will be pretty puzzling. With Wade coming back, it seems as though Wade-Romo take four is the tactic for the year. Recent history (the Philadelphia Eagles post 2005) would suggest this is a flawed tactic, but with the amount of talent the Cowboys have on both sides of the ball, it's going to be hard to keep this team under .500.

No free agents really stand out as "Cowboy-Bound" in 2010, but if Steven Jackson becomes available you have to imagine that Jerry Jones would be intrigued. Marion Barber is a great player, and Felix Jones is the best changeup in the league, but neither back is best served as the "down and dirty" back the Cowboys need. If Jackson doesn't head to Dallas, I project Dallas picking up some sort of every down back.

The biggest question surrounding the 2010 Dallas Cowboys is what sort of pressure is surrounding Wade and Romo? I've said it once, I'll say it again, the Cowboys are stuck with Romo. He's too good to just let go, but probably not good enough to carry this team to a Super Bowl. The best thing Romo can do is work on his efficiency in 2010 and try and become more "Simms-ish" and less "Favre-ish." Romo has some great physical tools to work with, 2010 needs to be the year he finally realizes less is more though.

As for Wade, he keeps his job on account of Gruden not being interested in the Dallas job, yet. Gruden has put up with wacky owners in the past, who's to say Dallas is out of the picture in the future. It's hard to project a coaching carousel a year in advance, but it doesn't take Nostradamus to see an open saddle on the Cowboy's horse.

San Diego Chargers

The only home team to lose on Sunday also have the most glaring questions entering 2010. More so than any other team in the NFL for the past five years, the Chargers have benefited from a weak division. Though that division will be slightly better in 2010, the Chargers will still come out of it alive and enter the playoffs seeded anywhere from 1 to 4. That's not the question though, the question is what does this team need to do to take the next step and finally get to, and win the Super Bowl?

It's pretty much been confirmed by almost everyone that barring some change in philosophy, the Chargers will be waving goodbye to LaDainian Tomlinson (and perhaps waving to his Mom if she's in the crowd), Shawne Merriman, and (hopefully for San Diego's sake) Antonio Cromartie.
Vincent Jackson got arrested (again) before Sunday's game, age is catching up to Antonio Gates, and Philip Rivers now has a 8 to 9 TD to INT ratio in the playoffs. Let's not even get into their pro bowl kicker.

In order for the Chargers to take the next step their going to have to draft a running back, and find some real leadership on defense. Look at what bringing in Sharper and Woodson has done for the Saints and Packers franchises respectively. Who is the Chargers defensive leader? Stephen Cooper? Shaun Phillips? That's not going to cut it. The Chargers need to bring in some defensive leadership.

Charger fans have also cited injuries as a major reason for the teams early playoff exit. So you lost Jamal Williams, big deal! That shouldn't prevent you from advancing past the Jets, especially when the Jets are playing without Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington, two Pro Bowlers from 2008. As for the Colts? They have Anthony Gonzalez, Bob Sanders, Marlin Jackson, and Tyjuan Hagler on the IR. That's four opening day starters.

What the Chargers really want to do in 2010 is change everything. LT is gone, Merriman is gone, it's time to start over. It's a new decade. This is a team the desperately needs a new culture. The 2010 Chargers will be given every opportunity the 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2004 Chargers were given. The only way different results will occur is if different ingredients are added to the solution.

Which Saints Team Will We Get on Sunday?

Over the course of the 2009 regular season, the New Orleans Saints became the most feared team in the NFL. They manhandled an undefeated New York Giants team, had a miraculous comeback against the Miami Dolphins, and on national television dominated the New England Patriots worse than any team had dominated the Patriots in a long, long time.

Then it looked as if the wheels were starting to come off. First, the Saints went to overtime with a weak Redskins team, then they let a Ryan/Turner-less Falcons team give them four quarters. Finally, the roof caved in against the Dallas Cowboys, who in week 15 handed New Orleans it's first loss. The Buccaneers would go on to embarrass a Saints team with everything to play, the next week the Saints would rest their starters and fall to the Panthers to end 2009 13-3, after starting 13-0.

If momentum and shifting identity was a question for one team entering the playoffs, it was the New Orleans Saints. The entire nation wondered aloud "what Saints team would we get on Saturday against Arizona?" After a 45-14 bruising of the Cardinals (and it could have been a lot worse if the Saints wanted it to be), the Saints shut up the momentum question.

But what about that identity question? Of the final four teams, the Saints are easily the scariest team remaining, mostly because opposing coaches don't know what team they'll get. Will they get the team that can run for over two hundred yards on you or the team that can pass for 500 on you? Will they be the defense that rattled Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and Matt Ryan, or would they be the defense that allowed Dallas and Tampa Bay to have their way with them.

There's no denying the Saints have the potential to be a complete team, but it's also hard to argue the Saints as the most complete team in the playoffs. Actually it's a lot easier to discount the Jets passing offense woes and consider the Saints the least-balanced team remaining in the NFL playoffs.

The Vikings proved last week that they can rush the passer. If the Vikings can get pressure on Brees, and rattle the passing attack it's going to come down to the rushing attack of the Saints to win this game. Last week the Saints running game looked great against a weak Cardinals defense; meanwhile the Vikings run D looked pretty weak last week before the Cowboys offensive line imploded. In other words, going with the run against the Vikings may not be the worst tactic.

This weekends Saints-Vikings game is going to be decided in the first half, just like last weekends respective Saints and Vikings games. The play may be close, but the score probably won't be. The way both of these teams finished their seasons, it's hard to imagine both teams bringing their "A game" on Sunday. It's hard to trust Favre, but it's also hard to trust a team who flat out lost to the Buccaneers with home field advantage throughout the playoffs on the line.

We'll find out Sunday afternoon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Favre's Legacy On The Line This Weekend

Brett Favre's return to the NFL to play for the Vikings will likely be viewed as a success. It wasn't a "win the Super Bowl or bust" situation; Personally at the beginning of the season I figured it would be enough to get the Vikings a few extra wins, but I didn't see them being better than the Giants, Panthers, or Saints.

Well, I was right about one of those teams, wasn't I? (The Panthers) We'll see if I was right about the Saints this week.

Favre didn't need another playoff run to cement his legacy though. He's not Kurt Warner, he's Brett Favre. What Favre needs, and has needed since 1997, is another Super Bowl victory.

Favre currently is the NFL leader in almost every important career achievement at QB besides two important ones, most MVP's, and Super Bowl rings. Favre will need at least another ring to retire as "the greatest QB of all time." With two rings, his tremendous stats and starts-streak will his name over legends like Unitas, Elway, and Montana. It will also separate him from that pesky Manning kid who is already inching in on every major record of Brett's.

If Favre can beat Manning, that would be even bigger. Kind of like when Elway beat Favre in Super Bowl XXXII. Having a head-to-head win in a Super Bowl against a statistical nemesis does wonders for ones legacy.

It's arguable that Favre can even afford to get to the Super Bowl as lose this year and still cement his legacy. There's a strong chance that even with a second ring, people would still consider Elway, Montana, Unitas, and eventually Manning better than #4. A Super Bowl appearance at age 40 would guarantee Favre's name be in the debate at the very least.

But if Favre doesn't win this week, then his decade of "choke" will always be solidified. Losing to the Saints will join "4th and 26," "6 INT's in St. Louis," "Losing at Lambeau to Vick," "Randy Moss mooning the crowd," "collapsing down the stretch on Broadway," and "OT interception" as the defining moments of Brett Favre in the 00's. Despite getting to the conference championship at age 40, he'll be more remembered as the QB who got zero rings in six playoff appearances in the 00's. Only Donovan McNabb can herald those sort of numbers, and he at least went to a Super Bowl this decade.

Brett Favre can not afford to have an entire decade in the league without going to the Super Bowl and be considered the best QB of all time. Without another Super Bowl appearance it will be hard to even consider Favre top five all time, with greats such as the aforementioned Unitas, Montana, Elway in his way, along with the legacy of Otto Graham and the rising legend of Peyton Manning. Unfortunately for Brett Favre, with only one Super Bowl win, and only two appearances in the big game, Favre will be stuck somewhere in the same sentence as guys like Dan Marino (all numbers, no rings), Tom Brady (three rings, some numbers, system quarterback), Terry Bradshaw (four rings, no numbers), Bart Starr (plenty of titles, lives in the shadow of Unitas' legacy), and Sammy Baugh.

There's about 50,000 quarterbacks who give their right arm to hear their names called in the same sentence as those quarterbacks, but not Brett Favre. He didn't start all those games in a row, come back four times, and almost ruin his legacy in order to be considered all-time tier 2. No, Favre did it to cement himself as the greatest of all time. The Babe Ruth of football.

Brett has his opportunity to get there this Sunday. A win and he's in the top tier, a loss and he's second tier.

No matter what tier Brett ends up on, enjoy watching him play this week. Because as always, it may be his last game.

Ryan, Sanchez, Revis Make Their Cases For Awards

Awards are usually stupid. Outside of MVP I usually don't get into all the other awards. Offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, comeback player of the year, coach of the year, offensive rookie of the year, defensive rookie year; I can care less about all of them. Sure I keep tabs on who wins each award every year, but overall I think they're dumb.

About a month ago I did my award rankings. I hit on Manning, Johnson, Woodson, missed on Harvin and Brady by one win my projections, and by two for Cushing. By the end of week 17 I had Cushing at #1, Harvin and Brady misrepresent their awards this year. I still hold that it should have been Vince Young for Comeback Player and Michael Oher for offensive rookie.

Though I still think Michael Oher deserved the award, Mark Sanchez is making the case that he was more valuable as a rookie than any other player in the league. Though Sanchez' numbers have been mediocre, as has his play, it's hard to argue against Sanchez' value as a player this year. He and the Jets may have "backed" into the playoffs, but Sanchez also became the first rookie quarterback to be the only rookie quarterback to make the playoffs and not win the offensive rookie of the year award. This decade alone, Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Young, and Matt Ryan have been given the award. It's not as if Percy Harvin had an outstanding year either, there are a lot of people who believe that he was "at best" the third best rookie wide receiver this year.

When I made my list I left Darrelle Revis off of the list for Defensive Player of the Year and immediately felt stupid when this error was brought to my attention. Though Charles Woodson was more of a play maker, and had more prime time opportunities to show off, Revis continues to show why he's a real star. To shut down Randy Moss (x2), Terrell Owens (x2), Chard Ochocinco (x2), Vincent Jackson, Steve Smith, and Andre Johnson down in the same season is the sort of thing that Canton busts are made of. Revis may not have gotten the award this year, but he'll get it next year if he has a remotely similar year; a lot like Bob Sanders in 2007.

The Jet that I absolutely believe deserved an award was Rex Ryan for Coach of the Year. Nothing against Marvin Lewis, but the man did not deserve the award. If anything Lewis should have finished fifth in the voting behind Jim Caldwell, Norv Turner, Sean Payton, and of course Rex Ryan.

All Rex Ryan did in 2009 was turn around the culture of a franchise whose culture was losing. The Jets of 2009 were able to do everything the Edwards/Mangini Jets were able to do, except with confidence. They punched the Patriots in the mouth and took care of business when they had to this year. Sure they "backed into the playoffs" but that's not Ryan's fault. He prepared his team to win each and every week, you can't hold other coaches decisions against Ryan. He deserved that award.

The Jet who probably will get an award is Mike Tannenbaum for executive of the year. In the same off season Tannenbaum fired Mangini, straight up released Brett Favre, hired Rex Ryan, signed Bart Scott, and traded up for Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene. In other words, he replicated Ozzie Newsome's 2008.

Tannenbaum, like Revis, Sanchez, and Ryan probably won't get the award. They'll end up giving it to Ted Thompson or AJ Smith or some other GM who has done far less than Tannenbaum this year, and that's fine; because Revis, Sanchez, Ryan, and Tannenbaum would much rather be where they are than where all of the other award winners are right now...

Well besides Peyton and Percy, at least.