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.

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