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Success of Arizona Cardinals Season Doesn’t Rest on Sunday’s Outcome

Published: January 8, 2010

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It seems that some Cardinals fans have become the equivalent of spoiled rich L.A. teenagers.

No, they haven’t been given their own reality show or a spread in Playboy, although some of them may be named Spencer and Heidi. And no need to worry, the closest they’ve gotten to wearing Chanel or Prada is their $125 Kurt and Fitz jerseys.

Don’t be fooled, though, these two groups share a common bond.

Last year, these Cardinal fans were given the gift of a lifetime (think: winning the lottery the same day you married the hottest person you know). They were the recipients of three great playoff victories and one amazing Super Bowl week.

They were lavished with praise, attention, and a new higher status on the NFL food chain (depending on which expert you talked to).

Instead of being grateful for what they’d been treated too, this group of fans grew a sense of entitlement and expectation. Feeling that one great playoff run meant that anything less than a deep playoff run this year would be uncivilized (pardon me, but do you happen to have any grey matter?).

Raising expectations is acceptable but it has to be based in some sense of reality. That is, of course, unless you are a Cowboys fan.

Most fans, like myself, remember our Cardinal heritage.

We remember the 20-plus years we spent wandering the desert. We remember the leaders like Buddy Ryan and Denny Green who promised salvation but managed only disappointment. We remember when success was judged by not finishing last in the division. We remember how an 8-8 season was a big deal and a wild-card appearance in the playoffs was earth shattering.

Years of expecting four wins has offered perspective. The success of the Cardinals season doesn’t rest on a victory versus the Green Bay Packers Sunday.

Do we want the Cardinals to go back to the Super Bowl and win it? Yes. Do we need it to validate a season that Cardinals fans haven’t seen since St. Louis in 1976? No.

A 10-win season is something most fans would have sold their souls for three seasons ago (by the way, I’m still not regretting that decision). In years past, hoping for back-to-back division titles would have just been greedy.

If the pain we all suffered at the hands of previous Cardinals teams has taught us anything it should be this, enjoy the ride.

Come Sunday, win or lose, fans should be excited by what the team has accomplished in the past two years, and the new image that is beginning to take hold.

Like the rich teenager, no matter how much fans were spoiled last year they aren’t entitled to anything. Just ask followers of the Seattle Seahawks.

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Wrapping The Seattle Seahawks Season, Looking Ahead to Life After Mora

Published: January 8, 2010

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In a ritual completed in 19 other NFL locker rooms Monday, Seahawks’ players removed their belongings for the final time this season in an attempt to cleanse themselves of a forgettable 5-11 campaign.

Craig Terrill, a backup defensive lineman, and D.D. Lewis, backup linebacker, toted massive, plastic-covered posters containing the 2009 team picture upon their departure. Many of the players in the photo are unlikely to appear in next year’s version.  

“I think this year more than other years, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. “There has been uncertainty here before. I think back to 2004, there were 20-something unrestricted free agents, and no one in place to sign those people. This is a similar situation in a sense.”

The first major change occurred Friday with the reported firing of coach Jim Mora. Mora met with team officials Friday morning and was informed of their decision not to retain him, in a story first reported by The Seahawks went 1-4 and were outscored a combined 140-57 since team CEO Tod Leiweke made assurances that Mora’s job was safe in early December.

After finishing the year with 17 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, a bruised and battered Hasselbeck openly questioned the player’s trust in first-year offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s system. Seattle’s patchwork offensive line provided the quarterback with little time to throw and allowed 15 sacks in the last five games of the year.

Even worse, Hasselbeck became too hurried to develop chemistry with free agent wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Nate Burleson, who returned after missing nearly the entire 2008 season.

“I think that’s just something you’ve got to ask yourself: ‘Did you trust the play?  Did you trust the guy coaching you?,’” Hasselbeck said. “When I’m cutting the ball loose, I (need) to trust that the guy I’m throwing to is going to help me out. At the same time, when I’m standing in the pocket, I’ve got to trust the guys around me got my back.”

One day after Hasselbeck ended the season with an interception that sealed the Seahawks’ fourth straight defeat, the 34-year-old quarterback said he hopes to be back in Seattle next year.

At a wrap-up press conference on Wednesday, a Seattle-area radio host asked Mora “When you close your eyes and imagine this team in September do you see Matt Hasselbeck as your starting quarterback?” Mora jokingly complied by shutting both eyes on the stage, pausing for a moment, before resoundingly saying “yes.” With a new coach, Hasselbeck’s status is now in question, as well.

Houshmandzadeh, for one, would welcome the return. The offseason prize signing said Hasselbeck and Mora were the two primary reasons why he chose to come to Seattle. Houshmandzadeh finished with 135 targets, but only 79 catches (his lowest total in four years).

More tellingly, the former Bengals receiver said in early December he would have had “90-100 catches,” if he had as many targets as Texans wideout Andre Johnson. At the time, Johnson had the ball thrown in his direction 130 times.

“There were certain things (Matt and I) got better at timing-wise, and certain things that we didn’t, some of it my fault,” Houshmandzadeh said. “You run routes a certain way your whole career and then you come here and it’s a little bit different. There’s times where you try to go back and do them how you’ve done them, and he’s not used to that.”

One receiver who may not return is Deion Branch. The former Super Bowl MVP ended the season with 45 receptions for 437 yards and has not finished with more than 51 catches in each of his four years with the Seahawks. Though the ex-Patriots wideout had a strong game in the season-finale against the Titans, Branch struggled filling in for Burleson at split end in the final month of the year.

“I’ve got two years left on my contract,” Branch said. “This is where I want to finish my career.”

Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame, hopes his career is not finished. Jones has missed the team’s last 20 games with crippling knee and back injuries and hinted at retirement near Thanksgiving. The nine-time Pro Bowler went on injured reserve in October and spent the majority of his time rehabbing in Florida.

“My knee feels a lot better. I feel pretty good in the direction that I’m going,” Jones said. “The decision (on whether to return next year) is going to be made pretty early, hopefully in the next couple months.”

Without Jones, the offensive line had difficulty opening holes for running backs Julius Jones and Justin Forsett in Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme. Jones had trouble hitting the hole quickly and finished with 3.7 yards a carry, the second-lowest in his career. Forsett, meanwhile, averaged 5.4 yards per run in primarily a backup role. Jones is unsure if he will return.

“I don’t know,” Jones said. “Some crazy things happen. I like the team, I would like to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

An encouraging sign for Knapp is that the Seahawks’ running game finally started to show improvement as the season wore down. Seattle averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in each of its last three games. In their previous 12 contests, the Seahawks eclipsed that average only three times.

“I think it’s closer to where we want it to be,” Mora said. “I think that’s an indication of guys understanding the scheme, and how it does take some time.”

On defense, the loss of middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu for the season in late October stung as badly as the absence of Walter Jones. Though David Hawthorne filled in admirably with a team-high 117 tackles, the unit had to play more than half the year without its defensive quarterback. Tatupu has been pleased with his progress, as he recovers from a torn pectoral muscle.

“I’m not (bench) pressing 300 yet, but I’m doing okay,” Tatupu said. “I expect to be ready for offseason lifting (in) mid-March, (when) we usually get back into it.”

Unlike the running game on offense, the defense regressed in the final month of the season. During the month of December, the Seahawks allowed an average of 30.75 a game and a season-high 48 to Green Bay. Mora, however, was impressed with how the defense stifled Chris Johnson last week, when the Titans back was held to 3.7 yards per carry.

“I feel like, coming out of that game Sunday, it might’ve been the very first time I felt all year, defensively, that we kind of had it,” Mora said. “The players really understand the package and how we want them to play it. We want to make sure we continue that, and then add problems for the offense. That’s when you become a really good defense.”

Still, questions remain. Defensive end Patrick Kerney (elbow) and strong safety Deon Grant (wrist), both 30 or above, underwent surgery this week. Darryl Tapp, a fourth-year defensive end, will become a free agent in the offseason. 

Personnel decisions cannot be made until a new front office and coaching staff are put in place. Mora politely sidestepped questions on the new general manager on Wednesday and it is not yet known if he knew his fate at that time. His firing may signal the first major change.

“I really have no say in (the general manager’s decision),” Hasselbeck said on Monday. “It’s unfortunate that this year, we didn’t put our best stuff out there, what we showed on game film, which is kind of like your resume in a sense.  That’s disappointing. There’s nothing you can do about it except get better and, given the opportunity, make it happen.”

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NFL Quick Hits (Jan. 8): Jim Mora Fired After One Season

Published: January 8, 2010

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Jim Mora Done in Seattle

Mora lasted just one season in Seattle, as he guided the disappointing Seahawks to a 5-11 record and third place finish in the weak NFC West.

For more on Mora’s firing, click here .


Cleveland Sticking With Eric Mangini

After sitting down with Mike Holmgren in two separate meetings, both sides agree that the franchise was headed in the right direction, and the man to keep it going that way would be Mangini.

For more on Mangini and more NFL news, go here .


Anquan Boldin Doubtful For Sunday

Boldin has been doubtful all week and hasn’t practiced since being knocked out of Week 17’s match against the Green Bay Packers.

Widely known for his toughness and ability to play through injuries, it still doesn’t look very good for Boldin to make the Cardinals Wild Card game against Green Bay, as he deals with ankle and knee issues.

Monitor his status up until game-time tomorrow if you’re considering using him in playoff fantasy leagues. Despite the pessimistic diagnosis, we still wouldn’t count him out.


Randy Moss Misses Friday’s Practice

Moss has been spotted “limping around”, and after missing Friday’s practice, he’s at least questionable heading into New England’s Wild Card game against the Baltimore Ravens.

He’s still likely to play, especially with the loss of Wes Welker, but it’s clear he currently is not at 100 percent.

However, if the Patriots are to stand a chance against an under-rated Baltimore squad, Moss needs to be at the top of his game.


Jack Del Rio Still in Limbo

Not many details are know, but is reporting that Del Rio’s future will likely be determined in a meeting next week between him and Jacksonville’s owner, Wayne Weaver.

There isn’t much reason to keep Del Rio around, especially after his team dropped their final four games to miss the post-season. Except for, you know, that $15 million the Jaguars owe him over the next three years.


Marc Bulger Not Retiring?

In “who cares?” news, reports yesterday that has Rams quarterback Marc Bulger considering retirement have retracted, and now the report is that he fully intends on continuing his playing career.

He can do whatever he likes, but his monster salary coming in next season likely won’t be paid by St. Louis, and he’ll almost certainly be released.

Bulger has been fading for three straight years, and while he’s not completely to blame for his lack of production, his play shouldn’t inspire any other NFL teams to give him a shot as their starter.


Indy Running With Matt Stover, Not Vinatieri

The Colts have decided to run with the hot hand (or leg) in Matt Stover, choosing the 41-year old over Adam Vinatieri as their postseason kicker.

Vinatieri will remain on the active roster, but it’s clear Indy simply doesn’t trust his injured knee enough to throw Stover to the side.

Stover has been performing well, but could be rusty heading into the playoffs, as he will have gone five consecutive weeks without kicking a field goal in a game by the time the Colts play.

For more NFL news , go here .

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Indianapolis Colts: Linebackers Are Hidden Gem on Season and for Success

Published: January 8, 2010

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It’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle if you are a member of the Indianapolis Colts, with the likes of superstars Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark always in the headlines and doing countless interviews (and commercials in Manning’s case).

Even on the defensive side of the ball where the Colts in recent years have struggled, it is not so tough to get lost in the crowd. Playing with and behind perennial all pro Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and often injured but highly touted Bob Sanders, one can even get lost on this side of the ball as well.

Maybe it’s a good thing for certain Colts’ players and maybe not. But the fact of the matter is the Colts’ linebacking corp was one of the hidden gems this season for Indy and one of the many reasons they finished the regular season 14-2 with a first round bye and home field advantage heading into the postseason.

With new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer at the helm, the Colts blitzed and utilized their linebackers more often than they have in recent years. Among the players to benefit from this was third-year man Clint Session.

Session, a fourth-round draft pick by the Colts out of Pitt in 2007, is a guy who, like most draft picks of the Colts, was not the conventional choice for linebacker, but fit their system to a “T”.

So far on the year Session leads the team in tackles with 103 (84 solo, 19 assists), albeit while being held out of the final two games against the Jets and Bills—another subject for another day.

Session, in his first year at the weakside position, is ahead of linebacking mate and defensive captain Gary Brackett in tackles, as Brackett currently has 99 tackles (80 solo, 19 assists) on the season.

Both players have thrived this year under the new leadership and system of Coyer, and that has not gone unnoticed by their teammates and others around the league.

“I watched him [Session] in Miami as a high school player,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “Very intense, fast and extremely explosive. He is a perfect fit for Indy’s run and hit defense.”

Both Brackett and Session are not the tallest trees in the forest either, mind you, but that stature often plays to their advantage. You can barely see them at times on the field, as they are both built similarly—short, compact and very explosive to the ball.

This explosiveness and new system instilled by Coyer have really played to both Session and Brackett’s advantage, as well as the Colts’, particularly their run D (spotty in past years), which has benefited from them both.

This linebacking tandem has really solidified the defense for the Colts this season, along with the play (before his injury) of Tyjuan Hagler and Phillip Wheeler; the Colts have a strong youthful future with their linebackers to build on.

All that remains to be seen is if that both Brackett and Session can remain with the Colts when the new free agency rules take effect in the NFL (Brackett is a free agent after this season). And it seems that in the past with the Colts, they have not been kind (financially) to linebackers. They have tendencies to let them walk for whatever reason.

One thing is for sure though. If they can retain both of these players after this season to long term deals, the Colt roster of stars will need to make room for two more players.

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At Seasons End Thoughts of Vick to Owens Are In My Head

Published: January 8, 2010

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Another year, another missed playoff chance for the Buffalo Bills. The Buffalo Bills have now missed the playoffs ten years in a row and as a beloved Bills fan each year tends to get a little harder and more aggravating.

Last year I finished the season by writing my ode to the Bills in “Screw You Buffalo.” This year I have decided to lay off a bit, the reason being, the heart the Buffalo Bills played with this season. While the future of the Buffalo Bills is still up in the air the one certainty; there are tons of changes on the way.

While the Bills and front office can figure out the coaching staff the Bills will start with the #9 pick in the NFL draft and it doesn’t seem like the Bills will be happy with either of the QB’s on the roster. While I’m sure there are a number of young QB’s the Bills can take I believe there are a few different ways the Bills can approach this and one of them is more for the now than for the future.

As Bills fans we are all aware that the Buffalo Bills are one of the smaller market teams in the NFL and with a possible uncapped year amongst us the Bills will need to pull all of the tricks out of the bag.

Last season the Bills signed controversial wide receiver Terrell Owens and by doing that created not only a buzz over the off-season but a buzz that continued threw the entire year. What an odd sight turning on ESPN and seeing the red and blue buffalo up in the right hand corner of the screen.  Many writers basked at the chance to call Buffalo’s signing of Owens then and now a complete failure, but I see differently.

T.O. was exactly what Buffalo needed this year. Buffalo without T.O. this year would have just been that same unsuccessful team for the 10th straight season with the “bright spots” we see and fade away each year. With Owens the Bills were actually talked about during and still after the season. The Bills were actually relevant like it was the 90’s all over again.

It was unfortunate that this was Owens least productive year and by no means was it his fault, but what T.O. brought to Buffalo wasn’t just stats. More importantly it was an attitude that this just isn’t good enough. Something we have seen as fans for awhile now but just being noticed by upper management. T.O. also brought revenue, fans, and Buffalo into the main stream. Now as a Bills fan sit back and think what Mike Vick would do.

Yes, I know that Vick is a touchy subject for some people out there. I am one who supports Vick, see previous Vick article for reasons, and it doesn’t have any meaning to this article.

Watching what T.O. has done for Buffalo I could only imagine what the signing of Vick would bring. Not to mention an actual QB that can run for his life.

Examining the statistics between a full season of Mike Vick, Trent Edwards, and J.P. Losman, they are quite similar. They roughly throw for anywhere between 2,400 and 3,000 yards and, except for Edwards, around 20 touchdowns. All three throw over 10 interceptions but only one has rushed for over 1,000 yards, Vick.

Understandably no one other than Vick is sure of what Mike Vick is still capable of. The Eagles have not used enough of Vick but word is that Vick still has the “it” factor. The “it” just needs to be used consistently. It’s hard enough for any starting QB to come out and throw not in any rhythm but especially Vick who has been out of football for sometime.

Bringing Vick to Buffalo isn’t such a horrible idea. He gives us a veteran QB and possibly the same results as we currently have with more hoopla and attention on the Buffalo Bills.

I’m not saying Vick is the future of the Bills but by taking our time and selecting the right QB in this or the next draft it would be better than what we have now. As a Bills fan sometimes is good just to have your team name in the lights and Buffalo can use that. Especially now when all we want is to keep them in Buffalo.


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Mike Blewitt’s NFL Power Rankings: End Of Season Edition

Published: January 7, 2010

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Since each NFL season carries with it the weight of expectations and the ultimate stark realities for every team and their fans, I tried something a little bit different for the final edition of NFL Power Rankings for the 2009 season.

With the end of the holiday season and the end of the NFL season running parallel to one another, I decided to get some of my friends, colleagues, and readers involved in the assessment of their respective team’s season. It’s a ranking by the people, for the people, if you will.

Also, I did not try to justify any non-playoff team being better than one who actually made “the tournament”—you’re either good enough or you’re not (I’m looking at you Steelers, Texans, and Falcons). On that note, I wish you all a Happy New Year, thanks for reading, and one last time…let’s navigate all the way from No. 1 to No. 32…


1.   San Diego Chargers (13-3) : Ten wins to close out the year and a red-hot offense has San Diego ranked at the top of the list. My preseason pick for the AFC Super Bowl rep looks to be in great shape all around but “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” A well-earned bye week awaits the Bolts.

2.   Indianapolis Colts (14-2) : All one can say is “I hope they know what they’re doing.” They bailed on the 19-0 campaign only to insert starters in horrible conditions for personal milestones—seems counter intuitive. A loss in their first game of the playoffs will bring the entire organization into question but we have a week to wait on that debate.

3.   New Orleans Saints (13-3) : From 13-0 to 13-3 is not the way to close things out but the Saints don’t appear to be concerned about it. They earned home-field advantage throughout and will await some legit potential opponents for next week. The league’s No. 1 offense should be fine in the comfort of the Superdome.

4.   Minnesota Vikings (12-4) : The Vikings pounded the Giants into the next decade and earned a week off. Similar to the Saints, the Vikes will enjoy the comfort of dome and weather has been eliminated as a factor in the NFC playoffs altogether. Can Favre pull off another title and walk into the sunset? And then come back again?

5.   Dallas Cowboys (11-5) : Big D posted consecutive shutouts for first time in franchise history and grabbed the NFC East title, but this ranking is based on how I think they stack up. ML from Boston: “I came away satisfied from the season but not feeling Dallas has played their best yet—too many penalties and poor tackling.” For his sake, let’s hope he’s right. And, would Wade survive a first round loss to Philly?

6.   Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) : Despite getting shellacked in Dallas on Sunday, MM likes his team to come back and beat Dallas this week but concedes, “the defense will not get them to the Super Bowl…and anything short of that is a disappointment.” Andy Reid has never lost a first-round playoff game and if he does this week, there will be no calls for his head given the contract extension he just signed.

7.   Green Bay Packers (11-5) : The Packer bandwagon is pretty full at this stage. The sixth-ranked offense and the second-ranked defense reside in Green Bay, and QB Aaron Rodgers looks the part of a seasoned veteran, except he has no postseason experience. Arizona may not be bad place for this team to start even thought the smackdown last week was against backups.

8.   Arizona Cardinals (10-6) : The Cardinals are not an easy team to figure out. Last year, they shocked the football world and nearly won the Super Bowl after a 9-7 season so given their explosive nature on offense, it would not be wise to count them out. Looking towards 2010, a lot will depend on Kurt Warner and/or Matt Leinart’s future.

9.   New England Patriots (10-6) : A meaningless game in Houston resulted in a loss on the scoreboard and the loss of go-to WR Wes Welker who is out for the playoffs after wrecking his knee. With Tom Brady rumored to be ailing as well, the Pats’ playoff expectations have taken a hit in the public’s eyes. Even die-hard New England fan RS admits “this team seems destined for a second round playoff loss at San Diego.”

10. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) : The AFC North champs did very little against the Jets last Sunday so that they could prepare for, um, the Jets on Sunday. Hosting a playoff game in Cincinnati will be a solid home-field advantage, but if they don’t stop the rushing attack early, they will be home early. Overall, Marvin Lewis finally has his team built the way he wants moving into the new decade.

11. New York Jets (9-7) : Living in NY, I am surrounded by slightly euphoric Jets fans this week who are dreaming of a Super Bowl appearance. DA is “very happy with Rex Ryan as he learned…and got better.” LJ adds “Sanchez’s regression was a bit alarming but I think there’s a reason to be optimistic for the future.” It seems most Jets fans would love a win this week in Cincy but are realistic about not advancing after that…for now… 

12. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) : The Ravens did what they needed to do in Oakland by running all over The Black Hole. They make the third playoff appearance in four years and will head to New England to try to advance. Joe Flacco’s less than stellar play (9TDs and 7 INTs in his last nine games) has some worried and a banged-up Ed Reed further hurts their chances to advance but with the way the Pats look, they may just steal one before bowing out.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) : MO agreed that watching the Steelers blow five fourth quarter leads was excruciating but “it might have been worse watching the Jets win two games that the other teams just handed to them.” Even with the Polamalu injury and winning out tough games against Green Bay, Baltimore, and Miami, there are no excuses for the Steelers dropping earlier games to the Chiefs and Raiders. Getting healthy, building some depth through the draft, and revamping special teams is likely to be the approach to get back to the playoffs in 2010.

14. Tennessee Titans (8-8) : Closing the season on an 8-2 run ranks them right up there at the top of the league in those last 10 games. Unfortunately, there are those pesky six losses to open the season that did not vanish from the record. But, the Vince Young Era has officially resumed and they will go into 2010 with a clear picture of who is leading them; Chris Johnson will be tearing up opposing defenses as well.

15. Atlanta Falcons (9-7) : A win over the Bucs secured consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, the Falcons were the only NFC team with a winning record to miss the “second season” but DH from Atlanta is less worried about “not meeting lofty expectations” for 2009 than he is about QB “Matt Ryan not progressing from his rookie year.”

16. Houston Texans (9-7) : The Texans beat the Pats to secure their first-ever winning season but the celebration was tempered after being eliminated from the playoffs on tiebreakers. Matt Schaub led Gary Kubiak’s explosive offense very well, and the defense has plenty of talent but poor special teams play led to some close losses that find them on the outside looking in yet again.

17. Carolina Panthers (8-8) : John Fox teams never quit; you have to give him credit for that. Saddled with an aging, expensive QB in Jake Delhomme the team struggled until he was injured. Backup Matt Moore won four of the last five games to get them back to .500 which gave all the doubters “evidence” to call for Delhomme’s pink slip. Changes will be made to the roster but expect the Panthers to challenge for the playoffs in 2010.

18. San Francisco 49ers (8-8) : The Niners throttled the Rams to close out the season winning three of their last four to finish a respectable 8-8 but clearly, the expectations are higher in San Fran. Mike Singletary: “In order to make wise decisions, we have to evaluate closely what we need to do. We’re going to take our time and be thorough.” So far, the special teams coach has been axed and while Alex Smith remains the top guy for now, the QB question will rage on throughout the offseason.  

19. Denver Broncos (8-8): The most hot-and-cold team in the NFL this year along with the Giants, the Broncos 6-0 start did not hold up when they lost their last four games to miss the important January games. Rookie head coach Josh McDaniels will have to deal with more drama regarding star wideout Brandon Marshall which is likely to end up in a trade around draft time. To an extent, I feel like they overachieved based on expectation but the perception is that they choked big time in ‘09.

20. Miami Dolphins (7-9) : Miami’s playoff hopes were officially dashed with a loss to the Steelers. KK from NYC thought his Dolphins had “hope and promise with a young, flourishing QB, but momentum was lost when Ronnie Brown went down.” Never lacking confidence in his beloved Fish he “guaranteed an AFC East title” in 2010.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9) : The Jags stood at 7-5 and controlled their own destiny to the playoffs only to drop their last four and end the season with a loud thud in Cleveland. Head coach Jack Del Rio is likely to stick, as he is owed $15 million over three years and rumors of the team being for sale swirl constantly these days. Del Rio tagging his QB David Garrard as “middle-tier” this week is accurate but a strange motivational tool when there is no football for such a long period after that commentary.

22. Chicago Bears (7-9) : While the Bears ended the season on a positive note by winning their last two, KL from Los Angeles summed up ‘09 by saying “this season got intercepted by another errant Cutler throw.” Ouch. The guillotine fell hard in Chicago already as six coaches were let go this week.

23. New York Giants (8-8) : The Giants uncharacteristically mailed in the last two games, getting blown out and costing people jobs, namely defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. AJ from PA sees a glaring “need for personnel changes” and “wouldn’t be surprised to see as many as 10 new starters,” which is a long way from where the expectations were going into the season.

24. Cleveland Browns (5-11) : Jerome Harrison put the team on his back in this last month to close out 2009 on a positive note. TR says the Browns were “disappointing in every aspect” but admits that you “can’t sleep” on their first four-game winning streak since 1994. The Mangini-hating also seems to have quieted with the wins and the arrival of football guru Mike Holmgren. Promise in Cleveland? Always…

25. Oakland Raiders (5-11) : When a team is 5-10 and down eight points with three minutes to go in its final game, is punting and playing the field position/timeouts strategy really the way to go? Live a little, Tom Cable, it’s not like your job hung in the balance during the loss to the Ravens. Or maybe it did, I don’t know, but I’m not about to try to get into Al Davis’ head—I may never come back. Cable throwing JaMarcus Russell under the bus will not help save his gig since Al is apparently still a fan—we’ll know more next week regarding this soap opera.

26. Buffalo Bills (6-10) : The Bills beat up on the fake Colts in the snow and then fired the entire coaching staff following a very disappointing year that saw them finish in last place in the AFC East for the second year in a row. Interim head coach Perry Fewell will interview for the head job there but he is unlikely to land it as they look for someone with a strong resume to come in and turn this around. Bill Cowher will provide writers like me with a lot of puns, so, there’s that…

27. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12) : The Chiefs surprisingly stomped the Broncos right out of the playoffs with a resounding win at Denver. KC was a sneaky sleeper pick for many before the year but after ranking 25th in offense and 30th in defense, it appears the rebuild will continue onward towards 2010.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13) : After the Bucs dropped the finale to Atlanta, RH wondered “Does the ship have a rudder?” which indicts everyone from the Glazers down through rookie Head Coach Raheem Morris. While Morris was officially retained, wholesale changes will need to be made to the roster and among the coaching staff. Josh Freeman has shown potential, but we all know that’s a long way from being any good at the QB position in this league.

29. Washington Redskins (4-12) : Jim Zorn was our first postseason coaching casualty as new GM Bruce Allen made his first major move after a disastrous season. The ‘Skins lost 18 of their last 24 games under Zorn and have more roster issues now than when he first came on board. Kevin H. from D.C.: “Poor coaching and bad players…you get what you see.” I think Kevin will feel just fine with new coach Mike Shanahan but will Jason Campbell be around for 2010?

30. Detroit Lions (2-14) : Everyone expected a long road ahead for the Lions and two separate six-game losing streaks locked up the No. 2 pick in the draft. Building blocks like QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson on offense are bright spots for 2010.

31. Seattle Seahawks (5-11) : There’s nothing worse than watching a team quit like the Seahawks did this season. They didn’t make it too tough for the Titans’ Chris Johnson to break the NFL yards-from-scrimmage record but they have made it tough for their fans to have faith in the direction of the team. What can Jim Mora, Jr. say to defend himself, that “we played like diddley-poo?”?

32. St. Louis Rams (1-15) : CG said about his beloved Rams: “With so many holes and so few current players showing much, it is hard not to see this as a three-plus year project back to respectability.” It may not be the sexiest No. 1 overall pick ever but everyone’s guess is that it will be Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh since he will be a stable building block in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense for years to come. With that, the Rams are officially on the clock…

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Donovan McNabb Vs Tony Romo: Who Is More Prepared For The Postseason?

Published: January 7, 2010

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Before anyone begins to get too in-depth with this article, I’m going to throw a word out there for everyone to remember whilst reading it.  Choke.

Yes, choke, the term that everyone is so fond of using nowadays, can pretty much sum up these two guys careers in a nutshell.

So let’s start with Tony.  A career that has had it’s high points and it’s low points, Tony Romo is still considered one of the premiere quarterbacks of today.  When it comes to the playoffs though, well I can’t really say the same thing.

2006, the Cowboys were one of the teams to beat.  With Romo already the holder of the NFL’s ‘Galloping Gobbler’ award, Romo and the Cowboys had secured a playoff spot.

Matched up with the Seattle Seahawks in the first round, the Cowboys were down 21-20 late in the 4th quarter.  Anyone who doesn’t remember what happened next isn’t a true football fan.  With a bobbled snap and an attempted run toward the end zone, the Cowboys once again lost a playoff game.

With that being one of the Cowboys, and Romo’s biggest chokes in his career, where does that leave Donovan McNabb?

Well this rewind is a little more recent.

After an impressive playoff run in the 2008 season, the Eagles made an impressive march toward the NFC Championship Game.  Most people were confident that the Eagles could pull off the victory.  After all, McNabb had been playing well, Westbrook had been rushing well and Brian Dawkins and the Eagles defense was red hot.  Therefore, most people expected to see the same form come the last game before the Super Bowl.


McNabb had actually played quite well in the game.  With 375 yards on 47 attempts and three touchdowns to only one interception, it was hard to calculate mathematically how the Eagles had only scored 6 points in the first half.

The second half was much the same from McNabb.  Great stats posted, but at the end the Arizona Cardinals came out victors with a convincing 35-25 win.  McNabb was then criticised for weeks to come.  Apparent accuracy problems were the blame of the Eagles loss to the Cardinals.  Although the defense was at fault as well.

With all this in the past though, where does it leave our two quarterbacks heading into next weeks fixture?

Some people will call it a ‘Choker v Choker’ match.  I prefer to call it a battle of two quarterbacks that are willing to take risks.

Tony Romo had had a great December.  With a win over New Orleans to start it all, he is coming into this game with a passer rating of 97.6.  A win already under his belt against the Eagles last week leaves him with the confidence that he so surely needs heading back to Cowboys Stadium on Saturday.

Donovan McNabb isn’t to be taken lightly either.  With a lower passer rating of 92.9, McNabb’s numbers are all lower than Romo’s on his 2009 season.  One thing he does have in his favor though is coaching.  Andy Reid isn’t going to let last week’s loss effect his side going into Saturday’s match up, and he sure as hell isn’t going to let it effect his quarterback.

Out of the two though, the edge would have to go to Tony Romo.  Only nine interceptions on the season and twenty six touchdowns, gives him the edge stats wise. 

Ranked third in passing yards behind Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub, Tony Romo also has his go to guy, and roommate Miles Austin to rely on.  With this week ahead, you can guarantee that the two have read the playbook top to bottom while in their hotel room.

Home field advantage also plays into Romo’s hands, especially since he doesn’t have a certain girl dressed in a pink number 9 jersey to distract him this year.  Instead his head is in the game, and for once, out of the media.

With all these positives working in Romo’s favor, expect him to have a big game.  Risks will payoff in this one, especially since Miles Austin is red hot. 

One thing Romo must avoid though is not taking enough risks.  In a forth and short situation, I think it is important for them to go for it early.  Gain even more confidence, and not settle for field goals.

If it doesn’t work early though, change it.  A good mixture of run and pass can win the game for either team.  Both have the ability at the running back position, and at the quarterback position.


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Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 Season Review, Part One: Defense

Published: January 7, 2010

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In Miami last weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2009 season came to a fitting conclusion in the waning moments of the final regular season game—Ike Taylor intercepted a pass.


It was his first interception since Dec. 7, 2008, and, amazingly, the first pick of 2009 from a Steelers starting cornerback.  (I’m not counting Deshea Townsend’s earlier pick, because he wasn’t a regular starter.)  Sure, there were only 36 seconds left in the season, but they finally got one. 


It was a proper microcosm for the 2009 season; someone made a play when it ultimately didn’t matter.  It was too little, too late.


But it was something else about Taylor that struck me, something I noticed a few weeks ago, before he shaved his hair into whatever pattern that was.  During the Baltimore game, the camera gave a wide shot of the Steelers sideline, and Taylor was standing facing the field with his helmet off.


On the middle of the back of his head was a tiny but noticeable bald spot.


And that is the real story behind the 2009 season.  Suddenly, dramatically, and with devastating results, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense got old.


Though his hairline says otherwise, Taylor, at 28, is a relative youngster on a defensive unit that features half a dozen starters who are now into their 30s.  The age of the defense was a primary factor in several losses this season, including all the blown fourth quarter leads.  Even in Miami, where the defense played one of its best all-around games of the season, they nearly collapsed one last time, giving up two touchdowns in three minutes of the final quarter to an offense headed by none other than Tyler Thigpen.


With 2009 now in the rear-view mirror, the organization must take a hard look at a group that was for many years the strength of the team.  The defense still put up respectable statistics and certainly doesn’t lack playmakers.  A healthy Troy Polamalu in 2010 would go a long way towards repairing what happened in ’09.


Here’s what happened—several dependable and reliable players suffered a noticeable decline or were hampered by injuries.  How much age has to do with this is anyone’s guess.  But it didn’t take a football savant to see that, on plays that mattered most, the defense was juuust a step too slow.  Too little, too late.


The principal offenders were Townsend and James Farrior, a pair of 34-year-olds who seemed to have lost a step or three overnight.  On the front line, Brett Keisel was productive but battled injuries and fatigue, while Aaron Smith’s season was over before it really got started.


James Harrison had another strong season (10 sacks) but seemed to wear down, initially after Smith got hurt and then again late in the year.  Ryan Clark, usually so steady at safety, was on the wrong end of several big plays.  Of course, you could say that about almost every player on the back seven.


A strange thing about the defense was that many young players failed to get a chance to perform, even as those playing in front of them were floundering.  This may be because the defense is difficult to learn—rookies don’t often crack the defensive lineup—but I thought several players deserved at least a shot at more playing time.  Guys like Ryan Mundy, Keyaron Fox, Joe Burnett, and Ziggy Hood weren’t on the field enough.


With depth being a major question at several positions, including cornerback, safety, and defensive tackle, the team may be in a precarious position this offseason due to some curious signings the previous two summers.


Before the 2008 season, they gave Farrior, who was 32 at the time, a five-year extension.  Before this season, the Steelers gave James Harrison, who is now 31, a similar five-year extension.  Both moves had good merit; Farrior was a key figure and leader in the locker room, and Harrison, after all, was the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.


But the moves seem like head-scratchers when looking at how the franchise typically handles situations like that, when defensive players are getting older or declining.  That is, they are rarely, if ever, signed to long-term deals. 


The team let Joey Porter walk in 2006 when he was 29.  All-time sack leader Jason Gildon was 31 in 2003, his last season as a Steeler.  Clark Haggans was out of Pittsburgh by age 30; 28-year-old Larry Foote was not re-signed last year. Levon Kirkland was gone at 31, Greg Lloyd at 32.


Some think the Steelers are cheap because of the way these players were cast off.  But many of those moves were prescient.  Few, if any, of those players made an impact after leaving Pittsburgh (with Porter being a notable exception).


Another recurring theme in ‘09 was that untested and unproven players failed to step up.  This was a digression from past seasons, where special-team guys and up-and-comers routinely stepped into the starting lineup without missing a beat.  This past season was a different story.


There’s a reason Tyrone Carter has been a back-up safety for 10 seasons, and the Steelers found out the hard way. 


Pressed into starting duty, Carter was frequently caught out of position and became a huge liability in pass coverage.  He did have one huge game (Denver) but that was overshadowed by his poor play in most of the other 10 games he started.  He also affected the play of Clark, who was forced to cover more ground from sideline to sideline.


William Gay looked sharp early in the season but his play declined steadily the rest of the way.  He didn’t have a single interception despite getting thrown at almost twice as much as Taylor.  Gay didn’t provide much run support either.  He raised eyebrows only when he was trucked by Adrian Peterson in the Minnesota game.


That brings us to an interesting final point: Gay ascended to the starting position because former cornerback Bryant McFadden—for whom fans were positively pining this season—was not re-signed.  Was it because McFadden was a “Cowher guy” and Gay is a “Tomlin guy”?


No one can say for sure, but it’s clear that the team, as a whole, seems to be stuck in a transition phase. The offense has taken on a completely new identity under Tomlin, while the defense still has the same characteristics it had during the Age of Cowher.


Except—you guessed it—the players are all older.  A key free agent this offseason, one who’s already generating some buzz to either be re-signed or franchised, is nose tackle Casey Hampton.


His age?  32. 





Check back early next week for Part Two, which will include a review of the offense and the recent coaching staff shake-up.

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2009 NFL Season: Week 17

Published: January 6, 2010

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This week, instead of going through all the games I watched, I am just going to make observations and mention the games along the way.

This really has been one of the strangest seasons. I think mostly because there were are so many mediocre teams vying for playoff spots at the end of the season, and the teams I thought were elite, like the Vikings and Saints, clearly faltered.

But before I go into that, let’s move to the most important topic to me.

The New England Patriots

Week 17 could not have been much more disastrous for the Patriots. Wes Welker went down with a torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter. If you had to name the Most Valuable Player on the team this year, you would not say Tom Brady, you would not say Randy Moss, and would you not say Vince Wilfork, or Jerrod Mayo. You would say Welker.

Any true football fan has to respect and admire what Welker brings to the team in the slot position, and what he brings off the field. He’s a small, fast, tough, hard working, receiver who is admired by fans and teammates alike. He takes a pounding week in and week out, catching those passes over the middle. My heart sank when I realized how badly Welker was hurt, but as my wife said, “That’s football.”

What are the Patriots chances in the playoffs without Welker? Not nearly as good as they were with him. In fact, New England’s offense diminished greatly, I would say, with the heartbreaking injury.

I like Julian Edelman. He’s impressed since the preseason and played well in Welker’s place in a few games this season. But as a rookie, at this point in his career, I don’t seem him truly replacing what Welker brings to the table. But thankfully, Bill Belichick was smart enough to steal a seventh-round Wes Welker clone.

Frankly, I thought the starters should have played only a quarter, then pulled off the field since it was a meaningless game. I’m not sure why Belichick was even playing the starters the entire game, besides trying to keep momentum and continuity.

Reports say that Brady played with a broken finger and broken ribs. I find it extremely hard to believe Belichick would be stupid enough to expose Brady if he really had broken ribs. That would be insane, and Belichick should be checked into a mental facility immediately if so. But those reports have been disputed.

I don’t fault him for playing the starters, though. That’s a coaches call as to what his team needs most to be successful in the playoffs. But those who say that Belichick “plays to win no matter what” are flat wrong, too. He has benched his starters very early before in previous seasons where the Patriots wrapped up a playoff spot, except for 2007 when they were going for 16-0.

But let’s face it, the Patriots problems run far deeper than Wes Welker. The defense has been so woefully inadequate on the road and in the passing game it’s sometimes just embarrassing. We can’t seem to hold a lead and the defense seems mostly bewildered at times.

And the offense is inconsistent. I completely disagree with commentators who say Brady struggled after Welker went out, implying that it was the absence of Welker that caused the offense to stumble at the end of the game and lose it. Edelman played a fine game.  Brady just played poorly. Maybe it was the emotions of losing Welker? Maybe it was the broken finger? But he played poorly down the stretch.

And the defense gave up the ghost.

I think we’ll find a way to beat the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. I am not confident we can compete with the offenses of the Chargers or Colts.

But I am always hopeful. Will I be depressed for a month or more if we get knocked out the playoffs this year? Probably, even though I keep telling myself I won’t.

I’m still not over Super Bowl XLII, and never will be.

Sorry Games from Playoff-Bound Teams

The Cincinnati Bengals played most of their starters against the New York Jets, but didn’t show up for the game. That was an embarrassing excuse for a professional football game. The whole point of playing your starters is to keep momentum going. Well, the Bungles made it look like amateur night, while the Jets were fighting for their playoff lives. They just didn’t have to fight that hard.

And while I’m on that topic, the Jets did what they needed to do to get into the playoffs, and the Colts and the Bungles basically forfeited their games to them. So the Jets go into the playoffs basically having been given two games in the standings. That’s just how it is.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals laid down against the Green Bay Packers and looked like the doormats they were of yesteryear. The starters played awful in this game, too, although they started Matt Leinart, who stunk the joint up.

I think the Jets and the Packers beat these two teams next week in the playoffs. Why bother starting your best players if they aren’t going to show up?

Resting Your Starters and the NFL’s Comments on the Lousy End of Season Games

This leads me to my next point. Yes, the final week of the season saw some pretty sorry games that made the preseason look entertaining. But how can the NFL talk about “doing something” to make playoff-bound teams start their best players? That is so idiotic. It’s hard to believe the topic came up.

First, that would just open up all kinds of shenanigans where one team would claim, “Well, our starting quarterback has a bruised shin,” while another loses their starting quarterback in a meaningless game. What is the NFL going to do, medical inspections on all the “key players” of teams that have wrapped up playoff spots?

And even if the starters do start, the two games above pretty clearly show that if they have nothing to play for, they may not show up anyway.

Even though I find it ironic the Jets were gifted a playoff spot by the Colts and Bengals while other deserving teams weren’t, I have no problem with the Colts, or any other team, not playing their starters in meaningless end of season games. If they lost Peyton Manning, their chances of a Super Bowl would be almost zero. They earned the right to rest their starters by having the best regular season record. The mediocre teams that didn’t—who cares? It’s not their problem. Win your regular season games and you won’t have to worry about what other teams are doing.

The Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens only beat the Oakland Raiders because Charlie Frye. Yes, believe it or not, Charlie Frye was playing a good game but got injured.

In the second half, JaMarcus Russell came in and his two stupid turnovers handed the Ravens the game and a playoff spot. Had Frye stayed in the game and played as well as he had the first half, there is a very good chance that the Ravens would have lost the game.

Ironically, I think the Ravens are more talented than their record. Cam Cameron should be fired. His game plan is predictable. For the Patriots’ sake, though, I hope it is next week, too.

The MVP of this game would be Willis McGahee, who stiff armed a Raider defender to the ground on the way to a long touchdown run.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Like the Ravens the Steelers can just shut up, too. While the Dolphins-Steelers game was one of entertaining contests of the weekend, Miami were hanging in tough against the Steelers until quarterback Chad Henne was hurt and out of the game. Had he been able to play, the outcome might have been different. Pat White was awful, and unfortunately completely knocked them out of the game. The Dolphins may have fared better had Tyler Thigpen been the backup all along.

Other Sorry Games

And what about the Denver Broncos being run out of the stadium by the Kansas City Chiefs ? The Broncos did have something to play for, and flat-out embarrassed themselves.

And Josh McDaniels benching their best offensive threat Brandon Marshall? Unbelievable. I’m not sure who is at fault here, but I’m sure Marshall is gone after this season. Reports are that Shanahan was planning to get rid of this punk himself had he stayed on as head coach. If I see Marshall getting fawned over on NFL Network again, I am going to puke.

And while the New Orleans Saints sat Drew Brees, they put up a sorry performance on defense against the Carolina Panthers. Does Minnesota, who finally played well at the end of the season, have the edge in the postseason, despite being the No. 2 seed?

Final Observations

Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans became the sixth player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season with 2,006 on the ground and broke Marshall Faulk’s decade old record of most yards from the line of scrimmage with 2,254 yards. Congratulations.

Rex Ryan is a moron if he thinks the Jets should be Super Bowl favorites after being handed a playoff spot. Makes me root against them even more, but unfortunately, I will root for them if they play the Colts. Ryan’s shtick has already worn thin on me. He is a buffoon.


Offensive Player: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (256 yards rushing)
Defensive Player: Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
Offensive Lineman: Alan Faneca, G, New York Jets
Special Teams: Shane Lechler, P, Oakland Raiders
Rookie of the Week: Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots

Posted in AFC East, National Football League, New England Patriots, NFL, Sports Tagged: AFC East, Baltimore Ravens, National Football League, New England Patriots, NFL, Sports

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NFL: Preseason Prognostications Were Pretty Accurate

Published: January 6, 2010

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Just like every sportswriter in the nation, I made some predictions back in September about who was going to the playoffs. Unlike the rest of those guys, I’ll own up to my calls. Here they are:

AFC Playoff Teams:
New England Patriots
Indianapolis Colts
Pittsburgh Steelers
San Diego Chargers
Miami Dolphins
Tennessee Titans

Dark Horses:
Jacksonville Jaguars
Cincinnati Bengals 

NFC Playoff Teams:
New York Giants
New Orleans Saints
Chicago Bears
Seattle Seahawks
Philadelphia Eagles
Carolina Panthers 

Dark Horses:
Arizona Cardinals
Green Bay Packers

Amazingly, I got four out of six right in each conference. That’s not bad, but I was hoping for better. Here’s a brief rundown of the highlights.

I correctly noted you have to give the Patriots and Colts automatic bids until they prove otherwise. I don’t see any proof.

Of the Chargers, I wrote: “I’m not sure how good the Chargers are. I am sure they play in the same division as the Chiefs, Broncos, and Raiders. Put San Diego on the board.” As accurate as that turned out to be, I think I may have sold San Diego short. They are playing really good football right now.

On the Bengals: “If the reconstituted offensive line keeps (Carson) Palmer clean and can open some holes for Cedric Benson, the Bengals are going to be the surprise of the league in 2009.” Okay, I wasn’t surprised, but a lot of people were.

My thoughts on the Saints? “What do you get when you cross one of the most prolific passers in the NFL with a quality defense? A division championship.”

And there was this on Philadelphia: “There’s just something about the Eagles. They scratch and claw and find a way to win enough games to be in the thick of things in the final week.”

Of course, I made some boneheaded calls too. Like betting the Steelers wouldn’t suffer a Super Bowl hangover, or this gem on the Panthers: “there’s just so much to like, starting with Jake Delhomme. . . .”

Speaking of quarterback disappointments, how about this line from my analysis of the Bears: “Jay Cutler’s a guy who can make a difference in a tight game. Expect him to.” Oh, he made a difference alright. It just wasn’t a positive one.

Smartest Thing I Wrote:

“Okay, this is pretty simple. If you fire one of your coaches before the season starts, you have a huge managerial problem.”

Records of teams that fired a coordinator before the start of the season: Bills 6-10; Chiefs 4-12; Buccaneers 3-13.

Dumbest Thing I Wrote:

“Brad Childress has an awesome defense and the best running back in the league. All he needed was a franchise quarterback. So it’s too bad he signed Brett Favre. Favre passed the playoffs away last year and the Super Bowl the year before. Opposing cornerbacks should be licking their chops.”

Favre’s Touchdown to Interception Ratio in 2009: 33-7
Vikings’ Record:12-4 

Super Bowl Prediction:

So now that the tournament is about to start, who do I think is going to win it all? I’ll take the Bengals over the Saints in the Who Dey vs. Who Dat Bowl. It probably won’t happen, but that’s what I’m rooting for. If it does come true, I’ll come back and gloat in February.

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