2009 NFL Season – Week 11 Preview

RB Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jags will look to stay in the playoff hunt as they host the Buffalo Bills in Week 11

As the 2009 NFL Season moves closer to the third quarter pole and it is quickly becoming apparent that this season is going to come down to the bitter end (week 17) before everything is said and done.  After 10 weeks of play, there are still the “Have’s” including two undefeated teams (Colts and Saints both 9-0) and the “Have Nots” (six teams with 2 or less wins).  But there are also 15 teams currently caught in the league’s parity-filled middle (records ranging from 3-6 to 5-4) that still need to figure out, real fast, if they are joining or jumping out of the playoff hunt. 

There are currently 17 teams at .500 or better, so over half of the teams in the parity-laden league have a shot for one of the NFL’s 12 coveted playoff berths. Two teams that are very much in the driver’s seat for two the NFL’s playoff spots are the league’s  unbeaten teams  – the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.  The Colts and Saints are just the third pair in NFL history to start a season 9-0, joining the 1934 Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears and the 1990 New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.  Winning early in the year is nothing new for the Colts, who are 9-0 for the third time in the past five years and have won a franchise-record 18 consecutive regular-season games — tied with the 2003-04 Patriots for the second-longest streak in NFL history.  This week, the Colts will be pitted in  “The Charm City Grudge Match” as they return to Baltimore for a battle with the Ravens (5-4).  Colts rookie head coach Jim Caldwell said of his team’s good start, “We can’t be any better, but the fact of the matter is, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

As great of a story the Colts run back up the NFL ladder without head coach Tony Dungy has been, an even better story this season has been the New Orleans Saints.  With their 28-23 win over St. Louis in Week 10, the Saints reached a record of 9-0 for the first time in franchise history.  Hard to believe, the Saints  were 4-5 at this time last season.  However this season with an embarassment of offensive weapons (QB Drew Brees, RB Pierre Thomas, scatback Reggie Bush, WR Marques Colston and others), the Saints have been the scoring machine of 2009 as they have put up an NFL-best 330 points (next highest is the Vikings with 271).  This week the Saints have a dangerous NFC South game in Tampa Bay against a Bucs (1-8) who play better than their awful record.  The Saints along with the Cincinnati Bengals (7-2 in 2009; 1-8 in 2008) and Dallas Cowboys (6-3; 5-4) are current division leaders who were in last place after Week 10 a year ago.    Speaking of division races, the nine 2009 division leaders (Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers are tied for first in the AFC West) are a combined 63-18 (.778) through Week 10, which is 22 wins better than their records from a year ago at this time (41-40, .506). 

For the second week in a row, the NFL’s weekly action began on Thursday night.  This week the Miami Dolphins (5-5) behind veteran running back Ricky Williams powered their way passed the Carolina Panthers (4-6) for a hard earned 24-17 road victory – more on this game in the Week 11 review.  Whenever I see that the NFL is playing games on Thursday Nights and the Thanksgiving holiday is approaching, I know that NFL bye weeks have concluded.  In Week 10, the NY Giants and Houston Texans completed the NFL’s off-weeks until the playoffs.  Without having byes and teams playing on short rest, teams have to study and prepare much quicker for their next week’s opponent.  Players will also have to heal quickly, which is always a challenge in the NFL this time of the year as team’s rosters sometimes resemble a MASH unit. 

But the good teams that have a chance to win the NFL’s championship rounds (Weeks in late November, December, and early January) will make the adjustments needed, will not turn the football over, and most importantly establish a running game on their way to the playoffs.

Since the real fun is beginning, I thought now was a good time to look at the remaining games for all of the NFL’s contenders (9-0 to 3-6 teams)

ARI (6-3)                @STL      @TEN     MIN        @SF        @DET     STL          GB

ATL  (5-4)               @NYG     TB            PHI          NO          @NYJ      BUF         @TB

BAL  (5-4)               IND         PIT          @GB       DET         CHI          @PIT      @OAK

BUF  (3-6)              @JAC      MIA         NYJ          @KC       NE           @ATL      IND

CAR  (4-6)                              @NYJ      TB            @NE       MIN        @NYG     NO

CHI  (4-5)               PHI          @MIN    STL          GB           @BAL      MIN        @DET

CIN  (7-2)               @OAK    CLE          DET         @MIN    @SD       KC           @NYJ

DAL  (6-3)               WAS        OAK        @NYG     SD           @NO      @WAS    PHI

DEN  (6-3)              SD           NYG         @KC       @IND     OAK        @PHI      KC

GB (5-4)                 SF            @DET     BAL          @CHI      @PIT      SEA          @ARI

HOU (5-4)              TEN         IND         @JAC      SEA          @STL      @MIA     NE

IND (9-0)            @BAL      @HOU    TEN         DEN         @JAC      NYJ      @BUF

JAC (5-4)             BUF         @SF        HOU        MIA         IND         @NE       @CLE

MIA (5-5)                               @BUF     NE           @JAC      @TEN     HOU        PIT

MIN (8-1)               SEA          CHI          @ARI      CIN          @CAR     @CHI      NYG

NE (6-3)                NYJ          @NO      @MIA     CAR         @BUF     JAC          @HOU

NO (9-0)                 @TB        NE           @WAS    @ATL      DAL         TB            @CAR

NYG (5-4)             ATL          @DEN     DAL         PHI          @WAS    CAR         @MIN

NYJ (4-5)                @NE       CAR         @BUF     @TB        ATL          @IND     CIN

PHI (5-4)              @CHI      WAS        @ATL      @NYG     SF            DEN         @DAL

PIT (6-3)                 @KC       @BAL      OAK        @CLE      GB           BAL          @MIA

SD (6-3)                  @DEN     KC           @CLE      @DAL     CIN          @TEN     WAS

SEA (3-6)                @MIN    @STL      SF            @HOU    TB            @GB       TEN

SF (4-5)                  @GB       JAC          @SEA      ARI          @PHI      DET         @STL

TEN (3-6)              @HOU    ARI          @IND     STL          MIA         SD           @SEA

WAS (3-6)           @DAL     @PHI      NO          @OAK    NYG         DAL         @SD

Week 11 in the NFL will features: 

Six divisional match-ups  — Redskins at Cowboys, Chargers at Broncos (first place in the AFC West on the line), NY Jets at Patriots,  Saints at Buccaneers, Cardinals at Rams, and Titans at Texans (Monday Night Football)

Some interesting reunions  —

  • The Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) return to their former home city to face the Houston Texans.  Too bad this game couldn’t be played at the Houston Astrodome.
  • Arizona Cardinals QB and former Rams’ Super Bowl winner Kurt Warner returns to the Edward Jones Dome to face the St. Louis Rams.  Also remember the nomadic Cardinals once called St. Louis their home from 1960 to 1987.
  • The Indianapolis Colts return to the Charm City again to play the Baltimore Ravens, but some Baltimore residents will never forgive the Irsay family for moving their beloved team 25 years ago. The Colts-Ravens game will also mark the first game in Baltimore for Colts kicker and former longtime Raven Matt Stover
  • The New England Patriots will play host to the NY Jetsand their emotional head coach Rex Ryan, who got real mouthy after the Jets’ Week 2 win in the Meadowlands.
  • The Niners will travel to Green Bay to face the Packers in a revival of one of the ‘90s greatest rivalries – who could forget their 1999 Wildcard Game where T.O caught the game-winner for San Francisco.

Some teams that I believe in must-win situations this week – Philadelphia Eagles (at Chicago), New York Giants (host the Atlanta Falcons), Houston Texans (host the Titans), Baltimore Ravens (host the Colts) and Dallas Cowboys (host the Redskins)

Featured Game

Buffalo Bills (3-6)  at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4), Sunday 1:00 PM ET (CBS) , Jacksonville Municipal Stadium

Broadcast Team: Bill Macatee and Steve Beuerlein

Surprisingly these two teams seeming to be going in opposite directions will meet for the fourth consecutive year – have split their last 4 meetings.  To say the least the 2009 NFL Season has been nothing like what the young Bills thought it would be.  They have had too many injuries, poor quarterback play, lack of production from their first round pick and a multitude of other problems through the first 10 weeks of the season.  All the disappointment came to a head this week as 90-year old owner Ralph Wilson (wants to win now) fired former head coach Dick Jauron this week.  Wilson had seen enough of his 3-6 team to know that a third 7-9 season in row would not be very popular in Western New York.

The Bills will regroup with interim head coach and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell at the helm.  Fewell’s first order of business was re-installing heady former Ivy leaguer Ryan Fitzpatritck (38-77-362-2-4)as the team’s starting quarterback and benching Trent Edwards.  The Harvard grad can run with the ball and seems to have found a nice repoirre with ticking time bomb receiver Terrell Owens (only 26 catches for 366 yards and 1 TD in 2009).  Speaking of T.O, the mouthy one only needs 92 yards to pass former Colts WR Marvin Harrison for fourth all-time in receiving yards – currently has career numbers 977 catches for 14,488 yards, 14.8 ypc, and 140 TDs.   However it is more than likely that the Bills will try to lean on their RB’s Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch  in attacking a Jaguars defense that allows average of 357 total yards per game.  The key for the Bills will be protecting Fitzpatrick behind a make shift O-line, but keep in mind the Jaguars only have 8 sacks as a unit this season.

With two teams that don’t play much defense, the real fun will be on offense.  The Jaguars can match the Bills in terms of big names on offense, but no name is bigger than “Pocket Hercules” for the Jags.  Running back Maurice Jones-Drew  is putting together another Pro Bowl season and Sunday’s game should be a showcase for him.  MJD’s numbers are amazing (169 rushes for 860 yards (2nd in AFC), 5.1 ypr, and an NFL leading 12 TDs) and he is a threat to take it to the house at anytime in the game.  Jones-Drew also should get help from efficient quarterback David Garrard (178-292, 2088 yards, 7 TDs, and 5 INTs) and emerging receiver Mike Sims-Walker (39 catches for 603 yards,  and 5 TDs).  The player the Jaguars offense will have to keep an eye on his possible defensive rookie of the year safety Jarius Byrd.  The second round pick from Oregon has been an unbelievable ballhawk producing an NFL leading 8 INTs including one in 5 consecutive games.

This game will also mark a homecoming of sorts for former Jags and current Bills players DT Marcus Stroud and CB Drayton Florence.

LV’s Pick:   Though the Bills won their last meeting in September of 2008 by a score of 20-16 and they have a narrow 5-4 overall series advanteage, Buffalo has been a mess this season.  As stated before Jauron is gone leaving Fewell, who has limited coaching experience, both their offense and defense has a ton of injuries, their quarterback is not a downfield thrower and T.O is about to have a T.O moment real soon.  The Jaguars are on a roll at home — won three consecutive home games – and I don’t expect that to change on Sunday, especially with Jags head coach Jack Del Rio trying to save his own job.  Jaguars 31, Bills 17 

NFL Week 11

THU, NOV 19 

Miami (5-5) over Carolina (4-6), 24-17 (NFL Network)

SUN, NOV 22 

Washington at Dallas 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Cleveland at Detroit 1:00 PM (FOX)  

San Francisco at Green Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Pittsburgh at Kansas City 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Atlanta at NY Giants 1:00 PM (FOX)  

New Orleans at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Buffalo at Jacksonville 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Indianapolis at Baltimore 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Seattle at Minnesota 1:00 PM (FOX) 

Arizona at St. Louis 4:05 PM (FOX) 

NY Jets at New England 4:15 PM (CBS)

Cincinnati at Oakland 4:15 PM (CBS) 

San Diego at Denver 4:15 PM (CBS)

Philadelphia at Chicago 8:20 PM (NBC)

 

MON, NOV 23 

Tennessee at Houston 8:30 PM (ESPN)

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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2009 NFL Week 3 Preview

frank-gore

In Week 3’s Featured Game, the SF 49ers and RB Frank Gore will travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings and All-World RB Adrian Peterson

As summer has moved out the door this week and autumn has returned, it is time for “Separation Sunday” around the NFL.  Teams are either trying to legitimize their standing as a “contender”, stay with the pack in the NFL’s increasing middle (14 teams are 1-1), get back in the race, or just plain survive as the NFL inches closer to the first quarter pole of the 2009 NFL season. 

The main theme that I will continue to pound at this time of year is that an NFL season is a marathon and should be taken increments.  Being on top this early in the NFL season is a good thing, but teams can’t get caught up in thinking things are going to be biscuits and gravy throughout the entire season.  The main thing right now is for teams to focus week-in and week-out on the team they are facing, because things can change very quickly in the topsy-turvy NFL.  “We’re not satisfied with being 2-0,” said 49ers head coach Mike Singletary.  “We want to be a team that really makes a difference.  That’s what we want to be and that’s what we’re going for.”

One thing is for certain, “parity” is all over America’s game as a breakdown of the teams’ records after two weeks of NFL action shows.  In the current NFL standings, there are 9 teams at (2-0) i.e. “The Haves” – Ravens, Jets, Giants, Falcons, Niners, Vikings, Colts, Saints and Broncos; 14 teams at (1-1) i.e. “Stuck in the Middle”  – Texans, Packers, Eagles, Cowboys, Bengals, Bills, Patriots, Redskins, Steelers, Chargers, Raiders, Cardinals, Bears, and Seahawks; and 9 teams at (0-2) i.e. “The Have Nots” – Browns, Rams, Chiefs, Lions, Jaguars, Panthers, Titans, Dolphins and Rams.  The biggest surprises of the currently nine(0-2) teams is that three 2008 divisional champs are at that mark — Tennessee Titans ( AFC South),  Miami Dolphins ( AFC East) and the Carolina Panthers ( NFC South).  These three teams had a combined record of 36-12 in 2008, but now they are tied with teams like the Detroit Lions (losers of 19-straight games).  However no matter where a team currently sits in the standings, they all still have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs heading into crucial “Separation Sunday”… Did you hear that St. Louis Rams’ fans. 

Don’t give the ship just yet.  Since realignment in 2002, 48 of the 84 playoff teams (57.1 percent) began the year at either 1-1 or 0-2.  Four of the past eight Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-1 or 0-2 record.  History shows that 0-2 teams advance to the playoffs more often than people might think.  Since 1990, 22 teams have started 0-2 and still qualified for the postseason, including three teams in 2008 – Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers.  The best case scenarios for teams currently 0-2 are that three Super Bowl winning teams have started their respective championship seasons with that same record (2007 New York Giants, 2001 New England Patriots, and 1993 Dallas Cowboys).

The main thing is to not get in the almost impossible hole of 0-3, which could very well be a death sentence to a season. History has shown that exactly “zero” teams went from 0-3 to the Super Bowl.  And only three teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-3 since the NFL went to six playoff teams in each conference in 1990 — 1992 San Diego Chargers, 1998 Buffalo Bills, and 1998 Detroit Lions. Tennessee Titans QB Kerry Collins said of the urgency of not going 0-3, “It means you’ve got to turn up the level of urgency, because, no matter that it’s a 16-game season, you have to turn things around quickly.”

The 2009 “Own the Moment” season has been a great one so far and has been filled with a grab bag of some good and some not so good tidbits.

  • Exciting finishes There have been 15 games decided by six points or fewer through Week 2, the second-most such games through a season’s first two weeks in NFL history (record is 17 from 2000).
  • Rookies making their mark at a surprisingly early rate – Following in the footsteps of several 2008 rookie stars (Matt Ryan, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and others) many rookies this season have stepped into the spotlight.  The outstanding freshman list includes Jets QB Mark Sanchez, Cardinals RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, Eagles FS Victor “Macho” Harris, Bears WR Johnny Knox, Bengals LB Rey Maualuga, Raiders WR Louis Murphy, Redskins LB/DE Brian Orakpo and others.  Speaking of Sanchez…with a Jets’ win this week over the Titans, the former USC stud can become the first rookie quarterback to start and win his team’s first three games of a season.
  • Coaches on the Hot Seat – With most of the coaches on our Hot Seat List starting with either a 1-1 or 0-2 record, the heat is on the Cowboys Wade Phillips, Bengals Marvin Lewis, Redskins Jim Zorn, Panthers John Fox,  Jaguars Jack Del Rio and some other coaches that probably don’t even know it yet.
  • Rookie O-linemen making a difference – Usually the transition from college ball to pro ball is very steep for offensive lineman.  But tthrough Week 2, NFL rookie offensive linemen have totaled 19 starts – the second-most through the first two weeks of a season since 1970.  On Kickoff Weekend, 10 rookie offensive linemen started – the most in a single season since 1970.  Some of the rookie standouts include Jacksonville Jaguars bookend offensive tackles Eben Britton (RT) and Eugene Monroe (LT).
  • A strong breeze is tearing through the NFL – Saints QB Drew Brees, now his fourth season with the team, has started all 50 regular-season games since 2006 and in that time leads the NFL with 14,579 passing yards, 97 touchdown passes and 25 300-yard games.  Brees’ 14,579 passing yards since 2006 are the most ever by a player in his first 50 games with a new team (rookies and veterans).  In Week 2, Brees tied St. Louis’ Charley Johnson (1965) for the most TD passes through the first two games of a season (9) and the Saints became the first team to score at least 45 points in each of the first two games of a season since the 1968 Oakland Raiders All I can say is lookout Buffalo as the Saints seem to have an offense that could challenge the 2007 New England Patriots (NFL record 582 points in one season). 
  • Bengals’ Odom looking for a record in his breakout season — Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom, who leads the league with seven sacks including a franchise-record five-sack output in Week 2 vs. Green Bay, needs 1.5 sacks to break former Jets DE Mark Gastineau’s NFL record of 8 sacks in the first three games of a season.  Odom already seems to be in great shape to break the Bengals franchise record for sacks in a season (13) by Eddie Edwards from 1983.

As is the case with most weeks in the NFL, this week’s slate of games features some great rivalries.  There are only four divisional games this week including the Steelers-Bengals, Browns-Ravens (annual Art Modell Bowl), and Raiders-Broncos.  The rivalry game that I will have my eye on this weekend will be the Bengals and Steelers.  The Bengals-Steelers rivalry has grown over the years with the Steelers usually coming away with the “W” – overall record versus Cincy of 47-30 including five straight wins.  But there will be extra incentive for the Bengals and Steelers WR Hines Ward (needs 60 yards this week for 10,000 career  receiving yards) better have his head on a swivel.  The last time the two teams met, Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers was “legally” blindsided by Ward, leaving the then rookie with a broken jaw. Since then the NFL rules committee created a rule specifically for open field blocks away from the ball.

Other match-ups to watch are Falcons- Patriots (Young Captain America vs. Old Captain America), Cardinals-Colts on SNF (MVP match-up), Titans-Jets (revenge game from last year where the Titans lost their winning streak), and Dolphins-Chargers (Wildcat goes against one of the NFL’s worst rush defenses.

NFL Week 3 – Featured Game

SF 49ers (2-0) at Minnesota Vikings (2-0), 1:00 PM ET (FOX)

Broadcast Team: Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan

“Somebody’s ‘0’ has to go” this week as two of the NFL’s nine undefeated teams will square off in the Metrodome.  I am sure when the NFL schedule came out way back in April that everyone didn’t think much of this game.  Well a lot has changed since April as veteran QB Brett Favre has joined the Vikings and the Niners look like a potential breakout squad after two dominating NFC West wins in consecutive weeks (Cardinals and Seahawks).

The Vikings, led by formerly on the hot seat head coach Brad Childress, have fattened up on the NFL’s underbelly playing the Browns and Lions to open their season.  But this week they are facing a young hungry Niners squad that wants to prove they are on the road back to respectability.  Any story with the Niners has to begin and end with their tough energetic head Mike Singletary.  The Niners have won 6 of their past 7 games under Singletary and players are buying into his “Preparation = Success” attitude.  Iron Mike II is not at all content with his 2-0 start and he wants more for his team than being a good early season story.

Surprising the Niners decided to go with efficient quarterback Shaun Hill (37-57, 353 yards, 1TD, and 0 INTs) to start the season and the team has responded.  The Hill, a former Vikings undrafted free agent back in 2002, has posted a respectable 9-3 (.750) record as a starter and has kept his team in the game by not turning the ball over.  If Minnesota is to continue their success in home openers (won 17 of its past 22 home openers), veteran QB Brett Favre will need to do more than his first two starts – has not really thrown the ball over 20 yards yet.  Favre (37-48, league-high 77.1%, 265 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs and a rating of 110.2 ) has had success in Purple, but Singletary’s defense led by SS Michael Lewis, DE Justin Smith, and LB Patrick Willis will be coming after the almost 40-year old passer.  If Favre does have something to lean on against the Niners is his lifetime record against them (11-2 including the playoffs).

Of course everyone will talk about Favre vs. Singletary’s defense (+2 in turnovers), but the story will be the two team’s Pro Bowl running backs.  Through the first two weeks, Peterson (272 yds) and Gore (237 yds) are the top two rushers in the NFC.  Last week against the Seahawks, 49ers RB Frank Gore showed the NFL he was back after an injury ravaged 2008 season.  Following the smash-mouth play calling of Niners offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, Gore rushed for 207 yards and had a career-high 246 scrimmage yards.  The former University of Miami star has 4,070 rush yards since the start of the 2006 season, which is the most in the NFL.  Gore is nursing an ankle injury (more of a tweak than a sprain) and the Williams Wall (DTs Pat and Kevin Williams) and LB Chad Greenway (2 INTs) will be waiting.   But expect the former Pro Bowl to attack a Vikings defense that has allowed an average of 4.0 YPC (15th in the NFL).

Even as great as Gore has been for the Niners, he cannot touch Vikings RB Adrian Peterson… of course who can in the NFL.  You know Peterson is hungry to wash away his rookie-year game against the Niners, where he only gained three yards on 14 carries.  Peterson leads the league with 3,373 rushing yards since entering the NFL in 2007 and has won the NFC rushing crown in each of his first two seasons.  For the Niners’ sake they better hope that Peterson is still nursing a back injury as the NFL saw his MVP type play in Week 1 vs. the Browns.  Peterson rushed for 180 yards on 25 carries and 3 TDs and was spectacular a 64-yard touchdown rumble down the sideline – broke at least five tackle attempts and swatted away defenders like Super Man.

LV’s Pick:  The conditions inside the Metrodome will be ideal for a track meet between Gore and Peterson.  But I believe with both running backs fighting through injuries that each team’s quarterback will have to step forward.  Hill has been efficient, even without first-round draft pick Michael Crabtree, and should look for targets WR Isaac Bruce, WR Jason Hill, WR Josh Morgan, and TE Vernon Davis. Conversely Favre has not been asked to do much and he has managed the Vikings offense well.  But I have a feeling Singletary and his defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will make Favre throw the ball past his 20-yard or less comfort zone.  Look for a late turnover by Favre to turn this game as the Niners even this series (currently 19-18-1 in favor of Minnesota) — Niners 27, Vikings 24

Week 3

SUN, SEP 27 

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Washington at Detroit 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Kansas City at Philadelphia 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Green Bay at St. Louis 1:00 PM (FOX) 

San Francisco at Minnesota 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Atlanta at New England 1:00 PM (FOX)

NY Giants at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Cleveland at Baltimore 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Jacksonville at Houston 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Chicago at Seattle 4:05 PM (FOX)  

New Orleans at Buffalo 4:05 PM (FOX)

Denver at Oakland 4:15 PM (CBS) 

Tennessee at NY Jets 4:15 PM (CBS) 

Miami at San Diego 4:15 PM (CBS) 

Indianapolis at Arizona 8:20 PM (NBC)

MON, SEP 28 

Carolina at Dallas 8:30 PM (ESPN) 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Week 1 Preview by Lloyd Vance

taylorjason

In his regular season return to a Miami Dolphins uniform, former Pro Bowl OLB/DE Jason Taylor and his mates travel to Atlanta in NFL Week 1 action

The 90th NFL season titled: “Own the Moment” is finally here.  And you can count me among the millions of NFL fans around the world who are singing “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, The NFL is back”.

The 2009 NFL season began on Thursday night with the league’s annual hype filled kickoff show/game entitled this year, “NFL Opening Kickoff 2009 presented by EA SPORTS”.   The defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers needed overtime to finally put away the tough Tennessee Titans by a score of 13-10.  The game may have not been an “Instant Classic” as each team’s defense were landing body blow after body blow in a physical battle.  But the one thing that I really took away from the NFL’s opener was that the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about getting “W’s” this time of year.  The defending champs somehow scratched their way to a win despite a number of obstacles, mainly the hungry Titans.  Despite losing Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu (sprained MCL) right before halftime, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes picked right back up where they left off in February and were huge contributors in the Steelers’ win — more on the kickoff opener in my Week 1 review.

The game marked the official kickoff of America’s favorite sport including a concert by Grammy Winners and fireworks.  All the hoopla signaled a new beginning for the sport that everyone is watching — according to Nielsen Media Research, 225 million Americans watched NFL regular-season games in 2008.  That’s nearly 100 million more than the record number of Americans who voted in the 2008 presidential election (131.2 million).  Week 1 in the NFL season is almost at the holiday level as football fans everywhere finally quench their thirst for “real” NFL game action. Though the NFL is now a year round league with Training Camp, Pre-season Games, OTAs, the NFL Draft, Owner Meetings, and so many other activities on the NFL Calendar  – this page it too small to list them all – nothing gets fans going to the point of delirium like Week 1 of the NFL season.

I am not sure if it is the quick five month schedule where the games come and go before we know it, the long arduous 7 month wait for real games after the Super Bowl, the once a week high, the “every game counts” subplots, the talented players that always amaze you with their toughness and ability to perform under mental and physical stress, the autumn weather, team allegiance, trash-talking, the dreaded g-word (gambling), fantasy football, or any other thing.  But we all know that the NFL is everyone’s sports obsession like none other.  Football brings people together from all walks of life and gives commonality where almost everyone has a team and a rooting interest from the guy working at the local convenience store to President Barack Obama — supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The NFL has even infiltrated sometimes stuffy Corporate America as Fridays are now, “Wear your NFL team’s colors to work day”.  Co-workers during lunch or coffee breaks will be talking fantasy football line-ups, poking fun at each other’s team, and comparing the best venues to watch the game each weekend until February brings the curtain down on the season.

Though there is so much more football to be played between now and Super Bowl XLIV (February 7, 2010 in Miami), Week 1 is definitely important as it sets the tone for the entire season.  Since 1978, when the NFL adopted the 16-game schedule — excluding the abbreviated season of 1982 — teams that were victorious in Week 1 of the NFL season were more than twice as likely to reach the playoffs than losers.  Of the 442 teams which won openers — 233 went to the playoffs (136 won division titles).  Of the 442 teams which lost openers — 105 went to the playoffs (58 won division titles).  In 2008, eight of the 12 playoff teams – Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, New York Giants, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tennessee – were victorious on Kickoff Weekend. In 2008, eight of the 12 playoff teams – Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, New York Giants, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tennessee – were victorious on Kickoff Weekend. 

The main thing with a new NFL season dawning is hope has sprung eternal all around the parity-filled league in places like San Diego, Minnesota, and Detroit.  Yes, I said Detroit as even the formerly winless Lions (0-16 in 2008), who have never been to a Super Bowl have visions of dancing in the streets of Miami, FL with the Lombardi Trophy in their hands. In 2008, change was definitely in the air around the NFL as for the 12th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before (Arizona, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minnesota, Miami and Carolina).  Also there were seven new division winners (Tennessee, NY Giants, Minnesota, Chargers, Miami, Carolina, and Arizona) setting a new record since realignment in 2002, topping the six new division winners of 2003.

New England Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden — went from the NFL’s outhouse (Detroit) to the penthouse (New England) this season — said of the start of the 2009 NFL season, “Everybody is excited. We’re definitely excited just to go out there”.  Every team and fan has a clean slate going into Week 1 and remember unpredictability and parity rule in the NFL.  Almost half the games (46.1 percent) were decided by one score (eight points or less) and for the 13th consecutive year five teams made the playoffs after missing out the year before, so don’t even think about getting up from your television. Everyone’s goal is Super Bowl XLIV so it is now time for teams to fulfill their promise or fall behind the pack.

Here are some news/notes/trends that everyone needs to keep an eye out for this week.

Where’s Richard Seymour?? — The former five-time Pro Bowl selection has declined to report to the Raiders for the last week since the Patriots announced they had traded the  for a 2011 first-round pick.  Reportedly the Raiders want Seymour to come in and have sent him a letter notifying him that he has 5 days to report or he will be placed on the “Did not report list”, which would mean he would be out for the season and would not get an accrued year toward free agency. By sending the letter, the Raiders are basically saying that Seymour will either be on their team or out of football in 2009.  Seymour is in the final year of his contract and is scheduled to become a free agent after this season.

The NFL to celebrate former rival league — Though the “true” 50-year anniversary doesn’t really occur until 2010, the NFL will be celebrating the birth of the American Football League (AFL) during the 2009 season.  This year, the NFL will celebrate the 50th season of the American Football League (AFL) in a number of ways.  During one home and one road game, the eight original AFL franchises – Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs (played as the Dallas Texans), New England Patriots (played as the Boston Patriots), New York Jets (played as the Titans of New York), Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers (played as the Los Angeles Chargers) and Tennessee Titans (played as the Houston Oilers) – will meet head-to-head in “Legacy Games” while wearing an historic uniforms.  The Monday-night doubleheader on Kickoff Weekend will serve as the start of these head-to -head games as New England hosts Buffalo (ESPN, 7:00 PM ET) and San Diego visits Oakland (ESPN, 10:15 PM ET).  NFL Films and Showtime have almost teamed up to produce an insightful NFL five-part documentary entitled Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League. The documentary will premier on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) on Showtime.

No Tweeting – With Cincinnati Bengals receiver and league pain in the butt Chad Ochocinco threatening to “tweet” within the lockerroom.  The NFL brought down the hammer on players, coaches, team personnel, and media using social networking site Twitter during games. Reportedly the folks mentioned above must stop tweeting 90 minutes prior to a game and cannot resume until post-game interviews are complete. These limitations are supposed to protect “[longstanding] policies prohibiting play-by-play descriptions of NFL games in progress,” according to a statement from NFL officials. And don’t think the NFL is only anti-Twitter, the rules apply to other social networking sites like Facebook, too.

The ‘Wildcat’ is back — In 2008, the Miami Dolphins showed the world it’s version of the Single Wing formation called the “Wildcat”.  After the Dolphins had success against the Patriots in Week 4 (38-13 win where they churned out 216 rushing yards), pretty soon almost the entire National Football League (NFL) jumped in on the “Wildcat” craze.  The Dolphins eventually ran 12 percent their entire offensive plays in 2008 out of the formation.  This training camp it seem every team was looking for ways to incorporate the Wildcat in their playbook.  For example, the Philadelphia Eagles ran eight times out of formation with receiver DeSean Jackson.  In 2009, everyone better watch out for the Wildcat when Eagles backup quarterback Michael Vick and starter Donovan McNabb on the field at the same time.  And to think the  Dolphins only tried the Wildcat formation after their quarterbacks coach David Lee (coached the formation at the University of Arkansas under the name the “WildHog”) got inventive trying to find a way to utilize running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown on the field at the same time.

Two-headed monster in the backfield – Around the NFL there is a growing trend of having at least two quality running backs playing in games to keep defensive coordinators guessing.   Last year several teams including the Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, and NY Giants (Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both over 1,000 yards in 2008) utilized two backs keeping constant pressure on defenses with fresh legs in the backfield at all times.  Who could blame them as today’s NFL usually necessitates having two running backs because the position is so demanding (inside power runs, match-ups, mismatches, hands, blitz pickup, etc).

Patriots are stacked — This offseason, the New England Patriots signed free agents Joey Galloway, who has totaled 10,710 career receiving yards, and Fred Taylor, who has 11,271 career rush yards.  With Galloway, Taylor, Tom Brady and Randy Moss on the same team, the Patriots will become only the fourth team in NFL history to start the season with a 25,000-yard passer, 10,000-yard rusher and a 10,000-yard receiver.  New England will also become the first team in NFL history to start a season with two 10,000-yard receivers (Galloway and Moss) and one 25,000-yard passer and a 10,000-yard rusher.

Passing, Passing, and more Passing – I am a smash-mouth run the football kinda guy, but NFL teams are looking to chuck it more than ever. Last season six quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards.

Scoring way up – Around the NFL last year scoring was at a 43-year high as games averaged 44.1 points, the most since 1965 (46.1)

Kickers More Accurate — My favorite players, kickers, made 84.5% of overall field goal attempts in ‘08

This week features seven divisional match-ups right off the bat.  The marquee divisional battle will be on Monday Night in Foxborough, Massachusetts.  The Buffalo Bills will come to town led by VH1 reality star and Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens to face the New England Patriots with Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady returning from a devastating knee injury that ravaged his 2008 season.

Well the wait is finally over and here’s wishing that everyone’s NFL dreams for 2009 come true. But my advice is to you, is to just enjoy the splendor of the NFL every weekend as February ’10 will be here before we all know it.

Week 1 Featured Game

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT CAROLINA PANTHERS @ 1:00 PM EST on FOX

Broadcast Team: Dick Stockton, Charles Davis, Laura Okmin (Field reporter). 

The regular season is finally here and these two  teams that are usually playoff contenders will meet in one of Sunday afternoon’s better games.  Both squads have a bone to pick with the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals (knocked both out of the playoffs), but that is a conversation for another day.  The 2008 NFC South Champion Panthers (12-4) are looking to wash away a disappointing end to their 2008 season where they were embarrassed at home by the Cardinals by a score of 33-13.  And the Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) want to justify the high expectations that many “experts’ are predicting for them – some national publications have installed the Eagles as an odds on favorite to win the NFC.

The Birds are coming back after a rollercoaster type 2008 season where many fans and media left them for dead ( 5-5-1 start), but eventually they had a good playoff run (losing in the NFC Championship to the Cardinals 32-25).  The Eagles handed out further optimism to their fan base after an offseason that many, including Eagles President Joe Banner, called one of the best in the NFL.  The Eagles drafted RB LeSean McCoy, S Victor “Macho” Harris, WR Jeremy Maclin, and others plus brought in solid veterans OL Stacie Andrews, OT Jason Peters, and FB Leonard Weaver to go with existing Pro Bowl players RB Brian Westbrook, QB Donovan McNabb, and DB Asante Samuel.  However between the start of training camp and Week 1 of the regular season, the Eagles already have had some adversity to overcome.  There was the unfortunate passing of venerable former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and season ending injuries to starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley and promising rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram.

But don’t expect Eagles head coach Andy Reid or his squad to be crying as they are excited for the start of the 2009 NFL Regular Season and the opportunity to play the Panthers -– record of 8-0 at home in 2008.  New Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott recently said, “ I’ll be a little anxious. But, I think that comes with the territory and it comes with the first game of the season every year. No matter how long you’ve been in this game, regardless of whether you’re a player or a coach, there are some butterflies the first opener of every year.”  The Eagles know that the time is now to get back to their first Super Bowl since 2004 or there maybe some changes in the offing after the 2009 season.

Conversely the Panthers and their head coach John Fox are trying to get off owner Jerry Richardson’s hot seat – Richardson is so tough, his own sons Mark (former team president) and Jon (former president of the team’s stadium) left in early September rather than dealing with him.  The interesting thing is, many Panthers’ fans and media have said a lot of the same things about Jake Delhomme and Fox that Eagles’ fans have said for years about Reid and McNabb.  Fox and his quarterback Delhomme were once on the accession after leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003, but after 7 seasons without a championship, many people in Carolina maybe ready for a change.

The Panthers plain and simple want to pound the rock on offense and who could blame them with an O-line led by Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jordan Gross and former first round draft pick Jeff Otah blasting holes for the NFL’s best 1-2 backfield, in my opinion.  Carolina’s combination of running backs DeAngelo Williams (1,515 yards, 5.5 ypc, and a league leading 18 TDs in 2008) and rookie Jonathan Stewart (836 yards with rookie leading 10 TDs) are probably the NFL’s scariest tandem.  Even if Stewart does not play due to a nagging Achilles injury, the Eagles defense (ranked first in the NFC in ’08) led by SS Quintin Mikell and DE Trent Cole will need to play downhill.  If the Eagles defense does find a way to stop Williams and Stewart, then they will have to deal with Delhomme and his favorite target Steve Smith through the air.  The diminutive Smith (78 receptions for 1,421 yards and 6 TDs) maybe one of the NFL’s smaller receivers at 5’9, but he is one of my favorites due to his toughness, leadership, and uncanny ability to catch Delhomme’s rainbows in traffic. Plus don’t forget about veteran number two Muhsin Muhammad, who is great at moving the chains and in the red zone.  

Conversely the Eagles as everyone knows preach that they want balance on offense, but make no bones about it, they are a passing team first.  I am sure offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Reid will look for McNabb (345-571, career-high 3916 yards, 23 TDs, and 11 INTs) many times while trying to spread the ball around — to throw to Westbrook on screens, on the outside to DeSean Jackson, and TE Brent Celek over the middle. McNabb, who recently had his contract restructured, said of the upcoming game, “Everything falls on my shoulders, so that’s nothing different. It’s very important that I make sure I’m prepared going into games like this, to make sure that those other guys have the utmost confidence that I’m going to get them into the right position and we’ll be able to execute”.

We will see if the Eagles will keep true to their goal of achieving balance on offense, but most importantly they cannot forget to establish the run –- have a huge mauling offensive line — against a smaller Panthers attacking defense led by Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers (14.5 sack for 3rd in the NFC), DT Damione Lewis and tackling-machine MLB Jon Beason. Week 1 will be the first time that the Eagles unveil Westbrook (233 rushes for 936 yards, 4.0 ypr, and 9 TDs) this season after he missed most of training camp following offseason knee and ankle surgeries.  B-West truly is the key for the Eagles as he sets the tone for the entire team, so the Birds cannot be afraid to get B-West his touches early and often.  If the Eagles can establish Westbrook, look for McNabb to try and go deep to Jackson (62 catches for 912 yards, 14.7 ypc, and 2 TDs), who looks like one of the NFL’s breakout players.

On Defense, the Eagles will look to take a page from the 2007 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants by rotating guys on their defensive line (Darren Howard – Team leading 10 sacks in ’08, Trent Cole – 9 sacks, DE Juqua Parker – 5 sacks, DT Mike Patterson, DT Broderick Bunkley, DE Victor Abiameri, DE Chris Clemons, and DE Jason Babin) plus getting linebackers Chris Gocong and Omar Gaither involved in pressuring Delhomme.  Any pressure that the front seven can cause should help to neutralize the Panthers running tandem and rattle Delhomme into turning over the ball (six turnovers in loss to Cardinals including 5 INT’s).  The Eagles main ball hawk to watch for is Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel (4 INTs plus two in the postseason), who looks better than ever. 

LV’s Pick:  Though the Eagles usually have been notoriously slow starters under Reid (record of 4-6 on NFL opening weeks), I still believe they will find a way to win. The Eagles lead the regular season series 4-1 and the Panthers have never had back-to-to-back winning seasons in their history.  The keys will be the Eagles defense’s ability to stop the run while getting after Delhomme, McNabb hitting Westbrook and Jackson for big plays, and OT Jason Peters rising to the challenge of playing against Peppers.  Eagles win in a nail-biter 21-20

NFL 2009 Week 1 Schedule

THU, SEP 10

Tennessee at Pittsburgh 8:30 PM (NBC) — Steelers 13, Titans 10 in OT

SUN, SEP 13 

Miami at Atlanta 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Denver at Cincinnati 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Minnesota at Cleveland 1:00 PM (FOX) 

Jacksonville at Indianapolis 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Detroit at New Orleans 1:00 PM (FOX) 

Dallas at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)

Philadelphia at Carolina 1:00 PM (FOX) 

Kansas City at Baltimore 1:00 PM (CBS) 

NY Jets at Houston 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Washington at NY Giants 4:15 PM (FOX)

San Francisco at Arizona 4:15 PM (FOX)

St. Louis at Seattle 4:15 PM (FOX)

Chicago at Green Bay 8:20 PM (NBC) 

MON, SEP 14 

Buffalo at New England 7:00 PM (ESPN)

San Diego at Oakland 10:15 PM (ESPN)

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2008 NFL Preview – Week 13

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Week 13 of the too quick 2008 NFL Season is upon us.  This time of the year is my favorite as football and my favorite holiday Thanksgiving collide.  Football on Thanksgiving is an “Autumn Ritual” to me just like the phrase, “Can you please pass the gravy”.   The game has aligned itself beautifully with the greatest holiday ever and it provides an opportunity for fellowship by friends and family around America’s Game. Whether attending a hometown rivalry game, playing in a “Turkey Bowl” touch football game with friends/family, or just watching the now three NFL games.  Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said about Turkey Ball, “I remember watching Thanksgiving games as a kid.  Even in high school and college, and now in the NFL, you practice, you come home and you watch Thanksgiving football.”

The interesting question is, “Will Week 13 be lucky or unlucky for the many NFL teams still in the race for one of the twelve coveted playoff spots?”  By reason of parity or design, almost every team still has a mathematical shot at the playoffs – only the Lions and Bengals have been totally eliminated.  There are currently twenty teams in the NFL with a .500 or better record, so teams are scratching to survive as almost every division is up for grabs except the AFC South (Titans) and NFC West (Cardinals).

The week started early with the aforementioned three NFL Thanksgiving games that were symbolic of the holiday as there were three turkey stuffings.  The first game featured the Tennessee Titans (11-1) bouncing back from their first loss in week 12 with a 47-10 massacre of the Lions (worst beating ever on Thanksgiving).  The second game was not much better as the Cowboys (8-4) continued their climb back to respectability with a 34-9 drubbing of the Seahawks.  The holiday’s nightcap featured another blowout, but this time in a surprise the supposedly finished Philadelphia Eagles and their disrespected quarterback Donovan McNabb rebounded with a resounding 48-20 reclamation win over the Cardinals (have not won a game on the East Coast since November 7, 2004 at Miami).

There are many interesting battles that are on the slate of games this week including: 

  • Five divisional games with most of them have extensive playoff implications (New Orleans at Tampa Bay, N.Y. Giants at Washington, Kansas City at Oakland, Chicago at Minnesota, and Jacksonville at Houston)
  • A huge reunion battle as running back Michael Turner leads the Atlanta Falcons against his old team the San Diego Chargers.  In his first season with the Falcons, Turner has rushed for a career-high 1,088 yards and an NFL-best 13 touchdowns.  Last year, Turner only rushed for 316 yards and one touchdown in 16 games as LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup… did I mention that LT only has much less at 770 rushing yards and only 5 TDs. 
  • Two former AFC Title Game playoff rivalries taking center stage with the Broncos at the Jets and the Steelers against the Patriots.  The Broncos knocked the Jets out of the 1998 playoffs and Patriots defeated the Steelers in the Super Bowl ticket game in 2001 and 2004.
  • Playoff Seeding type games as teams with winning records battle for position (Carolina at Green Bay and Arizona at Philadelphia)

An interesting trend during this week that several NFL media types including myself will be monitoring is scoring.  In more proof the NFL needs to work on their defenses, the National Football League had its first 800-point weekend in week 12 (total of 837 points).  The scoring record comes as no surprise to me as many coaches are subscribing to the Andy Reid school of Passing, Passing, and More Passing.  A lot of fans like the pinball machine type games in the NFL, but this NFL writer is all about running the ball and playing good defense.  I am sure in the playoffs we will see a higher level of defensive play around the NFL.

Featured Game

NEW YORK GIANTS (10-1) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-4) FOX, 1:00 PM

Broadcast Team: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa (Field reporter). 

I love NFC East type football — weather will be cold and expect a physical game — and this the marquee game of week 13.  It is a match-up of two teams from the NFL’s best division (.670 winning percentage) where both teams pass efficiently, run the ball – will be tough as the two units are in top-10 rush defenses (Giants, No. 6; Redskins, No. 7) and play tough attacking defense.  The Redskins and 90,000 of their fans will welcome the New York Giants, who I consider to be the best team in football.  The Redskins and their rookie head coach Jim Zorn will be looking for revenge from their week 1 loss where the G-Men dominated on their way to a 16-7 win.  In first game of the ’08 season on Thursday Night Football, the Giants’ defense handled the Redskins, limiting them to only 209 total yards and three of 13 third-down conversions.

Even though the Giants cannot clinch the NFC East with a win (Dallas won), they can easily establish themselves as the odds on favorite to win the division and have the playoffs go through the Meadowlands.  The Giants are a red-hot road team (have won 14 of past 15 on road including the playoffs), so the Redskins better have their “A” game.  The Giants will look to lean on quarterback Eli Manning (24-5 (.828) in past 29 starts), a fearsome running game of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw that always seems to run for 200 yards (Jacobs is among the NFC leaders with 879 yards and 11 TDs), and a defense that is ranked third in sacks (32). 

The Redskins will need another big game from quarterback Jason Campbell (only 3 INTs in 340 attempts), running back Clinton Portis (leads NFL with 1,206 rush yards) and the NFC’s leading defense in terms of yardage (272 yards).  The player that I am most interested to see for the Redskins is newly acquired defensive back DeAngelo Hall.  The former Raiders malcontent has four interceptions for the season and I am sure he and fellow corner Shawn Springs will be hyped to face a multitude of Giants receiving weapons. 

Injuries may play a part in this game and the injury list for both teams is lengthy.

Giants: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), WR Plaxico Burress (hamstring – out), LB Jonathan Goff (hamstring), RB Brandon Jacobs (knee – doubtful), and DT Fred Robbins (shoulder)

Redskins: DE Andre Carter (foot), LB London Fletcher (foot), DT Kedric Golston (ankle), DT Cornelius Griffin (shoulder), G Pete Kendall (knee), RB Clinton Portis (knee, oblique), T Chris Samuels (knee), and LB Marcus Washington (ankle)

LV‘s Pick:  This is a tough game to pick, because these two teams are evenly matched and injuries will be a factor.  I believe turnovers and who can establish the run thus controlling the clock will win this game.  As good as Portis is at running the rock, he is no match for the Giants three-headed monster.  I expect the G-Men to attack the Redskins underachieving defensive line to the tune of over 150 rushing yards, which allow Manning to avoid having to carry the team.  Also watch for Giants DE Justin Tuck (9.5 sacks in ’08) against an aging Redskins offensive line.  Giants 23, Redskins 17

NFL Week 13

Thursday, Nov. 27

Tennessee 47 at Detroit 10 (CBS)

Seattle 9 at Dallas 34 (FOX)

Arizona 20 at Philadelphia 48 (NFL Network)

Sunday, Nov. 30

San Francisco at Buffalo, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Baltimore at Cincinnati, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Carolina at Green Bay, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Miami at St. Louis, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Indianapolis at Cleveland, 1 p.m. (CBS)

New Orleans at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. (FOX)

N.Y. Giants at Washington, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Atlanta at San Diego, 4:05 p.m. (FOX)

Denver at N.Y. Jets, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)

Kansas City at Oakland, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)

Pittsburgh at New England, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)

Chicago at Minnesota, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)

Monday, Dec. 1

Jacksonville at Houston, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

NFL Week 12 Preview

(Philadelphia, Pa) —  As the 2008 NFL Season hits the third quarter pole and it is quickly becoming apparent that this wacky season is going to come down to the bitter end (week 17) before everything is said and done.  There are currently 21 teams at .500 or better — tied with 2002 with the highest number of teams with that mark after 10 games – so practically every team in the parity-laden league has a shot for one of the 12 coveted playoff berths.

Surprisingly two teams (Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals) can clinch one of the playoff berths before the Thanksgiving holiday.  Of being in such a good playoff position Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “We’re in a good position, but it’s not a done deal yet”.  Coach Whisenhunt is a wise man as the NFL has shown us week after week that no team can take a week off…just ask the Philadelphia Eagles who tied the lowly Bengals in week 11.

The undefeated Titans (10-0) and the Cardinals (7-3) will be part of the two marquee match-ups for week 12.  The Cardinals will host the NFC East leading New York Giants (9-1) in a “respect” game as the G-Men return to the site of their Super Bowl XLII victory — the last eight times a Super Bowl winning team has returned to the site of their victory that team has won seven times.  And the Titans will look to stay undefeated in a playoff type home game against the fast rising New York Jets (7-3) led by Brett “the Jet” Favre in the battle of the graybeard quarterbacks — 39-year old Favre will square off against fellow veteran 35-year old Kerry Collins.  The four teams involved have a winning percentage of 82.5%.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin recently said, “There are many, many big games to go.”  The fiery coach is right, as every NFL team must prepare for their weekly opposition like it is Super Bowl.  The two aforementioned marquee games will be prevalent on this week’s schedule, those two games are just part many exciting games this week.  Week 12 in the NFL will features: 

  • Four division match-ups  — Bengals at Steelers, Patriots at Dolphins, Panthers at Falcons, and Raiders at Broncos)
  • Several bad-blood revenge type games — Bengals at Steelers – Hines Ward against the Bengals after breaking Bengals LB Keith Rivers’ jaw, Colts at Chargers – the Bolts knocked the Colts out of ’07 playoffs and ended their ’05 unbeaten streak, Patriots at Dolphins – the Wildcat formation crushed the Patriots in week 2, and Raiders at Broncos – Mike Shanahan hates Al Davis and the Raiders and I am sure the feeling is mutual.
  • A couple interesting reunions  — Redskins head coach Jim Zorn and RB Shaun Alexander return to Seattle, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick leads his team versus his old mentor Bill Parcels’ group in Miami, and Ravens rookie head coach John Harbaugh leads his squad against his former team the Philadelphia Eagles
  • Several must-win games for playoff hopefuls trying to stay in the hunt  — Eagles at Ravens, Bears at Rams, Packers at Saints, Niners at Cowboys and Vikings at Jaguars.

Of all of the match-ups and news around week 12, I am most interested in the divisional races, as they will dictate, who will be scrambling for the four remaining wildcard playoff berths.  In the AFC Divisions are as follows: AFC South (Looks wrapped up as the Titans lead the Colts by 4 games), AFC North (Steelers lead the Ravens by 1 game), AFC East (Jets leading the Patriots and the surprising Dolphins by 1 game- all the teams in this division are .500 or better), and in the AFC West (Broncos lead the Chargers by 2 games).  In the NFC the races are also tight, except for the Cardinals who are looking like they will win their first division title since 1975: NFC East (The Giants may have wrapped this one up already as they have a 3 game lead over the Redskins and Cowboys – all teams in this division have winning records), NFC North (The NFL’s wildest division is all knotted up with the Packers, Vikings, and Bears all tied at 5-5), NFC South (Panthers lead the Bucs by 1 game), and in the NFC West (Cardinals have the near insurmountable lead of 4 games over the Niners).

The great thing is every NFL game no matter who is playing is must-see; in fact last week’s CBS doubleheader game – 19.7 Million viewers — and the NBC Sunday Night Game (Cowboys-Redskins drew 19.3 Million viewers) were the second and third most-watched programs of the week (Nov. 10-16) only behind “60 Minutes” profile of President-elect Barack Obama.  I even believe that this week’s perceived blowout match-up between the Buccaneers (7-3) and the winless Lions (0-10) is worth watching.  The Lions have been playing better with comeback quarterback Daunte Culpepper and I am feeling an upset special.  Hopefully the Lions will be able to win one, as they really don’t want to trump the 1976 Buccaneers (0-14) in the NFL record books.  But the Lions have a tough schedule down the stretch (Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota, at Indianapolis, New Orleans and at Green Bay).

Lloyd Leftovers for this week

Lots of winning in three divisions — The 12 teams in the AFC East, NFC East (best division in my opinion), and NFC South all have a record of .500 or better. That is the first time that three divisions have had every team with a .500 or better record this late in a season since realignment in 2002.

Porter gunning for Strahan’s record — We all know that Joey Porter can be a bit over the top with his mouth and antics.  But one is for certain, the loquacious linebacker backs it up on the field.  Porter leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks and with six games remaining needs 9.5 sacks to break former Giants defensive end and now Fox talking head Michael Strahan’s single season NFL sack record (22.5 in 2001).  Porter has been a catalyst for the Dolphins and he even has half of Miami’s 27 sacks. Porter recently said about getting after the quarterback, “Pass-rushing is big, it changes the game a lot”. 

Marino may have to move aside for two – I still remember a young gun-slinging Dan Marino setting the near impossible NFL single-season passing yardage mark of 5,084 yards in 1984 and I thinking no would ever come close to that record.  Well Dan might have to make room for not one, but two throwers as Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner are approaching his standard.  Through 10 games of the 2008 NFL season Brees (projected to have 5,201 yards) is on pace to smash the record and Warner is not far behind (projected to have 5,048 yards).

Rookie running backs living up to the hype – I still remember one of the scouts that I talk to a lot at draft time telling me that the 2008 NFL Draft running back class was up there with the 1983 NFL Draft quarterback class (Marino, Elway, Blackledge, O’Brien, Eason, and Kelly).  I will have to send that scout a beverage of choices as he was so correct the chain-movers that joined the NFL this year.  An NFL record 10 rookie runners have cracked the 100-yard mark (Chiefs Jamaal Charles, Bears Matt Forte, Titans Chris Johnson, Patriots Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis, Cardinals Tim Hightower, Raiders Darren McFadden, Ravens Ray Rice, Texans Steve Slaton, Lions Kevin Smith, and the Panthers Jonathan Stewart) and that number could continue to grow if Broncos new featured back Peyton Hillis continues to pound the rock.

Featured Game

San Francisco 49ers (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (6-4), Sunday 1:00 PM ET (FOX) at Texas Stadium

Broadcast Team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Pam Oliver (Field reporter)

In a game that I am dubbing the “T.O Bowl” for former Niners and current Cowboys pain-in-the-butt receiver Terrell Owens (remember when as a Niner he dared pose on the star in the middle of Texas Stadium twice after touchdowns), the Cowboys will look to avoid a very costly letdown against a better than their record Niners squad.  After quite possibly saving their season with a tough 14-10 road win over the Redskins, the Cowboys are entering a very tough phase of their schedule where they must play twice in the span of five days.  With little chance of catching the Giants for the NFC division, the Cowboys must go 2-0 against the Niners and Seahawks (Thanksgiving opponent) to keep up with the Redskins (6-4) and Bucs (7-3).

Some encouraging signs for the soap opera filled Cowboys — this week alone Pacman is back, Felix Jones put on I/R, T.O gripes, etc —  are that quarterback Tony “Mr. Jessica Simpson” Romo (147-227, 1887, 15 TDs, and 7 Ints) is playing his second game after a 3-game absence due to a broken pinkie – will get rid of the splint this week – and running back Marion Barber (196 rushes for 779 yards, and 6 TDs) is running with authority.  Barber closed the game with the ‘Skins with a chain-moving display (touched the ball on Dallas’ final 11 plays) and I am sure the Cowboys will be looking for more of the same against a Niners defense that has allowed an average of 342 total yards per game.  I am sure the splint-less Romo will try to get the ball to T.O as the superstar receiver has been pouting again after not getting his “catches” (40 catches for 505 yards and six touchdowns) and TE Jason Witten is very banged up with rib problems.  T.O recently said in an interview, “When I came here, I came here with the idea and the notion that we had a chance to win a championship”. He added, “Me coming to the city of Dallas, I want to bring a sixth Super Bowl championship to the city of Dallas.  And for me to have the numbers that I have, not really being involved, it is discouraging.  It is frustrating.”

On the other side of the field, there is a new sheriff on the Niners’ sideline as fiery defensive coach Mike “Iron Mike II” Singletary was instilled a new attitude to the struggling team.  The Niners have seem to have responded playing tough in week 10 against the Cardinals (came up short at the goal line) and they won their first game under Singletary in week 11 over the Rams.  Singletary may have found the spark that he needed in quarterback Shaun Hill (49-83, 602 yards, 5 TDs, and 2 INTs) as the scrappy leader and running back Frank Gore (177 rushes for 834 yards and 6 TDs) is running with authority again after being slowed by an injury earlier in the season.

Defensively look for the Cowboys DeMarcus Ware (NFC leading 11 sacks) to get after Hill with the hope that back from injury corner Terrence Newman get another game-changing interception.  While the Niners will be looking for a solid tackling day from LB Patrick Willis and get more turnovers to improve on their -12 turnover ratio.

LV’s Pick:  I know this looks like a potential blowout, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL….just ask the Cowboys, who were embarrassed in week 7 by the lowly Rams.  I expect the Cowboys to be all-business as owner Jerry Jones has made it abundantly clear that anything worse than an appearance in the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs will not due (i.e. Bye, Bye Wade Phillips) — no playoff wins since 1996.  Look for Romo to get Owens, rookie TE Martellus Bennett, and Barber involved early and often as the Cowboys continue their march back to respectability with a dominating 31-14 win.

NFL Week 12

Thursday

Cincinnati 10 at Pittsburgh 27, 8:15 p.m. (NFL Network)

Sunday

New England at Miami, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Carolina at Atlanta, 1 p.m.  (CBS)

Philadelphia at Baltimore, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Houston at Cleveland, 1 p.m.  (CBS)

N.Y. Jets at Tennessee, 1 p.m.  (CBS)

Buffalo at Kansas City, 1 p.m.  (CBS)

Chicago at St. Louis, 1 p.m.  (FOX)

Minnesota at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.  (FOX)

Tampa Bay at Detroit, 1 p.m. (FOX)

San Francisco at Dallas, 1 p.m.  (FOX)

Oakland at Denver, 4:05 p.m.  (CBS)

N.Y. Giants at Arizona, 4:15 p.m.  (FOX)

Washington at Seattle, 4:15 p.m.  (FOX)

Indianapolis at San Diego, 8:15 p.m.  (NBC)

Monday

Green Bay at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.  (ESPN)

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2008 NFL Week 8 Preview

(Philadelphia, Pa) — I have dubbed this week in the NFL, “Statement Week”.  The midway point of the 2008 NFL Season is upon us and now it is time for teams to make their move toward the playoffs or planning for the off-season.  Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s favorite word “parity” is alive and kicking in the NFL ranks. 

The good thing is that there is so much competition every week with a ‘never-say-die’ attitude prevalent around the NFL.  But the wild thing is that no one has any idea who is going to win when teams line up, regardless of their record.  The weekly upsets have produced a desperate feeling around the NFL.  Jobs are on the line – three head coaches and one GM have already been fired with several others on the hot seat – so fans, players, owners, and coaches are all trying anything to get their team in contention.  The desperation is fueled by an understanding around the NFL that at the midpoint of the season, the sands in the 2008 season hourglass are quickly slipping away and there is little time to change their team’s destiny.

Every NFL team seems to be jumbled between 4-2 and 2-4 (twenty teams) as we hit halftime of the NFL marathon-like season.  The current standings show that there is little separation as there is one lonely undefeated team (Titans 6-0), three (5-1) teams   — Giants, Bills, and Steelers; three (5-2) teams Buccaneers, Redskins and Panthers; three (4-2) teams — Patriots, Cardinals, and Falcons; four (4-3) teams that need to figure out if they are going up or down — Cowboys, Bears, Packers, and Broncos; five (3-3) teams that will either join the playoff hunt or not in the coming weeks (Eagles, Colts, Jaguars, Jets, and Ravens); three (3-4) teams that are up and down too much – Chargers, Vikings, and Saints; five (2-4) teams who are either moving up the ladder or following toward the draft – Dolphins, Browns, Rams, Texans, and Raiders; the reeling (2-5) Niners (fired head coach Mike Nolan this week); and the NFL’s basement dwellers of the (1-5) Chiefs and Seahawks with the (0-6) Lions and (0-7) Bengals bringing up the rear.

This week’s slate of games features several marquee match-ups that will go a long way in establishing playoff spots and moving up in conference standings (only two divisional games). Continue reading

2008 NFL Week 7 Preview

(Philadelphia, Pa) — This week in the NFL I am dubbing “Time to Step-up”.   With the midway point of the 89th NFL Season fast approaching, it is indeed time for NFL teams to live up to this year’s league slogan “Believe In Now”.  Though this season has been extremely hard to predict with only one undefeated team left, furious finishes, upsets, and just plain wackiness, I really believe that teams will start to separate themselves.  The crucial playoff drive months of November and December will be here before we know it, so teams must soon decide if they are pretenders or contenders.  Speaking of furious finishes, the 2008 NFL season through the first six weeks of the season has had 28 of 88 games (31.8 percent) decided by a fourth-quarter comeback.  All of the comebacks have put this season on pace to have the highest percentage of games with a fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history (record is from 1989 with 70 out of 224 games) and it’s only October.  Continue reading