(Philadelphia, Pa) —- I will say “Cheerio” to open as it will be fish ’n chips for everyone as the G-Men and English homeboy Osi Umenyiora – born in London – will travel to Merry Ole’ England to face the winless Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in the NFL’s first regular-season game played overseas. The NFL’s historic game will be played in front of an 86,000-fan sellout crowd and it will be broadcast to all corners of the world (216 countries) by total of 39 broadcast partners and in 21 languages. History will be made and everyone seems more excited about the event than the game. But the game is just as important as typified by Giants MLB Antonio Pierce who said “Of course, we want to see a little bit of London, but we are going over there to play a game and win”. A win would place the Giants in elite company as they would become the fifth team in history and only the second since 1947 to start the season 0-2 and go on to win six consecutive games.
As a historian, the NFL’s growth into the global entity that it is today is just amazing to me. We already knew that “America’s Game” is the United States’ national passion, but now a new set of fans around the world will celebrate the greatness of the NFL. The league has truly “come a long way baby” from the renegade sport of the 1920’s — loosely organized league around factories and industrial towns (ex. Canton, Ohio; Hammond, Indiana; Pottsville, Pa and many others) that was considered ‘barbaric’ by many who preferred college football and baseball -– to the billion dollar league that it is today. The television dollars and viewers are astronomical — Since the NFL season kicked off on Sept. 6, NFL games account for three of the four most-watched programs on television including the 29.1 Million viewers for the October 14th Cowboys-Patriots game -– that not even the season premiere of Dancing with the Stars (21.3 Million) could compete. The NFL is stronger than ever and as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this week in London at the Sport 2020 – The Changing Face of the Global Sports Industry Meeting, “Success did not come overnight. It took us in the NFL 45 years – from 1920 to 1965 — to become the most popular sport in America” . He added “We do not take our position for granted. The challenges going forward will be significant. Our success is not guaranteed,” and “We have to make sure the game remains exciting and competitive. We have to have a solid league structure with strong franchises across the board; and we have to continue to be innovative, always looking for ways to improve everything we do”.
Some fans and media maybe looking past this weekend’s games as they anticipate the week 9 “Clash of the Super Powers” Indianapolis Colts versus the New England Patriots battle in Foxboro. However this week’s games will still go on and it would be foolhardy to not pay attention, as there is parity everywhere. After week 7, there are 18 teams with a .500 or better record and 14 teams with losing records including six teams at 2-4 (these teams can point to the Super XL Champion Steelers for inspiration as their record was the same at this point) and same winless teams (Rams and Dolphins both 0-7). The AFC East seems all but wrapped up with the Patriots sporting a 5 game edge, but all of the other divisions have brewing battles coming with teams currently 1 to 2 games within the lead with the AFC South, AFC West, AFC North, and NFC East with three teams at .500 or better.
Every week brings a new set of storylines and this week is not different.
• The Steelers and Bengals renewing their “friendly” divisional rivalry – These two teams don’t like each other especially since the Steelers knocked the Bengals (35-17) out of the 2005 playoffs in the wild card round. The sticking point of the “We Dey” Steelers win was that Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a devastating season-ending knee injury in the contest (some Bengals fans thought it was dirty – It wasn’t though).
• The Philadelphia Eagles taking on Eagles Midwest (Minnesota Vikings) – These two teams are extremely intertwined due to several past inter-team relationships and former players including Vikings head coach Brad Childress serving as Eagles offensive coordinator under Andy Reid. Both teams are 2-4, so this should be a desperate affair as the loser’s season maybe over.
• The Redskins traveling to New England – After a close win last week over the Cardinals, the upstart Washington Redskins (4-2) will try to prove they are a real ‘contender’ as they face America’s new team. Even for a hall of fame head coach like Joe Gibbs this may be a mission impossible as the undefeated Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady seem to be breaking several new records each week. New England leads the league with 279 points while allowing 120. That 159-point difference is the highest for a team’s first seven games in 41 years, since the 1966 Dallas Cowboys had a 160-point differential (266-106). If quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning win this week, the NFL says they will become the first quarterbacks in league history to defeat 31 teams.
• The “quiet” defending champion Colts traveling to the Carolina Panthers – Ironically this was my Super Bowl pick from 2006 that never came to be as the Panthers stumbled to an 8-8 record. This match-up may not have the glamour of next week’s Colts-Patriots game, but these are two tough teams looking to continue on their trek toward the playoffs. I will be real interest in seeing the match-up between premier defensive ends the Colts Dwight Freeney (3 ½ sacks) and the Panthers Julius Peppers (1 ½ sacks). The Colts led by their stoic head coach Tony Dungy have quietly been putting together an impressive resume including being the third team in history to begin 6-0-or-better for three consecutive years and they can join the 1929-31 Green Bay Packers as the only teams in history to start three consecutive seasons with at least 7-0 records. Also Peyton Manning (286) will be chasing Johnny Unitas’ all-time Colts touchdown passes record (287).
Lloyd’s 2007 NFL Halfway Awards
At the season’s midpoint, it is time to give my “Halfway Awards” and I can only sit back and laugh at some of my earlier predictions. I will have more in-depth article on them in the coming week.
AFC Coach of the Year: Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans (Honorable Mention to Cleveland Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel).
NFC Coach of the Year: Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
AFC Offensive MVP: Quarterback Tom Brady, New England Patriots (Layup)
NFC Offensive MVP: Quarterback Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
AFC Defensive MVP: Defensive End Jared Allen, Kansas City Chiefs
NFC Defensive MVP: Defensive End Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants
AFC Co-Offensive Rookies of the Year: Center Samson Satele, Miami Dolphins and Offensive Tackle Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year: RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (I got this one right, wooo hooo !!!)
AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year: DT Amobi Okoye, Houston Texans
NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year: LB Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers w/ honorable mention to New York Giants DB Aaron Ross.
NFL Comeback Player of the Year: WR Randy Moss, New England Patriots
First Pick of the 2008 NFL Draft: Quarterback Andre Woodson, Kentucky (I still think he is the best prospect followed closely by Arkansas RB Darren McFadden)
Breakout Player(s): Tampa Bay RB Earnest Graham and New York Giants DE Justin Tuck
Before we get to the games, I would like to send out my thoughts and prays to the people in the San Diego area. For the second time in four years, there are wildfires all over the region and several people have been displaced and lost everything. The NFL game between the Chargers and Texans was scheduled for Sunday in San Diego, but as of this writing no one is sure where the game is going to be played or what time (My guess is Monday Night in Arizona – Sun Devil Stadium).
Games and Notes
Monday October 29th @8:30 PM
Green Bay Packers (5-1) at Denver Broncos (3-3) – Invesco Field
ESPN: Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Tony Kornheiser, Suzy Kolber, and Michele Tafoya
I usually try and preview another game than the “big” Monday Night Football battle, but this game really jumped off the page at me. This rematch of Super Bowl XXXII features one of the NFL’s better passing offenses (Packers) against one the better pass defenses (Broncos). Both teams have fallen on hard times recently, but they are trying to regain their championship form as shown by them either being tied or leading their respective divisions. The Broncos lead the all-time series 5-4-1 including a win in the aforementioned Super Bowl XXXII, but the Packers have won 3 out of the last 4 including the last time they played in December 2003.
The game will also serve as a litmus test for is “football more popular than baseball” as the Monday night battle will probably be played at the same time as World Series game #5 (Red Sox vs. the Rockies) in Colorado. I love that it will be cold, windy, and nighttime when one of the most storied players in the game, Green Bay QB Brett Favre comes to town with his Packers. The Packers have been one the surprise teams of the 2007 season as they have stormed out the gates going 5-1 (won 9 of their last 10 going back to 2006), sporting the NFL’s No. 2 (tie) pass offense, and finding ways to win games when they have not been at their best. The Pack should be well rested as they had a bye last week and they don’t play until Monday night. The offensively the key for the Packers will be the play of the rejuvenated Favre (160-247, 1,715 yards (2nd in NFC), 9 TDs, and 6 INTs) getting the ball downfield to WRs Donald Driver and Gregg Jennings and finding a way to improve on their lackluster running (De Shawn Wynne only 200 yards). On defense the Packers will funnel everything through their Pro Bowl D-lineman Aaron Kampman (5 Sacks) and their secondary led by CB’s Charles Woodson and Al Harris (Opponent’s only have a 34.5% third-down conversion rate, fifth best in the league.).
Offensive the Broncos will lean heavily on RB Travis Henry (119 rushes for 549 yards, 4.6 ypc and 1 TD) first and then they will look to get production from QB Jay Cutler (set career-high with 3 TD passes last week) and their passing game. The passing game will have big holes to fill as star receiver Javon Walker will be sidelined after knee surgery. Defensively the Broncos are better than the 358.3 yards per game that they are allowing. They have several playmakers in DB Champ Bailey, DB John Lynch, DE Elvis Dummervil (6 sacks – 2nd in AFC) and several others, so look for them to improve upon their No. 2 NFL pass defense ranking. Despite the Packers struggles running the ball, Denver must be cognizant that teams have had success running against them this year.
A key player to watch is Denver kicker Jason Elam (10/13 FG)as he has won all three of the Bronco’s games this year on game winning kicks including last week over the Steelers. Elam was the first player to do that feat since the Packers kicker Ryan Longwell in 2004.
Byes: Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens, Cowboys, Chiefs, Seahawks
Sunday, October 28
IND @ CAR 1:00 PM CBS
DET @ CHI 1:00 PM FOX
PIT @ CIN 1:00 PM CBS
NYG @ MIA 1:00 PM FOX (Off to Merry Ole’ England)
PHI @ MIN 1:00 PM FOX
CLE @ STL 1:00 PM CBS
OAK @ TEN 1:00 PM CBS
BUF @ NYJ 4:05 PM CBS
HOU @ SD 4:05 PM CBS
JAC @ TB 4:05 PM CBS
WAS @ NE 4:15 PM FOX
NO @ SF 4:15 PM FOX
Monday, October 29
GB @ DEN 8:30 PM ESPN