2011 NFL Week 15 Remix by Lloyd Vance

 In a week full of upsets around the National Football League, none was bigger than Romeo Crennel’s Kansas City Chiefs handing the Green Bay Packers (13-1) their first loss of the season in a 19-14 win at Arrowhead Stadium

(Philadelphia, PA) — Week 15 of the 92nd NFL Season is in the books and even though the NFL’s slogan for the 2011 season is “Back to Football”, it should really be “This is One Wacky Season!!” From week to week fans have no idea where the next upset, game-winning field goal, or team entering/leaving the playoff race will come from next.  Remember what former Colts head coach Tony Dungy said about professional football this time of the year, “NFL football is really still about November and December”.

This week brought many upsets (7 teams with losing records beating teams with winning records); the surprising end of perfection (Chiefs shocked the formerly undefeated Green Bay Packers); thankfully the ending of an ugly winless streak (Colts finally got a win as quarterback Dan Orlovsky and WR Reggie Wayne led the way), playoff clinching moments (Steelers, Ravens, and Saints); Patriots finally muzzling Tebow Mania (Brady showed the youngster what a veteran superstar looks like); and some teams staying alive with playoff hopes in their eyes (Eagles, Bengals, Seahawks, and Cardinals). Continue reading

2011 NFL Season Week 1 Preview: Saints-Packers by Lloyd Vance

The Green Bay Packers will be looking for a big game from DB Charles Woodson when they host the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field  in the 2011 NFL Regular Season Opener

The road to Super Bowl XLVI (February 5 in Indianapolis, IN) will begin tonight as the 92nd Season of the National Football League will officially kickoff at historic Lambeau Field.   For the eighth consecutive season, the Super Bowl champion will open the slate as the Green Bay Packers will host the 2009 NFL Champion New Orleans Saints (Sept. 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC).  The regular season start of America’s favorite sport will also include a concert by Grammy Winners and fireworks.  

All the hoopla will signal a new beginning for the sport that everyone is watching — according to Nielsen Media Research, the NFL reached 207.7 million unique viewers in 2010, the most in history.  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. Especially after the 136-Day NFL Lockout dominated league news rather than mini-camps, OTA’s, and the many other events on the NFL Calendar.  

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.

Football fans everywhere can now shout “Hallelujah” as their lengthy wait for “real” NFL game action since the Super Bowl in February is finally over. Continue reading

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – WCHE Interview 122810

NFL Insider Lloyd Vance breaks-down Week 16 of the National Football League, including the New Orleans Saints defeating the NFC South leading Atlanta Falcons on MNF,  in his weekly interview on the “Matt Lombardo Show” (1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA)

After a enthralling 2010 NFL Week 16 in the National Football League, including the New Orleans Saints defeating the NFC South leading Atlanta Falcons on MNF, NFL Insider Lloyd Vance makes his weekly appearance on the “Matt Lombardo Show” on 1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA

2010 NFL Week 1: Saints-Vikings Preview

The Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints take on the Minnesota Vikings in the 2010 NFL Season Opener (DB Malcolm Jenkins pictured)

The road to Super Bowl XLV (February 6 in Arlington, Texas) begins tonight as the 91st season of the National Football League kicks off. For the seventh consecutive season, the Super Bowl champion will open the slate as the champion New Orleans Saints host the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of last year’s thrilling NFC Championship game (Sept. 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC). 

The game will mark the official kickoff of America’s favorite sport including a concert by Grammy Winners and fireworks.  And trust me….all of the hoopla is definitely worth it as Week 1 of the NFL season is almost at the level of most United States’ holidays.  Football fans everywhere have waited months to quench their thirst for “real” NFL game action since the Super Bowl in February and now it is finally here.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (Thursday, NBC, 8:30 PM ET) 

Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Andrea Kremer (Field Reporter)

The first game of the 2010 NFL Season features two of the NFL’s best passers, Saints QB Drew Brees and Vikings QB Brett Favre squaring off in a highly anticipated game. I am sure the “Who Dat” Nation” will pack the Superdome – expected crowd of 71,000 – to see the rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game.  In that game, the Saints’ won a hard fought battle 31-28 in overtime on a 40-yard game-winning field goal by kicker Garrett Hartley.   Though the Championship Game was an “Instant Classic”, the great ending helped you forget some earlier sloppy play.  There were 9 fumbles (4 lost) and 2 interceptions between both teams including five turnovers by the Vikings. 

But after an offseason of the Saints basking their Super Bowl glory and the Vikings finally learning that future Hall of Fame quarterback was indeed coming back, everything starts anew with the scoreboard reading 0-0.  Though both teams have had some injuries, additions, and defections since last January’s meeting, pretty much their nucleuses and plan of attack should remain the same.  You should expect a ton of scoring as both teams were the NFL’s Top-2 scoring teams last year.  Though the quarterbacks are the marquee players, I do believe the team that can run the ball more effectively and gets the most defensive pressure is going to win this game. 

The Vikings are more than just Favre (363-531, 4202 yards, 33 TDs, 7 INTs, and a rating of 107.2 – best QB rating of his career) but the 40-year old grandfather/passer may have to take on a larger load as injuries have been tough on the Vikes this offseason.  Their biggest offensive loss has to be Pro Bowl WR Sidney Rice, who is expected to miss at least 6 weeks with a hip injury.  However Vikings head coach Brad Childress still will have other offensive weapons at his disposal including Rookie of the Year explosive receiver Percy Harvin (migraines), Bernard Berrian, TE Visante Schiancoe, and latest-but-not-least RB Adrian Peterson (ran for 122 yards and three touchdowns in NFC Championship Game, but also lost two fumbles).  The Pro Bowl runner will no longer be sharing carries with Chester Taylor (Chicago Bears) so you can expect a 20+ carry night from Childress’ workhorse. Peterson has worked diligently on fumbling problems that plagued him last season — 20 total fumbles in 3 years including 7 in ’09 — so watch for tough runs behind Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson in short yardage and goal-line situations. 

The main key for me, will be seeing if the Saints defense can continue to beat-up and rattle Favre –- named a captain for the 2010 season —  as they did in the two teams’ last meeting.  In that game, Favre was never sacked but he was constantly hit and thrown to the ground –- left bruised and had a balky ankle that needed offseason surgery.  The pressure caused the 3-time MVP to get happy feet and to throw passes quickly rather than taking sacks.  The biggest play of the game, was of course caused by pressure initiated from Saints’ defensive mastermind Gregg Williams.  With the game tied 28-28 late in the fourth quarter, Favre sensing pressure, attempted a risky cross-field pass that was intercepted by Saints DB Tracy Porter (19 seconds left in the game) caused the game to go to overtime and we know how it ended. After the game Favre, said “I’ve felt better…It was a physical game. A lot of hits. You win that and you sure feel a lot better.”   So you know, No. 4 will want to wipe that horrible loss from his mouth in the 2010 opener.  But you have to wonder how ready he will be after missing the majority of training camp (reported on August 18th) and only playing in a few series of preseason game action.

Williams’ defense, led by MLB Jonathan Vilma (groin) and DT Sedrick Ellis, must get the loud Bayou crowd going to get Favre (ankle) and his high flying offense out of sync. It will be interesting to see how the Saints’ defense fares as S Darren Sharper (PUP list w/ knee injury), DE Charles Grant (Miami), DE Bobby McCray (released) and others will not be with the unit.  Expect to see a lot of the New Orleans great secondary –- 3rd in the NFL in takeaways/giveaways (+11) — in press coverage with S Malcolm Jenkins, first rounder CB Patrick Robinson, SS Roman Harper, and Porter (knee) leading the way in stopping Favre’s multitude of weapons.

On offense the Saints, ranked No. 1 in the NFL with an average of 403.8 yards per game in 2009, need to continue their explosiveness from last year -– scored a franchise record 510 points.  Of course, the number one player that Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will be targeting is Super Bowl XLIV MVP, Saints QB Drew Brees (2009 numbers: 363-514, 4388 yards, league-leading 34 TDs, 11INTs and a league-best 109.6 passer rating).  But the Saints have much more than just Brees on offense.  They have a physical offensive line led by Pro Bowl RT Jon Stinchcomb and probably the best offensive guard in the league, Jahri Evans.  Plus a ton of fantasy football dream skill players including WR Marques Colston (kidney), RB Pierre Thomas, TE Jeremy Shockey, and others.

I think the player that probably deserves most of the Vikings’ attention, other than Brees, is explosive jitterbug running back Reggie Bush.  He may not soon have his Heisman Trophy, but there is no doubting Bush’s game-breaking ability.  “He’s a guy who can change the game,” said Saints head coach Sean Payton.  Surely the Vikings’ veteran defense led by Pro Bowl corner Antoine Winfield and All-World pass rusher Jared Allen (14.5 sacks to lead the NFC) will look to rattle Brees before he can get the ball to his speedy receivers (Colston, Bush, Robert Meachem and others).  You can also expect Payton to most likely help Brees by using his two-headed backfield monster of Bush and Thomas against the Vikings D-line led by the Williams Wall (DT’s Pat and Kevin Williams). 

LV’s Pick:  This is a tough game, because both teams have a ton of weapons offensively and it is so early in the season.  In their overall regular season series, the Vikings lead by a count of 18-7.  But the Saints’ record at home since 2008 is 14-4 and Super Bowl Champs are 6-0 in the last six NFL openers.   The “X” factors of running the football and getting to the quarterback will be paramount in this match-up.  Though I expect a big game from a motivated Peterson, I still believe that Favre will be “rusty” after missing most of the preseason.  You can expect a high-scoring game, but the Saints, especially Payton and Brees, want to show the world that last year was not a “fluke”. The Saints home crowd will be rocking as their team opens their Super Bowl defense with a win -– Saints 31, Vikings 27

 

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

Super Bowl XLIV Review: The Cinderella Saints win their first championship by Lloyd Vance

The 2009 NFL Season culminated with the formerly hard luck New Orleans hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLIV

From beginning to end the NFL’s 90th season titled “Own the Moment” seemed destined to have a climatic ending and Super Bowl XLIV followed that same pattern.  Somewhere pigs have got to be flying as the New Orleans Saints (16-3), formerly known as the “Aints”, put a big bow on the 2009 NFL Season with a remarkable 31-17 win over the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts (16-3) to bring home New Orleans’ first Super Bowl title..

In the “Year of the Quarterback”, Saints quarterback Drew Brees (32-39, 288 yards, 2  TDs, 0 Ints, and a 114.5 passer rating) willed his team to football’s ultimate prize by being cool and calm in the pocket.  Brees tied a Super Bowl record with 32 completions, the last a 2-yard slant to TE Jeremy Shockey for the winning points with 5:42 remaining. New Orleans became the just the second team to overcome a 10-point deficit to win the Super Bowl and in true storybook fashion, Brees was named the MVP of the game. 

Yes, the glass slipper fit Cinderella’s foot as Saints’ fans, who once wore paper bags over their heads in the early ‘90s, congregated in the French Quarter to celebrate.  The win brought overwhelming pride to a region that is still pulling itself together from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  But before the final brush strokes are finished on the 2009 NFL Season and New Orleans miraculous tale is told over and over again, Super Bowl XLIV must be rehashed.

In the most watched television show ever — 105.97 million viewers (most since the MASH finale in 1983 — young head coach Sean Payton’s team reached the mountain top by displaying “guts”.  After a slow first quarter in which the Colts powered by quarterback Peyton Manning (31-45, 333 yards, 1 TD, and one costly interception) appeared ready to run away with the game including a 96-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter tied the 1985 Bears (Super Bowl XX) for the longest in Super Bowl history. 

However the Saints showed gumption late in the second half and never looked back.  The Saints could have folded after failing to score deep in Colts territory on a 4th and goal play.  But Payton and Brees put their disappoint aside by leading the Saints on a long half ending drive that ended with Garrett Hartley’s 44-yard field goal.

Hartley’s field goal left the score at halftime at 10-6 in favor of the Colts and everyone anticipated that once “The Who” finished their halftime set, that Manning and the Colts would close the door on the Cinderella Saints.  But a play that will forever live in Super Bowl lore changed the course of this game.  With the Colts offense that quickly piled up 10 points in a dominant 1st quarter ready to get back on the field, Payton thumbed his nose at conventional wisdom. 

Payton gambled with an onside kick to open the second half. After Colts backup receiver Hank Baskett bobbled the ball and the biggest scrum to end all scrums, the Saints changed destiny by recovering the onside kick.  With that one play, momentum forever swung in the Saints favor.  Just six plays later, Saints RB Pierre Thomas slammed into the endzone to give the Saints a 13-10 lead.

During the span from the end of the 2nd quarter to Thomas’ score, the Saints held the ball for 26 straight plays and kept the Colts’ high-powered offense off the field for over 70 minutes including halftime.  During this timeframe, the Colts offense got cold and their defense became tired.  The biggest loss was that the miraculous return of feared Colts DE Dwight Freeney from a much-reported about ankle injury was basically over after halftime.  But the Colts, who have won an NFL record 12 games for 7 consecutive seasons, did not gently go into the night as Manning still had some fight left in him.

The 4-time NFL MVP responded by leading his team on a 10-play, 76 yard drive that ended with Colts RB Joseph Addai scoring on a tough 4-yard run as the Colts looked be back in control 17-13.  But the Colts’ fortunes after Addai’s score were all downhill from there.  First, NFC Championship game hero Hartley connected on his Super Bowl record 3rd field goal of 40 yards of more from a distance of 47 yards to cut the score to 17-16. 

Then the Colts thought that their ancient kicker Matt Stover could equal the youngster, but the 42-year old veteran wasn’t even close as he missed a 51-yard field goal attempt.  With Brees finding his rhythm, the Saints took advantage of the short field that Colts head  coach Jim Caldwell had handed them.  New Orleans marched 59 yards to regain a 23-17 lead on Shockey’s catch in traffic.

But Payton, who was hot all night, had one last gamble in his pocket.  The former Bill Parcels disciple seized the day by going for a two-point conversion to give the Saints a 7-point lead.  Another play, that many would point to later as one of the biggest plays of the game, Brees found receiver Lance Moore near the front corner of the endzone.  Initially, the play was ruled incomplete, but upon review it emerged that Moore had possession of the ball and extended it over the goal-line before a Colts’ player knocked it out of his hands.

But before the Gulf Region could celebrate their improbable victory, Manning wasn’t not finished with the team he grew-up rooting for.  Manning mixing the pass and the run led the Colts to New Orleans’ 31-yard line and it looked like overtime was soon in the offing.  But destiny as shown by some earlier successful plays was on the Saints side this night. 

New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracey Porter, who had picked off Vikings QB Brett Favre to end the NFC Championship Game, perfectly timed and read a Manning pass intended from receiver Reggie Wayne.  The former University of Indiana star stepped in front of Manning’s pass and raced 74 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 remaining in the game that basically ended 43 years of frustration for the formerly downtrodden Saints.  Not even a desperation drive by Manning in the game’s closing minutes that ended on a 4th down stop in the endzone could spoil the Saints party as Super Bowl Champions.

It was a storybook ending that no one saw coming when the 2009 NFL Season started.  But the New Orleans Saints –only 10 winning seasons since 1967 – could finally call themselves a Super Bowl champion by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.  “There’s a lot of grit, a lot of determination in this team,” Payton said. “We fought so hard, and this is what makes us uniquely different.”

In true unbelievable fashion, the Saints, who lost their final three regular-season games, are the first team to take a three-game losing streak into the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. Enjoy your championship “Who Dat” nation, your classy organization deserves it as your team was rewarded for 43 years of fighting to establish themselves from a one-time expansion team. 

Definitely congratulations are in order to the entire Saints’ organization including  their players, coaches, front office, and staff.  Special kudos must also go to the architects of this team, head coach Sean Payton, GM Mickey Loomis and owner Tom Benson.  Your team did the NFL proud by winning with persistence, grit, determination and a little magic.

“You don’t take it for granted, these moments,” Payton said. “You want to slow it down and for our players, everyone else, our coaches, you just want to put it on rewind a little bit. It’s special, obviously.” 

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • I thought the pre-game performances by Queen Latifah (sang America the Beautiful) and Carrie Underwood (national anthem) were solid.  The only disappoint may have been that Underwood had trouble with the last note.
  • Everyone always wants to know the commercials that I liked and didn’t like. I just found it amazing that in our tough economy, about 28 advertisers paid over $3 million per 30-second spot. My number one has to be the “Doritos: Put it Back” ad (I like that a kid is willing to protect his Mom and his snacks) followed closely by the Snickers “Betty White” spot. Some stinkers I thought were the Super Bowl shuffle commercial reprise with the ancient 1985 Chicago Bears and the unneeded Tim Tebow and his Mom political spot.
  • The 14 minutes of 1960’s icons “The Who” at halftime was more than enough and can they please get some next year that is not ready for social security – my vote is for the Foo Fighters. If anything, I would have rather watched more of Bill Cowher’s  informative interview with jailed former New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress.

Now that Super Bowl XLIV is over, I can take a quick break.  Like most people, my NFL season ends with the Super Bowl.  But the NFL Combine (later in February into March) and the NFL Draft (in April, with the St. Louis Rams currently on the clock) will be he before we know it.

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).

The Saints and Colts should continue fighting for perfection

Hopefully the New Orleans Saints (QB Drew Brees pictured) and the Indianapolis Colts will choose to fight for a perfect season rather than resting players down the stretch

In the 90th season of the National Football League, we are really seeing something incredible happen.  No, I am not talking about Chad Ochocinco’s latest touchdown antic.  What I am referring to is the incredible feat of the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints reaching the 13-0 undefeated mark together.  By virtue of the Colts’ 28-16 win over the Denver Broncos and the Saints’ tough-guy 26-23 win over the scrappy Atlanta Falcons, the two teams have now raised the number of 13-0 teams in league history to seven — joined the 1972 Dolphins, 2007 New England Patriots, 2005 Indianapolis Colts, 1998 Denver Broncos, and 1934 Chicago Bears.  

The Saints and Colts are playing at a level never seen before by two teams in the same season.  How good are the Saints and Colts? Well consider this, the San Diego Chargers (on a 9-game winning streak and 16-0 in December since 2006) are back page news this season because everyone is concentrating on the league’s two unblemished teams. And as the wins for these two franchises keep piling up week after week, you have to ask, “Is there a chance the NFL could have two undefeated 18-0 teams playing in Super Bowl XLIV at Miami, Florida?”

 The Saints once again found just enough in their reserve tanks to put away another pesky foe.  Despite having to scratch out a win over the tougher than expected host Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans set a franchise record with their 13th win of the season.  Riding to the rescue for the Saints when it mattered most was LB Jonathan Vilma, who made two key defensive plays to seal the win, including a tackle on Falcons RB Jason Snelling on fourth down to end Atlanta’s final drive.  Surprisingly, playing without their offensive engine of QB Matt Ryan (toe) and RB Michael Turner (ankle), the Falcons led by backup quarterback Chris Redman (23-34, 303 yds, 1 TD and 1 INT) were able to move the ball effectively against the Saints defense.  Atlanta at one point near the end of the first quarter held a 6-3 lead, but the Saints continued to be an indomitable team in 2009.  Saints QB Drew Brees (31-40, 296 yards, and 3 TDs) led his team to a 23-9 lead by getting the ball early and often into his offensive speedsters’ hands including scatback Reggie Bush, who showed his explosiveness with 2 receiving touchdowns.   

However the Falcons came to fight this week as their playoff chances were, basically, on the line.  Redman connected with WR Michael Jenkins for a 50 yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. Then Snelling scored on a short run early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 23 points. Unfortunately for the short-handed Falcons, the Saints would not be denied. Brees led the Saints’ offense on a 16 play, over 8-minute, 63-yard drive that ended with kicker Garret Hartley’s 38-yard eventual game winning field goal. Vilma took over from there producing a fourth quarter interception and the aforementioned 4th down key stop to end the Falcons’ hopes. The Saints have now have scored an NFL-high 466 points with an average of 34.3 points per game average this season.  With three games remaining to be played(DAL, TB, and @CAR), it seems a foregone conclusion that the Saints will be  joining the NFL’s elite 500-points in-one-season club — 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556) , 1999 St. Louis Rams (526), 2000 St. Louis Rams (540), 2001 St. Louis Rams (503) and 2007 New England Patriots (NFL Record 582 points scored). 

The Colts’ win over the Broncos didn’t have close to the amount of “desperation” of the Saints’ win over the Falcons, but it still was a good game. The Colts jumped out to a 21-0 early lead before you knew it as MVP candidate QB Peyton Manning threw three quick touchdown passes.  Despite a game effort by the Broncos, especially WR Brandon Marshall (21 receptions for 200 yards and 2 TD’s), to clawback into the game in the 2nd half there never really was a hint of anxiety with a veteran Colts’ squad.  Manning (20-42, 220 yds, 4 TDs, and 3 INTs) helped the Colts wrap up AFC homefield advantage throughout the playoffs by making up for some uncharacteristic interceptions with a great game-sealing drive in the 4th quarter.  With the Broncos cutting the Colts’ lead to 21-16, Manning led the Colts on a 14-play, 80-yard drive, that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to TE Dallas Clark to seal the game at 28-16.

Even though there were not the nail-biting moments of the Saints-Falcons game, what the Colts’ win at Lucas Oil Stadium did have was records being broken everywhere.  With the win, the Colts broke the consecutive wins record with their 22nd straight regular season victory (formerly held by the 2006-2007 New England). With the home victory, the Colts also produced the most team wins (114) in a decade (former record of 113 was formerly held by the San Francisco 49ers from the 1990’s).  There were also NFL individual records broken this Sunday in Indy.  As Broncos WR Brandon Marshall made an NFL single-game record of 21 receptions (former record of 20 was held by Terrell Owens); Colts TE Dallas Clark broke his own single-season franchise tight end records for receptions (82) and yards (902); and Colts QB Peyton Manning passed Hall of Famer Warren Moon for fourth on the NFL’s yards passing list (49,513 yards to 49,325 yards).

Now that the Colts and Saints have proven that they are in the undefeated “neighborhood” of the 1972 Dolphins, any talk of an undefeated regular season (16-0) and the NFL’s Holy Grail of a perfect season  (19-0) are definitely be on the table.  I know much like an in-progress perfect game in baseball, it may be considered “Taboo” to talk about a team doing the almost impossible of finishing an entire regular season and playoffs undefeated.  But fans and media have started the debate, so it is time to enter the fray.  Everyone wants to know if the Colts and Saints, even though they have clinched or are going to clinch all playoff merits (division title, first round bye, and home field),  will either rest entering the playoffs or play for “perfection”.  It seems overall that the Colts and Saints will have drastically varying opinions on the topic of whether to go for 19-0.  The relatively young and brash Saints, driven by their high-octane offense, would love nothing more than to go 16-0 and then 19-0 to put their franchise on the map for the right reasons – only 9 winning seasons since entering the NFL in 1967. After the Saints’ win over the Falcons, Brees said, “It means a lot to us.  These kind of years don’t come around very often.”  While the veteran Colts’ management, who have been here before in 2005, seem content with resting players and using their expected 34-day layoff period from now until their divisional round home playoff game in mid-January to get their entire team rested and prepared for the playoffs. 

Colts President Jim Irsay said after Sunday’s homefield clinching win, “I think obviously you’d love to see two 18-0 teams in the Super Bowl”. He added, “That would be tremendous and unprecedented for the league. But I can only know about us. We’d love to get to 16-0. But the biggest focus is going to be on being prepared for that first playoff game.”  Colts rookie head coach Jim Caldwell seemed to be teetering somewhere between Irsay’s feelings and going for it.  The NFL’s first-time 13-0 rookie head coach said, “We’ll go and take some kind of a [players] poll, but we know where the final decision lies”.  Caldwell added, “We will certainly listen to most of the guys, guys that have been around here. So we’ll have a conference on it or something.” However it seems that Irsay and Caldwell should really let their players decide about any rest needed.  “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m playing until they tell me I can’t play,” center Jeff Saturday insisted after the Colts’ win.  The Pro Bowl pivot added, “We have a lot we can work on, improve on and get better at. There’s no reason to stop now.”  Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said of the pursuit of perfection topic, “Me, personally, I love playing, but that’s not my decision to make.”

Despite history not being on the side of the Saints and Colts – of the previous five 13-0 teams only the 1972 Dolphins and 1998 Broncos ended up winning the Super Bowl – I truly believe that the NFL’s last two undefeated teams owe it to themselves and their fans to try attaining “perfection”.  Resting for the playoffs after attaining the #1 seed and securing home field advantage in the postseason doesn’t even guarantee success in the playoffs any longer, so why not go for it.  Since 1990 only 17 of 36 number one seeds in the playoffs have made it to the Super Bowl with only 8 of those teams winning it all.  The last time two No. 1 seeds faced-off was in 1993 for Super Bowl XXVIII with Buffalo vs. Dallas.  Most likely the Saints and Colts will fall short, but why not try and put their names in the record books next to the 1972 Dolphins. 

Sure the recent “sting” of the 2007 New England Patriots going 18-0 only to fall short in the Super Bowl is still out there, but most players want the chance to be immortalized.  Just listen to the words of Hall of Famer and NFL Network Analyst Michael Irvin when he recently said of striving for perfection, “I would turn in all three Super Bowls and my Hall of Fame bust for one undefeated season.”  Those are some serious comments by the Playmaker and I agree 100 percent.  My stance on the whole attempting to go undefeated vs. resting for the playoffs debate is that winning a Super Bowl is awesome, but going undefeated through an incredible 19-game grind from September through the Super Bowl is ‘epic’.  Think about it the 1972 Dolphins are the only team to reach true perfection in the league’s 90-year history.  Every year the champagne corks fly in South Florida for a reason, because the 1972 Dolphins season was so magical and will forever live in NFL lore.  As my colleague Marlin Briscoe (a receiver on the 1972 Dolphins) once told me, “No matter where I go or what I do, I will always know in 1972 my team was 17-0”.

NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said during the 2007 Patriots’ 16-0 regular season run, “I know they want to go 16-0.  They are going to pull their guys only if they have that luxury (of a lead).”  We will see if the Colts and Saints fight all the way through the end of the regular season.  “It’s a great, huge topic for analysis and different opinions,” Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. “I don’t think there is a right answer. I think whatever plan Coach Caldwell gives us, that will be the right plan because that’s what he decides, and that’s what we’ll carry out. But either way, you’re opening yourself up for second-guessing.” The Saints remaining games are: Dallas (8-5), Tampa (1-12), and @ Carolina (5-8) – combined records of 14-25.  While the Colts remaining games are @ Jacksonville (7-6) – Thursday Night Football, NY Jets (7-6), and @ Buffalo (5-8) – combined record of 19-20.

My “gut” feeling is the Colts will rest players after their game Thursday Night against the Jaguars and the Saints, who have been in some close games lately – will try through all 16 games to chase the 1972 Dolphins’ legacy. 

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)

Patriots – Saints: The Battle of the Bayou Preview

WR Julian Edleman and the New Patriots travel to New Orleans to face-off against the undefeated Saints on Monday Night Football

Patriots – Saints: The Battle of the Bayou Preview

ESPN Monday Night Football, 8:30 EST

Broadcasting team: Ron Jaworski, Mike Tirico, John Gruden, and Suzy Kolber (sideline reporter)

Week 12 of the 2009 NFL Season has been one of the best for the league that always seems leave their fans wanting more, but without a doubt the Monday Night Football Match-up between the undefeated New Orleans Saints (10-0, the best start in franchise history) and the New England Patriots (7-3) is the cherry on top.  The Super Dome will be rocking as the “New Kids on the Block” (Saints) will take on the “Old Heads” (Patriots) to see who will be “King of the Hill” on the NFL’s playground. 

After many had thought they had seen the precursor to the NFL playoffs in “Super Bowl XLIII ½” where the undefeated Indianapolis Colts led by MVP-candidate Peyton Manning came back to post an amazing 35-34 win over the Patriots, no one thought there could be a better game.  Well, I am not sure if the game that people are calling, “The Battle of the Bayou” or Super Bowl XLIII ¾ will live-up to the inordinate amount of hype generated, but you have to admit this is a fascinating match-up that will have the nation’s attention. Sure a match-up of the undefeated Saints versus the undefeated Colts probably would have created more buzz, but this pairing is just as good, in my opinion.

Even though these two teams’ histories are vastly different — the Saints have never been to the Super Bowl while the Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls, producing three wins all this decade — there is a mutual amount of respect on both sides of the field as two of Bill Parcells’ former disciples will square-off.  Both teams have an embarrassment of offensive weapons and defensively they both can provide pressure that often leads to capitalizing on turnovers and taking them to the house.  Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who throws compliments to upcoming opponents like manhole covers, recently said of the Saints, “I don’t think there’s any better team in football than the New Orleans Saints.  They have no weaknesses that I can see.”  Of the upcoming Monday Night Football showdown, Saints QB Drew Brees (218-320, 2746 yards, 22 TDs and 9 INTs) said, “It’s going to take our best game to beat the Patriots. “We know the type of team they are.  We know the type of team they’ve been for the last decade.  They’re a dynasty.  Obviously, that’s one of the organizations we try to emulate.  We’re trying to be a contender year-in and year-out and we’ve got to take advantage of these opportunities.”

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton was just as complimentary when talking about the Patriots saying, “We know it’s a good team that we’re playing this week.  New England has been a successful franchise and is one of those organizations that has found the right formula.  When you play a team like this, you observe from afar the things that they are able to do and how that relates to winning games.”  Any talk of this Monday Night thriller has to start and end with the two quarterbacks leading their teams and as an old beer commercial used to say, “It doesn’t get any better than this”.  In the year of the quarterback around the NFL, probably the only passers playing better at this point in the season are Manning and Vikings QB Brett Favre, but that is saying something as both those veterans are shooting for their 4th NFL MVP award.  Payton in talking about Brady and Brees said, “Both of these quarterbacks are accurate”.  The currently undefeated head coach added, “They’re good decision-makers and can decide quickly where they want to go with the ball based on the looks they’re getting.  Those are certainly traits you see with both of them.” Brees is second in the NFL with a 105.8 passer rating while Patriots QB Tom Brady is not far behind with a rating of 100.4, which is good enough for fifth in the NFL.  In the touchdowns department, Brees also has a slight lead as he leads the league with 22 touchdown passes with Brady again not being far behind 20 (ranks 4th in the NFL in this category). 

Like any great heavyweight fight, now that the pleasantries have been dispensed by both sides, let’s break this game down.  First off fans should expect a ton of scoring as this is a match-up of the

 NFL’s No. 1 and 2 offenses — the Saints average a league leading 420.5 yards per game and the Patriots are next with an average of 416.1 ypg, which is first in the AFC — playing on the Super Dome’s fast track.  The Saints have redefined the term “high-octane” this season with an incredible 369 points scored through 10 games including producing over 40 points four times.  Many are comparing New Orleans to 500+ point plus scoring squads the 1999 St. Louis Rams (529 points scored and Super Bowl champs), 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556 points scored and a record of 15-1), and lastly the 2007 New Patriots (NFL record 589 points score and 16-0 AFC Champs) who will have several members from that offense still playing for them on Monday. 

For the Saints offensively, Brees spreads the ball around to former Pro Bowl receiver Marques Colston (44 receptions for 687 yards, 15.6 ypc, and 6 TDs), scatback Reggie Bush, breakout player of the year candidate WR Robert Meachem, RB Pierre Thomas, speedster WR Devrey Henderson and many others (hard to believe former NY Giants’ Pro Bowl TE Jeremy Shockey is an afterthought on the Saints roster) so at times it seems there is no stopping New Orleans.  They have outscored opponents 369-204 so far this season and an amazing 18 players have scored touchdowns this season.  Every week seems to be a track meet for the Saints whether home or away even though at times they have sputtered out of the gate a couple of times – average winning margin of 16.5 points.  The closest any team has come to beating them were the St. Louis Rams, who lost 28-23, but it wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

The Saints offense hasn’t been the team’s only story for 2009 as new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has returned some teeth to a defense that allowed 393 points (24.6/g) in 2008.  Williams aggressive unit has generated seven touchdowns and produced a league-high 29 takeaways including 20 INTs.  The Saints defense starts upfront with pass rushers DE Will Smith (8.5 sacks) and DE Charles Grant providing pressure on quarterbacks that has helped MLB Jonathan Vilma, safety Darren Sharper (7 INTs, returning 3 for touchdowns), CB Tracy Porter, and others make the most of their turnover opportunities – Saints are 3rd in the NFL with a +10 turnover ratio.  However even though the Saints have been stellar at getting turnovers, some teams have been able to move the ball on them at times this season – allowed 204 points (20.4/g), which ranks them 15th in the NFL.  Also injuries could be a factor for the Saints’ defense as Porter is listed as “doubtful” with CB Randall Gay (hamstring), CB Jabari Greer (groin), DE Bobby McCray (knee/back), and Vilma (knee) listed as “questionable” for the game.

Not to be outdone the Patriots’ offense is also are one of the NFL’s best at passing the football this season.  The Pats’ offense is also dangerous and the scary part is that QB Tom Brady (261-393, 3049 yards, 20 TDs, and 6 INTs) seems to have finally put his devastating 2008 knee injury behind  — remember his NFL record 6 TD performance in the a 59-0 blowout of Tennessee Titans in Week 6.  Brady will also spread the ball around, but watch for his big play threat WR Randy Moss (63 receptions for 925 yards, 14.7 ypc, and  8 TDs with a long of 71 yards),  his multi-purpose chain mover RB Kevin Faulk (39 rushes for 192 yards and 29 catches for 252 yards w/ 1 TD) and his security blanket WR Wes Welker (79 catches for 854 yards, 10.8 ypc, and 4 TDs plus coming off a career-high 15 catch performance last week) to be much involved in the Patriots game plan.  Last week against the Jets, Welker and Moss combined for 20 catches in a 31-14 win which gave the pair 142 combined receptions through 10 games to surpass an NFL record that was set earlier in the day by Colts Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark.  If the Patriots are smart, they will try to establish their running game (Faulk, Laurence Maroney, and Sammy Morris) against the Saints fast defensive line to wear them down.  The Saints are getting DT Sedrick Ellis back from a knee sprain, but controlling the clock will be key for the Patriots to take the air out of the ball to keep Brees’ offensive weaponry on the sidelines.  The Patriots’ offensive line also will need to step up too in this game as, at times this season, the unit has struggled with speed rushers.

On defense, the Patriots – ranked 3rd in the AFC with 296.7 points allowed per game – are no slouches in the turnover department either as they lead the AFC with a +12 ratio.  But they will surely need to have big games from improving FS Brandon McGowan (good cover guy TEs), cover corner Leigh Bodden (5 INTs including three last week against the Jets), and pass rusher Tully Banta-Cain (5 sacks) to keep Brees foot off the gas.  There is no doubt the Patriots still do have some playmakers on the defensive side, but you have to wonder if the defections of DL Richard Seymour (traded to the Raiders), SS Rodney Harrison (retirement to NBC), LB Tedy Bruschi (retirement to ESPN) and others have caused their unit to be questioned.  We all know head coach Belichick had questions of the unit in their much-publicized Week 9’s loss in Indy.  Protecting a slim 6-point lead, the 3-time Super Bowl winning head coach chose to go for it on 4th down deep in his own territory rather than punt and let his defense have a chance at stopping Peyton Manning and Colts offense.  As the whole world knows, the Patriots did not convert the infamous play and now many people around NFL circles are wondering if their defense is championship caliber.

LV’s Pick:  These two teams have met 11 times with the Patriots holding a dominating 8-3 edge including winning their last 3 meetings.  The last time was in November of 2005 as the Patriots won 24-17 in Foxborough.  As many are predicting, I believe this game will be a high scoring affair.  But in the end, I believe the team that can establish the run and limit turnovers will be the winner.  Lately the Saints have been a little careless with the football and the Patriots have a strong veteran group that knows how to capitalize on mistakes and win close games.  Plus the Pats are 5-0 all-time at Superdome including a Super Bowl win.  Also with the Colts staying undefeated this week, the chances are pretty strong that the Saints will lose – there has never been two 11-0 teams in NFL history.  New England wins late as Brady hits Moss for a game-winning touchdown.   – Patriots win 31-28

 

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)