2011 Philadelphia Eagles Week 2 Preview: Michael Vick Story Comes Full Circle by Matt Lombardo

On Sunday Night Football in Week 2, Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick returns to the Georgia Dome for the first time as a starter.  Vick will be squaring off with a familiar foe, the Atlanta Falcons, who just happen to be the first team that give him his first $100 Million Dollar contract before his miraculous fall fall from grace in the ATL and redemption with the Birds.

The Michael Vick Story is clearly one that has an ending yet to be written. However, on Sunday Night Football in week two, the story, at least for one evening, comes full circle. Vick brings the Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) into a highly anticipated early season matchup with the team that finished 2010 with the best record in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons (0-1).

The former 2001 No. 1 overall pick’s return to Atlanta is the key storyline here. Like few athletes across the country, Vick remains an icon in Atlanta, even after last taking a snap for the Falcons in December 2006. There are sure to be thousands of black and red number seven jerseys in the building to watch one of the most exciting players in the league. Continue reading

2010 NFL Week 2 Preview

The return of quarterback Michael Vick as a starter for the first time since December 2006 is one of the highlights of 2010 NFL Week 2

After the glitz and glamour of the opening week of the 2010 NFL Season is over, Week 2 begins our standard weekly journey around the league. I am so glad that this week’s schedule only has two game days with 15 games on Sunday and our usual one game match-up on Monday Night Football.

 Week 1 had a lot of drama including an NFL-record 11 games that were decided by 7 points or less and ton of surprises — Houston Texans led by RB Arian Foster dominating the Colts, Chiefs taking out the Chargers in the 2nd MNF game, Seahawks pounding Niners who were supposed to be the NFC West favorites and several photo finishes.  But I am expecting Week 2 to provide just as much excitement along with starting the separation process that is inevitable every football.  As I like to always like to say, “NFL teams are either preparing for the playoffs or the upcoming draft”.  And now is the time where teams start their trek toward one destination or the other.

 Unfortunately after only one week of play, some NFL fans are already panicking a little over whether they think their team is a pretender or contender.  I know some fans, like the San Francisco 49ers’ faithful, have to be a little disappointed by their team’s effort from Week 1 – Niners suffered a lopsided 31-6 loss at the hands of the resurgent Seattle Seahawks.  But everyone around the league should remember that it is way too early to start making season-long assumptions based one week of play.  To anyone feeling the pinch of the NFL season after one week, please relax as the NFL regular season is a 17-week marathon with many twists and turns ahead. 

 It is way too early to paint broad conclusions on teams and players’ futures.  Sure injuries and areas to fine tune are prevalent throughout the NFL, but take the results from Week 1 as partial results.  I am urging all fans to wait until at least 5 to 6 games have been played before jumping on or off their respective teams’ bandwagons.  As we saw last year with the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints unsuccessful quest for perfection (both started their seasons 13-0), it is almost unthinkable that a team can get through an entire season undefeated in today’s NFL –– this fact should make you truly appreciative of the Herculean effort of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins.

 An interesting stat is that at the end of Week 2, no more than 14 teams will be able to claim a perfect 2-0 record, leaving at least 18 clubs at 1-1 or 0-2.  However whether a team is 2-0, 1-1, and 0-2 after two weeks of play, it still doesn’t matter as everyone has a chance to make a playoff run — even the hapless Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns who were both bad losers in Week 1. Since realignment in 2002, 54 of the 96 playoff teams (56.2 percent) began the year at either 1-1 or 0-2.  Four of the past nine Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-1 or 0-2 record. Plus last year half of the NFL’s 12 playoff teams started 2-0 and the other half at 1-1 before righting themselves. 

 Even though records should not be first on NFL teams’ minds, they still should be mindful that you don’t want to dig too big of a hole to recover from in time to make a playoff run.  Sure, history has shown that 0-2 teams can advance to the playoffs — since 1990, 22 teams have started 0-2 and still qualified for the postseason, including three teams in 2008 – Miami Dolphins (won NFC North), Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers (won AFC West).  But it is still a daunting task to comeback from 0-2 and a season death sentence of 0-3 is too close for comfort to that record, so teams should be fighting for more than pride in Week 2.

 This is an odd weekend as there are only 3 divisional games (Baltimore at Cincinnati, Tampa Bay at Carolina, and the New England Patriots at NY Jets), but there six inter-conference games.  We will see if all of these non-familiar match-ups will equate to some great action on the field. 

 Some Games to watch are:

 New England Patriots at New York Jets — One of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries will take center stage at New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday as the Jets host the Patriots in a clash of AFC East contenders.  Both clubs advanced to the postseason last year, with the Patriots winning the division and the Jets securing a Wild Card berth and advancing to the AFC Championship Game.  The HBO series Hard Knocks has heightened the Patriots-NY Jets rivalry even more.  Brash NY Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan who definitely likes to take a page from his father, former NFL defensive guru Buddy Ryan, has stirred the pot talking about the AFC East is their division. Several NY Jets have said that they don’t like Patriots QB Tom Brady and his team. With Captain America countering by saying, “The feeling is mutual”.  So we will see if Ryan’s team can knock-off the Patriots, like they did early in 2009.  Before that win, Ryan said of the J-E-T-S playing the vaunted Patriots, “I didn’t come here to kiss (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick’s rings. I came here to win. … I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else.”   — LV’s Pick: New England Patriots

 Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions – This is a must win for the Eagles as they travel to Detroit very injured.  The Birds lost FB Leonard Weaver (ACL) and center Jamaal Jackson (torn triceps) for the season to injuries.  Plus concussed players QB Kevin Kolb and MLB Stewart Bradley will sit this one out too.  However the Eagles do have quarterback Michael Vick – had 100 yards rushing and over 170 yards passing in last week’s 27-20 loss to the Packers – making his first start in the NFL since December 31, 2006.  The Lions will look to their young rookie playmakers RB Jahvid Best and DT Ndamukong Suh to make plays.  — LV’s Pick: Philadelphia Eagles

Week 2 Featured Game

 NEW YORK GIANTS (1-0) AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-1) – Sunday Night Football @ 8:20 PM ET on NBC

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

 Manning Bowl 2 – Sunday night’s matchup on NBC will feature the Manning brothers.  I guess former NFL quarterback Archie Manning and his wife will be wearing ½ Giants and ½ Colts jerseys this week in Lucas Oil Stadium.  There will be some serious in-fighting within the NFL’s first family as Big Brother Peyton Manning’s Colts host younger brother Eli’s NY Giants. For only the second time the two poster boy brother quarterbacks will meet as pros.   

 In 2006, the Colts defeated the Giants 26-21 in the first game in NFL history that two quarterback brothers started for opposing teams.  “It is rare that you get to face your brother,” said Eli Manning.  “You kind of appreciate that when the National Anthem is being sung and you look over and see your big brother.  That’s pretty special.  You have to try and enjoy it and have fun with it and understand it’s something that doesn’t happen often.”  Indy is coming off a disappointing opening loss to the Houston Texans, so I fully expect No. 18 to be an in formidable host to younger brother Eli. 

 The Giants showed last week that they can bring defensive pressure as they dominated the Carolina Panthers 31-18, mostly by producing turnovers. Also New York wide receiver Hakeem Nicks led the way with three touchdown catches and became the first player in more than 20 years to score three touchdowns in the first game at a new stadium. Indianapolis will look to rebound from a rare September loss. 

Entering 2010, the Colts had posted a 26-6 (.813) record in the opening month over the past 10 years (2000-09).  However all is not lost as Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell said, “The season is a long haul.”  Caldwell added, “It’s Round One of a 16-round fight.  What we have to do is continue to get better each and every week.  That’s what we’re focusing on.” 

The Colts look as vulnerable as we’ve seen in a long time and the Giants’ pass rush (featuring four defensive ends) will be a handful for Indianapolis’ depleted offensive line. Could the Colts possibly go 0-2???

 In their favor, the Colts have won five straight against NFC opponents.  And Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney has a sack in his last four games vs. NFC opponents.  I am sure Eli’s team will try to control the clock by running the ball and letting their defense attack the Colts’ suspect offensive line.  Simply put the Colts have to do better in stopping the run and running the football.  Last week the Houston Texans outrushed them 257 to 44, which was a record-high for the Colts’ franchise.

 You can expect a ton offense in this game, but in the end how can you go against Peyton Manning in his home-opener

 LV’s Pick: Colts 24, Giants 17

2010 NFL Week 2

 Sun, Sep 19 

 BAL @ CIN, Paul Brown Stadium 1:00 PM —- CBS          

 MIA @ MIN, Mall of America Field 1:00 PM —- CBS          

 CHI @ DAL, Cowboys Stadium 1:00 PM —- FOX          

 PHI @ DET, Ford Field 1:00 PM —- FOX          

 ARI @ ATL, Georgia Dome 1:00 PM —- FOX          

 KC @ CLE, Cleveland Browns Stadium 1:00 PM —- CBS          

 BUF @ GB, Lambeau Field 1:00 PM —- CBS          

 PIT @ TEN, LP Field 1:00 PM —- CBS          

 TB @ CAR, Bank of America Stadium 1:00 PM —- FOX          

 STL @ OAK, Oakland Coliseum 4:05 PM —- FOX          

 SEA @ DEN, Invesco Field at Mile High 4:05 PM —- FOX          

 HOU @ WAS, FedEx Field 4:15 PM —- CBS          

 JAC @ SD, Qualcomm Stadium 4:15 PM —- CBS          

NE @ NYJ, New Meadowlands Stadium 4:15 PM —- CBS          

NYG @ IND, Lucas Oil Stadium 8:20 PM —- NBC          

Mon, Sep 20 

 NO @ SF, Candlestick Park 8:30 PM —- ESPN     

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)

2009 NFL Season – Week 14 Preview

The San Diego Chargers (TE Antonio Gates pictured) are one of many NFL teams making their push toward the playoffs in Week 14

I am calling Week 14 of the 2009 NFL season, “Do or Die Week”, as several “on the bubble” teams can either join the push toward the playoffs or start planning for their off-season this week.  Though the NFL is still full of the “Have’s” (10 teams with 8 wins or more including the league’s two undefeated teams – Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints both 12-0) and the “Have Nots” (8 teams with 4 or less wins, who are now basically spoilers).  There are still a multidude of teams (14 teams) currently in the league’s parity-laden middle (records ranging from 7-5 to 5-7) who are still are playoff dreaming, even if some are by a thread.  “It’s that time of the year, the last quarter,” said Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid – just received a 3-year extension.  “If you’re still in the hunt, things get a little faster, guys play a little faster and so on.  That’s the nature of the game.  That’s where we’re at”.  Overall, 26 teams are still mathematically in playoff contention, so let the race for the NFL’s 10 remaining playoff berths continue – Saints and Colts already have claim two of the league’s 12 coveted spots. 

The most important thing in the month of December around the NFL is to keep winning.  Teams that are strong contenders for the playoffs need to keep putting up wins to “Get In”, On-the-bubble teams need to keep winning to survive and the teams already having clinched playoff spots want to stay “Hot” entering the postseason.  “We always look to play our best football in December,” said San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who leads the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in December since 2000.  “That’s when we want to be at our best.  We focus more in December because we know what’s coming up.”  Tomlinson and his Chargers probably know better than any team in the NFL right now the value of winning in the year’s last month.  Dating back to a 24-21 win at Buffalo on December 3, 2006, the San Diego Chargers have won an NFL-record 15 consecutive games in December.  Prior to the Chargers’ current streak, the record was held by the Dallas Cowboys, who won 13 consecutive December games during a run that spanned from 1968 to 1972.  Tomlinson added, “We seem to finish strong.  We’ve talked about it and really made it one of our mottos.  I think that has a lot to do with our mindsets in December.  We want to play our best football in December going into January”.

Even with the Chargers (9-3) current 8-game winning streak, they still are not at the top of the NFL’s food chain due to the success of the undefeated Saints and Colts, who are reaching new heights in NFL history together.  The two unblemished teams are the first two 12-0 teams in league history to have that record within the same season.  This week, the Colts take on the Denver Broncos in key AFC playoff matchup and several streaks will be on the line for Indy.  The Colts of course will be attempting to extend their 12-0 start plus they will be trying to break a tie with the 2006-08 New England Patriots for the longest streak in NFL history (21 games).  This season the Colts have been resilent to say the least and so far they have overcome a fourth-quarter deficit six times in 2009.  With one more 4th quarter comeback by MVP candidate QB Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts, Indy will become the first team since the AFL-NFL merger (1970) with seven fourth-quarter comeback wins in one season.   The Saints — lead the NFL with 440 points scored with an average of 36.6 ppg — also are etching their names on some records too.  With four games to play, they need to score 60 points to join 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).  However as good as both undefeated teams have been, they better watch their step this week as only five teams have made it to 13-0 in NFL History – 1972 Dolphins, 2007 New England Patriots, 2005 Indianapolis Colts, 1998 Denver Broncos, and 1934 Chicago Bears.  Even with having such outstanding records to this point, nothing is guaranteed for the Saints or Colts as the five 13-0 teams have had varying end of season success.  Only the 1972 Dolphins and 1998 Broncos ended up their 13-0 season starts with an NFL title. 

I think a lot of fans and media are hoping that both the Saints and Colts can ride into Miami, Florida for Super Bowl XLIV with perfect 18-0 records.  But if I have learned anything from my years covering the NFL it is that nothing is predictable about the world’s most popular league.  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.  There was an interesting factoid from last week that further showed nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.  By virtue of the Saints clinching the NFC South last week, 2009 marks the seventh consecutive season that at least one team has gone from last place to first place in its division from one year to the next — longest streak in NFL history.  Of the 32 teams to go from “worst-to-first” in NFL annals, 15 of them have done so in this decade (2000-2009).  So right now with 63 regular season games left to be played, I don’t think  anyone has an  idea of who is going to represent the AFC and NFC in the Super Bowl.  It could be the Chargers vs. Saints, Colts vs. Giants, Broncos vs. Eagles, Bengals vs. Cardinals, Colts vs. Vikings, Chargers vs. Cardinals or any of a number of combinations.  But teams right now need to take one game at a time and focus on “successful”  team tenants — Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense that produces turnovers, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” — in looking to qualify for the playoffs.  

This week’s Thursday Night Football game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers also showed the unpredictable nature of the NFL — BTW:  I cannot stand games on Thursdays as too often the short week lends to sloppy boring games.  The Steelers came into the game having lost 4 straight games, but surely the 2008 Super Bowl Champs would beat up on the 1-win Cleveland Browns (defense ranked 32nd overall going into Week 14).  The Steelers had won 12 straight against the Browns, so Thursday Night should have been P-Burgh’s re-entry into the playoff dance.  But hold-up, Wait a minute…as no one told the Browns that they were not supposed to show-up.  On a bitterly cold night (temperatures in the teens with a 20 mph wind that produced subzero wind chills), where you wouldn’t blame Eric Mangini’s team for quitting, the Browns dug deep for a tough 13-6 win that sent the defending champs to their 6th straight loss — longest losing streak in six years.  The Browns (2-11) sacked Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger eight times on their way to beating their hated rival in Cleveland for the first time since 2000.  The man of the hour for the Browns was Wildcat QB/WR/KR Josh Cribbs, who rushed for 87 yards out of the wildcat formation, had 104 return yards and caught one pass for 9 yards. Cribbs never let the cold get him down as he badly wanted to beat the Steelers (6-7) for the first time in his career.  The former Kent State dual threat quarterback picked up probably the game’s biggest first down on a tough 14-yard run in the fourth quarter when the Browns were winding the clock.  Of the win and the Steelers’ long ride back to Pittsburgh Cribbs said, “They’re going to hear that bus’ engine all the way back”.  The Steelers are now pretty much on the outside looking in on the playoffs and you can point directly to their 3 recent upset losses to the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns — a combined record of 9-28 – as a reason you can never pencil-in wins in the NFL.

I also wanted to remind fans to vote for their favorite players as balloting for the 2010 Pro Bowl will conclude soon http://www.nfl.com/probowl/ballot

Some key games that will either make or break a team’s playoff hopes include:

Philadelphia Eagles at NY Giants –   In a highly anticipated NFC East black-and-blue game, the Eagles will travel up the turnpike to face the rejuvenated NY Giants on NBC Sunday Night Football.  Here in NFC East country this is the number one game on everyone’s mind. The Giants are looking for payback for the Eagles knocking them out of 2008 playoffs in a disappointing home loss.“This will be a big game,” said New York head coach Tom Coughlin this week.  “It’s a division game, against the Eagles, at this time of year.  December is such a critical time for all the teams in our league.”  The Eagles (8-4 and on a 3-game winning streak) are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys atop the division, but with thoughts of the Cowboys going in the tank again in December, both the Birds and Giants want to capitalize.  To me, this game is for the NFC East title even though 3 more games will need to be played after this one.  Expect a tough physical games as it should be cold and windy in the Meadowlands at game time.   The biggest key of the game will be the quarterbacks as Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (has won 10 of past 14 starts vs. NYG including the playoffs) and Giants QB Eli Manning (passing numbers: 225-379, 2925 yards, 20 TDs, and 11 INTs) have faced off many times and usually the team that wins is the one with the passer with that make bigger plays.  In the Eagles November win over Giants, McNabb hit explosive player WR DeSean Jackson for a 54-yard touchdown and the game was never the same.  Watch for turnovers as the Eagles are (+12) in turnover ratio (3rd in the NFL) while the Giants have a rating of (-1).  On defense, the Eagles will look for CB Asante Samuel (7 INTs this season) to make a big play and conversely the Giants need to get pressure from their front four led by DE Justin Tuck (G-Men have won 11 in row when he has 1+ sacks).  One of two Eagles streaks will prevail in this game, Philadelphia has thrived in December with a record of 12-3 since 2006.  But the Birds are also (1-7) on Sunday Night Football. 

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons  — With their season on the line, the Falcons maybe facing “Mission Impossible” when the high-flying undefeated New Orleans Saints come to town for a huge NFC South game.  The Saints quite possibly be the best team in the NFL, but they will need to be on their guard Atlanta still has some fight left.  The key will be whether the Falcons get back their injured offensive weapons QB Matt Ryan (turf tow) and RB Michael Turner (ankle).  Last week, the Eagles had no problems with the depleted Falcons.  However the Saints are undefeated and the Falcons would like nothing more than to stop their streak and inch back into the NFC wildcard race.  Watch for Saints QB Drew Brees and his track team of pass catchers (Meachem, Henderson, Colston, Moore, Bush, Shockey, and others) to light up the NFL’s 29th rated pass defense.  Plain and simple if struggling back-up QB Chris Redman starts for the Falcons, this game will be a “laugher” for the Saints who are looking to wrap up a 1st round playoff bye  with a win.

Denver Broncos at  Indianapolis Colts —  It is time for the Broncos to show if they are truly a playoff contender as they travel to Indy to face the undefeated Colts.  I love this match-up, because it has a playoff feel to it.  Both teams are making their playoff push and the Broncos (8-4 and have won 2 in a row) want to show they can play with the “Big Boys” in the AFC.  The Colts have so many streaks on the line, but they better be careful as the Broncos still have a good chance of winning the AFC West or claiming one of the AFC’s wildcards.  The match-up I will be most interested in is the battle of two future hall of famers, Colts’ QB Peyton Manning’s offense versus Broncos’ safety Brian Dawkins defense (NFL’s 2nd ranked pass defense).  Watch for the Broncos to continue running the football with their two-headed monster (rookie Knowshon Moreno and veteran Correll Buckhalter – ran for 199 yards last week) as QB Kyle Orton  (torn ligaments in ankle) is banged-up.

San Diego Chargers at Dallas Cowboys – Simple and plain, the Dallas Cowboys season is on the line.  The Cowboys sick of everyone talking about a December Swoon (5-9 since QB Tony Romo) so now it is time for them to turn-up the heat in Jerry Jones billion-dollar playground.  Unfortunately for the Cowboys they are playing the red-hot Chargers, who are on an 8-game winning streak and are 15-0 in December going back to 2006.  The key will be whether Romo (392-yard passing last week) and WR Miles Austin can hook-up for some big plays against the Chargers stingy defense led by LB Shawne Merriman.  Also watch for Chargers Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers throwing the ball against the Cowboys’ 20th ranked defense.  A final storyline to this game is that Romo has been enlisted to hold for struggling kicker Nick Foulk – remember the last time “butterfingers” held for kicks causing Dallas to lose 21-20 to the Seattle Seahawks in a 2006 Wildcard Game.

Other games of interest

Miami Dolphins at  Jacksonville — In a “Battle for Florida” special, the Jaguars will host the Dolphins and it should be a good one as both teams are making their playoff push.  The Dolphins have shelved the “Wildcat” for QB Chad Henne throwing the ball and the Jags will be looking for a big game from Maurice Jones-Drew aka “Pocket Hercules”.

Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots — With the Dolphins and Jets getting dangerously close, the Patriots will need to find their playoff pedigree when they host the Carolina Panthers this week.  The Patriots have lost 3 games in a row and they desperately want to find their swagger back to stay in the lead in the AFC East.  The key will be the Patriots defense stopping the run and getting pressure on Panthers QB Matt Moore (Pats only have 20 sacks this year).  Maybe new daddy Patriots QB Tom Brady and his favorite targets (WR’s Wes Welker and Randy Moss) can get back on track in the bad weather of New England.  Watch for corners Leigh Bodden (Patriots) and Chris Gamble (Panthers) making big plays in this game.

Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings – In a true test that will show the NFL where the Bengals stand in the league’s pecking order, Cincy will hit the road to Metrodome to face the angry Vikings.  Hard to believe, but could this improbable pairing of two soon-to-be divison winners be a preview to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.  I lover the match-up of RB’s Bengals Cedric Benson and the Vikings Adrian Peterson in this game.  Benson is rejuvenated and looks like the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and Peterson is a workhorse.  Both pass defenses should be tested on the Metrodome’s fast track, so expect the Bengals Chad Ochocinco (What will he do next?) and Vikings WR’s Percy Harvin, Benard Berrian, and Sidney Rice to have huge games.  Also watch for the play of Vikings veteran QB Brett Favre, who finally had a bit of a hiccup last week (2 INTs in a loss).  

Week 14 Games

Thursday, December 10

Browns (2-11) over Steelers (6-7), 13-6

Sunday, December 13

New Orleans (12-0) at Atlanta (6-6), 1:00 PM (FOX)

Green Bay (8-4) at Chicago (5-7), 1:00 PM (FOX)  

St. Louis (1-11) at Tennessee (5-7), 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Denver (8-4) at Indianapolis (12-0), 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Buffalo (4-8) at Kansas City (3-9), 1:00 PM (CBS) 

NY Jets (6-6) at Tampa Bay (1-11), 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Miami (6-6) at Jacksonville (7-5), 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Detroit (2-10) at Baltimore (6-6), 1:00 PM (FOX)

Seattle (5-7) at Houston (5-7), 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Cincinnati (9-3) at Minnesota (10-2), 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Carolina (5-7) at New England (7-5), 1:00 PM (FOX)

Washington (3-9) at Oakland (4-8) 4:05 PM (FOX) 

San Diego (9-3) at Dallas (8-4), 4:15 PM (CBS)  

Philadelphia (8-4) at NY Giants (7-5), 8:20 PM (NBC)

Monday, December 14

Arizona (8-4) at San Francisco (5-7), 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 Season – Week 12 Preview

With only six games left for all NFL teams entering Week 12 of the 2009 NFL Season, there is definitely a sense of urgency.  With the 3rd quarter pole of the season in sight, now is the time for teams to separate into “Contenders” and “Pretenders” for the NFL’s 12 coveted 2009 playoff berths.  After 10 weeks of play, there are still the “Have’s” including two undefeated teams (Colts and Saints both 10-0) and the “Have Nots” (nine teams with 3 or less wins).  But there are also 15 teams currently caught in the league’s parity-filled middle (records ranging from 4-6 to 6-4, entering Week 12) that still need to figure out, if they are joining or jumping out of the playoff hunt. 

With all the talk of the Have’s and the Have Nots around the NFL each week there are a couple common characteristics that I have seen with many winning teams around the league.

  1. They don’t turn the football over
  2. They have balance offensively and make sure to run the football
  3. Constant pressure (hits and sacks) on quarterbacks where they don’t’ feel comfortable in the pocket, which leads to turnovers
  4. Adjustments during weekly preparation and within games too. 
  5. Quality of Roster Depth, because every team is “banged” up and most have lost players for the rest of the season due to injury.
  6. Strong Special Teams – Returns (punt and kickoff)  for good yardage and touchdowns plus good coverage units, punters able to play the field position game, and ice-water kickers.

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 (10-0 to 4-6 teams)

 

ARI (7-3)                @TEN     MIN        @SF        @DET     STL          GB

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

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

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

CHI  (4-6)               @MIN    STL          GB           @BAL      MIN        @DET

CIN  (7-3)               CLE          DET         @MIN    @SD       KC           @NYJ

DAL  (8-3)                               @NYG     SD           @NO      @WAS    PHI

DEN  (7-4)                              @KC       @IND     OAK        @PHI      KC

GB (7-4)                                 BAL          @CHI      @PIT      SEA          @ARI

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

IND (10-0)             @HOU    TEN         DEN         @JAC      NYJ          @BUF

JAC (6-4)                @SF        HOU        MIA         IND         @NE       @CLE

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

MIN (9-1)               CHI          @ARI      CIN          @CAR     @CHI      NYG

NE (7-3)                 @NO      @MIA     CAR         @BUF     JAC          @HOU

NO (10-0)              NE           @WAS    @ATL      DAL         TB            @CAR

NYG (6-5)                               DAL         PHI          @WAS    CAR         @MIN

NYJ (4-6)                CAR         @BUF     @TB        ATL          @IND     CIN

PHI (6-4)                                WAS        @ATL      @NYG     SF            DEN         @DAL

PIT (6-4)                 @BAL      OAK        @CLE      GB           BAL          @MIA

SD (7-3)                  KC           @CLE      @DAL     CIN          @TEN     WAS

SF (4-6)                  JAC          @SEA      ARI          @PHI      DET         @STL

TEN (4-6)                ARI          @IND     STL          MIA         SD           @SEA

Week 12 in the NFL: 

Three Thanksgiving Games – America’s holiday featured 3 games that were not even close.  In the most traditional match-up, the Green Packers invaded Detroit for a 34-12 win that now firmly puts them in the NFC playoff hunt.  The Dallas Cowboys continued their dominance on Turkey Day (Romo is now  4-0 on the holiday) by throttling the Oakland Raiders 24-7.  And lastly, the NFL’s nightcap featuring the Denver Broncos and NY Giants didn’t turn out to be the desperation bowl everyone thought it would be.  The Broncos ended their four game losing streak with their 26-6 win over the G-Men, who are falling apart after a 5-0 start.

Ten divisional match-ups  — Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions on Thursday (Packers 34-12 win), Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Bucs at Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks at St Louis Rams, Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans, and Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (SNF).

Several must-win games for playoff hopefuls trying to stay in the hunt  — Steelers at Ravens, Bears at Vikings, Colts at Texans and Patriots at Saints

NFL Week 12

THU, NOV 26 

Green Bay (7-4) over Detroit (2-9), 34-12

Dallas (8-3) over Oakland (3-8),  24-7

Denver (7-4) over NY Giants (6-5),  26-6

SUN, NOV 29 

Tampa Bay at Atlanta 1:00 PM (FOX)

Miami at Buffalo 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Cleveland at Cincinnati 1:00 PM (CBS)

Arizona at Tennessee 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Seattle at St. Louis 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Chicago at Minnesota 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Carolina at NY Jets 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Washington at Philadelphia 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Indianapolis at Houston 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Kansas City at San Diego 4:05 PM (CBS)  

Jacksonville at San Francisco 4:05 PM (CBS)  

Pittsburgh at Baltimore 8:20 PM (NBC)

MON, NOV 30 

New England at New Orleans 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 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)

2009 NFL Season – Week 9 Preview by Lloyd Vance

tony_romo

All eyes will be on Lincoln Financial Field in Philly in Week 9 as QB Tony Romo lead the Dallas Cowboys against the Philadelphia Eagles on NBC Sunday Night Football

The second half of the 2009 NFL Season is here and now the “real” fun begins as teams confirm their status as a “Contender” or “Pretender”.  Many people around the NFL, including yours truly, are excited about the second half of the season kicking off as almost all bye weeks are over (Week 9 — Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, St. Louis, Minnesota, NY Jets and Week 10 — NY Giants, Houston).  And the games each week have a heightened level of significance in terms of teams jockeying for division titles and the league’s coveted 12 playoff berths.  Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said of starting the second half of the 2009 season, “It’s a new season, we have a nine-game schedule and we open with Baltimore.”

The NFL as usual is parity-laden this time of the year as there are 15 teams above .500 and 12 teams below the .500 mark.  But there is still a lot of sorting out left to do with the group of 12 teams currently residing in the league’s “Any Given Sunday” middle with records ranging from 5-3 to 3-4 (Texans (5-3), Giants (5-3), Jets (4-4), Ravens (4-3), Chargers (4-3), Falcons (4-3), Bears (4-3), Cardinals (4-3), Niners (3-4), Dolphins (3-4),  Panthers (3-4), and Jaguars (3-4).  In the coming weeks, the Stuck in the Middle” teams will either join the playoff hunt or fall back which always is the fun part of the third quarter of the NFL season.  But nothing in the NFL is predictable and there is a lot most football to be played.  Since 1990, when the current 12-team playoff format was adopted, 47 teams (20.6 percent of the 228 playoff clubs) have advanced to the postseason after starting the season with a .500 or worse record after eight games. 

Even the NFL’s two undefeated teams, the New Orleans Saints (7-0) and Indianapolis Colts (7-0), know that nothing is guaranteed in today’s NFL and that they better put away any thoughts of catching the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins and concentrate on their opponents for this week – both have tough divisional battles Saints-Panthers and Colts-Texans.  The Colts are 7-0 for the fourth time in the past five seasons, but they begin a stretch that will see them play teams that are a combined 19-11 (.633) over the next four games.  Colts receiver Reggie Wayne said of his team’s record and where they currently stand, “We know that 7-0 guarantees us nothing, we’ve gotten farther than this in the past and came out with nothing.  We just want to stay dialed in and continue to win games.”

The factor that everyone hopes will lead to being in the playoff hunt come late December is “adjustments”.  The NFL is a copycat league where teams can catch-up quickly and adjustments are the only way to stay ahead of the pack and combat falling behind.  With only eight more weeks of action after this week, it is time for the “good” coaches to make the adjustments necessary to get their teams back on track or keeping them at the top.  Remember early season results are important (don’t want to get too far behind), but good coaches realize that they want their team peaking in the championship months of November and December. 

The halfway point of the season also seems like a good time to start talking about the NFL’s 8 divisional races.  Entering Week 9, seven teams that did not win their division in 2008 either were at the top or tied for first place in their division.  If this pattern holds true, the 2009 season will break the NFL record for new division winners since realignment in 2002 (Six new division winners in 2003 and 2008).

Here’s the current division breakdown:

NFC East — 2008 Champion was the NY Giants and this season the Eagles and Cowboys have a ½ game lead over the Giants.

NFC West– 2008 Champion was the Arizona Cardinals and this season the Cardinals have a 1-game lead over the Giants.

NFC South– 2008 Champion was the Carolina Panthers and this season the New Orleans Saints have a 3-game lead over the Falcons.

NFC North– 2008 Champion was the Minnesota Vikings and this season the Vikings have a 2 ½ game lead over the Packers and Bears

AFC East– 2008 Champion was the Miami Dolphins and this season the New England Patriots have a 1 ½ game lead over the New Jets.

AFC West– 2008 Champion was the San Diego Chargers and this season the Denver Broncos have a 2-game lead over the Chargers.

AFC South– 2008 Champion was the Tennessee Titans and this season the Indianapolis Colts have a 1 ½ game lead over the Houston Texans.

AFC North– 2008 Champion was the Pittsburgh Steelers and this season the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have a 1-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens.

Some of the more compelling storylines that we will be following in the NFL’s second half include:

  • Can either the New Orleans Saints or Indianapolis Colts go undefeated for the entire 2009 season
  • Can the Vikings and veteran quarterback Brett Favre  continue their magic carpet ride into the playoffs
  • Are the Patriots and Steelers truly back after producing winning streaks going into their recent bye weeks?
  • Could it be possible that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not win a game in 2009 and match the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16)
  • Which coach currently on the hot seat (Browns Eric Mangini, Redskins Jim Zorn, Raiders Tom Cable, Bills Dick Jauron, Panthers John Fox and others) will be the first one issued their pink slip

After so many weeks containing five or more blowouts, let’s hope that Week 9’s many great match-ups live up to their hype.

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals – The Ravens (4-3) will visit the Bengals (4-3) in a matchup between two fighting to be near the top of the AFC North.  The Ravens are looking for revenge from a Week 5 home loss to the Bengals so don’t expect many pleasantries.  To make matters worse, Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco sent the Ravens secondary and linebackers some gift baskets of deodorant sticks in anticipation of this week’s game (i.e. No. 85 is saying the Ravens’ D stinks).  Ochocinco better be careful as the Ravens showed last week against the Broncos (30-7 victory) that they mean business after a much-needed bye. 

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans – In what looks like a primo AFC South battle, the Texans –- have won three games in a row — will look to get to a 6-3 record for the first time their franchise’s history and get some respect around the NFL.  Quite frankly, this game could make or break the Texans’ season as they try to make the jump from a perennial 8-8 squad to being a playoff contender.  However the task of beating the Colts is daunting one as Indianapolis has now won 16 consecutive regular season games and can tie the 1933-34 Chicago Bears for the third-longest streak in NFL history with a win this Sunday.  Of this Sunday’s matchup Colts QB Peyton Manning said, “We’re heading into the teeth of our schedule”.  Manning will also be shooting for two decade milestones and NFL firsts in the game — 19 passing yards from 40,000 passing yards and 4 TDs from 300 touchdown passes.  Also watch for Colts DE Dwight Freeney who has recorded a sack in 7 consecutive games this season — needs one sack on to tie teammate Robert Mathis’ start of season record (8) from 2005.

San Diego Chargers at New York Giants – Remember the 2004 NFL Draft…well I know the Chargers and Giants do.  In April of 2004, the Giants and Chargers swapped quarterbacks Eli Manning (foot) and Philip Rivers in a trade that will forever link the two young passers.  Rivers and the Chargers are looking to continue their recent found winning ways.  While Manning’s team is trying to end an ugly 3-game losing streak that has saw them slip from 5-0 start to second place in the NFL East.  I am sure the Chargers will attack a beleaguered Giants’ secondary that allowed four plays over 40 yards or more last week against the Eagles. The will need to get pressure from their D-line (when DE Justin Tuck records a sack, the Giants are 15-3) and hope for the healthy return of DL Chris Canty, CB Aaron Ross and LB Michael Boley or could be a long day.  The G-Men will need to keep an eye on Chargers TE Antonio Gates who has an NFL leading 53 TDs since 2002.  The Giants have won five straight vs. the AFC — including Super Bowl XLII – but this is a tough assignment.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos – In the AFC’s marquee match-up of the week, the defending champion Steelers, coming off a bye, will look to extend their winning streak to five consecutive games against the upstart Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football.  The entire country will be watching as these two division leaders clash at INVESCO Field.  One thing is for certain, expect some serious defense in this game as the Broncos are rated No.1 in the NFL in terms of yardage allowed (266.7) and have allowed an average of just 13.7 points per game.  The Steelers are not far behind with an average of 291 yards allowed and only 23.8 points per game.  Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said of his unit, “I think we have the potential to be a very, very good defense.”  The Broncos will try to protect quarterback Kyle Orton by running their backs Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter.  While the Steelers may allow QB Ben Roethlisberger to go no-huddle which gave the Broncos fits in their first loss of the season last week in Baltimore.  Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels said of the match-up after losing first time last week, “You can find out just as much about your team through the adversity of a loss as you can through six wins, now we’ve got to get ready to play against a really good team in Pittsburgh.”

Lloyd’s Leftovers for Week 9

Riggo has a mouthful for the Redskins front office — John Riggins, a hall of fame and former Super Bowl MVP for Washington Redskins, took his battle with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to the big stage.  Appearing on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL”, the talkative former NFL workhorse back let Snyder have it with both guns blazing.  Getting quite personal, Riggins said of the Redskins management, “I’ve been asked this question a lot, when they say do you have an ax to grind…Maybe that’s the case. But truthfully I do have an ax to grind and I just realized I have been a little bit disingenuous. But this is a bad guy that owns this team. I’ll just tell you that upfront. Bad Guy! And if the commissioner is worried about potential new owners and saying some of these guys shouldn’t apply, he might want to police his own inside guys.”  Somehow I don’t see this little tiff going away anytime soon.

Titans’ running back pulls out his crystal ball – Titans RB Chris Johnson feeling real good about his team’s first victory last week over the Jacksonville Jaguars predicted that the Titans (1-6) could run the table to end the season.  Johnson said, “We really believe like we can, like we started off 10-0 last year”.  Fresh off a franchise record 228-yard game against the Jags, Johnson added “Before we played Jacksonville, we sat down and was like we really feel like we can go 10-0 in these last 10 games”.  I will let you decide about Tennessee’s chances and here is the rest of the Titans’ schedule: at 49ers, vs. Bills, at Texans, vs. Cardinals, at Colts, vs. Rams, vs. Dolphins, vs. Chargers, at Seahawks.

The Wildcat returns to it’s NFL birthplace – I know the Patriots haven’t forgotten, but it was in Week 3 of the 2008 season that the Dolphins unleashed the much-talked about ‘Wildcat’ formation on the NFL.  Heady Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning and his quarterbacks coach David Lee surprised the Patriots and the entire NFL by running a form of single-wing in a 38-13 road upset in Foxborough.  The ‘Phins churned out 216 rushing yards and RB Ronnie Brown (17 rushes for 117 yards and 4 TD’s) was spectacular to say the least as a part-time quarterback.  The former Auburn star set a Dolphins franchise record by running for four touchdowns and even threw a perfect left-handed 19-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fassano.  The win stopped the Patriots’ 21-game regular season consecutive win streak and the NFL has never been the same with almost every team in league looking to run a version of the “Wildcat”.  In Week 9, look for the Patriots to load the box with their safeties (Brandon Merriweather and Brandon McGowan) in an attempt to stop the Dolphins vaunted running game (153.4 yards per game) and of course the Wildcat formation.

Sustained Success — The 2008 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers have 99 wins since the start of the 2000 season.  With a victory in Denver on Monday night, the Steelers can become the third team this decade with 100 regular-season wins, joining the Indianapolis Colts (108) and New England Patriots (107).  The Philadelphia Eagles are not far behind from the 100-win mark for this decade as they have 97 wins.  The Colts and Patriots also are within striking distance of the all-time win mark for a decade held by the San Francisco 49ers of the 1990s (113).

Colts hit hard by the injury bug — If the Indianapolis Colts are going to improve upon their current 16-game winning streak and undefeated start (7-0), they will need to find some gems on their depth chart.  This season injuries have ravaged the Colts and this week was no different as CB Kelvin Hayden (knee – 4 weeks), CB Marlin Jackson (ACL – season), and safety Bob Sanders (elbow – season) were lost for significant amounts of time.  Some bigger names listed as either “Out” or “Questionable” are Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin (ankle), Falcons WR Roddy White (knee), Chargers C Nick Hardwick (ankle), Lions WR Calvin Johnson (knee), Donald Driver (stinger), Eagles LB Chris Gocong (quad, hamstring), Patriots RB Sammy Morris (knee), Bears WR Devin Hester (ankle), Ravens DT Haloti Ngata (ankle), Panthers WR Muhsin Muhammed (knee), Eagles WR Kevin Curtis (knee), Bucs WR Antonio Bryant (knee), Colts K Adam Vinatieri (right knee), Patriots DE Jarvis Green (knee), Dolphins LB Channing Crowder (shoulder) and Redskins P Hunter Smith (right groin).

Big Plays are prevalent in the NFL this season — There have been 81 touchdowns of at least 50 yards scored this season.  That is the most through the first eight weeks of a season since 1970.  The previous high was 80 touchdowns of 50+ yards scored in 1998.

Veteran is a good luck charm — New England has won 24 consecutive regular season games with recently re-signed veteran LB Junior Seau on their roster.

NFL Week 9 – Featured Game

Dallas Cowboys (5-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-2), 8:00 PM ET (NBC)

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

NBC’s Sunday Night Football will be alive as one of the biggest rivalries in the NFL will be showcased this week.  To die-hard Eagles fans there are only really two games a year that really matter and both of them are against the hated Dallas Cowboys. To make things even more interesting, this year’s first battle between these two bitter rivals is for first place in the NFC East. NBC football analyst Tony Dungy said of the match-up, “Philadelphia and Dallas are playing great in all three phases it’s setting up a big showdown game – with first place in the NFC East on the line – on Sunday night.”  Both the Cowboys enter the game riding win streaks — Cowboys have won three consecutive games and the Eagles have a two game winning streak themselves.   The last time these two teams met in Week 17 of the 2008 season, the Eagles trounced the Cowboys 44-6 at Lincoln Financial Field to knock Dallas from the playoff race.

Expect there to be plenty of offensive fireworks as both teams have several big play threats – Cowboys ranked 2nd in NFL with an average of 411.1 yards per game and the Eagles are not far behind averaging 344.4 yards.  The Cowboys have been led by quarterback Tony Romo (won 12 consecutive November starts) and emerging receiver Miles Austin (26 catches for 563 yards, 21.7 ypc average and 6 TDs) have scored 101 points (33.7 per game) throughout the 2009 season, but especially during their recent 3-game winning streak.  Romo surely will be looking to hit his favorite target TE Jason Witten (37 receptions for 348 yards, and 1 TD) over the middle as tight ends from the Bucs’ Kellen Winslow to the Raiders’ Zach Miller have torched the Eagles in coverage.  It will be up new Eagles MLB Will Witherspoon and FS Sean Jones to keep Witten in check or it maybe a long day for Sean McDermott’s defense.  Also watch for the Cowboys to run the football with their three-headed backfield (Tashard Choice, Felix Jones, and Marion Barber) to slowdown the Eagles blitz-happy defense (23 sacks).  Conversely the Eagles have gone from a methodical team that moved the chain with short secure passes to a unit that is a quick strike big play team –four touchdowns of 40 yards or more in Week 8 win over the Giants. 

Last week, the Eagles scored 40 points in a 23-point victory over the New York Giants, which was the team’s largest margin of victory over the Giants since 1996.  In Philadelphia’s five wins this season, the team has averaged 34.4 points per game.  The Eagles offense will look for returning RB Brian Westbrook (concussion) to help quarterback Donovan McNabb (80-133, 1008 yards, 9 TDs, 1 INT, and a 103.2 rating) and emerging young players RB LeSean McCoy, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Brent Celek.  However any offensive talk for the Eagles will start and end with number one threat WR/PR DeSean Jackson (will be shadowed by Cowboys former Pro Bowl corner Terrence Newman).  The former 2nd rounder from Cal has scored six touchdowns of at least 50 yards this year, becoming just the second player in NFL history – Pro Football Hall of Famer Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch (1951) – to score six 50-yard touchdowns in the first seven games of a season. Jackson said of his feat, “I’ve just been put in some great positions to score long touchdowns”.  The charismatic and borderline cocky playmaker added, “Whatever we need to do to make it work, that’s what we’re going to do.  I want to keep winning, keep making plays and hopefully make it to the Super Bowl.”

On defense, the Eagles are ranked 10th against the pass and 12th against the run, but they are always looking for the turnover.  The Eagles are third in the NFL with 14 INTs plus they currently sport a +12 turnover ratio (2nd in the NFL).   Pressure from the Eagles’ D-line led by former Pro Bowl pass rusher Trent Cole (6.5 sacks) has led to Pro Bowl corner Asante Samuel (5 INTs) making big plays.  The Cowboys defense also is predicated on pressure (LB DeMarcus Ware – 5 sacks in ’09) which has helped them stop the run (ranked 13th in the NFL), but also has left Dallas susceptible to big plays in their secondary.  Other than Newman, the other members in Dallas’ secondary have had a lot of problems in coverage, especially safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Ken Hamlin. 

As always injuries will be a big part of this game as the Cowboys’ injury list includes: CB Allen Rossum (hamstring – out), RB Marion Barber (thumb), DT Jay Ratliff (knee), S Gerald Sensabaugh (thumb), and LB DeMarcus Ware (foot).  Conversely the Eagles will be missing WR Kevin Curtis (knee) and most likely LB Chris Gocong (quadricep, hamstring) with other players on their injury list like DE Victor Abiamiri (knee), DT Brodrick Bunkley (knee), DE Chris Clemons (shoulder, elbow), G Nick Cole (knee), S Macho Harris (ankle), DE Darren Howard (ankle), and CB Dimitri Patterson (quadricep, hand).

LV’s Pick: – Watch for special teams in this game as Cowboys returnman Patrick Crayton  has been playing very well of late — had an 82-yard punt return touchdown last week to become the 2nd Cowboy with punt return for a touchdown in consecutive games (“Bullet” Bob Hayes in 1968).  And Eagles kicker David Akers’ leg is looking stronger than ever (61 points – 3rd in NFC and 13-16 FGs).  In picking this game there are some trends to keep in mind. Since 2004, each team has won four games in this series.  But lately the Eagles have been on top, winning four of the past six meetings and 14 of the last 20 games in this series. Even though the Cowboys ead the overall series, (55-44 including the playoffs), expect the Eagles and McNabb (won 11 of last 16 starts against Dallas) to rise to the occasion of playing on National TV – Eagles 31, Cowboys 28

NFL Week 9  

SUN, November 8 

Washington at Atlanta 1:00 PM (FOX)

Arizona at Chicago 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Baltimore at Cincinnati 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Houston at Indianapolis 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Miami at New England 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Green Bay at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Kansas City at Jacksonville 1:00 PM (CBS)

Detroit at Seattle 4:05 PM (FOX) 

Carolina at New Orleans 4:05 PM (FOX) 

San Diego at NY Giants 4:15 PM (CBS)  

Tennessee at San Francisco 4:15 PM (CBS)  

Dallas at Philadelphia 8:20 PM (NBC)

MON, November 9 

Pittsburgh at Denver 8:30 PM (ESPN)

Bye: Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, St. Louis, Minnesota, NY Jets 

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 Season – Week 8 Preview

favre_brett

The return of former Packers legend and current Vikings QB Brett Favre to Lambeau Field is probably the most anticipated event of Week 8 of the 2009 NFL Season

I am dubbing Week 8 of the 2009 NFL Season, “Homecoming Week”.  Every fall at high schools and colleges around the country, homecoming is a special time in autumn for old friends/family to bond while sharing good memories, enjoying some great football action and of course eating.  Make no bones about it… people love gathering around to watch the NFL.  In fact, according to the latest Nielsen ratings, last week’s FOX doubleheader game (mostly Falcons-Cowboys) was the most-watched sporting event since Super Bowl XLIII with 28.4 million viewers –- beat the Angels-Yankees series-clinching ALCS Game 6) by 12.9 million viewers.

Halloween this weekend will bring its usual bags of candy, ghosts and goblins.  But everyone around the NFL is talking about some “Back to the Future” games where old stars are returning to places of past glories, past playoff match-ups will be replayed and rivalries will be renewed around the league.  If you can believe it, Green Bay, Wisconsin will be the epicenter of the NFL universe this week.  Without a need to say, the league’s biggest homecoming will occur Sunday at Lambeau Field as former Packers great QB Brett Favre will return for the first time ever in another team’s uniform.  This is Brett’s homecoming, let’s be real about it,” says Green Bay safety Atari Bigby.  “It’s going to be special.  Everybody wants to see this.  Everybody’s going to tune in to this game.”  How big is Favre’s return??  Both Fox Sports and the NFL Network have been promoting one-on-one sit-downs with No. 4 on Sunday morning.  Plus Fox, who is broadcasting the game, will have a camera dedicated to shooting every move Favre makes during his return to Lambeau Field on Sunday.  The camera will be set up at the 50-yard line and its video will stream live on NFL.com and FoxSports.com    

Amidst a nasty battle between Favre and Packers GM Ted Thompson, the 19-year veteran quarterback left Green Bay in a huff after 16 magical years to play for the NY Jets and the starting job was handed to Aaron Rodgers (currently ranks second in the NFL with a 110.8 passer rating), right before the start of the 2008 season.  As everyone probably knows – most likely from ESPN’s Monday Night Football Favre-fest – back in Week 4, Favre already re-acquainted himself and his new team to his old team as the Vikings defeated the Packers 30-23 in Minnesota -– No. 4 had 271 yards and three touchdown passes in the win. However this Sunday will be something real special as Favre – holder of numerous Packers records including most games (255), wins (160), attempts (8,754), completions (5,377), yards (61,655), touchdowns (442) and passer rating (85.8) – will return to the frozen tundra as the starting quarterback of the hated Vikings.  Favre fans loyalties will be stretched farther than Vikings and Packers No. 4 jerseys on some plus sized cheesehead’s back.  It will be real interesting to see if cheeseheads will cheer, boo, hold-up signs of encouragement or discouragement for their departed folk hero, who put Green Bay back on the football map in the 1990’s then broke their hearts in the summer of 2009 by signing  with the Vikings. 

Earlier this season, Favre said this of the 2009 Minnesota Vikings, “Physically, and from a talent level, this is the best team I’ve ever been on.” Well…Brett a few members of your Super Bowl winning Packers squad from 1996 have begged to differ.  Former Packers TE Mark Chmura, a member of the ’96 team, said “It all starts with Brett — Brett’s not as good as he was”.  Chmura added, “I mean, you’re talking about the No. 1 defense in the league at that time, maybe one of the best defenses ever to play the game.  Don’t get me wrong. Favre is still a good quarterback, but he was unbelievable in the day. When we played back then, teams feared us. I don’t know if teams fear the Minnesota Vikings today. We knew no one could beat us at home, absolutely nobody.”  In planning for Favre’s return several restaurants are only serving “Waffle” fries in honor of the NFL’s biggest waffler and Green Bay’s mayor decreed that Friday in the town would be called “Flip-Flop Friday” (year after year the legend said that he was going to retire then inexplicably came back near training camp).

Favre said of his return to Wisconsin, “My career with Green Bay speaks for itself, that won’t change.  For three hours, I’ll be on the other side.  Do I know what that feels like? I have no idea”.  It will be interesting to see if the man that was one of the originators of the Lambeau Leap will venture into the stands after being part of a Vikings’ touchdown…probably not.  But most Packers fans I have talked to will always remember Favre winning games for their team in the snow of Lambeau Field. One puzzled fan recently told Yahoo Sports, “I have a real problem with that. It was hard enough to see him with the Jets. But to see him in purple! I still believe he belongs to us.” With a win, Favre (89 wins at Lambeau) can become the second quarterback to win 90 games at a stadium since 1970 – Broncos QB John Elway won 95 games at Mile High Stadium.

The great thing as we move closer to the midpoint of the 2009 season is that self separation has begun and teams in the next couple of weeks will either legitimize their “Contender” or “Pretender” status.  The NFL has turned into the land of the Have’s (15 teams over .500 including 3 undefeated teams) and the Have Not’s (12 teams under. 500 including 3 winless teams) with only five teams  stuck at .500 in the league’s ever shrinking middle.   There are currently three undefeated teams through the first seven weeks –– Denver Broncos (6-0), Indianapolis Colts (6-0) and New Orleans Saints (6-0) –- which is the first time since the 1970 merger.  You have to wonder how much longer each of these squads can keep chasing the ghosts of the perfect 1972 Miami Dolphins, but each team is showing weekly that they are special. 

The Saints last week overcame a 24-3 deficit to defeat the Miami Dolphins 46-34 in one of the league’s best games so far this season. The Colts led by rookie head coach Jim Caldwell and 3-time MVP QB Peyton Manning have won 15th straight games.  With a win against San Francisco in Week 8, the Colts can tie four other teams with the fourth-longest regular season winning streak in NFL history (Patriots hold the record at 21 games from 2006-08). Plus Colts QB Peyton Manning with five completions against the 49ers can become the fourth player in NFL history with 4,000 career completions.  And the Denver Broncos led by energetic rookie head coach Josh McDaniels have turned the NFL on its ear with a defense that leads the AFC in yards allowed (262.5 yards per game).  All three unbeatens will be tested this week as none of them face a team under .500 and know you teams always get up to face the “bully”. 

The Broncos will travel east to visit the Baltimore Ravens (3-3), who are fighting mad over some bad officiating – so their defense says – and three consecutive losses.  The Colts will probably get their toughest test of this season as the upstart San Francisco 49ers (3-3) come to town.  The Niners have also hit a little skid after being one of the hottest teams in the NFL during the first few weeks of the season, but tough head coach Mike Singletary and returning former starter QB Alex Smith will try to fire up their team to face the NFL’s closest thing to cyborg-winning robots.  Caldwell recently said of his winning team, “This team is going to get better as time goes on.  The effort and execution are both improving every single week.  The thing I’m really pleased about, overall, is that we just keep getting better every week.  Any time you get a win in this league, it’s big.”  The undefeated Saints probably have the toughest assignment of three unblemished teams as the Atlanta Falcons (4-2) will travel to the Louisiana Superdome for an NFC South Monday Football showdown. 

Favre-a-palooza is not the only interesting storyline going into Week 8, so here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers for this week.

Former high draft picks returning to starting quarterback roles – Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young (playing against Jaguars) and San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith (playing against Colts) will look to not only reinvigorate their teams, but also their own once-promising careers in their first starts in a while.  Young (18-11 as a starter) got his job back this week as Titans owner Bud Adams lobbied with hesitant head coach Jeff Fisher for him to start after the Titans remained winless under veteran Kerry Collins (5 TDs and 8 INTs  in ’09).  Smith, formerly the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, has been re-inserted back in the starting lineup by Iron Mike II after he threw 3 TDs in relieving former starter Shaun Hill in the second half of a close 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans last week.  The former Utah star will have his work cut-out for him as the Colts boast one of the NFL’s best pass defenses.

Rematches from last year’s NFC Divisional Playoffs – I wonder if the Carolina Panthers remember the way the upstart Arizona Cardinals rolled into Bank America Stadium and easily disposed of their hosts by a score of 33-13.  You know Panthers QB Jake Delhomme — probably on the NFL’s shortest leash right now due to throwing an NFL-high 13 INTs — will be trying to erase his 6 turnover performance in the playoffs that many are calling a career-ender.  The Cardinals (4-2) fueled by a 3-game winning and a surprisingly strong defense — seven interceptions, have forced eight fumbles and have 16 sacks already this year — will look to push the Panthers (2-4) almost out the door of the playoff picture. Also looking to exact revenge  are  the New York Giants (5-2), who  will visit the Philadelphia Eagles (4-2) in a key NFC East divisional matchup.  The big game on Philly Sports Sunday (World Series at 8 PM) will also be a  return battle of two teams from last year’s playoffs (Eagles 23, Giants 11).

Don’t forget about the Toilet Bowl – Every week we talk about the NFL’s best match-up.  But this week I wanted to give some “love” to possibly the NFL’s worst pairing since the Cleveland Browns’ 6-3 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 5. The St. Louis Rams (0-7) will travel to Motown to face the Detroit Lions (1-5) in a match-up of two teams that have 1 game between them this season.  The game will be a battle pitting the only team to ever go 0-16 in NFL history (Lions in ’08) against a team that is threatening to equal that mark.  Collectively these two lower level teams have won just five wins in their past 39 games. The poor Rams have lost 17 straight games going back to 2007 and each week not even Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson (635 rushing yards – 2nd in NFC) can save them from defeat.  The Rams hold a lead in the all-time series record (41-37-1), but the Lions have won 4 of their last 6 meetings. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your outlook, the ‘Toilet Bowl’ did not sell out by Thursday’s deadline and will be blacked-out on local TV.  At least fans can bring signs to the game unlike at FedEx Field where the dysfunctional Washington Redskins play.

NFL is a Passing League First – Whatever to the power running game throughout the NFL?? Hard to believe that in 1967, New York Jets QB Joe Namath (4,007 yards) became the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.  Well Namath’s feat did not go in vain as seven passers reached the 4,000-yard mark in 2007, which is the most in any NFL season.  However the record for most 4,000-yard passers in a season has a good chance of being broken as through seven weeks, 10 quarterbacks led by yardage leader Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub (2,074 yards) are on pace to throw for 4,000 yards. 

Six Divisional Games – Even though there are six teams on a bye this week including quality teams the Bengals (5-2), Patriots (5-2), and Steelers (5-2), don’t fret as there are still some good divisional rivalry games to sink your teeth into.  Nothing means more to teams and fans than beating familiar foes that they will face twice a year.  Division games usually are the most compelling and heated.  This week’s games include the following division rivalry match-ups:  Dolphins (2-4) at Jets (4-3); Giants (5-2) at Eagles (4-2) ; Jaguars (3-3) at Titans (0-6); Raiders (2-5) at Chargers (3-3); Vikings (6-1) at Packers (4-2) and Falcons (4-2) at Saints (6-0) on MNF.

McNabb reaching some serious milestones – With almost every Philadelphia Eagles passing record already on his mantle, we already knew that current Eagles starting quarterback Donovan McNabb was the greatest quarterback to ever play for the Birds – Sorry Jaws.  But now McNabb after achieving some major milestones in the Eagles’ 27-17 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, some are debating over whether he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his career is completed.  McNabb became one of just four players in NFL history to have at least 30,000 passing yards (30,088), 200 touchdowns passes, 3,000 rushing yards (3,169) and 20 rushing touchdowns (27).  With those stats, McNabb joined an exclusive club of quarterbacks with those milestones including NFL legends and Pro Football Hall of Famers John Elway, Fran Tarkenton, and Steve Young.

Ochocinco’s Top 10 – One of the funnier moments of this week was the appearance of Bengals talkative receiver on the “David Letterman Show”.  No. 85 used his bye week to promote his new book including reading his “Top Ten Revelations in Chad Ochocinco’s Autobiography” on the popular late night show.  It was hilarious to watch live, but it is almost as good in print.  So without further adieu here is the list

Number 10: This book is all about my life as a hockey mom from Alaska.

Number 9: I was once put on the disabled list when they found an ocho in my cinco.

Number 8: During the season my QB Carson Palmer and I sleep in bunk beds.

Number 7: I’m going to ask Tom Hanks to play me in the movie.

Number 6: There’s nothing like winding down after a big game with a Red Bull and a DVR of “Tyra.”

Number 5: I like tacos.

Number 4: Brett Favre is so old, his Social Security Number is 1.

Number 3: Terrell Owens doesn’t like it when you criticize his teammate.

Number 2: I’m planning a special touchdown celebration that involves pulling a dancing raccoon out of my pants.

Number 1: I thank the Lord every day that I don’t play for the Lions.

Remember there is no Sunday Night Football game on NBC this week as everyone will have their eyes on my Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series against the New York Yankees. 

Also make sure that you cast your Pro Bowl ballot for your favorite players.

Featured Game

NEW YORK GIANTS (5-2) AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-2), 1PM EST on FOX

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

Though some national media outlets will tell you that Green Bay, Wisconsin will be the place to be on Sunday, November 1st  for Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau.  Most sports fans will agree with legendary actor W.C Fields who used to always say, “I’d rather be in Philadelphia”.  The reason for sports fans flocking to South Philadelphia will be for a sports extravaganza featuring the Philadelphia vs. New York City.  With pleasant expected conditions of only a 30% chance of precipitation and temperatures in the 60s, Philadelphia fans maybe looking at one of the best sports days in the city’s history.  The Philadelphia Eagles will take on the New York Giants in an NFC East grudge match at 1:00 PM EST at Lincoln Financial Field then sports fans can return to their tailgates to recharge for World Series Game 4 featuring the New York Yankees vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. 

Eagles-Giants games are almost always close physical games and I don’t expect Sunday to be any different.  This week’s meeting will be the first time these two teams have played each other since the Eagles surprised the home team Giants in the divisional round of the 2009 playoffs by a score of 23-11.  The game also will take on significance as the Eagles are only one-half a game behind the Giants in the current standings and a win will vault them back to the top of the NFC East.  In recent weeks both teams have had to fight through some hard times, but you know Sunday that they will be bringing their “A” effort.  The G-Men have lost two straight games (Saints and Cardinal) after fattening up on a string of early season cupcakes.  And the Eagles also are looking for consistency as they have looked like a potential playoff team in wins over the Panthers, Chiefs, and Buccaneers.  But in a win over the Washington Redskins last week and a horrific loss to the putrid Oakland Raiders in Week 6, the Birds’ lackluster play made everyone watch even more Phillies baseball. 

In breaking down the game, the Philadelphia Eagles offensively will follow the lead of their head coach Andy Reid (over 100 career regular season wins).  The Giants are known to play the run well (Top 5 in the NFL), so to the surprise of no one expect the Eagles’ pass-first offense (rank 7th in the NFL in throws per game) to continue.  The Birds probably will be without RB Brian Westbrook (concussion), so look for rookie RB LeSean McCoy to get several touches on screens and for them to go after a Giants defense that has struggled in pass coverage.  Especially safety C.C Brown, who has had difficulty in coverage since safety Kenny Phillips went on injured reserve (knee) and cornerback Aaron Ross has been missing with a lingering hamstring injury.  It will be very important that Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (63-110, 768 yards, 6 TDs, and 1 INT) starts faster than he did in recent erratic performances against the Raiders and Redskins. 

The Giants are susceptible to three and four-receiver formations as they are known to sit back in coverage, so expect to see a lot of receivers DeSean Jackson, rookie Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant.  Without Westbrook, the Eagles surely will look to get the ball in the hands of their main playmaker Jackson, who has 5 touchdowns this season (3 receiving, 1 punt return, and 1 rushing) all 50+ yards.  Plus tight end Brent Celek, who leads NFC TEs with 386 receiving yards.  Of course any big plays from McNabb, Celek, Jackson and the rest of the Birds’ offense will start with solid offensive line play.  I believe the O-line is one of the biggest keys of this game as the Giants defensive line is fast and relentless and loves getting after the passer.  With a rotation that features Pro Bowl players Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck (3.5 sacks in ’09) along with many other fresh players including DE Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants thrive on pressuring the quarterback.  However even though new Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan’s unit is ranked #1 in the NFL in terms of yardage (262.0), in recent weeks when his D-line has not gotten pressure, opposing quarterbacks had big games.  Saints QB Drew Brees threw for 369 yards and 4 TDs in a dominating 48-27 win and he was not sacked once in that game.

On defense, Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be concentrating on getting pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning (120-203, 1633 yards, 12 TDs, and 6 INTs), because as Eli goes so go the Giants.  The last time these two teams met in the divisional round of the 2009 playoffs, Manning was inconsistent, completing 15 of 29 passes — and only six to the outside receivers –- while the Giants had the ball five times inside the Eagles’ 20, and came away with just three field goals to show for it. Manning is getting a very good relationship with Plaxico Burress replacement receivers Steve Smith (NFC leading 45 receptions for 594 yards and 4 TDs), Mario Manningham (watch for drops), and rookie Hakeem Nicks (1st Giants receiver with a touchdown reception in four consecutive games since 1948).  Even though the Eagles’ top-ten pass defense rarely gives up big plays – 4th in the NFL in allowing gains of 20+ yards through the air -– it will be imperative that the Eagles pressure Manning. So the Eagles will look to DE Trent “The Hunter” Cole (6.5 sacks, 2nd in the NFC) and newcomer MLB Will Witherspoon (8 TKLs, 1 INT for a TD, 1 sack and 1 FF in win over Redskins) to supply most of the heat on Peyton’s little brother.  The Eagles are currently ranked first in the NFL in turnover ratio (+11) so any pressure usually leads to big defensive plays especially in the secondary led by Pro Bowl cover corner Asante Samuel (4 INTs, tied for 3rd in NFL).

To take that pressure off Eli, who surprisingly has had success against the Eagles in Philly (has won 4 starts in row), the Giants will look to re-establish a dominating run game that has recently taken a couple of weeks off.  The Giants have a new Thunder-n-Lighting combination their backfield with workhorse Brandon Jacobs (120 rushes for 464 yards, and 3.9-2 ypr plus has an average of 5.45 ypr since Week 5) and Ahmad Bradshaw.  It will be interesting to see if Bradshaw is even close to 100% after a cracked metatarsal in his foot was found this week.  Despite the injury, Bradshaw says he will play against the Birds so you know all eyes will be on him and the Giants veteran O-line.  Speaking of the Giants offensive line, against the Cardinals this group’s 38-game consecutive start streak was ended as OT Kareem McKenzie (groin) had to be replaced by rookie William Beatty who struggled at times blocking one-on-one and penalties. 

LV’s Pick: Though the Giants lead the all-time series against the Eagles by a count of 79-67-2 and the G-Men have won three of the four last regular season meetings, there is something special in the air around Philadelphia this week.  There is nothing better to a Philadelphia Sports fan than “sticking it” to an NYC team, whether it is the Mets, Knicks, or Rangers.  I expect the home crowd to be amp’d from pre-game introductions on and McNabb (won 9 of past 13 starts vs. NYG (incl. playoffs) is going to rise to the occasion of playing in the national spotlight for the second week in a row.  It will be a typically close NFC East slugfest, but the Birds win – Eagles 20, Giants 17.

2009 NFL Week 8 Games

Sunday, November 1

49ers (3-3) at Colts (6-0)

Broncos (6-0) at Ravens (3-3)

Browns (1-6) at Bears (3-3)

Dolphins (2-4) at Jets (4-3)

Giants (5-2) at Eagles (4-2)

Jaguars (3-3) at Titans (0-6)

Panthers (2-4) at Cardinals (4-2)

Raiders (2-5) at Chargers (3-3)

Rams (0-7) at Lions (1-5)

Seahawks (2-4) at Cowboys (4-2)

Texans (4-3) at Bills (3-4)

Vikings (6-1) at Packers (4-2)

 

Monday, November 2

Falcons (4-2) at Saints (6-0)

 

Byes: Bengals (5-2), Buccaneers (0-7), Chiefs (1-6), Patriots (5-2), Redskins (2-5), Steelers (5-2)

 

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)