2010 NFL Wildcard Round: Saints – Seahawks Preview

Saints Head Coach Sean Payton will be looking to guide the defending champs back to the Super Bowl, but first the Seattle Seahawks are their opponents in the Wildcard Round

New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Seattle Seahawks (7-9), Saturday, Jan. 8th, 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Broadcast Team: Tom Hammond, Mike Mayock, and Alex Flanagan (Field Reporter)

Already everyone is moving the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints to the divisional round of the playoffs.  Yes, the Saints have playoff experience and the lowly Seahawks – in the playoffs for the fifth time in the past seven seasons — are the running NFL joke as they are the league’s first losing record playoff team in a full 16-game season.  But these are the playoffs and anything can happen, especially with New Orleans having a host of injuries to some key players (see leading rushers Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory on I/R). The Saints are trying to become the first team to repeat since New England did so in 2003-04, but they will have to take inspiration from the 2007 Giants by winning three road games, starting with Seattle. 

Back in Week 11 these two teams met in New Orleans with the Saints winning by a score of 34-19 and it wasn’t even that close.  In the game, star quarterback Drew Brees (selected to 3rd straight Pro Bowl) passed for numbers 29-43, 382 yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs while getting the ball to WR Marques Colston early and often against an overmatched Seahawks secondary.  I fully expect Brees (448-658, 4620 yards (1st in NFC), 33 TDs (1st in NFC), 22 INTs, and a 90.9 passer rating) and Colston (84 rec, 1023 yards, 12.2 ypr, and 7 TDs) to pick right where they left off, but the Saints have to find balance in this game and that means running the football.  New Orleans will have Reggie Bush in this one (Broken leg earlier in the season), but it will be real interesting to see if former Seahawk Julius Jones wants revenge on his old team.  Whether the Saints’ featured runner is Jones or someone else, expect head coach Sean Payton to attack the Seahawks smallish defense by establishing the run behind his huge offensive line led by Pro Bowl player OG Jahri Evans.

Balance will allow Brees to then go play-action to receivers Colston, Lance Moore, and Robert Meachem – New Orleans led the NFL with a completion percentage of 68% — against a Seahawks defense that allowed an average of 25.4 points per game to their opposition.  It will be incumbent on Seahawks defensive leaders LB Lofa Tatupu, rookie FS Earl Little (5 INTs) and team sacks leader DE Chris Clemons (11 sacks) to make big plays against the Saints high-octane offense.  When the Seahawks have the ball, head coach Pete Carroll will be turning to former Super Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselback – returning from a hip injury – to spark the underdogs.  To tell the truth, I was surprised that the Seahawks are going with Hasselbeck after back-up Charlie “Serpico” Whitehurst played so well the week before in a 16-6 win over the St. Louis Rams for the NFC West title.  And it is no secret that Hasselbeck has to play better for Seattle to have a chance — accounted for 13 turnovers compared to 5 TDs final five regular season starts.  Also somehow Seattle (ran 17 times for 58 yards in first meeting) must get a run game going against a Saints defense that can be vulnerable to physical runners.

I expect Seattle to try and establish running back Marshawn Lynch (202 rushes for 737 yards and 6 TDs) as the former Bills workhorse wants to show he is a playoff caliber back.  Hasselback will also be looking for TE Jeff Carlson and NFL Comeback Player of the Year candidate WR Mike Williams (65 rec, 751 yards, 11.6 ypr, and 2 TDs).  But there are two areas that fans cannot forget when they are breaking down this game.  Turnovers are going to be “huge” in this game as both teams are a negative in turnover ratio (Seattle -9 and New Orleans -6).  Watch for Little for Seattle and a very good secondary for New Orleans led by DB Malcom Jenkins to look to be opportunistic.  And the second area to watch is special teams, the Seahawks have stellar kicker Olindo Mare (3 FGs in WK17 win) and explosive KR Leon Washington (11.3 yards per punt return).  While the Saints have Bush, but are not close to being sold on inconsistent kicker Garret Hartley (20/25 on FG Attempts in 2011).

Saints head coach Sean Payton said of playing the Seahawks in the playoffs, “We’re looking forward to the challenge.  We know it’s going to be a tough place to play.  The crowd noise is as loud as it is in this league for an outdoor venue.  For us, it’s all about playing your best football at the right time, and that time is right now.  Clearly, everyone recognizes that you have to win to advance.”   

LV’s Pick:  I know it is kind of mean to say, but the Seahawks do not belong in the playoffs.  Though I am  all for keeping the existing playoff format, it is a shame that the Bucs and NY Giants, both 10-6, are sitting at home while Seattle is playing.  You expect Seattle’s raucous 12th Man crowd to try and rally the home Seahawks, but Brees, Payton, and Company have been here before.  Look for Brees and the Saints offense to jump out to an early lead then cruise home as they get ready for another meeting with the Falcons.  BTW: If the Seahawks do lose as we expect, you know it will be by 15 points or more — Saints win 28-13

 

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)

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 Preview: Colts-Saints

Head Coach Sean Payton leads the underdog New Orleans Saints against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV

The 2009 NFL season themed, “Own the Moment”, will climax  with Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida as the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints take center stage in the biggest game in sports. The catchy Don King-esque box office selling theme for Super Bowl XLIV should be “History Book vs. Storybook”. 

The Colts have been one of the NFL’s cornerstone teams since their Batimore heyday with NFL legend quarterback Johnny Unitas in the late 1950’s.  In fact Unitas, who led the Colts to victory in the 1958 NFL Championship Game – some call it the Greatest Game Ever – definitely has passed his  winnning ways along to current Colts’ certain Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, who already has led his team to a Super Bowl win back in 2006.  While the Colts have usually been a winning franchise — second Super Bowl in four years and their fourth trip in franchise history — the Saints have always been the NFL’s version of the heartbreak kids – only a 4-6 postseason record in an over 40-year franchise history.  Many years since their inception in 1967 have ended in disappointment for the folks in the Bayou – only ten winning seasons in franchise history. 

There was the brown paper bag wearing years back in the early 1980’s and Peyton’s father, Archie, also took a beating as the Saints starting quarterback during their struggling years (1971-1982).  But the Saints have perservered and now the city known for Mardi Gras is ready to put the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina behind it by the Saints bringing home a Super Bowl title in their team’s first trip to the Big Dance. “There’s no fan base that deserves a championship more than New Orleans and the ‘Who Dat’ nation,” said Brees.  “Just the bond that we have with them is special.  They give us strength.  They give us motivation.  We want to do it for them.” However former Saint Archie Manning will still root on his son’s Colts.  The former Ole Miss legend and Saints first overall pick in 1971 said of the upcoming Super Bowl match-up, “I’m pulling for the Colts 100 percent, it’s not even close”

“Super Bowl Sunday” is America’s unofficial holiday filled with fellowship, trash talk, and of course eating.  Everywhere you turn, people are talking about the Colts and Saints locking horns this Sunday.  Even my 80-year old plus grandmother, who usually is not in front of the television on Sunday’s watching NFL gridiron action, will be attending a Super Bowl party.  She and almost 200 hundred million other folks will be watching this Sunday as the upstart Saints led by former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush take on the Colts and the NFL’s best pitchman, Peyton Manning.  It will be interesting to see if Super Bowl XLIV ends the ‘09 season with a bang or a blowout, which seems to have happened way too much in Super Bowl history.  One of the bigger storylines is that Manning will also be facing the team he grew-up rooting for, the Saints.

No matter how the Super Bowl ends, the 2009 NFL Season will be remembered for explosive offenses and will most likely be themed “The Year of the Quarterback”.   This season, 10 quarterbacks each passed for at least 4,000 yards, which is the most in a single season in NFL history – Texans’ Matt Schaub (4,770), Colts’ Peyton Manning (4,500), Cowboys’ Tony Romo (4,483), Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (4,434), Patriots’ Tom Brady (4,398), Saints’ Drew Brees (4,388), Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (4,328), Chargers’ Philip Rivers (4,254), Vikings’ Brett Favre (4,202) and NY Giants’ Eli Manning (4,021).  The previous record was seven in 2007.  Also twelve quarterbacks passed for at least 25 touchdowns this year, which is the most in a single season in NFL history – Brees (34), Favre (33), P. Manning (33), Rodgers (30), Schaub (29), Brady (28), Rivers (28), Bears’ Jay Culter (27), E. Manning (27), Roethlisberger (26), Romo (26) and Cardinals’ Kurt Warner (26). The previous record was 10 in 2007. 

Not surprisingly two of the quarterbacks who are both great leaders and can really fling-it, Manning and the Saints‘Drew Brees, will meet in Super Bowl XLIV.  Colts head coach Caldwell said of his on the field leader, “Peyton had just an outstanding game. He’s one of those guys that can adjust to different situations. … A real champion.”  Both teams, who seemed to be on a collision course earlier this season — combined 27-0 starts — showed their mettle by turning back extraordinary efforts by the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings in their respective Championship Games to earn tickets to the NFL’s biggest stage.  For a long time this year’s Super Bowl match-up seemed predestined as both of these teams remained undefeated teams through 14 weeks – first time two 13-0 teams in NFL history –  and an 18-0 undefeated showdown seemed very possible.  Of course any talk of the “Perfection” Bowl ended with the Saints losing to the Cowboys in Week 15 and the Colts choosing to “rest” their players in a Week 16 loss to the NY Jets. “Everything that’s happened previously, you can throw out the window,” said Caldwell.  The outstanding rookie head coach added, “Those records don’t matter.  All that matters is what happens from here on, and we know that we’re facing a solid team.” 

Though the match-up will be sans the undefeated part, many people’s intrigue around the Colts-Saints big game should be maximized by the NFL’s first No. 1 Seed battle since 1993 (Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII).  Of course, the two aforementioned marquee quarterbacks taking the field for America’s Game, doesn’t hurt either.  This season, Manning became the NFL’s only 4-time MVP while Brees threw more regular season touchdowns (34) than anyone else in the league.  Offensive fireworks are sure to fly in Super Bowl XLIV as both teams can put up points while their defenses are not known to be the stoutest — Colts ranked 18th in defense and the Saints finished 25th

All the hype around the Super Bowl will be at a fever pitch once Carrie Underwood belts out the national anthem.  The pressure for some players can be suffocating.  But the key for both teams will be focusing on their precious opportunity to win a Super Bowl and forgetting everything else that has transpired in the past 20 weeks leading up to the big game.  As for on the field, don’t forget about our usual playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” all factorin in on who wins this Sunday.

Before we move-on to our preview, in a very odd side note, my crystal ball for the 2008 season said the Colts over the Saints in the Super Bowl.  Of course I am a year late and my picks for this year, the Steelers and NYGiants,  are nowhere to be found.  But no matter, who cares who predicted this match-up all the way back during training camp in July as Super Bowl XLIV should provide some fireworks.

To everyone, I want to wish you a  Happy Super Bowl Sunday !!!

Lloyd’s Leftovers for Super Bowl XLIV

Not much Trash Talking at this Super Bowl – With the mutual respect between the Colts and Saints there has not been the obligatory player trash talking. Remember in Super Bowl XL how then Seattle Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens made some comments about Steelers that got the dander up of then Steelers linebacker Joey Porter.  This time both teams were complimentary and guarded during media day interviews. 

NFL Television numbers support that the league is more popular than ever – Expect a huge contingent of NFL fans and fringe viewers to be watching  this Sunday. There is no doubt,  that the 2009 NFL season kept fans glued to their televisions.  Across America, fans  tuned into NFL games in the largest numbers in two decades.  According to Nielsen Media Research, the average 2009 regular-season game was watched by 16.6 million viewers – up 2 million viewers per game from last year and the NFL’s highest viewership average since 1990 (16.7 million).

Caldwell trying to make history – If Caldwell wins, he will become the 3rd rookie head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl win.  He also would become the third African American head coach to lead his team to victory in football’s biggest game – would join Tony Dungy (Super Bowl XLI) and Mike Tomlin (Super Bowl XLIII).

Watch for everyone’s favorite Super Bowl Ads – Every year one of the bigger events of the Super Bowl is watching the ads.  It was feared with the economy going south that not many companies would be buying time.  I heard CBS will be charging  $3 million or more for a 30-second commercial.

Game Notes and Prediction

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (15-3) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (16-2) (Sunday February 7th, CBS, 6:25 PM ET)      

Broadcast Team: Jim Nance and Phil Simms

The AFC #1 seeded Indianapolis Colts and the NFC #1 seeded New Orleans Saints will square off in Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida.  The road for these two teams was similar (both started the regular season 13-0), but also different.  The Colts won the AFC Championship by dominating the scrappy New York Jets in a 30-17 win.  While the Saints won the NFC Championship in an overtime thriller 31-28 over the Minnesota Vikings when little known kicker Garrett Hartley connected on a 40-yard game-winning field goal. 

The AFC Champion Colts even though they have made it to their second Super Bowl in four years still have something to prove to themselves and their fanbase.  Don’t forget that the Colts still want to prove that they were right in “resting” key players down the stretch of the regular season in order to be prepared for the playoffs.  Colts President Jim Irsay said before resting players at the end of the regular season, “We’d love to get to 16-0. But the biggest focus is going to be on being prepared for that first playoff game.” The AFC’s No. 1 seed chose to not chase the perfect 1972 Dolphins (NFL’s only undefeated Super Bowl winner) in order to chase a Super Bowl victory.

If the Colts are to succeed and shutup their very disgruntled fan base, Manning (regular season stats: 393-571, 4500 yards – 2nd in NFL, 33 TDs (first in AFC), 16 INTs, and a 99.9 QB rating) will need to protect the football and make some plays down the field to his multitude of weapons including Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark, and emerging youngesters Pierre Garcon – the pride of Haiti had 11 catches for 151 yards and 1 TD  in the AFC Championship Game — and Austin Collie.  Even as good as Manning and his offensive passing weapons are, the Colts must find a running game with RB’s Joseph Addai and Donald Brown to keep the Saints from pinning their ears back on every play.  New Orleans will have their hands full as they will be missing pass rusher Charles Grant, who is on I/R, but expect veteran safety Darren Sharper (9 INTs) to spearhead New Orleans’ defensive effort.  

I am sure Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ will have something up his sleeve to rattle Manning (+ 11 in turnover ratio, placing them 3rd in the NFL) and the Colts high flying offense.  But they better be careful as the 4-time MVP is known to dissect a blitz-happy team, just ask the New York Jets (five different targets throughout the AFC Championship).

On defense, the Colts may have to rely on D-lineman Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock to apply pressure as Pro Bowl DE Dwight Freeney (13.5 sacks) is very iffy with a much-reported about ankle injury.  The Saints are very explosive and scored over 500 points this season (510), so they want to make the Colts’ defense chase them.  The Saints also ranked No. 1 in the NFL with an average of 403.8 yards per game.

Brees (17 of 31 for 197 yards and three TDs in NFC Championship Game win) will have many weapons at his disposal (WR Marques Colston, RB Mike Bell, TE Jeremy Shockey, and others), but you know Saints head coach Sean Payton wants the ball in jitterbug running back Reggie Bush’s hands.  The former Heisman winner has really picked it up this postseason and look for Colts playmaking linebacker Gary Bracket and safety Antoine Bethea (4 INTs in 2009) to keep an eye on him at all times.  Look for Payton to slowdown Mathis and Freeney by using his three-headed backfield monster of Bell, Bush, and Pierre Thomas.

LV’s Pick: Now that all of the hype and talk around Super Bowl XLIV is almost finished, our attentions can turn to Sun Life Stadium in South Florida.  The Colts have been installed as a 6-point favorite, but I truly believe that the youthful Saints will make this a game.  In this battle of marquee quarterbacks, I still believe that the team that runs the ball more effectively and causes turnovers will win.  The Saints have really picked it up since losing their last three games of the regular season, but they have also been a little sloppy.  Expect the veteran laden Colts to play smart and opportunistically, especially Manning.  The Colts win their second championship this decade and Manning will add to his already Hall of Fame resume — Colts 27, Saints 20 

 

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 6 Power Rankings

payton

After a huge win over the New York Giants, Sean Payton and his high-flying Saints have not only garnered respect, but they have also moved up this week’s Power Rankings

This is one of my favorite times on the NFL calendar right before the midway part of the season.  Teams are starting to separate into “Contenders” and “Pretenders” and each week certain teams are getting closer to the playoffs while others get closer to preparing for the 2010 NFL Draft. 

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Vikings (6-0), Broncos (6-0), Saints (5-0), Colts (5-0), Falcons (4-1) and Giants (5-1); “Teams on the Cusp” — Steelers (4-2), Bengals (4-2),  and Patriots (4-2); “The Contenders”, who are teams that are a step above average — Eagles (3-2), Bears (3-2), Cowboys (3-2), Cardinals (3-2), and Niners (3-2); “Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle that either need to join the playoff hunt or fall back – Ravens (3-3), Jets (3-3),  Texans (3-3), Jaguars (3-3), Dolphins (2-3), and Chargers (2-3);  The “Pretenders”, who are also in the middle of the pack but are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Seahawks (2-4), Panthers (2-3),  Raiders (2-4), Bills (2-4), and Redskins (2-4); and lastly  the “Putrid” (i.e. You should just skip to the 2010 NFL Draft) – Chiefs (1-5), Browns (1-5), Lions (1-5), Rams (0-6), Buccaneers (0-6), and Titans (0-6)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (5-0) – Head Coach Jim Caldwell’s team got a well-deserved bye week and maybe injured players SS Bob Sanders and WR Anthony Gonzalez will be back after the off week.  Some will say the Colts have their second bye in a row as they travel to St. Louis to face a winless Rams squad.  Don’t expect a letdown from Peyton Manning (should get his 6th straight 300-yard passing game this season) and his guys.

2.  Vikings (6-0) – In one of Week 6’s marquee games, the Vikings were able to squeak past the  Ravens as Baltimore’s young kicker missed a makeable field goal at the end of regulation.  In a game that will truly tell everyone just how good QB Brett Favre and his young Vikings are, the new rulers of the NFC North will travel to Pittsburgh to face a resurgent Steelers squad.

3.  Saints (5-0) – The Superdome was rocking as the  undefeated Saints showed the bottom-feeding Giants the door in a blowout win that put New Orleans near the top of the NFC.  The Saints road to legitimacy gets harder this week as they face a physical hard-running Dolphins team in Miami.

4.  Broncos (6-0) – After a dominating road win over the Chargers on Monday Night Football — could have been a classic letdown situation — I am finally ready to jump on the Broncos and head coach Josh McDaniels bandwagon.  The Broncos will remain undefeated for sure this week as they have a bye.

5. Giants (5-1) – Well I guess we got our answer on whether the Giants were fattening up on cupcakes at the beginning of the season.  The Saints throttled the Giants by a lopsided score, so it will be interesting to see how Tom Coughlin’s team responds. The G-Men return to the Meadowlands this week to face the high flying Cardinals, who have seemed to be back on track offensively and defensively.

6. Steelers (4-2) –For the 12th time in a row, the Steelers push aside the woeful Cleveland Browns this time at Heinz Field.  The resurgent Steelers will probably get their sternest test of this young season this week as the high-profile Vikings and QB Brett Favre come to town.

7.  Patriots (4-2) – Playing in the snow, QB Tom Brady and the Patriots had one of the greatest passing days in NFL history as they  embarrassed the  Tennessee Titans, who  some say they quit .  Next up for the Patriots is a trip across the Atlantic to Merry Ole England to feast the winless Tampa Bay Bucs.

8.  Falcons (4-1) – In a match-up of two of the NFL’s best “Young Guns”,  the Falcons led by Matt  Ryan delivered when it mattered most in a win over Chicago Bears and strong-armed QB Jake Cutler.  In a tougher than you would think battle, the Falcons travel to Dallas to face a well rested Cowboys squad, who are looking for some consistency.

9.  Bengals (4-2) – A week after a big AFC North win at Baltimore, the Bengals were surprised by the offensive minded Houston Texans.  In a highly anticipated inter-conference battle, the Bengals and revenge-minded RB Cedric Benson (going against the team that released him) will host the Bears and their new pass rusher DE Gaines Adams. 

10.  Bears (3-2) – On Sunday Night Football, the Bears continually turned the football over in the redzone which was their downfall against the Atlanta Falcons.  Next up is a respect game against the host Cincinnati Bengals and loser will fall right back to the NFL’s parity-filled middle.

11.  Cardinals (3-2) – The Cards continued to shake their Super Bowl hangover by pounding NFC West rival, the Seattle Seahawks.   Next up, QB Kurt Warner and rest of the Cards will need to prove that they can win a game in the Easter timezone as travel to Pittsburgh to face the resurgent Steelers.

12.  49ers (3-2) – Head Coach Mike Singletary and his staff were probably  overtime during the bye week to improve a team that has been a  little inconsistent as of late.  Look for the return of injured running back Frank Gore and debut of just-signed first rounder Michael Crabtree as the Niners travel to Houston to face the inconsistent Texans.

13.  Ravens (3-3) – John Harbaugh’s team were just a field goal away from putting an “L” on the undefeated Vikings, but it was not be and the Ravens have now lost 3 straight games.  Look for the Ravens to enjoy their bye week as they try to find a breakout receiver and their once fearsome defense.

14.  Eagles (3-2) –  In probably the biggest upset of the week, the Eagles went across country and laid an egg in against the supposed pushover Raiders – well at least the Fightin’ Phils are picking up the Birds slack.  Eagles head coach Andy Reid better find his running game and quick as his team travels to FedEx field to take on the reeling Redskins and their beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn.

15. Packers (3-2) – It wasn’t even close as the Detroit Lions served as the Packers homecoming team  in a lopsided win.  The Packers and freewheeling quarterback Aaron Rodgers continue their tour of the NFL’s underbelly as they travel to Cleveland to face a horrible Browns team.

16. Cowboys (3-2) – Hopefully  head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett put the Cowboys bye to good work as it maybe win or leave if the ‘Boys continue their inconsistent ways.  In a statement game, the Cowboys will host the hard-charging Atlanta Falcons and QB Matty “Ice” Ryan.

17.  Dolphins (2-3) – I am sure during the bye week that the  Dolphins were adding even more wrinkles to their Wildcat offense.  In a game that could prove to be a season saver, the Dolphins and their rushing attack – average of 177  yards per game — will host the undefeated Saints.

18.  Jets (3-3) – Head coach Rex Ryan and rookie QB Mark Sanchez are finding out how tough the NFL can be as they lost in overtime to  Buffalo Bills in a game the J-E-T-S were “supposed” to win.  Gang Green will look to avoid being the Raiders second straight upset victim as they travel to Oakland this week.

19.  Texans (3-3) –  Head coach Gary Kubiak’s team continued their inconsistent ways as they surprised the Bengals in an offensive road victory in Cincy.  In a battle of upstarts, the Texans will host the emerging Niners and the loser will definitely fall to the NFL’s middle.

20.  Panthers (2-3) – The Panthers continued their climb back to respectability with their second straight win this time over the winless Tampa Bay Bucs.  In a game that can get them back to .500, look for the Panthers to ride their stellar running game against the injured Buffalo Bills.

21.  Jaguars (3-3) – The NFL’s most inconsistent team was back up to their old tricks as they bounced back from a shutout loss to beat the winless Rams in overtime.  The Jags should put their best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, on ice during the bye week because as he goes, so goes the team.

22.  Chargers (2-3) –Head Coach Norv Turner’s team put up a mini-fight but in the end you could clearly see that the AFC West division leading Denver Broncos were hungrier on Monday Night Football.   In a must-win game, the Chargers will travel to Kansas City to face a Chiefs squad coming off their first win of the season.

23.  Seahawks (2-4) –The Hawks showed that they are a  “Pretender”  even with QB Matt Hasselbeck at the controls as they were throttled by the Arizona Cardinals in a huge NFC West battle.  The Seahawks will have a much-needed bye week to get players like Hasselbeck and DE Patrick Kerney healthy  again.

24.  Bills (2-4) – The Bills surprised the  J-E-T-S in overtime as kick Rian Lindell made the most of his second chance to win the game.  In a battle of two teams that either are going to get back in the race or fall down with the NFL’s dregs, the Bills travel to Carolina to face a hungry Panthers’ squad.

25.  Raiders (2-4) – Al Davis’ team put aside all of their drama for one week to out-hustle the arrogant Philadelphia Eagles, who left their game plan and intensity back in Philly.  Now that head coach Tom Cable doesn’t have to worry about the Po-Po knocking  on his door any longer, you have to wonder can the Raiders pull another home-win shocker against the fluttering Jets.

26.  Chiefs (1-5) – Even though it was more of an indicator of the ineptness of Redskins head coach  Jim Zorn, the Chiefs had to be ecstatic about their first win of the season.  The Chiefs will try to make it two upsets in a row as they host the angry San Diego Chargers.

27.  Redskins (2-4) – After a horrible home loss to the formerly winless Chiefs, the Skins handed the team’s offensive reins to offensive consultant Sherman Lewis.  Before a Week 8 bye, the Redskins will try to salvage their lagging season in a crucial home Monday Night Football battle against the embarrassed Philadelphia Eagles.

28.  Lions (1-5) – Not even former Packers killer QB Daunte Culpepper could keep the still rebuilding Lions from being torn apart by the Packers.  I am sure during the bye week that the Lions will try to focus more on the fact that they have already won a game this season rather than their many holes.

29.  Browns (1-5) – It was the same old story for the Dawgs as the Steelers tamed them once again as QB Ben Roethlisberger had a career day throwing the football.  The Browns will try to pick-up the pieces as they host the surging Green Bay Packers in a match-up of two Midwest teams going in opposite directions.

30.  Buccaneers (0-6) – Once again the Bucs fought hard, but they just didn’t have the depth or overall talent to beat the rebounding  Carolina Panthers.  For the Bucs, It must be a hard thing knowing that you are going all the way to London, England to be the New England Patriots next “homecoming” opponent.

31.  Rams (0-6) – Steve Spanuolo’s squad gave it their all , but unfortunately they came up short against MJD and the Jaguars in overtime.  The road doesn’t get any easier for the Rams as they host the well-rested and scary Indianapolis Colts who are hitting on all cylinders on offense and defense.

32. Titans (0-6) – In an embarrassing loss that the NFL has not seen in years, the Patriots ran the score-up (59-0) on the Titans and some say Jeff Fisher’s team just plain “quit”.  During the bye week, Fisher better clean-up his horrible secondary and start thinking about playing former rookie of the year QB Vince Young since veteran thrower Kerry Collins could only manage -7 yards passing against the Patriots.

 

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)