The Redskins win was a shock but how they won wasn’t.
Outside of the Eagles struggling in Cleveland, the Redskins’ 40-32 shocker over the Saints was easily the biggest surprise of Week 1. But it’s not as if Washington won using smoke and mirrors. Mike Shanahan built Robert Griffin III’s confidence by calling several zero or “bubble” screens to start the game, then mixed in the play-action pass in order to suck the Saints’ LBs up and give his rookie QB clear passing lanes to throw in. These aren’t the same Redskins of the past several years either. This team finally has offensive playmakers and it’s not just RGIII. Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson form a nice receiving duo and Alfed Morris complements RGIII as a downhill runner with quickness and vision. He only gained 3.4 YPC but for those that watched the game, Morris was a factor. Defensively Washington was equally as impressive. Ryan Kerrigan routinely beat left tackle Jermon Bushrod off the edge and Drew Brees had defenders in his face from the first snap of the game. When Jim Haslett called blitzes, they worked. DeAngelo Hall was successful blitzing from his cornerback position, the interior pressure provided by Barry Cofield also disrupted Brees’ timing and Brian Orakpo was effective as well. Whether it was Washington’s pressure or an off day for Brees, the Saints looked completely out of sync offensively. And they were sloppy, too. The offensive line had multiple false start penalties, Brees routinely threw balls at his receivers’ feet or over their heads, and when he was on target his wideouts dropped a few passes as well. It was just an ugly day for an offense that we’re used to seeing fire on all cylinders. Even when things went right and they were knocking on the door of an easy touchdown, Marques Colston had the ball punched out at the goal line, which resulted in a touchback. But credit Haslett and his defense, as the Redskins snuffed out several of Brees’ go-to plays and routinely blanketed receivers. Washington implemented a solid game plan and executed to perfection. The two teams may go in opposite directions from here on out but for 60 minutes on Sunday, the Redskins were flat out better.
It was vintage Vick – and not in a good way.
When he was in Atlanta, there were games the Falcons would play where they were expected to win and Michael Vick almost single-handedly kept the opponent in the game with his sloppy play. That same Vick showed up in Cleveland on Sunday, as the Browns could have, and should have, beaten the Eagles but fell, 17-16. Make no mistake: Vick was awful. He stared down receivers. He threw into double coverage. He telegraphed his throws. He would desperately chuck balls into traffic when he was under pressure. He looked like a rookie and if the Browns weren’t starting a rookie signal caller of their own in Brandon Weeden (who resembled hot garbage himself), the Browns would have pulled away long before the final whistle. People may talk about Vick engineering that final comeback drive but had L.J. Fort hung onto an interception in the end zone on the play before the Eagles game-winning touchdown, Cleveland would have won. Andy Reid blames Vick’s performance on rust after he received just 12 snaps this preseason and hey, maybe it was rust. But the bottom line is that Philly is expected to challenge for not only a playoff berth but also a Super Bowl and their quarterback nearly willed them to a loss against a team that will challenge for the No. 1 pick next April. Good thing for Vick and Philly it was only Week 1.
There’s a general rule I have when it comes to the New York Giants. If their backs are against the wall and they’re not expected to win, ride like them hell because they’re going to fight. But if the general perception is that they should win, expect them to scuffle. The Cowboys came out of the gates on Thursday night looking for a 10-round fight and they wound up delivering a four-round knockout instead. Eli Manning was ordinary, the pass protection was poor, and the vaunted pass rush was non-existent outside of what Jason Pierre-Paul did from his right end spot. Justin Tuck did next to nothing from a pass-rush standpoint, which has to frustrate the Giants considering he didn’t wake up until about Week 15 last year, and both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant abused Corey Webster in coverage. For a team that talked about being overlooked in the offseason, it was surprising that the Giants were as flat as they were…
…that said, let’s not understate what the Cowboys accomplished. Romo was surgical in the passing game and if DeMarco Murray can stay healthy the ‘Boys have an explosive backfield to complement their stable of receivers. Jason Garrett also deserves credit for going for the jugular on that third down play at the end of the game. How in the world the Giants didn’t account for Kevin Ogletree on that play is inexcusable (he had killed them all game), but Garrett deserves praise for keeping the ball out of Eli’s hands. He could have very easily ran the ball, punted, and took the chance that his defense would hold the Giants one more time. But in going for it and picking up the first down, he eliminated even the possibility of a comeback. Finally a Jason Garrett that Dallas fans can get behind.
A tale of two defenses in Green Bay.
One thing teams don’t do enough of when playing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ explosive passing attack is be physical with Green Bay’s receivers. Teams are so worried about giving up a big play (and rightfully so) that they play off the ball on every snap and allow Rodgers to have huge passing lanes to fit the ball into. But in their impressive 30-22 win on Sunday, the Niners aligned their corners and safeties closer to the line of scrimmage. The defensive backs were physical not just at the line of scrimmage but through the entire route, and San Fran consistently generated an interior pass rush. On the other side, the Packers were able to bring pressure from the edge but Alex Smith was able to step up in the pocket and find open receivers the entire game. Green Bay played too soft in coverage, which was a problem last year as well. I understand what the Packers’ game plan was: Pressure Smith and force him to beat you throwing the ball. But the 49ers’ receivers were able to sit down in open areas and Smith was simply taking what the defense gave him. When the Packers were physical with the Niners’ receivers, Jarrett Bush was flagged for pass interference, or Clay Matthews for roughing the passer, or San Francisco’s wideouts just made plays. The other problem, of course, was that the Packers couldn’t slow down Frank Gore and the San Francisco running game. That opened up the middle of the field and the intermediate passing game. The 49ers had a better game plan, executed that game plan better than Green Bay, and made more plays. I don’t know if you can say it was a statement win for the 49ers but they certainly sent a message for those that thought they weren’t as good as their record indicated last year. (On a side note, if the regular officials wanted to make a case that the NFL needs them, they could use this game as Exhibit A. The replacement officials missed multiple false start penalties, often called infractions late, and made several questionable calls. Just a brutal day by that specific crew.)
Johnson already off to a horrendous start.
I went back and watched the Patriots’ 34-13 victory over the Titans to see if Tennessee’s offensive line failed Chris Johnson or if Johnson failed himself. While the run blocking didn’t to generate much push on interior runs, Johnson was slow to the hole, tried to bounce everything outside, and didn’t trust what he saw. When he wasn’t smashing into the backs of his linemen he was trying to make too many cuts and New England would bottle him up. Last year he wasn’t in shape and it showed. This year, at least after four quarters, he looks like he’s trying to hit a home run on every play. While Tennessee’s run blocking needs to improve, Johnson could do himself a favor by hitting the hole harder and trusting his instincts. He was a one-cut-and-go back just two seasons ago. Now he’s trying to break a 70-yard run on every play.
Luck is already ahead of the game.
The Colts’ shaky offensive line didn’t do Andrew Luck any favors on Sunday in Chicago but the rookie still completed 23-of-45 passes for 309 yards with one touchdown. He also threw three interceptions but all things considered, it was an impressive first performance. (Consider how poorly Matt Ryan performed last year Week 1 against the Bears in Chicago.) From a pocket presence standpoint Luck is already playing like a seasoned veteran and keep in mind he doesn’t have a ton of playmakers around him. Reggie Wayne is still a better option than most but his best days are behind him and Austin Collie wasn’t in the lineup. This won’t be the last time I say this in 2012 but as soon as the Colts give Luck a better supporting cast he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.
The Falcons’ passing game was on point but “The Burner” looks finished.
It cannot be overstated that the Chiefs were banged up defensively on Sunday. They were without their best pass rusher in Tamba Hali (suspended one game) and their top corner in Brandon Flowers (heel). Derrick Johnson was also battling an ankle injury and while Justin Houston is developing nicely, he’s not a player that’s going to take over a game. That said, the Falcons’ passing game looked good. Really good. Matt Ryan routinely found open receivers and exploited one-on-one matchups in the secondary. Even though he’s a second-year player, Julio Jones already uses his body well to shed defenders and gives Ryan a clear target to throw to. Roddy White also made several excellent catches in the Falcons’ 40-24 win, including a snag along the sideline in which he had to drag his right foot in order to compete the play. But I point out the passing game and not the entire offense because Michael Turner did nothing on the ground. He looked like he had cement blocks for feet and constantly banged into the backs of his offensive linemen instead of cutting back and finding extra running room. Not only is he slowing down but he lacks vision as well. Everyone knew he was declining but there’s reason to believe he’s already done and if OC Dirk Koetter were smart, he’d get second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers more involved immediately.
The demise of the Jets may have been a tad exaggerated.
The Jets couldn’t score a touchdown in preseason against thin air so hey, why wouldn’t they hang 58 points on the Bills in Week 1? Fourteen of those 58 points were split between New York’s special teams and defense but still, it was quite a performance by the Jets’ seemingly lackluster offense. Despite adding the likes of Mario Williams, Stephon Gilmore and Mark Anderson in preseason, the Bills’ defense did not look sharp in preseason. So it’s not overly surprisingly that they struggled in Week 1 but this was a New York offense that was positively putrid in exhibition play. The key was that Mark Sanchez never got rattled, although it’s hard not to play with confidence with a 20-point halftime lead. Despite sharing reps with Tim Tebow, Sanchez remained unfazed and often burned Buffalo’s defense with pump fakes and double moves. Even the staunchest Sanchez critics, and I count myself as one of them, had to be impressed by his 2012 debut performance (and I was). There’s a lot of season left for both of these teams but it’s safe to say that the offseason projections for the Jets were grossly exaggerated.
Rams prevent Fisher’s first win in St. Louis era.
It’s rare when a team forces three turnovers and loses a game but that stat tells the tale for the Rams in Detroit on Sunday. They intercepted Matthew Stafford three times but still found a way to lose, 27-23. On one hand the St. Louis faithful has to be thrilled that their team had an opportunity to win a game in the end. That didn’t happen much last year. But there are no moral victories for Jeff Fisher and he can’t be happy that his young team allowed a win to slip through its grasp. St. Louis’ defense made Stafford look ordinary for three quarters but the offense never put the game out of reach. And when the defense had an opportunity to shut the door following Brandon Gibson’s spectacular 23-yard touchdown reception with just under 10 minutes to play in the fourth, it wilted. Fisher and his staff went to a prevent defense, and the results were predictable as the Lions snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. Thanks to the worst offensive line in football (a line that lost Scott Wells and Rodger Saffold to injuries on Sunday), the Rams won’t have many opportunities to win games this season. That’s why they can’t let victories like yesterdays slip through their fingertips.
Will the Patriots roll through an easy schedule on their way to yet another Super Bowl appearance?
Does Peyton Manning’s presence make the Broncos the team to beat in the AFC West or will another team unseat Denver in the division?
Can the Eagles unseat the Giants in a tough NFC East? Will the Falcons take advantage of the Saints’ tumultuous offseason and finally get over the playoff hump?
The start of the 2012 NFL regular season is just days away, which means it’s time to hand out our predictions for the new year. Below you’ll find division-by-division picks, as well as playoff and of course Super Bowl projections as well.
Dear God, football is back.
1. New England Patriots
2. Buffalo Bills
3. New York Jets
4. Miami Dolphins
The Patriots won’t suffer a letdown after reaching the Super Bowl back in February. Their offense remains steady thanks to Tom Brady and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and their defense keeps improving under Bill Belichick’s guidance. The addition of Defensive ROY candidate Chandler Jones will help the Pats pressure the quarterback, which was one of their weaknesses the last year. Considering they have the easiest schedule of all 32 NFL teams based on the opponents’ records in 2011, the Patriots shouldn’t have any issues winning the AFC East again this season…The Bills upgraded their defense with the additions of free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, as well as the selection of first-rounder Stephon Gilmore. They also have a solid offensive core in Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson, plus an improving offensive line. But Buffalo will only go as far as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick takes them and unfortunately for the Bills, he’s often exposed by top defenses. While some are predicting Buffalo to reach the postseason, come the end of the year I have the Bills on the outside looking in…The offseason “battle” between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow has taken the onus off the real problem in New York: The offensive line. The two years the Jets made the playoffs with Sanchez under center their defense and running game were outstanding. The defense is still one of the league’s best but they’re going to have to pitch shutouts because as the preseason showed us, the Jets are going to have a difficult time finding the end zone behind their O-line. “Gang Green” will be fortunate to finish .500 this season…The Dolphins have a new head coach, new coordinators, and a new quarterback but they’ll struggle to win games in 2011. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have proven that rookie quarterbacks can have a great deal of success their fist years in the league, but Ryan Tannehill isn’t surrounded by great talent. This isn’t the worst team in the league but the Fins will likely top out at six wins again.
1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Cleveland Browns
The offensive lines in Baltimore and Pittsburgh are both question marks entering the season but I see the Ravens’ O-line gelling throughout the season. I can’t say the same about the Steelers’ front five, which lost rookie guard David DeCastro in preseason. Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron butted heads last year because Flacco often felt that the offense was too tepid. But Flacco has been energized by Cameron’s decision to incorporate more no-huddle elements into the offense. And with the re-signing of Ray Rice and the development of budding star Torrey Smith, the Ravens’ offense is finally ready to carry this team. Granted, the defense is getting long in the tooth and the loss of Terrell Suggs is significant. But the secondary is solid and the Baltimore defense always finds a way to be productive…The Steelers will once again challenge the Ravens for first place in the division. That’s just what they do. But Ben Roethlisberger can’t keep running for his life behind a shaky offensive line. Pittsburgh thought it had upgraded the unit over the offseason but as previously mentioned, DeCastro will miss significant time due to a knee injury and second-round pick Mike Adams proved in preseason that he wasn’t ready to take over the starting right tackle spot. Pittsburgh’s defense is also aging and if younger players like Ziggy Hood, Cam Heyward and Keenan Lewis don’t step up, we could see Dick LeBeau’s squad start to unravel. The Steelers are still a playoff contender but for how much longer?…The Bengals were no fluke in 2011. Andy Dalton may take a step back in his second year like most quarterbacks do, but it would be a mistake to question whether or not he can win in this league. That said, Cincinnati doesn’t have much behind star A.J. Green in its receiving corps and the depth along the defensive line and in the secondary is also thin. This team was 0-4 against the likes of Pittsburgh and Baltimore last season and if they can’t win games in the division I don’t see them making a repeat trip to the postseason…The Browns are once again starting over with rookies Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, who will struggle after facing soft defenses in the Big 12. While Greg Little and Josh Gordon certainly have potential, Weeden also doesn’t have a true No. 1 receiving target and outside of Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, questions remain along the offensive line. Defensively, injuries continue to take their toll along the front four and while Joe Haden is a stud in the making, the secondary is littered with holes as well. In a tough division, Cleveland will have a hard time competing.
1. Houston Texans
2. Tennessee Titans
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. Indianapolis Colts
The Texans are the class of the division and they might have the most talent of any team in the AFC, which includes the Patriots. The loss of Mario Williams won’t hurt as much as some think because he simply wasn’t a fit for Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. Thanks to Arian Foster, Ben Tate and a very good run-blocking offensive line, the Texans will control the clock and win tight games because of their stingy defense. The biggest question is whether or not Matt Schaub can put this team on his shoulders for 16-plus games and, if guys like Andre Johnson can stay healthy…The Titans are my Cincinnati Bengals of 2012. A darkhorse if you will. Jake Locker must become a more accurate and consistent passer but he’s going to produce plenty of big plays thanks to his arm strength and OC Chris Palmer’s decision to install Run ‘N Shoot elements into his offense. Locker also has a couple of nice weapons in Kenny Britt (if he can stay healthy and out of trouble), Kendall Wright and Chris Johnson, who should have a bounce back year. Granted, the offensive line wasn’t very good from a run-blocking standpoint last year and the defense doesn’t do one thing particularly well but I like the Titans to surprise and qualify for one of the Wild Card spots…The Jaguars received huge sigh of relief when Maurice Jones-Drew finally reported to team head quarters. But holdout running backs have a tendency to struggle (look at Chris Johnson last year) when they miss all of training camp and preseason, and Blaine Gabbert will still suffer through plenty of ups and downs. That said, this team will be more competitive than it was a year ago. Gabbert has made marked improvements as a passer and the addition of Justin Blackmon gives this team a much needed playmaker at receiver…The Colts will be better than they were a year ago because of rookie QB Andrew Luck, who looks like the real deal. But there’s not much around him. It’ll be a year or two before Chuck Pagano can get the right pieces in place to run his 3-4 defense and the Colts simply don’t have enough weapons on offense to be competitive.
1. Denver Broncos
2. San Diego Chargers
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Oakland Raiders
The Broncos have a brutal first-half schedule but if Tim Tebow can win a playoff game in Denver than logic dictates that Peyton Manning can do the same. As long as Manning stays healthy and the defense doesn’t take a step back, the Broncos should win this division…That said, the Chargers might have the best starters of the four teams in the West, and if they can finally start out of the gates hot they could very well win the division. Robert Meachem isn’t Vincent Jackson but he deserves a chance to prove that he can be a No. 1 guy and when healthy, Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews give Philip Rivers a couple of nice weapons. That said, the left tackle position is a concern and the defense underachieved last year. The top spot is up for grabs in this division but in the end I see the Broncos losing one less game than the Bolts…The Chiefs might have the most overall talent and the deepest depth of any team in the division. The problem is that Matt Cassel is their quarterback and while some are predicting that Kansas City will win the West, I just can’t put my faith behind Cassel. That said, thanks to Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, Jon Baldwin and Romeo Crennel’s defense, the Chiefs will keep things interesting…The Raiders narrowly missed the playoffs a year ago but they’re going to pay for past mistakes, specifically Hue Jackson’s decision to trade a first round pick for Carson Palmer last season. Palmer looked shaky in preseason and the offense won’t be as explosive under Gregg Knapp as it was last year under Jackson. If Darren McFadden can stay healthy Oakland will be competitive and the defense does look like it’s improved. But there’s no question that Palmer is on the down slope of his career and it’s not unrealistic to suggest he’s finished as a productive quarterback.
1. New York Giants
2. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. Washington Redskins
Once again this is the most difficult division to predict in the NFL. The Eagles arguably have the most talent in the division but I don’t trust that Michael Vick will stay healthy and even though the defense was very good in the second half last year, Juan Castillo has a tendency to be exposed against good playcallers…The Cowboys seemingly fixed their problems in the secondary and thanks to a number of weapons on offense, they’ll rack up plenty of yardage again this season. But can the skill players stay healthy? Will this offense once again struggle to score points despite moving the ball at will? Is the secondary really fixed or will it remain a problem? Somehow, someway the Cowboys usually find a way to get in their own way…Which brings us to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. I don’t know how Eli Manning survived behind that offensive line last year and if the pass rusher falters at all, the back seven isn’t good enough to keep the defense afloat. But my general rule when it comes to the Giants is that if nobody is paying attention to them, bet the house that they’ll win. They thrive in the underdog role and they’ve played second-fiddle to the Eagles, Cowboys and even in-state rival the Jets all offseason. Thus, despite Dallas and Philadelphia having better talent, I like New York to once again qualify for the postseason…The Redskins are going to be fun to watch this year thanks to Robert Griffin III. They’ll also be able to run the ball because of Mike Shanahan and they have more weapons on offense than they did a year ago thanks to the additions of RGIII and Pierre Garcon. But the secondary is an issue and questions remain about whether or not this team can keep Griffin upright. The Skins also play in an ultra-competitive division so while they’ll be competitive, they’ll likely fall well short of the playoffs.
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Chicago Bears
3. Detroit Lions
4. Minnesota Vikings
The Packers have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL thanks to Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, and the addition of Cedric Benson will pay dividends as well. There’s no way the defense will rank 32nd again so the Pack are poised to make another postseason run…There are two massive question marks surrounding the Bears. One is the offensive line, which continues to be inconsistent and the second is the defense, which is aging quickly. Will Father Time catch up with Chicago’s defense this season or will it hold off another year? That said, if Jay Cutler and Matt Forte don’t get hurt last year then the Bears make the playoffs as the fifth seed in the NFC. Plus, keep in mind that Chicago is just two years removed from winning the division and the additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery finally give opposing defensive backs something to be concerned with on Sundays. I like the Bears to win one of the two Wild Card spots…I think the Lions will regress this season. The passing game will be dangerous but can Matthew Stafford once again stay healthy for a full 16 games? Can this team win behind a shaky offensive line and no running game? On the other side the ball the defense doesn’t play with discipline, Louis Delmas’ health remains a concern and rookie Bill Bentley will line up opposite Chris Houston at cornerback. The Lions’ defense was brutal down the stretch last season and while Calvin Johnson will once again be fun to watch, a .500 season seems more realistic than a repeat playoff appearance…The Vikings will continue to grow behind Christian Ponder but Adrian Peterson’s health is obviously a concern, they don’t have a weapon opposite Percy Harvin in the passing game and the defensive secondary isn’t very reliable. In a stacked division Minnesota will once again have a difficult time competing.
1. New Orleans Saints
2. Atlanta Falcons
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Saints had a tumultuous offseason, losing head coach Sean Payton and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma to the bounty scandal suspensions, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who was also suspended) to the Rams, and Carl Nicks and Robert Meachem to free agency. But Drew Brees had a huge hand in Payton’s offensive game plans the past four years so he’ll keep New Orleans afloat. Plus, the loss of Vilma was negated with the addition of Curtis Lofton, who is a much better run-stopper than Vilma, Meachem is merely a No. 3 receiver and the team did well to replace Nicks with Ben Grubbs. New DC Steve Spagnuolo (who is an upgrade over Williams) will have to get creative when it comes to his pass rush but this team will be fine…There’s a ton of optimism surrounding the Falcons this season because of the decisions they made this offseason. Mike Mularkey was a solid offensive coordinator but Matt Ryan had outgrown his conservative, run-first approach. In steps in new OC Dirk Koetter, who has installed an up-tempo offense that suits Ryan. Julio Jones looks like he’s ready for a monstrous second year and he should only make Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas better around him. Defensively the Falcons hired Mike Nolan to replace Brian Van Gorder, who wasn’t a bad coordinator but his philosophy under head coach Mike Smith was to stop the run and play bend-but-don’t-break schemes in the back seven. That won’t work against the likes of the Saints, Packers and Giants, so Nolan has installed a scheme that will focus on stopping the pass. The Falcons also traded for Asante Samuel, who will join forces with Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson to form an exciting cornerback trio. If young players like Sean Weatherspoon and William Moore have breakout years, the Atlanta defense will be much improved…Cam Newton will keep the Panthers in most games. He has loads of playmaking ability and plenty of weapons around him in Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Greg Olson. But the defense only has one true pass rusher (Charles Johnson), the linebacker corps is always suffering from injuries and the safety position is a major question mark. Simply put, the defense will keep Carolina from earning playoff berth but watch the Panthers stay in contention all season…Thanks to new coach Greg Schiano the Bucs will be tougher and more focused in 2012. The front office also did well to bring in Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson in free agency, which will certainly appease QB Josh Freeman (who is poised to have a bounce back year). Rookie first-rounder Mark Barron might also wind up being the steal of the 2012 draft in that he’s NFL ready having played for Nick Saban at Alabama. Fellow rookie Doug Martin looks like he’s ready to explode in his first year as well. That said, the front seven remains a huge question mark on defense and this team doesn’t have the ability to blow teams out. Under Schiano the Bucs will attempt to win the time of possession battle by keeping the ball on the ground and trying to win games in the fourth quarter. This is an up-and-coming team but it’ll be a year before Tampa is challenging for a playoff spot again.
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. St. Louis Rams
4. Arizona Cardinals
There aren’t a lot of believers in Alex Smith but the fact is he managed games well last season and stayed out of the way as the 49ers’ defense and running game produced wins. Thanks to the additions of Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and rookie A.J. Jenkins, Smith has plenty of weapons around him to succeed. (Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree obviously remain the highlights of the offense.) Thanks to the best defense in the league and weak competition in the division, the Niners will challenge for the top seed in the NFC again this season…Some believe the Seahawks will struggle under rookie Russell Wilson but if the kid were four inches taller he would have been a top 10 selection. He’s smart and he has the skill set to succeed – it’s just too bad that outside of an unreliable Sidney Rice, he has nobody to throw the ball to. The defense is underrated so if Wilson can move the ball, look for the Hawks to hang around before eventually fading down the stretch…Jeff Fisher and his coaching staff are worth two or three wins alone in St. Louis. The Rams will be better than they were a year ago but plenty of questions remain. The offensive line isn’t very good, the middle of the defense will be exposed on a weekly basis because of poor safety play and the book is still out on Sam Bradford. He has yet to raise the level of his play when under pressure and his O-line won’t do him any favors this year. This is also the youngest team in the league and depth is a massive problem…The Cardinals have the least effective starting quarterback in the NFL thanks to John Skelton, who will play behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. Ray Horton’s defense is going to surprise people this year but it’s also going to be on the field a lot because of the struggles of the offense. Maybe Skelton has more magic up his sleeve and hey, he does have Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams at his disposal. But chances are it’s going to be a long year in ‘Zona.
AFC PLAYOFF TEAMS
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning signals during his first series of downs against the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis. The NFC champion New York Giants play the AFC champion New England Patriots. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
Eli Manning will never be a prototypical gunslinger. He’ll never be Dan Marino, Brett Favre or Warren Moon. He’s not Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or his brother either.
And that bothers you. But for a moment, let’s stop to appreciate what Eli has been able to accomplish since arriving to the NFL in 2004. Let’s stop trying to compare him to his brother and Brady (who Eli has now beaten twice in the Super Bowl), and every other quarterback who may have better passing numbers, more touchdowns and/or a better personality.
For once, let’s appreciate Eli Manning for the elite quarterback he is.
Kevin Gilbride’s system is one of the more complex offenses in the NFL. The wideouts in this system have to learn how to read coverages and even adjust mid-route, which makes it a rather difficult offense to master for even veteran receivers like Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. And just think about how long it took Eli Manning to not only feel comfortable running the offense, but also winning it in.
While the system is often referred to as “quarterback-friendly,” that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to learn. On the contrary: Manning struggled mightily in his first couple of seasons and he barely showed any improvement from year to year because Gilbride’s system can be demanding and frustrating to pick up. That led to even the staunchest Eli supporters wondering if he was the right man to lead the Giants to greatness. But once he mastered the prolific system, he started to thrive in its beauty.
Manning can now come to the line during a given play, read what coverage the defense is in and understand that he has options on where to throw the ball. Look at that unbelievable throw to Manningham in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Manningham wasn’t Eli’s first read on that play. He wasn’t even his second. Manning saw a small window in which to fit the ball in between two defensive backs that were a second to slow in getting to where they were supposed to be. And he dropped that perfectly placed pass into Manningham’s hands as the receiver took care of the rest.
If his receivers adjust, Manning must adjust as well and when the Giants are firing on all cylinders they’re tough to stop. Not every quarterback can run Eli’s offense so why must we compare his play to that of Peyton, Brees or Brady’s? Why can’t we just marvel at the success he’s had to this point?
That success, by the way, translates to two Super Bowl rings. And just because Eli has collected one more Lombardi Trophy than his brother doesn’t mean that he’s on the same level as Peyton, who has four MVP awards over his sparkling career.
When you’re talking about different offenses, different personnel, and different competition, you’re comparing apples to oranges at the end of the day. Everyone wants to lump quarterbacks into one big pile and discuss “who is the best,” but it’s a frivolous debate. Would you compare Jim Brown and Barry Sanders? Hell no – it’s two different running styles. So why are we so determined to compare quarterbacks?
If I don’t hear another Eli vs. Peyton discussion the rest of my life I’d be a saner person. For once, I just want to appreciate what Eli Manning has accomplished and know that not every quarterback is on his level.
For the second time in less than five years the Giants defeated the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Here are reactions from the G-Men’s 21-17 victory over the Pats in Super Bowl XLVI.
New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl XLVI MVP Eli Manning celebrates on the podium at Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis. New York beat New England 21-17 to win Super Bowl XLVI UPI/Kevin Dietsch
- In order to fully appreciate how far the Giants came in order to be crowned Super Bowl champions, you really have to go back to the preseason when the franchise was a mess. The fans were upset because the front office didn’t have the cap space to make a splash signing during the offseason, all while the Eagles built what appeared to be a division-winning roster. Players were also dropping like flies because of a rash of injuries and then the team goes out and loses to the Redskins in Week 1. The defense stunk, the running game was non-existent, and it appeared as though Tom Coughlin was back on the hot streak. But Eli Manning put this team on his shoulders, the defense finally got healthy and then the Giants just caught fire down the stretch. I thought it was rather arrogant that the New York media talked about how this Giants team compared to the 2008 squad that upset the Patriots but lo and behold, they were absolutely right. Team of destiny? Maybe. But then again I just think that this was a very good team that knew what it was capable of if it could reach the postseason. And now once again, the Giants are Super Bowl champions after one of the better in-season turnarounds in NFL history.
- There’s really no debate any more: Eli Manning deserves to be called elite. What more do you want him to accomplish? He may not break NFL passing records like Tom Brady, Drew Brees or his brother, but this dude is just clutch. He was excellent tonight and once again proved that you can’t faze him, I don’t care what the situation is. He deserved another moment like this, especially given how good he was during the regular season. As I’ve written several times over the last month, without him the Giants wouldn’t have won nine games this year. Without his pinpoint throw to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter the Giants probably don’t win tonight. And without him outplaying the likes of Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, the Giants don’t hoist their second Lombardi Trophy in less than five years. Is he kind of aloof? Yeah, but aloof now has two Super Bowl rings and two Super Bowl MVP trophies. New York fans will take aloof all day long and twice on Sunday.
- There’s not much more I can say about Mario Manningham’s catch that Cris Collinsworth didn’t already cover during the broadcast. Given the situation and the stakes, you won’t see a greater catch than that. While David Tyree’s helmet grab in Super Bowl XLII was more unbelievable, Manningham’s catch was still spectacular in its own right. The coverage was tight and yet Manning was able to put the ball in a spot that only Manningham could catch it, which he did – all while getting two feet in bounds and holding onto the pass as he crashed to the ground. What an incredible, incredible pass and catch.
- This win once again reaffirms how good of a coach Tom Coughlin is. He coaches in the toughest media market in the league, where he’s constantly criticized for every mistake he makes and has been on the hot seat too many times to count. But the Giants do things right and that’s in large part because of the work that Coughlin does. This team plays hard, is usually prepared and it never cowers to its competition. After two Super Bowl victories, Coughlin now writes his own ticket in my opinion. He’s bought himself another three or four years where people should just shut up and trust in his coaching ability. After all, the man has gotten the best of Bill Belichick not once, but twice in the Super Bowl.
- As a football fan I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed following the game. It’s hard to complain when a Super Bowl isn’t decided until the final play but it was a lackluster first half and both of these teams essentially dinked and dunked their way up and down the field. (Outside of Manningham’s big catch, that is.) But the more I thought about it, the more impressed I was with the play of both defenses. Brady and Manning had to dink and dunk because the defenses took away the big play. It looked like the Giants were going to run away with the game early on but the Patriots deserve credit for taking away New York’s excellent passing game until late in the fourth quarter. The Giants pass rush was also as good as advertised, especially on the Pats’ first offensive play from scrimmage (when Brady was called for intentional grounding in the end zone) and on New England’s final drive of the game. While the Patriots’ tackling was piss poor throughout, there were plenty of big hits throughout the game as well. Have I seen better games? I think we all have, especially from an excitement standpoint. But you have to tip your hat to both defenses, especially when you consider how explosive both of these offenses were throughout the year.
- Although he got outplayed by Manning, it’s hard to criticize Tom Brady for his performance. He made a bone-headed decision the Pats’ first offensive play from scrimmage and it cost his team two points, but he caught fire in the middle of the game and played well enough for New England to win. Due to Rob Gronkowski being a non-factor, keep in mind that Brady didn’t have a dynamic threat in the passing game. I thought that in order for the Pats to win this game Brady would have to put together one of those Tom Brady-type performances. While he was certainly good, he wasn’t good enough as he once again played second-fiddle to Eli.
- That was definitely a drop by Wes Welker midway through the fourth quarter, but Brady deserves at least partial blame for the pass. Should Welker have caught the ball? No question. But if Brady hits Welker in stride that play may have gone for six and the Patriots probably win. It’s not like Welker was blanketed in coverage: he was wide open. No one play determines the outcome of a game but that was a costly misfire by Brady and a bad drop by Welker, who usually makes that catch nine out of 10 times.
- Some will call the Patriots gutless for allowing Ahmad Bradshaw to waltz into the end zone on what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. They’ll say that Bill Belichick gave up and will probably spew hypotheticals about how the Giants may have turned the ball over had the Pats played things straight up instead of clearing a path for Bradshaw to score. But I thought it was a smart move on Belichick’s part to preserve as much time as possible for Brady and his offense. Could the Giants have turned the ball over or missed the field goal? Yes, but it was doubtful that the Patriots got lucky like that for the second game in a row. How many times does a team drain the clock down to nothing and kick a game-winning field goal anyway? Granted, the move didn’t work out for the Patriots in the end but at least Belichick gave Brady a shot to put together one more magical fourth-quarter comeback. I liked the move, regardless of the outcome.
- Boy was I wrong about Rob Gronkowski or what? I thought he was healthier than the media led you to believe and that his ankle wasn’t going to be a factor. I even thought he would have a pretty big game. But it was clear that he couldn’t cut and move like he normally does and that made a big difference in New England’s passing game. Brady essentially didn’t have his best playmaker, even though Aaron Hernandez stepped up in Gronk’s “absence.” I’m not suggesting that the Patriots would have won had Gronk been 100-percent but when you think about how big of a weapon he was during the season, there’s no question that his injury factored into the outcome of the game. He basically limped around the field for three and a half hours.
- No matter what team you root for, it’s hard not to feel for Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft. That was a sad scene of him standing by himself watching the final play unfold knowing that his team just lost the Super Bowl. He just stood there in complete shock as the Giants began to celebrate. After losing his wife last year, my heart went out to him in that moment.
- I think Madonna could have used a couple of more minutes of stretching before she went on stage. She looked stiff in her first song and nearly fell off the back of those freaking bleachers in her second set. You’re not 25 anymore Madonna – make sure those hamstrings aren’t tight before you go hopping up and down on metal seats, woman!
- My vote for the best commercial was the NFL safety piece that went through the different years of equipment. That was very well done and the graphics were awesome. Outside of that, the pixy-dust ad was pretty good and Doritos made me laugh a couple of times. Overall the commercials weren’t that funny though and I think I’ve had my fill of babies and dogs being in every other Super Bowl spot…
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (L) talks to head coach Bill Belichick during the NFL AFC Divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos in Foxborough, Massachusetts, January 14, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Technically the Giants aren’t favored for Super Bowl XLVI but they might as well be.
New York doesn’t have the most marketable player (that would be Tom Brady) or the most wins between the two teams this season, but the Giants are the hotter squad and have already proven that they won’t cower to New England in any situation. They have the pass rush to once again slay Brady, a vastly underrated passing game and a quarterback in Eli Manning that doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves for what he does for this New York team.
From a betting standpoint things look awfully good for the Giants as well. They’re 5-1 against the spread in their last six games versus the Patriots, 8-0 ATS in their last eight playoff games as an underdog and 8-1 ATS in their last nine playoff games overall. New England, meanwhile, is 1-7 against the number in its last eight playoff games and 1-6 ATS in its last seven playoff games as a favorite.
Every bone in my body says that the Giants are going to win tonight. But I don’t think they will.
I think the Giants have managed to become overconfident the past few weeks and an overconfident Giants team is a losing Giants team. I think Rob Gronkowski is healthier than people think and he’ll have a big game. I think Bill Belichick will once again take away what an opponent does best and in this case, that’s the Giants’ passing game. I think Tom Brady will have one of those Tom Brady-esq games where he throws for 375 yards and three touchdowns all while being unstoppable in the fourth quarter. I think the Patriots will win.
I’m siding with my gut over my head: Patriots 23, Giants 20.