Ten Observations from Week 16 in the NFL

1. Nobody should sleep on the Ravens.
The Baltimore Ravens could go from playoff afterthought to Super Bowl contenders very quickly. Their fate depends on Joe Flacco, who finally awoke from his month-long slumber to complete 25-of-36 passes for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Ravens’ 33-14 rout of the Giants in Baltimore. When Flacco plays like he did on Sunday, you understand why some believed that Baltimore would represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Flacco was almost relentless in attacking a sub par New York secondary, as he constantly toyed with cornerback Corey Webster on deep throws. He was confident, he was in total command of the offense, and he was poised as a passer. Most importantly, he was a catalyst for Baltimore’s offense instead of a deterrent, as he didn’t throw an interception for the first time since Week 12. With that Joe Flacco under center, the Ravens become a much different team heading into the postseason.

2. I was wrong about the 49ers.
Last week I insisted that the 49ers were the best team in the NFC. But the Seahawks proved me wrong with their 42-13 romp over San Francisco on Sunday night. I’m not convinced that Seattle can win a Super Bowl with Russell Wilson running around backyard-football style, but I do know that teams are less intimidated by the 49ers now than they were a week ago at this time. Maybe their lousy performance was the byproduct of them playing in New England last week or the absence of Justin Smith proves that he means more to their defense than anyone originally knew. But that’s still no excuse not to show up for a huge divisional game on primetime television. San Francisco has been widely considered the most physical team in the NFL but Seattle pounded the Niners into submission last night. All Jim Harbaugh could do was watch as the Seahawks racked up points while his players limped off the field. He also witnessed what happens when his team falls behind early and his offense can no longer remain balanced. Colin Kaepernick made a couple of nice throws but he otherwise looked befuddled and confused by what Seattle’s defense was doing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. And to watch San Francisco struggle to contain Seattle’s option attack was startling. I’m not ready to crown the Niners dead or put the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. But last night was eye opening to say the least.

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Report: Steelers won’t bring back Hines Ward in 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward reaches the 12.000 yards receiving milestone during the 35-7 Steeler win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 4, 2011. Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward is the first Pittsburgh Steeler to reach that mark and the 19th overall in NFL history. UPI/Archie Carpenter

Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network is reporting that the Steelers will not bring back receiver Hines Ward for the 2012 season.

“He has one year left on his deal worth $4 million,” said La Canfora. “According to my sources, he won’t be back there. So that’s $4 million off the books.”

Kind of cold there, huh, Jason? The man has given a lot to that franchise so I’m sure true Pittsburgh fans aren’t looking at him as just “$4 million off the books.”

Ward, 35, has won two Super Bowls as a member of the Steelers and three Pittsburgh MVP awards (2002, 2003, 2005). He’s also appeared in four Pro Bowls (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004) and was the Super Bowl XL MVP.

The former Georgia Bulldog has totaled exactly 1,000 receptions for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns over his dazzling career after being selected in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He’s only played for one team since ’98.

Assuming he doesn’t retire, Ward may get looks as a No. 3 on a receiver-needy team. But considering he doesn’t play special teams, he isn’t likely to return to Pittsburgh – even on a restructured deal. It would be weird to see Ward in anything but black and yellow but stranger things have happened.

After all, Jerry Rice was once a Seattle Seahawk.

Rice, Smith head 2010 Hall of Fame Class

Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Ricky Jackson, Russ Grimm and John Randle were announced as the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010 on Saturday.

From ESPN.com:

“I am just honored … to stand up there with greatness,” Rice added.

Smith teared up when speaking about his father and how “I was living his dream.”

“We are blessed to achieve this level of greatness together,” Smith said, referring to Rice.
Rice and Smith each won three Super Bowls and was the MVP in one of those victories. Smith was the 1993 league MVP, as well.

Rice, the NFL’s career receiving and touchdowns leader, and Smith, the top rusher, were joined in the Hall by John Randle, Russ Grimm, Rickey Jackson, Floyd Little and Dick LeBeau. Little and LeBeau were elected as senior committee nominees.
Smith, among the most durable running backs, rushed for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns for Dallas and Arizona.

In an era of me-first players and diva receivers, it’s nice to take a step back and honor Rice. He was one of those players that knew what it took to be great and strived to get there every season. His workout habits are well renowned and I don’t know if there will ever be another receiver like him.

It’s nice to see a player like Jackson get in too. The Saints were one of the saddest franchises in the NFL for a long time yet he played on some top 10 defenses that helped turn things around in the early 90s. The “Dome Patrol” was arguably the best linebacker corps in NFL history.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Jerry Rice: ‘Signing Favre could backfire on Vikings.’

In a recent interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, future Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice questioned the Vikings’ potential signing of Brett Favre, suggesting that the move could backfire on the team by season’s end.

What are your thoughts on Favre’s likely return?

Rice: “You have two quarterbacks [Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels] who don’t know exactly what is going to happen. All of a sudden these two guys thought they were going to be competing. To be honest with you, I thought Tarvaris would be the starting guy this year. I’ve watched him off and on. The most important thing for him is the consistency. He shows that at times ‘OK, I can do this.’ I think he was moving in the right direction, making progress. Now you have this saga, and everybody is sitting back wondering what is going to happen.”

What do you think the expectations should be with Favre? He’s going to be 40 and is coming off arm surgery.

Rice: “In New York, you hear about what happened, and it was not very good. I think Brett showed some great flashes last year. Did some good things. But then towards the end he didn’t play as well. If they feel like bringing him in is going to get them to the next level, I think they should. But to be honest with you, I think the two guys with the team right now should be the two guys that they should be focusing on.”

What happens if he does struggle or is not healthy with a team that is built to win now?

Rice: ”Then everything backfires. You’ve got a major problem. Also you have to look at the scenario that happened in New York. If he pretty much distances himself completely from the players, then all of a sudden you’re going to divide the players because a lot of the players are going to say, ‘Hey, Tarvaris Jackson should be in here or Sage.’ You don’t want this to divide the team. So this could really backfire.”

I couldn’t agree more with what Rice said on everything. If the Vikings sign Favre, he’s going to start, which probably means Tarvaris Jackson is all but done in Minnesota and the trade acquisition of Sage Rosenfels was somewhat of a waste (although he would be a serviceable backup if/when Favre got hurt).

If Favre plays great and gets the Vikings to the playoffs, then everyone will applaud the move. But what’s the more likely scenario, Favre leading Minnesota on a magical season, or Favre tiring out again and taking the Vikes down with him? As with the Jets, he might play at a high level again over the first part of the season, but there’s a very real possibility that his 40-year old arm will unravel again and the entire team will crash and burn in the second half. And as Rice suggested, then Brad Childress and company will have a team that will largely question why Favre was signed in the first place.

Super Bowl standings: top 10 teams

The Super Bowl has been played since the 1966 season, so while NFL championships before that are not irrelevant, many records are based on the “Super Bowl era.” And while some teams have a great track record in Super Bowls (49ers), there are others that have awful records (Vikings, Bills). Here is a list of the Top 10 teams record-wise (based primarily on wins) in the Super Bowl era…..

1. San Francisco 49ers (5-0)—The 49ers are undefeated in Super Bowl history, and when you have guys like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and Steve Young leading the way, it’s easy to see how that happens. But these teams were deep on both offense and defense, and were coached by Bill Walsh and George Seifert. What might be even more remarkable is that the Niners have scored 188 points while giving up 89 in those five games, a 99-point differential. Truly, ahem, super.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1)—The Steelers are looking to become the first team to win six Super Bowls this Sunday in Tampa against the Cardinals and the second one in the Ben Roethlisberger era. They are already one of the NFL’s premier franchises, but more is always better when it comes to championships.

3. Dallas Cowboys (5-3)—The Cowboys have a rich history of winning, but in today’s what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL, all anyone remembers is that they haven’t won a playoff game since 1996, and that dysfunction follows them around like tabloids following QB Tony Romo.

4. Green Bay Packers (3-1)—You might immediately think of Brett Favre, but he is only 1-1 in Super Bowls. The other two were Super Bowls I and II, when Bart Starr was the Packers’ QB and the coach was the legendary Vince Lombardi.

5. New York Giants (3-1)—The Giants climbed up a few notches with that improbable upset of the Patriots last season. Bill Parcells has two of the wins, one with Phil Simms at the helm and the other with Jeff Hostetler—and both with one of the greatest defensive players in history, Lawrence Taylor, terrorizing the other teams’ quarterbacks.

6. Oakland/LA Raiders (3-2)—It’s been about a quarter century since the Raiders won a Super Bowl, or around the same time Al Davis started to lose his marbles.

7. Washington Redskins (3-2)—The Redskins lost to Miami in Super Bowl 7, 14-7, to cap Miami’s (and the NFL’s only) perfect season, and have had mixed results since then, last appearing in 1991 when they beat Buffalo. Hard to believe it’s been almost 20 years since their last Super Bowl, but Dan Snyder makes Al Davis type decisions at times, so the drought could be long.

8. New England Patriots (3-3)—Have the Patriots have lost as many Super Bowls as they’ve won? Yes, when you realize the first two losses were to the mighty ’85 Bears, and to the unstoppable Favre/Holmgren Packers in ’96.

9. Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts (2-1)—You would think Peyton Manning should have more than one Super Bowl appearance, but that very fact was the big knock on him until he got his ring two years ago.

10. Miami Dolphins (2-3)—It’s been 25 years since the D-men have been in the big game, but mark my words…with Bill Parcells at the helm, this team will get back there within a few years, maybe even next year.

Source: Pro Football Reference

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