Sportsbooks set early odds for NFL Final Four

After a typical NFL season with all sorts of surprises and countless ups and downs, we end up with four teams left standing who many would list as the four best teams in the NFL. New England pounded Indianapolis with the running game as LeGarrette Blount ran wild for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns, giving the rest of the NFL the blessing of not having to listen to Jim Irsay any more this season. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning and the Broncos took care of business against upstart San Diego last night to set up another Peyton Manning/Tom Brady matchup for a trip to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, on the NFC side, San Francisco took care of Cam Newton and the Panthers while Seattle won a slugfest against Drew Brees and the Saints.

Anyone looking forward to next week already can check out the early NFL odds at online sportsbooks as Denver is a 5-point favorite at home versus New England and Seattle is a 3.5-point favorite at home versus San Francisco. Not only do we have 4 excellent teams, but we have some serious rivalries as well which makes these games even more interesting and also complicated to pick. We have the Manning/Brady matchup, though now Manning is wearing Denver orange. Can Tom Brady and the Pats take another championship run away from Manning in a season where Manning shattered the record books? Does New England’s new-found running game alter the analysis here?

Also, with Seattle and San Francisco we have one of the more physical and bitter rivalries in the NFL, with a deeper rivalry between coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll as well that’s been going on since their Stanford/USC days. Seattle has owned the 49ers in Seattle and has frankly overpowered them. But San Francisco has improved dramatically from early in the season with Colin Kaepernick playing much better. Also, Russell Wilson hasn’t been playing quite as well, and look for the 49ers to stack the box and dare Wilson to throw deep. We’ll see which young quaterback emerges this week.

Regardless of the results next week, we should have an epic Super Bowl on our hands with contrasting styles, as the AFC has two traditional teams with classic drop-back passers while the NFC teams feature younger, more mobile quarterbacks. This should be fun!

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Colts confirm Tom Moore’s retirement

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (L) talks with offensive coordinator Tom Moore during practice at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie, Florida February 6, 2010. The Colts face the News Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday. REUTERS/Hans Deryk (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

One of the most successful offensive coordinators over the last decade has decided to officially hang ‘em up.

Colts owner Jim Irsay confirmed on Wednesday that former longtime offensive coordinator Tom Moore has retired from football. Irsay is leaving the door open in case Moore changes his mind again, but it appears as though he’ll finally walk away. (Moore decided to retire back in 2009 as well but had a change of heart.)

Moore became the Colts offensive coordinator the same year that Peyton Manning broke into the league in 1998. And thanks to the pair only once did the Colts finish worse than ninth in the league in total offense between the years of 1999 and 2010. While Manning grabs all the headlines, Moore’s work behind the scenes simply cannot be overlooked. He held guide the Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2006 and nearly did so again in 2009 when Indy fell to the Saints.

What does this mean for the Colts? Probably not much in the grand scheme of things. It’s still Manning’s show and the team loves to hire from within (see head coach Jim Caldwell), so Indy’s offense shouldn’t be affected too much. Still, this isn’t the best time for any team to be losing a piece of their coaching staff with the lockout threatening to wipe out an entire summer’s worth of workouts.

Colts face tough personnel decisions following 2010 season

Ever since Peyton Manning’s second year in the league, NFL fans have just grown accustomed to the Colts being in the playoffs every season. Manning is, and will be until he retires, the catalyst for the horseshoe helmet’s success.

But as the Indianapolis Star points out, Jim Irsay and Bill Polian will be faced with several tough decisions after the 2010 season because the Colts will have 19 players seeking new contracts. There’s no doubt that the team will make sure Manning retires a Colt, but will his contract impede Irsay from signing other free agents?

That might be a reference to the size of Manning’s signing bonus. It undoubtedly will surpass the $34.5 million bonus he received as part of his seven-year, $98 million contract in 2004.

Funneling too much up-front money to Manning, though, could make retaining other critical players difficult.

“We have to be wise in that we don’t corner ourselves and make sure we have room to keep some of the key guys,” Irsay said. “It’s a myth to say you can just have Peyton and you’re automatically 12-4.

“Peyton gives you such an edge . . . but we need the supporting cast if we want to do what we really want to do, and that’s win another world championship.”

As long as Manning remains under center, the Colts will always be competitive. But as Irsay points out, he needs to be able to field a competitive team around his quarterback if the franchise wants to win another Super Bowl before Manning hangs up his cleats. Aside from Peyton, several key starters including Joseph Addai, Antoine Bethea, Melvin Bullitt, Clint Session and Adam Vinatieri (among others) will need new deals. The Colts can’t bring everyone back, especially after they get done paying Manning.

It’s only May, so this is obviously not a problem that the Colts need to concern themselves with right now. But it’s worth noting that after this season, the Colts will have a ton of internal decisions to make – ones that will certainly affect the future success of the franchise.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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