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For fans of the 30 teams that didn’t make the Super Bowl, the week leading up to the big event is dreadfully boring.
The same storylines are exhausted day after day, show after show.
This year Ben Roethlisberger’s redemption is the biggest story. But is it really redemption, or is he simply avoiding trouble … bravo Ben?
Comparing the hair of Green Bay’s Clay Matthews and Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu is another popular topic. Riveting.
Here are a couple other “breaking events” that have been covered in depth this week:
Aaron Rodgers was asked if he’d talked to Brett Favre about the Super Bowl. His answer was “no.” Roethlisberger took his offensive line to a piano bar and he sang … how dare he?
Then of course we have the predictable slew of awards given out the week before the Super Bowl – offensive and defensive player of the year; coach of the year; offensive and defensive rookies of the year; MVP; etc.
Let’s be honest, we know who’s getting most of these awards by Week 10.
To spice things up the NFL should hand out a series of impromptu awards during the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
I suggest the following:
Worst Swan Song Award
Winner: Brett Favre
Could you have written a more disastrous ending to a career? Favre was horrendous. He finished with 11 TDs, 24 turnovers, and a 69.9 passer rating. The Vikings were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender and went 6-10. Favre was particularly awful in a pair of losses to the Packers – he threw one touchdown, four interceptions, and completed less than 50 percent of his passes. His streak of consecutive starts was broken. He was accused of sending dirty text messages to a female employee during his time with the Jets. In addition, he recently said Dom Capers and the Packers defense get the MVP award for the Packers – not Aaron Rodgers – just to further illustrate the level of his bitterness.
The Worst Tweet Excuse Award
Winner: Terrell Owens
Shortly after the Redskins benched Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman, they signed him to a five-year, $70 million contract extension. Terrell Owens didn’t agree with the decision. He tweeted: “How do u justify a 78 million dollar contract w/this type of performance?” Later, Owens said it was his brother who posted the message on his account: “LOL!! I c my brother got all yall riled up w/his question about McNabb’s contract! He’s entitled 2 his opinion!” Owens later dropped the lame “my brother did it” excuse and owned up to the tweet.
Biggest Midseason Meltdown Award
Winner: Tennessee Titans
After a 5-2 start in which they thumped the Eagles and Giants, the Titans’ season turned into a dumpster fire. The breaking point was Week 11. Vince Young hurt his thumb in the third quarter against the Redskins and Jeff Fisher wouldn’t let him back in. The Titans lost in overtime, Young tossed his gear into the stands, stormed out of the locker room, and was later put on IR and told to stay away from the facility. The Titans picked up Randy Moss for the second half of the season to spark the offense and he finished with six catches. They lost eight of their final nine games and finished 6-10. Following the season the team said Young wouldn’t return and fired Fisher, leaving them with a pile of ashes.
Peyton Manning will turn 35 in March. By NFL standards that’s old.
He will also become the NFL’s highest-paid player according to Colts’ owner Jim Irsay. I’ll go out on a limb and say Manning won’t turn that down.
Over the past two decades many top-tier quarterbacks have played into their late 30s and beyond with mixed results. Here are a few that fared well and a few that didn’t.
John Elway – Elway is the shining example of what a quarterback can accomplish in his twilight years. He led the Broncos to Super Bowl wins in his final two seasons at age 37 and 38. In his two previous Super Bowl losses – at age 27 and 29 – he threw for a combined one touchdown and five interceptions while completing just 37.5 percent of his passes.
Rich Gannon – Gannon peaked in his mid to late 30s with his best season coming at the age of 37 when he threw for 4,689 yards, 26 TDs, and 10 INTs to lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl.
Brett Favre – No it didn’t end pretty, but Favre put together two of his best seasons in his latter years, leading the Packers to the NFC title game when he was 37 and the Vikings there when he was 40. He finished the 2009 regular season with 4,202 yards, 33 TDs, and seven INTs at the age of 40, which is unheard of.
Joe Montana – Putting Montana on a bad list of any kind seems sacrilegious, but his late 30s didn’t treat him well – not by his standards anyway. Injuries allowed him just one start during the 1991 and 1992 seasons (when he was 35 and 36) and the following two seasons with the Chiefs – which were his last – he threw for a combined 29 TDs and 16 INTs … hardly Montana-like.
Dan Marino – Marino also had a rough ending to his career in Miami. In 1997 – at 36 – he threw for just 16 TDs and 11 INTs and was horrendous in a playoff loss to the Patriots. It got no better his final season in 1999. He threw 12 TDs and 17 INTs and had another forgettable playoff performance in a 62-7 loss to the Jaguars.
Jim Kelly – Kelly decided to give it one last shot with the Bills in 1996 at the age of 36. He probably wishes he didn’t. Kelly threw for just 2,810 yards with 14 TDs and 19 INTs. He was also sacked 37 times, the most since his rookie season.
Some factors suggest Manning will do well as he approaches 40.
He hasn’t suffered a serious injury and has yet to miss a start. He has plenty of weapons around him. Much of Manning’s game is mental, which likely won’t slip off as he ages.
Other factors indicate a decline is in store for Manning.
Manning essentially calls the plays and runs the offense. As his physical skills decline, there might be too much on his plate.
If Manning’s contract is worth as much as it’s expected to be, what kind of supporting cast will Polian be able to put around him as many of the team’s key players get older? By the end of next season Jeff Saturday will be 36; Reggie Wayne will be 33; Ryan Diem and Dallas Clark will be 32; and Gary Brackett and Dwight Freeney will be 31.
Old age can cripple an NFL quarterback, even the great ones. Over the next few years we’ll see how Manning holds up. Whether it’s good or bad it’s safe to say that Manning will be handsomely rewarded for his efforts.
Still feeling glum about your team’s opening-round playoff loss Colts fans?
I know, I know … the one and done playoff appearances are getting old. They’ve now had seven of them during the Peyton Manning Era. No fun.
By now most of you have gotten over it and will watch the conference championship games Sunday.
But there’s one burning question. Who should you root for?
I’m here to help you out.
The first team to eliminate is the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Nobody in Indianapolis can forget the brutal 2006 playoff loss to them. You remember – the Jerome Bettis fumble at the goal line, the Ben Roethlisberger tackle of Nick Harper (slowed by his wife’s stab to his knee the night before), and the Mike Vanderjagt shank. Good times.
Besides, if the Steelers win it all that will be three titles in six years and you know what that means – dynasty talk. I think Colts fans have heard enough of that over the last decade with the Patriots.
Next up is the New York Jets.
If the Jets upset the Steelers, you’d be hard pressed to find many Colts fans shedding tears, but the Jets hoisting the Lombardi Trophy wouldn’t be ideal.
Imagine the shoulda, coulda, wouldas that would ensue.
What if Manning and the offense didn’t sputter all night? What if they got one more first down on the final drive? What if the Colts squib kicked or actually, gasp, covered the kickoff? What if the defense didn’t let Mark Sanchez carve them on the final drive? What if Jim Caldwell didn’t forget how to use timeouts in the clutch?
You get the point.
Don’t fret though Colts fans … even if they beat the Jets they weren’t leaving Heinz Field with a victory – trust me.
Can you imagine the celebration that would ensue if the Jets won it all? Rex Ryan would anoint his team as the greatest of all time; Braylon Edwards would bust out a full gymnastics routine; and the trash talk would go on the entire offseason and maybe longer if a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t ironed out in a timely fashion.
While there’s not much of a rivalry between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears – they’ve played three times in the last decade – there are other reasons Colts fans might not want to see them prevail.
Chicago is only a three-hour drive from Indianapolis, meaning there are a lot of Bears fans around. Especially when you consider Indianapolis didn’t have an NFL team until 1984 – meaning many NFL fans living in Indianapolis in their 30s and older never changed loyalties from the Bears, Bengals, or whatever team they supported before the Colts’ arrival.
Many Colts haters still cling to the “they only won a Super Bowl because of Rex Grossman” argument. If the Bears cruise to a Super Bowl victory with Jay Cutler at the helm expect more of that reasoning from the peanut gallery.
The last team standing is the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers have even less of a rivalry with the Colts than the Bears – they’ve played two regular-season games against each other in 10 years.
While there’s a large contingency of Packers fans everywhere in the Midwest, it’s not too bad in Indianapolis, which is a safe seven-hour drive away.
The Packers aren’t cocky or obnoxious, a championship wouldn’t put them anywhere close to dynasty level, and let’s face it … most of us would love to see them stick it to Brett Favre.
There you have it Colts fans, it’s an easy choice … root for the Pack.
You can’t say he didn’t warn us.
Earlier this season, Colts head coach Jim Caldwell aided the Jaguars to victory when he called a timeout with 36 seconds remaining in a tie game.
The Jaguars had the ball in their own territory and appeared content to let the clock wind down and send the game into overtime. But after Caldwell’s bizarre timeout they readjusted their strategy, drove down the field, and won on a Josh Scobee field goal as time expired.
More puzzling than his timeout was his reaction to it after the game – he said he’d do the same thing again.
Most assumed he was just being stubborn – a head coach not wanting to fess up to a mistake.
Most assumed wrong.
Caldwell made an even bigger timeout blunder during Saturday’s playoff game against the Jets.
Trailing 16-14 with the clock running down inside 30 seconds, the Jets faced a second-and-8 at the Colts’ 32-yard line. With 29 seconds remaining, Caldwell inexplicably used a timeout.
With one timeout still in their pocket (thanks Jim) and the clock now stopped, many more options opened up for the Jets.
Given the new scenario the Jets regrouped on the sideline and decided to take a shot downfield. If it didn’t work there would still be plenty of time left (thanks Jim) and with a timeout remaining, they could just run on third down and try to set up a shorter field goal instead.
The Jets’ strategy paid off.
On second down Mark Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards along the sideline for an 18-yard completion, setting up a much shorter 32-yard field goal attempt for Nick Folk, who had struggled with long field goals all season long.
Folk nailed it.
Jets win 17-16.
“We wanted to try to make them snap the ball as many times as they possibly could,” he said.
Folk had hit fewer than 50 percent of his attempts from outside 40 yards during the regular season. More snaps likely means moving in closer, particularly the way the Colts’ run defense was performing in the second half. Praying for a turnover or sack in that situation rather than forcing a long field goal makes zero sense.
If you are a Colts fan, the terrifying thing about the situation is Caldwell will do it again. He was asked Sunday if he if he regretted calling the timeout.
“No,” he replied.
One of two things needs to happen for the Colts prior to the 2011 season.
1: Bill Polian needs to sit down with Caldwell and have a long talk about how to use timeouts.
2: Bill Polian needs to find a new head coach.
Take your pick.
Rex Ryan rubs some people the wrong way.
He’s loud, proud, wears his emotions on his sleeve, and his players have followed suit.
If you hate Ryan and the Jets then he’s done his job.
Prior to his arrival the Jets played second fiddle in New York – the Giants’ little brother.
The Jets are headed to the playoffs for the second consecutive season and at 11-5, compiled the franchise’s most regular-season wins since 1998.
Ryan won’t let you forget about the Jets even if you wanted to.
From his profanity-laced tirades on HBO’s Hard Knocks series, to his media bouts with Tony Dungy, to his alleged foot-fetish videos … Ryan stays in the limelight.
This week Ryan has done plenty of talking. He says the Jets will win it all; that the Colts are more vulnerable this year; and that Saturday’s rematch at Lucas Oil Stadium is personal.
In true Colts’ fashion, nobody took the bait.
Head coach Jim Caldwell was asked if he had a reaction to Ryan’s comment about the Colts being more vulnerable.
“No sir,” he said. “Everybody is entitled to their opinion.”
Peyton Manning was asked about Ryan saying this game is personal.
“I really don’t have any reaction to it,” he responded.
Robert Mathis doesn’t see it as personal either.
“I see it as a playoff game,” he said.
It all sets up as an intriguing contrast of styles in many aspects.
The Jets are a hard-nosed team that wants to run right at you and stuff the run. The Colts lean on an undersized defense with
lightning-fast pass rushers and an up-tempo passing game.
Ryan is as brash and forthcoming as you’ll find, while the soft-spoken Caldwell can leave one combing through audio for an interesting quote.
Mark Sanchez is a laid-back California guy who looks like he just got off a surfboard. Manning is close to the vest, all business, and speaks with a southern drawl.
Braylon Edwards frequents the police blotter and never stops talking. Wayne quietly churns out 1,000-yard season after 1,000-yard season.
Last year the Jets landed the first punch in the AFC championship game, jumping out to a 17-6 lead and silencing the Indianapolis crowd. Manning and the Colts responded with 24 unanswered points to send the Jets home fuming.
In the NFL, a chance at revenge is often never granted. For the Jets, another shot at the Colts will arrive less than a year later.
“I think we’ll make enough plays to win this game,” Ryan said.
We’ll see if his team can back up all of his talk this time around.
Another 4-4 week for the Sure-fire picks makes reaching .500 before the playoffs virtually impossible with a 58-66-2 record. It’s worth a shot.
Miami at New England (-5), 1 p.m. Sunday
With everything clinched, how long will Hoodie keep his starters in on a potentially rainy day? Probably long enough to beat the Dolphins, who have been putrid lately. Patriots -5.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans (-8), 1 p.m. Sunday
The Bucs need this much worse than the Saints. Sure the Saints have an outside shot at homefield advantage, but the Panthers would have to beat the Falcons. Does anyone – let alone the Saints – really believe that’s a possibility? Bucs +8.
Minnesota at Detroit (-3), 1 p.m. Sunday
It looks like Brett Favre is finally, finally done and so is the train wreck of a season the Vikings have had this season. The Lions can finish the season on a three-game win streak. Lions -3.
Buffalo at N.Y. Jets (-1), 1 p.m. Sunday
With the Jets resting some starters late and possibly playing without both starting cornerbacks, the Bills should be able to finish the season on a strong note. Bills +1.
Oakland at Kansas City (-3.5), 1 p.m. Sunday
Finishing 8-8 would be a big step in the right direction for the Raiders. With the division crown locked up, the Chiefs may not want this one quite as badly. Raiders +3.5.
N.Y. Giants (-4) at Washington, 4:15 p.m. Sunday
The Giants may very well miss the playoffs this season, but they won’t let it happen at the hands of the Redskins. This is the week that Rex Grossman has that signature Rex Grossman performance we’ve been waiting for. Giants -4.
Chicago at Green Bay (-9.5), 4:15 p.m. Sunday
It looks like the Bears will be resting starters which should mean an easy win for the Packers. A curious move considering they could still claim homefield advantage. Packers -9.5.
St. Louis (-3) at Seattle, 8:20 p.m. Sunday
Incredibly, the winner of this game makes the playoffs. Both teams are bad, but the Seahawks could be the worst team in the NFL right now. Rams -3.
It’s been a while since the final game of the regular season determined if the Colts would earn a playoff berth.
Eight years to be exact.
For a team that’s made the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons, that’s a mind-boggling statistic.
This time of year the Colts are usually resting starters or jostling for playoff position.
But this Sunday everything will be on the line for the Colts, as it was in 2002.
Eight years ago, the Colts entered Week 17 needing a win over the Jaguars to secure a playoff spot. There were other scenarios that would’ve qualified them, but several fell through prior to their late afternoon kickoff. The Colts took the easy route that day, defeating the Jaguars 20-13 to begin the team’s playoff streak that stands today.
This season, the Colts are in a similar predicament. With a victory over the reeling Titans – who have lost seven of their last eight – they are in.
Even if the Colts lose, there’s still hope. They would get in if the Jaguars lose at Houston, and that’s looking more likely with David Garrard out and Maurice Jones-Drew doubtful.
Having to fight until the end is exactly what this Colts’ team needs. In Sunday’s victory over the Raiders, their defense fielded just five starters from its opening day depth chart. The unit is playing better, but is still a work in process.
The offense can’t afford any time off either. With Dallas Clark and Austin Collie done for the season, Jacob Tamme and Blair White are learning on the fly. The running game has been better, but roles are still being defined with the recent signing of Dominic Rhodes and the return of Joseph Addai. After hitting rock bottom, the offensive line is improving after fielding the same starting five for four consecutive weeks.
Resting starters late in the season has become a staple of the Colts over the last decade. Fans of the team should be happy they don’t have a chance to do it again.
A 4-4 week did no favors for the Sure-fire picks as they now stand at 54-62-2. Two weeks remain in the regular season so we’ll see if a late surge is in store.
Dallas (-7) at Arizona, 7:35 p.m. Saturday
Tomorrow’s Christmas extravaganza should be a dandy with everything on the line. By everything I mean a possible top-five pick in the draft. For some reason Jerry Jones wants to keep winning though, so the Cowboys have the edge. Cowboys -7.
Lions at Dolphins (-3.5), 1 p.m. Sunday
It’s been a roller coaster ride for the Dolphins. Some signature victories (road wins over the Packers and Jets) have been marred by brutal defeats (home losses to Cleveland and Buffalo). It’s all about pride for them now and I think they’ll show up. Dolphins -3.5.
Tennessee at Kansas City (-5), 1 p.m. Sunday
A win possibly clinches the AFC West for the Chiefs or at least puts them one step closer. But with Jeff Fisher’s job on the line, the Titans will play hard (except for Randy Moss) and keep this close. Titans +5.
Baltimore (-3.5) at Cleveland, 1 p.m. Sunday
After showing some signs of life, it turns out this year’s Browns are still the same old Browns. And those same old Browns don’t stand a chance against the Ravens. Ravens -3.5.
San Francisco at St. Louis (-2), 1 p.m. Sunday
At 6-8 the Rams control their own destiny in the putrid NFC West. They won’t let the horrific 49ers stand in their way … I don’t think. Incredibly, the 5-9 49ers are still alive as well. Rams -2.
Houston (-3) at Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Tim Tebow should have a nice showing in his second start against the Texans’ secondary, but it won’t be enough. After getting embarrassed by the Titans, the Texans will hang at least 30 on the Broncos – whose defense is equally terrible. Texans -3.
Seattle at Tampa Bay (-6), 4:15 p.m. Sunday
The Bucs fell to a team with a losing record for the first time last week – putting a dent in their playoff chances. They’ll get back on track and make easy work of the Seahawks. Bucs -6.
New Orleans at Atlanta (-2.5), 8:30 p.m. Monday
The Falcons are on a roll and the Saints are still struggling to find consistency. However, under the roof of the Georgia Dome, the Saints will find their rhythm and pull the upset. Saints +2.5.
Recently signed Colts running back Dominic Rhodes dodged a huge bullet Sunday.
Calling the Jaguars the Colts’ little brother was ill-advised, particularly for a guy who had yet to play a snap in the NFL this season. He should have left the trash talk to those who had contributed.
Luckily for Rhodes his teammates backed up his words and the Colts prevailed, defeating the Jaguars 34-24 to take control of the AFC South. To be fair, Rhodes pulled his weight, playing well when called upon Sunday.
And as expected, just as quickly as it jumped off, the media is right back on the Colts’ bandwagon. The Colts have been anointed the Jaguars’ older brother and the AFC South champs by many this week.
Those crowning the Colts might want to take a deep breath and step back for a moment.
The Jaguars and Colts split their regular season series and currently have identical overall and division records.
If both teams win out, the Colts will hold the tiebreaker, but they have a tougher road ahead than the Jaguars – traveling to Oakland (7-7) and hosting Tennessee (6-8).
The Raiders are the league’s second-best rushing team and have won two of their least three – including a decisive victory over a Chargers team that thumped the Colts. And the Titans weren’t exactly pushovers for the Colts in their 30-28 Week 14 victory.
Don’t let a two-game win streak fool you – the Colts are hardly a runaway train primed to barrel through the rest of the schedule.
Defensively they looked better Sunday, but they have to get outside linebacker Clint Session and cornerback Kelvin Hayden back. The run game got going too, but it was a couple breakaway runs, not sustained success. The passing game looks like a different animal with Austin Collie back, but after suffering another concussion, it’s hard to believe he’ll return for the regular season, if at all.
The bottom line: The Colts need to take care of business before they are anointed the Jaguars’ older brother. The label would be a tough sell if the Jaguars emerge as division champs, wouldn’t it?
If the Colts don’t win out, there are still scenarios that would give them the division crown, but then they’ll be counting on the Texans or Redskins (both 5-9) to take down the Jaguars.
Relying on either of those teams will likely result in an early January vacation for the Colts.
Things continue to go downhill for the Sure-fire picks as a 3-4-1 showing drops the record to 50-58-2 for the season. This thing has to get back on track in a hurry, though I’d be lying if I told you I was confident in these picks. I’ll provide them for laughs only.
Washington at Dallas (-7), 1 p.m. Sunday
When things are going as poorly as my picks have this season, sometimes going against your instincts is the best strategy. Maybe Rex Grossman proves all the haters wrong? Alright, I can’t even say that with a straight face. Redskins +7.
Cleveland at Cincinnati (-1), 1 p.m. Sunday
The Bengals are probably the NFL’s biggest flop in a decade but they have to win eventually. Don’t they? Bengals -1.
New Orleans at Baltimore (-1), 1 p.m. Sunday
Drew Brees will shred a shoddy Ravens’ secondary that dodged a bullet Monday. The Saints are hitting stride and might be the NFC’s best team. Saints +1.
Tampa Bay (-4.5) at Detroit, 1 p.m. Sunday
As I mentioned last week, one thing has held true this NFL season. The Buccaneers take care of bad teams – one way or another. They’ll make easy work of the hapless Lions. Bucs -4.5.
Atlanta (-6.5) at Seattle, 4:05 p.m. Sunday
A 7-9 team winning the NFC West is looking more and more likely each week. The Seahawks are terrible and will get clobbered by Atlanta. Falcons -6.5
Denver at Oakland (-7), 4:15 p.m. Sunday
Once a proud franchise, the Broncos are in complete shambles. They will likely finish with their worst record since 1982. If Tim Tebow indeed starts, this could get ugly in a hurry. Raiders -7.
Green Bay at New England (-14), 8:20 p.m. Sunday
Aaron Rodgers is out and the Packers will probably lose this game by 30 … and that’s only if Hoodie is in a good mood. Patriots -14.
Chicago at Minnesota (o/u 34), 8:40 p.m. Monday
What better game to make my first over/under pick of the season. Looks like snow and temps in the high teens for this one. Couple that with the Vikings’ quarterback situation and you have yourself a slopfest. Under 34.