Tag Archives: Peyton Manning

Setting the Record Straight With Matt Ryan’s Playoff Record

We’ve heard it before the year, and sure enough, we’ve heard it this season after our 6-0 start. The Atlanta Falcons are garbage. Why? Because they can’t win in┬áthe playoffs. Matt Ryan’s lost three straight playoff games, he stinks in the playoffs.

So, okay, yes, he has indeed lost three straight playoff games. But have we taken into any context those losses, or considered how difficult it is to even make the playoffs three times in your first four seasons?

Consider these facts:

Rookie year: Went from the number three pick in the draft, and not because we traded for it, because we were that bad, and lost a one possession game to the eventual NFC Champion, on the road.

Year three: Led his team to the best record in the NFC. Unfortunately the eventual Super Bowl champions defeated the Falcons in the second round of the playoffs.

Year four: Led his team back to the playoffs, a fourth straight winning season, lost again to, you guessed it, the eventual Super Bowl champions, on the road.

That’s three losses to NFC champions, with two of them coming on the road and one road loss being against a Super Bowl champion.

Yeah, clearly Matt Ryan has choked in his first four years, just choked…… As a rookie he lost on the road to a quarterback on the way to his third Super Bowl appearance in eight years. So sue him. Oh, he lost on the road to a quarterback on his way to his second Super Bowl victory in five years. Yeah, run him out of town. He obviously will never succeed.

And of course, Matt Ryan is the only one.

Not Brett Favre….Wait, you mean he only even made the playoffs twice in his first four seasons in the NFL? And they never got out of the second round either? You’re kidding me. *the fact that his two wins also came against the Lions…..c’mon….*

I can’t imagine Phil Simms did it either. Oh, he didn’t make the playoffs at all in his first four seasons? Interesting.

Well Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls, so it certainly couldn’t be him then, could it? Okay, he did win ONE playoff game in his first four years, while only reaching them twice.

Then it definitely wasn’t Steve Young. Well, you’re right. He only saw significant playing time in one playoff game during his first four years, and of course, it was a loss. It wasn’t until his eighth season in the NFL before he started and won a playoff game.

So, surely not the legendary Peyton Manning. Hold on, he didn’t win a playoff game in his first four years either? Only one appearance in the second round? And they didn’t even MAKE the playoffs more than twice?

Sure, John Elway and Eli Manning both reached a Super Bowl in their fourth year, along with Troy Aikman. But in all three cases, neither had won a playoff game in either of their first two three years either. And never mind the case that if not for Steve DeBerg going 4-1 as a starter, Elway likely wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all. In fact, Elway, Manning and Aikman all did something in their rookie year that Matt Ryan is still yet to do, lose more than they win as a starting quarterback. Yet, because this trio were in Super Bowls in year four, and Ryan wasn’t, we now know that Matt Ryan never will, right? I see that’s how this works.

It’s funny too, Matt Ryan won’t ever win a Super Bowl after the start he’s had, yet there was the one guy from Fresno State who won all of one playoff game and all had of one winning season in his first six seasons. Somehow though, in year seven, he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

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Late Night Drive, NFL Edition: Falcons Exorcise a Demon, Peyton is Back, Saints & Packers Disappoint, Reid’s Mishandling of Vick….

So week one of the NFL season is almost complete, so it’s time for the late night wrap up of the week that was. Unlike college football with a nationwide ranking system, and of course about 50 games a week, or more, the layout has to be a little bit different, so for week one, we’ll just go game by game.

Atlanta 40, Kansas City 24- In all fairness, this game was really 40-17, that was a garbage touchdown scored by Kansas City, which , fortunately with advancement in football statistics, won’t hardly count for anything at all in the grand scheme of things.

The Falcons were previously 0-3 in games against Kansas City in Arrowhead, having been outscored an absurd 108-23. Their 40 points posted Sunday afternoon nearly doubled what they’d scored in their previous three trips to Kansas City. Matt Ryan accounted for four touchdowns, including two to Julio Jones. The Ryan to Jones combination has the potential to rank among the most, if not THE most, lethal quarterback/receiver duos in the NFL.

The Falcons started slowly, but completely dominated the game in the second half. While the offense clicked all throughout the game, not even punting until just over 3:00 left in the game, the defense sputtered at the outset. However, adjustments were made at the half, and until the garbage time score with under :10 to go in the game, the defense threw a shutout in the second half, including the forcing of a couple of turnovers.

Of some concern for Falcons fans is the continued lack of production in the running game, especially Michael Turner. Only 32 yards coming on 11 carries, with 11 coming on one run. Yeah, your math tells you that’s 10 carries for 21 yards. That’s not good. I think however this coaching staff is smart enough to realize this team no longer goes as Michael Turner goes, it goes as Matt Ryan goes.

Despite that though, no question about it, Atlanta has to feel really, really good about itself right now, as Matt Ryan finally won a season opener on the road. It was also the second most road points scored (45 vs San Francisco in 2009) by the Falcons in the Matt Ryan era. Next Monday night’s home opener for Atlanta against the Broncos just became very, very interesting.

For Kansas City, injuries and suspension hurt their defense, but giving up 40 points at home, in your home opener, and season opener, just shouldn’t be happening. They’ll get a chance to get back on track in Buffalo next week, another team who gave up over 40 points to being the season. The offense moved the ball quite effectively in the first half, but three turnovers were just too much to overcome for Kansas City who saw Sunday night that taking the division from Denver will not be easy.

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 19- What a huge win it was for Denver. And really, it had little to do even with who the opponent was, or what the final score was, what mattered was how Peyton Manning played. Well, I don’t think quarterback is going to be any worry whatsoever in Denver as the season rolls forward.

Manning seemed to have a solid connection already with his new toys, Eric Decker, and Demaryius Thomas, as well as old friend Brandon Stokely. Manning, once allowed complete control and command of the offense in the no huddle, looked every bit like the Peyton Manning we last saw in Indianapolis. The difference he brings to this offense as opposed to Tim Tebow is staggering. Any Tebow fan who argues this team isn’t light years better with Manning seriously needs to consider therapy. Manning went 19 of 26 for 256 yards a couple of scores, and you figure he’s only going to get better as the season goes on.

However, if there is a reason to temper the excitement, it is that the Steelers were banged up on defense, and it is that the Steelers season ended last year, to Denver, with Tim Tebow at quarterback even.

The Steelers just aren’t quite what they were. They cannot protect the passer, and they can’t just line up and run right at you. They have weapons on offense, but without a decent offensive line, it’s hard to consistently use them. Defensively, I’m sorry, when James Harrison and Ryan Clark aren’t suiting up for your defense, against a Peyton Manning led offense, it’s going to make a huge difference.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this game was presence of Georgia Tech and Georgia. Knowshon Moreno and Demaryius Thomas each scored touchdowns, while Jonathan Dwyer had one called back on replay. Dwyer throughout the game exhibited toughness and an ability to finish runs with authority. Behind that offensive line, the Steelers will need that. Furthermore, former Yellow Jacket Keith Brooking saw the field for the Broncos, and Drew Butler, a product of Georgia was the Steelers punter.

Washington 40, New Orleans 32– Kansas City wasn’t the only team who allowed someone to come into their building and put 40 points on them on opening day. But at least they allowed a veteran team who has been to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons to do it. The Saints allowed a team with just three playoff appearances in the last 19 seasons to come in and do it.

Since 2008, the Redskins have ranked 28th, 26th, 25th, and 26th in the NFL in scoring. So what do they do in week one against the Saints? Explode for 464 yards and 40 points in knocking off the Saints in the Superdome, which is absolutely no small task.

Obviously Robert Griffin III took the early lead in the, Griffin vs Luck, battle, but this was about more than just outperforming the only player drafted ahead of Griffin in the 2012 draft. This was about Robert Griffin looking like he’d been doing this at this level for years. He got off to a blistering start, cooled for a stretch, and then picked up his play again to ice the win late as the Saints attempted to mount a comeback. Griffin went 19 of 26 for 320 yards with a couple scores, as well as 42 yards on the ground. Perhaps even more importantly? No interceptions and he was only sacked once.

A nice surprise for the Redskins though was the emergence of Alfred Morris. Coming out of camp and the pre-season, nobody seemed to have any idea what Mike Shannahan’s plan of attack would be at the running back positions. Morris got 28 carries and came up just shy of the century mark, as his debut was overshadowed by Griffins.

The Redskins defense played well too, though you might think allowing 32 points says otherwise. Then you remember it was the New Orleans Saints, at home, so really, as long as the defense allows less than the offense scored, they played well.

For the Saints, you wonder how quickly this will squelch the talk of how the Saints will be just fine without their coaches and that the still looming Bounty Gate won’t affect them. Perhaps the defense needs those extra incentives to go out and actually stop people.

New Orleans got down early and basically had to become one dimensional, but still, ten total rushing attempts? I don’t care that Drew Brees is at quarterback, that’s not going to get it done, ever, against anyone in the NFL.

And while the Panthers did not look good in their opener, the way Griffin carved up the Saints defense, New Orleans can’t exactly sleep well knowing that Cam Newton awaits them next week in Charlotte.

San Francisco 30, Green Bay 22- Alex Smith has heard all off-season that last year was a fluke, that the 49ers won in spite of him, that the team needed to add a quarterback to take that next step, yada yada yada. So what did Smith do? Go up to Lambeau field and take on the majority favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and walk away with a 30-22 victory over the Packers. Not only that, he did so by playing a key role, and playing brilliantly.

Smith went 20 for 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, but perhaps most encouraging was that four completions a piece went to new receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. The addition of those two weapons to complement Michael Crabtree and what is still a solid running game makes the 49ers offense go from one that simply isn’t going to lose a game, to one that might be able to win a few when called upon.

The feeling now is that last year’s playoff game against the Saints where Alex Smith made play after play to take the victory may have been him taking that proverbial next step.

On the other side, much like the Saints, the Packers couldn’t establish anything resembling a running game. They only ran the ball 14 times, but of perhaps more worry is that Cedric Benson was the only person besides quarterback Aaron Rodgers to run the ball. Worse? He ran it 9 times for only 18 yards.

I know the league is indeed a passing league, and the Saints and Packers are two of the very best when it comes to throwing the ball around and scoring a lot of points. But football is still football, and you cannot be that one dimensional, and that incapable of running the football, and expect to win.

Green Bay will be traveling to Chicago next for a Sunday night game with a healthy, and improved Bears team. Chicago mimics the 49ers in a lot of ways, with perhaps a defense just a notch below, but an offense that’s arguably a couple notches higher with the addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.

Chicago 41, Indianapolis 21- Speaking of Chicago, their debut really couldn’t have gone any better from their standpoint. The defense harassed Andrew Luck into four turnovers and just 2 for 10 on 3rd downs. While the offense reeled of 428 yards, all the while making excellent use of some new toys (Marshall, Jeffrey and Michael Bush) and the return of some injured ones (Jay Cutler and Matt Forte) as the Bears were able to run the ball and throw it effectively.

Chicago may have been behind the Lions and Packers a year ago, but they served notice that this team is going to be in the mix, and a win next week over Green Bay would give the Bears a gigantic early edge. You talk about a big time football game……

Philadelphia 17, Cleveland 16- Seriously Michael Vick, four interceptions? Wait, I’m sorry, the blame there is going to the wrong person. Seriously Andy Reid, 56 pass attempts from Michael Vick? You do know you have LeSean McCoy in your backfield, correct? It’s great that Vick was able to lead the team back down the field late for the winning touchdown. But it’s not great that Vick had to lead the team down the field late for a winning touchdown against the Browns.

Reid’s handling of Vick is mind boggling, to say the least. Vick has never been, and never will be, a pocket passer. You’re going to have a lot of drives stall when you throw 27 incomplete passes, it’s as simple as that. Further more, the majority of Vick’s injuries in his career have not occurred when he’s running around doing his thing with his legs, but rather when he’s asked to stand in the pocket and abuse the punishment of guys being able to line up their hits on Vick. Barry Sanders rarely got hurt, despite the massive work load he shouldered. Why? Because nobody ever got a clean shot on Sanders because of his elusiveness and quickness. The same holds true for Vick. When he’s standing stationary in the pocket, that’s when he’s most vulnerable. If Reid doesn’t realize this soon, this season may be over soon for the Eagles, and so might Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia

Detroit 27, St. Louis 23- Don’t worry Matt Stafford, I see you too. I won’t let Vick take in all the accolades for throwing the ball to the wrong team too many times and being forced to engineer a late comeback against a vastly inferior opponent. Stafford threw three interceptions but got things together just enough at the end to avoid what would have been an ugly, ugly loss to the Rams.

I heard Tom Jackson say tonight that as a quarterback, what matters most is being able to lead a team to victory regardless of how bad you’ve played all game. Well, if they didn’t play so bad all game, they wouldn’t have to lead a team from behind for a victory, now would they?

New England 34, Tennessee 13- Pay attention Green Bay. Pay attention New Orleans. This is how you win with an elite quarterback and a team that likes to throw the football around. You still establish a running game. Steven Ridley got 21 carries, more than Saints and Packers running backs combined, and ran for 125 yards as New England cruised past the Titans.

Bad news for the Titans was Jake Locker leaving the game with an injury, though, I don’t think at this point it really makes that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Tennessee was just clearly overmatched by a good football team.

Minnesota 26, Jacksonville 23- In what was perhaps the one game that most featured two teams who are mirror images of each other, it ended as it should have, in overtime.

Both teams have been linked to Los Angeles, both teams had a question about how much playing time their elite running back would play, and both have second year quarterbacks who struggled as rookies at the helm.

For today, Christian Ponder outplayed Blaine Gabbert, and Adrian Peterson outplayed Maurice Jones-Drew as the Vikings got off to a 1-0 start while the Jaguars joined the Colts and Titans at 0-1 in the AFC South in what is already promising to be the worst division in football.

Houston 30, Miami 10- Speaking of that worst division in football, there is absolutely no reason for the Houston Texans not to repeat as division champs, and they quietly went out and took care of business against the Dolphins. The formula was simple, play really good defense, let Matt Schaub be effective, ride Arian Foster and let Andre Johnson do his thing. As mentioned, a division title should be an absolute breeze for the Texans.

New York Jets 48, Buffalo 28- In the game that reminds us again that pre-season doesn’t mean anything, the team that couldn’t score all exhibition season, suddenly couldn’t not score. Rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech hauled in two touchdown passes from Mark Sanchez as the Jets made a loud, and emphatic statement.

C.J. Spiller will likely take the award as player fantasy players most wish they had started. The Clemson product took over when Fred Jackson left with an injury and ran for 169 yards, including a 56 yard touchdown scamper. For a Bills team that seriously believed they were ready to jump to the next level of playoff contender, the blowout loss is a serious blow to the confidence. Chan Gailey better get things turned around quickly as next week Gailey gets to face another another wide receiver he recruited while at Georgia Tech as Calvin Johnson and the Lions are next on the schedule.

Arizona 20, Seattle 16- If you wanted to watch good offense, you probably would have had more luck watching the first half of the Georgia Tech/Virginia Tech game last week. No, seriously. The two teams combined to barely top 500 yards of offense. However, the Arizona Cardinals may have finally found a quarterback, though not at all in the manner I’m sure they expected. When John Skelton went out with a bad ankle sprain, former starter, then banished to a backup Kevin Kolb entered the game. Kolb went 6 of 8 and engineered the go ahead drive for the Cardinals. Arizona played solidly down the stretch a year ago, and if they can get remotely solid quarterback play, they might be able to sneak into wildcard contention considering the weakness of Seattle and St. Louis and the potential for four division wins right there.

Tampa Bay 16, Carolina 10- So this is the Panthers team people were talking about possibly being the spoiler of the Falcons/Saints rivalry and displacing the two of them atop the division? Yeah, okay. Carolina ran the ball 13 times, and got just 10 yards. No, they did not have Jonathan Stewart, but they did have DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton, and that was all they could muster against Tampa Bay? Not a good sign, at all.

Tampa displayed the toughness that is expected from a Greg Schiano coached team and found a way to a gritty win. If Carolina is going to challenge for the division, they’re going to need to go win some surprise road games, and Tampa seemed one of the most winnable on the schedule. Now they get to come home to New Orleans, where it’s assured that one of the two will be 0-2, and you know how likely it is an 0-2 makes the playoffs.

So yes, it’s only been one week, and even this week isn’t done, as we get two games on Monday night. For some teams, there were some major disappointments, while others excelled, as is to be expected. What will be key is how those faced with adversity or major questions respond in week two, and how those who looked the part of a contender handle that success.

MNF picks:

Ravens over Bengals

Chargers over Raiders

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There’s No Shame In Retiring Today Due to Injury Peyton

Peyton Manning has a decision to make. A very difficult decision that even the greatest of professional sports stars all to often seem to wreck up.

To play, or not to play?

For Peyton Manning, yes, he could attempt to return from what clearly is a serious injury, and threat to his well-being, and continue to showcase why he’s one of the finest quarterbacks, if not the finest, to ever play the game.

He could also return, be no longer capable of performing at the ridiculously high level he has throughout his career and beginning tarnishing a legacy. This particular possibility creates a very slippery scope, one where the pride and ego of a man who essentially has been the coach of his professional football teams may feel a drive to come back another year, and another, in a desperate attempt to prove he still “had it”. Such a downhill slide would only further remove the luster of one of exceptional career.

Worse than either of those however, he could return and suffer a debilitating, life altering injury that prevents him from doing all the things he once perhaps took for granted, besides of course throwing touchdown passes. Were this to happen, Manning would suddenly be not only unable to be a husband and father the way he always assumed he could, he’d be vilified by many as a selfish arrogant athlete who put his own ego and desire ahead of that of his family. That’s not exactly a way to be remembered.

Or, Manning could just acknowledge that his time has come. He could hang it up today, and nobody will ultimately really remember that ultimately it was indeed injury that forced him out of the game. They’ll remember that even in his 13th season at age 34, Manning threw for more yards than he had in all but one season prior, and threw for as many touchdowns as he had in all but one previous season. In other words, they’ll remember Peyton Manning in his final year being just about as good as Peyton Manning ever was.

In taking that route though, Manning must accept he has to leave the game on terms other than his own. He must accept that injury, the laws of age, and physics, have taken a toll, and it’s time to move on. Such acceptance is hard for many of us to accept in many aspects of our own lives. You take the egos and pride of high profile superstar athletes, and those who can do it become few and far between.

In fact, the number of athletes who weren’t able to accept it is rather depressing. Instead of retiring and walking away at the top of their games, they hang on, and become trending topics on twitter. And not for adoration and praise, but because they’ve become the punchline of thousands of jokes across the internet.

They become the player our kids look at and laugh, unaware of their former prowess on the playing field. To a generation they became a joke, a nobody. To an entire generation, there is no thought given to the fact that at one time they had reached legendary status of almost mythical proportions. Nope, they’re just the old guy that stinks and needs to be replaced by the new young superstar.

Manning need only look no further than two former superstar quarterbacks with similar ties to see the pitfalls of failing to realize when it’s time to let it go.

Remember the guy who Peyton Manning once wore black high tops to memorialize for? That Johnny Unitas fellow? Of course you do. But do you remember the way his career ended. Let’s hope you don’t. While Unitas struggled at the tail of his career, throwing just 10 touchdowns to 22 interceptions in his final three years, that’s not what the end of his career is remembered by.

Unitas did something nobody thought he would ever do. He did something nobody could have envisioned Peyton Manning do. He put on a helmet with something besides a blue horseshoe on it. No tale of Unitas’ career is complete without that little footnote at the end reminding us that he ultimately did not finish his career with his Baltimore Colts, but rather flailing around unceremoniously as a San Diego Charger.

Just because Baltimore Colts fans had to deal with seeing such an fathomable sight, it doesn’t mean the Indianapolis version must suffer the same fate.

But there’s an even better lesson to be learned from someone linked a bit stronger to Manning.

While not from Louisiana, Brett Favre, like Manning, is a native of the Bayou region in general. A Mississippi kid, the same state where Peyton’s father, and perhaps soon to be more famous younger brother played collegiately, Favre replaced Archie Manning as the hero of the gulf coast region, only to be replaced by Peyton.

Unfortunately for Favre, a lot of the reason Manning has supplanted him is because of…well…Brett Favre.

Favre memorably retired his way out of Green Bay, and into another shade of green in New York with the Jets. There he proceeded to injure his shoulder and along the way lead the entire NFL in interceptions thrown.

Yes, Favre bounced back in 2009 with a season for the ages, but little of that is remembered. What’s remembered his how he had managed to snake his way out of Green Bay into the arms of bitter rival Minnesota through his detour with the Jets.

What is remembered, that with a Super Bowl appearance in his grasp, Favre made one of the dumbest throws in NFL playoff football history. Coincidentally enough, this took place in Peyton’s home town of New Orleans against Archie’s Saints.

During that particular NFC championship game Favre was hit, and hit often. Injuries to his ankle likely would have left him unable to play in the Super Bowl had he not given the football game away (much like he had given away his last opportunity to win an NFC championship game in 2008, against, ironically enough, Eli’s Giants) so maybe the interception was a moot point.

WHat wasn’t though was a once proud warrior, a legendary folk hero, laying on the Superdome turf, beaten, battered, defeated, and through largely the fault of his own.

There was no way Favre would go out that way, everyone knew that. Thus began that slippery slope. Favre tried again one more time with Minnesota. Only to again, be besieged by injury and ineffectiveness.

Over Favre’s final three years, plus one game, the memories are of two blown Super Bowl appearances, two sub-par seasons, and an injury prone old man. Not how you endear yourself to the younger generation.

Beyond that, the ridicule that came with the ever-lasting Favre saga each and every offseason had become so much a part of everyday life, it finally became un-noticed. You think Tim Tebow coverage is a bit excessive now, I think we all know the Favre love-fest and obsession was far worse.

But in reading what you’ve just read, where was the talk about the gun slinger, care free kid who played football, played it damn well, and had a ton of fun doing it? Oh, right, it wasn’t mentioned, it’s long a distant memory.

Don’t let what made you great become a distant memory to a side-show circus where you undermine what was one of the finer careers in professional football.

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Colts Don’t Match Up Well With Jets

This game, to me, might be the easiest to predict, and by predict I don’t mean who will win. I do think though, the ways in which this game could play out are relatively few and far between.

The only death sentence in this game I can see for the New York Jets is if they fall behind early. While there are several quarterbacks in this post season clearly capable of rallying their team from double digit deficits, even in the 4th quarter, I do not believe in this particular game Mark Sanchez is one of those.

Yes, Sanchez has five game winning drives this season, three of the fourth quarter comeback variety. However, keep in mind that these rallies came against the likes of Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, and Houston. Not exactly defenses that strike fear into the hearts of anyone, save their own fans.

Yes, I’m aware that the Colts defense hasn’t exactly been scaring anyone this year either, however there are two points that remember when discussing this Colts defense. One, they have been playing much, much better in the last few weeks of the season. Two, and this is part of a reason for number one, they have been afforded the luxury of playing with leads more often in the last few weeks of the season as opposed to the seasons first third.

The difference in the Colts defense when ahead, or trailing, is like night and day. Their run defense doesn’t have the ability to consistently stop people. In fact, teams gain positive yardage running on the Colts defense 84% of the time. That’s the 6th highest total in the league. With numbers like that, if a team has a lead, or is in a close game and can commit to running the ball, the Colts defense can be in trouble, big trouble.

The problem is right in the middle. Teams have punished Indianapolis right between the guards, as the Colts defense has been the 5th worst in the NFL at defending runs right up the middle. Why is this such a big problem? Only five teams have been better at running up the middle this year than the Jets.

Against the passing game he Colts have been pretty solid at slowing down the other teams wide receivers. The chink in their pass defense has been covering backs out of the backfield and tight ends. Fortunately for Indianapolis, the Jets attempts to incorporate LaDanian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller into the passing game have been rather futile. Neither of the three have been very dangerous in the passing game, despite the fact that Dustin Keller has been targeted over 100 times.

This could prove critical late in the game as teams with late leads on the Colts, and using the ground game to control the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field will use play action extensively, and often these play action plays will consist of tight ends or backs in the flat. The Jets inability to take advantage of this weakness with the Colts could ultimately be the difference in their ability to put this game away if they are fortunate to be playing with a lead in the second half.

On the flip side of the coin though, when a team is playing from behind, play action becomes relatively useless and ineffective, and that is t area of pass defense that the Jets can hope best to exploit. This is why it’s vital for the Colts to be playing with a lead in this game.

Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are as good a pass rushing duo as you will find in the league. Unfortunately for the Colts, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to rush the passer when the other team has the lead, or is having lots of success running the ball and can still incorporate that into their game plan.

Throw in the factors of playing at home in front of a raucous crowd, indoors, on a fast track, with the struggling Mark Sanchez at quarterback, Freeney and Mathis are foaming at the mouth to be unleashed on Sanchez. If the Jets fall behind and are forced to abandon the running game, and consequentially play action passing, Sanchez could be in for a long, long night, and things could snow ball quickly.

On the other side of the ball, does much more need to be said than simply, Peyton Manning? Perhaps.

The year began with lavish praised being heaped all over this Jets defense. Near the middle of the season however some questions had begun to arise as a couple of different squads had put up some big numbers on the unit. I think those questions should be put on the shelf.

The Jets haven’t been the league’s best unit this year, but they’ve been an elite one. After Pittsburgh, you could throw a blanket over the next 5 or 6 teams, so there’s no place for questioning the validity of the Jets defense.

The pass defense was expected to be a major strength, and for the most part, it has been. Darrell Revis hasn’t exactly been a complete shut down corner, but he’s been more than adequate, to say the least. Missing games, and the hamstring injury limiting him when he first returned all factor into the numbers not being perhaps as impressive as one would expect. Not to mention, having Revis out for such durations forced some shuffling in the secondary that ultimately resulted in teams being able to take advantage of what was the number two corner spot quite a bit.

All told though, the Jets secondary, while not able to really take away one particular target from the offense, also wasn’t particularly hurt by any one particular target. They covered number ones, they covered slot receivers, and they covered backs and tight ends all equally. In other words, there aren’t many holes in this secondary. Without Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, do the Colts have the pass catchers to find what few holes are there?

So can the Colts find some success on the ground? It’s highly unlikely. The Jets run defense was a top five group, and the Colts running game, well, we know what it was. Yes, injuries galore decimated it, and Colts fans have to hope the return of Joseph Addai at the close of the season means good things for the playoffs.

Addai hasn’t been anywhere close to the back he’s proven capable of, but he’s been clearly better than any other option the Colts of trotted out with Manning in the backfield. The Jets defense however is too good for just adequate to make much of a dent. Addai absolutely must suddenly revert back to his normal self, and now, for the Colts running game to have a chance.

The one weakness the Jets have has been stopping teams in short yardage situations. Luck would have it for the Colts that they’ve been pretty futile in such situations, so any hopes of trying to take advantage of this doesn’t seem like a plan that will work for the Colts. Furthermore, the Jets are high among the elite teams in terms of not allowing big plays via the ground game. The Colts, as you can probably guess, rank near the bottom in big plays from the rushing attack.

When it comes to special teams, there’s hardly anything worth discussing here. Only the Chargers had worse special teams play this year than the Colts. The only edge the Colts have is if it comes down to a late field goal they have Adam Vinatieri. No team in the league is worse at covering kicks than the Colts, and nobody has been more proficient returning them than the Jets. So even if the Colts score, the Jets are more than likely going to start with good field position. Similar things can be said of the punting game.

So what happens?

Simple. The Colts need to turn Mark Sanchez over, and do it early. They need to get a lead, and then let the dogs loose on Mark Sanchez. Then they need to keep forcing turnovers, get up, and get up big.

If this game stays close, it’s hard to like the Colts chances. Yes, one would say, “close game, 4th quarter, I’m taking Peyton Manning over Mark Sanchez, all day”. And I would too. However, I’ll take the other 44 guys suited up in Jets uniforms over the 44 in Colts uniforms, and that’s what is going to win this game.

Perhaps, perhaps, thanks to all the talk that has been going on all year, if the game is close late, the Jets crumble, succumbing to the pressure they’ve placed on themselves all year as they see their season potentially ending in the first round of the playoffs.

But I doubt it.

I say the Jets win.

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Titans/Colts, Ride the Baby Horse

The Indianapolis Colts are in a world of hurt. Their defense can’t stop much of anyone, especially their run defense, and their offense is a collection of guys who should be doing nothing but covering kickoffs and punts.

Their do everything, all-time great quarterback Peyton Manning is forcing things and in turn playing perhaps the worst football since his rookie year in 1998.

The Colts are teetering on the brink of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001, and are likely looking at their first single digit win season since that year as well.

They are taking the 6th worst rush defense in the NFL on the road to play against one of the games best running backs. A loss tonight and the division title and playoff dreams of the Colts are pretty much crushed.

It’s a dire situation.

And it’s the type of situation a Peyton Manning has to steup and deliver, It’s the type of situation Peyton Manning will step up and deliver.

Granted, I’m not sure I believe this so much because I believe in Manning and the Colts right now, but rather I’m not at all believing in these Titans.

These Titans don’t look anything like a Jeff Fisher team. Yes, there are problems at the quarterback position, but they’ve overcome that before.

Jeff Fisher led Titans teams are known for being tough, physical, and playing hard. These guys appeared to have already checked out for the year.

I’m not talking about just the players either. How else do you explain a team sitting at 5-5, in contention for a division title suddenly, and inexplicably handing the ball of to their best player, and arguably one of the best running backs in all of the NFL just 20 times over two games? The coaches have mailed it in too.

This isn’t that surprising though, considering how frustrated Jeff Fisher has arguably become with the Vince Young situation, and how it seems less and less that owner Bud Adams is staunchly in his corner when it comes to dealing with the troubled but talented quarterback.

Playing one of the worst defensive teams of the past 20 years two weeks ago against the Houston Texans, Chris Johnson had 7 carries. Yes, seven, that’s it. It was a game the Titans lost 20-0.

Another dispirited effort followed last week against Jacksonville. Tennessee has lost five straight, and has turned the ball over ten times in their last four games.

Yeah, not what you expect from Jeff Fisher teams.

So the Colts playoffs may get a stay of execution thanks to their opponent this week, but it’s not because I believe in the Colts, I just don’t believe in the Titans.

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How the AFC Playoff Race is Shaping Up

So we’ve reached the 3/4 mark of the NFL season, and the picture of the 2010 NFL season is starting to come into focus and become a lot clearer.

The New England Patriots are very good, scary good even, especially on offense. In fact, their offense is performing at a level that equals that of the historically great 2007 Patriots offense, and it’s doing it with a rag-tag collection of football players. I don’t think there can be an argument against Tom Brady as the MVP at this point.

The Patriots defense is less than stellar, and the secondary has struggled mightily this year. However, getting home field advantage int the playoffs might matter as much to New England as it will any team in football. Forcing teams to play outside in Foxboro in January will do more to upgrade this pass defense than anything short of adding Darrelle Revis or Champ Bailey.

Newsflash, Mark Sanchez is not a very good quarterback. He’s not anywhere remotely close to the level of a Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco when it comes to great young quarterbacks in this league. As a matter of fact, if you really look at it, Sanchez isn’t performing better than any of the top young quarterback prospects of the 2008 and 2009 drafts. Even Chad Henne is playing better football this year. If you want one reason the Jets are over-hyped, it starts with their over-hyped quarterback.

Speaking of over-hyped, I think it’s a term that also applies to the Jets secondary. Their pass defense is only 17th in the NFL right now, and against number one receivers they are a pedestrian 13th. For a team who supposedly has the best shut down corner in the NFL, you’d expect better.

The theme of this Jets team is clearly a team that is more about brash, arrogant boasting, and hyped superstars than it is about being a truly great football team. They are now destined to begin the playoffs on the road. The good thing for the Jets is that the AFC’s 4th seed won’t pose a too imposing challenge. However, if they get to round two, on the road, I don’t think the Jets have a chance against any of the three big dogs in the conference. And no, after Monday night, the Jets no longer belong in the conversation regarding the AFC’s elite.

With games left at Chicago and Pittsburgh, the Jets could easily wind up with five losses and as just the sixth seed in the AFC and forced to likely start the playoffs potentially in Kansas City. As of right now, they aren’t in any real danger of missing the playoffs. However, if there is a hangover from the embarrassing showing against the Patriots this upcoming Sunday against the Dolphins and the Jets lose this game, things could get testy in New York, and this hype machine is going to have to fight for its playoff life with two brutal road games looming.

The Miami Dolphins loss last weekend to Cleveland did serious damages to their playoff hopes, in fact, it may have ruined them. The Phins have a favorable schedule in the closing month with Buffalo and Detroit both coming to South Florida before they head north to play a Patriots team that will likely be resting their starters.

If, and that’s a huge if, Miami can beat the Jets, the combination of the win, and the two remaining schedules, will at least put some pressure on the Jets, and give Miami a fighting chance. The Dolphins 6-6 record is a perfect microcosm of their season. They excel at nothing, and yet, aren’t particularly bad at any one phase of the game.

In other words, they’ve lacked a significant play maker to transform this team from mediocre to good. They thought that they obtained such a player in Brandon Marshall, but the reality of the situation is that Marshall hasn’t even performed like a legit NFL starting receiver this year. Both Bo Hartline and Devon Bess have outplayed him this year. If Miami fans want somewhere to point blame for their failure to take the next step this year, they need look no farther than Marshall. Despite being thrown at 100 times this year, Marshall has only pulled in 58 passes, and just one touchdown.

There are no questions though as to whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens still belong in the conversation. It’s just unfortunate that one of them will have to start the playoffs on the road, and that likely will be Baltimore. Of course, this wasn’t a problem for the Ravens last year as they marched right into New England and put a whipping on the Patriots.

Baltimore’s schedule sets up favorably, so they should be able to get back past the Jets and into the 5th spot in the conference, which could be huge. It’s likely the 4 seed from the AFC will be the AFC South winner, which would mean Jacksonville or an injury depleted Colts team.

The Steelers would absolutely rather New England have to come to their building in January, but it doesn’t appear that will be the case. The Steelers defense is good enough though to go to Foxboro and beat the Patriots. They also have the weapons on offense to take advantage of New England’s secondary. If anyone seems likely ┬ápotentially take down New England, it’s these Steelers. Winning the game against Baltimore to get themselves a top two seed was paramount, they will need all hands on deck to get by New England. Don’t be shocked though if they see Baltimore in the 2nd round, and don’t be shocked if they don’t survive it this time around.

The Chargers loss last week did wonders for the Kansas City Chiefs and their bid for the playoffs. If I need to remind you, remember I pegged this Chiefs team as my sleeper team in the NFL over the summer. Unless the Chiefs completely fall asleep at the wheel now, they are going to be hosting a playoff game in about a month.

The problem for the Chiefs is that they don’t play good enough defense and special teams to really be considered a threat to make a post-season run. Stopping people and winning the field position battle is how you win in January in the NFL, and the Chiefs just aren’t good enough in those phases of the game.

However, if Kansas City can draw the Jets in the first round, they stand an excellent chance of getting out of round one. You know Thomas Jones would be extra motivated to take on the Jets, and you’ve got to like the chances of Brandon Flowers severely limiting Santonio Holmes impact for the Jets.

The Chiefs travel to San Diego on Sunday to play the Chargers, a victory will pretty much eliminate the Chargers from the division and playoff race. The team who beat San Diego last week, Oakland will be traveling to Jacksonville in a weekend that sets itself up as a potential elimination weekend in the AFC West.

That Oakland game with Jacksonville could be extremely big. A Raiders victory and the door in the AFC South gets swung wide open for everyone in that division to have a chance to waltz right in. It also puts the Raiders in position to continue to apply pressure on the Chiefs, who by the time their game gets to the 2nd half will know if the Raiders have won or not.

It’s very possible the three teams in the west enter the last three games of the season with just one game between them all. If that’s the case, advantage San Diego. The Chargers get San Francisco, Denver and Cincinnati to close the year. A win over Kansas City, and it seems another December charge from the Chargers will be inevitable. With Oakland or Kansas City guaranteed to lose (barring a tie) one more time, suddenly San Diego might become the favorite to win this division after all. Yes, this week is an enormous week in the AFC West.

The Jaguars seem to be sitting rather pretty in the AFC South at the moment. Even though they play at Indianapolis in two weeks, the schedule absolutely favors the Jaguars and their playoff push. They get the aforementioned Raiders at home this week, and then close the season with a game at home against the hapless Redskins and on the road against a Texans team that will likely be playing for a coach on the way out.

The way to beat Jacksonville is to make them turn the ball over, something the Oakland Raiders absolutely do not do. In fact, only the Broncos force fewer turnovers per drive than the Raiders do. If you’re a Jaguar fan, you’ve got to like what you’ve got coming up. But enjoy the finish of the regular season and the likely division title Jaguar fans, because in the playoffs, the potential first round match-ups do not at all favor Jacksonville. It doesn’t matter whether it is Baltimore or New York, the Jaguars don’t match up favorably with either. Their hope at this point to win a game in the playoffs has to be a New York Jets collapse and perhaps the San Diego Chargers sneaking in.

With the Colts at 6-6, and severely hampered by injuries, it may be too much to ask for the Colts to win the last four games and finish 10-6, meaning Jacksonville needs to just find two wins to get to 9 and likely ensure at least a tie with the Colts. Of course, if the Jaguars win their next two games, the division will be over.

You would think the Colts have to feel good about the fact that they do get to play the absolutely inept Titans twice in the seasons final four games, but it might not be all roses. Even if they sweep the Titans, for one, that only puts them at eight wins. More importantly though, the Titans may not be a match-up that the Colts have the upper hand in.

The Titans are outstanding on special teams and play some pretty good defense. The Colts are the second worst team in the league on special teams, and the offense has become a turnover machine in recent weeks. That combination is exactly the kind of mixture that will get you beat by Jeff Fisher coached team, even if Rusty Smith is playing quarterback.

The Titans, with three division games left, still have a mathematical chance to work their way back into the playoffs. What this team wouldn’t do for healthy, and quality play at quarterback right now. With it, it wouldn’t be that far fetched to see the Titans winning their next two games at home, and being 7-7 in position to put major pressure on Jacksonville and Indianapolis in the division. Unfortunately, the smoke and mirrors of Rusty Smith at quarterback might win a game or two here down the stretch, it probably just won’t be enough. However, with two left with the Colts, they can absolutely ruin the Colts rein in the AFC South.

At this point in the season, it just looks to be too much for the Colts to get their way into the playoffs, and you can see it even in Peyton Manning’s play lately. He’s still one of the games best quarterbacks, but his value is perhaps inflated a bit this year because of the complete lack of running game. It should be noted, that on a per play basis, Manning hasn’t been among the league’s top ten quarterbacks this year. Obviously, the supporting cast around him factors heavily into this, but it’s something that can’t be ignored, and this is with a Colts offensive line that is the best in the league still at protecting the quarterback.

You can’t rule out the Houston Texans, yet. However, by next Tuesday morning you likely can. Their game with Baltimore next Monday night is absolutely huge. It’s quite possibly the most important game in Gary Kubiak’s coaching career. A loss, the playoffs are gone, and so likely is Kubiak at the end of the year.

In fact, next week’s game with Baltimore can severely alter the playoff landscape. A Baltimore loss would be their fifth, suddenly opening up the door for any number of teams still at the six loss mark with three games to play in the season. Not only that, it keeps Houston very much alive in the AFC south race, and with a home game with Jacksonville in week 17 looming, the pressure will get seriously turned up on Jacksonville to not slip up prior to that tilt.

However, a loss that eliminates Houston puts this as a team who is probably going to be very aware they are playing for a lame duck coach, with little to play for. That approach will probably lend itself to the Texans effort dwindling on a week by week basis, and that could be very important for the Jaguars as they will be trying to wrap up a playoff berth at the seasons ends against the Texans.

The Texans offense has been lethal this year, performing at a pace that’s not far removed from being one of the ten best offensive teams of the past 18 years. Unfortunately for Houston, their defense is historically even worse, as it still has a chance to be the worst defense the NFL has seen in that same time span. If the Texans defense had even just been bad, and not historically bad, the AFC South would likely be getting wrapped up in the next two weeks by the Texans. Instead, a regime change could be in place.

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