Saturday, January 30, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Make the Pro Bowl Better

"What we're seeing is a lot more attention on the Pro Bowl than we've ever had before," (NFL Commissioner Roger) Goodell said. "And that in and of itself is a success."

Poobah Goodell thinks that the date switch is a success (shocking, isn't it, that he holds the opinion that His Plan Is Working Out Just Fine). As a snarky sports blogger who is always hoping to fill the hole, I quite agree. Bot Goody Boy, we can do so much more. And some of these are even legitimate suggestions!

10) Pro Bowl cheerleader voting.
Now, you could do this via online voting and make the Internet explode among certain portions of the self-pleasuring populace, but for me, I think you need to let the players vote on this. That way, we know which ones are not just loose, but skilled and willing.

9) Hold it at a cold weather site. It's the perfect way to satisfy all of the host cities that will never get to host the Sooper (Note: Misspelling used to avoid the packs of roving NFL lawyers that would want to confiscate my children for their organs for using the intellectual property of the Word That Rhymes With Oooper). Plus, it will allow for extraordinary comedy as hundreds of players invent injuries, and the good times of (a) snow game in HD and (b) cheerleaders with frost-encouraged mammalian protuberances. Sold to an American!

8) Hold it in mid-season. As the Saints and Colts showed this year, parity is starting to wane in the NFL, and a game that has more of their players in it, if held mid-week especially, could really balance the power in the league. Besides, it seems like your criteria for success for this thing is just to get more people talking about it... and hell yes, this would do that. Along with exploding footballs, sexy refs in lingerie, and firing the announcers out of cannons. But let's not get unrealistic.

7)) Change the headgear. Show the world your growing concern about concussions by making the players go hatless for a game, or at least, put them in the old-school leather helmets to push the sale of more retro apparel. If nothing else, it might make a few of the more egregious dreadlock and mullet enthusiasts rethink that choice and go for a God-Fearing Unitas-esque flat top. Now that's a haircut you can set your watch by!

6) Bring back the skills competition, and open it up to non-participants. The average NFL fan looks at JaMarcus Russell and can't possibly imagine what would possess an NFL team to employ him, let alone draft him with the #1 pick. You need to stand up for your scouts and particularly idiotic NFL franchises by giving these men the chance to shine in the non-game activity in which the excel at. Once everyone's seen JaRuss throw the ball 60 yards from his knees while eating, it will show the world what the Raiders were drafting. Besides, it might help the Raiders feel better about themselves!

5) Use the game to really tart up Punt, Pass and Kick. The annual trotting out of children in jerseys during an NFL playoff game is all well and good, but if you want to get more of America's rotund spawn away from the video game console, you need to make them reality TV stars by giving them the full features and buildup treatment. Besides, too many of these kids are hard on the eyes; a little trash TV will clean that up right nice.

Is one kid a moody loner with good cheekbones, while another is mourning the untimely passing of a parent? Can some of the older kids start to show PG-13ish feelings for each other? Will Bill Simmons devote thousands of words to it while other men his age wonder if an intervention or NBC Dateline episode is necessary? And finally, isn't all of this as good or better than what you show on NFLN?

4) Sideline Reporter Island. Continuing with the pipeline into human degradation that is reality TV based work, put all of the network sideline reporters in a mobile phone voted contest against each other. Each contestant gets their own camera person, mic, and carte blanche to try anything they can to get entertaining moments onto the air -- with the extra incentive that the winner gets a double check for the game, while the lowest voting person gets canned, tarred, and feathered.

You mean to tell me that you wouldn't want to see what Pam Oliver does when the numbers are looking bad for her midway through the third? We might see our first full-on tackle, or Oliver slap the taste out of the mouth of a coach who won't give her a good quote. And you know what slaps mean - ratings!

3) Division games. Let's face it: no one really cares which conference is better. But NFL fans -- or, at least, the bleating pule-tastic honks that follow the league in the DC to Boston SprawlPlex -- love to tell you how tough their division is. Oh Sweet Sassy Molassy, if only Their Aggrieved Laundry were in the West, they'd roll to the Super Bowl every damn year. Those teams in the West are terrible! They've got no quarterbacks, defenses, or urinals, because they all sit to pee. I bet they're all secretly French! And so on.

(By the way, you Northern types are no better, and you Southern fans would also be right up there, if the Internets would only come to the trailer park. And now that I've won friends and influenced people...)

Well, let's settle this, in as much as anything can be settled at a meaningless exhibition played by risk-averse millionaires: with 7-on-7 15-minute mini-games between divisions. We'd have 7 of them in all, and if that's too much time, have two of them going on at once by splitting the field in half. This would also give the NFL the opportunity to design lots of extra awful division Pro Bowl jerseys, which fetishistic laundry lovers would purchase, and also give the league's sweatshop workers and Third World fans (you know, the ones that get Losing Team Super Bowl Champion swag every year) more to do and enjoy. It's a 7-way win!

2) NFL Vs. The World. Don't you think that CFL, Arena, WLAF, Arena, XFL and UFL alumni would give their left nut to square off against the Overleague in front of television cameras and the NFL gentry? And don't you think that if they had time and training -- and perhaps a motivated coach and a month to prepare -- that they might pull off several quarters or more of close football, leading the possibility of an upset for the ages?

Well, me neither. But it would still be more fun than what we've got.

1) Go Virtual. Honestly, the Pro Bowl works only for kids anyway -- anyone with the experience to have seen this thing before knows not to watch it again -- so let's just go all the way and make it an avatar-only event. Break out the Madden engineers and stat nerds to crunch the numbers and recreate the entire game, then bring in the starring players for sideline voice work and coached acting to get them into the proper character. If it winds up with a hard-fought win for one of the teams, with a pretty-boy QB sobbing his eyes out and/or throwing his offensive line under the bus... well, isn't that just, again, better than what we've got now? Plus, no injuries or half-assed tackling!

Add your own in the comments...

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Pro Bowl Pick

I know that this is coming a little later than usual, and that the readers of this fine blog have been itching to put some money down on the Pro Bowl, but needed my sub-.500 pick consultation before going to the window.

And to this, I say: well played. Gambling on a meaningless exhibition game that the players don't care about and you don't even want to watch isn't the sign of a serious addiction: it's a sign that you finish what you start, dammit. Be proud of yourselves!

Besides, now when you try to recover from an entire season of bad picks by wagering too much on the Pro Bowl, you'll have the nut you need to make a real payday from the Super Bowl. I'm not even sure why they are still calling it gambling!

AFC (+2.5) over NFC

The AFC usually has the edge in these things, since they've been the slightly to significantly better conference for most of the 21st century. But with the NFL's roundly ridiculed move of the Pro Bowl to the Super Bowl bye week, and the dozens of players who have begged off due to injury or Super Bowl participation, the better conference has really taken it hard at the quarterback level. Instead of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, the trigger men will be Matt Schaub (good), Vince Young (um, really?) and David Garrard (downright comical). If I were coach Norv Turner, I'd punch myself in the face. A lot. But I'd also want to fake an injury to the non-Schaub guys.

Saving the AFC's bacon will be the top tier RBs (Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice), and WR Brandon Marshall, who might be in line for a huge day was he tries to impress the other 31 teams enough to get him out of Denver. (Personally, I'd take that bet. Chicago, make a deal!) The AFC also brings tight end Antonio Gates and Heath Miller to the contest, both of whom are going to be motivated more than the usual walk through stars. (Gates, to lose the taste of those drops in the Jets playoff loss, and Miller, because this might be the only time he ever goes, and he's actually damned good.)

On defense, as always in the Pro Bowl, you aren't allowed to blitz. (That's why it's such a compelling game!) So what you need are speed DLs who can get to the QB anyway against a disinterested tackle, and secondary players that want to tackle and make a pick. I like Elvis Dumervil of Denver and the Pittsburgh LBs (James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley) to do that more than their NFC counterparts (DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen, both of which look like prime Mail It In candidates from their playoff runs). The AFC also has a very fresh Brian Dawkins in what has to be his final appearance, and I suspect he's going to make someone on his side care, while Darelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha might want to play a game of Who's Better on their side of the ball. The NFC counters with Asante Samuel and two (wow) Dallas corners, Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman, none of whom look like they can do anything with a motivated Marshall. Strong advantage, AFC.

And in the end, the reason why you take the AFC... I think Matt Schaub makes this game his in a big way, as part of a No Longer Flying Under The Radar stat campaign. He was better than Tom Brady this year; a lot better. It's time that the rest of the world knew that, too.

Finally, just because it's the only lasting memory any non-Redskins fan will ever have of the man that does not involve his death, we repeat this little piece of Sean Taylor video as our annual Pro Bowl pick tradition.

Notably, it's the only lasting memory anyone has of a Bills player being in this game, either...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Top Five Unrealistic Eagle Moves For 2010

5) Releasing the Brothers Andrews. The game plan for the offensive line in 2009 was a revamped and wildly more athletic unit, with brother Stacy joining the unreliable Shawn from Cincy to give he team a road-grader attack, along with newcomer Jason Peters. By combining with standout center Jamal Jackson and the quietly effective Todd Herremans, the line was going to be a quiet upgrade over last year's aging but competent Jon Runyon and Tra Thomas outfit, thanks to youth and athleticism.

Like many things about the season, this fell apart in training camp due to injury, and while contingency plans were able to limit the damage to some extent, the spackling showed against good teams. Tackle Winston Justice stepped up enough to earn his next contract and a grudging acceptance from fans who still remember his unsupported turnstile de-pantsing in a SNF loss to the Giants a few years ago, and eight-of-all-trades Nick Cole also got some time, especially after Jackson went down. It all came crashing down in the twin Dallas losses, where the line was overwhelmed. But that was then.

In 2010, I'm hoping that Peters is better with more familiarity from his teammates, and Justice is still young enough to show improvement. Jackson's injury is a bad one, leaving a big bad hole in the middle, and Cole is not expected to return. The elder Andrews was on sports talk radio the other day in town, talking about how motivated he is now, how he knows that he owns the team something, and how excited he is to pay Coach Andy Reid back for his patience and understanding. Which is all well and good, but could also be the Saying What They Want To Hear portion of trying to remain on a roster. Until the hitting starts, there's no way to know.

Unfortunately for the team, there really isn't freely available talent that's on par with the pair. When he's on his game, Shawn is one of the best interior linemen in the NFL, and a key reason why Brian Westbrook was a borderline MVP pick, especially on the screens that Reid loves more than any other play. Stacy showed some promise in Cincy before moving on, and was coveted by other teams at the time of the signing. The 2009 plan deserves one more shot... but with a better contingency plan in the back-ups.

4) Signing a name LB.
In the Reid Era, this has always been the consistent flaw in the defense, made worse by the organization's love affair with undersized speed defensive linemen. Past retreads like Dhani Jones, Takeo Spikes and Levon Kirkland have been brought in with hope and cycled out again with speed; you can also add Jeremiah Trotter to that list, given the bad penny way the team keeps winding up with him. The result has been a defense that has been murdered by pass-catching tight ends ever since Brian Dawkins started losing one on one battles to a young Jeremy Shockey, and a run defense that makes coming back from any deficit unlikely.

However, say this for Reid: he does adapt, however unwillingly, to the changing times. After half a decade of saddling his QBs with generic dog food wideouts like James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell, he stepped up with Terrell Owens, Dante Stallworth, and then hit the jackpot with DeSean Jackson (and to a lesser extent, Jeremey Maclin and the developing Jason Avant). He also finally kicked LJ Smith to the curb for Brent Celek. He does learn. It just takes a maddeningly long time.

Realistically in 2010, the plan will be to let MLB Stewart Bradley reclaim the position that he lost to injury in the accursed 2009 training camps, then play catch-as-catch-can from the grab bag of Akeem Jordan, Tracy White, Will Witherspoon, Omar Geither, Joe Mays, Moise Fokou, Chris Clemons and Chris Gocong. Of that bunch, I think Witherspoon is OK, Jordan has promise, Mays and Fokou could stay in the league, and White and Clemons are situational guys who are best used as special teams aces. Gaither is likely gone for erratic play, and Gocong is kind of a rich man's Gaither.

3) Ending the Sav Rocca experiment. As amusing as it is to have a 6'-5", 265-pound punter who likes to hit people, Rocca's career numbers (42.6 gross, 37.1 net) are just ordinary, and the bigger issue is the inconsistency which plagues his work. Rocca is also 36 already, since he had a previous life as a pretty great Aussie rules player. There's also just the sense now that his technique is always going to be erratic, and that he's not going to ever be a better asset than what he is already... and since he's just completed his third year in the league, he's also going to start getting more expensive.

Finally, there's this: kicker David Akers had a very strong year on kickoffs, but has had health issues in the past that cost him distance. Dallas, among other teams, had a competitive advantage on kickoffs, and punters are becoming more commonly used for the deep kick, and it's not striking me as out of the realm of possibility that the team could get an upgrade.

Realistically, of course, Reid and the Eagles do what they do, and Rocca is also the holder on field goals for Akers, who is about as secure as any kicker in the NFL. So he'll be here as long as Reid wants him here. Meh.

2) Making Leonard Weaver a co-owner of the running game. For the first time in the Reid Era, the club had a true power threat when Weaver took over for the concussed Westbrook in the second half of the year. Weaver wound up making the Pro Bowl from his efforts, probably as much for his big game against the Giants and the relative weakness of the current fullback position. Between his efforts and the periodic effectiveness of Short Field Punt Return (aka, the Michael Vick Experience), the club was much better in short yardage situations than in 2008, though it still wasn't a strength. With a full off-season, Westbrook presumably out of the picture, and the sense that the club is going to manage carries for RB LeSean McCoy the same way that they did with Westbrook, Weaver could work in to a bigger role.

Realistically, it was telling how rookie RB Eldra Buckley got goal line touches instead of Weaver, partly because Reid has never liked giving those carries to important personnel. (Again, the Westbrook experience is revealing.) Perhaps the coach sees that last yard as a good place to get hurt, or he felt that he needed Weaver to block. So while the man will probably still get touches and carries, anyone expecting him to really take more of the spotlight is likely to be disappointed. (The same, by the way, goes for fantasy football players who go hard for McCoy, though he's likely to get some kind of a bump in his second year in the league.)

1) Starting the Kevin Kolb Era. And here's the one that dwarfs all of the others on the list. I've written about this before on the blog, but QB Donovan McNabb should fetch something in trade, and time is running out to see if they really have something in Kolb, or if the QB of the 2010s for the laundry is on the roster. Kolb certainly looked ready in his two games in 2010, albeit against fairly bad defenses (New Orleans and Kansas City).

If it's my team, McNabb goes to a team that gives the highest price, assuming he's not in the division, and the haunting be damned. The man is 33 and injury prone, after all; while he could be in the league for another half a dozen years, it's just as likely that he could be done in 1 to 2 years.

Realistically... well, there is a real chance that McNabb will be somewhere else in 2010, since there are a half dozen teams in the league that have no viable starting QB on their roster, while the Eagles have at least two. (I'm not ready to give Vick the full designation yet; I know he's got a big name, but it wouldn't shock me if he loses a camp battle even in one of the more open jobs.) But you can easily see Reid sticking to his guns and the devil he knows, and also wanting to be absolutely sure that he's got a solid option in the event of an injury.

Finally, you can also see Reid not wanting to face McNabb again in a possible playoff, and many of the rumored destination for him (Minnesota, San Francisco) are places where he could come back to haunt them. That's a wuss way out, and they did let Owens go to Dallas with no real regrets, but so be it.

Feel free to add your own in the comments...

Top 13 Takeaways From Paul Shirley's Views On Haiti

Paul Shirley, for those who haven't had the middling pleasure of reading his book about being an NBA bench body, decided today that publishing a remarkably callous diatribe about Haiti was more important than the continued goodwill of vast portions of the populace. Go read, I guess, if you must, or just go with these more or less straight summations of his views...

10) People who make huge sums of money as utterly superfluous employees earn their money, but homeless people who scavenge and degrade themselves for change do not

9) Just because the survivors of a ghastly human tragedy are still being pulled from the wreckage, that doesn't mean we should wait to judge them for their flaws

8) Unconditional sympathy is for people who aren't bright enough to dribble a ball for money

7) Earthquakes are completely predictable, so anyone who is on the ground for one must be at fault for being there (sorry, San Francisco Bay Area!)

6) People who live in poverty should do a careful fiscal analysis before deciding to breed, and should sterilize themselves if they are below the line

5) Everyone on the earth should choose to live in places without natural disasters

4) New Orleans deserved what it got from Katrina, because of the sea level of the city (centuries of relative safety from properly maintained levees are, it would seem, just a cheat)

3) Haitians who might have liked any part of their lives -- say, their families, their country, their jobs, etc. -- before the disaster were wrong

2) If you accept aid in a natural disaster, you should also renounce your sovereignty to whoever gives you aid, since they must be better than you

1) People who are poor and the victim of a natural disaster are not behaving like adults

Oh, and these last few are my takeaways.

3) Just because athletes can use the Web to self-publish, it does not mean that they should

2) Shirley must have saved enough from those 10-day contracts to buy his own compound, and

1) If the Sixers want people to actually watch them, they'd hire Shirley and televise him going 1-on-1 with Haitian Sam Dalembert

Update and Bonus Takeaway...

Shirley will no longer get to be friends with Bad Tooth Simmons...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Covering For Saint Favre

Predicting the Favre Haggery does not, in fact, make one more prepared to read or listen to it. I realize that I'm days late on this, but there's only so much Pro Bowl prep that I can do. So let's take them in turn.

1) It's all Adrian Peterson's Fault.

The argument: RB Adrian Peterson put it on the carpet three times. Had he simply held on to the damn ball, the Vikings don't need a last minute drive from Favre to win.

The rebuttal: As distressing as AP's performance was, please note that the Vikings recovered all of his fumbles (the play at the end of the second quarter was, in fact, a fumble that was charged to Favre on the botched handoff). Peterson himself recovered one of his errors for a net gain on a 15-yard run. The running back also did wind up with 125 yards on the ground and 3 touchdowns, so it's not as if he had a completely disastrous day.

How distressing, really, is a fumble on offense that isn't lost? Perhaps it makes a coach feel that he can't keep giving the ball to his workhorse back, but from where I sat, it looked like Vikings coach Brad Childress managed this game the way he did any other -- with change of pace carries for talented back-up Chester Taylor. If the stress from the fumbles was really making Childress put too much on Favre, why was AP getting the ball with less than a minute left?

In closing... Peterson has a real problem, one that will cost him the #1 spot in fantasy drafts next year to Titans RB Chris Johnson. Along with his high-contact running style, it doesn't speak to a long and prosperous career in the NFL. But he's still a problem that every other NFL team would love to have, and the past history of talented but fumble-prone backs is that most of them make the problem manageable, if not totally fixed. And in any event, it didn't cost the Vikings the game.

2) It's all Brad Childress's Fault.

The argument: With under a minute left and the Vikings looking at a 50+ yard field goal to win, Childress play-called with a log up his ass and both hands around his throat, ignoring the entire sad postseason of Kicker Fail. By sending Taylor and Peterson into the middle for predictable calls rather than continuing to attack the reeling Saint defense on the edges or in the passing game, he gave the opposition hope. He also is to blame for the chaos that produced 12 men in the huddle on third out of a timeout (!), which forced the final offensive play of the Viking season.

In addition, since Childress comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, his abilities in any close game or clock management situation are suspect at best. And as a bonus, we can also throw in some personal remarks about his appearance, since all balding white men with glasses are said to be child sex predators. (Not a good trend for a large amount of the audience, but I digress.)

The rebuttal: This one is harder, as I wasn't thrilled with the way Childress called the end of that drive either. If nothing else, I'd have tried a safe bubble screen, maybe a throw to the flat, or a draw.

But it's not as if Childress was calling for Favre to take a knee and kill the clock on first and second downs. The Viking running attack was effective in this game, and you'd like to think that two carries against an exhausted Saint defense in the final minute of play might net you more than, well, no yards at all. I'm not certain that it's all on the head coach for the 12 men flag (frankly, I suspect that's more of a coordinator job, along with the players themselves). And finally, and most tellingly, the rollout call on third was a good one. The Saints had no one spying on Favre on the rollout, and even if you can't rely on a 40 year old QB to run, he might have had someone else open on the play.

3) Favre was just trying to make a play out there.

The argument: When you hire Favre, you have to take the good with the bad. That cross-body pick was a bad one, but it's the same play that he makes against the Cowboys last week, albeit not in the same pressure situation, and that one worked like a charm.

The rebuttal: Why, exactly, do you need to take the good with the bad from a 40-year-old QB who is making eight figures and is the all-time leader in playoff passing yardage? Where does it say that this excuses him from blame, or from making season-ending failures in judgment?

* * * * *

It comes as no surprise to longtime readers of the blog that I've got a personal distaste for Favre. The self-promotion, the flouting of rules that apply to everyone but him, and the media tonguework... well, I hope we can all agree that it's unseemly.

But that's not the point here.

The simple fact of the matter in pro football is that when the team wins, the QB gets too much credit, and when they lose, too much blame. Favre is, by nearly universal media accounts, a stand up figure and a great interview, a man who knows no other way to be with the press than nakedly candid about his feelings. If I were a beat reporter, I'd love the guy; he'd fill my notebook on a routine basis, ensure that I'd always have readers, and maybe give me enough source material to spin off a book later.

But, and this is the thing that is never said... None Of This Matters. Because it's not between the lines, and to the people who watch the games, between the lines *is* the whole game. And, well, should be.

I'm fairly sure, given the way he treated the mother of his first son and his close relationship with one of the more loathsome coaches in NFL history, that Tom Brady is a first-class reprobate. He's also a better QB than Favre. Peyton Manning has appeared in front of the media after a playoff loss and left his teammates out to dry; he is also a far better QB than Favre. Philip Rivers might be the most annoying player in the league for sheer cockiness and over-the-top snottiness; he is a far better QB than Favre. So long as your personality isn't so toxic as to cause men to want to lose to be rid of you, this is all sideshow.

I do not want to meet star football players, just as, 15 years ago when I was a musician and music writer, I didn't want to meet my heroes in that field. Nothing good, really, can come of it; your thinking will be clouded, inevitably, by sentiment, and perspective will be lost. At worst, the personal knowledge gained will ruin your relationship with the entertainment.

And yet, I'm left with one final disquieting thought... is Favre really that good of an interview, that he must (still) be protected like this by his media? After all, he might be retired for real, at which point he's fairly useless as a source. While it's been fun to watch his career (more fun for fans of the opposing laundry for much of the last decade), he's not the only fun QB to watch; if you want an improv QB with an arm, Mssrs. Romo, McNabb, Roethlesberger, Cutler and others don't play wildly dissimilar games. No one likes Favre so much more than football that they aren't going to keep watching the games after he's gone.

So, well, I don't get it. Haven't for years. He's just a player, and one that ends his team's seasons with bad picks with amazing regularity. Had he done this all in a tough media market, he'd be a figure of intense scorn, rather than a man with a top tier stable of advertisers.

His team lost, and the loss has his fingerprints all over it. The fans of the Vikings' opponents are, for the most part, hoping that he returns to stab the Purple people in the hearts again. And if you want to point the finger at others for it, you're ignoring his history, and holding him to a different standard from everyone else in the NFL.

Hope it's worth it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Top 12 Reasons To Catch Pro Bowl Fever

12) You know you want to bet it

11) Now that it's a week before the Super Bowl, it's slightly less easier to ignore

10) The drama of seeing if DeSearn Jackson trash talks his NFC teammates from Dallas

9) Given the rate in which players are begging off this thing, there's a reasonable chance that athletic spectators could get some burn

8) It's a perfect place to scout intriguing but unowned fantasy football players like Johnny Knox and Leonard Weaver

7) Admit it: you're fascinated to see how Norv Turner blows this game as well

6) If people don't pay attention to it, the NFL might do something insane like determine home field in the championship for the conference that wins

5) We are not making this up: good seats (and bad, and many) are still available

4) You don't get more exciting than a Matt Schaub / Vince Young / David Garrard QB roster

3) Given the lack of crowd noise and nice weather, might be the best game of the year for heckling

2) With over sixty minutes of game time, chances are good that someone will make a tackle

1) We still have five more days to go for the remaining handful of good players to beg off

NESW Drop: The Enemies List Presents: Top 5 Things We Learned From NFL Ads In 2009

This week's work for NESW is a cavalcade of Advertising Hate, complete with clips. Go read, view, link, worship. (And yes, I'm sorry about the overly long title on this post, and almost added that it was based on the novel "Precious" by Sapphire. Moving on.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Vikings - Saints Notes: Second Half

> Roby starts the third quarter with a monster return, and a flag is picked up, starting the Saints at the Vikings 37. Terrible tackling and a good effort, and it's followed by a stick throw from Brees to TE Martin, who fights for the ball and a 17 yard gain. RB Thomas moves the pile for six as the Saints go hurry up. RB Thomas cracks the ten yard line on a middle left run, and the Vikings don't look like they left the locker room yet. On first and goal with their first lead of the day starting them in the face, RB Thomas finds a big hole and reaches for the end zone, and just that fast, the Saints are up seven, with a raucous house, and a defense that hasn't given up points in some time. The Favre Retirement Watch Is On! Saints 21, Vikings 14.

> Morstead's kick is nearly out of the end zone as Fox shows a replay of RB Thomas being a full yard short of the end zone. Given the Saints' problems in short yardage today, that could be telling; who would have guessed that Childress would miss a challenge? Favre to Rice gets Purple moving with a quick first, and Rice has been relatively quiet today. Peterson can't make three men miss, and gains only a yard as CB Tracy Porter hangs on for dear life. Favre finds Shiancoe for a huge gain, and he was embarrassingly open for a gain of 26. Peterson fumbles again (I guess that Saint Brett was able to avoid that stat from earlier), but FB Naufahu Tahi (his friends call him Naufahu) is able to fall on it for a loss of 10. That's just a huge play, as it looked like the Saints were thinking of seven points, rather than just falling on it.

> Shiancoe gets wide open again for a gain of 21, and the Vikings get all of the yards back; it's the first quarter all over again on defense. From the Saint 30, Favre to Harvin from the gun for a screen of five. Taylor gets three as Peterson receives Penalty Time on the sidelines. On third and two from the Saints 22, Favre finds Shiancoe again, and the TE fights off Porter for a one-handed grab and a first down at the 2. The Vikings go power and give to Peterson, and for a fumble-prone back, he's sure good at the goal line. Vikings 21, Saints 21, and... I hope you bet the over! Since we're two touchdowns away from it, and it doesn't seem like either defense can do a thing in the red zone, unless it's recovering fumbles. At least the game's got drama.

> Roby with more good work on a short kick as Fox decides that, for the second time in three weeks, they need to mix vomited peanut butter into my chocolate by showing a Republican ex-president in an owner's box. Isn't it enough for you scumbags that I'm pumping up your ad revenue and paying your cable rights fees? (Clearly, no.)

> Brees barely avoids a Jared Allen sack and a grounding penalty on the Vikings' first good pressure of the day. A draw to Bush gains six as Buck talks about placekickers for some reason. A third down throw to Bush slips out of his hands, and the home team is, as the Fox crew points out, losing the game on third down conversions. A false start on the punt gets everyone excited with hope that the Vikings special teams blew a possession, and Morstead booms a 63-yard punt to the Viking end zone that PR Darius Reynaud chooses to return for some reason. He's taken down at the 10, not that I really suspect that ten yards in this game is going to make that much of a difference.

> Peterson for seven on first lowers the crowd noise a bit, then he gets it again for another solid gain up the middle... and another fumble. This one, Peterson recovers and gains more yards, along with a seat on the bench. Good grief, that man's a worry. It goes for 15 yards, then Favre misses on a deep ball to Harvin on first. Taylor takes a draw for five. Third and five is a big deal, and Favre from the gun misses Taylor, but gets a bailout roughing call as Favre milks it. Seriously, make the game two-hand touch. Enough already.

> Somehow Our Hero manages to complete a bubble screen to Berrian for a yard loss, then recovers fully through the dint of his godly will to move the sticks to Berrian again. A give to Taylor gets two, and Favre finally succumbs to the pressure with a pick by Vilma where the QB got high-lowed. Miraculously, it's not called for a flag (the Vikings had much more of a case here than in the earlier play), and the Saints take over at their own 31 as Favre is helped off the field. Well, that series was significant! (And, I might add, karmic to the point of giving the Favre Hating Parts of America a monstrous stiffie.)

> As Favre lies on a table in pain and gets worked on -- looks like an ankle issue -- RB Thomas goes for four, and then three more. Favre is getting rewrapped and not wheeled off as we're treated to crowd shots of Deanna Favre, who clearly is getting too old for this. A false start on the Saints makes it third and eight, then Brees from the gun misses a wide-open Meachem to the point where CB Cedric Wilson had a better shot at it. Favre looks like he'll return as Morstead gets it to the 17 for a fair catch. That's the end of the third quarter, and if Favre can lead the Vikings to a win after injury, on the road? Well, there's Favre Haggery, there's Relentless Knob Slobbing, and there's what the country will endure for two weeks as the media plays a game of Can You Top Slob This. Not that I've got a rooting interest here.

> Favre returns as Buck slurps. A give to Harvin gets 10, but the key is how brave the handoff by Favre was. A direct snap to Harvin is a fumbling disaster, as even Saint Brett can't corral the greased pigskin, with DL Remi Avodele eventually controlling it.That's the fifth fumble of the day for Purple, and the second one that was lost. In a more or less even game, the Vikings just haven't held on to the ball enough, despite having the better defense, ten more first downs, and as I write this, over 100 more yards of offense.

> RB Thomas takes it to the three, then gets stopped by S Tyrell Johnson to set up a huge third down. Brees buys time on third, finds Bush at the pylon, but the refs call him out half a yard from the end zone. The reply supports an overturn, and the Saints get it for the go-ahead touchdown. Great play by Brees, who kept the play alive and didn't panic, and by Bush, who rolled to the pylon despite a great close out by Johnson. Saints 28, Vikings 21, with under 13 minutes left in regulation.

> Morstead's kick is eight yards deep and touched back. From the 20 on first, Favre fakes to Taylor, then takes him on a screen for three. Peterson returns for second, then burns the sideline for 27 yards. What a collection of plus and minus this guy is. From midfield, Rice bails out his QB on what should have been a pick by CB Jabari Greer, and that was awful. Both sides pule for a flag on a screen to Taylor where the RB gets hit; the Saints want grounding, the Vikings want DPI, and both will get nothing and like it. On third and 10, Favre finds Berrian for 30 yards in double coverage against his body, and, um, wow; the throw allows Favre to pass Joe Montana for the most all-time post-season passing yards. I think Joe just threw up. First down at the 20 is a give to Peterson for three to the left, and then Favre's completion to Berrian would move the sticks... had the WR held on to it. Wow. The sixth fumble of the day for Purple, and the third one that was lost, is recovered by the Saints at their five yard line with 9:30 left.

> RB Thomas for three as the Saints need to take advantage. Brees to Henderson for five yards, but he can't reach the sticks. Third and two from a hurry up sees Brees fumble it, but he recovers and moves it forward, but just not enough. Wow. One of these teams really has to go to the Super Bowl? The Saints challenge the spot with 8:10 left as Fox goes to commerce. If someone gave me the Colts as a 6.5 point favorite right now over either of these teams, I'd take them in a heartbeat. The challenge is denied, and the Saints can no longer challenge in this game. Morstead's punt is short but all net. What a weird game.

> Peterson makes four on a cutback as Saints Fan gets as loud as they can. 7:30 and counting left in regulation. Greer jumps an out to Rice, forcing third and six. From the gun, Favre finds Shiancoe as Buck gets hard, and that's a big play and a first down. From the Saints 38, Favre avoids the sack for a dump off incomplete. On second, Peterson takes a delay for an 18 yard burst, with Tahi walling off the linebacker; Peterson breaks 100 yards on the ground. Inside the red zone, Favre throws a jump ball to Berrian that's called DPI on Porter, and the fact that the CB didn't see the ball ensured that Berrian would get the flag. Peterson can't get back to the line on first and goal. Another give to Peterson, and he breaks the plane for his third touchdown of the game. The Vikings OL is making its will known, and with less than five minutes left in regulation -- and yes, I keep saying that for a foreboding reason. It's 28-all, and that ensures that the over is a winner, since most people were getting this game at 56.5, and it won't end in a tie.

> Can the Saints get a go-ahead score in a game where they only have 12 first downs, and no touchdowns in the second half that didn't come from a short field? Roby is stopped at the 18, so their work is cut out for them. The Vikings have a 14 minute edge in time of possession, and a 200 yard edge in offense, and yet the game is tied. Roby limps off, and it looks like his day is done. Fox misses that the Saint offense hasn't done anything this half, and on first, Brees is sacked and fumbles, with DE Ray Edwards doing the damage, but the ball is recovered for a loss of eight. First sack of the day, amazingly. Brees has to arc a screen agonizingly slow, and RB Thomas is stopped for no gain. On third and 18 with the tide going all purple, Brees from the gun has time and Henderson, but he needed 18, and only got 16. With the clock going under three minutes, Saints coach Sean Payton punts it away, and good special teams coverage stops the Vikings at their own 22. It's all on Favre now. Prepare For The Slobbering.

> On first, Peterson for no gain. Both teams have timeouts but aren't using them, and the two minute warning happens. In the NFL Films recreation of this game, this is where you get the Sergio Leone music. Second and 10 has Peterson on a delay, and Vilma hangs on for the stop on a 2-yard gain. The second Saints timeout sets up their do-or-die defensive down with 1:52 left; make a stop, and you can win in regulation. Fail, and you will probably lose. Just the season on the line.

> Favre from the gun finds Berrian off a blitz, and the WR fights off Porter for the first down that might end the Saints' season. The Vikings take the first down at their own 33, and call their first timeout with 99 seconds left and all kinds of options. From the gun on first, it's Favre to Rice in stride to advance past midfield, and that was, sigh, perfect. A burst by Taylor puts the ball in field goal position for PK Ryan Longwell, and with 66 seconds left, the Saints call their last timeout to try to rally the defense.

> Saints Fan screaming in desperation now. Taylor for no gain, and the field goal is still 51 yards as the clock runs. Second and 10 sees Peterson back in, and Favre gives to him for no gain. With 19 seconds left, the Vikings take their second timeout, and Childress seems way too enamored with a long field goal attempt to win the game. Third and 10 is a huge call; a sack is a disaster, a run might not make the try that easier... and the Vikings make a potentially mind-blowing mistake with a 12 men in the huddle penalty. Wow.

> Third and 15 and a 56 yard field goal gives Saints Fan hope, and they yell for all they are worth. Unbelievably, Favre rolls right, throws across his body, and makes what might be the very worst pick of his career, and Lord, There Are A Lot To Choose From. Rather than simply take the five to ten yards that he could have had with a scramble, setting Longwell up with a chance to win, he made the defining terrible gunslinger move of his career, and cost his team a chance to win. For no good reason at all. The disaster is only somewhat mitigated by the fact that it wasn't a TAInt.

> You know, I watch an awful lot of football. Too much, really: tonight it is costing me the daily bedtime ritual with the kids, and that is not something I ever like to give up. But then you see something like that, which makes you laugh out loud and scream and imagine the breathtaking horror of Viking Fan, especially the ones who never bought into Saint Brett. Makes it all worth it, really.

> From the Saint 47 with seven seconds left, Brees has a pass deflected at the line. The Saint OL can't defend ling enough for Brees to get off a Hail Mary, and that is regulation. Wow, wow, wow.

> The Saints win the toss and elect to receive, and RB Thomas busts it to the Saints 39 to give the home crowd hope; only a stumble saves that from being a lot more. CB Cedric Griffin limps off, and maybe that gives Brees the opening he hasn't had. A give to RB Thomas for three as Fox zooms in on Saints PK Garrett Hartley, who lacks experience. A give to Bush gets a yard and Saint Fan boos, and sets up third and six from their own 43. Huge play... and Brees has time and Colston, which doesn't connect but does net a defensive holding flag from CB Asher Allen, who replaces Griffin. Telling. The ball is advanced to the Saints 48.

> Brees barely avoids the sack from Edwards on first for an incomplete. Brees hits Colston on the hands at the Vikings 30, but he can't bring it in, and neither can S Johnson on the live ball in the air. Wow. Third and 10 from the gun sees the Saints give Brees time against a blitz, and the QB hits Henderson at the sticks. The measurement is half a yard short, and the Saints go for it on fourth and inches. Something of an important play here, and the refs get into the act with a booth review that does nothing. Thanks, refs!

> The fourth play of the game with short distance to go for the first down for the Saints. They give to RB Thomas, who soars for the first down on a solid effort, and wow, he nearly fumbled that to boot. The booth review forces more commerce and Saint Fan anguish, because this game clearly needs more of both. Once more, the ref tells the booth ref to go pound sand, and the Saints keep the ball and get the first.

> From the Vikings 42, Brees backpedals and heaves it toward TE Thomas, who gets tangled up with Leber for the DPI call that puts the Saints in field goal range as a million sports writers and bloggers prepare their Why Sudden Death Overtime Is So Unfair column. Leber uses the power of hate to force a four yard loss on a give to Bush, making the field goal attempt over 50 yards again. Brees snaps the second down with a second left and hits Mecham over the middle for 12 yards, and neither end of that looked good; Brees had a wobbly throw, and Mecham nearly dropped it. The Vikings call time out for a de facto challenge, not that I think they've got enough of a case. Plus, there's always the chance of making the game last five hours.

> Third booth review of the overtime; third time it's done nothing but delay the game. Yay, Pointless Booth Review! Third and three is incomplete with no DPI on TE Thomas, thought it might have been warranted. Hartley on to try from 40 yards... and the Vikings ice the kicker. Of course. You know, some of us have lives to get back to, you know. At least in theory.

> Hartley has your lack of experience right here. He hits the field goal, dead solid perfect, and for the first time ever, the Saints are going to the Super Bowl. Pretty amazing game. Give me the Colts with anything less than 13.5, please.

And finally... Good night, Sweet Brett, and may angels... um, show you the footage of the last play of your career, where you cost your team everything on the worst pick of your life. Now go retire, knowing that Packer Fan, Jet Fan, and most of America will sleep soundly tonight.

In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz, Ha Ha!


Man alive, look at the stats from this game.

First downs: 31 to 15 for Minnesota.

Passing yards: 310 to 189 for Minnesota.

Rushing yards: 165 to 68 for Minnesota.

Penalties: 9 for 88 for New Orleans, 5 for 32 for Minnesota.

Total yards: 475 to 257 for Minnesota.

Time of possession: 36:49 to 27:56 for Minnesota.

The Saints' leading receiver? Pierre Freaking Thomas, with 38 yards, all of it on a screen.

And... turnovers. 5 to 1. With the Saints on the 1.

Media apologists will -- and as I'm watching on ESPN right now, are -- cover for Favre. They've done it for decades now; they can't help themselves. Peterson needs to hold on to the ball. Harvin needs to hold on to the ball. Berrian needs to hold on to the ball. The list of Viking Goats is long.

But let's face it, Viking Fan... you sold your souls to root for the man you hated more than any other player of the last two decades. And then you saw him end your season with a godawful pick, the same way he ended the Packers against the Giants in the playoffs a few years ago, and the Jets in the regular season after that.

And the rest of the country is laughing loud, laughing long, and laughing best. And will keep doing so for, um, the rest of their lives.

Favre, now on the podium: "I probably should have ran it." No, you think?

Top 10 NFL Conference Championship Week Ad Questions

10) Why is Steve Young still so angry about who is getting inducted into the Hall of Fame?

9) If Sears gave Brett Favre a little more money, would he wipe his bare ass with a Packers jersey?

8) Do I have to be a bogeyman to find a job with, or does the service just work best for them?

7) Why does Coors think that people want to drink beer that reminds them of trains?

6) How much money would Oreo have to give Donald Trump to not just whore himself out in their ad, but actually eat their product?

5) Is anyone else creeped out by the fact that the Geico Lizard has to go with his boss to the bathroom to "listen to ringtones"?

4) Are people who are moved to tears by the personal tragedies of America's Olympic athletes more likely to go into debt on their credit cards?

3) When you see a Formula One style racing series ad sponsored by Izod, do you think that all of the drivers have to be preppy douchebags who wear shirts with little alligators on them?

2) Has anyone ever been as pregnant as the woman in the State Farm ad?

1) Do GMC truck drivers have a lot of call for carrying straw and twigs?

Vikings - Saints Notes: First Half

> The Saints don't have a flag as big as the Colts did for their game, or an eagle flying around the dome. They must not love America as much! Some American Idolbot sings a perfunctory anthem because New Orleans has no musicians since Katrina (I keed, I keed!), and the Vikings win the toss. After a final useless sound bite from both coaches (Minnesota's Brad Childress seems particularly skittish), Vikings KR Percy Harvin watches Saints K Thomas Morstead put it out of the end zone.

> The first play from scrimmage sees Vikings QB Brett Favre take a hit and miss TE Visanthe Shiancoe. On second, he checks down to backup TE Jim Kleinsasser, who rumbles for the first. A quick throw to Harvin gets five, and another to WR Bernard Berrian moves the sticks; four straight throws from the Vikes to start. On the first, Favre from the gun in an empty backfield to Berrian, who is just short of the sticks. The first run of the day is Harvin, who gets five around the left. At the Saints 40, RB Chester Taylor gets four on a screen, then RB Adrian Peterson wrestles free after a checkdown to move the sticks again. Favre's accurate so far, and I Hope You Bet The Over. Peterson is electric on a draw for six. Peterson then skips around S Darren Sharper and takes it to the house for a kitteny-soft 19 yard touchdown run, and that's just an 80-yard opening drive where the road team never even faced a third down. I hate to see what the Saint defense is going to look like when they aren't fresh. Vikings 7, Saints 0. Mr. Brees, your serve.

> A middling return starts the Saints at their own 24. QB Drew Brees starts with a simple 5 yard out to WR Lance Moore. The Saints go no huddle from play action, and Brees has all day but just misses WR Marques Colston on a cross. On third, it's Brees to WR Robert Mecham, who uses a good block from TE David Martin on a bubble screen for the first. Brees then finds Colston on a nifty quick twisting catch to move the chains. RB Pierre Thomas gets in the fun with nine easy yards on the right side. Brees induces an offsides for the first down, then just misses WR Devery Henderson on a sideline move where the CB bit on a pump fake; missed opportunity there, as the WR was open. On second, the Saints run a pretty screen to Thomas, who ducks a terrible tackle attempt from OLB Ben Leber, then cuts back to the end zone for your average 38 yard touchdown, and a three minute, length of the field, touchdown drive. The Saints hold serve, and once more, I Hope You Bet The Over. Vikings 7, Saints 7.

> Harvin takes a bouncing kickoff to his own 27. Fox shows us a canned piece from Favre complaining about crowd noise; perhaps he should retire from the fatigue of it all? Or, perhaps, work in the off-season to be in better shape? He misses Berrian on a fly on first down, then can't connect on an out to WR Sidney Rice. On the first real stress down of the day for the Viking offense, it's Favre from the gun on a free play where the QB gets buried as Joe Buck pules about crowd noise. Oh, you naughty Saint fans! Third and five from the gun sees Favre miss his man by a lot, but a defensive hold moves the sticks; borderline. Berrian takes a bubble screen for 15 yards with spins and shiftiness, as the defensive clinic continues. Harvin on an end-around for two as Buck is outraged that Favre would get hit by a defender while he's more or less a blocker. The zebras then throw a flag for a personal foul on Harvin while he's out of bounds, and that might be the cheapest 15 yards you'll see for someone touching a non-QB - and it turns out to be for Favre anyway. Sheesh.

> A give to Peterson gets three as Sharper closes well; he's going to stick out like a sore thumb in this game for actually being able to defend. Favre misses Harvin in the end zone on a rollout where the WR was open. On third and seven, Favre stands in the fire on Sharper and completes to Harvin for the first down. The Saint strategy seems to be hit Favre first and worry about everything else later, in a scheme to see Tarvaris Jackson. Might not be the worst idea. A give to Peterson goes nowhere, and a bubble screen to Harvin just gets a yard. Third and goal from the five sees Favre from the gun get it to Rice, and that's as excited as you will ever hear Joe Buck get. Not a hard throw by any stretch of the imagination, and while that drive was a little harder than the first, it really wasn't by much. Vikings 14, Saints 7, and we're just five more touchdowns from the over. In other words, the third quarter. At worst.

> Saints KR Courtney Roby brings it to the 27. A give to Thomas is destroyed by the internal line for a loss of one, and the Saints go no huddle on a gadget play by RB Reggie Bush, who runs twenty yards to lose none. Yeesh. Hitting Brees is OK when he's blocking, seemingly. On third, Brees connects with Colston a yard ahead of the sticks, and honestly, I'd think about going for it if I were New Orleans. Morstead's punt goes to the Vikings 15 after a useful roll, and that's the first quarter. Vikings 14, Saints 7.

> From his own 15, Peterson wiggles for two as the bad tackling continues. On second, the RB takes a delay for two yards, and you get the feeling that the Saints defense can only stop the first third down of a drive... and with pressure, they do, as Favre throws it out of bounds near Taylor, rather than try to run for it. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is able to avoid past history with Bush by hitting a short and high punt, which the returner fair catches at his own 35.

> Brees just misses TE Jeremy Shockey, who gets apologies from Buck for his physical ailments. Like Shockey is ever not hurt? Bush is used as a diversion on second on a screen to second TE David Thomas, but that also fails. On third, Brees has time to find Bush on a post, and it goes for 28 yards on a pretty play; any time the Saints can get Bush on a LB, that's just money. A give to RB Thomas gets four on a good hole, then Brees finds TE Thomas to move the sticks as the Vikings DL isn't getting enough push. At the Viking 21, RB Thomas with a pretty cut in a prettier hole for 12 and the first. First and goal from the nine sees Brees with all day finding Henderson, who shows good hands on a high ball, and the game is tied. S Benny Sapp wears the clown feet on that one. Vikings 14, Saints 14, and we're on pace for a 42-42 game and overtime. Didn't I see his game already, only with Packer and Cardinal laundry?

> Morstead's hopping kick is taken by Harvin to the 20; first team to try a surprise onside kick wins this game, I think. 276 offensive yards in 20 minutes, folks. Favre takes a timeout for some reason, and if you want to start the conspiracy theories about him retiring after this game, I won't stop you; the man looks tired. Harvin on trickery for six yards. A screen to Taylor gets 11. Someone knows why Favre unbuckles his chin strap after every play, and it's probably not just for attention, but I'll go with it as a theory. Rice sacrifices on a high slant for five yards. Peterson charges to the sticks and just gets it. From their 47, Favre pumps long and takes Peterson short, who is wrapped up for three yards. The RB slides through muck for another three, and on third and four outside of field goal range, Favre from the gun misses Berrian, despite having time against a blitz. Today, that's an outstanding defensive series. Kluwe's punt is out of bounds at the 18, and in a tangential aside, there really is no reason to measure punts out of bounds inside the 20, when inside the 10 is really the much greater accomplishment. In any event, the Saints will have the ball with their first chance today to take a lead, with 6:12 left in the half.

> A screen to Henderson had promise, but the WR drops a low throw. Offsides on the defense makes life easier on the home team, and on second and five, TE Thomas makes a great catch on a low checkdown from Brees as the rush moves in, setting up third and one. From a power formation, short yardage specialist Lynell Hamilton is demolished. Wow, acutal defense! The three and out ends with a Morstead punt to the Vikings 24 for a fair catch, as Fox goes for more Favre Haggery.

> From the Vikings 24, Taylor for three with some jiggity. On second from the gun, LB Jonathan Vilma has a better shot at the ball than Shiancoe, as Favre is worn down by crowd noise and his childhood love for the Saints and a million other things that is making half of America nauseous. Third and five sees pressure on the QB and an incomplete to Harvin, and my oh my, Defense Is Ruling The Moment. Kluwe's punt is fair caught by Bush at his own 33 with 3:42 left.

> Brees, with time, telegraphs a ball to Colston that Leber nearly picks. On second, he finds the shambling mound that is Shockey (he limps off! what are the odds?) for nine. On third and one, the Saints continue to emulate the Andy Reid Eagles with short yardage ineptitude, trying a toss to Bush that doesn't get there. The Saints fake going for it at their own 43, but the Vikings are able to stay in their shoes and force a delay penalty, as somehow the refs miss Breeds calling time. Odd. The punt is nearly muffed at the 18, and the Saints get a cheap 15 yard flag for hitting the returner on what looked like a fumble. That really should be overturned, but no dice.

> Favre and Rice misfire on first. Vilma takes Peterson out of bounds for a yard on second, also stopping the clock; could be a big play. On third and nine from the gun, Favre finds Berrian in the teeth of a blitz for the first, as Sharper is a yard away from stopping the play. .Big play in a lot of respects; it maintains possession, keeps the ball from Brees with time on the clock, and might prevent going into the locker room while behind. Favre to Rice misses on first, and Peterson is stopped for a yard on second as the clock stops on the Saints first timeout. With 1:30 left, it's 3rd and 9 from the Vikings 43, and from the gun, Favre misses Berrian high and away as the Viking offense just doesn't seem terribly crisp right now... but Bush muffs the Kluwe punt at his own 10, and that's one of those Game Changing Turnovers That Lose Playoff Games. Great coverage by gunner Reggie Frampton, but also a terrible play by Bush.

> First and goal from the 10 sees Peterson run through arm tackles for six yards, and the Saints call their second timeout to try to get their defense ungassed.... and Favre and Peterson fail to connect on a rush attempt, and the Saints recover the gift. Wow. That's another one of those Game Changing Turnovers That Lose Playoff Games! The fumble goes to Favre, though it looks like both men were at fault.

> A give to Bush for four yards to show that they still love him, then another one for two, and that's the half. One of these teams has to go to Miami, though to be honest, neither looks all that worthy of it. Tie game at 14 at the half. I hope you bet the... well, um, maybe not.

Jets - Colts Notes: Second Half

> Smith takes a deep kick from McAfee back to the 27 for a nice play to start the third quarter. Greene gains 7 on the right side, then does it again to gain the edge and move the sticks. Sanchez is 5 of 7 for 129 yards and 2 TDs, and in a big development, Greene limps off; he might have hyper-extended the toe. Sanchez finds Keller for five, then finds Cotchery on the sideline after a long rollout from play action. Nice catch by the wideout, and the Jets are at the Colt 37. Another rollout fools no one and ends with a Richardson drop at the line of scrimmage. Jones gets three on the right side, and we're in Field Goal Third Down Land. Sanchez has nothing with Edwards, and airmails it out of bounds a little fast; I think he could have tucked it under his arm and put pressure on the defense. Feely's 52 yard attempt misses right all the way, though to be fair, the snap might have been at fault, as that ball was straight as an arrow. Big edge to the Colts, who will have good field goal position and a shot at the lead.

> Greene goes to the locker room as we come back from commerce. Manning form the gun on first tries Garcon deep, who isn't experienced enough to wave his arms wildly for a flag. On second, the QB finds Garcon again for seven yards, and Manning is having all kinds of time. On third from the hurry up, Manning changes at the line to the gun to stop any substitutions, then goes to Collie on a pick and out for the first. It's surgery time.

> From the gun on first, Manning fakes the give and hits Garcon on ridiculously good coverage for another big chunk. He's now got 247 yards and counting. On first from the gun, the QB fakes right and misses Collie deep on the left. Second down is a shotgun snap at zero, and Addai takes a bubble screen as Leonhard and DE Shaun Ellis can't get the man down; it goes for another first. From the Jet 15, RM Mike Hart looks confused, but Manning isn't, and finds Garcon on another slant for 11 yards and the first. Then Manning hits Garcon in the back right of the end zone on yet another perfect perfect perfect throw for the touchdown, and just that fast, the Colts take the lead back. CBS reports that Ryan is mad at his secondary, but I'm not sure there is such a thing as a secondary that could have stopped those throws; if anything, it's on the defensive line to get more pressure. Colts 20, Jets 17.

> Smith makes some hay on the return, but with Greene on the sidelines and 14 straight Colt points, you can understand why Jets Fan is gripping. Jones follows a huge Alan Faneca block to get 12 as Greene's injury seems game-ending. Jones gets five more, but the run comes back on a hold as Ryan is hot at the ref; Sanchez took a spare hit from Bullitt that was questionable. On first and 20, Jones on a draw for 3, and it's a little amazing that first and 20 is a predictable running down. From play action on 2nd and 17, Sanchez finds Keller on a cross that's just out of LB Gary Brackett's reach for the first. So far today, Jet Fan can ask nothing more from their QB.

> From the Colt 46, Keller jumps early for the drive's second flag. Sanchez tries a deep ball to reserve WR David Clowney, just getting it off under pressure, but the ball is out of bounds. Second and 15 is the first Edwards drop of the day on a hot slant, and the Jets are lucky that the tipped ball isn't taken by the defense. Third and 15 is a huge play to stop the Colt tide, but Sanchez can only find Richardson in the flat. The fullback gets two yards as Phil Simms praises a drive that scores no points, and Weatherford's punt is taken on a hop to the 16. No other analyst working in the NFL praises non-scoring offensive possessions more than Simms; it's his specialty. I'm still amazed that the man had a career as a QB.

> With the Jet defense traumatized by the air assault, Addai gets 17 on a run up the middle. Manning from the gun with no huddle gives to Brown for a yard, and only Manning can run clock from no huddle. On second, he finds Clark for no real damage, gaining two on double coverage as the pressure moved in. On third with the defense showing blitz, Manning snaps at zero and misses his man against a free CB blitz, and the Jets are still alive. Punter Pat McAfee nails a 50+ yarder that Cotchery fair catches at his own 11.

> Greene makes it to the sidelines, but not the field. Jones for two as Ryan continues to Stay (Overly) Patient. Jones on second loses two as Tasker continues to denigrate Greene's chances of coming back. On third and 10, Sanchez is perfect to Cotchery for the first, and, um, I think I'd give the kid a chance to throw it on more than third and long, myself. From their own 23, Jones makes the first man miss to get back to the line of scrimmage, and that's the end of the third quarter. Colts 20, Jets 17.

> Second an 10 from the 23 is Sanchez to Keller for four yards and a cloud of no yards after catch. On third and six in the loud dome, Sanchez hits Cotchery again, as the WR nearly misses a laser to move the sticks. From their own 41 now, Jones gets two on first, and if you've taken a drink every time that's happened, you'd be pretty hammered by now. Second and eight was supposed to be a throwback screen to Jones, I think, but the RB got leveled and Sanchez is lucky to find empty ground for his duck incomplete. Wow, that was ugly. Third and eight sees the QB make a man miss, then try for Edwards on a long ball. The WR runs over the corner trying to draw a call, and he's lucky that wasn't offensive PI. Weatherford's punt leaks into the end zone, and Manning will have the ball on his 20 with a shot to put the game (and cover, dammit Peyton, cover!) away.

> 12:25 left as Manning hits Wayne, who smoothly picks up the first, then unsmoothly fumbles it. The room service hop comes back to the WR to avoid disaster, and the play goes for 17. Clark drops a perfect ball, and that should have been eight at least. Curious. Collie takes a curl at the sticks in front of Revis as Manning is able to unload before the blitzer gets there. Manning to Garcon on a low laser for six, and it's a ball control passing game now as the clock moves down towards 10 minutes left. The QB has all day to find Clark in a seam for 12 yards, and the Jets compound the damage with a face mask at the close on a try for the strip. With the ball at the Jets 19 and live surgery going on, it's Addai for four yards up the middle as the Colts start to run clock while in hurry up. Why every team does not do this, I'll never know. A fake to Addai leads to a throw to Clark down the middle, and boom, boom, boom. The Colts have needed Manning's A game to win today, and they've gotten it, starting with the last drive before the first half. Colts 27, Jets 17, and if there are no more scores today, I've called this game perfectly. Hail Me!

> McAfee's kick is deep enough to force Smith into a touchback. Jones, you will be shocked to learn, takes an interior first down run and gets five. A slant to Smith is behind the wideout and dropped. With Colt Fan in full throat and sensing a kill shot with 8:15 left, Sanchez's attempt for Cotchery is tipped away by outstanding coverage by DB Kelvin Hayden, and that's a three and out. Weatherford's punt goes out of bounds, and it's on the Jet defense, who has given up touchdowns on three out of the last four drives, to keep this one in any kind of doubt.

> Addai gets one on first as the Colts run clock. From the gun on second, Manning can't find Collie on a deep ball, but a defensive flag moves the sticks, and the call was justified. From the gun on first, Clark can't find the handle, and that stops the clock and loses a few yards. Garcon gets seven yards on an internal curl. Manning takes the full clock from the gun on third and three, and it's Garcon again to move the chains. As predicted, its the secondary weapons doing the job for Indy. On first, Addai gains the corner, makes yards, moves the chains and falls down in bounds; dead solid perfect. On the Jet 36, with under five minutes left, Addai hops for a yard. From the gun on second, Manning tries Garcon on a back shoulder deep throw, but the connection is missed and the clock stopped. Third and nine is just about the end of drama if converted, and Manning to Garcon makes the killshot with a great 23 yard stop and go. Wow. The Colts are about to pass 450 yards in total offense against the best defense in football, and it would take turnovers and miracles for the road team to make the comeback now. Ryan calls his first timeout as CBS notes Garcon's Haitian background. Go, Good Haitian Karma! A give to Addai burns a yard and the second Jet timeout. Third and eight from the ten sees Addai take it to the three for fourth and one, and there's all kinds of stuff to think about... Manning calls the team to the line to burn clock and see if he can draw a flag, but neither happens, and the Colts call timeout with 2:33 left... then send Stover out for the field goal. His third chip shot of the day makes it Colts 30, Jets 17, and we are one Jets touchdown away from a great suckout cover. Boo, great suckout covers!

> As CBS fellates Stover for being old, Smith takes a long dribble kick back to the 32. The nation's gamblers are on their feet as Sanchez can't find Jones on a throwback screen, and that might be the first throw on first down today from Gang Green. (OK, it's not. But you get the point.) Sanchez finds Keller after a pump fake for the first down as Colts DE Dwight Freeney gets attention on the sideline, and Sanchez has a ball tipped off the hands of Clowney and into the hands of Hayden. Not a great throw by Sanchez, but still, a bit unlucky. A Brown give goes nowhere, but clock matters a lot more than results right now, and that's the two minute warning.

> Brown for nothing, and that's the final Jets timeout with 1:54 left. Hart grunts it a little further up the middle and the ball is loose, but it's after the whistle. With 1:12 left, McAfee punts it to the Jet 10, where Cotchery takes a fair catch. Sixty six seconds left, and Suckout Cover still possible. Boo, Suckout Cover, Boo!

> From the gun, Sanchez to Keller, but he can't get out of bounds after 10 yards. The QB takes the giveup toss to Jones for another 10, then clocks it with 30 seconds left. Smith also can't get out of bounds, and the final play of the Jets season is useless yards to Jones. The Colts go to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in their history, and still have a very real shot at Team of the Decade status, given Spygate.

> Say this for the Jets: to get to the Final Four with a rookie QB and RB says worlds about their future. They need a CB who isn't clearly inferior to Revis, a better pass rush, more dangerous WR options, and the safe return of special teams ace Leon Washington, because Smith is kind of useless, and Cotchery isn't making anyone miss on punts. It would also help if their offensive playcalling wasn't the equivalent of a hold'em poker player who only plays a pair of jacks or better, or better luck than losing their game-changing RB to injury in the middle of the game.

But really, that's not all that much, and Jets Fan has to be as pleased as he's been with the end of a year in decades. But they aren't in the same world as the Colts, at least not when Manning is Manning. They will be favored in the Super Bowl, and should be.

Jets - Colts Notes: First Half

> Pre-game, the talk is all of 1969 and Joe Namath, and we also have a live eagle flying around the Indy Dome to a loud crowd. It's probably the loudest the crowd will be all day, because I'm expecting 10 to 15K Jet fans in attendance, since that New York dollar can buy a lot in Indy. Jets coach Rex Ryan smiles at the eagle, and I hope that he's not planning on eating it.

> The Colts win the toss, take the ball, and get a decent return to start at their own 30. Colts QB Peyton Manning throws back to WR Reggie Wayne on a fairly slow pattern, but the throw is perfect and it goes for 13 on the Non-Revis CB. RB Joseph Addai wiggles through a crack for two in the Keep Them Honest portion of the Colt attack. From the gun on second, S Jim Leonhard knocks down another slow pattern, this time to the second TE. On third, the Jet blitz overwhelms the coverage, and Manning eats it for a long sack. The Jet defense looked solid on that drive, and after a middling punt, Jet PR Jerricho Cotchery takes it at his own 29.

> Jets RB Thomas Jones gets three on the inevitable first down interior run, then goes nowhere on second. The really impressive thing about QB Mark Sanchez's second half against the Chargers is how almost all of his throws came from third and long; on this one, from the gun, he shakes off pressure to get it to Cotchery on the sidelines for a first. Wisely, Sanchez sneaks from no huddle to avoid a replay challenge, and gets two. RB Shonn Greene goes behind the right side and is stopped just in front of the sticks. On third and 1 from the Colts 45, Greene runs a long way for two yards, but he moves the sticks. Sanchez then awkwardly connects with WR Braylon Edwards on a slant, and the big WR avoids contact for 20 yards to put them on the Colt 21. Very impressive drive so far... but Greene gets snowed under on the edge for a loss of two. On second and 12, Greene is smashed on a draw from a fake bubble screen, and the Jets are moving backwards. Third and 14 is another bubble screen to Edwards, and gets nothing... and PK Jay Feely just misses from 44. I get how Ryan doesn't want to give Sanchez any chance for a game-changing mistake, but if his sphincter got any tighter on that drive, he could use it to cut rope. Advantage, Colts.

> Now from his 34, Manning holds it too long and takes another sack; it's amazing that he can't find a hot read against a 7 man rush, or that the Colts would rush 7 on first. On 2nd and 17, Addai gets back five. On third and 12 from the gun, Manning can't get it to blanketed TE Dallas Clark, and that's a three and out. Cotchery takes back a 56 yard punt from Colts P Tom McAfee some distance, and the Jets will start at their 24.

> A Sanchez throw to TE Dustin Keller is wildly out of sync as CBS's Jim Nance seems overly excited by the presence of sideline reporter Steve Tasker. RB Tony Richardson forgets his abilities on an east-west run, setting up third and 8. Ryan ups the Sphincter Factor on a give to Jones, who gets three yards and has no realistic chance at a conversion. Jets punter Steve Weatherford gets a lot of the ball, then gets lucky with the bounce and roll, and that's 60+ yards of field position. Meaningful, in the way this one is working out. The Colts start at their 11, and I hope you bet the under.

> Disturbingly, Snoopy sneezes out a blimp as Manning finds Clark from his first quick release of the day, leading to five yards and a cloud of competence. On second with a mild hurry up going on, rookie RB Donald Brown finds a crease and has a burst, leading to 12 yards and a first. Addai goes to the locker room as Manning finds WR Pierre Garcon, who shakes off Non-Revis CB Dwight Lowery for 27, and just like that, the Colts have the ball in Jets territory. With the offense humming, Colt Fan is suspicious of the timing of the injury to Jets CB Donald Strickland, but CBS is happy for More Commerce. CB Lito Shepard, benched for the start of this, comes in. Target! And just that fast, Manning finds Garcon for a great catch by the WR on a deep ball, as Garcon takes it off his face and falls down at the nine, a 36 yard gain. Ryan's irritable bowels call a timeout, and it seems to pay off as Brown is victimized by heavy defensive pressure, but manages to get it back to the line of scrimmage. On second and goal from the gun, Manning has time and tries Wayne on Revis, but there is nowhere for the ball to me. A false start moves it back to the 14, and with the clock running down, Manning settles on a scree to Garcon, who is stopped by Shepard at the six. A clip is declined -- curious, since the Jets could have tried to make the field goal more difficult -- and PK Matt Stover makes a 25 yarder to start the second quarter, which is the first field goal attempt made by a Jet opponent in the postseason. Still, a good time out and stand by Ryan, and while the Colts seem to have something working to Garcon for as long as Revis isn't on him, it's the rare playoff game that's won on early field goals. Of course, it's also rare to win playoff games with early field goal misses. Colts 3, Jets 0.

> A deep kick from Stover leads to a touchback.... and just that fast, the Jets take the lead, as Sanchez uses play action and a pump fake to free up Edwards for a game changer, who takes a fine deep ball to the house. Colts rookie CB Jacob Lacey, starting due to injury, just got national prominence in a way he never wanted. I'm just amazed that Edwards caught it, given that his specialty is the backbreaking drop, but just that fast, it's Jets 7, Colts 3, and Ryan's looking much more free and easy.

> After an ugly return, Manning gives to Brown on a shotgun draw for five. Strickland's return seems unlikely, Addai's less so, as Manning drills third WR Austin Collie on a ball that the man just drops. A quick snap to Brown is stopped before the sticks, but cagey Manning did it to get a 12 men flag on the Jets for the first. Damn, he's smart and all. From the gun on first, Manning finds Wayne, who actually makes Revis (!) look bad on a twitch move to get 25. From the Jet 45, Addai is back and looking good for eight on the left side, as the Colts running game is looking good. Manning changes the play at the line to give it to Addai, who mans up through the middle for a first. Manning changes to another run by Addai, who makes the LB miss on a pretty hop move for eight yards. More Manning foofaraw before the snap, and the throw is incomplete to Wayne, who wants a flag on Revis for perfect coverage. Sad. On third and two from the gun, the Jets inexplicably rush three, and Manning finds Collie on a middle cross with room to run, and the WR takes it to the Jets four. That's four passes of over 20 yards already today for the Colts; the Jets just aren't tackling that well. Garcon can't bring in a hot slant on first, then Manning finds Collie inside the one. In hurry up, Manning tries a sneak that goes absolutely nowhere as the QB lobbies the refs for some reason, and Colts coach Jim Caldwell chooses the chip shot field goal. I suspect I'd have taken the field goal as well, but I'm damn sure I wouldn't have called for a sneak on third. Stover makes from 19. An impressive drive with an ugly end for the home team, and it's Jets 7, Colts 6.

> From the 23 after the KR Brad Smith goes backwards at the end, Jones gains four but is stopped by the first man in the open field, and the Jets might go more with Greene... who then burst for 12 from similar blocking from the right side. Greene takes a flip that looks promising, but S Melvin Bullitt takes him down for three yards. Smith comes in for a direct snap and throws just his second pass of the year to a wide-open Cotchery, who is nearly signaling for a fair catch on a bad underthrow. The play goes for 45 yards and sets up the Jets at the Colts 12 as Bullitt goes off. On first, Greene gets four on another good crease to the right. On second, Sanchez is barely able to get the ball out of bounds form heavy pressure, and boy, that was dangerous. Ryan takes his second timeout of the half to stop the momentum of what just happened, and I'm pretty sure the ref heard him coming from the seismic shake. Bullitt returns as Sanchez hits Keller for the touchdown while taking a big hit. Wow. The Jets lead 14 to 6, and a rookie game manager QB is outplaying the league MVP and a first ballot Hall of Famer, especially in the red zone. The Jets are 35 minutes away from going to the Super Bowl.

> With the Colts getting the ball to start the second half, this drive is huge; a stop and two subsequent Jets scores could put this game into wilding range for the Jet D. Addai takes a slow developing toss to the sideline and gets nine as Lowery goes out again with an injury. The RB moves the sticks on a middling run to the right. From their own 38 on first, Addai is destroyed on a run blitz and fumbles to DE Calvin Pace, who nearly took the handoff, as Leonhard recovers it on the Colt 30. Holy moley.

> Jones to the right for four, and a late flag is picked up. The Colts desperately need a three and out to keep this one in range. On second, the Jets take a false start as the clock goes under three minutes, then lose even more ground on a give to Jones, who looks a lot worse than Greene today. With the field goal now at over 50 yards, the Colts call their first timeout. Third and 16 is a give to Jones, who gets four yards and prompts the second Colt timeout. Feely's attempt from 48 draws through the uprights, and looks like it would have been good from 55. Jets 17, Colts 6.

> Feely's kickoff goes through the uprights on a bounce with 2:11 left. Manning misses Clark, covered well by S Kerry Rhodes, by a lot. Heh. From the gun on second, Jets Fan is getting loud, and Manning has too much time to find Collie for 18, who makes a man miss to gain a little more, and goes out of bounds at the two minute warning. From their own 38, Manning from the gun is talking a lot, and has tons of time to throw a perfect ball to Collie for 46 yards down the middle, then back again to the WR in the end zone, who makes a great reach and catch for the first touchdown of the day for the home team. That's an 80 yard drive, all of it to one receiver, in less than a minute, and so much for the Jet D putting this one away... and considering how they've played in the second half for the last two games, that wasn't out of the realm of possibilities. Jets 17, Colts 13.

> Smith needs a big return to give Sanchez enough rope with Ryan, but he only gets it to his own 21. A give to Jones gets seven, and the telling thing is that the RB fell down in bounds, rather than bust it for the sidelines. The Jets then huddle up to make their intentions more clear, and we're back to Ryan cutting bricks with his buttocks. The Colts call time just to see if a fumble happens on third and three, which Ryan responds to with a Sanchez kneel down. That's the half, and while the Jets lead by four, they just might be playing this too tight to win. I don't like my Colts to cover bet, though...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Top 11 Changes in the All White Basketball League

In case you missed this lovely moment for the nation, organizers in Georgia (the South! What were the odds?) are starting a Whites-Only league for those dreadfully oppressed Caucasian hoopsters, and the hoop fans that feel displaced by the other basketball options that are open to them. What are the other meaningful differences between their game and the one of their rivals?

11) Shorts the way John Stockton wore them, with all of the subtext that entails

10) Every player's defense will be gritty or tenacious

9) The inspirational team leader will be the oversized guy who overcomes a crippling lack of work ethic to lead his team to victory

8) Games will be refreshingly devoid of commercial interruption

7) Fans will finally get to see cheerleaders that leave something to the imagination, and arouse no prurient interest

6) The players will only abuse alcohol and crystal meth, the drugs that God intended them to abuse

5) Teams and their cities will be spared from the terrible, terrible wrath of Pat Robertson's God

4) Spike Lee will have something more pressing to rail against than the roster make-up of Hickory High in "Hoosiers"

3) For the first time, you will appreciate the comparative athleticism, power and excitement of the WNBA

2) The top selling team merchandise for every team will be the hoodies

1) When their players get caught with guns, the NRA will support them

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Top 10 Reasons Why Stephon Marbury Is Playing Hoops In China

10) Finally found a league with teams he hasn't quit on, and coaches he hasn't killed

9) Wanted to be closer to his sneaker factory

8) Has always dreamed of being a Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragon

7) Paving the way for cousin Sebastian Telfair

6) The Chinese are more to his way of thinking in terms of how to treat dogs

5) Nearly a billion and a half people means all new trim in the SUV

4) 32-year-old defense-free 43% shooters don't exactly choose where they work, especially when they are on Team #6

3) Having conquered the Western world with his Twitter feed, needed a fresh challenge

2) The Western Hemisphere isn't big enough for both him and Mike D'Antoni

1) Just can't afford those Knicks tickets anymore

NFL Conference Picks

First things first: if you happen to be the kind of person who gambles on the outcome of football games (the horror!), there is no better place for your business, or more comprehensive source for Super Bowl Odds, than So let's get right to it, shall we?

Jets at COLTS (-7.5)

Something that the world seems to be missing in all of the runaway Jets Love: the Colts have not lost this year in a game where they played their starters. They will also, in this game, use the smartest QB in the game, who will negate CB Darelle Revis with quick reads away from his area. The Colts will also hand the ball to running backs that are not fossils, and if the road team comes in with four first downs in the first two quarters, they will trail by more than one play. Finally, one has to assume that a Jets opponent will eventually connect on a field goal. Oh for five is downright spooky, really, even in this year of Kicking Badly.

(Oh, and a side point for Theoretical Patriot Fan Who Stopped Watching All NFL Games After Ray Rice's first carry of the Ravens-Pats game. No one cares that this is your Nightmare Game since either your division rival or Tom Brady's superior is going to go to the Super Bowl, and that no one is tearing Brad Childress a similar spare orifice to what they did to Coach Belicheat for running up the score on the Cowboys. That's because running up the score on the Cowboys is something that America approves of, and we all hate you and your team much more than you care about it. Moving on.)

The smart money is, we are told, taking the points and counting on the Jets to cover, if not win. That kind of thing goes against my grain because if I'm going to take a road dog, I've got to think that, on some level, they have a real shot at winning this game... and try as I might,. I just can't see the Jets getting there. They aren't facing a breathtaking choke artist coach, in an open air grass stadium, and a QB that for all of his good moments, has never gotten to a Super Bowl. They also have been getting good and lucky (Revis's pinball pick off the receiver's leg and the five missed field goals being the tip of the iceberg), and while RBs Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene are good and well-served by the best offensive line in football... well, that's just not how this era of football is played.

Can the Jets cover? Of course. Colts QB Peyton Manning likes to work out long drives, and the Colts are not world-beaters at stopping the run; both of those factors point to a tight game and relatively low score. The Jet defense is better than any still playing in the league, and their special teams don't seem to be giving up field position, let alone turnovers. PK Jay Feely may be the only one of his kind in the playoffs to not disgrace himself.

But there's also this: for the first time in these playoffs, the Jets are not going to be free and easy, because being 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl will have that effect on a man. I think it translates into a first half turnover, some overly heroic defensive gambles that Manning will pick apart, and a significant early Colts lead that will lead the Jet brain trust to try something more demanding than the body blow running shots that eventually take down the man. Against Manning, in his house with his complement of weapons (and don't forget that TE Antonio Gates had good numbers against Gang Green last week, and that TE Dallas Clark might just be better than him, at least in the hands department)... they are going to have to swing harder and higher.

And when they do, turnovers will follow, and defeat.

Colts 27, Jets 17

Vikings at SAINTS (-4.5)

On the merits and on the lines, this is a high line. And if this was your Super Bowl matchup, on a neutral field, I'd be very tempted to go with the road dog. But it just ain't that way. Consider, if you will, the Vikings last three games on the road this year, all of which were important to them, and all of which saw them play their starters:

Week 13 at Arizona: 30-17 Cardinals

Week 15 at Carolina: 26-7 Panthers

Week 16 at Chicago: 36-30 Bears

Of the four Viking road wins this year, three were against Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis; only the Green Bay win, against a Packer OL that at the time was a transvestite short of a MASH unit, was the only game of quality. Now take that record and put it in the loudest home dome in the league, against a fan base that has never been to these heights before. You like those odds? I don't.

The Vikings do have a theoretical advantage in putting RB Adrian Peterson against the poor Saints run defense, but Peterson hasn't done that much against anyone for far too long now, due to the struggles of his offensive line. If you can get him the ball in space -- and note that they have been trying to do more of that, despite the strong production of third-down back Chester Taylor -- he's still the same old ball of terror, but three times out of four with this line right now, he's taking contact in the backfield. And there isn't a RB alive that looks all that good when he does that.

I'm looking for the Saints to score early, with Coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees using their big brains and ridiculous accuracy to find a mismatch or six. Maybe it's TE Jeremy Shockey against one of the poor Viking safeties. Or WR Lance Moore against a nickel back, or WR Marques Colston on possession routes, or WR Devery Henderson with the long ball, or RB Reggie Bush looking like his old college self.

But the biggest issue is that if Vikings coach Brad Childress has to play from behind, or QB Brett Favre for that matter, I'm not loving their chances for the comeback. For all of Favre's records and history, big comebacks are not part of the repertoire; when it goes bad for him, it goes very bad indeed. Somewhere in that purple uniform is the guy that has thrown 317 career picks, and against a Saints secondary that looked good and ballhawky last week against the Cardinals, that number will grow.

Note also that the Vikings have poor special teams coverage units, and Bush might just do them again. He has in the past. Finally, if DE Ray Edwards remains sidelined or limited, the Viking pass rush will not get to Brees often enough. Don't believe the hype about DE Jared Allen; he can be contained, and will be in this game.

Saints 34, Vikings 27

Last week: 1-3

Year to date: 124-133-6

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