NFL playoff action resumes Saturday (Jan. 12) with the Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers. It’s time for the divisional round in both conferences and by the end of the weekend fans will know which teams are playing for the AFC and NFC championships.
On the side of the bracket, the Packers at 49ers game is the one that takes place on Saturday following the conclusion of Baltimore at Denver. Kickoff is scheduled for slightly at 8 p.m. ET on FOX, with the game being played at Candlestick Park. Look for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to come out of the gate hot in this one.
The other game on Sunday is the Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons. That game takes place at 1 p.m. ET on FOX and pits the No. 1 seeded Falcons against the wild card Seahawks. On paper, the 13-3 Falcons seem to be the favorite, but the team hasn’t proven much in the postseason over recent years.
Which game on the docket are you most excited to see? Any predictions on which team will advance to the Super Bowl out of the AFC and NFC Playoffs?
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter. (Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP Photo)
Given the choice of all eight starting quarterbacks this weekend, not many would have picked Alex Smith as the guy they’d want to lead them down the field for a touchdown at the end of a game. Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers? Yes please. Tim Tebow? Last gasp heroics are his stock in trade. Eli Manning? Hey, he’s done it in bigger games before. Of the two remaining, Joe Flacco, too, might have been a more popular selection than Smith – the former first overall draft pick whose previous six years in the league had been a study in mediocrity and whose confirmation as the starter in preseason drew grumbles from the San Francisco faithful. Since then Smith had a solid year, but the sense around the league was still that he was nothing more than a game manager, someone who could just about be trusted not to ruin the good work done elsewhere. And yet at Candlestick Park on Saturday, Smith engineered not one, but two touchdowns in the final three and a half minutes of the game – closing the show with an 85-yard drive capped by a laser beam to Vernon Davis (whose 180 receiving yards represented a new playoff record for tight ends) that had Bay Area sportswriters evoking both The Catch by Dwight Clark and Terrell Owens’s 1999 sequel. This was a play and a game that will go down in 49ers folklore, one that may well appear in future rundowns of the league’s greatest playoff encounters. Even before the final flurry that brought four touchdowns, and four lead changes, in four minutes, it had been compelling fare – San Francisco’s defense assaulting Drew Brees and the Saints’ ballcarriers with a ferocity that for three and two-thirds quarters was enough to blow the league’s most explosive offense off-course. A defense such as this might well be what wins championships. But the 49ers are no longer solely reliant on Frank Gore to win the games along the way.
Broncos at Patriots
All of the "Tebowing" in the world couldn't of saved Tebow and the Broncos from Tom Brady and company
“Say your prayers, Timmy,” boomed the front page of the weekend’s Boston Metro, merrily casting the hometown Patriots with a picture of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady set against a backdrop of angry flame. And a suitably hellish visit it turned out to be for the Broncos, their defense ripped to shreds by Brady while their New England counterparts pummelled Tebow – sacking him five times while allowing just nine completions for 136 yards. Is this the end of TebowMania? Of course not. Everyone is well aware of his pulling power and with CBS already hoping to have him on as a studio analyst next weekit seems certain that we will be seeing plenty more of him in the coming weeks and months. What will also be fascinating is to discover whether the Broncos look to give themselves another option at QB between now and the 2012 season. The lack of public pronouncements supporting Tebow from John Elway has widely been interpreted as a lack of faith that he is the man to take this franchise forward. But for now we can turn our attentions back to the Patriots – with Brady reminding us all why he used to be the guy dominating the news agenda. He added yet another NFL record to his collection by becoming the first quarterback ever to throw for five first-half touchdowns in a playoff game – three of them to tight end Rob Gronkowski. But Brady has enough of those already. What he and Belichick would both really like, is another ring.
Texans at Ravens
Courtesy of Getty Images
New England can hardly have been quaking in their boots at the prospect of a visit from Baltimore either, after the Ravens required a lot of breaks to get past the Houston Texans. The tone was set just minutes into the first quarter when Jacoby Jones inexplicably attempted to field a punt which had already bounced with two opponents close at hand, duly fumbling at the three-yard line then watching as the Ravens punched it in for the touchdown. From there it would be a story of turnovers and missed opportunities for the Texans, who coughed up possession on three further occasions while failing to recover any of three fumbles by Baltimore. Yet despite a -4 turnover margin and the fact that their third-string, rookie quarterback TJ Yates was struggling badly in a hostile environment, they still only lost by seven points. That will be hard to take for Houston, who must surely wonder how things might have panned out had Jones simply got out of the way. But for Baltimore such numbers ought to be cause for real concern. New England will not be so forgiving in Foxboro.
Giants at Packers
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning reacts in front of Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, right, after throwing a 37-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks at the end of the first half. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
There was no bigger divisional weekend surprise than the ease with which the Giants saw off the Packers. Well, perhaps Alex Smith’s TD run, but that aside, there was no bigger surprise. But should it have been such a shock? A month ago it would certainly have been a huge upset, with the Packers chasing a perfect season and the Giants losing at home to the Redskins. That week the Packers lost too, for the first time this season, but it was against a briefly reinvigorated Kansas City and we all figured that it was probably best for Green Bay to get a defeat out of the way before chasing the prize. But between then and now much happened that maybe wasn’t properly appreciated: that Redskins defeat left the Giants in a state of permanent knock-out football – and they rose to the challenge. NY blue beat NY green convincingly on Christmas Eve before the Giants again beat the Cowboys, again convincingly, on New Year’s Day. And into the playoffs they strode to, again by several scores, snuff out the Falcons. Each game a must-win, each won with comfort (at least in the end).
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers lays on the field during the second half. Giants won 37-20. (Jeffrey Phelps / AP)
Aaron Rodgers meanwhile had only played once during that period. He sat out the last game of the regular season and saw his understudy step up – although the Packers’ defense caused a brief flurry of concern that day. He sat out the bye week. And then he – and the Packers – looked out-of-sorts at Lambeau Field when the big test came. But, to be fair to the Giants, this result wasn’t just about the Packers underperforming. It was about the Giants offense getting smoother by the week. It was about the Giants secondary clicking. It was about a Giants defensive line featuring some big beasts. But, most of all, it was about the Giants once again getting results when it matters. It’s a good thing the 2004 mega deal wasn’t a reality for the Giants. Key figures involved in the proposed trade were the reason why the Giants were able to upset the Packers at Lambeau Field, again. Hey, the Giants might wanna paint that stadium in blue because they own that place!
The NFL divisional playoff game garnering the least attention this year is between the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens. The Texans will be visiting the Ravens in Baltimore, and they’ll be the underdogs to try to emerge with a victory. For Baltimore, it’s their first shot in a very long time to have a playoff game at home, so they’ll be cherishing that opportunity and looking to capitalize on their home field advantage.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, left, and Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak shake hands after their game in Baltimore on Oct. 16, 2011. A 29-14 Baltimore victory (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
The Ravens are used to being the road warriors in the postseason. Joe Flacco and coach John Harbaugh have not gotten to play at home in the playoffs yet, ever, before this game. They’ve had good success on the road too in past playoff appearances, but it’s simply much harder to get the job done. But they scratched and clawed all season long for the privilege, and beat the Steelers twice in order to lock up the AFC North division, as well as a first round bye.
So they’ll be at home in this game, and they were an excellent team at home all season long. Their work on the road was suspect, and they suffered several large letdown games as the road team this year. But at home, they were undefeated and went 8-0 during the regular season, something the Texans probably don’t want to be reminded about.
For guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, this season might be their best shot to win another Super Bowl. With Ray Rice being one of the most dynamic backs in the league, Terrell Suggs being a beast, and both of those guys still playing at a very high level, this is a Ravens team that is hard to match up with, and a dangerous team to face when they get things clicking.
The Texans meanwhile enjoyed their first playoff game ever, and of course their first postseason win in team history, last weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals. But beating the suspect Bengals at home is one thing, and heading into Baltimore with a third string quarterback is an entirely different thing.
These two teams met in the regular season, in Baltimore, and the Ravens were able to win handily. That was when Houston had Matt Schaub in the lineup, and not number 3 QB TJ Yates. That doesn’t bode well for the Texans here. The Baltimore players, and the crowd, are going to be extremely fired up for this one and the rare home playoff game opportunity. They’ll come out firing on all cylinders, and they’ll lock up the win with strong play on both sides of the ball. Take Baltimore to win, although maybe Houston makes it interesting
The Packers didn’t go undefeated, but one of the 15 games they did win a Week 13 game at the New Meadowlands, a 38-35 win thanks in part to a 31-yard field goal by Mason Crosby as time expired.
Since that point, each team has lost just one game, but the prevailing public opinion is that the Giants are playing their best football of the season and have as good a chance as anyone to knock off the top-seeded Packers this season.
While that is certainly a possibility, New York will have to play extremely well in a number of facets of the game.
If the Giants are going to have success this weekend, they are going to need to put pressure on Aaron Rodgers. They can’t just blitz the house, because Rodgers will prey on the single coverage in the secondary and light up the scoreboard. New York needs to rely on Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty up front to not only apply pressure, but also keep Rodgers in the pocket so he can’t makes plays on the run.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants have to prevent turnovers at all costs. The Packers have a penchant for capitalizing on turnovers, but taking care of the ball on offense keeps the ball out of Rodgers’ hands. New York cannot waste possessions, as Green Bay can put up 40 on even the best defenses, and the Giants will need every possible chance to score.
The Giants could have a great day on offense, but there’s a strong consensus that the Packers will have an even better one. My rooting interest prevents me from giving an honest and un-bias opinion so I’ll just sit back, relax, enjoy the show while rooting hard for Big Blue.
The race for NFL MVP has been Aaron Rodgers award to lose for much of the season and rightfully so. Rodgers has lead the Packers to a 14-1 mark on the season. The only blemish on the Packers resume this season was an upset loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15. Rodgers has dominated the competition this season and definitely has the numbers to back up his claim that he should get the MVP nod. An incredibly high passer rating at a 120.1 and has thrown 45 touchdown passes on the year, to go with only six interceptions and a total of 4, 643 passing yards. That total is good enough for third highest in the league this season, trailing only Tom Brady (4,897) and Drew Brees record setting total of 5, 087.
Rodgers closest competition for the award is Brees. He broke Dan Marino’s single season passing yards record, which previously stood at 5084 yards. If this were in any other season, Brees would be a no doubt about it choice for league MVP. In comparison to Rodgers, Drew Brees has a 109.1 passer rating, has four less touchdown passes than does Rodgers, and has thrown 11 interceptions. These statistics clearly give the nod to Rodgers.
However, the case can be made for Brees to win the award over Rodgers or, at the very least, Brees and Rodgers could share the award. Undoubtably, both quarterbacks deserve the award. Co-MVPs aren’t a foreign concept for the NFL. On three previous occasions, the most valuable player award has been shared by two players. The 2003-2004 season, was the last time in which the NFL’s MVP award was shared. Peyton Manning and the late Tennessee Titans Quarterback Steve Mcnair, received co-MVP honors that season. According to USA Today, there is some precedence in naming co-MVP’s in the NFL.
In my opinion, the real question is this: Should Drew Brees draw serious MVP consideration by himself?
When the Packers bid for perfection was denied by the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago, the same day Brees was launching five TD passes in Minnesota … perhaps opening his window of opportunity in the MVP race. It was the latest exclamation point on a season where Brees has a record 11 300-plus yard passing games, extended his streak to 42 consecutive games with a TD pass leaving him just a few shy of breaking Johnny Unitas record.
Could Drew Brees’ record breaking statistics be enough to knock Aaron Rodgers off the top of the mountain?
Showtime’s Inside the NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth also suggested Rodgers’ lead is insurmountable, saying:
“What’s really incredible to me is the fact that Drew Brees this year has already shattered Dan Marino’s record for most yards — I mean shattered it — and is a little bit of an afterthought for the MVP.” - Cris Collinsworth
So, Collinsworth right, or is he minimizing Brees’ late push for league MVP?
Hey guys! I’m so very sorry for neglecting you all since Wednesday. I’ve had some crazy things going on here on my end combined with a hustle and bustle of the season.
I’ll be honest, I found it very odd to have had the majority of NFL games played on Saturday verses today. I understand the NFL’s logic, but I think it would have been received just as well had the games been played today. (At least we witnessed an awesome flip by Jerome Simpson of the Cincinnati Bengals)
Diehard sports fans like myself aren’t left without any sports today. The NBA is back in action with a set of five high profile games to kick off the season. Thats right, nearly six months after we last had an NBA game, the hardwood will be in use once again on Christmas Day. Heres how it sets up:
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks, Noon, TNT: Carmelo Anthony begins his first full season with Amar’e Stoudemire. Tyson Chandler makes his debut for the Knicks as well. The Celtics, meanwhile, don’t have CP3.
Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks, 2:30 p.m., ABC: 2011 NBA Final rematch! Will LeBron James and Dwyane Wade be able to do what they couldn’t in June?
Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 5:00 p.m., ABC: Derrick Rose just received an extension and will go up against an injured Kobe Bryant.
Orlando Magic vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 8:00 p.m., ESPN: Dwight Howard is still in Orlando while the Thunder look to be front-runners for the NBA title this season.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m., ESPN: Let the Chris Paul Era begin!
Oh yeah, for desert we have the NFL.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m. NBC: Can the Bears find some sort of Christmas present under the tree on Sunday night, namely a victory over the Packers? Doubtful.
Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays to each and every one of you and yours. Thank you so much for reading and for all of your support.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ season hasn’t been pretty. Yet, Sunday’s upset of the Green Bay Packers was an early Christmas for Chiefs fans. With a new coach and a new quarterback, the Chiefs put the first blemish on the Packers’ 2011 season and ended a 19-game winning streak.
Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports/Getty Images
Countless sports writers and reporters probably dropped the “on any given Sunday” line when talking about the Chiefs’ 19-14 win. Really, for anyone who thinks the NFL is predictable, ponder this: Green Bay loses and Indianapolis wins.
On the same Sunday.
At about the same time the Colts’ plummet toward ignominy — and 0-16 — ended with a victory over Tennessee, the Packers’ pursuit of perfection also was stopped. Yep, the winless won and the undefeated fell.
The Packers’ 19-game winning streak, second longest in NFL history, was snapped with a 19-14 loss at Kansas City, a team that was routed by 27 points last weekend, then fired its coach. Defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay (13-1) won’t have to put up with questions about an undefeated season any more.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy maintained perspective after his team was handed it’s first loss in nearly a calendar year.
“I personally always viewed the undefeated season as, really, just gravy, the goal was to get home-field advantage and win the Super Bowl. That’s what we discussed. We were fortunate enough to be in the position to possibly achieve the undefeated season, but we still have the primary goal in front of us, and that’s to get home-field advantage.” Mike McCarthy
As for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, he had a tough day at the office. The Chiefs pressured Rodgers all game long and made him pay for his uncharacteristic mistakes.
The Chiefs defense, – which has been a bright spot in an otherwise miserable season- managed to hold Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense to season lows in total yardage (315) and points. All Pro linebacker Tamba Hali had three sacks, rookie end Allen Bailey another.
Rodgers, who was on pace to break Peyton Manning’s 7-year-old passer-rating record, had more misses than completions, finishing 17-for-35 for 235 yards. Those are decent numbers for mere mortals but are well below Rodgers usual eyebrow raising statistics.
The Chiefs improbable victory over the Packers wasn’t the only news worthy of headlines on Sunday. The winless Indianapolis Colts finally broke the streak and defeated the Tennessee Titans 27-13 following 13 straight defeats.
Dan Orlovsky (6) is congratulated by center Jeff Saturday as he carries off the game ball under his jersey following a 27-13 win over Tennessee Titans. AP Photo/AJ Mast
I didn’t think it could happen but yes, the Colts finally won one without Peyton Manning, who hasn’t played all season after neck surgery.
Quarterback Dan Orlovsky was relieved. He had previously played for the 2008 Lions, who were the only team to have went 0-16.
The league’s overall top spot still belongs to Green Bay; no one else has as few as two defeats. Green Bay finishes with home games against division rivals Chicago and Detroit, and might have a renewed focus after the flop in KC.
McCarthy certainly will be asking his players all week how their first loss since 31-27 at New England last Dec. 19 feels
Maybe it’s the unseasonably warm weather, or the absence of NBA games that were supposed to have already started, or that I haven’t heard a whole lot about this year’s Black Friday mega-deals, but it sure seems like Turkey Day snuck up on me this year.
Of course, you are probably almost as excited about watching an entire day of football as you are enjoying the best (and likely biggest) meal of the whole year and the company of loved ones.
Like cooking out and baseball on July 4th, and college football (and hopefully not too much of a hangover) on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and NFL football combine to make one of the greatest days of the year for sports fans.
This might be the best Thanksgiving football schedule that I can remember.
Packers @ Lions 12:30p.m. TV: Fox
NFL football on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit is a tradition that goes all the way back to the 1930s, but over the last decade the Lions have been out of the postseason race by Turkey Day.
This year is a little different.
The much-improved Detroit Lions will take on the red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the first of three exciting games scheduled on Thanksgiving Day.
Adding to the excitement of this game, the Packers come to Detroit as NFL’s only undefeated team left in the 2011 season, and they are the first unbeaten team to play on Thanksgiving in 50 years.
But this game will be no cake walk for the Pack.
This game is one of the most anticipated games in Detroit Lions football history in almost a decade, and the Lions come into this big Week 12 game with confidence.
Last year the Lions beat the Packers at Ford Field, after knocking QB Aaron Rodgers out of the game early. You can bet Lions DT Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit defense will be up for the challenge.
The pick: Lions in a shootout 37-34
Dolphins @ Cowboys 4:15p.m. TV: CBS
Just a few weeks ago, this game might have seemed like a dud, but the Dolphins have surged to 3 straight victories, including this past week’s 35-8 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills.
Once considered the frontrunners in the “Suck for Luck” sweepstakes, the Dolphins are showing signs of life and competing every week behind quarterback Matt Moore and Reggie Bush, who is starting to resemble the Reggie Bush of years past.
Dallas comes in at 6-4 and tied for the NFC East lead. Say what you will about the Cowboys’ postseason failures and Tony Romo’s lack of clutch play, the fact is that Romo and his team are dominant in November. In November, as a starter, Romo is 18-2 with 49 touchdown passes against only 12 interceptions in his career.
The Dolphins are going to come back to earth sometime, and I expect that to be now. On a short week, traveling to Dallas, Miami will struggle in all phases, and I see Dallas rolling over them and staying atop the NFC East.
The pick: Cowboys 27-16
49ers @ Ravens 8:20p.m. TV:NFL Network
Yours truly will have a first-hand front row seat for this one. The Brothers Harbaugh square off against one another for the first time as NFL head coaches, with Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers, a surprising 9-1 and the runaway leader of the NFC West traveling to face John Harbaugh’s Ravens, who are tied for the AFC North lead after beating the Cincinnati Bengals last week.
These teams are built similarly, with punishing defenses (the 49ers are 1st against the run, the Ravens are 3rd) and elite, multi-purpose running backs (Frank Gore and Ray Rice). The winner of this game will likely be the team who is able to have more success running against the other’s front 7.
Of concern for the Ravens is getting Rice consistent touches. This season, Rice has averaged just over 14 carries per game, which for a star back is not nearly enough. He is a valuable part of the receiving game too, with 51 receptions, but the Ravens need to find a way to establish Rice early and often.
The Ravens’ game plan lately has been a pass-heavy attack, but Joe Flacco is not Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees; he is not the type of quarterback who can give his team the best chance to win by consistently throwing over 35 times per game.
I think the 49ers will be able to run on Baltimore, especially if Ray Lewis were to miss the game (he is questionable currently with a toe injury that forced him to miss the Cincinnati game). As long as Alex Smith is able to play conservative, mistake-free football like he has done in the first 10 games this year, I think the 49ers win.
However, I’m having a hard time convincing myself that Alex Smith will be able to play conservative, mistake-free football for four quarters against the Ravens defense. Ray Lewis’ playing status changes things, but it doesn’t change the fact that Alex Smith must avoid the big mistake. I think the 49ers will give the Ravens all they can handle but in the end, it’s the Raven defense that makes the big play to gain victory.
Everyone knows there are few guarantees in life. Except for the whole death-and-taxes thing.
When it comes to sports, the NFL in particular, such certainties are even more rare. I mean, teams routinely rise from worst-to-first in a one-year span and injuries and other uncontrollable variables can destroy the plans of even the seemingly most bulletproof of expected contenders. Raise your hand if you foresaw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning four more games than the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 last August.
With that premise in mind, it may be best not to get too sucked in over the incessant buildup of the Philadelphia Eagles, this season’s designated trendy choice to achieve Super Bowl glory, even as difficult as may be to downplay the enviable ensemble of talent the team has collected during its recent spending splurge.
There’s no debating the job head coach Andy Reid and general manager Howie Roseman did during the belated and frenzied signing period. The duo was able to stealthily move and land the biggest prize on this year’s free-agent market — cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha — and brought in two other quality pieces to an overhauled defense with the signings of linemen Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin. And that doesn’t include the addition of proven corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, part of an admirable haul the Eagles were able to obtain in exchange for disposable second-string quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Philadelphia was even able to lure brand-name performers to fill in backup roles, snaring Titans castoff Vince Young and former No. 2 overall pick Ronnie Brown to provide strong depth at quarterback and running back, respectively.
Clear winners of this year’s offseason, now the Eagles’ challenge may be withstanding the challenge of sky-high presumptions, a hefty burden that has befallen other supposed championship-caliber clubs in the not-so-distant past. The Cowboys crumbled under those same conditions last season. The Vikings came close before ultimately failing as consensus NFC favorites the previous year. Dallas was expected to run the conference table in 2008, but fell prey to a toxic combination of injuries and infighting.
With an organization renowned for its stablility and a superior coach in Reid, Philadelphia does appear better equipped to prepare for those pitfalls that did in those predecessors, and with the exception of the mercurial Young, none of the newcomers are potential chemistry-killers like the ones that had a hand in the Cowboys’ 2008 demise. Still, to say the Eagles will have an easy path in a well-stocked NFC that houses the last two Super Bowl winners is as preposterous as it is premature.
A side effect of Philadelphia’s all-in mentality is that it’s caused some of its chief competition to up the ante as well.
New Orleans’ offseason moves didn’t produce nearly the amount of punch, save for the team’s shipment of an unhappy Reggie Bush to Miami. However, ex- Charger Darren Sproles is as good — if not better — a replacement for the high-profile running back, while a defense that was one of the league’s stingiest against the pass last season got tougher to run on as well after adding 670 pounds of bulk along the interior line in the form of beefy tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers.
Atlanta was able to solve one of its most glaring needs by signing former Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards, giving the defending NFC South champs an established pass-rushing complement to sack-master John Abraham, while successfully retaining the core group of a team that won a conference-best 13 games in 2010, two more than the Saints and three greater than the Eagles.
And in case anyone forgot, there’s also the Green Bay Packers to deal with.
The reigning world champs were customary silent in free agency, but remember that last season’s historic run was made without the services of several injured players, including such prominent ones as emerging star tight end Jermichael Finley and dependable running back Ryan Grant. An already formidable offense would become even more dangerous if those two can reclaim their form, and the Pack shouldn’t lack the motivation needed to combat the dreaded Super Bowl hangover after having to witness Philly’s deluge of press clippings.
With an abundance of skilled playmakers on offense and a defense that should be an upgrade on last year’s disappointing unit following the influx of new faces, there’s no question the Eagles possess the goods to make a serious run at an elusive Lombardi Trophy and reclaim their lost standing as the toast of a city that’s been bleeding Phillies red for the last few years. But just like the other upper-echelon inhabitants of the NFC, and the rest of the league as well, there will be ifs.
If a defense that may have a rookie (Casey Matthews) calling signals at the pivotal middle linebacker position and an unproven new coordinator (Juan Castillo) running the show can make considerable progress. If valuable wide receiver Jeremy Maclin isn’t slowed down by a mysterious illness that’s kept him out of camp thus far. If disgruntled wideout DeSean Jackson and cornerback Asante Samuel, possibly relegated to a reduced role with the additions of Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, don’t become needless distractions.
And what if Michael Vick, who hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2006, sustains a serious injury that keeps him out for a significant amount of time? While Young’s an excellent insurance policy, will he show the aptitude, leadership and most importantly — the maturity — to win games in January and February if need be?
Capping one of the greatest postseasons for any quarterback, Rodgers led the Pack to their first NFL championship in 14 years Sunday, 31-25 over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Aaron Rodgers led the Packers with a spectacular six-game string that should finally erase the bitterness of the Brett Favre separation in Green Bay. He has won just as many championships as Brett Favre has, and he has won a Super Bowl MVP something Brett Favre never did.
Rodgers threw for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns and can finally stand on his own while leaving the shadow of Favre behind. After sitting for three seasons, Rodgers took the Packers to two late-season victories just to make the playoffs as a wild card. Then he guided them to wins at Philadelphia, Atlanta and archrival Chicago before his biggest achievement – against a Pittsburgh team ranked second in defense.
“I’ve never felt like there’s been a monkey on my back. The organization stood behind me, believed in me” said Rodgers, general manager Ted Thompson’s first-round draft choice six years ago.
“I told Ted back in 2005 he wouldn’t be sorry with this pick. I told him in ’08 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity.” – Aaron Rodgers, Super Bowl XLV MVP
*Exerts from the Associated Press contributed to this post