A “brief” look back at the teams, their MVPs and their season highlights.
At the end of another NFL season, this league proves again that it is definitely the most exciting and most entertaining of them all. In a year that featured relatively little drama in its last few weeks (There was a certain level of mediocrity and the playoffs picture was pretty much limited to a few teams with realistic hopes of a playoffs berth), the games remained must-see stuff. Of course, the playoffs games take the intensity and excitement to a whole different level. Just look at the Seattle-Dallas wild card game, the four-nail biters of the divisional round, the New England-Indianapolis instant classic. And that is not nearly enough to tell the story of the speed, the power, the individual match-ups and the storylines. (WOW! One would think that I am the official (and paid) representative of the game. Well! My point is this: If you are a sports fan and you are not following this league, you may be missing out). Now, before I get carried away into explaining how football is going to cure aids, end the occupation of
+Thanks for Nothing Teams:
What a year! The Raiders and their offensive pride were a few points away from breaking the record for the all time record for the lowest points scored during the regular season. They get shut out multiple times. They practically does not have a SINGLE offensive piece to start with. A longtime fan says: maybe Justin Fargas (4th year man out of USC!! could be a starter; that should say it all. And they just hired a 31-year old college assistant to be their coach after another 34-year old above-ranked assistant said no thanks! The good news is they have a good defense. Aside from the fact that they ranked high in defense (statistically) this year (which does not mean much. After all who wants to bust their butts to score a lot on this team when 7 points are more than enough to get the win). But they have playmakers on that side (Even Warren Sapp had a surprisingly solid season) . Kirk Morrison, Thomas Howard, All-Pro level corner Nnamdi Asomugha and the rest of the young secondary is a legit nucleus.
MVP: Art Shell. The level of comedy he provided with his constant poker face, taking notes, and finally the “rat in the house” rant has to be worth an award. [On a sepearat note is there s there a worse idea that screams to your fans: “right now as organization we have no idea what we are doing” than hiring a football coach and firing him after one year for one year!
Highlight: Taylor Brayton kneeing Jerramy Stevens in the groin on Monday Night. (Yes, their year was that bad).
When is this team going to be reallocated to the CFL? They have averaged FOUR wins a year in the last six season (with the highest being 6). Based only on the high draft picks they have accumulated over that period they should a decent team. (Oh, they focused on wide receivers in the high rounds only to have a street free agent emerging as their best pass catcher in a decade!). Jon Kitna threw every pass for them this year. (I am not really sure that this has any significance, but after all this team has no significance altogether). There are not too many players to be excited about on this roster. Their best players from last year (James Hall and Shaun Rogers) shut it down early, and even players who came in as highly regarded in the years passed, got bit by the Lions bug and they are average at best. Rookie LB Ernie Sims was one of the few bright spots.
MVP: WR Mike Furrey finished with 98 catches and a 1000+ yards propelling his teams towards achieving 3 wins on the year.
Highlight: It could be the win against the Cowboys, since it is their first win on the road in like 15 years and since they dropped 40+ points on a defense that was supposed to be good. But this game cannot be the highlight when compared to Roy Williams’ quotes: “Man it is stupid how close we were to putting forty on the board” after his team scored seven points. And the other quote when he admitted that when he scores he is going to celebrate even if his team is losing because it is about him scoring his points. On the bright side, that guy is the only receiver left from the three number one draft picks.
I can proudly admit that I have not watched a minute of a Browns game this year outside of the highlights. Seriously who wants to see Derek Anderson handing off to Jerome Harrison (whoever they are). It can be easily said that the team has not improved at all under Romeo Crennel and they have not even assembled enough personnel to claim that they are on the right track. Rookie OLB Kamerion Wimbley had 11 sacks and got good reviews from scouts, as did SS Sean Jones who always appeared to be making plays on the highlight reels. Sergeant Kellen Winslow jr. finally went to war for a whole year and he put up some big and meaningless numbers.
Highlight: Losing to
Seriously how many absolutely terrible teams were there in the league this year?! Jon Gruden does not look like a genius anymore and it is surprise he is not even on the hot seat yet. He won the SuperBowl with Tony Dungy’s team, and since then his personnel decisions are terrible on both sides of the ball. Bruce Gardkowski, Tim Rattay and Chris Sims split time at QB throughout the year. The once proud defense is officially down to nothing. The offensive line that they wasted their top two draft picks on last year is as bad as ever, and even Cadillac Williams disappeared.
Highlight: A win on a last second field against the Eagles in week 7 when the Eagles were in the middle of a 3 game skid that cannot be more irrelevant.
A new stadium, a new QB, a brand new head coach. Same ol’ Cardinals. This was the perfect year for a mediocre team to make a playoffs run (especially in the terrible NFC West), (So long for the Cardinals being this year and last year’s sleeper team)! Anyway, it went exactly as predicted: The Edgerrine James signing was terrible (he looks like a back who has a lot of miles on him) and the below-average line did not help either him or the QB. Whether it was Kurt Warner or Matt Leinart they did not have time to utilize the supposedly superior receiving corps. The good news is that contrary to the above teams, they have enough players to turn it around. They have a QB of the future, and they have many play makers on defense. Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett had another strong season and LB Gerald Hayes (93 tackles and 3 INTs) looks like an emerging solid starter.
Highlight: Not only it is the highlight of the Cardinal’s season, not only may it have caused Dennis Green his job, it is EASILY the highlight of the year: “The bears were who we thought they were”.
So it turned out that the hiring of Al Saunders and the expensive overrated free agents did not work? What a surprise! Of course it did not. This team lucked into the playoffs last year and all of a sudden Daniel Snyder starts believing that his twisted ways are working. Joe Gibbs and Saunders offensive philosophy collided as expected.. The new offensive toys Brandon Lloyd and Randel El did not have a real QB to play with and underperformed. Everybody hated the complex new system, even the linemen. The defense declined tremendously and the whole franchise is as usual highly dysfunctional. However, they found out that Jason Campbell is capable of being the QB of the future and they still have a decent core, but they do not have many draft picks to infuse new blood.
MVP: Ladell Betts proved that he can carry the load of a Gibbs running game l. After Clinton Portis inevitable multiple injuries the team acquired T.J. Duckett who totaled 38 attempts. After the team decided to go back to a more run-oriented offensive attack, Betts racked 1100+ yards of tough running.
Highlight: a crazy finish against their old rivals the Cowboys in week 9. Troy Vincent blocks the Cowboys time-expiring potential-game winning 19 yarder. A big return and a face-mask penalty extend the game for one more un-timed play and Nick Novak kicks a fifty-yard FG with no time left!
+Mediocre-ly bad teams:
After a typical optimistic start they realized that they should have installed some kind of a passing attack to be able to compete. The defense lived up to expectations and played very well, especially early in the year by stuffing the run with the big Williams tackles. LB E.J. Henderson also seems to have turned a corner and had career year. Brad Johnson was not able to play an efficient “bus driver” anymore and they had to resort to Tavaris Johnson. Chester Taylor was also a good addition and was a feared player early in the season. The bottom line is this team should have faired better and Brad Childress was easily the least successful new head coach even though he had the most pieces and talent to work with (expect for the QB, which may ba a good excuse to cut him some slack). The reports from the team’s locker room claims that players do not like the new coach laid back demeanor.
MVP: Could have gone to a defensive player but a lot of defenders played solid but not exceptional. Chester Taylor had 1200+ yards and 6 TDs, so he is the MVP on a six win team (whatever that is worth).
Highlight: They played a good game against the Bears in week 3 that showcased their defense and exposed the fact that Rex Grossman and his line were suspects against the blitz. But then they went away from bringing pressure and lost an important game to the division rivals on a long a bomb to Reshied Davis. They have a win against one playoffs team (Seattle, who was playing without Hasselback and Alexander) and two losses to A bad Packers team (The week16 snooze fest (7-9) was one of the worst games of the year).
After five years in the league, the Texans are literarily at square one. They have 21 free agents this off-season, they have questions at QB, RB, the offensive line, and many questions on defense despite having some good talent on that side of the ball. Maybe 6 wins is satisfying for a “rebuilding team” in its head coach’s first year, but the Texans are not going to be in a SuperBowl anytime soon. The “sure to stay” pieces are Andre Johnson who had the quietest 100+ catches season ever, Mario Williams (who was just decent) and DeMeco Ryans (a true candidate for rookie of the year and the league leader in tackles). CD Dunta Robinson had a below average year but he is also in the team’s future plans. Everyone else especially David Carr (who got briefly benched in mid-season for performance) is under Gary Kubiak’s evaluation right now.
MVP: DeMeco Ryans energized the unit that played much better this year, despite a few rookie tendencies that are bound to improve.
Highlight: The win against a disinterested Colts team in week 16 was the team’s first win against the division rivals in ten tries. The players celebrated it on the field, followed it up with a win against
It could be a debatable issue whether this team has underachieved or if they were who we thought they were. It was obvious that they did not have enough playmakers on paper, but what a wasted great season by Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas (who are both getting up there in age). The Daunte Culpepper situation (injured and washed up) was what really hurt them the most and they had to play Joey Harrington and Cleo Lemon (who?!) at QB. Ronnie Brown was a no-factor and their most dangerous threat was WR/PR Wes Welker. Nick Saban screwing them over and bailing out on them was brutal, especially that they gave him full confidence and control to run a long-term operation. He leaves the team in a much worse condition than when he took it over, practically in disarray with very few young playmakers.
MVP: Jason Taylor, The leagues official defensive player of year.
Highlight: After losing 6 out of their first 7 games, they faced a heavily-favored undefeated
The Michael Vick saga continues for another year. Can he do it? Is he a quarterback or a novelty act? He is the first QB to ever rush for a 1000 yard in a season, which is nice, but he remained his erratic and inconsistent QB. The 3-headed running game that worked early in the year quickly vanished, and Vick and his platoon of high-draftees (White, Jenkins , Lelie) showed some flashes (vs. Steelers and Cowboys) but remained below average (NO WR had more than 30 catches!! TE Alge Crumpler who as was average and dropped a few balls himself lead all receivers with 56). The addition of Johnny Abraham (18 tackles and 4 sacks, three of them in the opening game) effect on the defense met the expectations (did nothing to an ever-regressing defense). They had to resort to fat Grady Jackson (out of football during the 2005 season, and surprisingly did a decent job) to help stop the run, and the secondary of overrated D’Angelo Williams, number one draft pick Jimmy Williams and tiny Allen Rossum got constantly torched. Now this team have to restart with a new head coach (a college coach, from power house
MVP: This underachieving group did not have ay real standout players that could be considered the guy who carried a team. But RB Warrick Dunn remained his tough team-committed self (1140 on 286 carries) and LB Keith Brooking (137 tackles) started all 16 games in his 9th year with the team.
Highlight: Michael Vick getting caught on camera lobbing the double bird to a heckling home fan after a fourth straight loss in week 12. That day against
A good job by first year head coach Mike Nolan. What a difference a running game can make to a team. This does not mean that this team was a playoffs contender by any chance. They were just a bad team that tried to keep it together and had a real shot at sneaking into the playoffs, if only they got one more win (against the equally bad Arizona or Green Bay) down the stretch, but that’s what bad team do. Nevertheless, they realized this year that Alex Smith could develop in a good QB (as crazy as this sounds he is still the right pick for the 3rd pro-bowl spot). Vernon Davis missed a lot of time and only had 20 receptions but the potential is still there. The defensive unit does not get more obscure than it was last year, but they had played decent on effort alone. Manny Lawson looks like a good draft pick.
MVP: Frank Gore. 1695 rushing yards behind an average line in addition to 61 receptions and 485 receiving. On a more successful team he could be in the conversation for the MVP of the league.
Highlight: One can point out to the Denver OT thriller in the last week of the season that deprived the Broncos from a playoffs spot, but they also had too close wins against the division rivals Seattle (weeks 11 and 15), and that is the reason why the should have been in the playoffs instead of the Seahawks.
Maybe the least exciting and the most “eh, whatever” 7-win team. Maybe if they move to
MVP: Lee Evans was their most productive player. Also they continue to have a productive special team unit (whatever that is worth on an inconsistent team).
Highlight: They played many close games throughout the year. They lost 5 games by 3 points or less. (Maybe one of them can be considered a highlight!). Their season is almost as dull as that of the Browns (despite the 3 wins difference).
+The 8-8 teams:
At a closer look it is obvious that there was a tremendous amount of below-average teams this season. Only ten teams in the league finished with a winning record and there was a looming threat that a below 0.500 team would make it to the playoffs for the first time ever. (On the bright side the owners voted against increasing the playoffs teams last year). The Rams were another one of these “blah” teams, that despite showing some flashes there was this inconstancy (a staple of all the 8-8 teams) that it made it obvious that they are not anywhere close to being legitimate playoffs teams. The Rams have some signs to be optimistic about. Stephen Jackson has emerged as a real star running back. Marc Bulger is still among the very few NFC quarterbacks who can be considered a big league dependable one. On the other hand their long-time star receivers are getting up there in age despite both of them having a 1000-yard seasons , and they still have voids everywhere especially on defense that lacks and real playmakers. Leonard (DUI-killer) Little had 13 sacks and MLB Will Witherspoon lead the team in tackles while playing out of position.
MVP: Stephen Jackson ran for 1500+ yards, in addition to 90 receptions and 16 total TDs. He has separated himself from other runners who where considered in his class on draft day (Kevin and Julius Jones) and is in the conversation of the most dangerous backs in the league.
Highlight: Opening the season with a 4-1 record by beating on four terrible teams (the one loss came against the 49ers no less) earned them some attention early, but they followed up with 5 straight losses (losing twice to Seattle) that exposed them as a flawed team with a first year head coach. They finished on a positive note by beating another three terrible teams, and considered their campaign a relative success.
One of the biggest under-achieving and disappointing team that should have been much better in the weak NFC. A lot of their problems starts with Jake Delhomme who single-handedly cost them two (if not three) games throwing end-zone picks at the end of games. The QB problems may have started with the disappearance of the power running game that carried this team to the SuperBowl. Neither DeShaun Foster nor Rookie D’Angelo Williams was effective enough behind the injury-plagued line. The defense under achieved as well. Julius Peppers was considered an MVP candidate early in the year but after the 4-game late-season skid (weeks 12-15) it was obvious that although the roster looks loaded with talent at many positions, they had a miserable season.
MVP: Steve Smith proves again that he is the MVP of this team just by looking how much his absence affected them when he missed the first too games. It appeared that he was never completely healthy all year and he was shut out against
Highlight: Beating Baltimore on the road in week 6 capped a 4-game winning streak, ended the Ravens 6-game streak, and showed what this team could/should have been capable of when Jake Delhomme plays well (career high 365 yards), Steve Smith gets going (189 yards) and the defense plays to its potential (allowed 80 rushing yards and knocked Steve McNair out of the game.
It is a miracle that this team finished with 8 wins. Early in the year it looked like they are contending for the title of the worst team in the league. Big credit goes to first year coach Mike McCarthy who had this group playing their last game with an outside shot at making in it to the playoffs. Supported by a modest running game (yeah Ahman (Batman) Green is still alive), throwing to rookies Greg Jennings and Ruvell Martin, and behind a line that featured three new middle starters (including two rookie guards) Brett Favre cut down on his interceptions and looks like he has a couple more years left in him. Even the terrible defense of last year was much improved. Rookie A.J. Hawk is a successful pick and DE Aaron Kampman played at an all-pro level. Even Charles Woodson (8 INTs) played much better this year, but him and Al Harris are getting older and slower, which makes the secondary and a big run plugger DT (the need of many teams this year) the priority needs in the off-season
MVP: Brett Favre finished with 18 TDs and 18 INTs and began his raid on Dan Marino’s records, and despite the picks he was a main part of their 8 wins. A more deserving MVP would be Kampman (15.5 sacks and 89 tackles) who lead a nameless line to respectability.
Who would have thought that they would miss Antwann Randle El that much? (One of the two non-returning players from the SuperBowl winning team. (Brett Keisel filled in nicely for the departed Kimo van Oelhoffen). They had to play without a legitimate second wide receiver (Cedric Wilson playing opposite of Hines Ward!) and they missed Randle El much more on kick returns where ineffective rookie Santonio Holmes kept muffing kick after kick. Ben Roethlisberger had a miserable year to the point that he had to publicly apologize to his teammates for how poorly he was playing. The defense also has regressed dramatically (maybe as a result of the many turnovers by the offense and the limited success of the running game (at least early in the year)), and the same group of players that punished people last year was average at best. The biggest challenge this team faces is how are they going to adapt to the third head coach in the franchise history? Mike Tomlin is a former defensive coordinator of the Vikings, he is 34, and he is another product of the Tampa2 family. Whether he will stick with stapled Steelers 3-4 front or install a new system with all of it is going to require of duties personnel changes. The team is keeping veteran defensive innovator Dick LeBeau at his position as defensive coordinator, so it should be interesting to see how it works out
MVP: Again, it is hard to find a distinguished player on an underachieving team Big Ben, Santonio Holmes and Joey Porter are all candidates for the anti-MVP award. The most deserving player is Willie Parker who finished the year with 1500 yards and 12 runs of 20+ yards (for example Edgerrin James has not had one all year and had 11 combined over the last three years).The more they fed Parker the ball, the more pressure they took of the struggling QB and the more this team appeared like its old self.
Highlight: Knocking division rivals
This team could have beaten any other team on a good day (Shut outs against the Jets and the Steelers and Beat downs against the Giants, Eagles and Colts). On the other hand they have two losses against
MVP: Maurice-Jones Drew almost had a thousand yards on 166 carries (5.7 avg.). He added 46 catches and was very effective on kickoffs returns. With the problems they had at QB, Jones-Drew was practically their only big-play threat. CB Reshean Mathis also played on an all-pro level and anchored a no name secondary.
Highlight: A shutout win against the Champions Steelers while everyone was watching on MNF in week 2 was nice. The 44-17 thrashing of the Colts in week 14 raking 375 yards rushing made them look like a sure participants in the playoffs. Of course in a typical Jaguars fashion they dropped the final three games and did not make it.
Can they really blame missing the playoffs of the kicking unit and Shayne Graham (The last minute botched snap (extra point) to tie the
MVP: The fact that loud mouth Chad Johnson went to the pro bowl is a sign that the selection process is just a joke (stating an obvious indicated also by the fact that the same five offensive linemen continues to make it to the pro bowl year after year). Johnson was second on his team in receptions (to T.J. Houshmandzadeh). Second in yards per completion (to Chris Henry). Both teammates scored more touchdowns than him, he dropped many crucial easy catches, and he just won’t shut up (the hood ornament rant), and that’s their anti-MVP. Carson Palmer is the leader of the team and is easily one of the better QBs in a league that has very few good ones. After he was completely confident that his knee is fully recovered he played at last year’s level and racked 4000+ yards.
Highlight: Other than the arrests (always high comedy, especially the Chris Henry stuff), this beautifully satisfying hit Johnson took from
The Titans finished the season winning six in a row before losing the finale to
MVP: RB Travis Henry is one of the most underappreciated players in the league. A tough runner with very good speed who had two 1300+ yards seasons in
Highlight: On week 12 they hosted the NY Giants. The Giants ended the first half winning 21-0 scoring three touchdowns on their first three possessions. At that point Tennessee’s possessions went Punt, Fumble, Punt, Fumble, Downs (from the Giants 2), and missed FG! The Giants were now looking forward towards their next week’s divisional decisive battle against the Cowboys. The Titans scored on their last three possessions of the game, and that’s where the six-game winning streak began.
You know it is a bad year when such a dysfunctional team makes it to the playoffs. The players do not like the coach, their star running back is retiring,and the young QB is regressing and tossing away game-ending picks of his back foot. They lost SEVEN of their last nine and still l managed to play in a playoffs game that they had absolutely no chance of winning. Their offense gets a slight excuse for losing LT Luke Petitgout; he was replaced by Bob Whitfield who was just atrocious (and stupid too, see head-butting penalties). They had to reshuffle the whole line later in the year by moving G David Diehl to the tackle spot. The defense who finished in the bottom third in the league was also affected by the extended absence of their star DEs, but the rebuilt secondary was very bad (worst 5 teams in passing defense).Free agent S Will Demps almost lost his job. CB Sam Madison led the miserable group in interceptions with TWO. The coach returns for another year, but Tiki Barber will not, and this team has holes to fill at RB, LB (always a Giants need), and a whole new secondary.
MVP: Tiki Barber had another great season, and the numbers does not even tell how important he is to his team. He practically does not have a back-up on this team (unless you consider 6-4 Brandon Jacobs anything more than a situational runner at best). 1600+ yards with a 5.1 average and 58 receptions. Long gone the days of him being known as a fumbler (4 fumbles and two lost in last two years combined), and if he really retires the Giants had a tough task in replacing him.
Highlight: The early five-game winning streak that practically propelled them to the playoffs. It provided them some national media attention but it was obvious it was not an indication that this team is a serious contender. Four of the 5 wins came against non playoffs teams (Houston,
+The winning record teams:
One decision killed their season: the QB change. Jake Plummer was struggling, fine. But so is 85% of the league’s QBs. This team was supposed to be built on defense (which played really well early), and a running game (Replacing runners has finally caught up with them: neither Tatum Bell nor Mike Bell was anything special). The Broncos faced a tough stretch that resulted in a 4-game losing streak. But it is never a good idea to go through a QB change at WEEK13 playing behind a rookie left tackle (Matt Lepsis went on IR by week 6). Of course Jay Cutler played like a rookie QB, and the season was lost way before that OT loss to the 49ers that officially eliminated them from the postseason. Despite the winning record the team has many holes: A pass rusher with more than 8.5 sacks (by rookie situational pass rusher Elvis Dumerville; Some depth at the linebacker position (they started the year playing great then wore down); A cornerback to replace Darrent Williams (shot dead) who was starting to emerge as a very good second corner, and a safety to replace aging John Lynch.
MVP: If the team ranks around middle of the pack in passing (and total defense) maybe a cornerback is not the most deserving player to win that team’s MVP, but lets just say that CB Champ Bailey was their most outstanding player. In one of the years that he actually lived up to his hype, Bailey earned All-pro honors and finished with 85 tackles (one of the better tackling CBs) and 10 picks.
Highlight: Early wins against New England and
This team deserves a lot of credit for the respectable playoffs run they had. No team in the league was hit with more injuries than this group: Name the position they had an injury. In the regular season they were not very impressive. They lost twice to the 49ers (need to say more?), but they were in charge of the weak division by beating the Rams twice and winning just enough. QB Matt Hasselbeck did not play very well even before he got hurt, and his interceptions were way up. Shaun Alexander was hit with the all-out Madden curse. Seneca Wallace and Maurice Morris deserve some credit for taking care of their back-up duties. The loss of DT Marcus Tubbs hurt their run defense but they still managed to finish in the middle of the pack against the run. Once they got into the playoffs they traded punches with the Cowboys and got the win, and played a very hard and competitive game against the Bears which they lost on a last second field goal. All that with their receivers injured (remember early in the year they wanted to use a 4-WR set), and with last minute “walk-ons” playing in a secondary that was missing 4 starters .
MVP:LB Julian Peterson showed flashes of his pre-injury 49ers days leading the team in sacks and flying around sideline to sideline. MLB Lofa Tatupu was also solid, recorded 122 tackles and made big plays during the playoffs win against
Highlight: It is true that if Tony Romo does not botch that hold they may lose the wild card game, but there was more than a minute left on the clock anyway, and
What a roller coaster ride this team was. The most disappointing thing about it is that the team’s supposed strength and source of pride was the one that fizzled down the stretch. The defense that was built over the last 5 years, draft pick after draft pick, to be the main ingredient in the Bill Parcells recipe was giving up big play after big play when it mattered the most. The offensive line held together, they had a very effective one-two punch at RB, even all the Terrell Owens distractions did not hold them back, but a botched hold and an overrated defense did them. And now they do not have a coach! Bill Parcells definitely leaves them looking better after 4 years, despite the 34-32 record and no playoffs wins. His drafts were not very successful (especially past the first round), but they were not Jerry Jones bad. He lucked into finding them the QB of the future (or at least a guy with potential), and what awaits this team depends on Jerry Jones choice for the new coach. The worst part about this whole fiasco is why couldn’t they have kept Sean Payton for one more year and promise him the gig, other than looking for college coaches, Norv Turner and other rejects. The whole season was so inconsistent, even the individual performances dramatically fluctuated. One week Terrance Newman is playing at all pro level, the next he is getting burned on every play. There were many overrated players on that roster from T. Drop, to Bradie James to Roy Williams .The QB switch from Drew Bledsoe to Tony Romo revived the team and sparked a big four-game winning streak, only to lose 4 of their last five, lose the division and fail to get the first Cowboys playoffs win in 10 years.
MVP: What a roller coaster ride the one Tony Romo had. He is the second coming of Jesus, only to come down crashing to earth. He should have taken some heat for his poor QB play in that Seattle game and not for the unfortunate events at the end (and always remember if kickers were football players and Martin Gramatica just brushed Jonathan Babineaux a little harder, Romo made a heads up play and ran with the ball). But a fumbled hold or not, he was the catalyst that fired up this team and made their season worthy of following. [On the other hand for the many anti-MVP candidates T.O. (who led the league in drops) and Roy Williams (whose pass coverage is described by scouts as quote “a joke”) are the leaders in the clubhouse.]
Highlight: The Colts came to
Just when you thought that the AFC playoffs race is close, competitive and features better teams, a team like the Chiefs sneaks into the playoffs, just because everyone else practically refused the invitation (Denver, Cincinnati, Jacksonville all lost in week 17, and Tennessee did not really have a chance: their out of body experience was way overdue). A team that has a QB controversy featuring a concussed and worn-out Trent Green against Damon Huard should not be in the playoffs and you can tell Herman Edwards knew it by the way he played the Colts. But they deserve credit for riding Larry Johnson and the much improved defense (from the bottom of the league to the middle of the pack) to nine wins, some of them worth acknowledging (
MVP: Larry Johnson is very deserving for MVP of the league. He breaks the record for number of carries in a 16 game season (416), for 1789 yards and adds 41 one receptions. That is 29 touches a game!! This team had no passing game to speak of. (They had Damon Huard playing QB for a stretch and Johnson was carrying them to wins), problems at the OT, and he still racked such numbers.
Highlight: The playoffs game could be the highlight of their year, if they bothered to show up. They set a record for offensive futility (128 total yards, 7 first downs, no first downs in the first half). But, when the Colts were determined to stop the run like they did, who is going to get you the first downs: Eddie Kennison, Samie Parker or Dante Hall (whose 15 minutes were over two years ago). Even Tony Gonzalez (who had an average year in his standards, despite being chosen an All-Pro) dropped a few passes. [(In general it was an average year for most tight ends, since obviously teams caught up to their recently increasing roles)]
An impressive season that definitely exceeded the expectations. Eric Mangini was a candidate for coach of the year for the excellent job he did with a team in a rebuilding phase. Chad Pennington recovery from the shoulder problems propelled this team to win their “winnable” games. Pennington was not flashy and he struggled to deliver the ball downfield as usual, but he was aided by one of the better wide out tandems of the year, in Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. The high draft picks at the line at LT and Center were both excellent and gives big hope for many solid years, but the lack of anything close to a consistent running game meant that this team cannot be taken seriously and it was very obvious that they had no chance in winning a playoffs game at Foxboro, despite the earlier win against New England in the regular season. The defense had a lost identity between the 3-4 and the 4-3 and that resulted in a below average year from Jonathan Vilma. Second year FS Kerry Rhodes earned national attention for his consistent excellent play, but the cornerback spots needs some more depth and playmakers for this defense to improve.
MVP: This team played hard and together. Cotchery made many big plays and
Highlight: The win against the division rivals Patriots on the road, fueled by animosity stories between Bill Belichick and his disciple, was definitely the highlight of their year. This win against
The Cinderella story came to an undeserving end by getting blown-out by the SuperBowl bound Bears. The Saints played an anxious and fumble-filled NFC-Championship game, highlighted by an unsuccessful game plan and pass-heavy play-calling, without much help from the officiating (actually some really bad calls that went against them like KR Michael Lewis fumble).Still, this was a marvelous accomplishment for a team that won 3-games last year, was threatening to be moved to another city and had a first year head coach who practically started the roster from scratch. Coach of the year Sean Payton did a great job assembling this team, building a strong O-line (aka the OJ: All five members have a name starting with a J) that played very well until they were dominated by the Bears rotation of defensive linemen. Drew Breese is very deserving of the MVP honors. Just think of this same exact team with Aaron Brooks “running” it. Payton showed his creativity in the way he used RBs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. Rookie Marques Colston was their go to receiver (a standout in a really bad wide receiver class, despite the bad game he had against the Bears) in a year where Joe Horn was oft-injured and Devery Henderson was inconsistent as usual (Hendeson was the 50th overall pick while Colston was the 252nd player selected in their respective drafts). On defense they were solid on the front seven (featuring three last minute acquisition linebacker who all happen to be white (not that there is anything wrong with that, but they still need more depth at the position)), but they struggled in the slow secondary especially CB Fred Thomas who was picked on by the teams and the media.
MVP: Drew Breese did not have his best game against the Bears (he took some crucial sacks ( especially on the opening drive to get out of field goal range) and the intentional grounding call was also big). But this team won’t be there without him in the first place. DE Will smith was all over the field and earned some national attention, but he won’t challenge the league’s true MVP as the most important player on this team.
Highlight: The Saints whole season is one big highlight. From the Monday night game home opener and the atmosphere that surrounded it (and they surprisingly beat the Falcons too), to the beat down they laid on Dallas embarrassing the Cowboys at Texas Stadium, in front of a national TV audience, making it very clear that they are true contenders. They used a dominant ground game (36 attempts) to make it to the first Championship game in the history of the franchise, and completely abandoned it against the Bears when it was still a close game, and when their pass-protection was struggling.
The Eagles has been one of the better run franchises in the league for the past 6 years. After losing their star QB and 4 of 5 games in midseason (Weeks 6-12), they bounced back with a 5-game winning streak (six if you include the playoffs win against the Giants). Behind a solid OL that stayed intact for 16 games (before struggling against the Saints and before an injury to gigantic Shawn Andrews practically cost them the game (a false start penalty on back up G Scott Young to negate the 4-10 completion), Jeff Garcia found himself in the perfect system for his skills and went on a long streak without throwing a pick (He finished with 10TDs and 2 INTs in 8 games), and no wonder mistake-prone Donovan McNabb is worried about his job. Despite losing Jevon Kearse the front four continued to feature a solid rotation (they are two-deep at each of the four spots) highlighted by excellent play from Trent Cole and Darwin Walker. The secondary was bothered by poor play of former pro-Bowler Michael Lewis and lost his starting job to Sean Considine. The absence of CB Lito Sheppard (elbow) from the Saints game was really crucial given that he was playing at an all-pro level, and that DB is not an area where the Eagles are very deep. Big credit to any Reid for the excellent job (Despite the questionable decision to punt on 4-15 to end the Saints game and their season), and credit excellent drafting that finds solid players everywhere(ex: LB Omar Gaithers: 5th round who replaced starter Matt McCoy. But it is obvious they still need more depth and quality at that particular position).
MVP: Brian Westbrook is a legitimate contender for the leagues MVP, and he is an underrated player that deserves more attention. In the year when the Eagles made it to the SB, Westbrook was the one who carried them and he remains the main weapon of this offense. Westbrook finished with 1200 yards in rushing, 700 more in receiving on 77 catches, and 17 plays of 20+ yards.
Highlight: Their two wins against division rivals Dallas were a big part in winning the division. The week 5 “T.O. returns to Philly” game was a vindication for Donovan McNabb; Hank Baskett (!) had a 117 yards while T.O. finished with 3 catches and 45 yards (Drew Bledsoe had 3 picks and 3 fumbles). When the teams met in
It looks like their “different” personnel approach has finally caught up with them this year. They sure could have used Deion Branch to catch those two TDs Reche Caldwell dropped against the Colts or could have used Willie McGinest to get to Peyton Manning! Forget about McGinest, this team had always depended on linebackers and after retirements, free agency and Teddy Bruschi’s stroke, they were left with only a couple of dependable players in Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin (compared to a rotation of six solid LBs during their SuperBowls stretch). Couldn’t a team with a 20-million dollar over the salary cap find a free-agent or trade for a linebacker, other than bringing back retired Junior Seau who was destined to break down eventually and other than depending on Tully Banta Cain (a career special teamer) and Eric Alexander (a practice squad undrafted free agent who had 12 tackles on the year and 10 against the Colts) to stop the Colts offense. The Patriots always played with deficiencies, but after the injury to Rodney Harrison their defense had many areas of weaknesses. Still, coming a FG short from the 4th SuperBowl appearance in 6 years is remarkable. They opened the year by beating all three teams in their division within the first 5 weeks. They finished with winning 6 of their last seven games (and 8 of their last 10 including the Playoffs). They still have Tom Brady (who did not have the best post season this year but he still managed to deal with throwing the ball to Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. (David Patten, David Givens and Deion Branch may not be super stars but Brady knew how to work with them). They featured a nice two-headed running game early in the year but it faded down the stretch, but at least they know they have Corey Dillon’s (done) replacement in Laurence Maroney. A solid year, but they cannot keep playing street free agents and 10+ year veterans in the secondary (Seriously Ray Mickens !!) and expecting to win championships, and they batter not spend their first six draft picks on offensive players like they did last year.
MVP: CB Asante Sameul was the best cornerback in the league this year. The 4th year man who had 10 INTs during the regular season was tested early against the Colts: 3 passes thrown to his man Marvin Harrison. The result: two passes deflected and an interception returned for a TD. With the miserable situation of the secondary (with the exception of Ellis Hobbs who was decent), it was important to have someone who can at least deal with one half of the field. Tom Brady is naturally a deserving candidate, despite the average year in Brady standards.
Highlight: The AFC championship against the Colts is being referred to as one of the best ever. It was very exciting and both teams traded shots, although it looked like both defenses were not able to stop anyone at times. The Patriots may have been also hurt by a couple of bad calls on a pass-interference and roughing the passer on the final Colts drive.
A franchise record of 13 wins, yet the same old story: The Ravens play shutdown defense and their offense would dompletely disappear when they have to score. For a preview of their playoffs elimination game, check out the week 13 game against
MVP: The defensive unit that finished first in the league in yards and scoring allowed. Adalius Thomas played all over the field. ILB Bart Scott had led the team in tackles with 103 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 2 INT and was excellent in pass coverage.
Highlight: They have some remarkable wins: A win against SD in week4. Two big wins against the SuperBowl Champions and division rivals twice: Shutting them out Week 12 (27-0) while sacking the Steelers QB 9 times and allowing 37 total yards in the first half, and followed up with 31-7 beat down that officially eliminated them from the playoffs in their second meeting. The Colts loss is something that will haunt him all year especially that Steve McNair early interception inside of the Colts 4 line killed the only real scoring chance they had all game.
The Chargers looked like the most complete team during the regular season, and they were a favorite pick in the strong AFC to go all the way, until they decided to start playing “stupid football”. Penalties, dropped passes, weird play-calling, head butting, and everything else you would expect from a young team that is not used to the big stage. But the team is young and loaded with talent and they should revisit this stage again. The first good news they got was that Philip Rivers can play QB at this level, a scare that was a result of the leagues unfair pay compensation (You have to let the proven veteran free agent go because you have already committed the money to a rookie prospect who has not played a down yet). LaDainian Tomlinson broke the single season rushing TDs record scoring 28, and he remains one of the most feared backs in the league, but he was not the leagues MVP. Tomlinson carried the ball almost SIXTY less times than Larry Johnson (if you add up all touches Tomlinson had about 45 less touches which is still about two games worth of average load). Michael Turner shared some carries with Tomlinson at some point in the year, and it won’t be an exaggeration to say that Turner could have effectively replaced him on this team (compared to Drew Breese who would have been replaced with Jamie Martin if he got hurt for example). Their defense was exceptional again this year featuring a good rotation of players at the ends and linebackers, even after losing Steve Foley (shot by police) and Ben Leber (Vikings). Even their secondary was much improved by the addition of safety Marlon McCree who had a good impact (despite the fumble against the Patriots). Their biggest area of need is at wide receiver that eventually hurt in their game against the Patriots when Eric Parker and Vincent Jackson dropped crucial passes. They did not have a 100 yards receiver and their leader in receptions and yards was All-Pro Antonio Gates.
MVP: While steroid-suspended loud mouth Shawn Merriman was doing his dances and registering 17 sacks that made him a public candidate for defensive player of the year, there were players around him making all the plays. Jamaal Williams plugging up the middle and Shaun Philips on the other side with 11.5 sacks of his own. However the MVP of this team is the most underrated player in the league Donnie Edwards. Edwards had 141 tackles. That’s almost 2.5 times more than Merriman total tackles. Over the last 4 years Edwards recorded (141, 152, 150, 161) [finishing within the top 5 in tackles every year. Only Zach Thomas shares this with him)], Edwards missed two games over his 11-year career (8 straight years of playing in all sixteen games). All that while playing at ILB at 227lbs and while
Highlight: All the stories leading to the Patriots game was talking about Martyball and the coach’s conservative ways. Early in the year, in a 16-13 loss to Baltimore Marty Schottenheimer did not know what he has in his young QB, so he played conservative and they lost a close one. In the playoffs, Marty goes anti-Martyball (not running the ball enough, going for it on 4th-10 from inside his half of the field, going without a headset). The ironic part is some analysts thought that: “This is the kind of a game in which the conservative approach could have won for the Chargers). Either way, the chargers lost three games all year and all three games were lost by three points. If Marlon McCree goes down to the turf after that pick, they could have played the Colts.
SuperBowl XLI :
FEB 4th, 2007
Teams Analysis (Coming Soon).