Posts Tagged ‘Dallas Cowboys’

The NFC East is always a fight. Whether it is among the fans or on the field, it will never be claimed easily. Last season, it was taken via heist on the field, when a new arrival in Washington DC took the previous season’s bottom feeders to a level the organization had not reached in 13 years, and in a fashion they’d never seen before.

But staying on top has much more struggle than reaching it, and Robert Griffin III and his Redskins are primed to discover this. The battle to hold the crown will be highlighted by a brand new approach in Philadelphia, a coach that’s likely pushing to hold onto his livelihood in Dallas and a Giants team that’s search for a new identity with familiar faces.

There were some gutsy wins a year ago, such as the Redskins sweeping the season series from Dallas, and the Eagles pulling out their last win in what would prove to be in nearly a two month span over the Giants, which ultimately ended up costing New York a playoff shot. There’s not many division that break down the middle closer than the NFC East does, and once again there may very well be only one ticket to the Playoffs provided from this division. So there will be no love lost once again, not as if there ever was any in the first place.

All-Division Team

QB: Robert Griffin III, RB: LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris, WR: Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, TE: Jason Witten, OT: Jason Peters, Trent Williams, OG: Todd Herremans, Kory Litchensteiger, C: David Baas

DE: DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul, DT/NT: Jay Ratliff, Issac Sopoaga, OLB: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, MLB: Sean Lee, Demeco Ryans, CB: Morris Claiborne, Brandon Flowers, FS: Nate Allen, SS: Brandon Merriweather

K: Dan Bailey, P: Donnie Jones, KR: David Wilson, PR: Desean Jackson

Coming off his second consecutive 8-8 year, Romo is facing a season where a corner is needed to be turned.

Coming off his second consecutive 8-8 year, Romo is facing the task of leading the way for what needs to be turning the corner season, as well as a return to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

DALLAS COWBOYS (8-8 in 2012)

The Good: It finally clicked for Dez last year, and he began to deliver on the warehouse full of talent that he’s had for years. In his breakout season, he posted totals of 1,382 yards on 92 catches and 12 touchdowns, and became a regular playmaker in an offense full of steady, but not game breaking talents. 16 games of him playing at the level he finished 2012 at could change everything about the potential of this offense, and yes, even Tony Romo.

The Bad: Are they ready to play hardnosed football yet up front? Two of their previous three first round picks have been dedicated to bettering the offensive line, between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, so the effort is on. But with the perennially fragile Demarco Murray and an immediate need to keep Romo upright to deliver to the plethora of targets on offense, the difference between a run for the division or not starts with the development upfront paying out.

X-Factor—Sean Lee: The rangy, tackling machine in the middle of defense is the key to the success of the unit. He ran up big games of 10 and 14 tackles early in the year, before heading the PUP list after a toe injury in week 7 a year ago. His health and availability is a non-negotiable element of the success of a team whose linebacker corps are young and now without DeMarcus Ware, who moves to defensive end.

Record: NYG (W), @KC (W), STL (W), @SD (W), DEN (L), WSH (L), @PHI (L), @DET (W), MIN (W), @NO (W), @NYG (L), OAK (W), @CHI (L), GB (L), @WSH (L), PHI (W)

Prediction: There’s always going to be questions about the Cowboy’s consistency as long as Romo is calling the shots, but the biggest issue for them is finding consistency within the division. Jason Garrett is likely running short on opportunities to produce this, and health of his defensive unit will likely be the deciding factor for the season. A tough late season run with trips to Chicago and Washington, as well as hosting Green Bay will call the difference in a division title or the mud of a wild card push, with the former being more likely. 9-7

 

Cruz topped 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, and has found the endzone 19 times in the previous two years.

Cruz topped 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, and has found the endzone 19 times in the previous two years. He returns to be responsible for more of the production in NY than ever before.

NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7 in 2012)

The Good: They have undergone a steady change over the past few years, and it has returned several promising offensive tools. Between Rueben Randle, Brandon Myers and Ramses Barden, the offensive unit has a lot of breakthrough potential this season. Add in the luxury of staying in complimentary roles around Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks leading the way, along with Eli Manning, who has an underrated ability to bring out the best in young receivers, calling the shots for them.

The Bad: Will the defense have found its identity this time around? Osi Umenyiora is gone, Jason Pierre-Paul is rebounding from back surgery and the secondary is in transition. In a division with the type of offense that the NFC East, not to mention dates with Green Bay, Seattle and Detroit, the will be tested often. There will have to be a unit that overachieves to help steady the team’s outlook.

X-Factor—David Wilson: Wilson showed his big play potential in open space last year, with an NFL-best 1,533 kick return yards, but never quite figured out the nuances of running between, off or anywhere near the tackles. But with Ahmad Bradshaw gone, he’ll be leaned on heavily to be the same type of all-purpose back that his predecessor was. Picking up the details in year two will be a must.

Record: —@DAL (L), DEN (L), @CAR (W), @KC (L), PHI (W), @CHI (L), MIN (L), @PHI (W), OAK (W), GB (L), DAL (W), @WSH (L), @SD (W), SEA (L), @DET (W), WSH (W)

Prediction: They certainly could factor into the mostly even landscape of the NFC East, via the points potential of the best QB/receiver combo in the NFC alone. But they are thin on proven depth, as well as exactly what type of production they can count on from the defense week in and out. If everything goes right, they could steal the division. Yet if one unit lags, they could just as easily slide out of the playoff picture complete. This is likely a team that has stretches with both and has a record that reflects it. Record: 8-8.

McCoy has had at least 250 touches in each of the past three seasons, and is in line to be among the busiest backs in football in Philly's new scheme.

McCoy has had at least 250 touches in each of the past three seasons, and is in line to be among the busiest backs in football in Philly’s new scheme.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-12 in 2012)

The Good: The new scheme certainly fits the pieces. It’s still not completely certain how Chip Kelly’s up tempo offense will be translated into the NFL, but he certainly has the right pieces to make it go. Desean Jackson, Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick can be instant offense, and the return of Jason Peters, coupled with massive first round pick Lane Johnson gives them the right bookends to build a persistent threat on offense.

The Bad: Defensively, there’s been a major turnover in the secondary, and it could be a target early on often for Romo, Manning and RGIII for the majority of the season. Without a promise of consistent pass rush (a team total of 30 in 2012), nor much change that would change the league-worse 13 turnovers they scrounged together, they could still be among the worst units in the League.

X-Factor—Michael Vick: The enigma that is Vick continues to take on new faces. Ideally, he is the perfect option for the type of offense that is being installed. However, he hasn’t been the most flexible decision maker on the run, especially standing up to the constant pressure that he has been subjected to the last few years. If he can play within himself and put to bed the rumors of the looming Nick Foles (again), the entire picture for the team could change.

Record—@WSH (L), SD (L), KC (L), @DEN (L), @NYG (L), @TB (W), DAL (W), NYG (L), @OAK (W), @GB (L), WSH (L), ARI (W), DET (L), @MIN (L), CHI (L), @DAL (L)

Prediction: There are a lot of elements going on at once that are not point towards much of a step forward in Philly. There is unrest at quarterback, a completely new offensive scheme under a rookie head coach, an offensive line bookended by a comeback attempt and a rookie, as well as a thin defense. Add in the usual brutality of the NFC East, and you have another long season in PA. Record: 4-12.

 

Griffin lead the Redskins to heights they hadn't reached in over a decade in route to becoming Offensive Rookie of the Year. But how much of a price did he pay?

Griffin lead the Redskins to heights they hadn’t reached in over a decade in route to becoming Offensive Rookie of the Year. But how much of a price did he pay?

Washington Redskins (10-6 in 2012)

The Good: For all of the steps forward that the Skins took last year with RGIII at the helm, they were never truly at full strength. Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis, Trent Williams and Brian Orakpo all spent significant time off the field. All are slated to be back and in the fold from day one this year, which along with a miraculously ready (we think) Griffin back from knee surgery, this could be one of the most explosive teams in the NFL, both again and on a new level.

The Bad: Is the defense ready to carry their part of the bargain? They return much of the same unit as last year, and didn’t have many early draft picks to get creative with to infuse new life into the mix. The team won last year in spite of a bland pass rush and porous secondary. The pass rush will be improved with Orakpo back, but there have to be more elements than himself and Ryan Kerrigan to it.

X-Factor—Fred Davis: When he tore his ACL in week 7 last year, he was averaging just over 13 yards per catch and was a major target over the middle for Griffin as defensive were stuck between guarding the run and fearing the bomb. If he stays healthy and still has his unique mix of size and separation speed, he could be one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL.

Record: PHI (W), @GB (L), DET (W), @OAK (W), @DAL (W), CHI (W), @DEN (L), SD (W), @MIN (L), @PHI (W), SF (W), NYG (W), KC (L), @ATL (L), DAL (W), @NYG (L)

Prediction: RGIII may be the biggest difference maker in the NFL, for any team. Regardless of how he is deployed this year, having his full selection of tools around him this year makes him that much more dangerous and primed for an even better season. Combined with a strong complimentary threat in Alfred Morris and the bonus of the division’s best linebacker group in Orakpo, Fletcher and Kerrigan, and the Skins look to be able to repeat what could be a regular position atop the East. Record: 10-6.

Stay locked over the next week, as the previews keep coming and I walk the prediction plank. Either I look dumb, great or like the Giants. For the real-time development, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The NFC East loves to beat on itself. Each fan base has a rivalry that spills directly from what the teams leave on the field for them to feed off of. All of this is for good reason as well, as competition stays at a premium here. No team has repeated as division champion since the Eagles in 2004; and for anyone handing them the division this year, pay close attention to this fact.

A year ago, the return to prominence of Michael Vick took the NFL by storm. He was the final piece needed to push the Eagles back to the top of a division they have won more times in the last ten years than any other club. However, does it carry over again as seamlessly? The Cowboys offense woke up late last season, and the return of Tony Romo will put them in position to take a shot back at the top of a division they won just two years ago. The Giants are always in the mix, and despite a rash of injuries, still are arguably the most balanced team of the four. The Redskins are rebuilding, but offer the potential of an upset towards any of the division’s more celebrated squads.

As said last year in this same column, the NFC East will be the traditional battlefield it always has been.

 

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Michael Vick RB: Ahmad Bradshaw, LeSean McCoy FB: Leonard Weaver WR: Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson, Hakeem Nicks TE: Jason Witten OT: Jason Peters, Doug Free OG: Chris Snee, Todd Herremans C: Jamaal Jackson

DE: Justin Tuck, Trent Cole DT: Jay Ratliff, Mike Patterson OLB: DeMarcus Ware, Brian Orakpo MLB: London Fletcher, Bradie James CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel S: LaRon Landry, OJ Atogwe

K: Lawrence Tynes P: Mat McBriar Returner: DeSean Jackson

 

DALLAS COWBOYS (6-10 in 2010)

Offense: T. Romo-QB, M. Austin-WR, J. Witten-TE, D. Bryant-WR (B+)

Defense: D. Ware-OLB, J. Ratliff-NT, T. Newman-CB, G. Sensabaugh-S (C+)

 

The Good: For all that is said about the offense stalling out, it played better once Jason Garrett took control of the team last season. Also, it will get a boost with the return of Tony Romo, a healthy and more experienced Dez Bryant and using more of Felix Jones. The biggest difference here could be Rob Ryan taking over as Defensive Coordinator. His aggressive scheme should help a Dallas defense that had coverage like a broken dam downfield, while put for too little pressure on the quarterback outside of DeMarcus Ware.

The Bad: The offensive line is rebuilt, but still has a long way to go. Tyron Smith will take his lumps as the youngest player in the league while starting at right tackle. Add to that that they will be breaking in four new starters in front of Romo, and it could be a repeat of last year’s poor unit that gave up 30 sacks a year ago and could not field a 1000 yard rusher either.

Romo is Dallas' greatest asset. The sooner they start protecting him as such, the better.

X-Factor-Felix Jones: Jones is a definite candidate for biggest breakout player this fall. He could be called on more in the receiving game than any other running back in the league, especially if the line doesn’t hold up well. He’ll have the advantage of having his great speed to hit defenses that are busy guarding the multiple Cowboy receiving threats off guard quickly.

Fearless Prediction: @NYJ (L), @SF (W), WSH (W), DET (L), @NE (L), STL (W), @PHI (L), SEA (W), BUF (W), @WSH (L), MIA (W), @ARI (W), NYG (L), @TB (L), PHI (W), @NYG (W)

In The End: They’ll be better if they stay healthy, and that’s a big if. Miles Austin is hurting already and Romo has to stay upright for them to be much better at all. A mixture of a revived defensive approach, along with a more steady offense will make them better, but they still aren’t tough enough up front to push into the playoffs this year. Record: 9-7

 

NEW YORK GIANTS (10-6 in 2010)

Offense: E. Manning-QB, A. Bradshaw-RB, H. Nicks-WR, M. Manningham-WR (B+)

Defense: J. Tuck-DE, O. Umenyiora-DE, A. Rolle-S, C. Webster-CB (B-)

 

The Good: They can move the ball downfield. Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are one of the more underrated receiving tandems in the game, despite combining for 1,996 yards and 20 TD in 2010. Eli Manning is far from the “elite” passer he fashioned himself as, but gets it done more often than he doesn’t. Ahmad Bradshaw’s breakout last season gave them the Tiki Barber like dual threat they had been lacking for years, and the Bradshaw-Jacobs backfield is capable of giving defenses multiple types of headaches being deployed together.

The Bad: They didn’t get much better at any critical area, and now they could be paying for it. The offensive line was already a problem, and now with the departure of Steve Smith and Kevin Boss, there is less talent for Eli to have bail out the rushed throws that will be even more common now. The defense was in position bail them out, but a plague of injury swept over that unit, claiming Osi Umenyiora, Terrell Thomas and first round pick Prince Amukamara.

After a pretty brash offseason on the interview circuit, Manning will have to show and prove like never before this year.

X-Factor-Jason Pierre-Paul: Placed in the middle of a deep defensive end rotation, the team’s 2010 first rounder had to make the best of his limited opportunities last season. He still managed 4.5 sacks, and with Umenyiora out for the beginning of the season, he will have an opportunity to be a priority for the first time. Even after Osi returns, he will have a chance to be one of the best third ends in the league.

Fearless Prediction: @WSH (L), STL (W), @PHI (L), WSH (W), SEA (W), BUF (W), @MIA (L), @NE (L), @SF (W), PHI (W), @NO (L), GB (L), @DAL (W), WSH (W), @NYJ (W), DAL (L)

Summary: It’s a roughly unsettled team that is battling injury, depth and a tough division. However, if any team has the tools to improve and pull out an upset divisional win it’s the G-Men, but it doesn’t seem to be in the cards this year with a still unsettled offensive line and thin receiving and linebacker groups. Record: 9-7

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (10-6 in 2010; Division Champs)

Offense: M. Vick-QB, D. Jackson-WR, L. McCoy-RB, J. Maclin-WR (A)

Defense: N. Asomugha-CB, T. Cole-DE, J. Babin-DE, A. Samuel-CB (B+)

 

The Good: It’s a track meet in Philly, with an offense that can score from anywhere. DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy can finish a drive as soon as they touch the ball. But they had that last year. The biggest improvement in this team is that now, it’s going to be much harder to play catch up, because there are very few windows to throw the ball into. The additions of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie make avoiding Asante Samuel nowhere near as easy of a proposition, therefore letting Trent Cole and new additions Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin go blitz crazy without worrying about any repercussions. If the Eagles get ahead by 10, it may be over.

The Bad: The offensive line could derail all hopes of a high powered offense if they don’t keep Vick on his feet and give McCoy a chance to get in the open field. Vick could be well served to take fewer hits in the open field, but he has to be able to drop back and work at least. Keeping him healthy is the key to how far this team can go, and that responsibility is being given to a group he’s already been forced to protect, a bit of odd role reversal so soon.

The additions of Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha gives the Eagles' blitz Secret Service-like protection to do as they please.

X-Factor-Casey Matthews: The team’s third round pick is being thrust into the middle of a subpar linebacker corps, and is inheriting a world of responsibility immediately. Since teams will be more apprehensive about going deep against their corners, the attacking over the middle and with the run will be the plan to overcome Philly. Matthews will have to rise to the occasion in a hurry to bring this unit up to speed.

Fearless Prediction: @STL (W), @ATL (L), NYG (W), SF (W), @BUF (W), @WSH (W), DAL (W), CHI (W), ARI (W), @NYG (L), NE (L), @SEA (W), @MIA (W), NYJ (W), @DAL (L), @WSH (W)

Summary: There’s a world of expectation here, and for good reason. It is a team that showed great promise a year ago, and went out and seemingly signed every available impact player on the market to finish their ascent. There will be some bumps along the way, but they will once again be the class of the East and will push deeper towards Super Sunday this year…health permitting. Record: 12-4

 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (6-10 in 2010)

Offense: S. Moss-WR, C. Cooley-TE, T. Williams-OT (C)

Defense: D. Hall-CB, B. Orakpo-LB, L. Landry-S, L. Fletcher-LB (D+)

 

The Good: For better or worse, most of the internal drama is moved out. Mike Shanahan vs. Donovan McNabb vs. Albert Haynesworth took down this team before it took to the field quite often. Regardless of the right or wrong of the scenario, having focused team will benefit the entire prognosis for the season. The new blood of Tim Hightower, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Ryan Kerrigan and OJ Atogwe both addresses problem areas from a year ago and provide new hope at formerly controversial positions.

The Bad: Rotating between John Beck and Rex Grossman doesn’t inspire much hope. While the improved supporting cast (especially at running back) will help mask some of these inadequacies, in the end the QB has to bear down and win some games for their team, and Beck couldn’t win over the Dolphins less than desirable QB opening and Grossman is a thrill seeker of the worst kind. The “best” thing either of them could do is get the team in position to draft a suitable QB of the future in April.

No matter who is throwing the ball, Santana Moss will have more freedom to roam with the boost to his supporting cast at receiver.

X-Factor-OJ Atogwe: A quick signing before the lockout took place, he stands to be the most meaningful addition to the club in the end. The Skins porous pass defense (261 yards per game, 2nd worst overall) had to be addressed in multiple places, and adding the former Ram’s diverse ability to play either safety spot will provide a much needed final line of defense.

Fearless Prediction: NYG (W), ARI (W), @DAL (L), @STL (L), PHI (L), @CAR (W), @BUF (W), SF (L), @MIA (W), DAL (W), @SEA (L), NYJ (L), NE (L), @NYG (L), MIN (L), @PHI (L)

Summary: It will be another frustrating year in D.C. There will be flashes of greatness and the defense will improve this year, but in the end it all comes back to the lack of a field general to pull out the tough wins and a tough end of the schedule. There are still some major moves that need to made to pull this team up the ladder and for the first time in two years, they will not improve their on their win total. Record: 5-11

 

To see how right, wrong or in-between this all works out, and me living with it, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

In part 3 of CHEAP.SEATS.PLEASE weeklong lead up to Super Bowl Sunday, let’s take another look backwards. I’ve already showcased who are my picks for which players had the best games or careers playing in the Big Game, but which games were actually the best? The Super Bowl is unique in that despite all of the hype around it, in the majority of years it actually lives up to it. In the last 10 years, only two games have been decided by more than 10 points. Ironically, those totals were scored by two teams that walked into Super Sunday with big time defensive reputations (’01 Ravens and ’03 Buccaneers).

I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to try to rank the best of all 44 Super Bowls played, for a variety of reasons. One being I want to have an actual opinion from memory, meaning I want to comment on what I’ve seen. With all due respects to the Steel Curtain & Roger Staubach & company in Dallas, it’s hard for me to remember things that happened before I was born (for obvious logistical reasons). Also, I won’t count myself as actually understanding what was going on when Joe Montana took to the field for his late 80’s Super Bowl reign, because while I watched it, I didn’t really have a clue what was going on like I would need to include them on this list. NFL Films or opinions from others isn’t at work here, just a guy’s memory who has only missed one Super Bowl broadcast  in the last 20 years. The first Super Bowl I remember is Super Bowl XXV in 1991, so this rounds out well and makes the top 10 of the last 20 years a manageable task. Enjoy.

10. Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 (Super Bowl XXX, 1996): This game was a tale of two halves, with it being a defensive struggle early and then a Cowboy showcase in the second half. The Steelers took a 13-7 lead into the half, however a 20-point second half and three interceptions by Steeler quarterback Neil O’Donnell turned the tides of this game. Two Emmitt Smith touchdown runs and two Larry Brown interceptions sealed the Cowboy victory, a record third in four years.

9. Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21 (Super Bowl XXXI, 1997): This was a return to the spotlight for the NFL’s most successful franchise in Green Bay. Lead in by league MVP Brett Favre, the Packers took control of this game early and often. Its notability remains in the style in which the Packers won, with a couple of record-setting Sundays, including a 3-sack game from future HOFer Reggie White. However the highlight of the day was Desmond Howard and his 244 total yards, including a 99 yard kickoff return.

8. New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17 (Super Bowl XLIV, 2010): In a showdown between the league’s MVP (Peyton Manning) in Indianapolis and Drew Brees, the heart and soul of a dangerous Saints offense, this was advertised as a shootout where whoever had the ball last could be the winner. Instead this game came down to a strategic onside kick by New Orleans to start the second half, which they recovered, and a 15-point fourth quarter by the Saints, capped by a 74 yard interception return for a touchdown by Tracy Porter during Manning’s 4th quarter drive, which sealed the first Super Bowl for the Saints.

Crafty play calling and an accurate Brees brought the Saints their first championship in franchise history.

7. Denver Broncos 34, Green Bay Packers 24 (Super Bowl XXXII, 1998): The Packers returned the Big Game to defend their title against a Bronco team that was a redemption mission of sorts for quarterback John Elway, who had been beaten badly in his previous Super Bowl trips. Elway made a heroic run to inch into the end zone, while being spun by two hits from Packer defenders, but the main difference maker was Terrell Davis and his three touchdowns & 157 rushing yards, while playing with a migraine that caused him to miss most of the second quarter. A deflected fourth down pass by John Mobley sealed the win during Brett Favre’s late drive to tie the game.

6. New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19 (Super Bowl XXV, 1991): This game gets summarized by one moment in history, Buffalo kicker Steve Norwood’s missed field goal with only eight seconds left following an impressive drive by quarterback Jim Kelly. This miss is the most infamous moment in Super Bowl history, and also ended the Bills best chance at a Super Bowl victory during their four-year stretch of reaching the game, as the Redskins and Cowboys easily defeated them over the next three years.

Even 20 years after he went wide right, Norwood's missed kick still looms as one sport's greatest errors ever.

5. New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17 (Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002): In the history of upsets, this one was one for the books, with the high-powered Rams being 14 point favorites, while the Patriots had reached the game behind the improbable rise of their previously unknown backup QB, Tom Brady. The New England defense is what made the greatest difference here, giving up only one Kurt Warner touchdown out of his 365 passing yards and forcing two interceptions. In the end, a historic 48 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal won the Patriots their first championship of the Belichick/Brady era, and become the first Super Bowl won on its final play.

4. New York Giants 17, New England Patriots (Super Bowl XLII, 2008): In yet another Patriot appearance here, they were involved in yet another upset, albeit not coming out on the same end as they had six years earlier. This is not just ranked here for what it was as a game, but how monumental of an upset it was in the history of sports. The Patriots entering it 18-0 and looking to become the first team to win 19 games in a season, and Tom Brady and Randy Moss had the most productive seasons in the history of the game for a quarterback/wide receiver tandem. None of this deterred the wild card, fifth seeded Giants defense which continually stonewalled every Patriot attempt and deployed an ingenious mix of a heavy zone pass defense and unleashed a heavy blitz, which Brady never overcame. Also notable is wide receiver David Tyree’s amazing one-handed catch against his own helmet during a third down scramble by quarterback Eli Manning, which led to the go head touchdown catch by Plaxico Burress to seal the biggest upset in the history of the Super Bowl.

3. New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29 (Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2003): The Pats 2nd Super Bowl in three years was a thriller, and perhaps the most exciting of all of their visits to the game. After starting off slow, and staying that way for three-quarters, business picked up in the fourth in a major way. This final frame featured one of the best fourth quarter battles in the history of the game, with five touchdowns and three lead changes. It came down to a 41-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal to seal the win for the Patriots, his second such heroic kick in a three year span, but more on the other one later.

2. St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 (Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000): This was a game that from the beginning smelled of an epic finish. The Rams, who had come to power shot out of cannon, brought one of the greatest aerial offenses in the history of the game to Atlanta for the game, to face the gritty, hard nosed Titans, led by Steve McNair and Eddie George. The first half of the game was a defensive struggle between the two clubs, with the Rams managing only three Jeff Wilkins’ field goals, but holding a 9-0 advantage.

Known for Warner's masterful offensive performances, the 2000 Rams legacy was saved by a very different type of play.

Following the Rams first touchdown by Torry Holt, the Titans kicked into gear in the third quarter and scored 16 unanswered points to tie the game up. However, the Rams true fashion kicked into gear, and a 68 yard Isaac Bruce touchdown put them ahead. The greatness of this game is in its final play, which came after a 72 yard Titan drive in the last 1:48 of the game. In the end McNair connected with Kevin Dyson over the middle, but a lunging tackle by linebacker Mike Jones stopped Dyson half a yard (if that) short of tying the game (with the extra point afterwards) as the clock expired to secure the St. Louis Rams’ first Super Bowl win.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23 (Super Bowl XLII, 2009): This game was a sleeper that turned into a dynamo. The Cardinals rose from wild card status to the NFC Champions behind the arm of past Super Bowl hero Kurt Warner and an incredible three game run by Larry Fitzgerald. This game was characterized by the big & unexpected play, and they came early and often. The first big moment came at the end of a strong Steeler first half when linebacker James Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner in the Cardinal end zone and returned it for a 100 yard touchdown, a Super Bowl record.

In the second half, Larry Fitzgerald took over, making a two incredible catches for touchdowns, the second being a 63 yards score which pulled the Cardinals ahead for the first time with 2:37 left in the game. This is when Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger took over. The pair connected on 4 plays for 71 yards on the last Steeler drive of the game, which the last being an incredible six yard catch in the corner of the end zone, which Holmes barely getting both feet down, to put the Steelers ahead. The Cardinals got the ball back, but a Lamarr Woodley sack caused Warner to fumble with five seconds left and sealed the win for the Steelers.

In game defined by the big play, the Steelers and Holmes save the biggest for last.

Will the 46th Super Sunday lead to another moment being added to this list? Tomorrow never knows, but the Packers and Steelers have some big shoes to step into shortly.

Yesterday I showcased my picks for the best defenders in Super Bowl history, during my life. Today we’ll switch to what lands the most headlines: offense. There have been a ton of the league’s greatest names to make their mark on Super Sunday, but only the best of the best rise above them all. It is impossible to list them all here, so some great individual performers, such as Kurt Warner & Larry Fitzgerald for example, may not make the cut. Likewise, some of the game’s most accomplished winners, (all due respects to Troy Aikman and Tom Brady), may be on the outside looking in too.

Here is the best of the best, the untouchables under the brightest lights.

Quarterback

Joe Montana-San Francisco 49ers (XVI, XIX, XXIII & XXIV): The greatest winner in the history of the game played his best under the most pressure. In four Super Bowls he won four games, one of only two quarterbacks to achieve this level of success. Montana threw 11 touchdowns with 1,142 yards in these games and sported a 127.8 quarterback rating. He took home MVP honors in 3 of his appearances.

"Golden Joe" never shined brighter than when under the Super Sunday lights, where his 4-0 record is tied for best ever.

Running Back

Emmitt Smith-Dallas Cowboys (SB XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): The all-time rushing yards and touchdown leader didn’t take off Super Sunday’s either, playing a vital role in three Cowboy Super Bowl wins in four years. His five rushing scores are career Super Bowl record and his 132 yard, 2 TD game in ’94 netted him a game MVP.

Of the trio of Cowboy stars on offense, Emmitt was the hammer that wore down Buffalo twice and Pittsburgh.

Terrell Davis-Denver Broncos (SB XXXII & XXXIII): John Elway takes many of the headlines, but Davis was the driving force in the back-to-back Bronco Super Bowl wins of ’98 and ’99, running for 259 yards in both his appearances and taking home MVP honors in XXXII after a 3-touchdown day.

Wide Receiver

Jerry Rice-San Francisco 49ers & Oakland Raiders (SB XXIII, XXIV, XXIX & XXXVII): The lynchpin over two eras of the 49ers dynasty, Rice took home three championships, bringing in a record eight touchdown, with two 3-TD games. He won the MVP of XXIII matchup with 11 catches for 215 yards and one score.

Rice took three different MVP quarterback to Super Sunday, where he put in work each trip.

Antonio Freeman-Green Bay Packers (SB XXXI & XXXII): One of the underrated game breakers in Super Bowl history. In two games, Brett Favre’s main target made his presence felt, totaling 12 catches for 231 yards and three touchdowns, including a then-record 81 yard score in his Super Bowl debut.

Santonio Holmes-Pittsburgh Steelers (SB XLIII): He has appeared in only one SB thus far, but he maximized the opportunity, finishing with 9 catches for 131 yards. However his clutch performance on the game’s final drive lands him here, as he brought in 4 catches for 71 yards including an amazing game winning grab in the corner of the end zone in double coverage.

Tight End

Jay Novacek-Dallas Cowboys (SB XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): A key receiver for Troy Aikman that opened up lots of opportunities for his better known teammates, Novacek won three Super Bowls and brought in 17 catches and two touchdowns in the three games.

Offensive Tackle

Erik Williams-Dallas Cowboys (SB XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): The tackle that watched Troy Aikman’s blindside while he engineered three Dallas ‘ships and a bulldozer that opened up holes for Emmitt Smith record-breaking Super Bowl performances. He more than deserves this spot.

Orlando Pace-St. Louis Rams (SB XXXIV & XXXVI): Pace played against two tough and diverse defense in his games versus the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots, yet he still kept the heat off Kurt Warner long enough to let him to have two of the three best passing days in Super Bowl history.

Offensive Guard/Center

Mark Schlereth-Washington Redskins & Denver Broncos (XXII, XXXII & XXXIII): Before he became an ESPN personality, he was a road grating blocker for John Riggins and Terrell Davis and took home three Super Bowl rings for his dirty work. He was a key member of the brutal, and sometimes dirty, interior line in Denver.

Schlereth was a warrior for two of the toughest front lines in recent Super Bowl history, in two different cities.

Adam Timmerman-Green Bay Packers & St. Louis Rams (SB XXXI, XXXII, XXXIV & XXXVI): An underrated element of two great offensive teams, Timmerman played in four of the great offensive performances in the Super Bowl history and was a steady presence in front Marshall Faulk and Dorsey Levens. He took home two Super Bowl rings in four trips and played a vital role in each team.

Tom Nalen-Denver Broncos (SB XXXII & XXXIII): A quick and versatile center, Nalen was equally adept at opening up the middle for Terrell Davis as he was at keeping inside pressure off of John Elway. Nalen Anchored the Broncos’ offensive line which was the underrated strength of the back-to-back Broncos championship teams.

Kicker

Adam Vinatieri-New England Patriots & Indianapolis Colts (SB XXXI, XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII & XLIV): A six time Super Bowl attendee, and four time champion. If any player’s legend is owed to the game, it is Vinatieri’s. He has seven career SB field goals, including game winners from 48 and 41 yards.

No player has had to assume more sudden Super Bowl responsibility than Vinatieri, and he hasn't cracked once under the pressure.

Head Coach

Bill Belichick-New England Patriots (SB XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX & XLII): There may not be a more controversial or disliked coach in NFL history, but his success on the biggest stage is outstanding. He upset the a powerhouse Rams team for his first Super Bowl win as head coach, and followed it up with two more wins in the next four years. His success on Super Sunday did not start when he took over the reins in New England, as he served as assistant Head Coach for the Patriots Super Bowl XXXI team and was the defensive coordinator of two New York Giant championship teams in Super Bowls XXI and XXV.

The biggest stage of them all, the Super Bowl. The biggest spectacle in all of sports, it has become just as big of a cultural event on the worldwide stage as it is football game. It has taken on a life of it’s own, and “Super Sunday” is the first big post-New Year’s day of the year. Despite all of the events, advertising, and parties around it, the very heart of it all is still the game. In the NFL there is no more surefire way to achieve legendary status than to do it in February football. Here in the CHEAP.SEATS, I’ll be taking a daily look at a different part of the Super Bowl from my perspective, both in the now and the past. This includes a countdown of the greatest Super Bowls of recent times, the biggest x-factors in this year’s game and eventually a breakdown and pick for who will take this year’s game.

First however, let’s take a look back at who has made this game what it is. Over the next two days, I’ll be breaking down my picks for the greatest Super Bowl team of my time. Now it would be easier to pick one team and pay homage to them, but instead I’m taking the best of the best of all the teams of my nearly 28 years here and placing them on one team, the ultimate fantasy draft of sorts. In part one, we’ll take a look at the defensive side of the ball and special teams picks, and come back with the offensive stars and the coach who’s legend looms largest.

 

Defensive Ends

Reggie White-Green Bay Packers (SB  XXXI): The Minister of Defense is perhaps the greatest pass rusher in the history of the game, and he made good on this honor in his first of two appearance on Super Sunday, as his three sacks set a Super Bowl record and lead helped push the Packers to their first Super Bowl win since Super Bowl II.

White landed 198.5 sacks in regular play, but none were big than his 3 on Bledsoe to win his only championship.

Charles Haley-San Francisco 49ers & Dallas Cowboys (SB XXIII, XXIV, XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): Haley featured at both linebacker and defensive end during his record five Super Bowl wins during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Has record for most Super Bowl sacks with 4 and a half.

Defensive Tackles

Darnell Dockett-Arizona Cardinals (SB XLIII): His three sacks for the Cardinals in 2009 tied Reggie White’s single game record, and came against a pretty difficult target to bring down, in the generously listed 250 pound form of Ben Roethlisberger.

Russell Maryland-Dallas Cowboys (SB XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): The former #1 overall pick helped to anchor a strong interior defense for Dallas’ three championship squads along with Leon Lett.

Oustide Linebackers

Mike Jones-St. Louis Rams (SB XXXIV & XXXVI): One play usually shouldn’t count for a career, but when that one play comes on the one yard line with no time left in the game and saves a Super Bowl win for your team, I’ll make an exception. “The Tackle” Jones landed in 2000 is one of the Super Bowl’s great moments.

On team known for its offensive play, no play was bigger than Jones' tackle to save the Super Bowl.

Mike Vrabel-New England Patriots (SB XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX &  XLII): Spotlight linebacker for the Patriots during their dynasty of the 2000’s. He has two Super Bowl sacks all-time, but his role as a goal line receiving option has landed him two crucial touchdowns in SB play as well.

Lawrence Taylor-New York Giants (SB XXI & XXV): The game’s greatest linebacker twice took his team to Super Bowls and walked away with two wins. He landed a couple of sacks and recovered a crucial fumble in SB XXV to setup the game winning field goal.

Middle Linebacker

Ray Lewis-Baltimore Ravens (SB XXXV): Ray turned in perhaps the greatest defensive performance in the game’s history, with his 11 tackles (8 for a loss), 2 sacks and four pass deflections, in route to becoming the first linebacker to win Super Bowl MVP honors.

After leading one of the greatest defenses ever to Super Sunday, Lewis saved his best for last.

Tedy Bruschi-New England Patriots (SB XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX & XLII): The New England tackling machine was a catalyst for a tenacious defensive unit that stopped the historic “Greatest Show on Turf” in 2002, and went on to win 2 more Super Bowls in the next five years, including a sack and interception in a win versus the Eagles in 2005.

Cornerback

Deion Sanders-San Francisco 49ers & Dallas Cowboys (SB XXIX & XXX): Prime Time won back-to-back Super Bowls with both powerhouses of the NFC in the early 90’s. He netted an interception for the Niners in ’93 in a route over the Chargers and was as big of a return threat as coverage danger for the Cowboys versus the Steelers.

Ty Law-New England Patriots (SB XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX & XLII): Matched up with some of the eras best wide receivers (Isaac Bruce, Terrell Owens, Plaxico Burress and Steve Smith) as the Patriots top corner during their championship run. His interception return versus St. Louis played a huge role in their upset win in SB XXXIX.

Safety

Dexter Jackson-Tampa Bay Buccaneers (SB XXXVII): His two first half interceptions on league MVP Rich Gannon shorted out a dangerous Raider passing attack and kick started a 48-21 Buccaneer route, and led to him being named MVP of the game.

Ronnie Lott-San Francisco 49ers (SB XVI, XIX, XXIII & XXIV): A standout at free and strong safety, and even cornerback for the 49ers during their dominance of the 1980’s. Lott made his impact felt in coverage, but more so in presence with his devastating hits. One of only four players to suit up in all four 49er Super Bowl wins, and went undefeated on Super Sunday.

No matter where he lined up, the feared Lott played a crucial role in the 4-0 49ers Super Bowl run.

Special Teams

Chris Gardocki-Pittsburgh Steelers (SB XL): In a back and forth defensive matchup, Gardocki averaged over 48 yards per punt for the Steelers in their 2006 championship, giving their impressive defense solid field position in route to holding the Seahawks to 10 points.

Desmond Howard-Green Bay Packers (SB XXXI): The former Heisman Trophy winner made his NFL bones in one night’s work for the Packers in 1997. His 244 total yards, including a 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, made his the first special teamer to win Super Bowl MVP honors.

 

The NFL season has reached its halftime, and while the picture is constantly unfolding and many teams will be moving up and down, getting better, getting worse and fall. While every college star isn’t the best pro, many of the top talents this year should translate well into the pro game.

The order is determined by record and strength of schedule to break ties, no playoff seeding is figured in.

1. Buffalo Bills: Andrew Luck-QB-Stanford // The Bills are in a similar spot that the Rams were in a year ago with this same pick, a direction-less franchise that needs a new leader to help turn its fortunes. Look at how well it turned out in St. Louis so far. Buffalo would be smart to follow suit with the tremendous Stanford talent.

Luck has grown tremendously this season and his next challenge should be savior of Buffalo.

2. Carolina Panthers: AJ Green-WR-Georgia // For years the Panthers have been searching for a compliment to Steve Smith to open up their pass game. Green is easily that and more. They need to take their future #1 option here.

3. Dallas Cowboys: DaQuan Bowers-DE-Clemson // Bowers is reaching his potential easily and leads the nation in tackles for a loss. The Cowboys are still tremendously talented and can afford to take the best available player, but need help on the line. Bowers serves both causes.

4. San Francisco: Patrick Peterson-CB-LSU // While the Niners QB position catches much of the focus with the Alex Smith era quickly ending itself, they will be better served taking Peterson, who injects an aging cornerback position with an instant boost and closes a major hole in a talented unit.

Despite a clear QB need, the Niners shouldn't pass on an impact corner like Peterson.

5. Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus-DT-Alabama // The Broncos need help stopping the run and can use a pass rushing presence. Dareus is versatile and can serve both roles from either the tackle or end spot.

6. Cincinnati Bengals: Robert Quinn-DE-North Carolina // Quinn is bringing some baggage from Carolina’s academic dishonesty sanctions and suspensions, but is still an amazing talent and the good could outweigh the questionable. Sounds like a guy born to be a Bengal.

7. Detroit Lions: Prince Amukamara-CB-Nebraska // The Lions have the worse cornerback tandem in the league, and landing Amukamara here is a match made in heaven. Would be a starter as soon as his name is called.

8. Minnesota Vikings: Ryan Mallett-QB-Arkansas // With the Favre era ending, landing a top flight arm should be a priority and Mallett can reach the Viking receivers and stretch the field with one of the best pure arm available.

9. Arizona Cardinals: Akeem Ayers-LB-UCLA // Zona need help at every level of its defense and Ayers give them an aggressive outside rush that they need long-term from the linebacker spot.

10. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones-WR-Alabama // This is a perfect pairing for the receiver desperate Browns, who have nothing in the downfield gamebreaker category. Jones will soar after the Combine as well.

Jones is a huge talent, who should actually become even better in the Pros.

11. San Diego Chargers: Adrian Clayborne-DE-Iowa // They have been searching for a legit pass rush since Shawne Merriman fell of the Earth a few years ago. Clayborne is a more than suitable replacement.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jake Locker-QB-Washington // Locker is riding the potential train all the way to the top half of the Draft, and the Jaguars are ready to replace David Garrard much sooner than later. This seems destined to happen if he lasts until here.

13. St. Louis Rams: Stephen Paea-DT-Oregon State // They could definitely stand to land Bradford a legit threat at receiver, but Paea is a plus talent in the middle and helps them address an issue they did not by passing on Ndamukong Suh a year ago.

14. Seattle Seahawks: Nick Fairley-DT-Auburn // They are in the midst of reshaping the whole of their team, and finding an anchor in the middle of the defense is needed much sooner than later. Fairley is great talent and can help every area of the defense.

15. Washington Redskins: Ryan Kerrigan-DE-Purdue // The Redskins have a talented secondary, but it gets tested way too often and easily due to an absence of any consistent pass rush. Kerrigan will help solve both issues.

16. Houston Texans: Janoris Jenkins-CB-Florida // Once again, the offense is clicking, but the defense isn’t up to speed. They simply cannot stop the pass. Landing Jenkins and pairing him with ’10 first rounder Kareem Jackson should fix that issue much sooner than later.

17. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram-RB-Alabama // With both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams aging, injury prone and free agents-to-be, taking Ingram keeps the Miami running game from missing a beat.

Ingram would be used heavily in Miami and would be a both a quick fix and youth infuser for an aging backfield.

18. New England (from OAK): Von Miller-LB-Texas A&M // The Pats are thin at the pass rush and Miller is one of the best pure rushers in the college game and fits the hybrid end/linebacker that the New England scheme is best for.

19. Chicago Bears: Anthony Castonzo-OT-Boston College // The constant problem for Chicago has been protecting Jay Cutler and opening up any rushing chances. Castonzo is the best tackle available in a thin year, and an easy choice here.

20. Kansas City Chiefs: Donta Hightower-ILB-Alabama // The best athlete on a tremendously talented Bama defense, he shores up the middle for an emergent KC defense, although he is a bit of a project.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Allen Bailey-DE-Miami // Tampa’s offense is arriving now, but the defense still is a bit inconsistent, especially in reaching the backfield. Pairing Bailey with Gerald McCoy should end the problem.

22. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Williams-CB-Texas // There’s not much to be worried about outside of Cortland Finnegan in the Titan secondary. Williams will at least make opposing QB’s think about throwing away from his side.

23. Philadelphia Eagles: Nate Solder-OT-Colorado // Philly’s line has been slowly falling apart due to age and injury. Protecting whoever ends up taking the snaps better should be a high priority, and the massive Solder is a big step towards that goal.

24. Indianapolis Colts: Gabe Carimi-OT-Wisconsin // Now is the time for Indy to start rebuilding their line, both to create some kind of rushing game and to, most importantly, protect an aging Peyton Manning. Carimi is an athletic, tough Big 10 lineman perfect for both jobs.

25. Green Bay Packers: Brandon Burton-CB-Utah // The Packers cannot afford to ignore their thinning secondary any longer, especially with Al Harris departed and Charles Woodson potentially moving to safety. Burton is a rising talent that will be a value pick within a few years.

26. New Orleans Saints: Cameron Hayward-DE-Ohio State // The Saints have depth issues in their front seven and need to put a young talent in the mix to keep it from becoming a big problem soon. Hayward is a great grab here that only falls due to the amazing depth at the DE position this year.

The son of Ironhead Hayward would be a need frontline defensive presence for the Saints.

27. New York Giants: Rodney Hudson-G/C-Florida State // The Giants have look great on both sides of the ball this year, but far too often Eli Manning is hammered while creating the pass. The versatile Hudson immediately lessens this threat on the interior line.

28. New England Patriots: Jeremy Beal-LB-Oklahoma // Despite landing another linebacker earlier, taking Beal here removes any needs in any part of the linebacking corps for years here. Also versatile enough to put a hand in the ground and rush from end as well.

29. New York Jets: Rahim Moore-S-UCLA // The free safety position is shaky in New York, and landing Moore gives a presence that adds more depth to an already premier secondary. He can cover great depth, and lets their corners gamble even more.

30. Baltimore Ravens: Derek Sherrod-OT-Mississippi State // The Ravens can use more protection up front and Sherrod is an a strong athlete who can form one of the most athletic tackle pairings in the league with Michael Oher.

31. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Rudolph-TE-Notre Dame // Rudolph is far and away the best tight end prospect in this year’s draft and with Tony Gonzalez still productive, but picking up years, taking Rudolph ensures no drop off at the spot and provides another wrinkle in an already impressive offense.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ras-I Dowling-CB-Virginia // While the Steeler defense is the best unit in the game, they still are susceptible to the pass due to an aging cornerback group. Dowling is a big, physical coverage back that fits perfectly with Pittsburgh’s attack.

 

On the verge: Jon Baldwin-WR-Pittsburgh, Cameron Jordan-DE-Cal, DeMarcus Love-OT-Arkansas, Drake Nevis-DT-LSU, David Thomas-RB-Kansas State, Mike Pouncey-G-Florida, Michael Floyd-WR-Notre Dame, Marvin Austin-DT, Brandon Harris-CB-Miami, Quan Sturdivant-LB

 

Arguments? Agreements? Don’t think your team is represented well or a guy is over/underrated? COMMENT! Let me know, lets prove why I’m right.

“Who you got winning it this year?”….”Who got in the Bowl?”….”Who you see going all the way this year?”

All of these are common questions around this part of the year for hords of football fans gearing up for the NFL season. It is a constant debate and arguing point that will continue all the way through February 6’s kickoff for the Big Game in Dallas. Until that time (and potentially much earlier) here’s how it’s looking….from my seat at least. If you need further explanation on how these records came to be, go back and look at the 8 NFL Previews posted here a few weeks back.

Brees & Manning ruled in 2010, but will either have what it takes to make a season finale repeat appearance?

Until then my guess is just as good as yours….albeit with a little bit more an educated guess. I kid, I kid….kinda.

NFC Projected Rankings

  1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
  2. Minnesota Vikings (13-3)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
  4. San Francisco 49ers (10-6)
  5. *Green Bay Packers (11-5)
  6. *New York Giants (10-6)

AFC Projected Rankings

  1. New York Jets (13-3)
  2. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
  3. San Diego Chargers (11-5)
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
  5. *New England Patriots (11-5)
  6. *Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

WILD CARD WEEKEND

NFC

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants

–          After splitting regular season matchups, this will be a tough postseason opener for each club, due to their familiarity with each other after two inter division match ups during the season . With tough defenses in both jerseys, it breaks down to who can take establish the offense the earliest and most often. That’s where the Cowboys take the advantage and take the win. Cowboys 28, Giants 20

San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers

–          In a battle of two opposites, who can make a push the big play most often will win out. The Niners grind it out and let their defense set the tone, while Green Bay is high flying and will try to attack the San Fran secondary, the weakest part of their defense. This will be decided on the front lines and San Francisco should be able to establish its pass rush to overtake the Green Bay offensive line and work out a close win. 49ers 20, Packers 17

In his first playoff game as a coach, Singletary has what it takes to drop the Pack.

AFC

San Diego Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens

–          In another big offense versus stingy defense battle, this is another case of who establishes their position most often. The difference in this being a straight down the middle, battle of opposites is the expansion of Baltimore’s offense, with Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte Stallworth to deploy down field, which makes them a greater overall threat and gives them the win. Ravens 30, Chargers 17

Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots

–          In a week one rematch, the Bengals and Patriots hook up again. However, this time it’s in Cincinnati, but thats the only difference that will come of it. The depth of the Bengal passing game combined with the pressure they can send at Tom Brady will be too much again. The Pats secondary will not be able to answer what the Bengals bring at it and New England will once again have a Wild Card exit from the season. Bengals 35, Patriots 21

For the second consecutive year, Tom goes home early after a brutal Wild Card Weekend.

DIVISIONAL ROUND

NFC

New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers

–          The Saints get the Niners fresh off a tough first round contest and gives Mike Singletary’s defense a huge dose of it’s rested weapons after their first round bye. The Saints strength is similar to the Packers, in how they attack through the pass game early and often. Where the offensive line for the Packers couldn’t hold against the blitz of the Niners, the Saints’ line makes the difference and lets Drew Brees pick apart the average San Fran secondary for the win. Saints 35, 49ers 14

Minnesota Vikings vs. Dallas Cowboys

–          Another repeat matchup from the early regular season, where the Vikings handed the Cowboys their first loss of the season. This game will break down to a battle of if the Vikes defensive line can beat the Cowboy offensive line to stop Tony Romo. However after a few years of coming up short in big playoff situations, Romo finds a way to get out of this one. While it won’t be easy, the big play receivers in Dallas will find a way to get open and push Dallas back to their first NFC Championship game in over 15 years. Cowboys 27, Vikings 24 (OT)

Romo must rise out of the shadows of his past postseason failures to overcome the Vikes in Minnesota.

AFC

New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals

–          Two very similar defenses link up in this matchup. Both are tough at every level and leave very little margin for error against them. It’s going to break down to which team’s defense forces the most crucial turnovers to allow their offense, or even kicking game, to make the easiest impact. This ends up being a battle of intangibles and experience winning out, and Cincinnati takes the slight edge in that department and will take the edge in this game, in big road win and upset. Bengals 13, Jets 10

Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens

–          It seems these two meet up every year with some critical matchup, and this is the same stage they battled at last year. Each team’s strength has a never say die leader in Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis, and whichever one out maneuvers the other’s unit takes this game. Ravens will pressure Manning no stop and most likely force him into some uncharacteristic errors, but in the end the Indianapolis secondary is nails in the red zone and will hold Joe Flacco’s attack and Manning will find openings with his deep receiver group to pull out the win. Colts 27, Ravens 17

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys

–          Coming into New Orleans is task in itself. The Superdome is the most riotous stadium in the league and beating them to make it to the Super Bowl there is a tall task, ask Minnesota. These are two aggressive offenses that will force the turnover and have defenses that give different looks the whole game. The Cowboys take the advantage in pass rushing options and a strong secondary, but the Saints have so many weapons in the passing game, there’s no secondary that can account for all of them. Factor in Jonathan Vilma and Darren Sharper’s knack for forcing the turnover and the timely big play and the Saints take the edge and return to Super Bowl Sunday. Saints 30, Cowboys 20

Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals

–          The Colts have for years been a team that has provided unparalleled protection for Manning in his record breaking efforts. The only teams that have success against them are diverse, quick blitzing teams that force the turnover in the secondary and that happens to be the Bengals specialty. They have the running game to attack the Colts biggest weakness and by setting up the passing game off a steady dose of Cedric Benson, they have what it takes to dethrone the AFC Champs. By getting to Manning and forcing him into throwing to their cornerbacks, the Bengals will make their first trip to the Super Bowl since 1989. Bengals 27, Colts 24

Ochocinco finally makes prime time for doing his day job after dethroning the Colts as AFC Champs.

Super Bowl XLV

New Orleans Saints vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The road back to the top is always harder than the first one taken, but the Saints will have withstood those challenges to get to this point. An amazing and efficient offensive attack is what propels them to this level, with a defense that is capable of making the big play when needed. On the flip side, Cincinnati has a defense with all the ability and depth to reach this level, but is complimented by an equally good offense. While a single devastating unit is what lands the Saints here, unequaled balance is what the strength of Cincy is.

This game will be a back and forth affair early, as both sides have a good number of offsetting tools at their disposal, and they will be familiar already, having met in week 12 previously. Palmer should be able to find success going to the outside toward Owens and OchoCinco, where he can attack the weakest part of the Saints matchup. On the flip side, Brees will exploit the deep secondary of the Bengals defense by going over the top as often as possible. Running at the Bengals may be fruitless, just as attacking Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall at primary cornerback/wide receiver matchups could be as well. On the other hand, the Saints greatest asset is Brees ability to use all his receivers and he will be able to capitalize on the steady matchup problems secondary receivers such as Jeremy Shockey, Devery Henderson, Reggie Bush and Lance Moore create and hitting those matchups will be the difference in enabling the Saints to defend their the throne as Super Bowl Champions, becoming the first team to repeat since the 2004-05 New England Patriots. Final Score: Saints 28, Bengals 20

Long Live The Kings: Brees and the Saints are too much and keep the Lombardi Trophy in NOLA.

There’s a lot season to be played. With that there will be plenty of breakout players, disappointments, injuries and upsets. However, of all seasons, this one has more of a wide open feeling than any NFL season in recent memory. Will it end up with a repeat at the top? Or will another team on the verge, such as the Jets, Vikings or Colts breakthrough to take the final step towards the Lombardi Trophy. Can another team on the verge, similar to the Saints coming into ’09 make the jump and take over? The Packers, Cowboys and Ravens have to believe this is possible. Even an upstart that puts everything together and crashes the playoff scene could make the ascension to the top. Texans, 49ers and even Raiders fans should have real hope as well.

The greatest thing about the NFL is that every year it is almost anybody’s league to win. Nobody is too far above the next club from being able to take over. For now, the slate is blank and it’s anybody’s to paint any way they feel. No matter what, the fight to get to the paper and the paint will be as colorful as ever.