By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s NFL Sunday Preview: Week Nine
PHILADELPHIA — The “Clash of the Super Powers” or “Super Bowl XLI Â½” as some are calling it, is finally here as the unbeaten Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts (7-0) face their biggest rival and fellow unbeaten the New England Patriots (8-0) this Sunday (November 4th) in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
Colts head coach Tony Dungy said rightfully “It will be a circus” and the coach has been right. The nation has been going nuts for “Super Bowl XLI 1/2″ as it is the first time in NFL history (88 years) that two teams that have a 7-0 or better record will be facing each other.
The match-up is so crucial and noteworthy that NFL Network will be dedicating over 36 and half hours of coverage to the game, the most for any non-Super Bowl game.
I know the Patriots have had November 4th circled on their calendars since their bitter loss to the Colts in the 2006 AFC Championship game, where they blew a 21-3 lead and watched Tony Dungy’s crew go on to win 38-34 plus gain a career-validating win in Super Bowl XLI over the Chicago Bears. The Colts will welcome the Patriots back to Indy after three straight seasons of regular-season battles in Foxboro.
This game probably will be a precursor to January’s AFC championship and it should go a long way in establishing home field advantage for the playoffs. The game also has a historical context as it features three of the last four Super Bowl champions and the winner will have a good chance of joining the 1972 Dolphins as the NFL’s only unbeaten team.
Deion Sanders recently compared the 2007 Patriots to his 1994 San Francisco 49ers team which won Super Bowl XXIX saying, “This team reminds me of the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. We had the number one offense, [a top] defense and in the off-season we loaded up [with new players]. We built up to overtake the Dallas Cowboys just like this team built up [to overtake the Colts]“.
We know Prime Time rambles sometimes, but we will see if he is on to something. The Patriots seem to be on a whole another level from the rest of the NFL leading in crucial categories of points scored (331), points allowed (127), and touchdowns (43). They are on pace to obliterate the 1998 Minnesota Vikings scoring record (556 points), but they remind me more of the balanced 1989 San Francisco 49ers team that was ranked #1 offensively and #3 defensively on their to a Super Bowl XXIV win of 55-10 over the Broncos.
But don’t sleep on the defending Super Bowl Champion Colts as they will definitely want to show the world that their victory last year was not a fluke and even though they are an underdog (five-point home underdog), they also are an elite team in terms of points scored (224 — 3rd in NFL) and points allowed (102 — Less than the Patriots). They are only one of three teams in history to begin three consecutive seasons with 6-0-or-better records [St Louis Rams (1999-2001) and the Green Bay Packers (1929-1931)] and they have won 12 games in a row including their playoff Super Bowl run last year.
This week’s other games may not have the pedigree of Super Bowl XLI Â½, but it would be foolhardy to not pay attention, as there is parity and storylines everywhere in the NFL. After Week 8, there are 17 teams with a .500 or better record and 15 teams with losing records and the same two winless teams (Rams and Dolphins both 0-8).
The AFC East seems all but wrapped up with the Patriots sporting a five-game edge, but all of the other divisions have brewing battles coming with teams currently 1 to 2 games within the lead with the AFC South, AFC North, and NFC East with three teams at .500 or better.
As if the main event of Super Bowl XLI Â½ is not enough to fill any football fan’s belly, this weekend also features some great match-ups on the undercard.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: This game will be a tough AFC North Black and Blue battle pitting perenial divisional contender on Monday Night Football. Even with big-mouth linebacker Joey Porter not playing these two teams don’t like each other. The Ravens will get quarterback Steve McNair, Tackle Jonathan Ogden, and TE Todd heap back from injury and they will be fighting for respect from the rest of the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won 11 consecutive home games on MNF dating back to 1992. With a win against AFC North-rival Baltimore at Heinz Field this Monday, the Steelers can match the Oakland Raiders’ all-time record of 12 consecutive home victories on that night.
Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs: This game is a rematch of Super Bowl I teams. Both teams are riding high off recent wins and are at the top of their respective division, but questions linger about whether they are “contenders”. The key will be the Chiefs ability to stop the Packers air attack led by quarterback Brett Favre. The energetic 38-year old quarterback has defeated 30 different NFL teams as a starter in his career, leaving only the Chiefs as the last team he has not beaten. This game will also feature the return of Packers WR Koren Robinson from a suspension that kept him away since 2006.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: Growing up in Philadelphia, this was the only game on our calendar every year and this one is no different. The hated Cowboys will be bring public enemy number one (Terrell Owens) and yo better get your popcorn ready for a slugfest. This match-up has gotten better each week as Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has gotten stronger and the ‘Boys keep winning under America’s new golden boy quarterback Tony Romo. Watch for the emotional return of the Eagles heart and soul, Safety Brian Dawkins.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New Orleans Saints: I love this game, because it pits two teams that love to run the football. The Saints have climb right back into the thick of things by rattling off 3 straight wins and the Jags will look to continue winning via a physical style even without starting quarterback David Garrard. Also watch for the battle of former “L.A Running backs/Rivals” Maurice Jones-Drew (UCLA) vs. Reggie Bush (USC).
Bad teams from 2006 turning their season upside down – Heading into the ninth week of the season, four teams – the Cleveland Browns (4-3), Detroit Lions (5-2), Oakland Raiders (2-5) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4) – have already equaled or surpassed their win totals of last year. The Washington Redskins (4-3) can accomplish the feat this week when they visit the New York Jets. If Washington earns a victory, it will mark only the fourth time in 20 years that at least five teams have equaled or surpassed their previous season’s win total through nine weeks.
The “Edge” joining elite company – Arizona Cardinals running back Edgerrin James should reach 11,000 career yards this Sunday against Tampa Bay (needs 12 yards as his total stands at 10,988 rushing yards in 119 career games). The nine-year veteran from the University of Miami will surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Payton (124 games) as the fifth fastest player to reach the plateau.
Hello, Good Bye – On the suspension front, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be reviewing the request for reinstatement of Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams this week. Williams applied for reinstatement on October 1st and though the “Commish” can wait until November 30th, I believe he will give the former Texas Heisman trophy winner one last chance. If Williams does make it back, look for the Dolphins to release him and some interest to come from the Broncos, Packers, Raiders, and Buccaneers. Also I am hearing from several sources that the NFL will be suspending Denver Broncos RB Travis Henry this upcoming week for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. Henry had been trying to fight it out in the courts, but lost. Also
Games and Notes
PATRIOTS (8-0) AT COLTS (7-0) @ 4:15 PM (CBS)
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
As if I didn’t hype this game up enough above, I wanted to add some more fuel to the feeding frenzy around this game. The public is ready and so are the players as shown by the comments of New England All-Pro Defensive Lineman Richard Seymour who said “You play football for competition, the level of intensity,” and “When you have a chance to play against the best team in football, you get excited about it.”
The Patriots lead the all-time series 41-26, but the Colts won the November 2006 battle and we already know about the AFC Championship. These two teams are the NFL’s top two teams in net points, so you know they are solid on offense and defense.
Let’s look at the match-ups:
Head Coaches: These two coaches could be the definition of the “Odd Couple” though they are both successful they go about their business extremely different. Bill Belichick (75-47 regular season, 13-3 in the playoffs, and 3 titles with the Patriots) is no-ones friend choosing to be Darth Vader while Tony Dungy (67-20, 7-4, and 1 titles with the Colts) is beloved through out the league for his compassion and caring style. Either way you have to call this a wash. — EVEN
Quarterbacks: Could you ask for a better match-up of quarterbacks in NFL history. Manning (152-232 for 1,833 yards (3C)-13 TDs, w/ 3 INTs) and Brady (198-267 for 2,431 yards (1L), 30 (1L), w/ 2 INTs). Each are a Super Bowl MVP and they are taking turns re-writing the NFL record book. With three passing touchdowns on Sunday, Brady can break the tie that he and Manning share for the longest streak of consecutive (8) games with three or more touchdown passes. No doubt that both will be in the Hall of Fame and they are part of the two winningest head coach-quarterback combinations since 1970 (Colts .770 winning percentage and Patriots .765 percentage) — EVEN
Receivers: If Harrison does not play, the edge has to go to the Patriots. There are so many stars in this group it is scary. The Patriots have Moss, Watson, Welker, Stallworth, and others – The Colts counter with Harrison, Wayne, Gonzalez, and secret weapon Dallas Clark. — Edge Patriots, Moss has brought this group to an uber level.
O-Line: Both lines are solid as the Patriots have only allowed 8 sacks in 2006 and the Colts allowed only 14 sacks in all of 2006. I like the physical nature and toughness of both groups, but it is the consistency of the Patriots line that is scary. They keep Brady clean and have a solid running game. Edge guys like DeMarcus Ware could not get to Brady — Edge Patriots, very small edge due to Logan Mankins.
Running Back: Watch for Joseph Addai (123 rushes for 592 yards, 4.8 ypc, and a NFL best 7 TDs ) to dominate the game with his smart, slashing, physical style. Addai can carry the mail for the Colts and Kenton Keith has proven to be an effective backup. The Patriots Laurence Maroney (358 yards in 5 games) is a good learning back does not have the pad level running style, hands, blocking ability, or physicality of Addai. With Sammy Morris (chest) shut down for the season, the edge definitely goes to Addai (watch for him getting 20 carries as the Colts are 8-0 when he hits that mark) — Edge Colts
Defense: The Colts have better numbers in terms of points allowed (102 to 127). The Colts have the marquee pass rusher in Dwight Freeney (3.5 sacks), the Patriots have the stellar veteran linebacking core with Mike Vrabel (7.5 sacks) playing everywhere and the secondaries are both stellar against the run and pass. Watch for the quality play of Patriots CB Asanti Samuel and Colts Safety Bob Sanders. The Colts are #1 in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 165.4 yds-per-game. With both teams sporting a +11 in turnover ratio, look for game changing turnovers to set the ebb and flow of this game. — EVEN
Special Teams: The Patriots are averaging an NFL best 29 yards per kick return and their young kicker Stephen Gostowski (43/43 PAT; 10/11 FG) is really showing why he was worth a draft pick. But the Colts sport the player (kicker Adam Vinnateri) everyone wishes they could have at the end of a game. Vinnateri (24/26 PAT; 14/15 FG) is not perfect this season – has missed two extra points, but at the end of games no one is better. The Colts have the better punter in Hunter Smith — Edge Patriots due to the many veterans like LB Larry Izzo on their units.
Intangibles: The Colts will be at home in the dome and that is a big factor. The 12th man will be in effect and you know they want to be the ones to slay the big bad dragon that is the Patriots. The Colts currently have a 12 game winning streak (last lost the Chargers in December 2005). The Colts have also faced a tougher slate of .500 or better teams so far including the Saints, Jaguars, Titans, Buccaneers, and Panthers — Edge Colts
Prediction: I think people are not giving enough credit to the defending Super Bowl Champion Colts in my opinion. The Colts are a 5 point home underdog and you should always be aware of a good home team not getting any respect. I know the Patriots can score with the best of them, but with the home crowd, the mentality to knock off the “bully”, Manning, and the stoic Dungy look for the Colts to win. — LV’s Take: Colts 30, Patriots 24
SF @ ATL 1:00 PM FOX
CIN @ BUF 1:00 PM CBS
DEN @ DET 1:00 PM CBS
GB @ KC 1:00 PM FOX
SD @ MIN 1:00 PM CBS
JAC @ NO 1:00 PM CBS
WAS @ NYJ 1:00 PM FOX
ARI @ TB 1:00 PM FOX
CAR @ TEN 1:00 PM FOX
SEA @ CLE 4:05 PM FOX
HOU @ OAK 4:15 PM CBS
DAL @ PHI 8:15 PM NBC
BAL @ PIT 8:30 PM ESPN
Byes: Bears, Dolphins, Giants, Rams.