By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Sunday NFL Preview: Week Ten
PHILADELPHIA — We have finally hit the halfway point of the 2008 NFL season as every team has now played at least eight games.
At the midway point of the season almost every team is following this NFL’s season moniker “Believe In Now” as there are 21 teams that are at .500 or better in the standings.
No doubt around the NFL many players this week will be inspired by the historic presidential election victory of President-elect Barack Obama as the charismatic Senator from Illinois beat some would say “long” odds to reach the top of the political mountain.
Many NFL teams will also be trying to also buck the odds in the second half of the 2008 season to reach their pinnacle of a Super Bowl championship. With so many teams in the parity-laden middle of the NFL everything seems possible and it is time for teams to make their playoff contender push by getting “hot” in the playoff contender months of November and December (think 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers and 2007 New York Giants).
If history has shown us anything being .500 (4-4) at the halfway point is not such a bad thing — since 2000, 20 teams have reached the halfway point of the season with a .500 or below winning percentage and proceeded to the playoffs, including at least one in each season.
Of course the 2001 New England Patriots are every middle-of-the-road team’s fantasy. The ’01 Patriots started at 4-4 and won seven of their final eight games en route to an 11-5 regular season and the team’s first Super Bowl championship (XXXVI).
The interesting part about the NFL at its mid-point is that almost every team can realistically believe that they still have a shot. The current standings show that there is little separation in former Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s parity dream league.
There is one lonely undefeated team in the Tennessee Titans (8-0), but each week they seem to teeter on the edge of joining the rest of the NFL. However you have to like what Jeff Fisher’s bunch is doing in terms of running the ball (Chris Johnson leads all rookies with 715 rushing yards), playing top notch defense (DT Albert Haynesworth looks all-world with 6 sacks and CB Courtland Finnegan has 4 INTs), and quality special teams (kicker Rob Bironas 17-19 on field goals).
But I believe the Titans time may soon be coming as veteran quarterback Kerry Collins and his non-descript receivers will be challenged with upcoming foes at Chicago, at Jacksonville, and hosting Brett Favre’s Jets.
The rest of the standing shakeout this way: (7-1) New York Giants – I believe they are the most complete team in the NFL, two (6-2) teams — Panthers and Steelers; two (6-3) teams Buccaneers and Redskins; a mass group of eight (5-3) teams — Patriots, Cardinals, Falcons, Eagles, Bills, Ravens, Jets, and Bears; two (5-4) teams in the Cowboys and Broncos; a even packed group of five (4-4) teams that need to figure out if they are going up or down — Packers, Colts, Saints, Dolphins, and Vikings; the (3-6) Browns who are looking like a rebuilding project this off-season; three (3-5) teams holding out hope that they can get on an unexpected roll – Chargers, Jaguars, and Texans; four (2-6) teams who are a mess – Raiders, Seahawks, Niners, and Rams; the (1-7) Chiefs (poor Herm); the (1-8) Bengals, who picked up their first win last week and the hapless (0-8) Lions, who will now turn to veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper to lead them.
The division leaders after 9 weeks features some craziness including a three-way tie in the AFC East with the Bills, Patriots, and Jets all at (5-3). The NFC South is very competitive — Carolina Panthers (6-2), Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (6-3), Falcons (5-3), and the Saints in the mix at (4-4). NFC North is led by the (5-3) Bears who are only a game ahead of the Green Bay Packers and Vikings.
The rest of the divisions feature the following leaders — NFC East: NY Giants (7-1) w/ a 1.5 game lead over the Redskins, NFC West: Arizona Cardinals (5-3) — running away with this bad division w/ a 3 game lead over the Rams, AFC South: Tennessee Titans (8-0) with a 4 game lead over the Colts, AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) w/ a 1 game lead over the Ravens, and the AFC West: Denver Broncos (5-4) – lead another one of the NFL’s little sister divisions w/ a 1.5 game lead over the Chargers. The NFC East is proving once again to be the NFL’s toughest division as all four teams are over .500 entering this week.
Before we move on to our featured game and some leftovers, the NFL started this week’s games early as the Broncos pulled one out over the Browns 34-30 in Cleveland
(Thanks for putting the game on NFL Network, which most people don’t have). This is also the last week for byes with the Bengals, Cowboys, Buccaneers, Redskins not playing.
NFL Teams continue laying down the law – This season NFL teams have decided to bench and/or fine players for misconduct before the league steps in. Already Plaxico Burress, Larry Johnson, Steve Smith, and others have been shown a seat and this week it maybe Jaguars LB Mike Peterson. The Jags high-powered middle linebacker was dismissed from practice this week by Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio for insubordination.
Welcome back D. Hall – Former Raiders CB DeAngelo Hall, who was released from his 7-year, $70 Million dollar contract with the Raiders earlier this week, found a new home with contender the Washington Redskins. Hall, who has been known as a malcontent, will now get his chance to play with winner after signing on Friday. In his eight games in Oakland, Hall was beaten 40 times for 552 yards on 66 passes thrown his way, according to data compiled by STATS. He gave up more yards than any defender this season and was tied for third worst in catches allowed. Maybe he can rebound playing opposite of fellow former Pro Bowl player Shawn Springs.
NFL laying down the fines for hits - The NFL fined five players Friday for on-field actions during last weekend’s games. Vikings DE Jared Allen was fined $50,000 for two below-the-knee hits on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub; Jacksonville defensive tackle John Henderson and Cincinnati guard Andrew Whitworth were fined $10,000 each for fighting; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was fined $10,000 for slamming Washington quarterback Jason Campbell to the ground in Monday night’s game and Giants DE Justin Tuck was fined $7,500 for a hit on Cowboys QB Brooks Bollinger (recently the NFL rescinded the fine).
Backup Quarterbacks leading their teams towards the playoffs - When the season started who would have known that week one back-ups Kerry Collins (Titans), Gus Frerotte (Vikings), Matt Cassel (Patriots), Rex Grossman (Bears), and Sage Rosenfelds (Texans) had what it took to come off the bench and maybe get their teams into the playoffs. Only time will tell, but in the NFL you have to have a good relief thrower to keep your team in contention.
Giants (7-1) at Eagles (5-3), 8:15 PM ET (NBC)
Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, John Madden, and Andrea Kremer
In a NBC Sunday Night Football game that has been circled on many NFL Calendars for months, two of the NFL’s hottest teams (the Giants have lost only once this season, the Eagles have won three in a row) from the best division in football take aim at each nother.
These two teams are evenly-matched — New York has the NFL’s No. 5 offense, Philly the No. 6. The Giants are No. 3 in defense, the Eagles No. 5 — and this is definitely a statement game that will go a long way toward the playoffs. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said it best, “We’re playing a team that knows us, and we know them”.
Last year the Giants beat the Eagles twice 16-3 in week 4 at home and then added a 16-13 win in week 14 at Philadelphia and to pour even more salt in the Eagles wounds, the 10-6 Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.
Make no bones about it, this game means a lot to both sides as “Beast of the East” bragging rights are on the line and everyone knows these two teams and their fans don’t like each other.
Giants DE Justin Tuck said of the game, “Philly is my favorite road stadium because the fans absolutely hate everybody that moves in an opponent’s jersey, I kind of like being hated.”
The 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants have the best record in the NFC (7-1) and are on pace to match the 1986 team for the most wins in franchise history. They are a very complete team offensively and defensively.
On offense, quarterback Eli Manning (1,735 yards passing with 12 touchdowns) has grown immensely since being named MVP of the Super Bowl, but everything with Big Blue is about running the football.
The Giants sport the second ranked rushing attack in the NFL with big 268-pound power back Brandon Jacobs (fifth in the NFL 680 rushing yards) leading the way. Andy Reid said of Jacobs, “He is a big man. You have to hit him, and I don’t think you want to get too high when you’re hitting him.”
“You want to make sure you wrap up.”
If Jacobs wasn’t enough there are nice change up backs Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw – both average over 5.0 yards per carry — behind the freight train.
The Eagles on offense go about their business through the air as McNabb ranks third in the league in passing yardage (2,178) and he is on pace for the team’s first 4,000 yard passing season. McNabb however cannot do it alone (shown by the Eagles redzone woes) and he will be looking for explosive running back Brian Westbrook (422 rushing yards and 6 TDs) for help.
The mighty mite running back has been a Giants slayer in the past averaging 114 rushing yards in his past two games against the G-Men plus 12 touchdowns in his last eight games against them.
Another player not to forget is rookie of the year candidate receiver DeSean Jackson (34 receptions, 525 yds, and 1 TD) and the Birds may have found a new star in TE Brent Celek, who had a career game of six catches for 131 yards against the Seahawks.
The two teams’ defenses should be similar as young Giants’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will be going against the guy he studied under, Philly’s sack-meister Jim Johnson. The Giant have had some injuries to deal with on defense, but it still has not slowed down their attacking scheme (Allowed only 129 points so far and have an NFC leading 30 sacks).
Watch for DE Justin Tuck, who has 8.5 sacks and 1 INT while filling in for injured Osi Umenyiora. The Eagles defense also sports a defense that has turned it up a notch (27 sacks) as they have only allowed 144 points so far this season including only 21 points the last two weeks.
Johnson will look to unleash a speedy D-line led by a rejuvenated Darren Howard (6.5) and free agent corner Asante Samuel (3 INT), who has a score to settle against the Giants from last year’s Super Bowl (dropped potential game-ending interception).
LV’s Pick: This will an old-fashioned grind-it-out NFC East game. I don’t expect huge passing days for Manning and McNabb, but I do expect some big plays. Maybe a punt return for a touchdown by Jackson or a defensive score by either attacking defense. The key will be Giants quarterback Eli Manning as the maturing thrower is 3-1 vs. McNabb for his career.
But if the Eagles can take away the Giants running game and get in Manning’s face, it will be the Birds’ win. However recent history has shown the Eagles have had problems on Sunday Night football (remember their 24-20 loss to the Bears). I believe the Giants need to win this game to show everyone that they are for real (teams they have beaten have a combined 27-40 record).
Fueled by pressure defense and a few turnovers, the Giants win 20-17.
NFL Week 10
DEN 34 @ CLE 30 (NFL NETWORK)
NO @ ATL 1:00 PM FOX
TEN @ CHI 1:00 PM CBS
JAC @ DET Ford Field 1:00 PM CBS
BAL @ HOU 1:00 PM CBS
SEA @ MIA 1:00 PM FOX
GB @ MIN 1:00 PM FOX
BUF @ NE 1:00 PM CBS
STL @ NYJ 1:00 PM FOX
CAR @ OAK 4:05 PM FOX
IND @ PIT 4:15 PM CBS
KC @ SD 4:15 PM CBS
NYG @ PHI 8:15 PM NBC
SF @ ARI 8:30 PM ESPN
Byes: Bengals, Cowboys, Buccaneers, Redskins.