By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Sunday NFL Preview: Week # 8
Make no bones about it… people love gathering around to watch the NFL. In fact, according to the latest Nielsen ratings, last week’s FOX doubleheader game (mostly Falcons-Cowboys) was the most-watched sporting event since Super Bowl XLIII with 28.4 million viewers — beat the Angels-Yankees ALCS clinching Game 6) by 12.9 million viewers.
This Halloween weekend will bring its usual bags of candy, ghosts and goblins. But everyone around the NFL is talking about some “Back to the Future” games where old stars are returning to places of past glories, past playoff match-ups will be replayed and rivalries will be renewed around the league.
If you can believe it, Green Bay, Wisconsin will be the epicenter of the NFL universe this week. Without a need to say, the league’s biggest homecoming will occur Sunday at Lambeau Field as former Packers great QB Brett Favre will return for the first time ever in another team’s uniform.
This is Brett’s homecoming, let’s be real about it,” says Green Bay safety Atari Bigby. “It’s going to be special. Everybody wants to see this. Everybody’s going to tune in to this game.” How big is Favre’s return?? Both Fox Sports and the NFL Network have been promoting one-on-one sit-downs with No. 4 on Sunday morning.
Plus Fox, who is broadcasting the game, will have a camera dedicated to shooting every move Favre makes during his return to Lambeau Field on Sunday. The camera will be set up at the 50-yard line and its video will stream live on NFL.com and FoxSports.com
Amidst a nasty battle between Favre and Packers GM Ted Thompson, the 19-year veteran quarterback left Green Bay in a huff after 16 magical years to play for the NY Jets and the starting job was handed to Aaron Rodgers (currently ranks second in the NFL with a 110.8 passer rating), right before the start of the 2008 season.
As everyone probably knows – most likely from ESPN’s Monday Night Football Favre-fest – back in Week 4, Favre already re-acquainted himself and his new team to his old team as the Vikings defeated the Packers 30-23 in Minnesota — No. 4 had 271 yards and three touchdown passes in the win.
However this Sunday will be something real special as Favre – holder of numerous Packers records including most games (255), wins (160), attempts (8,754), completions (5,377), yards (61,655), touchdowns (442) and passer rating (85.8) – will return to the frozen tundra as the starting quarterback of the hated Vikings.
Favre fans loyalties will be stretched farther than Vikings and Packers No. 4 jerseys on some plus sized cheesehead’s back. It will be real interesting to see if cheeseheads will cheer, boo, hold-up signs of encouragement or discouragement for their departed folk hero, who put Green Bay back on the football map in the 1990′s then broke their hearts in the summer of 2009 by signing with the Vikings.
Earlier this season, Favre said this of the 2009 Minnesota Vikings, “Physically, and from a talent level, this is the best team I’ve ever been on.” Well…Brett a few members of your Super Bowl winning Packers squad from 1996 have begged to differ.
Former Packers TE Mark Chmura, a member of the ’96 team, said “It all starts with Brett — Brett’s not as good as he was”. Chmura added, “I mean, you’re talking about the No. 1 defense in the league at that time, maybe one of the best defenses ever to play the game.”
“Don’t get me wrong. Favre is still a good quarterback, but he was unbelievable in the day. When we played back then, teams feared us. I don’t know if teams fear the Minnesota Vikings today. We knew no one could beat us at home, absolutely nobody.”
In planning for Favre’s return several restaurants are only serving “Waffle” fries in honor of the NFL’s biggest waffler and Green Bay’s mayor decreed that Friday in the town would be called “Flip-Flop Friday” (year after year the legend said that he was going to retire then inexplicably came back near training camp).
Favre said of his return to Wisconsin, “My career with Green Bay speaks for itself, that won’t change. For three hours, I’ll be on the other side. Do I know what that feels like? I have no idea”. It will be interesting to see if the man that was one of the originators of the Lambeau Leap will venture into the stands after being part of a Vikings’ touchdown…probably not.
But most Packers fans I have talked to will always remember Favre winning games for their team in the snow of Lambeau Field. One puzzled fan recently told Yahoo Sports, “I have a real problem with that. It was hard enough to see him with the Jets. But to see him in purple! I still believe he belongs to us.”
With a win, Favre (89 wins at Lambeau) can become the second quarterback to win 90 games at a stadium since 1970 – Broncos QB John Elway won 95 games at Mile High Stadium.
The great thing as we move closer to the midpoint of the 2009 season is that self separation has begun and teams in the next couple of weeks will either legitimize their “Contender” or “Pretender” status.
The NFL has turned into the land of the Have’s (15 teams over .500 including 3 undefeated teams) and the Have Not’s (12 teams under. 500 including 3 winless teams) with only five teams stuck at .500 in the league’s ever shrinking middle.
There are currently three undefeated teams through the first seven weeks — Denver Broncos (6-0), Indianapolis Colts (6-0) and New Orleans Saints (6-0) — which is the first time since the 1970 merger. You have to wonder how much longer each of these squads can keep chasing the ghosts of the perfect 1972 Miami Dolphins, but each team is showing weekly that they are special.
The Saints last week overcame a 24-3 deficit to defeat the Miami Dolphins 46-34 in one of the league’s best games so far this season. The Colts led by rookie head coach Jim Caldwell and 3-time MVP QB Peyton Manning have won 15 straight games.
With a win against San Francisco in Week 8, the Colts can tie four other teams with the fourth-longest regular season winning streak in NFL history (Patriots hold the record at 21 games from 2006-08).
Plus Manning with five completions against the 49ers can become the fourth player in NFL history with 4,000 career completions. And the Denver Broncos led by energetic rookie head coach Josh McDaniels have turned the NFL on its ear with a defense that leads the AFC in yards allowed (262.5 yards per game). All three unbeatens will be tested this week as none of them face a team under .500 and know you teams always get up to face the “bully”.
The Broncos will travel east to visit the Baltimore Ravens (3-3), who are fighting mad over some bad officiating – so their defense says – and three consecutive losses. The Colts will probably get their toughest test of this season as the upstart San Francisco 49ers (3-3) come to town.
The Niners have also hit a little skid after being one of the hottest teams in the NFL during the first few weeks of the season, but tough head coach Mike Singletary and returning former starter QB Alex Smith will try to fire up their team to face the NFL’s closest thing to cyborg-winning robots.
Caldwell recently said of his winning team, “This team is going to get better as time goes on. The effort and execution are both improving every single week. The thing I’m really pleased about, overall, is that we just keep getting better every week. Any time you get a win in this league, it’s big.”
The undefeated Saints probably have the toughest assignment of three unblemished teams as the Atlanta Falcons (4-2) will travel to the Louisiana Superdome for an NFC South Monday Football showdown.
Favre-a-palooza is not the only interesting storyline going into Week 8, so here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers for this week.
Former high draft picks returning to starting quarterback roles
Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young (playing against Jaguars) and San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith (playing against Colts) will look to not only reinvigorate their teams, but also their own once-promising careers in their first starts in a while. Young (18-11 as a starter) got his job back this week as Titans owner Bud Adams lobbied with hesitant head coach Jeff Fisher for him to start after the Titans remained winless under veteran Kerry Collins (5 TDs and 8 INTs in ’09). Smith, formerly the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, has been re-inserted back in the starting lineup by Iron Mike II after he threw 3 TDs in relieving former starter Shaun Hill in the second half of a close 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans last week. The former Utah star will have his work cut-out for him as the Colts boast one of the NFL’s best pass defenses.
Rematches from last year’s NFC Divisional Playoffs
I wonder if the Carolina Panthers remember the way the upstart Arizona Cardinals rolled into Bank America Stadium and easily disposed of their hosts by a score of 33-13. You know Panthers QB Jake Delhomme — probably on the NFL’s shortest leash right now due to throwing an NFL-high 13 INTs — will be trying to erase his 6 turnover performance in the playoffs that many are calling a career-ender. The Cardinals (4-2) fueled by a 3-game winning and a surprisingly strong defense — seven interceptions, have forced eight fumbles and have 16 sacks already this year — will look to push the Panthers (2-4) almost out the door of the playoff picture. Also looking to exact revenge are the New York Giants (5-2), who will visit the Philadelphia Eagles (4-2) in a key NFC East divisional matchup. The big game on Philly Sports Sunday (World Series at 8 PM) will also be a return battle of two teams from last year’s playoffs (Eagles 23, Giants 11).
Don’t forget about the Toilet Bowl
Every week we talk about the NFL’s best match-up. But this week I wanted to give some “love” to possibly the NFL’s worst pairing since the Cleveland Browns’ 6-3 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 5. The St. Louis Rams (0-7) will travel to Motown to face the Detroit Lions (1-5) in a match-up of two teams that have 1 game between them this season. The game will be a battle pitting the only team to ever go 0-16 in NFL history (Lions in ’08) against a team that is threatening to equal that mark. Collectively these two lower level teams have won just five wins in their past 39 games. The poor Rams have lost 17 straight games going back to 2007 and each week not even Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson (635 rushing yards – 2nd in NFC) can save them from defeat. The Rams hold a lead in the all-time series record (41-37-1), but the Lions have won 4 of their last 6 meetings. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your outlook, the ‘Toilet Bowl’ did not sell out by Thursday’s deadline and will be blacked-out on local TV. At least fans can bring signs to the game unlike at FedEx Field where the dysfunctional Washington Redskins play.
NFL is a Passing League First
Whatever to the power running game throughout the NFL?? Hard to believe that in 1967, New York Jets QB Joe Namath (4,007 yards) became the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. Well Namath’s feat did not go in vain as seven passers reached the 4,000-yard mark in 2007, which is the most in any NFL season. However the record for most 4,000-yard passers in a season has a good chance of being broken as through seven weeks, 10 quarterbacks led by yardage leader Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub (2,074 yards) are on pace to throw for 4,000 yards.
Six Divisional Games
Even though there are six teams on a bye this week including quality teams the Bengals (5-2), Patriots (5-2), and Steelers (5-2), don’t fret as there are still some good divisional rivalry games to sink your teeth into. Nothing means more to teams and fans than beating familiar foes that they will face twice a year. Division games usually are the most compelling and heated. This week’s games include the following division rivalry match-ups: Dolphins (2-4) at Jets (4-3); Giants (5-2) at Eagles (4-2) ; Jaguars (3-3) at Titans (0-6); Raiders (2-5) at Chargers (3-3); Vikings (6-1) at Packers (4-2) and Falcons (4-2) at Saints (6-0) on MNF.
McNabb reaching some serious milestones
With almost every Philadelphia Eagles passing record already on his mantle, we already knew that current Eagles starting quarterback Donovan McNabb was the greatest quarterback to ever play for the Birds – Sorry Jaws. But now McNabb after achieving some major milestones in the Eagles’ 27-17 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, some are debating over whether he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his career is completed. McNabb became one of just four players in NFL history to have at least 30,000 passing yards (30,088), 200 touchdowns passes, 3,000 rushing yards (3,169) and 20 rushing touchdowns (27). With those stats, McNabb joined an exclusive club of quarterbacks with those milestones including NFL legends and Pro Football Hall of Famers John Elway, Fran Tarkenton, and Steve Young.
Ochocinco’s Top 10
One of the funnier moments of this week was the appearance of Bengals talkative receiver on the “David Letterman Show”. No. 85 used his bye week to promote his new book including reading his “Top Ten Revelations in Chad Ochocinco’s Autobiography” on the popular late night show. It was hilarious to watch live , but it is almost as good in print. So without further adieu here is the list
Number 10: This book is all about my life as a hockey mom from Alaska.
Number 9: I was once put on the disabled list when they found an ocho in my cinco.
Number 8: During the season my QB Carson Palmer and I sleep in bunk beds.
Number 7: I’m going to ask Tom Hanks to play me in the movie.
Number 6: There’s nothing like winding down after a big game with a Red Bull and a DVR of “Tyra.”
Number 5: I like tacos.
Number 4: Brett Favre is so old, his Social Security Number is 1.
Number 3: Terrell Owens doesn’t like it when you criticize his teammate.
Number 2: I’m planning a special touchdown celebration that involves pulling a dancing raccoon out of my pants.
Number 1: I thank the Lord every day that I don’t play for the Lions.
Remember there is no Sunday Night Football game on NBC this week as everyone will have their eyes on my Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series against the New York Yankees.
Also make sure that you cast your Pro Bowl ballot for your favorite players.
GIANTS (5-2) AT EAGLES (4-2), 1 PM EST on FOX
Broadcast Team: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa (Field reporter)
Though some national media outlets will tell you that Green Bay, Wisconsin will be the place to be on Sunday for Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau. Most sports fans will agree with legendary actor W.C Fields who used to always say, “I’d rather be in Philadelphia”. The reason for sports fans flocking to South Philadelphia will be for a sports extravaganza featuring the Philadelphia vs. New York City. With pleasant expected conditions of only a 30% chance of precipitation and temperatures in the 60s, Philadelphia fans maybe looking at one of the best sports days in the city’s history. The Philadelphia Eagles will take on the New York Giants in an NFC East grudge match at 1:00 PM EST at Lincoln Financial Field then sports fans can return to their tailgates to recharge for World Series Game 4 featuring the New York Yankees vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Eagles-Giants games are almost always close physical games and I don’t expect Sunday to be any different. This week’s meeting will be the first time these two teams have played each other since the Eagles surprised the home team Giants in the divisional round of the 2009 playoffs by a score of 23-11. The game also will take on significance as the Eagles are only one-half a game behind the Giants in the current standings and a win will vault them back to the top of the NFC East. In recent weeks both teams have had to fight through some hard times, but you know Sunday that they will be bringing their “A” effort. The G-Men have lost two straight games (Saints and Cardinal) after fattening up on a string of early season cupcakes. And the Eagles also are looking for consistency as they have looked like a potential playoff team in wins over the Panthers, Chiefs, and Buccaneers. But in a win over the Washington Redskins last week and a horrific loss to the putrid Oakland Raiders in Week 6, the Birds’ lackluster play made everyone watch even more Phillies baseball.
In breaking down the game, the Philadelphia Eagles offensively will follow the lead of their head coach Andy Reid (over 100 career regular season wins). The Giants are known to play the run well (Top 5 in the NFL), so to the surprise of no one expect the Eagles’ pass-first offense (rank 7th in the NFL in throws per game) to continue. The Birds probably will be without RB Brian Westbrook (concussion), so look for rookie RB LeSean McCoy to get several touches on screens and for them to go after a Giants defense that has struggled in pass coverage. Especially safety C.C Brown, who has had difficulty in coverage since safety Kenny Phillips went on injured reserve (knee) and cornerback Aaron Ross has been missing with a lingering hamstring injury. It will be very important that Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (63-110, 768 yards, 6 TDs, and 1 INT) starts faster than he did in recent erratic performances against the Raiders and Redskins.
The Giants are susceptible to three and four-receiver formations as they are known to sit back in coverage, so expect to see a lot of receivers DeSean Jackson, rookie Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant. Without Westbrook, the Eagles surely will look to get the ball in the hands of their main playmaker Jackson, who has 5 touchdowns this season (3 receiving, 1 punt return, and 1 rushing) all 50+ yards. Plus tight end Brent Celek, who leads NFC TEs with 386 receiving yards. Of course any big plays from McNabb, Celek, Jackson and the rest of the Birds’ offense will start with solid offensive line play. I believe the O-line is one of the biggest keys of this game as the Giants defensive line is fast and relentless and loves getting after the passer. With a rotation that features Pro Bowl players Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck (3.5 sacks in ’09) along with many other fresh players including DE Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants thrive on pressuring the quarterback. However even though new Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan’s unit is ranked #1 in the NFL in terms of yardage (262.0), in recent weeks when his D-line has not gotten pressure, opposing quarterbacks had big games. Saints QB Drew Brees threw for 369 yards and 4 TDs in a dominating 48-27 win and he was not sacked once in that game.
On defense, Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be concentrating on getting pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning (120-203, 1633 yards, 12 TDs, and 6 INTs), because as Eli goes so go the Giants. The last time these two teams met in the divisional round of the 2009 playoffs, Manning was inconsistent, completing 15 of 29 passes — and only six to the outside receivers — while the Giants had the ball five times inside the Eagles’ 20, and came away with just three field goals to show for it. Manning is getting a very good relationship with Plaxico Burress replacement receivers Steve Smith (NFC leading 45 receptions for 594 yards and 4 TDs), Mario Manningham (watch for drops), and rookie Hakeem Nicks (1st Giants receiver with a touchdown reception in four consecutive games since 1948). Even though the Eagles’ top-ten pass defense rarely gives up big plays – 4th in the NFL in allowing gains of 20+ yards through the air — it will be imperative that the Eagles pressure Manning. So the Eagles will look to DE Trent “The Hunter” Cole (6.5 sacks, 2nd in the NFC) and newcomer MLB Will Witherspoon (8 TKLs, 1 INT for a TD, 1 sack and 1 FF in win over Redskins) to supply most of the heat on Peyton’s little brother. The Eagles are currently ranked first in the NFL in turnover ratio (+11) so any pressure usually leads to big defensive plays especially in the secondary led by Pro Bowl cover corner Asante Samuel (4 INTs, tied for 3rd in NFL).
To take that pressure off Eli, who surprisingly has had success against the Eagles in Philly (has won 4 starts in row), the Giants will look to re-establish a dominating run game that has recently taken a couple of weeks off. The Giants have a new Thunder-n-Lighting combination their backfield with workhorse Brandon Jacobs (120 rushes for 464 yards, and 3.9-2 ypr plus has an average of 5.45 ypr since Week 5) and Ahmad Bradshaw. It will be interesting to see if Bradshaw is even close to 100% after a cracked metatarsal in his foot was found this week. Despite the injury, Bradshaw says he will play against the Birds so you know all eyes will be on him and the Giants veteran O-line. Speaking of the Giants offensive line, against the Cardinals this group’s 38-game consecutive start streak was ended as OT Kareem McKenzie (groin) had to be replaced by rookie William Beatty who struggled at times blocking one-on-one and penalties.
LV’s Pick: Though the Giants lead the all-time series against the Eagles by a count of 79-67-2 and the G-Men have won three of the four last regular season meetings, there is something special in the air around Philadelphia this week. There is nothing better to a Philadelphia Sports fan than “sticking it” to an NYC team, whether it is the Mets, Knicks, or Rangers. I expect the home crowd to be amp’d from pre-game introductions on and McNabb (won 9 of past 13 starts vs. NYG (incl. playoffs) is going to rise to the occasion of playing in the national spotlight for the second week in a row. It will be a typically close NFC East slugfest, but the Birds win – Eagles 20, Giants 17.
2009 NFL Week 8 Games
49ers (3-3) at Colts (6-0)
Broncos (6-0) at Ravens (3-3)
Browns (1-6) at Bears (3-3)
Dolphins (2-4) at Jets (4-3)
Giants (5-2) at Eagles (4-2)
Jaguars (3-3) at Titans (0-6)
Panthers (2-4) at Cardinals (4-2)
Raiders (2-5) at Chargers (3-3)
Rams (0-7) at Lions (1-5)
Seahawks (2-4) at Cowboys (4-2)
Texans (4-3) at Bills (3-4)
Vikings (6-1) at Packers (4-2)
Falcons (4-2) at Saints (6-0)
Byes: Bengals (5-2), Buccaneers (0-7), Chiefs (1-6), Patriots (5-2), Redskins (2-5), Steelers (5-2)