Friday, October 31, 2014

Brady vs. Manning: The Rivalry - Ranking the Games, Pt. 2

Tier IV - The Great Games
5.) 2003 Week 13 - Patriots 38  @  Colts 34

Review: Now we get to the true classics. These were easily the 5-best games in this rivalry, and it starts with a special game. This was the first real game of the rivalry. After not playing in 2002, they met in 2003 both teams at 9-2. The Patriots jumped out to an early lead of 17-0, but the Colts clawed back to 17-10 near halftime. Then, in what would soon become a recurring trend in these games, the Colts kick-coverage allowed a Bethel Johnson TD before half. The Patriots extended their lead to 31-10. Manning threw a pick on the next drive, and then it began. For some reason, Belichick decided that letting Brady throw was the best way to ice the game. First came one pick, that the Colts cashed in with a TD. Then another pick by Brady, which the Colts turned into another TD. That happened in 5 minutes. The Patriots then went three and out, and the Colts got another TD to tie it. Special teams failed again with another big return and TD for New England. Brady was strip-sacked inside the 20, which the Colts turned into a field goal, and then threw two incomplete passes. The Colts got the ball back, needing a TD to win, and drove effortlessly down to the 2. Then was the worst series in Peyton Manning’s career to date. Two Edge James runs got nothing. A fade went incomplete, and then on 4th down Edge James was stuffed behind the line by Willie McGinest. The game ended, and it was the first classic played between these two QBs. Even in loss, Manning far outplayed Brady, who’s awful 2nd half performance was the only reason the Patriots came close to losing.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: On that final drive by the Colts, twice the Patriots faked injuries to stop the Colts no-huddle. I say faked because those players returned rather quickly into the game, and because the Patriots effectively admitted it later. The worst was Willie McGinest, who needed help to get off the field on the play that gave the Colts a 1st and Goal, but was healthy enough minutes later to tackle James on 4th down and sprint down the field in celebration.

4.) 2013 Week 12 - Broncos 31  @  Patriots 34 (OT)

Review: I think everyone knows this game. It was the game that reversed every trend that has ever happened in the series previously. If the series was known for anything to date, it was the Brady led team screaming out of the gate to a big lead, before Manning clawing his team back in it. This time it was the reverse, with Denver rolling to a 24-0 lead at halftime before a furious rally by the Patriots. Earlier games featured the Patriots running well, turning the Colts over, and maybe scoring a defensive TD. This game had the Broncos run effortlessly for nearly 300 yards (228 for Moreno), and turn the Patriots over on each of their first three possessions, including a fumble return TD by Von Miller. This game was set-up to be the ultimate wildcard. But on cue, Brady brought his team back. It was aided by a terrible fumble by Hillman (essentially the last time he would touch the ball all YEAR) and a bad pick by Manning, but the Patriots scored 31 straight points to take a 7-point lead. Of course, that is where the game gets interesting. Despite being held back by hard winds limiting his passing game and a running game that got yards at will, Manning led a nice TD drive to tie the game. It was the one time all game he had to throw, and he did effectively and the Broncos tied it at 31. Of course, then after a ridiculous string of possessions in a game that featured just 7 punts on the proceeding 22 drives, the two teams punted five straight times through most of OT. Both defenses bunkered down nicely, finally. The game ended when the Broncos muffed a punt that Wes Welker was set up to return. The Patriots recovered in field goal territory, hit a field goal with a minute left in OT, and walked away with a dramatic, amazing win.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: People criticize Manning’s performance in this game. Yes, he didn’t play all that well, easily his worst game in the 2013 regular season. But When down 31-24, he led a 10-play drive for a TD to tie the game. After the game was tied, the Broncos gained 78 more yards, the Patriots 60. It was an extremely even game, ended by a muffed punt.

Interesting/Memorable Fact 2: This is the first time since the first matchup they ever played that the team with the worse record heading into the game won. It is a crazy stat, but heading into all but this game, the team who won either had a better record, or a tied record.

3.) 2007 Week 9 - Patriots 24  @  Colts 20

Review: There was never a regular-season game that was more hyped than this one. It was deemed Super Bowl 41.5, a catchy moniker for a game featuring two teams that seemed so much better than everyone else. Even considering that, the Patriots were viewed as so much better than Indy, being 7-point favorites. No one had slowed down New England to date. The Colts did. The Colts played cover-2 better than they ever have, holding Brady to short games, pressuring him, picking him off twice. They did what was thought impossible to the Patriots offense. The Patriots defense, an underrated unit on that 2007 team, held the Colts offense down as well. What was key really was holding the Colts to two field goals early inside the 10-yard line. The Colts far outplayed the Patriots early, but found themselves trailing near halftime 7-6. Then came the first amazing play. A simple dump-off to Joe Addai with halftime imminent became a long TD on a weaving catch-and-run by Joe. The Patriots added a field goal, but then Brady thew a pick on an amazing play by Gary Brackett, which led to a Colts TD on a Manning sneak. The Colts found themselves up 20-10, and then it all went to hell. Manning’s o-line started playing disastrously, including emergency LT Charlie Johnson getting abused by various Patriots. Brady hit a few deep balls after finding nothing short, and brought the Patriots back. The Pats took a 24-20 lead, and the Colts drove near midfield until Jonson was again beat badly for a strip-sack. The Patriots got their 1st down to ice it, but the game was more notable for how competitive it was. The Patriots were so untouchable over the first 8 weeks of the season, it seemed unreal that the Colts had them down 20-10. Due to the Patriots not ending up undefeated, and having a more notable near loss in the regular season to Baltimore, this game gets forgotten, but given that more people watched it than any regular season game ever, it shouldn’t be forgotten.

Interesting/Memorable Play: With the Colts leading 13-10 near the end of the 3rd quarter, Reggie Wayne dropped a perfect pass from Peyton Manning that likely is a TD. The Colts did take a 20-10 lead later, but it was a huge play in the course of the game.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: The Patriots were so dominant heading into this game, that they were 6-point favorites in Indianapolis, despite the Colts being themselves undefeated, and having won their last two games, on the road, by a combined 60-14.

Tier V - The Epic

2.) 2009 Week 10 - Patriots 34  @  Colts 35

Review: 4th and 2. Not much more to say about this game. Instead of actually recapping it, I’ll just re-post what I wrote about the game at the time:


However, this is not all about Bill Belichick's decision. Not at all. This is more about the Colts getting outplayed for three quarters, looking like paper tigers, and then DOMINATING the Pats in the fouth quarter.

That said, I feel compelled to start with the 4th and 2 decision. It was an extremely risky decision, but one that was mathematically defendable. This was their scenario: punt and let the Colts drive 70 yards in two minutes and win the game, or go for it and either win the game or give it back to Manning at the 29 with two minutes to go. Now, the chances of the Pats winning (either making the two yards or stopping the Colts) are basically the same either way in a vaccuum, taking away the account of who they were playing and game scenario. The math states that converting a 4th and 2 is done roughly 63% of the time. Adding that to the chances of the Pats stopping the Colts if they do not convert the fourth down, which is roughly 40%, gives the chances of the Pats winning by going for it at a clean 77%. The Chances that the Colts drive 70 yards for the touchdown are roughly 30%, so the Pats have a better chance of winning going for it. That said, that does not adjust for the fact that the opposing QB is Peyton Manning, or that the Colts defense was winning nearly every important play in the fourth quarter. Anyway, it is a debatable call, but definitely not a brilliant move or a idiotic one. It was a risky one, and one that would have either coronated Belichick as the ballsiest coach of all time or the loser in the greatest football-related version of Russian Roullette.

Now, let's get to the actual game. Leaving the game, the general public's perception was "Pats Dominated", "Colts were lucky", "Belichick cost his team the game." This is complete bullshit. Complete. The Pats dominated a one and a half quarter portion of this game starting from the middle of the first through the end of the half. Their drives in this portion netted them touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown and Indy's drive netted them Punt, Punt, Punt, touchdown (I'll throw in that touchdown just to make the amount of drives even). The Pats got 273 yards and the Colts got 91. Now, that is Florida vs Alaska A&M type domination but was just one and a half quarter. Here was the end of the third through the end of the game: Pats: touchdown (after the long Welker punt return), punt, field goal, downs. Here is Indy's drives in the same part of that game: touchdown, interception, touchdown, touchdown. In that part of the game the Pats got 54 yards and the Colts got 153. Pretty much equal domination. People always seem to overrate the team that jumps out to a big lead and underrate the team that made the comeback. Just becuase the Pats outscored the Colts in one stretch 24-7, does not mean the Colts cannot outscore them similarily. The Pats did not outplay the Colts for the entire game. Also, the Colts were not lucky. They probably score on that drive even if the Pats punted it to them. Finally, Belichick's decision was not the reason the Colts won, it was the reason the Pats did not win easily. Also, many of the big plays by the Pats early were schematic problems by the Colts, as they played a deep zone against Moss, instead of manning him up with safety shadow help like they did in 2007 when they held those Pats to 24. They can correct those problems. We all know that the arrogant Pats would not simply play ball-control, clock-draining offense and still try to pour on, and they were held to 10 points in the second half, when the Colts made the defensive adjustments.

The game was a total domination in the fourth quarter by the Colts and a total breakdown by the Patriots. The Patriots were simply outplayed for the entirety of the fourth quarter. The Patriots managed two first downs in the fourth quarter, and the Colts scored three touchdowns, spanning 153 yards in a total of five minutes and forty seconds. Contrary to popular belief, the Pats were not playing prevent for either of the first two touchdown drives. Manning made adjustments to what Belichick was doing, which was essentially doubling Clark and Wayne and forcing Garcon and Collie to beat them, and then Belichick had no answers. The only negative play was the interception which was a result of lack of communication. As for the Pats offense, what people failed to remember due to Belichick's boner, was their inability to gain yards when it mattered. Four times Brady threw on third or fourth down in that quarter, and he was 0-4. The Pats ran the ball six times for three (yes, THREE!!!) yards in the fourth quarter. The Colts defense dominated them. The Pats are one of the better teams at playing smart, clock-draining football in the fourth quarter (remember the 07 Title game against San Diego when they ran out the last 9 minutes of the game), but were simply awful. Even when the Colts handed them a short field, they went 5 and out, and kicked a field goal. It was awful. The Colts dominated when it mattered, in the fourth quarter. The reason the Colts were totally outplayed early on was schematic, and of course the Pats playing exceptional defensively and Moss playing like Moss. The reason the Colts dominated was great adjustments by the offense (again), and the defense changing schemes and dominating an awful Pats running game and suddenly plodding passing game. The Pats blew it, the Colts earned it. The Colts dominated them in the fourth quarter, and as anybody will tell you, that is the quarter that matters in a close game.

Now, this is where I will start to wax poetic about the rivalry at this point.

It is absolutely stunning how the dynamic of this rivalry has completely changed in the past four years. From 2001-2004, and mostly in 2003-2004, the Pats were the team that had the no-name defense, with street defensive backs like Randall Gay and a young Asante Samuel, and Jarvis Green, and the quadro of stout, smart linebackers. The Colts were the flashy team with high-powered offense and a defense that was fine against the Dolphins or the Titans but could not hold up against the big boys. The games, at least the regular season games in 2003-2004, played out to a diametric opposite of Sunday Night's. In both meetings the Colts "outplayed" the Pats, coming one yard away from winning the 2003 game, before Willie McGinest stoning Edgerrin James on the one yard line (if anything personified those Pats teams, and how the physically and mentally intimidated the Colts, it was that McGinest tackle and the play in the 2004 Divisional when Tedy Bruschi literally ripped the ball out of the hands of Dominic Rhodes). Then, a year later in the 2004 game, the Pats were outplayed, except Manning threw an interception in the red zone and James fumbled at the 2 yard line (much like Maroney did), and missed a 48 yard field goal to send it into overtime. Now, all the Colts fans, including myself, thought "they got lucky, the Colts were two plays away, they will win come playoff time." Then, come playoff time, it did not happen. Belichick's defense was in Manning's head. Our defense was helpless against Brady. Each time we played, regardless of how the stats played out, how the game played out, when we looked at the scoreboard, the Colts had fewer points than the Patriots. It was a matter of life, we could roll against the Bengals, and the Bears, but when we needed to man-up and fight, the Colts wanted to fence, the Pats wanted to box.

It is crazy how it has changed. The Pats are now the high-flying team, with the insanely good receivers and the QB with all the stats. They are now the team whose defense could shut down the Titans and the Bucs, but are just average against good offensive teams. The Colts are a team missing many offensive and defensive starters, but have Manning. They play next-man-up to a Patriot level on defense. They are now the smarter, more focused, more tough football team. The Colts are the team now who execute in crunch time. Save for the 2007 game, where the Pats came back valiantly from 10 down in the fourth quarter, which can be contrasted with the 2003 game when the Colts nearly came back from a 21 defecit in the last 20 minutes as the exception to the norm, the Colts have dominated since 2005. For all the "Manning can't beat the Pats" stories that circulated the media-world much like swine-flu is supposed to infiltrate the human-world, there should be similar "Brady can't beat the Colts" headlines now. It was not Manning, but the Colts that could not mentally play smart in late, close games, and now it is the Pats, not Brady. Much like Belichick was clearly in Manning's head in 2003 and 2004, Manning is now in Belichick's head. Belichick can say what he wants, but if the team they were playing was 30 other teams, he punts on 4th and 2. It might be respect, it might be abject fear, but it is really both. Manning has owned Belichick in late game situations, save for that 2007 game. Remember, Manning came within one yard of leading the Colts back from a 31-10 deficit with 20 minutes left in 2003, and then overcame a 21-3 deficit in the 2006 Title Game. Now, he has done the trifecta, coming back from a 34-17 4th quarter deficit. Belichick now knows that games are NEVER over against Peyton. Never. He supposedly preached "60 Minutes" till the cocks crowed after the 2006 meltdown, but it is stunning that it happened again, and although the stakes were certainly greater than, the order of diffuculty of the comeback was more this time. These teams may very well meet again in the playoffs, but I am sure that Manning and the Colts have the mental edge.

In 2003 and 2004, we entered those playoff games with an offensive arrogance, "we cannot be stopped... pffft Patriots defense". We entered those games with the knowledge that we were centimeters away from winning the earlier game. We were slaughtered like lambs in those playoff games (although it must be said that the 2003 Title game was amazing, since even though there was really shoddy officiating, and we handed the Pats 5 turnovers and a safety, Manning had the ball with the opportunity to tie the game in the fourth quarter). This is now the opposite. Pats fans can console themselves in their perceived domination, the can console themselves that they nearly beat the Colts, that they should have, would have. They can enter their game off thier 31-20 beating of Cincy or whatever it may be. They will not win. We have the mental edge. The players know it. If the Pats would win a game against the Colts, it would have been this one, with Gonzalez and Hayden out, with Garcon playing one of his worst games, with Manning throwing two picks of uncharacteristic natures, and with the defense playing a scheme so irrational that it deservedly lended us to spotting them a 24-7 advantage. Yet, at the end of the day, the same team was ahead. The same team pulled out the game. The same team won every critical fourth down battle, stopped the high-powered Pats offense when it mattered late, and took advantage of mistakes and stuck a stake in the Pats home-field advantage aspirations. I could have written those last five sentences and switched "Pats" with "Colts" and I could have been describing a 2003 game, when there was, as we know now, a mental edge that the Pats just had. It has all changed, and it is so sweet. Now, the Pats want to fence, and we want to box.

Tier VI - The Game that Defined a Decade 

1.) 2006 AFC Championship – (A4) Patriots 34 @ (A3) Colts 38

Review: This might just go down as the most famous non-Super Bowl in the modern NFL. It was the game that best personified the Manning/Brady rivalry, as it was the first time both really played well in the same game, and that combined with a little comeback, some crazy scores and a great finish equated two the best Championship Game maybe ever. It all started out so normal for Colts fans, as the Patriots looked like the Patriots from their dynasty days, and the Colts looked like little sheep. After trading punts, the Patriots sandwiched a Colts field goal with two TDs that both featured 4th down conversions during the drive. Then, already up 14-3 midway through the 2nd, Asante Samuel picked off Manning and raced back for what looked to be a game-stopper. The Patriots compounded this dominance by sacking Manning twice on the next drive (although they nearly allowed a 97-yard TD to Marvin Harrison), and driving on their next possession inside the 20, until a little offensive-pass interference pushed that drive back. The Patriots had to punt, and the Colts put together their first real fluid drive of the game right before the half. They had to settle for a field goal, but the game was back to normal pace, and, as many Patriots would later attest, Manning had figured it out. 32 points in the 2nd Half later, that much was obvious. The Colts first scored TDs on back-to-back possessions to start the 3rd quarter, erasing the 15 point deficit in 11 minutes. The Patriots answered with a crazy scrambling TD toss after a long kick-off return by Hobbs. The Colts answered that with a TD drive that included a beautiful sideline post route to Dallas Clark. That score happened early in the 4th Quarter, which would prove to be among the most dramatic quarters in NFL history. First, the teams traded punts and then they traded field goals. The Patriots were aided by good special teams returns, but also didn't get what looked like a pass interference call which forced them to kick a field goal to make it 34-31. Then, looking at 80 yards to potentially change his whole career, with just 3:43 on teh clock, Manning threw three straight incompletions. It was Manning fulfilling so many's worst impressions, as he "failed in the clutch." Luckily for Manning, Brady and the Pats, for what would be the first time late in a close playoff game, choked harder. Needing just one first down to essentially wrap up the game, the Pats were first called for a 12-man in the huddle penalty (something completely forgotten about the game), then after two quick completions, the Pats had a 3rd and 4. Four yards away from another win against the Colts. Four yards away from beating the Colts in their own building, and a date with an eminently beatable Chicago team. The Pats went for the kill, as they spread the field and tried to hit Troy Brown on a route that he's run hundreds of times, but Sanders read it and nearly picked off Brady. Manning got one more chance to perform big in the clutch, and that he did. Against a furious pass rush, Manning completed a quick 11-yarder to Wayne, a deep post for 32 to Fletcher off his back foot and a 21-yarder to Wayne. Then, with 1st and 10 at the 11, the Colts did the most un-Colts-like thing: run three straight times, pounding it down the "physical" Pats. Addai scored on 3rd and 3, finally giving the Colts the lead. The Patriots would go as far as midfield on the next drive, but Brady finally threw a pick at a 'clutch' moment, as Marlin Jackson caught it and slid to the ground, hugging the ball. The RCA Dome exploded like never before, and the rivalry, and league in general (I'll get to this) was never the same.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: 
Three lineman scored touchdowns in this game. One was the Colts pulling a Belichick on the Pats, with Manning tossing a 1-yard pass to Dan Klecko, but the other two made for an eery coincidence, as both Logan Mankins and Jeff Saturday recovered fumbles by their running back in the end zone for touchdowns.

Interesting/Memorable Player:
 Reche Caldwell had a notoriously awful game. He had just two catches, and two infamous drops. One was a wide-open drop in the end zone. The other was more infamous, as the play started with teh Colts having only 10 guys on defense, and leaving Caldwell wide open. Caldwell furiously waved his arms trying to get Brady's attention, but never could. By the time the ball was snapped the Colts were racing over the Caldwell, but he dropped a simple catch. Of course, nothing is more memorable from Caldwell than his deer eyes.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the largest comeback ever in a conference championship game, with the Colts coming down from 21-3. The Colts also set a record for most points in the 2nd Half of a Title Game, with 32. From the 2:00 Warning of the 1st to the end of the game, the Colts outscored the Pats 35-13, and outgained them 289-115.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: I'll write more about this later, but this game was arguably the game that started the NFL's paradigm shift to offense-first teams. The previous six teams to win teh Super Bowl before 2006 (Ravens, Pats, Bucs, Steelers) were all defense first teams that allowed under 300 points. Including the '06 Colts, the last six (Colts, Giants twice, Steelers, Saints, Packers) have been more mixed, with four allowing more than 300 points, including the three of the four highest totals for  Super Bowl winning teams. The game also signalled the end of the defense-first Patriots that won Super Bowls. Fuming over the offenses inability to put up more points in teh 2nd half, the Pats went out and traded for Stallworth, Welker and Moss and turned into an offensive juggernaut. The modern pass-happy NFL started that night, and all because Brady couldn't complete a simple 4-yard pass to Troy Brown.

Brady vs. Manning: The Rivalry - Ranking the Games, Pt. 1

Tier 1 – The Unmemorable Games

15.) 2001 Week 6 - Patriots 38  @  Colts 17

Review: Who knows anything about this game, really. While it was slightly closer than the other game in 2001, it didn't have a special quality that one did. This was the last game these two teams played as divisional rivals, but it marked the beginning of some interesting trends that have defined most of the series. The Patriots jumped out to a 28-6 lead behind a composed performance from Brady, and fumbles by people not named Peyton Manning. Manning himself had a decent game, but they fell behind too much too early to do anything with this game.

Interestimg/Memorable Play: David Patten threw a TD in this game. He also ran for a TD. And of course he caught a TD. Yes, these things always seemed to happen against the Colts.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Two of the first three drives by the Colts ended with blocked field goals. Another running trend in this matchup, just awful special teams performances by the Manning led teams.

14.) 2012 Week 5 - Broncos 21  @  Patriots 31

Review: In the first game of rivalry after Manning's move to Denver, the Patriots still did to Manning's team what they always did. They capitalized on non-Manning turnovers, and opened up a giant lead. The worst agressor was Demaryius Thomas, who fumbled down the field after a catch-and-run that put the Broncos inside the Patriots 20. The next worse was Willis McGahee dropping a 4th down pass near midfield, and then a McGahee fumble inside the red zone near the end of the game. The Broncos did mount somewhat of a comeback, but you can't recover from too many 31-7 deficits on the road.

Interesting/Memorable Play: With the Patriots leading just 17-7, they faced a 3rd and 17 in punt territory. The Patriots called an inside hand-off to Woodhead, which gained a perfect 19 yards. Yup, those things happen.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the first time since the 2001 we just finished that Peyton Manning did not throw an interception in this matchup.

13.) 2005 Week 9 - Colts 40  @  Patriots 21

Review: Our first win by the Manning side was also the most forgettable win for the Manning side. Nothing was really all that great about this game, other than teh Colts continuing their initial run at perfection. Manning was mostly brilliant against a banged-up Patriots defense. This game was the only real case of the Manning side jumping out early when he was on the Colts. They ran up a 28-7 lead built mostly off the offense humming at all cylinders. The Colts scored on 7 of their 9 drives, including a nice little eff-you TD right at the end with Manning hitting a deep ball to Marvin Harrison. If you could draw up a Colts blowout, you would have Manning throw for 300 yards, Edge rush for 100 yards, and both Harrison and Wayne get 120+ yards on 9 catches each.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the one time where it was Brady who was felled by his team despite a great game. He had his receiver fumble, Vinatieri miss a field goal, and was so far out of the game despite not throwing an incompletion in the first half.

Interesting/Memorable Fact 2: As this was the last year of MNF being on ABC, this was the only Monday Night game these two would play.

12.) 2001 Week 3 - Colts 13  @  Patriots 44

Review: This was the most lop-sided of the games between the two teams, so why is it so high up? Because this was the first start of Tom Brady’s career. And like in so many games early on in Brady’s career, the Patriots defense forced tons of turnovers, Brady got the benefit of an excellent running game (39 rushes for 177 yards), and Brady himself didn’t have to do much (13-23 for 168 yards). Manning was not good in the game, but this was at the height of the talent suck that was the Jim Mora Colts. The Patriots had no idea what they had in Brady in this game, or this season.

Interesting/Memorable Play: So, what was the first real play of the rivalry? A sack of Tom Brady by Brad Scioli for a 9-yard loss. The first series was a three-and-out. Actually both QBs started the game with three-and-outs.

Tier II – The Games that Should Have been Better

11.) 2004 AFC Divisional - Colts 3  @  Patriots 20

Review: In a game that made me reevaluate my belief that there was such thing as an unstoppable offense, the Patriots beat the Colts in a playoff game in a more “eff-you” way than the previous year. In the opposite of the previous season, Manning was one of the few Colts who played well, going 27-42 for 238 yards. What really turned the game was two dominating drives that went 86 and 92 yards by the Patriots to turn a 6-3 game in the 3rd quarter to a 20-3 blowout. The key was a run game that went for 210 yards. The Patriots held the ball for 40 minutes and blanketed the Colts, limiting them to short gain after short gain when they didn’t have the ball. In reality, the best way to describe the game was the play where Tedy Bruschi just ripped the ball out of Dominic Rhodes’ hands. It was, arguably, the greatest day in the Patriots dynasty.

Interesting/Memorable Play 1: The turning point of the game may have been on the Colts first drive of the 2nd half. Trailing just 6-3 at that point, the Colts had a 4th and 1 on the Patriots 48, and Tony Dungy, still in his conservative phase, punted. The Patriots then immediately began their two brutal clock-killing TD drives.

Interesting/Memorable Moment: After the game, Tedy Bruschi let out what was the Patriots’ version of Bart Scott’s “Can’t Wait!” speech, telling the world, “If you want to change the rules, change them” and “that’s what we do, we win.” I still admire those Patriots because they weren’t robots. They talked quite a bit of smack.

10.) 2010 Week 11 - Colts 28  @  Patriots 31
Review: Every game from here on out was memorable for one reason or the other (including four absolute classic games at the top of the list). This was a very interesting facsimile of the game the year earlier (and much more memorable). Once again, the Patriots jumped out to a huge lead. The Patriots led 14-0, 21-7 and then 31-14. Brady was great in having to do nothing. The Colts defense was atrocious, and Manning was throwing to Jacob Tamme and Blair White (after Collie’s 2nd concussion). The Colts then staged a furious rally based on Manning throwing two TDs to that same man Blair White. The Colts forced another punt, and then Manning was driving. One year after having a controversy-enabled comeback from 31-14 down, the Colts nearly did the exact same thing, this time on the road, with no 4th and 2. It all ended abruptly, though, when the Colts, in field goal territory, turned it over when Manning’s arm was hit when throwing and James Sanders picked it off.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: This was the last game in the Colts/Patriots chapter of the rivalry. The last pass of that era was Manning getting picked. The last play by Brady was Brady throwing a terrible pass right to Colts linebacker Tyjuan Hagler’s face, but he couldn’t corral it. Nothing defined this part of the rivalry more than James Sanders making a great play to pick off Manning, and Hagler dropping a gimme pick on Brady.

Interesting/Memorable Play: This might be me reading too much into something, but I have never seen Bill Belichick so happy to win a regular season game. He was more ecstatic than ever. Had to be because he knew he dodged another ridiculous Manning comeback.

9.) 2013 AFC Championship Game - Patriots 16  @  Broncos 26

Review: Oh, how I would love to be a major homer and put this in the 'Good Games' category. Alas, I want to be kind of objective, so it sits here. I quite famously did not watch this game live, but have watched every play of it a few times since and you can basically boil down this game to two things. First, The Patriots had three points through three quarters against a defense that was missing five opening day starters (Miller, Vickerson, Woodyard, Moore, Harris), and that the Broncos offense averaged 60 yards a drive. Manning had his third brilliant AFC Title Game, with a beautifully controlled performance, going 30-41 for 400 yards. After Aqib Talib went out the Patriots never stopped the Broncos until the Broncos final drive of the game, which they knelt on the 12 yard line. Belichick had no real answer for Manning's offense apart from 'let Julius Thomas drop a TD and force a field goal'. Brady missed some open throws, but when you're throwing deep to guys Manning made famous a football lifetime ago (Austin Collie) you probably are out gunned.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The most infamous play from the game is Wes Welker's block on Aqib Talib. It was probably a split second too early, but to say John Fox sent Welker, who had just come back from a concussion a week prior, to intentionally slam into Talib is idiotic. And for Belichick, who's team does the exact same stuff, to call Welker out on it was pathetic.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Through three quarters, the Broncos led 23-3 and had held the Patriots to under 200 yards of offense. Through three quarters in the divisional game, they led the Chargers 17-0, holding them under 200 yards. So, against two of the Top-6 offenses in the NFL, the Broncos cast-off defense held, in the first three quarters, to 3 total points. 

Tier III – The Good Games

8.) 2004 Week 1 - Colts 24  @  Patriots 27

Review: In the last time these two teams would play in September, the tradition of the defending Champion starting the season was initiated. The game itself was good game, with neither QB playing perfectly. Both were done in by the rest of their respective teams a bit. Manning threw a pick because Clark slipped near the goal-line. Edge James fumbled at the 1-yard line with Indy about to take a 31-27 lead late. Brady himself threw a pick. It was one of the few games where Brady definitely had the better day, throwing for 335 yards and 3 TDs against 256 and 2 for Manning. This game would come back to haunt the Colts as Vanderjagt’s missed field goal was the difference between the Colts playing that divisional round game loss to New England in Indianapolis and not Foxboro. It was the opposite of every early Patriots vs. Colts game, with the Colts run offense working spectacularly (200 yards), and the Patriots having to rely on Brady, but the one constant was untimely turnovers by the Colts. That cost them the game, and eventually the #2 seed.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Mike Vanderjagt missed a 47-yard game-tying field goal at the gun. 47 isn’t tough, but a huge McGinest sack cost the Colts 11-yards on that field goal the play before. Still, the idiot kicker did not help.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the 2nd of five straight meetings (and 7 of the first 9) in Foxboro. The Patriots did lose the last two, but a lot of the 10-5 overall record in favor of New England is simply location (Manning’s side is 3-3 at home; 2-7 in New England).

7.) 2003 AFC Championship Game - Colts 14  @  Patriots 24

Review: In weather that could only be described as a wintry mix so awful that it would have exceeded Bill Belichick’s most hopeful expectations (Colts' columnist Bob Kravitz called it Belichick's vision of Hell for Manning), the Patriots stopped a Colts offense that hadn’t punted in their first two playoff games. Peyton Manning had the worst day of his career. It actually didn’t start out too bad, as on their initial possession, the Colts drove the length of the field, but Manning threw an interception into the end zone. It was all downhill from there. In the 1st half, Manning threw another pick, Marvin Harrison fumbled inside the Patriots 20, and on their 1st punt of the playoffs, the snap flew over punter Hunter Smith’s head for a safety. Due to Brady (interception into the Colts end zone) and the Patriots’ inability to cash in these short fields for TDs, the Colts were only down 21-14 with 1:50 left when they started a drive. Four incompletions (including two obvious un-called defensive holding penalties) later it was all over, and the Patriots accomplished their finest defensive performance. Of course, like many things the Patriots have done since, there was a little wee controversy about what really was a decisive win.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: The fallout from the game tends to be spinned that Jim Irsay, Bill Polian and the Colts whined and got new rules added. That is mostly hogwash. Yes, Bill Polian (and only Bill Polian) complained, but there was no new rule. The NFL just told the officials to start enforcing the illegal contact rules that had been on the books since 1978. Also, the NFL admitted that they missed six illegal contact and defensive holding calls against the Patriots, including the 3rd and 4th down passes on that last failed drive when the Colts were down 21-14.

Interesting/Memorable Fact 2: This is the last AFC Championship Game to really feature adverse weather. There were a few flurries in the 2008 AFC Title Game in Pittsburgh, but there was no rain or snow in any of the games since. It really is amazing that in those days, when the Patriots needed bad weather, they always seemed to get snow or wintry mixes in the playoffs (Tuck Rule, ’03 & ’04 vs the Colts).

6.) 2006 Week 9 - Colts 27  @  Patriots 20

Review: This might be too high, but I am not exactly unbiased in ranking these games. This game was a big win for the Colts, allowing the rematch to be in Indianapolis and not New England. It was also big because it cemented their ability to beat New England. They dominated in 2005, but this was more important. This was winning without the clearly superior team. Brady had his worst day in the rivalry, throwing four picks and looking totally lost. Manning was brilliant. Against a very good Patriots pass defense and pass rush, Manning was harassed constantly, but threw some amazing passes on the run. It wasn’t Manning’s best game in the rivalry, but might have been his most impressive. The game’s real highlight wasn’t Manning though, it was Marvin. Never a guy to have big games against New England, Marvin Harrison abused the Patriots secondary to the tune of 8 catches for 145 yards and two TDs. The last TD was the ridiculous one, the play where he dove, tapped the ball up to himself, got both feet inbounds and then spiked the ball in Mike Vrabel’s face (the best part). John Madden had no idea how Marvin did that. No one did. Peyton didn’t even know how to respond. When it was over, the Colts won in a calm, comfortable manner.

Interesting/Memorable Play: This game was also notable for Adam Vinatieri’s return to New England. Of course, Vinatieri went 2-4 on field goals, including a huge miss late in the game that would have put the Colts up 30-20. Instead the Patriots took over with good field position in the last two-minutes. They could have drove for a tying TD, but Brady thew pick #4.

Interesting/Memorable Play 2: The most impactful play of the game came on the Colts first series. Quickly rushed, Manning sprinted out to his left and set his feet to launch a bomb right before being killed by Rosie Colvin. The pass was caught by Marvin Harrison way downfield, and he fought off Rodney Harrison on the play. Rodney broke his arm on that play, ending his season.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NFL 2014: Week 9 Power Rankings & The Rest

32.) Oakland Raiders  (0-7  =  105-181)

Can they go 0-16? You look ahead at their schedule and it doesn't seem that preposterous. Their best chances are probably hosting KC on TNF on November 20th, or a trip to St. Louis the Sunday before that. They are definitely far better than the 2008 Detroit Lions, and will be a more talented 0-16, but the schedule-makers did no favors for this team.

31.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-6  =  133-223)

The Buccaneers are still bad, but I like this whole 'let's alternate between playing absolutely pitiful on defense and playing decent on defense' strategy they have. I still think if Lovie Smith is given time, they can build something in Tampa Bay. Locking down Gerald McCoy was the first step of the puzzle. Looking back at Lovie's tenure in Chicago and it started similarly badly, as they started 2004 at 1-5. The one difference was that defense wasn't all that bad.

30.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (1-7  =  118-218)

That -100 point differential is staggering, given that they have won a game comfortably, and lost one game by less than 10 points. It's far worse than Oakland's who is winless. Blake Bortles is sure throwing a lot of interceptions. I still think he looks like he has more going for him than Gabbert ever did, but that is not showing at all in his actual performance.

29.) New York Jets  (1-7  =  144-228)

I never expected this. I think this is a case of a fragile team getting pounded early by a really tough schedule. Can you even remember that they were once 1-0, and leading Green Bay big at halftime in Week 2. Since then it has been all downhill. There was close losses early, and apart from the San Diego game they never looked awful. Hell, they came one field goal away from beating New England. Then that happened. Geno Smith is done, and Rex Ryan is probably not fair behind.

28.) Tennessee Titans  (2-6  =  137-202) 

Zach Mettenberg didn't really show anything one way or the other in that game. He looked poised to a point and didn't look lost on the field. He utilized Justin Hunter more in one game than Whitehurst seemed to in three. There is just no real talent on this team. Given how competitive the middle of the AFC is this year, they might just lose enough games to get a high enough pick to start amending that this offseason.

27.) Atlanta Falcons  (2-6  =  192-221)

Once again they are on pace to go 4-12. This team is better than 2-6 (their point differential is far better - though skewed by the 56-14 win). Problem is that their bad areas aren't going to get better anytime soon, like the o-line or the pass rush. They have some intriguing pieces going forward, but I am worried what happens if Mike Smith leaves, and if Matt Ryan can survive and return to being very good after being beaten senseless this year and last.

26.) St. Louis Rams  (2-5  =  136-210)

To win a tease I needed them to lose by fewer than 14.5. Leading 7-0 after a few minutes I was feeling good. Down just 10-7 at the half I was feeling good. Then Kniles Davis had to have a kickoff return, and the Rams decided to stop playing down 17-7. I wholly think that Gregg Williams is the wrong coordinator for this team. He is needlessly aggressive.

25.) Washington Redskins  (3-5  =  171-200)

Yes, I'm not moving them too far up for one good game on the road against a divisional opponent. That said, what Colt McCoy has done is show uncanny accuracy. He followed up going 11-12 in the 2nd half against Tennessee by going 25-30 for the entire game. That is pretty special... and in no way sustainable. What is also not sustainable is this incredibly heavy blitzing on defense.

24.) Chicago Bears  (3-5  =  180-222)

I think Marc Trestman can call an offense, but they seem very unprepared for a lot of games. I was not expecting much at all from them that game, given that they had no answer for a similar but less talented offense in Miami the week earlier. Still, I was expecting a little more than allowing Shea McClellin to go one-on-one with Rob Gronkowski. They fell victim to the Patriots patented 'Holy Hell, who is ever going to beat this team game" (it was Pittsburgh last year, losing 33-51), but they showed no flex at all.

23.) Minnesota Vikings  (3-5  =  139-173)
With a winnable game coming up at home and a trip to Chicago after the bye, they can head into a showdown with Green Bay at 5-5. Of course, that scenario involves two 'if's, and they'll likely lose badly to Green Bay, but this Minnesota team is winning with less talent and will likely end this season at 6-10, which didn't look too likely two weeks ago. Bridgewater is a little erratic, but man can he sling it at times. Also, nice to see Anthony Barr finally do something.

22.) New York Giants  (3-4  =  154-169)

The Giants head into a Monday Night game without much real hope unless they can go on a long winning streak. With the Lions, Cardinals and Cowboys really coming into their own, there are just less available spots this time around. The Giants are in an interesting period, without some interesting young players, but an aging QB. Handling this situation will really define the next 15 years of Giants football.

21.) Houston Texans  (4-4  =  185-166)

Somehow they are 4-4, and actually have a positive point differential. However, that record puts them just 11th in the AFC, looking up at a ridiculously complex Wild Card race. Sure, some teams will take themselves out, and the Texans happen to be in the one division with two bad teams, but the Texans will have to really lean on Arian Foster going forward. Also, they won't be playing Zach Mettenberger each week.

20.) Cleveland Browns  (4-3  =  163-152)
That wasn't a dominant win, but an important one. After their 3-2 start, they had a seemingly easy three-game stretch. Then they went out and played like dogshit in the first of those games. A close one here and it would have raised some questions. Instead, they took care of business, the one thing I, and all Browns fans, really wanted to see. There are still holes, but with another easy game to come, they can go to 5-3 after eight games, which would be their best by far since 2007.

19.) Carolina Panthers  (3-4-1  =  167-208)

Tough loss for a team that should have been up by far more in the first half. They blew some TD opportunities, and the mistake fumble killed another red zone chance. It was good to see the defense play well for the first time in a while, but for the 2nd straight year they let the Seahawks drive down and win it after holding them back all game. Being in the NFC South they can retake control with a home win this Thursday, but they may still not be long for the division lead.

18.) New Orleans Saints  (3-4  =  199-188)

I'll give them credit for having their first dominant offensive game since Week 1 (I say this knowing how bad Brees looked at times against Tampa Bay), their first real dominant performance across the board. The defense played really well in the red zone. Sure, they were pathetic in between the 20s, but as long as they can make a few red zone stops when needed they can be dangerous. Big test coming up given they are once again failing on the road.

17.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (5-3  =  205-196)

Let's talk for a minute about Ben Roethlisberger's game, shall we? 40-49 is ridiculous. 522 yards is ridiculous. 6 TDs is ridiculous. That was the most incredible display of QB-ing I've seen in one game against a heretofore good defense since maybe Kurt Warner in the 2009 NFC Wild Card game against Green Bay. Sure, the defense still looked average, but if even 85% of that Ben shows up consistently for the rest of the season that could be a very good team.

16.) Buffalo Bills  (5-3  =  178-165)

There they sit at 5-3 still with a good defense (very good d-line), and a passing game that has one explosive weapon. The rest of the passing game doesn't scare you, and they'll have to bide time for one of their two good RBs to come back, but the Bills are definitely in this playoff race. They do have a hard schedule coming up, though, with games against Green Bay, Denver and KC still on the schedule, as well as trips to Miami and New England.

15.) San Francisco 49ers  (4-3  =  158-165)

The 49ers probably used that bye week to do nothing but see the rest of the NFC come back to them. The Cardinals are still 2 games up in the division (with a h-2-h win), but the #6 seed is just a half game up - tied in the loss column. Unlike most teams, they only stand to get healthier with Aldon Smith and Navarro Bowman set to come back in teh next month or so. The one weakness for them is their o-line injuries. Those guys will not be coming back.

14.) Miami Dolphins  (4-3  =  174-151)

I will keep saying this up until they probably miss the playoffs because of it, but the Dolphins are still a 4th and 10, or recovering a fumble after a strip-sack, away from 5-2 and being half a game back of the Patriots. They too have a tough schedule left, starting this very week, but they've already played Green Bay (still have Detroit). All they can really hope is that Week 15 trip to Foxboro is meaningful. Nice to see Ryan Tannehill put up two straight pretty good games.

13.) Kansas City Chiefs  (4-3  =  176-128)

They arguably should be higher, given their at times dominance and their recent win over San Diego, but at some point great coaching and scheme only takes you so far. Their defense is back to their sack-happy ways of last year. For their sake hopefully Hali and Houston stay healthy this time around. What Andy Reid has done in crafting that offense is amazing. Yes, he has his issues with time and game management, but that is so far less meaningful than his ability to gameplan and run an offense.

12.) Cincinnati Bengals  (4-2-1  =  161-164)

Big win for the Bengals, capped with a quality late game drive and a gutsy QB sneak on 4th down from the 2. Yes, they got slightly lucky that Steve Smith was called for a slightly iffy OPI on that potential game-winning TD, but the Bengals came back from their second embarrassment in three weeks with a huge win. This also gives them a season-sweep of the Bengals. Of course, given that they have a tie, they will basically never be in a tiebreaker scenario. Something that will be forgotten 1,400 times by the end of the season.

11.) San Diego Chargers  (5-3  =  205-149)

I still like this team, but you can start saying that outside of that amazing Seattle win, they've lost against the three best teams they have played (Arizona, KC, Denver). They still get the return leg in KC, and by record the worst (toughest) games are behind them, but they've fallen back towards the rest of the AFC morrass right now.

10.) Green Bay Packers  (5-3  =  222-191)

There's no shame in losing to the Saints in primetime in the Superdome; hell there's no shame even in losing to them in the Superdome by 21. What there is shame is being so pitiful in the red zone. Five trips when Rodgers was in the game resulted in one TD, two field goals and a pick (that was a bad throw anyway on 3rd down). Rodgers did seem hampered by that hamstring injury, but he just didn't play well in the 2nd half.

9.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-2  =  203-156)

That was a great game, and a really tough loss. All the credit to Palmer and the Cards for hitting the Brown TD to win the game, but that was awful coverage. Then, we got the 2nd time this year that they drove all the way to the red zone needing a TD to win and couldn't get it. They can put of yards with the best of them, but more and more each week the Eagles have a hard time pickign up big chunks on non-gimmick plays. That defense is staying better than expected, back-end mishaps excluded.

8.) New England Patriots  (6-2  =  238-177)

The Bears were the perfect fit for the Patriots. They can't cover TEs to save their life, and without most of their secondary they can't cover WRs either. Needless to say the Broncos can do all these things. The Patriots also limited the Bears on defense, but physical corners like Revis and Browns are perfect for receivers of that size. Impressive performance for a team that has really turned it around from that awful start.

7.) Dallas Cowboys  (6-2  =  213-167)

Not going to bump them back too much for losing a close game at home to a divisional rival. They weren't going to win every game going forward. It will be more disconcerting if they lose next week to Arizona at home. I hope Romo's back is healthy, and I more seriously hope he's not going back into games when the back acts up or gets hit again. I also more than anything hope Peyton Manning doesn't lose out on the MVP to another back who rushes for 2,000 yards.

6.) Seattle Seahawks  (4-3  =  172-150)

That wasn't a good performance, but their defense showed some life in the Red Zone for the first time all season. They'll need that especially as their offense continues to sputter. No one has realized it yet, but Russell Wilson really hasn't improved much since his rookie season. Now, when he started out amazing as a rookie, that isn't a huge issue, but he needs to take another step forward.

5.) Baltimore Ravens  (5-3  =  217-131)

The Ravens may kick themselves for losing that game, but they showed great compete on the road against a desperate team. Joe Flacco didn't play great, but he still looks comfortable in that offense. This may not be the case, but this definitely seems like the most balanced and effective the Ravens offense has been in the Flacco era. They will only get better once Monroe and Osemele get back. That defense is still very good, but they do give up a few too many big plays for my liking.

4.) Indianapolis Colts  (5-3  =  250-187)

Obviously that defense was terrible. It was also historically good just one week earlier. Their real level is somewhere in the middle. It may just come down to who they are playing. They need to blitz to be effective. That works far less against good veteran QBs. They have two more of them coming up (Manning, Brady). Both have had recent struggles against the blitz, so it will be interesting to see if the Colts continue that agressiveness after being burned so badly against Pittsburgh.

3.) Detroit Lions  (6-2  =  162-126)

Yes, they once again didn't really deserve to win, but wins are wins. They've shown good levels of play with Calvin Johnson playing (remember they did destroy Green Bay and the Giants), and he should be back this week. Not only did they tread water without Megatron, they've remained in first place. Knowing that it is the Lions, this can all change, but that defense is not going anywhere. Losing Fairley hurts, but with a dominant Suh and a deep rotation, they can handle that loss.

2.) Arizona Cardinals  (6-1  =  164-139)

DVOA doesn't like them, but that's partly because the offense sputtered with backup QBs for multiple weeks, and their offense is predicated on hitting big throws that are low percentage plays. However, they've done those things, and while they won't get some defenders back, with Campbell coming back they have gotten their best remaining player back. It's also nice to see Larry Fitzgerald back and playing well again.

1.) Denver Broncos  (6-1  =  224-142)

The offense is not on pace to score as much, but Peyton Manning is in many ways playing better in 2014 than 2013. The running game has been much better with Hillman. Ryan Clady is looking better each week. The defense is one of the best in the league, doing great work against a really tough schedule of offenses so far. Von Miller leads the NFL in sacks. DeMarcus Ware is 3rd. Chris Harris has recovered splendidly from his ACL tear. Everything is going well. If this season is going to have a GREAT team, this is it. Of course that is when it can all go wrong...

Postseason Projections


1.) Denver Broncos  =  14-2
2.) Indianapolis Colts  =  12-4
3.) New England Patriots  =  11-5
4.) Baltimore Ravens  =  11-5
5.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  10-5-1
6.) San Diego Chargers  =  10-6


1.) Detroit Lions  =  12-4
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  12-4

3.) Dallas Cowboys  =  11-5
4.) New Orleans Saints  =  9-7
5.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-5
6.) Green Bay Packers  =  11-5

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Atlanta (2-6); Buffalo (5-3); Chicago (3-5); Detroit (6-2); Green Bay (5-3); Tennessee (2-6)

Very mixed bag of bye teams this week. After four weeks of having just two bye teams, we now get six once again. Unlike in Week 3, it doesn't include most of the best teams (that week had Denver, Arizona, San Diego and Seattle). We have two very good teams, one surprising contender, two epic disappointments, and the least lovable team in the NFL.

13.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (4-2-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Oakland Raiders (0-7)  @  Seattle Seahawks (4-3)  (4:25 - CBS)
11.) New York Jets (1-7)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
10.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-6)  @  Cleveland Browns (4-3)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) St. Louis Rams (2-5)  @  San Francisco 49ers (4-3)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "The 5 games that no one will watch because the rest of the week is so good" Sunday, as these five games feature very bad teams going on the road to play good teams. The chances of all five home teams winning is pretty low. I've ordered them in what I would guess would be most likely to lose to most likely to pull a stunning upset. Honestly, I can't see any of them doing it. If the odds are nice, this could be an intriguing, but ultimately really dumb 5-way parlay.

8.) Washington Redskins (3-5)  @  Minnesota Vikings (3-5)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) Philadelphia Eagles (5-2)  @  Houston Texans (4-4)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "The Winner will be somewhat in it, and the Loser of the other will be somewhat out of it" Sunday, as the first game will have one team somehow be 4-5, and somewhat in the Wild Card race. On the other side, the loser of the Eagles @ Texans tilt is in rough shape. Well, if it is the Eagles, they aren't in too rough of a shape, but the Texans will be behind a whole lot of teams at 4-5.

6.) Indianapolis Colts (5-3)  @  New York Giants (3-4)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "What is the better play, a Night Game after a Bye or a game after being Blowed the Fuck Out" Monday, as the Colts go back on the road after being humiliated on defense, and the Giants are off their bye after being humiliated a week ago to the Eagles. The Colts will likely win their division anyway, but just one week ago they were squarely in play for the #2 seed. A loss here and they'll likely be the #3 at best.

5.) New Orleans Saints (3-4)  @  Carolina Panthers (3-4-1)  (TNF - NFLN)
4.) San Diego Chargers (5-3)  @  Miami Dolphins (4-3)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "The First Real Separation Sunday' Thursday and Sunday, as all four teams are in the thick of the playoff race and getting a head-to-head win would be huge. The Saints go to Carolina where the winner will go back to .500 in that lousy division. A win for the Saints here might even wrap things up this early given it will be hard for them to even go worse than 7-1 at home. For the Chargers and Dolphins the winner goes to 6-3, which is nice because that is a pretty record, but also it allows them to avoid picking up a 4th loss and a loss to a potential wild card competitor.

3.) Arizona Cardinals (6-1)  @  Dallas Cowboys (6-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Shades of 1998" Sunday, as the Cardinals return to the scene of their franchises' first relevant moment in Arizona, when Jake Plummer took the Cardinals to a playoff win in Dallas in 1998. This could be similar. A win here, over a 2nd consecutive top-ranked NFC East team, would really give the Cardinals some national recognition. What would also be amazing is a 7-1 start to the season, allowing them to finish the 1st half with a two-game lead over the NFC West.

2.) Baltimore Ravens (5-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "The return of what was the best rivalry in the NFL" Sunday, as the Ravens and Steelers renew the rivalry with both teams right there at 5-3. The Ravens definitely seem ostensibly better, and dominated the hell out of Pittsburgh back in Week 2 on Thursday Night Football, but this is a different, 500-yard Ben Roethlisberger, team. It wouldn't be too surprising if Roethlisberger's passing total drops by 50% in this game. Nice to see after two soft years that this amazing rivalry is back.

1.) Denver Broncos (6-1)  @  New England Patriots (6-2)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "The War of 18-12, Pt. XVI" Sunday, as it happens once again. It will likely happen again next year after these teams win their division again. It could even happen in January, and this game will go a long way in determining where that possible January game would be played. Still, I will follow my tradition of watching a movie during this game. Which movie you ask... how about 'Once Upon a Time in America'.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What 510 Touchdowns Really Means

Peyton Manning threw his 510th touchdown this week. I'm sure you all know this, given that they basically stopped the game for a minute to give Manning his due. Every postgame showed touched on it. Every radio show talked about it. Every player was asked about it. This is probably the only known record in the NFL. It was a big deal when Brett Favre broke Marino's record in 2007. It was a big deal when Manning broke Favre's on Sunday Night. But this isn't about the record, this is about what setting that record means for one Peyton Manning.

Peyton Manning is no better or worse a QB with TD pass #509. He's proven himself enough in this league. The TD record didn't mean that. What it did signify is that nothing will stop Peyton. Time won't stop him. A debilitating neck injury so bad that Todd Helton cried when seeing his once backup QB throw late in the 2011 season didn't stop him. Losing a Super Bowl 43-8 didn't stop him. Having more money than God didn't stop him. Getting rushed by huge men year after year hasn't stopped him. Peyton Manning came into the NFL to be the best. He won four MVP awards and a Super Bowl before 2011, when his career could have easily ended. He was driven to come back, to reclaim what was once his. I don't think 508 drove him. Playing the game again drove him.

My favorite TD by Manning last week wasn't the record breaker, it was the TD right after, the 40-yard strike to Demarryius Thomas. That was a perfect pass, with good arm strength, great zip and perfect placement. Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford couldn't have thrown that ball better. That was the best sign for Manning. He's 38, and his arm is a whole lot better than it was at 36. Peyton had a triumphant return to the NFL with a Sunday Night win over the Steelers, but 508 couldn't have seen further away one week later.

In Week 2 of 2012, the Broncos went to Atlanta. That Falcons team would end up 13-3, and put a beat down on a lot of good QBs in the Dome that year, but no one knew that yet. Manning threw three INTs on back-to-back-to-back drives. It looked ugly. The passes were wobbly. Peyton compensated by getting smarter, by throwing more by doing less. He ended the 2012 season as the best QB in the NFL that year, the close runner-up as MVP, losing to a guy who had a historic season at RB. Yet Manning wanted more.

He went out and had the most voluminous season in NFL history. The one record he was known for was the one that his biggest rival broke. Tom Brady took Manning's most famous record from him... so Manning took it back throwing 55 TDs, breaking the yardage record to boot. Then the Seahawks embarrassed that offense in the Super Bowl... and Manning got even better.

What is Peyton Manning doing in 2014? He's basically having Tom Brady's 2007 season. His stats projected out to 16 games are eerily similar to Brady's in 2007. He's on pace to throw one fewer completion on one more attempt, for 100 more yards, one more TD and the same 8 INTs. The numbers are that close. Manning has a better passer rating this year. He has a better arm this year. He's being more efficient this year. He is better this year. You aren't supposed to set records at 37, and you for sure aren't supposed to play even better at 38. Manning is doing historic things, and 508 is only a part of it.

509 TDs isn't the culmination of a career. It is the continuation of one. Manning will basically stop at this point when he decides to. His Broncos career might just end up being the greatest three-year stretch of QB-ing ever (Manning from 2004-06 comes close - with better efficiency in a far less pass-heavy NFL). Sure, it is easier to throw in today's NFL, and passer rating records are getting smashed each year (the NFL as a whole has a 89.9 passer rating this season - it was 80.9 in 2004), but Manning is the best QB in 2014. He was the best QB in 2004. No one covered eras like Favre. Brett Favre was a Top-3 QB in an NFL that included an MVP Steve Young. He was a Top-3 QB in an NFL that included an MVP Peyton Manning and Super Bowl MVP Brett Favre. Brett Favre spanned eras, but really, so did Peyton Manning.

Manning had his first great season in 1999. That year was the birth of the Greatest Show on Turf. It was also Dan Marino's final season. It was two years before Tom Brady started a game. Aaron Rodgers was 14. Andrew Luck was 10. Peyton Manning was his first MVP in 2003, the last year before the QB revolution. That year the 2nd best QB was Steve McNair, the third best was probably Brett Favre. That was the first year of the Manning / Brady duopoly (let's remember, Rich Gannon was the MVP the year before that). We are now 11 years later. There are probably less than 30 players who were active in 2003 who are active today. Peyton Manning is one of them, and he's arguably better 11 years later.

510 TDs is a dynamic record. He's going to put that thing higher each week. Drew Brees has an incredibly outside shot of touching that record. Andrew Luck has a shot, I guess. That shot gets more realistic if the NFL goes to an 18-game schedule. Even then, he has to basically throw 30 TDs a game for 15 years. Peyton Manning is leaving behind a legacy so great it is beyond words. And he's not done yet. An injury crippled his career for a while. It made him leave Indianapolis, something that seemed unfathomable just a year earlier. Still, it made him better. It made him hungrier, and smarter, and tougher, and greater. It made him get to 508, and now 510, and will carry him to a place that we can only imagine.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.