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In one of the most significant upsets in Super Bowl history, the NFC champion New York Giants (14-6) defeated the AFC champion New England Patriots (18-1) by the score of 17-14.Had the Patriots won this game, they would have completed a the first perfect season in the NFL since the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the only one since the league expanded to a 16-game regular season in 1978.

The game was a rematch of both teams’ regular season-ending game on December 29, 2007, which the Patriots won to finish the regular season 16–0, with a score of 38–35 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

New England opened the bye week as 14-point favorites, but dipped to 12-point favorites by kickoff. In the end, after falling behind late in the fourth quarter, the Giants won 17–14 on a final-minute touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress. Manning was named the Most Valuable Player and the Giants became the first NFC wild card team to win a Super Bowl.

The telecast was the most-watched Super Bowl in history, with an average of 97.5 million viewers in the United States. A record 148.3 million total viewers tuned into the game. It was also the second-most-watched TV program in the United States, behind the 1983 M*A*S*H series finale.

Despite quarterback Tom Brady, 2007 NFL MVP, throwing three interceptions Sunday in the AFC championship game against the San Diego Chargers, the New England Patriots squeeked by with a 21 – 12 win to move on to the Super Bowl XLII. Running back Laurence Maroney carried the ball 25 times amassing 122 yards rushing and a touchdown in the win. Kevin Faulk caught 8 receptions for 82 yards as well.

San Diego certainly had an uphill climb against the undefeated Patriots. A crushing blow was losing running back LaDainion Tomlinson for the game after the first two series to a sore knee. Tomlinson carries the ball just twice for 5 yards and caught one reception. Quarterback Philip River’s sprained right knee didn’t keep him sidelined, but he certainly wasn’t at 100% and that showed with a two interception performance.

The Patriots will attempt to cap off their season of perfection with a Super Bowl win in Arizona. They will face off against the winner of the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the NY Giants.

This off-season has been a volatile year for running backs. Four big name backs have switched teams already, but this year’s draft class isn’t the strongest its been in most recent years. Outside of Adrian Peterson, former Oklahoma Sooner and known as the draft’s best running backs in most team’s opinion, there is very few options that will make a team impact.

Former 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis was basically run out of Baltimore as they offered him what amounted to a backup’s contract, a 1-year $2 million deal. Lewis settled in Cleveland for a 1-year, 3.5 million dollar deal that could earn him up to 5 million with incentives. He hasn’t been truly healthy since earning 429 touches in the 2003 season which allowed him to reach 2,000 yards. Lewis claims he can still run a forty-yard dash in the high 4.3’s, which seems highly unlikely to me, though Cleveland will give him the opportunity to revitalize his career.

Former Bills’ running back, Willis McGahee, was disappointing in Buffalo especially with rumors of his lackluster work ethic and study habits running rampant. McGahee reportedly didn’t know the plays and didn’t even know what down it was on a famous key fourth down stop during the 2006 season. The Ravens still see him as a great replacement for Lewis and acquired him through a trade which sent two third-round and a seventh round draft picks in exchange for him. They then rewarded him with a 7-year $40.12 million contract with $15 million being guaranteed.

Buffalo’s starting back hasn’t been decided yet, though last year’s backup, Anthony Thomas, hasn’t been completely ruled out. The Bills, in my opinion, have much more pressing needs than just a starting running back. Hopefully they decide to fill these needs before worrying about a new starting back.

Former Bills’ running back Travis Henry will also find solace in a new home. After returning to form for the Tennessee Titans in 2006 after two disappointing seasons (one in Tennessee, one in Buffalo), Henry was rewarded with a 5-year $22.5 million contract from the Denver Broncos. In past years, Broncos running backs have enjoyed lots of success under head coach Mike Shanahan and former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Henry should flourish as a Bronco.

Former Green Bay Packer, Ahman Green will also see a change of scenery this season. After spending the last 7 years as Green Bay’s primary running back, Green went to free agency and signed a 4-year $23 million deal to become a Houston Texan.

Well, just as I called for in Conference Final Predictions, Marty Schottenheimer was fired as head coach of the San Diego Chargers. His clear incompetence to coach an NFL playoff game was again displayed in ther playoff game against the New England Patriots. His sheer inability to manage a team was evident by the loss despite a tremendous effort from San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson. He placed the game in the hands of inexperienced quarterback Phillip Rivers, while pitting him into a shootout with Tom Brady, the best playoff quarterback since Joe Montana, rather then putting the game in the hands of the league’s most valuable player, in Tomlinson.

Apparently, this wasn’t even the team’s problem with Schottenheimer. After the season, the team’s staff was depleted after the loss of Rob Chudzinski, Cam Cameron, Wade Phillips, and Greg Manusky. Team president Dean Spanos said the losses were a result of a “dysfunctional” and “untenable” rift between the coach and General Manager A.J. Smith.

Several media rumors suggested USC head coach, and former New York Jets head coach, Pete Carroll as successor to Schottenheimer and that Smith, as well, could eventually be out the door.

The 2006 NFL season and the 2006-2007 NFL playoffs all came down to one game on Sunday evening. The Indianapolis Colts led by Peyton Manning vs. the Chicago Bears led by Brian Urlacher was the game. The beginning of the game didn’t look very good for the Colts as Chicago returner Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for the first opening kickoff returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.

After an early Peyton Manning interception by Chris Harris, the Colts settled down and dismantled the Bears. Indianapolis’s two running backs, Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, combined for 190 yards rushing and Addai also contributed with 10 receptions for 66 yard, tying a Super Bowl record for number of receptions and setting a Super Bowl record for the number of receptions by a running back.

While Super Bowl announcers, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, contemplated a co-Super Bowl MVP Awards to running backs, Joseph Addai & Dominic Rhodes, the Super Bowl MVP Award was fittingly awarded to quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning’s only flaw of the night was an early interception, but was overlooked as he went on to complete 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown to Colt’s receiver Reggie Wayne.

With the win Indianapolis head coach, Tony Dungy, became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. “I’m proud to be the first African-American coach to win this. But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only African-American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord’s way. We’re more proud of that,” was Coach Dungy’s surprising response during the Super Bowl trophy ceremony.

Earlier this month, the NFL announced that six teams were being considered as the team that gives up a home game during the 2007 season with the site to be either Great Britain or Germany. The teams being considered were the Buffalo Bills, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Miami Dolphins, the New Orleans Saints, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Seattle Seahawks. This angered me as a NFL fan, a Buffalo Bills fan, and most importantly as a Buffalo region resident. Each NFL team only gets 8 home games, and many locales, stadium ushers, parking lot attendants, concession vendors, security guards, and local businesses rely on the employment and business generated from their corresponding team’s home games.

The Dolphin’s have been choosen to be the team to lose their home game this year. Their opponent will be either the NY Giants or the Buffalo Bills. I would assume the NFL would choose the Giants as their opponent since it would be a non-conference game and not have as much importance for the final AFC East standings (not like either the Bills or the Dolphins will be much of a factor come next December/January). But then again it seems the NFL has no rhyme or reason behind most of the things it does.

Over the next 16 seasons, each of the league’s 32 teams will participate in a regular season game outside the United States. At least that is what the plan is. What are they going to do when a riot breaks out because the stadium is packed full and they realize that this game is American Football and not soccer which they were expecting (I’m joking here, no angry emails please)! We shall see what happens and see if the NFL can successfully market itself overseas.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have quite a history against each other. In their first 5 meetings, 2 of which were playoff games, Brady and the Patriots prevailed. In their final 2 meetings, both regular season games, Manning and the Colts were the victors. Those 7 games meant nothing tonight, as the two teams faced off to determine who would be the AFC representative at Super Bowl XLI in Miami.

Peyton Manning and the Colts had something to prove, having bad playoff experience after bad playoff experience. In last years playoff, the previously most accurate kicker in the NFL, Mike Vanderjagt, missed a pretty easy kick in the AFC Championship game last year against the Pittsburgh Steelers as time expired which would have given the Colts the nod onto Super Bowl XL. This year they replaced Vanderjagt with ex-Patriot Adam Vinatieri, who is widely considered the most clutch kicker currently in the NFL, if not in NFL history.

brady-vs-manningI didn’t expect how poorly Indianapolis would come out of the gates, quickly falling to a 21-3 margin. The scoring began when New England offensive lineman Logan Mankins recovered running back Lawrence Maroney’s fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. The Colts responded with a field goal, but the Patriots piled up their early scoring with a 7 yard Corey Dillon touchdown and a Peyton Manning interception returned 39 yards for a touchdown by New England cornerback Asante Samuel. Adam Vinatieri tacked on one more field goal before half-time, leaving Indy down 21-6.

That marked the low point in the game for Indianapolis who came out fired up in the second half. Manning drove his team down the field for 2 consecutive 76 yard drives capped by touchdowns of a 1-yard rush by Manning and a 1-yard touchdown reception by offensive lineman Dan Klecko, who was lined up and declared as an eligible receiver on the play.

The Patriots and the Colts then traded touchdowns, the first a controversial catch in the back of the end zone by New England receiver Jabar Gaffney, the next a recovery by Colt’s center, Jeff Saturday, of the fumble by running back Dominic Rhodes. Saturday’s touchdown was the third touchdown of the game by an offensive lineman and in the words of John Madden from the Keanu Reeves movie, The Replacements, “I love to see a fat guy score.” Pat Summerall: “Why?” Madden: “Because look, first you get to see a fat guy spike and then you get to see a fat guy dance!”

After a few more field goals, the Colts trailed 34-31 and Manning got his opportunity to prove how great of a quarterback he is with a 4th quarter comeback with only 2 minutes and 17 seconds left on the clock. Indianapolis wasted little time and crossed mid-field before the 2 minute warning. A completion to wide receiver Reggie Wayne brought the Colts to the 11-yard line and after three straight runs by Colt’s running back Joseph Addai, the last of which was a 3-yard touchdown run, the Colts had a 38-34 point lead.

Their defense then needed their defense to come up big and stop Tom Brady and the Patriots from a final season saving drive. Marlin Jackson did just that when he intercepted a pass from Brady intended for tight end, Brandon Watson, and clinching the win for Colts and thus giving Peyton Manning the victory in the latest chapter of the Brady vs. Manning saga.
This win makes history for the NFL as it means that not only is the first (and second) African American head coach leading their team to a Super Bowl, but one of these coaches will win, which will make either Indianapolis coach, Tony Dungy, or Chicago Bear’s coach, Lovie Smith, the first African American head coach to lead their team to a Super Bowl victory. I wish the best of luck to both of them, though because of my general disgust in Rex Grossman as a quarterback, I feel it necessary to root for Tony Dungy to achieve this feat.

Congratulations to Brian Urlacher, Rex Grossman, Lovie Smith, and the rest of the Chicago Bears as the proved me wrong, defeating the New Orleans Saints to advance to Super Bowl XLI in Miami. This game was won by the better coach, despite having Rex Grossman, who I consider the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, behind center. Lovie Smith just coached a far more superior game than Saint’s coach Sean Payton.

For a team which has perhaps the best running back tandem in the NFL, in Deuce McAllister & Reggie Bush, how do you only run the ball a total of 12 times? How do you let your quarterback throw the ball 49 times??? Lovie Smith understands how you win football games, by running the football & stopping the run. The Bears defense certainly takes care of the latter and Thomas Jones & Cedric Benson combined for 43 carries, 183 yards rushing, and 3 rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, McAllister and Bush combined for only 10 carries, totaling 37 yards. Granted Bush is a much bigger threat than simply running the ball, he is also a threat lining up as a receiver. Bush totaled 7 receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown, but the Saints needed to control the clock and keep Chicago’s superior defense on the field, hence tiring them out. New Orleans did neither and despite a below average quarterback effort from Grossman, the Bears are headed to Super Bowl XLI. The best of luck to them!

Ok, ok, so I didn’t do so hot in my predictions for the divisional playoff round. Indy beat Baltimore in a very defensive game with zero touchdowns. If you were to tell me that nobody was going to score a touchdown in this game, my money would have been firmly on the Ravens. Instead, Indy showed up to play, holding Jamal Lewis to only 53 yard rushing and picked off 2 passes from quarterback Steve McNair. Honestly, I didn’t see this one coming, I didn’t think Indianapolis’s defense could hold up this well on the road. The Colts’ offense did just enough to win this game, giving Adam Vinatieri 5 field goal opportunities, which he converted on all of them.

In my only correct prediction of the week, New Orleans held off the Philadelphia Eagles to win 27-24. Reggie Bush & Deuce McAllister combined for 195 rushing yards and 3 total touchdowns, one rushing from each of them and a touchdown reception by McAllister. Two John Carney field goals gave the Saints just what they needed to advance to the conference championship game.

A game that was played out exactly as I thought, turned out with different results as the Chicago Bears held off the Seattle Seahawks in overtime. The Bears, quarterbacked by perhaps the worst starting quarterback in the league, Rex Grossman, is a grossly overrated team. They win games because of their defense, but can only go so far with such an inept quarterback. The Seahawks, a team with a depleted secondary, only making it to the divisional playoff game because of a botched Tony Romo field goal hold (sorry Tony, I’m going to keep bringing that up), was hardly in a position to run the table in the NFC, let alone the NFL. Despite these facts, they were in a position to beat the “mighty” Chicago Bears in overtime. This shouldn’t have happened and I simply don’t see the Bears beating the Saints in the conference finals.

Prediction: I said it before the season and I’ll say it again now, The Saints will win the Super Bowl (once again, I won’t get into why just yet, let’s wait for my prediction to come true first). The Bears will do very little to slow them down this week, Saints are going to Miami after a 31-9 win over the Bears.

How do you lose a game where you intercept 3 passes and hold the opposing team’s leading rusher to only 25 yards? This is a question I cannot answer, especially when your running back rushes for 123 yards. I thought football, especially playoff football, was won by running the football and stopping the run. Somebody should tell this to Marty Schottenheimer, whose gross incompetence as a playoff football coach is notorious. Somebody should tell him that when you have the best running back in the league, you shouldn’t allow your first year starting quarterback, Phillip Rivers, to get into a shootout with Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest playoff quarterback since Joe Montana. You don’t let your quarterback throw the ball 32 times (with a completion ratio of only 43%) when you have a running back averaging nearly 6 yards a carry, it’s just stupid football. San Diego has a great team, LaDainian Tomlinson is the best running back in the game, and Phillip Rivers has a bright career in front of him, but Schottenheimer can only get you so far and a Super Bowl just isn’t in the cards for him. I think a coaching change is in San Diego’s best interest.

In the AFC Conference Championship we have a great matchup. The question, “Who is the best quarterback in the NFL?” announces another chapter as the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts play in a rematch of the 2003 AFC Championship game, this time in Indianapolis. Manning vs. Brady has become one of the most debated quarterback rivalries in recent history. Both of the two having a large following touting each as the best quarterback in the game. This game will write another chapter to this rivalry.

Prediction: Peyton Manning wins this chapter of the Manning vs. Brady rivalry by quarterbacking a flawless game. Colts win with a Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expires, 34-33. How’s it feel to be on the other end Tom?

After this weekend’s NFL Wild Card games, only 8 teams remain in the bid for a trip to Miami for Super Bowl XLI. My predictions for the opening playoff week were nearly perfect, flawed by a failed botched hold by Tony Romo on a 19-yard field goal attempt by Martin Gramatica which would have given the Dallas Cowboys a 23-21 lead over the Seattle Seahawks, the defending NFC champions with about a minute remaining.

Though Romo took full responsibility for the loss following the game, he was a big reason that the Cowboys even made it this far, having turned their season around by winning five of his first six starts after replacing Drew Bledsoe and blossoming into a Pro Bowl selection. Romo certainly wasn’t the only player to deserve a piece of the loss. The Dallas defense made an impressive stand in the shadow of their own end zone to hold onto a 20-13 lead with less than 7 minutes remaining in the game. On the subsequent series, the first play from scrimmage resulted in a safety and nearly a Seattle touchdown. A quick screen pass to wide receiver Terry Glenn was fumbled into the end zone after weak Kelly Jennings tackle. This play led to the Seahawks taking a 21-20 lead after a Jerramy Stevens touchdown reception and a failed 2-point conversion. The Seahawks will head to Chicago next week to take on the Bears.

Prediction: Bears roll … over, even Rex Grossman should be able to throw against the depleted Seattle secondary, right? Wrong, the only chance the Bears have is to replace Grossman with Brian Griese, which I think they will do by the second half. Too little, too late, the Bears fall 27-23.

The Indianapolis Colts, despite early struggles by quarterback Peyton Manning, defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, with a strong defensive effort led by defensive end Dwight Freeney who had two sacks on the game, after finishing with only 5.5 on the season. The Colts will play the Baltimore Ravens next week on the road.

Prediction: The highly physical Ravens will beat up on a soft Colts team. 31-17, Ravens.

Unfortunately I have put off the remainder of this post for two long and I have other much more important things to get too, like the BCS National Championship and the vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame. So here are my predictions for the remainder of this coming weekend’s Divisional Playoff Games.

Tom Brady, with an impressive 11-1 post-season record, and the New England Patriots travel to San Diego to play LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers.

Prediction: San Diego shows New England why they are the number one seed in the AFC as Tomlinson rushes for 170 yards. San Diego handles the Pats, 37-24.

Jeff Garcia and the hot Philadelphia Eagles go to the Big Easy to face Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, and company.

Prediction: No hurricanes this year, clearly the NFL would love to see the Saints win it all in a bounce back season after Hurricane Katrina took out their home stadium, the Lousiana Superdome. Seems like nothing should get in their way this postseason (more on that another time). Saints pull off a close one, 27-23.