The USC Trojans have been called Tailback U ever since they were churning out elite NFL players like O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen. But when it comes to breeding star quarterbacks, the Trojans have to take a back seat to the Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan’s move away from Bo Schembechler’s ground game following his 1990 retirement delivered Tom Brady, currently working his way up the food chain toward Greatest of All Time status. The Wolverines have also produced starting QBs Todd Collins, Elvis Grbac and Brian Griese. And that’s just recent history.
USC would still be on anyone’s Top 5, thanks to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Boston College will be forever linked to Doug Flutie, unless Matt Ryan steals the show, but don’t forget Matt Hasselbeck was an Eagle. Under Jeff Tedford, Cal has sent Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Boller to the bigs, and Washington (Mark Brunell, Chris Chandler) often comes up big in the pass-happy Pac-10.
If you’re trawling the NFL futures market looking for value, you’ve picked a good time. Free agents are being snapped up like fresh produce, the occasional trade is on the table, and the draft has yet to come. Meanwhile, March Madness is diverting the attention of many a bettor.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (40-1 to win the Super Bowl) have already added nine players to a team that made the playoffs last season. Defense was the focus; although the Bucs had the No. 4-ranked defense in the league in terms of efficiency, their D-line was weak. Marques Douglas and Jimmy Wilkerson will shore up the run blocking.
On the trade front, it looks like the Oakland Raiders (100-1) will get cornerback DeAngelo Hall from the rebuilding Falcons for a second-rounder. The Raiders were 4-12 last year and still have some work to do, but are worth a look in single-game situations with Hall and CB Nnamdi Asomugha playing together.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a shiny eight-year, $102-million contract. It’s the biggest contract in Steelers history, and a lot of cash for someone who nearly killed himself in a motorcycle accident just two years ago.
It’s getting harder and harder for the man on the street to relate to these athletes and their gigantic salaries. But “Big Ben” is very, very good at what he does, and over 60,000 people pay to see him at Heinz Field eight times a year – plus the playoffs, where he essentially works for free. Roethlisberger does have a ring, though, to remind him about Super Bowl XL.
This is also an NFL contract we’re talking about here. Big Ben is only guaranteed to see $33.2 million. And yes, there is a clause preventing him from partaking in “hazardous activities.” There are plenty of less successful people out there making far more money that merit our scorn instead.
There’s hope for Western civilization after all. The voting public appears ready to support politicians with ethical substance, and the betting public has likewise turned its back on the New England Patriots.
The Pats have become the NFL’s version of the Evil Empire, joining the New York Yankees and the Duke Blue Devils among the most hated teams in North American sports. An Empire because of all those championships; Evil because of the controversy surrounding Spygate, which the New York Times recently dealt with in a refreshingly intelligent manner.
The problem isn’t that the Patriots apparently stole signals from the New York Jets last September. That’s legal. The problem is that they did it effectively, using video technology to record activity on the Jets sideline for further analysis. This falls into what ethicists call a “gray area,” doing something that is technically allowable yet violates the spirit of the rules. It’s not illegal, but it’s cheating just the same.
Depending on your outlook, the New York Giants are the worst Super Bowl champions the NFL has ever produced, or they peaked at just the right time. The futures market for Super Bowl XLIII suggests the former; the Giants opened at 12-1 to retain their title, behind four other teams.
The New England Patriots are next year’s favorites at 3-1; they may or may not bring cornerback Asante Samuel back to Foxborough, but are otherwise expected to be intact from their near-perfect 2007 campaign. That might be a problem – the New England linebacking corps is getting older, not better.
The Giants have a much better chance of playing as well in 2008 as they did during the playoff drive. It all depends on Eli Manning and his continued development into an elite player. “I’ve got to become a better quarterback. That’s my goal,” Manning told the team website. So far, so good.
For a relatively meaningless game, the 2008 Pro Bowl gave us a few things to think about for next season. Minnesota Vikings fans in particular will be thinking about Adrian Peterson; he rushed for 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the NFC (+3) dumped the AFC 42-30. Peterson becomes just the second rookie to be named Pro Bowl MVP; Marshall Faulk was the first in 1995.
Terrell Owens added a pair of TD catches for the NFC, one from current teammate Tony Romo and the other from ex-teammate Jeff Garcia. T.J. Houshmandzadeh also caught two TD passes in a losing effort. While the NFC featured a balanced offensive attack, the AFC could only manage 45 yards rushing on 10 carries.
The NFC improved its Pro Bowl record to 10-13 with the win, including three of their last five visits to Honolulu. Now the NFL offseason begins in earnest; Feb. 21 is the deadline for franchise tags.
There will be a new NFL champion this year. The Indianapolis Colts (-11) had the better of the visiting San Diego Chargers on offense Sunday, but two tipped Peyton Manning passes for interceptions were the difference in a 28-24 Chargers victory. San Diego won despite in-game injuries to Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Indy wasn’t the biggest chalk on the Divisional board. That was the New England Patriots (-13.5) in Saturday’s matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tom Brady was 26-of-28 for three touchdowns, and Laurence Maroney rumbled for 122 yards and a score, but the Jags were sufficiently pesky to grab the cash in a 31-20 loss.
The Pats will now prepare to host the resilient Chargers in the AFC Championship game. It was unknown at press time how the knee injuries suffered by both Rivers and Tomlinson would affect their status for Sunday’s matchup. New England reported no significant injuries.
You’re going to see it mentioned time and again this week. I was among the many who got burned last year picking the home team in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs. They were 0-4 ATS.
I certainly won’t be shying away from taking the home side in the two AFC Divisional games this weekend. These are two of the best teams ever assembled: the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. They are so good that I have no problem taking New England (-13) over Jacksonville and Indianapolis (-9) over San Diego.
The bye week is the reason home teams (last year notwithstanding) have traditionally done well in this round. It’s going to be of particular use to the Colts, who had a number of nagging injuries on offense and needed the rest. And it’ll be very difficult indeed to out-coach Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy when they’ve had an extra week to prepare.
The NFL never ceases to amaze. We saw some amazing things happen both on and off the field in 2007. Some of what we saw, we wish we hadn’t. The Top 10 list of the league’s biggest stories of the year proves that truth is stranger than fiction.
Michael Vick arrested and jailed on dogfighting charges, suspended by NFL New England Patriots go 16-0 during 2007 regular season Sean Taylor shot at his home by intruder, dies at hospital Marquise Hill dies in jet-ski accident Indianapolis Colts beat Chicago Bears at Super Bowl XLI Bobby Petrino signs with Atlanta Falcons, leaves for Arkansas after 13 games Bill Parcells retires for third time, comes back as top exec for 1-15 Dolphins Tom Brady (50 TD passes) and Randy Moss (23 TD catches) set league records Brett Favre breaks Dan Marino’s career records for TDs and yards passing Pac-Man Jones suspended for entire season following strip-club riot
Brady’s chances of breaking Manning’s record are very closely related to Moss’ chances of breaking Rice’s record. With 48 scoring throws through the Pats’ first 15 games, and with the team chasing down a perfect season, New England will play for history Saturday night vs. the Giants. And to win, the Patriots must throw the ball.
One factor that could work against Brady and Moss might be the elements on a late December evening in Jersey, where the wind can make throwing the ball very tough. The Giants gave up big yardage and points to Dallas and Green Bay early this season, but since then the G-Men defense hasn’t been too bad, and they rank in the top 10 against the pass.
Of course, they haven’t run up against anything like the Brady bunch. Given any chance whatsoever, Belichick will get both his QB and his slender WR their records.
So the New England Patriots are laying 24 points to the New York Jets. No problem. That makes a lot more sense than when the Pats were –24 against the Eagles, who nearly pulled off the upset in Week 12. Philadelphia has talent. The Jets don’t. They’re 3-10 SU, 4-8-1 ATS and the worst defensive team in the league in terms of efficiency. I’ll eat that chalk, and I’ll like it.
I’ll also take the big favorite in the Indianapolis Colts–Oakland Raiders matchup. That, of course, would be the Colts at –11. The Raiders are playing at a worse level than the Jets despite their 4-9 record (5-8 ATS). That’s because they’ve gotten to play other teams in the awful AFC West so often. Indy is not far behind New England among the league’s elite. A line of anything under two touchdowns seems like a blessing compared to what New England has to cover this week.
The last couple of weeks have shaken up the top of the NFL standings. The New England Patriots are still humming along, undefeated at 9-0 (8-1 ATS), but the Indianapolis Colts have dropped two in a row to fall even with the Pittsburgh Steelers at 7-2.
If you can’t stand the thought of eating chalk on the Super Bowl futures market, then you need to figure out which team has the best chance to knock off the Patriots. We’re going to leave 8-1 Dallas and Green Bay out of the equation, since they play in the lesser NFC.
The Colts came very close to beating New England in Week 9, and that was without LT Tony Ugoh and WR Marvin Harrison, but even more offensive players (plus DL Dwight Freeney) have been hurt since then. That might leave it up to Pittsburgh’s No. 2-ranked defense to upset New England for the AFC championship. It could happen.
The NFL may be the biggest thing going in North American pro sports, but there are always new markets for the league to invade. How about the biggest market of all – women?
According to the Kansas City Star, NFL research shows that 15 million of their 50 million “avid” fans are female. And a Harris Poll shows 30 percent of women respondents, when asked their favorite spectator sport, said football. The NFL itself is hiring more and more women, and after an unfortunate dalliance with cheesecake, broadcasters are wisely sticking with the likes of Pam Oliver and Suzy Kolber.
Which is why you can now buy women’s apparel and jewellery for every NFL team. Check out that hot pink Tom Brady uniform. “You will look cute,” according to the product info blurb. Maybe so, but do they have a Steve Hutchinson-sized Vikings Confetti Dot Pajama Set? Nope: Small, Medium and Large only.
That’s the main storyline (as far as we’re concerned) about Sunday’s Patriots-Colts game. Sure, the Pats went 9-0 straight up and will now carry the 1972 Miami Dolphins on their backs for the rest of the season – or until they lose, whichever comes first. But it was easily the toughest game of the year for both teams, and New England escaped by the skin of its teeth.
It took two fourth-quarter TD drives (keyed by two Tom Brady bombs) for New England to win 24-20 as 6.5-point road faves. Indy’s offense did well in the first three quarters, but the absence of Marvin Harrison was problematic for Peyton Manning, especially once Anthony Gonzalez was knocked out in the first half with a finger injury.
Even if you had given the Colts a full complement, Sunday’s game would have been a close one. Perhaps they will meet again in the AFC Championship (fingers crossed).
Now here’s a highlite video of the Colts/Patriots game from Sunday. Enjoy.
Never before have two undefeated teams met this late in an NFL season. Call it Super Bowl 41 1/2. Admit it, you’ve been waiting for this game since Week 1. Whichever team wins Sunday’s epic showdown between the Colts (7-0) and Patriots (8-0) will be anointed the king of the NFL, the clear favorite to win the Super Bowl. By beating the Patriots, the Colts can prove they’re still the boss. The winner of this game will be the last unbeaten team, with a chance for a perfect season. The game also has huge implications for the playoffs because the winner will have a leg up on securing home-field advantage. How important is that? All three times these teams have met in the playoffs, the home team has won.