BRADY-MANNING XIV

Whenever Tom Brady plays Peyton Manning it’s fun.  Whether you’re a fan of either of them or neither of them, just simply being a fan of the NFL means a game including these two will stir up more interest than others.

The NFL themselves and all their broadcasters enjoyed hyping up the game and making it as big as possible.  The game was even given its own title…in roman numerals!  The equally grand and humorous title appeared everywhere: ‘BRADY-MANNING XIV’ – This being the 14th time the two quarterbacks had faced each other, you see?

It was inevitable these legendary quarterbacks would dominate the build-up, but knowing the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos have so much talent all over the field, this had the making of a classic.  And it certainly turned into one.

It was surely part of the game plan before kickoff that both defenses would try to make thing very difficult for Brady and Manning.  And it was the Broncos defense who flew out of the gates early, straightaway returning a fumble for a touchdown.  Then after forcing two more fumbles from the Patriots it was suddenly 17-0 to the Broncos after just one quarter and more problems for New England meant a half time score of Broncos 24-0 Patriots.

Like many watching I was slightly stunned, of course each team has the quality to pull away from the other but the overriding thoughts at the time were that this was too easy for the Broncos, and the Patriots are the home team. ‘BRADY-MANNING XIV’ is not becoming the hard fought battle everyone was expecting.  Manning and the Denver offense has not had to play so hard for a 24-point lead, Tom Brady seems uninterested and close to half of the home fans have seen enough and headed for the exits by half time.

Then it got fun…unless you’re a Denver Broncos fan.

Tom Brady began the second half with a perfect drive to get the Patriots their first score and soon they had another touchdown and were back in the game.  The Patriots coaches had also identified how to improve things, specifically their defense, with the likes of Chandler Jones and Brandon Spikes coming in and out of the game and causing all sorts of problems for Manning.  By the end of the third quarter the Patriots were only three points down – 24-21.

Throughout the game it was the running game, not the passing game of Manning, that was working best and getting the most yards for the Broncos offense.  Then right at the start of the fourth quarter Manning decided to throw on 1st and 10…and it was intercepted.  Three plays later Brady threw another touchdown and the Patriots were now leading – comeback complete!  Much like the Patriots did in the first half, it was now the Broncos helping to give their opponents points with turnovers.

After a New England field goal, Peyton Manning showed he wasn’t beaten.  He produced a nice touchdown drive and levelled the game, which finished 31-31 and ‘BRADY-MANNING XIV’ went into overtime.

In overtime neither team looked like they wanted to win it, or rather both teams were trying not to lose it.  Maybe they were all, as I’m sure many Broncos fans were, shocked that this game had even gone to overtime after the way the first half went.  By this point I would not have blamed Broncos fans for thinking it just wasn’t turning into their night.  Then unfortunately that was proved correct as Denver muffed a punt return and the Patriots recovered it in field goal range.  Two plays later Stephen Gostkowski kicked the field goal and gave the New England Patriots a huge comeback win – 34-31.

As a neutral, it was one of the best NFL matches I have ever watched and amusingly ‘BRADY-MANNING XIV’ had lived up to all the overhype after all.  It just should be noted that everybody else involved played their part too.  WHAT A GAME.

MIDSEASON!

OK, so we’re a little beyond midseason.  But the NFL is about half way down the road to this season’s Super Bowl now that the Week 10 games are over.  As always in the NFL there have been plenty of stories developing this year, good and bad, within each team.  Some teams are overachieving, some are underachieving and some are doing exactly what most expected them to do, leaving some fans content and others despairing of why they became fans in the first place.

The real success story of the season so far is of course the Kansas City Chiefs.  Now lead by coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith they have risen from the league’s worst team last year to being the only remaining unbeaten team this season.  The Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions have also made big strides, although the Panthers are behind division rivals the New Orleans Saints who are looking to get back to success after a disappointing 2012.

At the other end of the NFL spectrum the likes of the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans have fallen dramatically this year.  Both are reigning divisional winners and were tipped by some to have Super Bowl runs this year, but poor play calling and injuries have ruined their respective seasons.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me this year have been the Minnesota Vikings.  They had so much potential at the start of 2013 – they are coming off a playoff appearance last year, have some of the best individual players in the NFL and seemed to have a really strong draft.  The Vikings have been exposed in many ways, not helped by the fact they play in the traditionally tough NFC North division.

Power Rankings have become a big thing now and as I’ve never done one of my own before I have been compelled to include one in this first blog.  So without further ado:

1.  Kansas City Chiefs 9-0 – How can you put them anywhere else?  They’re unbeaten.  The Andy Reid appointment is working better than could have been expected and their defense has looked very strong.  A huge game this Sunday night on the road to their rivals the Denver Broncos is a chance to prove how good they really are.

2.  Denver Broncos 8-1 – They have the best offense in the NFL with Peyton Manning putting up record numbers.  Three big games are coming up in a row as after this weeks game hosting the Chiefs they visit the New England Patriots then off to Kansas City to face the Chiefs again.  After these games we’ll know if they’re still the Super Bowl favourites many have them down as.

3.  Seattle Seahawks 9-1 – Seattle are expected to beat the Vikings this week and head into a bye week with a 10-1 record.  Not bad for a team hit by injuries and will get BETTER going into the last handful of games in regular season.  With Marshawn Lynch running they have the best rushing game in the NFL.

4.  New Orleans Saints 7-2 – Drew Brees is looking as good as ever and the Saints are looking a dangerous team again this season.  They dominated a game last week that had the potential to be a shootout against the Dallas Cowboys.  And how good was Mark Ingram?!  That was as good as I’ve seen him play in a long time.

5.  New England Patriots 7-2 – They’ve kept winning this season despite some struggles, especially on offense.  The team is coming off a bye week and probably need the extra preparation time as they play the ever improving Panthers next.

6.  Carolina Panthers 6-3 – Lead by a strong defense the Panthers are on a roll.  The team will be in confident mood and awaiting the visiting Patriots.  The two crucial divisional meetings with the Saints towards the end of the season should be great to watch.

7.  Indianapolis Colts 6-3 – The Colts would likely be in the top four of this ranking if it wasn’t for a huge defeat last week at the hands of the St. Louis Rams.  They have been too inconsistent but when the team gets it right they’re very good and should ease into the playoffs ahead of a weak AFC South division.

8.  San Francisco 49ers 6-3 – Losing to the Panthers was big because of the manner of the loss.  Colin Kaepernick was beaten up and the offense could not get going at all, that needs to improve as the defense showed they are good enough to win games.

9.  Detroit Lions 6-3 – Two big wins in a row coupled with divisional contenders suffering key injuries places the Lions atop the NFC North and puts them right now looking as favourites to stay there.

10.  Cincinnati Bengals 6-4 – Another team who are frustratingly inconsistent.  Some still have them as real contenders to go deep into the playoffs but Andy Dalton appears to be making too many mistakes to put them higher than they are.

11.  New York Jets 5-4 – It’s the defense that has taken the Jets into a position where they are now a real possibility for the playoffs.  And now that defense has Ed Reed added to it after the veteran safety signed following release from the Texans, time will tell if this was a good idea or not.

12.  Chicago Bears 5-4 – The Bears have continued to win even while suffering injuries in key areas but now are faced with having to play without Charles Tillman and Jay Cutler.  Losing such talent as these two could prove too difficult.

13.  Green Bay Packers 5-4 – Just like their arch rivals from Chicago the Packers have been unfortunate in getting their top talent hurt.  It’s bad for Green Bay just how different the offense looks without Aaron Rodgers but looking at the schedule it’s possible they can still be in the playoff mix when he returns.

14.  Arizona Cardinals 5-4 – The Cardinals are a team rising but not as quickly as others around them.  Bruce Arians’ men have not won a divisional game yet this year, which as far as playoff chances go could prove costly.

15.  San Diego Chargers 4-5 – Despite Philip Rivers playing very well this season the Chargers are finding things difficult, not helped by the fact they play in the same division as the Chiefs and Broncos.  It would take something special for them to get a wildcard spot.

16.  Dallas Cowboys 5-5 – There’s a lot of negatives surrounding the Cowboys after the defeat to the Saints.  Mainly due to the poor defense not matching the good work the offense has done over the last few weeks.  This week’s game against the New York Giants is big.

17.  Philadelphia Eagles 5-5 – Nick Foles has played very well and has surely earned the starting place at quarterback.  They are now level at the top of the NFC East with the Cowboys, whom they play last game of regular season in what could be a winner takes all showdown.

18.  St. Louis Rams 4-6 – Rookie Tavon Austin finally had his breakout game as the Rams proved they have the tools to beat anyone in powering past the Colts.  Playing in the strong NFC West division though may well prove real success is a bit too far away for Jeff Fisher’s team.

19.  Baltimore Ravens 4-5 – The reigning Super Bowl champions knew it would be a transitional period on defense this year, but it’s the offense that has been really poor.  The schedule from here to the end of the season does not look favourable.

20.  Cleveland Browns 4-5 – Brian Hoyer’s injury seems to have curtailed the Browns season although there is some hope with Jason Campbell at quarterback.  With the defense putting in some impressive performances, if the offense does not start winning this could turn into a season of what might have been for the Browns.

21.  Washington Redskins 3-6 – Robert Griffin III seems to have been rushed back from his knee injury too soon – he’s very slowly been getting back to form and the Redskins have underachieved this year as a result.  However being in the NFC East means they still have a chance at the playoffs.

22.  New York Giants 3-6 – It was hard to watch the Giants slide to 0-6 to begin the season despite the talent on the roster.  They are winning now though and being in that NFC East division, they STILL have a chance of reaching the playoffs.  They couldn’t.  Could they?

23.  Miami Dolphins 4-5 – Remember all the excitement around Miami with new players and a 3-0 start to the season?  Well since then it has got worse and worse and then much worse as issues on and bigger issues off the field look like they have ruined any chance of a good season.

24.  Tennessee Titans 4-5 – Becoming the victims of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first win of the season is not the way to progress and keep in the playoff hunt.  As if the loss wasn’t enough, quarterback Jake Locker is now out hurt for the rest of the season.

25.  Buffalo Bills 3-7 – Any hope of a successful year in Buffalo has gone out of the window just like their recent form.  There’s plenty of talent in this squad too, it’s just not happening on game day.

26.  Oakland Raiders 3-6 – There’s potential in this Raiders team, but now the season is going downhill and young quarterback Terrelle Pryor is finding it hard to make plays under too much pressure from opposing defenses.

27.  Pittsburgh Steelers 3-6 – Pittsburgh’s real problems are on defense, which is not like the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Until the team sorts out those issues they will not challenge in their division.

28.  Minnesota Vikings 2-7 – As mentioned earlier it feels like the Vikings should be so much better.  They have played well in the last two games though and when you have the likes of Adrian Peterson on your offense you can beat anyone.  More stability at quarterback is needed.

29.  Atlanta Falcons 2-7 – Atlanta are on a huge downward spiral –  nothing seems to be working and the schedule isn’t getting any easier.  They would be another spot down in this ranking if they didn’t have Matt Ryan as their quarterback.

30.  Houston Texans 2-7 – The Texans are another squad with big players dealing with big injuries.  But that’s not the only thing going wrong for them this season: quarterback Matt Schaub set a record with four consecutive games with interceptions going the other way for a touchdown, coach Gary Kubiak suffered a mild stroke during the game against the Colts and this week their high-profile new signing for 2013, Ed Reed, was released in part for publicly criticising the team.  Talk about hard times.

31.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-8 – The Bucs campaign really went wrong when they not only lost faith in quarterback Josh Freeman but then appeared to drive him out of the team altogether.  They managed to grab their first win of the year last week against a troubled Dolphins squad and have the roster to win a few more before the end of the season.

32.  Jacksonville Jaguars 1-8 – Jacksonville also used week 10 to get a first win of the season on the board by beating the Titans.  They may get another couple by the end of it all but I can’t see them moving from this spot in the ranking any time soon.

I certainly will not be doing Power Rankings every week, hopefully this will allow me to look at each team in more detail!

As Week 11 is approaching there are some really good games to look forward to.  It’s been a great NFL season so far – let’s hope it continues.