"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
18 Jan 2007
by Bill Barnwell & Ian Dembsky
Ian: And here we go again. It's Brady vs. Manning, take 57 (or it sure seems that way). Season after season it's the same story -- Manning puts up great numbers with great talent around him; Brady wins with not nearly as much talent. I mean, Jabar Gaffney?? How many of you drafted him in your fantasy playoff league? I still refuse to take sides on which quarterback is better, but it sure seems like this weekend will be the biggest test so far of the supporting cast argument.
Can Brady get it done against the Colts with Reche Caldwell, Gaffney, and Troy Brown at wideout? Will they return to the power running game they didn't bother with against the Colts last time? Can the Patriots defense pull out another surprising defensive stifling of Manning & Co. with either a gimpy Rodney Harrison or his backups defending the long ball? And of course, if the contest comes down to the kicking game, who will prevail? Look for the Patriots to do mostly handoffs and play-action to their tight ends after Bob Sanders crashes the line in run support. Look for the Colts to do a lot of what they've been doing -- short gains, take what's given. Look for Addai to be especially active in the passing game. Move the chains. Rely on Vinatieri. Should be a heck of a game.
In Chicago, the Saints are coming to town with a heck of an offense. They continue to balance Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush efficiently, while keeping their wideouts involved in the passing game. The Bears do a great job of limiting big plays, however, so the power running of McAllister will be more important than ever. Chicago tackles so well, it's hard to imagine Reggie having a big game, but if Deuce can push the pile and move the chains, the passing game will be that much easier. Chicago will probably play just as well as they did last week: Not especially effectively, but they'll probably hit a few big plays with Bernard Berrian, and the rushing tandem of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson should help the Bears sustain some long drives while taking the pressure off of Rex Grossman. The matchup of the game will probably be the Saints linebacking crew versus the Bears running attack -- if the Saints can contain the running game and force Rex to move the offense, they'll have a much better chance of forcing turnovers and making big plays to help them win the game.
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Before this weekend's games, however, it's time to name this season's All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team!
Bill: It's an honor to be involved in the selection process for this year's Fourth Annual All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team. Most of the other columns on this website are dedicated to celebrating statistical analysis, the beautiful history of football, and deep, intensive study of game tape. It's only here in Scramble that we get to enjoy the direness that engulfs Houston in December, permeates Ford Field in May, and bewitches Berea in July.
This team is dedicated to those players who simply do the most to hurt their teams, on and off the field. Do you hate laptops? People with laptops? At Denny's? Or, alternately, do you like guns? How about having friends over? What about having those friends mysteriously killed? Do you get distracted by holidays? Double fist? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you are probably a member of the Chicago Bears. Somehow, this team won 13 games. Amazing.
Ian: Indeed, it's time for our Annual-All Keep Choppin' Wood Team for the season. Some players will make it in for specific actions off the field, some for season-long suckitude on the field. All earned it.
Daunte Culpepper, Miami
Ian: The season started with high hopes for Miami. Ronnie Brown looked primed for a huge season, Nick Saban had led the team to an impressive finish last season, and Daunte Culpepper was going to bring it all together. Armed with a top running back, big play receiver Chris Chambers, and veteran tight end Randy McMichael, this was an offense headed in the right direction... until we realized that Daunte pushed himself too hard too quickly and simply wasn't ready to play. His timing was off, he couldn't avoid a sack, and he couldn't hold onto the football. He tanked the Dolphins season early, and the upgrade to Joey Harrington (I can't believe I just wrote that) and the dominating season turned in by Jason Taylor couldn't help them squeeze out a wild card.
Reuben Droughns, Cleveland; Ricky Williams, Miami
Bill: As a Loser League MVP candidate, Droughns averaged a woeful 3.4 yards per carry and had his only big day of the season against the worst run defense in football, the Jets. You can point to the chaos on the interior of the Browns offensive line affecting things as an excuse, but Droughns had a 100 yard game against the Raiders, of all people, in Week 4; his real miserable performances came between Weeks 9-15, when the line should have been settled. Cleveland would sure make a nice landing spot for Michael Turner this off-season.
Williams is almost forgotten when you think about running backs, but he would've been nifty when Ronnie Brown went down this season. He didn't exactly light up the CFL, either, averaging 4.8 yards per carry in a league where the top five running backs in the league averaged 5.53. Just for fun, those top five backs: Charles Roberts (formerly of CSU), Joffrey (sic) Reynolds (ex-University of Houston and former Rams kick returner), Robert Edwards (former Patriots first round pick who tore his knee up playing beach football during the rookie game -- the last bit of bad luck the Patrots have ever had), Troy Davis (former Iowa State star and owner of either a three, four, or six on the Wonderlick, depending upon your source), and Kenton Keith (Roger Craig's cousin).
Jerry Porter, Oakland; Randy Moss, Oakland
Bill: Let it never be said that I haven't given Chris Chambers a break. Anyway, Porter spent the first few weeks of the season suspended, expressing an entirely genuine lack of concern for his team's results, and then clamored for a trade. Once he came back into the lineup, he caught one pass in four games, suffered a hip injury, and went on injured reserve. I don't even want to tell you how much he was paid for that.
Ian: Meanwhile, his active teammate and superstar receiver Randy Moss was making a mockery of the salary he was being paid. I realize that Andrew Walter and Aaron Brooks aren't exactly top notch quarterbacks, but Moss wasn't helping much, either. He always had a reputation for taking plays off, while dominating others. He's still the same player, minus the dominating part. Dropping catchable balls and sulking are not acceptable from a player being paid as much as he is to make big plays. Let's not forget that the Oakland defense was quite frisky during the second half of the season, leaving the door open for one or two big plays a game from the offense to win. They never came.
Doug Jolley, Not The New York Jets/Tampa Bay
Bill: If Kellen Winslow would have won this award for a third consecutive season, we would have had to name this after him. Jolley's here because of what he cost the Jets: 466 points of draft value, roughly equivalent to the 44th pick overall in the draft. Jolley lasted one season in 2005, started seven times, and was dealt this off-season to the Buccaneers. He played in eleven games and caught one pass. Meanwhile, the Jets could have stayed where they were and drafted Heath Miller.
Bob Hallen, Cleveland
Bill: Hallen had a very weird season. Expected to back up LeCharles Bentley, he was thrust into the starting role when Bentley tore his ACL (in Berea) on the first day of camp. Hallen spent a couple of weeks nursing a back injury, and then left the team two days before the first preseason game. His agent was then kind enough to send a "Dear Romeo" letter explaining that Hallen had two herniated discs and would need to retire. Rumors of "personal issues" whirled around the entire situation. Hallen hasn't surfaced since then. It's one thing to have "personal issues," of course, but another to claim a sudden back injury and disappear for an entire season. Then again, Jared Lorenzen disappeared for a season and that only made him even more fantastic.
Kendall Simmons, Pittsburgh; Floyd Womack, Seattle
Bill: Kendall Simmons is generally a pretty competent guard when he is on the field. Unfortunately, he's Smoltzian off of it. Simmons was using a cooling pad on his left foot to try and heal a minor injury when he dozed off; he awoke hours later to find his foot in the throes of frostbite. This seems like one of those "You Wouldn't Make It In Pro Football" commercials, but it actually happened.
Womack is here for something that isn't entirely his fault. Last year, Seattle was second on running up the middle; this year, they were 31st. After letting Steve Hutchinson leave for a few hundred thousand dollars (the difference between designating him as a franchise player as opposed to a transition player) and using the money to sign fifth wide receiver/punt returner Nate Burleson in what essentially ended up being an awful trade, the Seahawks replaced him with the ineffectual Womack and watched their running game go down the tubes. Now they're faced with a division growing better each year and an aging core. But, hey, at least they got that punt return problem figured out.
Robert Gallery, Oakland; Tom Ashworth, Seattle
Bill: Now, it wasn't exactly inside information that Robert Gallery had struggled over the course of his first two seasons after The Sporting News characterized Gallery as a "risk-free choice." There was some hope, though, that the addition of Art Shell might cause Gallery's game to pick up. Shell decided that it would be wise to move Gallery up the offensive line spectrum from right to left tackle. This is like asking a girl out, having her say no, and then asking her to sleep with you. Sometimes, you just gotta take "No" for an answer. Gallery played ten games, allowing 11 sacks and racking up eight penalties. No.
Ashworth's story is similar to Womack; he replaced habitual offender Sean Locklear in the lineup and was no match. Seattle was 29th in the league at running towards right tackle, 28th to right end. A hint to teams: If Bill Belichick doesn't want them, they're probably not that good.
Simeon Rice, Tampa Bay; Andre Carter, Washington
Bill: Simeon Rice is a dramatically overrated defensive lineman most seasons because all he can do is rush the passer. Granted, that's an important part of a defensive lineman's skill set, but it puts him on a totally different planet of value as opposed to guys like Richard Seymour or Julius Peppers. When Rice isn't getting to the quarterback, he's pretty much useless out there. He had two sacks in half a season before he hurt his shoulder and went on IR. All that, and he only cost $9,200,000 on this year's cap! No wonder the Buccaneers are a mess. Want further proof that he's just about done? This article on AOL Sports says that the Lions are interested in trading for Rice.
The sad thing about Andre Carter is that he wasn't even Washington's worst free agent signing on his side of the ball! While Carter was able to muster six sacks, he was part of the worst defensive line in football when it comes to getting to the quarterback. Playing left end, runs against him at right tackle and right end were both safe bets; the Redskins ranked 26th at defending against both. We'll get to the other offender later.
Tank Johnson, Chicago; Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee
Bill: The story's recent enough to stick in everyone's mind, but Johnson's been maced, arrested twice, and had two incidents at nightclubs this year, to go along with the arrest at a nightclub in 2005. The last incident ended with his "bodyguard" getting killed.
I am not one to pretend that Johnson's the only athlete who goes out to nightclubs, smokes weed, or owns a gun. Or six guns. That being said, he's clearly a mess. The solution? Get rid of his nickname. Forget Tank. Until he shows that he can go out on a Saturday night without ending up in the clink on a regular basis, he needs a pacifistic first name. He needs to be encouraged.
Tame Johnson. From now on, he's Tame Johnson.
Albert Haynesworth decided it would be a good idea to step on Andre Gurode's face during Week 3. You know, because there's not any cameras pointed at the end zone or anything. Haynesworth was suspended for six weeks and got a rep for thuggish behavior that his excellent level of play will find it very, very hard to overcome.
Odell Thurman, Cincinnati; LaVar Arrington, NY Giants; Cato June, Indianapolis
Bill: Thurman never made it on the field in 2006. Before the season, he pulled a Rio Ferdinand and didn't bother to show up for a drug test; during his suspension, he was charged with DUI while driving Chris Henry and Reggie McNeal around in McNeal's car. Friends don't let friends drive drunk especially when they are driving friends' cars, Reggie! McNeal would later end up being arrested at a Houston club for shoving a cop and smoking a cigarette laced with an antihistamine, so he might have a case to be on the KCW Scout Team.
Ian: Hopes were high when LaVar Arrington was brought in from the division rival Redskins. Finally, here was a player reminiscent of Lawrence Taylor: An intimidating, flamboyant, fly-to-the-football linebacker that could single-handedly change games. Except that never actually happened. Before getting injured for the season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon, he had a measly 16 tackles and one sack in seven games. For once, Dan Snyder did the right thing in letting someone go.
The Colts were terrible at stopping opposing running backs this season, and the terrible tackling of Cato June was a large reason why. Made famous by Maurice Jones-Drew's end zone romp in a dominating victory by Jacksonville, June was often left in the dust by a runner headed upfield.
Mike Rumph, Washington; Fred Smoot, Minnesota
Bill: In all fairness, we need to cut Mike Rumph some slack. He's been recovering from third-degree burns since his rookie season. You know how there are certain players who need to be accounted for on every play, who get their pre-snap location marked off on the telestrator and mentioned by the radio play by play guy? Rumph deserves the same treatment for the opposite reasons. He's slightly better at safety, but he is strictly Arena-fodder at this point.
You can judge whether Fred Smoot's year was better or worse. Advantages? No sex cruise. Scored a touchdown. Disadvantages? Was benched. Twice. Broke his jaw in five different places in a December car wreck. Most likely had his $47,000 game check for the final game of the season withheld. Oh, late advantage: Got paid $47,000 a week for those games he was benched, too.
Adam Archuleta, Washington; Pat Watkins, Dallas
Bill: The worst free agent-signing of the 2006 season. A bust in every single humanly possible sense of the word. The recipient of the single biggest contract ever handed to a safety, Archuleta might not remain with the team to see a $5 million roster bonus he's due in March. He was such an awful fit for the Redskins that he was replaced by a 35-year-old who had been placed on IR by the Bills earlier in the season. On the bright side, Archuleta dates Playboy's Miss 2001, who notes on her Myspace that she enjoys "... sex with my man." And hey, he probably made Mike Florio some money. Life can't be all that bad.
Meanwhile, Pat Watkins is the new Rob Pettiti. A rookie thrust into a role he was not remotely prepared for by the Dallas organization, Watkins' "exceptional 4.43 speed," as his Wikipedia page notes, was excellent for chasing down receivers who had run past him. As for fakes, well, every time Watkins sees the Budweiser horsies playing football ... he's through six or seven TVs this season alone. He's going to have to pull an Artest and get a job at Circuit City. It's not pretty. He was so bad that he managed to keep Terrence Kiel off this team, and Watkins didn't get arrested for selling souped-up cough syrup this season.
Mike Vanderjagt, Dallas
Bill: Sure, it's easy to pick on Vanderjagt. But when you get a $2.5 million bonus and make Martin Gramatica seem like a good idea twelve games later, you're not playing very well. He can theoretically go back to the CFL, but I'm guessing his me-first attitude wouldn't go over well. Prediction: He gets humbled, becomes a reformed man, and shows up five years from now in the NFL playing the Eddie Murray role. Sole basis for this prediction: Pity.
Chris Hanson, Jacksonville
Ian: Paid more than a million dollars a season to just punt the football, Hanson repaid the Jaguars by having the worst net punting yardage in the league. And let's not forget that he's the reason this whole column exists: It was he who on that fateful day seasons ago chopped his own leg with an axe in an effort to illustrate the team's motto, "Keep Choppin' Wood." Congratulations, Chris. Your efforts have truly come full circle!
Bill: Jason is just about done. Tim and Alex are 1-2 and rooting for a New Orleans-Indianapolis Super Bowl. New England-Chicago would suit me just fine. Russell's about to lose two players regardless of what happens. Aaron's hoping New Orleans plays someone.
Readers are encouraged to figure out which reader had the best "Best of the Rest" team in the comments.
|2007 Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Teams|
|RB||14||Jones, CHI||18||Addai, IND||21|
|WR||Harrison, IND||6||Muhammad, CHI||3||Colston, NO||5|
|K||3||Vinatieri, IND||35||Gostkowski, NE||27|
|QB||2||Manning, IND||15||Brady, NE||35|
|RB||McAllister, NO||28||Bush, NO||13||Maroney, NE||6|
|WR||Henderson, NO||3||Caldwell, NE||19||20|
|K||Carney, NO||9||10||Gould, CHI||11|
Bill: This week's trofeo goes to the brilliant Drayton Florence. Headbutting an NFL player isn't something you see very often. Maybe Florence was trying to get Zinedine Zidane to come over to MLS with David Beckham and wanted to offer up a tribute. Maybe he forgot he was wearing a helmet. Even Haynesworth was smart enough to notice Gurode's helmet was off before he stepped on his head; Florence was a fool and did more to cost his team the game than any of Marty Schottenheimer's mistakes. He also made LaDainian Tomlinson's comments about class after the game look pretty foolish, once people went back and saw what Florence said after the Chargers beat the Patriots last year:
"[Bleep] New England and their team," suggested cornerback Drayton Florence. Florence then said to the collection of onlookers in the hallway. "Get the look of shock off your faces. Don't be shocked. We beat your [butt]."
You know, that Internet thing does have an archive, Drayton.
93 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2007, 9:10am by Insancipitory