Hello friends.

We trust that you all had a very nice holiday, and for some of you, that vacation is continuing as we enter the most useless work week of the year.  But some of you unfortunate souls have set aside the egg nog and gone back to the grind.  So have we. And being that today is Monday, we will be focusing yet again on the NFL.  The playoff picture, with one week left to go in the regular season, is remarkably clear.  The New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals clinched their respective divisions on Sunday, joining the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers in the AFC playoffs.  The two wild card spots in the AFC remain up for grabs, with the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets in the driver’s seats.  In the NFC, all six spots have already been claimed. The Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers joined the party yesterday, joining the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals in the postseason.  Who will play who in the first round of the playoffs still remains a mystery, but all that will be cleared up in due time, so we won’t be talking about that.

Instead, we will take the opportunity to bash the previously undefeated Indianapolis Colts for deciding not to play for an undefeated season and instead choosing to rest their best players, eschewing a chance at immortality. We admit that wanted the Colts to lose. We did not, and still do not, believe that this Colts team is one of the best of all-time, even though it has become obvious that Peyton Manning may indeed be the best quarterback ever to play the game.  We wanted them to fall.  But not like this.

Leading the New York Jets 15-10 midway through the 3rd quarter, Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell (pictured with a dejected looking Manning) took his starting offensive and defensive players out of the game, claiming that the game meant nothing to them and that keeping his players healthy for the playoffs was his primary objective.  The Jets, who were playing for their playoff lives, did what they should have done against a team of second stringers  — they scored the game’s last 19 points, winning the contest 29-15 and ending the Colts shot at perfection.  On the bench, the Colts’ starters looked on with a mix of anguish and resignation as  the final moments of their undefeated run came to a close.

But how do you do that?  How do you just give up a shot at immortality (more…)

It had been a long time since Tom Brady got his ass kicked. It had  been even longer since the New England Patriots loss to an NFC team.  But both happened last night, as the New Orleans Saints laid claim to the title of best team in football by trouncing New England 38-17 in a game that failed to live up to the hype surrounding it — largely because the Patriots’ defense failed to show up.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw five touchdowns to five different receivers during a monster performance that made the once-vaunted New England defense look confused and slow, not good news for Patriots fans (There comes a point in the season for most true fans of NFL teams when you realize that your team is probably not going to win the Super Bowl.  That day was last night for us.  We can’t remember this realization coming earlier in any season since the beginning of the Tom Brady era.

The loss to the Saints was the Patriots first regular season loss to an NFC team since week 2 of the 2005 season, a loss to the Carolina Panthers, a streak of 17 straight games in which they beat every team in the NFC, save the Panthers who they play later this season (they beat the Buccaneers and the Falcons twice during that stretch, and lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.) Tom Brady had not lost to anybody by more than a touchdown since Week 14 of the 2006 season, a 21-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins.  Yet all of things streaks came to a crashing halt last night in New Orleans, leading us to ask the tough question … Is this the end of the Patriots’ run?  (more…)

Well, we’re getting down to brass tacks in the NFL.  Save for tonight’s mega-clash between the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints (more on that below), Week 12 of the NFL season is in the books.  And much like this past baseball season, there aren’t that many division races left to be decided.  The Bengals have joined the Colts, Vikings, and Saints as mortal locks to win their divisions, while the Patriots, Chargers, and Cardinals all have commanding leads in their divisions.  That, once again, only leaves the NFC East, where Philadelphia and Dallas continue to do battle.

But much like in baseball, the wild card races are beginning to heat up as the calendar gets set to switch over to December, and the charge is being led by a team that had been left for dead just five weeks ago.  Here is our recap of what you may have missed, and our preview of tonight’s marquee Monday Night match-up.

1. The Tennessee Titans started the season 0-6 and were humbled by the New England Patriots 59-0 just six weeks ago.  Since that defeat, and the insertion of quarterback Vince Young (pictured) into the starting line-up, the Titans have won five in a row and amazingly are back in the playoff hunt.  Last night’s win over the Arizona Cardinals was straight out of a fairy tale.  Trailing by four points with a little over two minutes remaining in the contest, Young and the Titans drove 99 yards in 17 plays, scoring on the last play of the game on 4th and goal on the nine yard line.  Young completed a touchdown pass to Kenny Britt as time expired to keep the Titans unlikely run going and their playoff hopes alive.  Not bad for a guy who was benched for most of last season and the first six games of this year.

2. The Indianapolis Colts are still undefeated after defeating the Houston Texans yesterday 35-27.  The Texans scored the game’s first 20 points before choking away the lead and the game to Peyton Manning and the Colts in the second half.  Indianapolis will next face those streaking Tennessee Titans in Indy next week.

3. Finally, all the action that took place yesterday was mere prelude to tonight’s Monday Night game between the undefeated Saints and the New England Patriots.  Some say that the Patriots are the only thing standing between the Saints and an undefeated season.  We doubt that.  We believe that the Patriots will win tonight because their defense is better than that of the Saints and they have the offense to beat New Orleans in a shootout.  But how amazing is it that a match-up between the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots is all of a sudden the Game of the Year.  (more…)

College football’s traditional rivalries have been in a state of flux for the past several seasons as most conferences in major college football, save the Big Ten, have decided to extend their seasons well into December. But two such rivalries, the Bay Area’s Big Game, and the annual Ohio State-Michigan tilt are on the docket for this weekend.  Also, NASCAR will mercifully come to its conclusion on Sunday, but that day, as always, will belong to the NFL.  Here’s a look at what’s on tap for the weekend before Thanksgiving.

1. Ohio State-Michigan, with apologies to the Alabama-Auburn game, is the best rivalry in college football, and those two storied programs will meet this weekend.  Honestly, if these two programs didn’t hate each other and have a history of playing some great games, there would be very little reason to watch this one.  Ohio State locked up a Rose Bowl berth last week by beating Iowa, and Michigan has not won a game against a Division I foe since late September. But the Wolverines may very well be playing for coach Rich Rodriguez’s job, and the Buckeyes always love trouncing Michigan.  Even this year, it is must-see TV. It’s on ABC at high noon.

2. Stanford-Cal does not have quite the history to it that the Michigan-Ohio State game has, but Big Game has had its fair share of big moments (most notably, the “Band is On the Field” game in 1983). But this edition should be a good one as both teams enter into the game with solid squads.  Stanford is fresh off a thrashing of USC last weekend, while California beat Arizona last Saturday to run its record to 7-3 (identical to that of the Cardinal). That’s a 7:30 EST kickoff.

3. Finally, we are once again ignoring NASCAR, and jumping straight to the NFL slate on Sunday.  (more…)

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Editor’s Note:

There were 13 games on the NFL schedule yesterday, and in the interest of time, we will say that 12 of them really aren’t worth talking about  (If you care, Green Bay, San Diego, Cincinnati, Arizona, Jacksonville, Miami, Tennessee, Washington, Kansas City,  New Orleans, Minnesota and Carolina all won yesterday.  Congrats to them). But the only game that anybody is talking about was last night’s game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts.  And the only play that anyone is talking about is New England coach Bill Belichick’s decision to go for the first down on 4th and 2 from his own 28 with a little more than two minutes remaining in the contest and the Patriots leading 34-28.  Long story short, the Patriots did not get the first down, the Colts went down the field and scored with 13 seconds left to give them an undeserved 35-34 victory.  The Colts move to 9-0 on the season, while the Patriots are now 6-3.

We are now abandoning all semblance of detached neutrality.  We are Patriots fans, and have been since the early 80s.  We grew up loving Stanley Morgan, Steve Grogan, Andre Tippett, and Craig James.  During the 1985 Super Bowl against the Super Bowl Shuffling Chicago Bears, we went into our bedroom near the end of the first quarter and prayed not for the Patriots to win, but only that they would not embarrass themselves (our prayer went unanswered). We loved Drew Bledsoe, but no quarterback was more capable of pulling defeat from the jaws of victory than old number 11 (we still love you though, Drew). We have suffered through some truly galling losses in our history, and we must say that this one ranks at Number 2 on the list of worst losses ever in our Patriots loving life (Number 1, of course, would be Super Bowl XLII, or as it has come to be known throughout the Patriots fan base, the events of 17-14.)

So why was this loss so galling?  Because, yet again, by any empirical evaluation, the better team did not win.  The Patriots flat-out dominated Indianapolis throughout the contest.  They ran nearly 500 yards of total offense.  They ran the ball effectively.  Their passing offense was pretty much unstoppable (except on that 4th & 2 play, which we’ll address later). And on defense, they kept the Colts effectively bottled up until they unfortunately started to relax in the fourth quarter.

So how did they lose?  We watched the entire game and we’re still not sure.  (more…)

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In all honesty, there are very few must-see events on the sporting calendar on Saturday. There is some college football action, but nothing to write home about.  So if you want to do anything with your sports fan we strongly suggest that you do so tomorrow.  The NFL returns on Sunday, and we all know that means.  Add in the fact that the Colts ad Patriots will be going at it on Sunday night, and we would urge you to make alternate plans for Sunday night. Here’s our guide to what’s on tap.

1. The Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots have played each other every year for the last seven years, and the two winningest teams on the decade will renew hostilities on Sunday night.  This rivalry features the two best quarterbacks in the league, bar none, in Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and New England’s Thomas Edward Brady Jr. The Colts enter this game unbeaten at 8-0, while the Patriot are 6-2, but have won their last three games.  This one should be very entertaining.  Don’t expect your average sports fan to be doing anything else on Sunday night.  It’s a good thing the Mad Men finale was last week.

2. If the Colts-Pats game is the main event on Sunday night, the NFL does have a few rather interesting games on the undercard in the afternoon.  The Cincinnati Bengals will travel to Pittsburgh to face the defending champion Steelers at 1 p.m. in a game that will determine the leader in the AFC North.  The Philadelphia Eagles, fresh off a terrible loss to the Dallas Cowboys, will travel to the west coast to face the suddenly resurgent San Diego Chargers.  And the Dallas Cowboys will square off against the reeling Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin.

3. When the best game on the college football schedule is a match-up between Texas Christian and Utah, you know that this is not a banner week on the collegiate gridiron.  But still, there are a few games this weekend that could get in the way of your best laid plans.  Tonight, Cincinnati will put its unbeaten record on the line when the Bearcats face West Virginia at 8 p.m.  This is the beginning of a brutal final stretch for Cincy as they play both the Mountaineers and number 12 Pitt in their final three games, with a home date against pesky Illinois sandwiched between those two league contests.  Speaking of Pitt, they wil go up against Notre Dame on Saturday night in a game that may very well determine the future of Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. (more…)

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The Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers will square off tonight in the Monday Night game, but outside of that skirmish, week 9 of the NFL season is in the books.  Congratulations, non-sports fans.  You are more than halfway through the regular season.  Only eight weeks to go! This week we have decided to combine our Water Cooler Cheat Sheet with our weekly recap of what you may have missed during Sunday’s action We understand that it was an uncommonly beautiful November Sunday yesterday weather-wise along the East Coast, so many of you were probably out enjoying the sunshine instead of being holed up in your living room watching a bunch of men in matching jerseys hit each other for three hours. We’re here to help.

1. “I know the Colts and Saints are both still undefeated, but man did they look vulnerable on Sunday.”

The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints both ran their records to 8-0 with victories over the Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers, respectively.  But neither game was easy.  The Colts needed a missed field goal by Houston kicker Kris Brown in the waning seconds of yesterday’s game to escape with a 20-17 victory.  Meanwhile, the Saints game against Carolina was still in doubt until a late fumble by DeAngelo Williams was returned for a touchdown by New Orleans defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove to provide the Saints with a 30-20 win.  New Orleans looks like a lock to run their record to 9-0 as they face woeful St. Louis this weekend.  The Colts, however, will have their annual tilt with the resurgent New England Patriots on Sunday night.

2. “Looks like the Bengals and Patriots have established themselves as the class of their divisions.”

New England defeated division-rival Miami 27-17 yesterday and now has a two-game lead in the AFC East.  Tom Brady connected with Randy Moss (pictured coasting into the end zone) on a 71-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to lead the Patriots to the victory.  New England has a daunting schedule coming up (more…)