By Jason Bryden
Assistant Sports Info Director
Let’s rewind to Jan. 24, the date of last year’s NFC Championship Game, with 19 seconds left. The score is tied 28-28 and the Vikings are driving for the potential game-winning field goal and are at the Saints’ 33 yard-line facing a 3rd and-10. And then it all fell apart for Minnesota. The Vikings got called for a five-yard penalty for too many men on the field making it a 3rd-and-15. Then Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre bypassed two safe options and chose to throw across the field and New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter picked off the pass and sent the game to overtime.
The Saints won the coin toss to get the ball for overtime and on their first possession, kicker Garrett Hartley drilled a 40-yard field goal to send New Orleans to the Super Bowl in which they would win by a 31-17 score over the Indianapolis Colts two weeks later.
Two big questions for the Vikings in 2010 will be, can Favre, who decided to play a 20th season in August, repeat his 33 touchdown-seven interception season and can running back Adrian Peterson cut down his fumbling? Peterson will have a bigger role in the backfield with Chester Taylor leaving for the Chicago Bears. On defense, linebacker E.J. Henderson returns after another leg injury last December in Arizona. Big question for Minnesota: can they overcome last year’s NFC Championship Game loss and win their first Super Bowl?
For the defending champion Saints, the offense returns pretty intact led by Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees. The Saints return to the fray, with wide receivers Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meacham, tight end Jeremy Shockey and running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Can the Saints be as opportunistic on defense like they were a season ago? In 2009, the Saints had 39 takeaways during the regular season and added eight more in the playoffs, including five in the NFC Championship Game. While the Saints did not sack Favre in the game this past January, they hit him on about a dozen occasions. Can New Orleans keep the edge as a champion this year as they have gone from the hunter to the hunted?
In 2009, both of these teams won their respective divisions, but had its playoff dreams come to an end during Wild Card Weekend. Cincinnati, the winners of the AFC North fell to the New York Jets, 24-14, while New England, the champions of the AFC East, dropped a 33-14 decision to Baltimore. On Sunday, these two kickoff the 2010 season in Foxboro.
The Bengals made a major splash during the offseason adding wide receiver Terrell Owens to team up with fellow wideout Chad Ochocinco to give Cincinnati a dynamic 1-2 punch at WR. Both should get plenty of catches from the arm of quarterback Carson Palmer’s arm.
The Bengals defense a season ago was pretty stout for the first 12 games, but tailed off the last four games and the playoffs were they allowed 24 or more points in four of the five games.
Quarterback Tom Brady is now two years removed from knee surgery and looks to regain his form of 2007 when he tossed 50 touchdowns en route to winning the NFL MVP. Wide receiver Wes Welker is coming back from a knee injury of his own had 123 catches last year to lead the NFL. Brady also has Randy Moss at the wideout spot and also 13 touchdowns to go with 83 grabs.
The Patriots’ once great defense, took it on the chin in the playoff loss to the Ravens last year. The defense was hit hard by injuries in the preseason. Can the young players of NE make it great again?
The loser of this game faces a possibility of falling to 0-2 in week two as New England has to go to the Jets, while Cincinnati hosts Baltimore.
Last year both teams went 11-5, but like Cincinnati and New England had its seasons come to an end during Wild Card Weekend. The Packers rallied from 31-10 halftime deficit to force overtime at 45-45, but fell 51-45 when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked and fumbled as the Arizona Cardinals recovered the ball and scored the walk-off touchdown. The Eagles blew a chance for a first-round bye by losing in Week 17 at Dallas 24-0 and then had to go back to Dallas next week and fell to the Cowboys 34-14. On Sunday, one of these two teams will get a chance to get the bad taste out of its mouth.
Green Bay has become a trendy pick in the NFC this season and won seven of its last eight in the regular season a year ago. On offense, the Packers are led by Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and he had a great 2009 season in which he threw for 4,434 yards with 30 touchdown passes to seven interceptions. For the Packers to win though, they must keep him from getting sacked nearly 50 times like he did last year. Many people think this is the year that tight end Jermichael Finley breaks out. Since 1992, the Packers have been at their best when the tight end is really involved in the offense. On defense, reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Charles Woodson leads the way.
It was an offseason of change in Philadelphia as longtime signal caller Donovan McNabb was traded down I-95 to Washington and now quarterback Kevin Kolb is the man for the Eagles. Kolb was 1-1 in two starts last year, but the Eagles averaged 28 points per game in his two starts. The Eagles have a dynamic wide receiver in DeSean Jackson who is also a lethal returner. Jackson had 1167 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. How will the Eagles defense bounce back after two rough outings against the Cowboys last year?
Green Bay has not won in Philadelphia since 1962. The Eagles beat the Packers for the NFL Championship in 1960 and in 2003 scored a 20-17 overtime win in the NFC Divisional Playoff. The Eagles trailed 17-14 and faced a 4th-and-26 with just over a minute left. Philadelphia converted the fourth down, tied it on a field goal and won it in overtime when former safety Brian Dawkins picked off an overthrown pass by quarterback Brett Favre to set up a the winning kick by kicker David Akers.
One of the NFL’s hottest rivalries resumes on Sunday night at FedEx Field as the reigning NFC East Champion Dallas Cowboys take on the new look Washington Redskins.
The Cowboys won their second division title in three years last year and ended a 13-year playoff victory drought with a 34-14 win over Philadelphia in the Wild Card Round before falling 34-3 in the NFC Divisional Playoff. At the end of the Minnesota loss, the Vikings led 27-3 and threw for a late touchdown infuriating linebacker Keith Brooking.
Will that late touchdown motivate Dallas this year? The Cowboys are led on offense by quarterback Tony Romo, the man who holds the key to Dallas reaching its first Super Bowl in 15 years. If he does get the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, it would be the first time a team hosting the Super Bowl reached it as this years game is at Cowboys Stadium.
It is the beginning of a new era for the Redskins as they hired twotime Super Bowl Champion head coach Mike Shanahan in January and on Easter Sunday traded for Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb. The Redskins are hoping these two moves get them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Washington has lost its last nine games against the NFC East and will need to snap that to get out of the NFC East basement which they have occupied the last two years. What affect with the issues of Haynesworth have off the field?
This will be the 14th all-time meeting a FedEx Field with the Cowboys holding an 8-5 edge. Dallas punched its ticket to the playoffs last year with a 17-0 win in Week 16 at Washington. A win by Dallas will give them its 400th all-time win since the merger in 1970. Only Pittsburgh with 403 wins has won more game since 1970 than Dallas. Baltimore-New York Jets
What two things do these two teams hold in common from last year’s playoffs? If you guessed that they both won Wild Card Weekend and lost to Indianapolis you would be correct. While both teams made the playoffs last year, both teams feel their run came up short as the Ravens lost to the Colts in the Divisional Playoff, 20-3, while the Jets came up short in the AFC Championship Game, 30-17. On Monday night, both teams begin the quest of trying to get to Dallas to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLV.
Baltimore made two major splashes in the offseason for quarterback Joe Flacco by adding wide receiver Anquan Boldin and recently snapped up wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Houshmandzadeh is no stranger to the AFC North as he played eight years in Cincinnati.
They join dynamic running back Ray Rice who emerged as an elite back a year ago who can do it all. On defense there is concern in the secondary as all-pro safety Ed Reed will miss at least six games due to being put on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) list. The Ravens are still loaded in the front seven led by linebacker Ray Lewis who is entering his 15th year.
The Jets will play their first game in their new home stadium, The New Meadowlands Stadium. New York recently resigned its all-pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and will be in action on Monday as he held out all of preseason. The Jets also bring back defensive tackle Kris Jenkins into the fold from a knee injury. When healthy, Jenkins is a top flight defensive tackle. On offense, the hope for New York is that quarterback Mark Sanchez can reduce his 20 interceptions and make defenses respect the pass. He does have some targets though in wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and after he serves a four-game suspension Santonio Holmes. The running game added running back LaDainian Tomlinson to team up with Shonn Greene.
Is this the year that head coach Rex Ryan delivers on his promise of visiting The White House? Prior to taking the Jets job, Ryan was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore.
This is the first time the Jets are hosting the Ravens since 2004 when Baltimore scored an overtime victory at Giants Stadium. Baltimore has won the last five meetings, with the most recent game in 2007, after the Jets won the first meeting between the two in 1997.