Prediction: Who will win Super Bowl XLIII (43)?

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January 25, 2009


Super Bowl XLIII is going to be an interesting and entertaining game. The National Football League (NFL) featured twelve teams in the playoffs, but who would have thought that the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals would be the final two teams playing in the biggest game of their lives? Not too many.

Before the season started, NFL commentators predicted the New England Patriots or the Indianapolis Colts from the American Football Conference (AFC) and New York Giants, or the Dallas Cowboys from the National Football Conference (NFC) to make it to the Super Bowl. These predictions were not so far-fetched, for these teams had talented players and built with a well-rounded nucleus to make an impact. Unfortunately, these predictions were wrong.

Notably, all of these teams ended the regular season with a winning record: New England Patriots, without the injured Tom Brady, went 11 and 5 but failed to make the playoffs. Indianapolis Colts went 12 and 4, made it to the playoffs, but lost to the San Diego Chargers. New York Giants went 12 and 4, made it to the playoffs, but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas Cowboys went 9 and 7 and failed to make the playoffs, thanks to their constant infighting between players and coaches, caused by none other than Mr. Troublesome – Terrell Owens.

Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers, however, made it to the playoffs and earned their way to the biggest game of the NFL season, the Super Bowl. Their paths to the Super Bowl were not easy but rather difficult.

The Cardinals won their pathetic NFC West division and ended their regular season with a 9 and 7 record, earning them a wild-card berth. They played their first post-season game against the Atlanta Falcons, a team that was highly selected to win by many NFL commentators with their 11 and 5 record; however, the Cardinals played tough and came out victorious, 30 to 24. For their second playoff game, they faced Carolina Panthers, one of the best teams in the NFL that ended the regular season with a 12 and 4 record. The Panthers, too, was picked by many NFL commentators to defeat the Cardinals, especially with their home-field advantage, but that was not the case. Not only did the Cardinals defeat the Panthers on their turf, but they embarrassed them by a score of 33 to 13. Their two wins against two respectable teams provided them a spot in the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that ended the regular season with a 9-6-1 record.

Apparently, their remarkable and quite shocking playoff wins did not make them favorites but rather underdogs. Eagles being favored to win was fitting because they ended the regular season on a hot note, murdering the Dallas Cowboys in a blowout fashion, 44 to 6. In their first playoff game, they defeated Minnesota Vikings 26 to 14; in their second playoff game, they defeated the 2008 Super Bowl Champions New York Giants 22 to 11, a team that was never the same after the suspension of WR Plaxico Burress late in the season. More important, Eagles and Cardinals met in Week Thirteen in the regular season on November 27, and Eagles convincingly defeated Cardinals 48 to 20. However, as football fans know, a regular season game is not the same as a playoff game and their second meeting proved that. The Cardinals dominated the first half of the game and led 24 to 6. The Eagles were unfazed and battled back to take the lead in the second half, but the Cardinals were too much and scored the last touchdown (and a two-point conversion), winning the game 32 to 25. Their win did not only shock the Eagles, but it shocked many. They were not predicted to make it to the Super Bowl, but their hard work earned them a spot to play in the most important game of their lives.

However, their opponent’s road to the Super Bowl was much more challenging. Pittsburg Steelers ended the regular season with a 12 and 4 record in a competitive AFC North division, unlike the Cardinals. In fact, the Steelers’ regular season schedule was more difficult; and still, they ended the season with a great record, which earned them a bye week in the playoffs. The Steelers played their first playoff game against the San Diego Chargers and won by a score of 35 to 24. Their second playoff game, AFC Championship Game, was a major challenge against the Baltimore Ravens, a team the Steelers played twice in the regular season that ended with two nail-biting victories. Unsurprisingly, their third meeting was also a hard-hitting, tough, and close throughout until Troy Polamalu intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Steelers a 23 to 14 victory.

On Sunday, January 18, Pittsburg Steelers and Arizona Cardinals defeated their opponents to play in the Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida at Raymond James Stadium. The Steelers celebrated and captured the AFC Championship trophy, while the Cardinals captured the NFC Championship trophy. However, on February 1, 2009, there can only be one winner and one trophy. The Cardinals’ organization make its first Super Bowl appearance in team history. The Steelers’ organization will make its seventh Super Bowl appearance; they have already won five Super Bowls (their latest was captured on February 5, 2006, Super Bowl XL).

Both the Cardinals and the Steelers are great teams, but the latter (statistically and on the field) are better; that said, it does not rule out the Cardinals, for anything can happen on the field. When it comes to the NFL, any team can win on any given Sunday. In fact, New York Giants, for example, shocked many when they defeated an undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in 2008, rendering the Patriots their first loss of the season and ended their run at perfection with an 18 and 1 record.

The Cardinals have a chance to continue their impressive winning streak and shock many by defeating the Steelers. However, it will not be an easy job; rather, it will be a great challenge, considering the Steelers have the top-ranked defense in the league. In actuality, stats don’t mean anything, because whichever team comes out to play and makes more big plays, then that team will win.

Nonetheless, I predict the Pittsburg Steelers to come out victorious and claim their sixth Super Bowl title, defeating the Arizona Cardinals in a hard-fought game. Final score: Steelers 27; Cardinals 14.

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Originally published/written on January 25, 2009 via now-defunct Web site Helium.com

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2009-10 NFL Week 2 Recap: Miami Dolphins vs. Indianapolis Colts

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September 22, 2009


Winning time of possession is one formula that produces wins in the NFL, but that formula did not work in the Miami Dolphins’ favor on Monday night. The disparity in time of possession was greatly lopsided: Miami Dolphins had the ball for more than 45 minutes, while Indianapolis Colts had the ball for less than 15 minutes.

Miami’s game plan was well executed – because they played a very controlled game – but could not come away with a win at home, losing to the Colts 27-to-23.

Land Shark Stadium attracted several stars (Tiger Woods, Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony, Venus and Serena Williams, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and Jimmy Buffet), but the real star of the night was Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning. He did not throw the ball a lot, but when he did air the ball – he caused damage.

On the first offensive play of the game, Manning completed a pass down the middle to tight end Dallas Clark, and he did the rest, breaking one tackle and taking it into the end zone. It was an 80-yard touchdown pass by Manning.

Miami’s first offensive drive also led to a touchdown, but it was not in a quick-striking fashion but rather a slow and calculated drive, mixed with some wildcat trickery and short passes. Eventually, the wildcat earned Dolphins a touchdown through a 14-yard run by running back Ronnie Brown. This 9-play drive occupied 6 minutes and 6 seconds.

The first quarter ended in a 7-7 tie.

In the second quarter, the Dolphins’ second offensive possession was similar to their first – slow, calculated but effective enough to put some points on the scoreboard.

On Indianapolis’ 28-yard line, the Dolphins had a couple chances to score a touchdown, but the receivers could not come down with the ball: the first play occurred when quarterback Chad Pennington threw a deep middle pass to tight end Anthony Fasano and he dropped it; the second play was a deep pass thrown by Pennington to speedster Ted Ginn Jr., deep right in the back of the end zone, and he misread the ball, causing an incompletion.

Kicker Dan Carpenter connected for a 45-yard field goal, giving the Dolphins a 10-to-7 lead. This drive occupied 7 minutes and 24 seconds.

On the Colts’ third possession, Manning marched his offense down the field quickly, getting two first downs on their first two plays. With a few more plays, the Colts made their way to the Dolphins’ 25-yard line, which resulted in a 43-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri to even the game at 10.

The Dolphins’ following possession started well as they converted two first downs. The drive ate up the clock, but it ended with their first punt of the game. With less than five minutes left in the half, Colts got the ball and went three and out.

Dolphins started with good field position at their 40-yard line and continued their conservative play. The offense showed no will to get the ball into the end zone, despite managing to get two first downs to reach the Colts’ 35-yard line. On first down, Pennington completed a 1-yard pass to Greg Camarilo; on second down, Brown gained 2 yards with a run up the middle to set up a 3rd-and-7.

Apparently, trying to get a first down to possibly score a touchdown was not on their minds, because the play that was called was not a passing play but rather a badly executed running play that yielded 5 yards up the middle by Ricky Williams. This drive showed that Dolphins surrendered the drive and content with a field goal, and thus Carpenter lined up and connected a 44-yard field goal try.

Dolphins retook the lead 13-to-10.

With 35 seconds left on the clock, the Colts took the field at their 26-yard line and that’s all the time they needed. In shotgun mode, Manning completed a 24-yard pass to rookie running back Donald Brown to reach midfield. A couple of plays later, Manning attempted to connect to wide receiver Reggie Wayne down the right sideline, but the ball was intercepted by free safety Gibril Wilson.

The play was challenged and the ruling of an interception on the field was overturned. Replay showed that Wilson dropped a clear-cut interception, a drop that would be costly. With only 8 seconds left on the Colts’ 45-yard line, Manning completed a deep left pass to Clark and he ran out of bounds to stop the clock at 2 seconds. Vinatieri came in and did the rest, making a 48-yard field goal try that was almost missed as the ball hit the right side of the goalpost.

The half ended 13 all.

Like the first two quarters, the third quarter belonged to the Dolphins, not because they did anything special (or scored any points), but because they controlled the ball basically the entire quarter.

Miami received the ball first and meticulously moved the ball down the field, employing the wildcat, short passes and run plays. The drive was effective enough to put some points on the scoreboard, but there was no guarantee. After failing to convert a 3rd-and-7 on the Colts’ 31-yard line, Carpenter lined up for a 49-yard field goal try and missed wide right; it was not even close.

The Colts’ first possession of the second half yielded nothing; this three-and-out possession (which lasted less than 2 minutes) was their only time on the field in the third quarter.

The Dolphins regained the ball with 7 minutes and 8 seconds and had the ball until the third quarter ended, slowly gaining yards as they ate up the clock.

The third quarter ended without a score and still tied at 13.

The time-consuming drive was successful; Brown earned his second touchdown of the game with a 3-yard run. (This 13-play drive lasted 8 minutes and 35 seconds.)

The Dolphins again retook the lead 20-to-13.

The well-rested offense of the Colts came onto the field and toyed with Dolphin’s defense as they gained vital yards through two big plays: the first big play occurred when Manning completed a 49-yard pass to Clark, positioning them on the Dolphins’ 27-yard line; the second play was a 15-yard touchdown run by rookie Brown, breaking several tackles to reach the end zone. (This drive occupied 6 plays for 3 minutes and 17 seconds.)

The game in no time was tied at 20.

The back and forth continued as the Dolphins pulled ahead via a 45-yard field goal by Carpenter, giving them a 23-to-20 lead.

Being behind did not affect the Colts at all. They trailed 10-to-7, 13-to-10, and 20-to-13, and pulled even each time. With 3 minutes and 50 seconds left, this drive would not be the equalizer but the game-deciding drive of the night. They took the lead with one big play, executed by a short right pass from Manning to wide receiver Pierre Garcon and he broke away from defenders for a 48-yard touchdown. This drive only took 32 seconds.

For the first time, the Colts led 27-to-23.

The Dolphins’ offense came onto the field and displayed their worst possession of the entire game. They lined up with no intensity or worry, running the ball their first two plays. Instead of firing the ball downfield, they continued their conservative play with short passes and useless run plays. The cautious play calling was ridiculous – not to mention the horrible time management.

The Dolphins, however, had chance to score a touchdown. With less than 15 second left, Pennington gunned a catchable pass into the end zone for wide receiver Ted Ginn and he dropped it. With only 6 seconds left, Pennington had no choice but to put the ball into the end zone once more hoping for a miracle, but it wasn’t meant to be. The pass was intercepted by free safety Antoine Bethea.

Miami controlled the game from start to finish. The disparity in time of possession was not even close: the Dolphins had the ball for 45 minutes and 7 seconds and the Colts had the ball for 14 minutes and 53 seconds. Surprisingly, the latter was enough to yield a win. The Dolphins dominated basically every category: total first downs (27), third down efficiency (15/21), total rush yards (239), total net yards (403), etc.

Miami’s offense did everything right throughout and played a well-rounded game (excluding the final drive). Running backs Brown and Williams played great, combining for 205 yards: Brown gained 136 yards with 24 carries for 2 touchdowns; Williams gained 69 yards with 19 carries.

Wide receiver Ginn played a respectable game, catching 11 passes for 108 yards. However, when he had chances to make big plays, he did not deliver. He missed a touchdown pass deep in the end zone the first quarter and missed another touchdown pass in the final seconds of the game. Any one of these catches would have given the Dolphins the win. Granted, these passes were tough (especially the first pass which was slightly overthrown), but they were catchable.

Although the Dolphins’ offense played well and exhausted the Colts’ defense, their offense was predictable. When they did not line up in the wildcat formation, a short pass was thrown or a basic running play was executed. Pennington did not even attempt a deep pass for more than 35 yards downfield. In fact, his longest completion was a 21 yard completion to Ginn.

For the Dolphins’ offense to be more efficient in passing, the ball needs to be thrown downfield to give receivers chances to make plays. Like the two-running back system with Ronnie and Ricky, Miami should consider having a two-quarterback system with either Chad Henne or Pat White. Pennington would remain the starting quarterback, while Henne or White would come in sporadically to execute deep passes downfield.

Ginn is fastest player on the Dolphins and one of the fastest in the NFL (in 2007, he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash for NFL scouts with an injured ankle), so why is his speed not utilized?
He has yet to rundown three deep passes downfield with the Dolphins since drafted – and it’s not his fault. If the ball is not thrown downfield a few times in a game, then Ginn and even Devon Bess cannot make big plays downfield.

To put quick points on the scoreboard, the Dolphins need to open up their offense and gun the ball downfield rather than settling for short passes, because the wildcat will not be effective all the time like it was with the Colts.

Despite a dominant performance by the Dolphins’ offense, their defense was horrible – mainly the secondary. The defense was ineffective on blitzes, missed way too many tackles, failed to adjust and audible their defensive plays to match the Colts’ offense, and gave up too many big plays. These mistakes were crucial, which gave Manning the ammunition to destroy the defense at will. He threw for 303 yards and his main target was Dallas Clark.

Clark abused the Dolphins’ defense, catching 7 passes for 183 yards. He was unstoppable and hard to tackle.

Generally, the Colts-Dolphins’ Monday night matchup was enjoyable. The Indianapolis Colts, being the better team offensively but not statistically, had more firepower to improve their record to 2-and-0, while the Miami Dolphins remain winless at 0-and-2 after a heartbreaking defeat.

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Originally published/written September 22, 2009 via now-defunct Web site Helium.com

2009-10 NFL Week 1 Recap: Miami Dolphins vs. Atlanta Falcons

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September 14, 2009


The Miami Dolphins start off the 2009-10 NFL season similar to last year, with a lost. Miami entered the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon and nearly left without putting any points on the scoreboard (due to countless mistakes and turnovers). In regard to latter, it started early and it was not pretty.

Falcons’ offense took the field first and moved the ball down the field. Chances to put points on the scoreboard were there, but QB Matt Ryan could not connect with his receivers due to his inaccurate throws. The offense, however, positioned kicker Jason Elam for a 42-yard field goal which he missed.

Unlike the Falcons, the Dolphins’ opening drive went nowhere and ended quickly. Ronnie Brown ran the ball twice for a few yards, which set up a 3rd-and-5. On this play, QB Chad Pennington, under pressure, failed the get rid of the ball and remained in the pocket too long, which resulted in a sack by defensive end (DE) Kroy Biermann who simultaneously caused a fumble that Falcons recovered.

Both offenses could not put any points on the scoreboard the first quarter, but the Falcons were clearly the aggressors and it showed in the second quarter.

Falcons started the second quarter with the ball and slowly took it downfield, which resulted in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to fullback Ovie Mughelli. The drive took more than six minutes off the clock.

With Elam’s extra point kick, the Falcons led 7-to-0.

Dolphins lined up on offense and showed some signs of life, but it was fruitless as the offense continued to struggle. Late in the second quarter, Dolphins put together a decent drive (reaching Falcons’ 16-yard line). This drive could have resulted in a touchdown or field goal, but the offense found a way to screw it up again via a turnover – a turnover that was caused by a violent hit linebacker Mike Peterson delivered to tight end (TE) Anthony Fasano at the 10-yard line. The ball flew into the air and into the hands of Falcons’ defensive back (DB) Brian Williams, who took the ball in the opposite direction for more than 50 yards.

Falcons lined up for a 36-yard field goal after the offense failed on third down. Elam connected, giving the Falcons a 10-to-0 lead at the half.

The second half for the Dolphins was no better and simply unimpressive, due to an unproductive offense. They received the ball first and did nothing, running three insignificant plays which led to a punt. Falcons also went three and out in their opening drive, but their defensive players found many ways to dominate and stop the Dolphins.

With two minutes left in the third quarter, Pennington tried to connect with Fasano, but the ball was intercepted by Peterson who brought it back to Miami’s 20-yard line. This interception was the third turnover by the Dolphins and it would be costly. On Falcons’ third play of the drive, Ryan connected with TE Tony Gonzalez who broke one tackle and ran into the end zone for a touchdown. Elam later missed the extra-point kick.

At this juncture, Falcons led 16-to-0 late in the third quarter.

The following offensive possession for the Dolphins ended the same way like their prior possession, with a turnover – a turnover that occurred when Pennington completed a pass to Fasano and he lost the ball again. This was his second fumble of the game that was recovered by Falcons’ DT Babineaux.

As a whole, nothing was going right for the Dolphins and they were still scoreless after three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Falcons managed to put three more points on the scoreboard with a 50-yard field goal by Elam.

With less than four minutes to go in the game, Dolphins finally found a way to get into the end zone when Pennington connected with Ricky Williams for a 9-yard touchdown pass. Kicker Carpenter capped it off with an extra-point kick, but it was too late for the Dolphins.

The Falcons still led 19-to-7 and that’s how the game ended.

Despite the poor offensive showing of the Dolphins, the defense played a well-rounded game. Falcons’ running back Michael Turner was contained and struggled running the ball, carrying 22 times for 65 yards; his longest run was 12 yards.

In fact, the defense allowed Miami to remain in the game by providing the offense with many chances to score, but the offense as a whole was completely lethargic and unproductive. Neither the running nor the passing game showed any signs of productivity. When there were some signs of productivity, it was not consistent.

Every time they had a drive going that could have possibly put some points on the scoreboard, they found a way to screw it up, whether it came via a turnover or failing to convert a third down conversion. The game was simply stupid-ugly and painful to watch. The offense was sloppy, sluggish, and all over the place.

The offense netted 259 total yards. Pennington, 21/27, threw for 187 yards. Wide receiver Devon Bess was his leading receiver with 7 receptions for 57 yards. Top-receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. had 2 catches for 27 yards.

Running back Ronnie Brown carried the ball 10 times for 43 yards, while running back Ricky Williams carried the ball 7 times for 39 yards, combining for 82 yards.

The offensive line which was thought to be solid could not protect Pennington the entire game, nor could it open up holes for the running game to be effective. Pennington was sacked 4 times (John Abraham and Kroy Biermann had 2 sacks each) and constantly pressured.

Having the most difficult schedule in the league this season, the entire team needs to play with more intensity and play a turnover-free game, because it will not get easier but rather harder. Committing four turnovers in a game will not get the job done (and this game showed that).

With a horrible game by the Miami Dolphins, Dol-fans need not worry because it’s only one defeat. The season is long and rebounding from one loss is not a hard task. It should be noted that Miami started last season 0-and-2 and ended the season with an 11-and-5 record and was awarded AFC East champions. However, each player needs to get himself together and play better, especially those on offense and special team. More important, they need to play more effective as a team if they hope to compete – and one way is by limiting the turnovers.

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Originally published September 14, 2009 via now-defunct Helium.com

2009 NFL Playoff Game Review: Pittsburgh Steelers v. Baltimore Ravens

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January 28, 2009


The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens have come a long way to clash for supremacy in the American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Game – a game that would determine which team would move on to play in the biggest game of the National Football League (NFL), the Super Bowl. The paths that brought them to this important game were different but equally difficult.

The Steelers ended the regular season with a 12 and 4 record in an AFC North division that was competitive. Because the Steelers won their division, they were given a bye week for the playoffs. In their first playoff game, which was a home game, the Steelers faced San Diego Chargers, a team that barely made the playoffs with a mediocre record of 8 and 8. This was also a team that the Steelers were familiar with, because they met in the regular season in Week Eleven on November 16, 2008. The Steelers defeated them by one point, 11 to 10. Their second meeting on January 11 was no different, for the Steelers defeated the Chargers 35 to 24. This victory earned them a spot in the AFC Championship Game, where they would battle their AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens – an extremely tough team that they were too familiar with.

The Ravens ended the regular season with an 11 and 5 record and ranked second after the Steelers in the AFC North division. Unlike the Steelers, the Ravens did not have a bye week and entered the playoffs via a wild-card berth. In their first playoff game, the Steelers faced the Miami Dolphins, a surprising team that won their AFC East division with a record of 11 and 5 after having the worst record (1 and 15) in the NFL last season. The Ravens and the Dolphins met each other in Week Seven of the regular season; the Ravens came out victorious by a score of 27 to 13. In their second meeting, the Ravens’ defense was simply too strong and, again, they defeated the Dolphins 27 to 9. In their second playoff game, the Ravens faced the Tennessee Titans, one of the best teams in the league that held the best record (13 and 3) and highly predicted to make it to the Super Bowl and win. However, that was not the case. The Titans did not live up to their name or the high expectations; they played sloppy and committed more than enough turnovers, and thus lost to the Ravens 13 to 10. Interestingly, both teams met previously in Week Five of the regular season, where the Titans coincidently won 13 to 10. This win over the Titans earned the Ravens a spot in the AFC Championship Game to face their nemesis, the Steelers. This would be their third face-off of the season.

In the regular season, they met in Week Four (the Steelers won 23 to 20) and in Week Fifteen (the Steelers won 13 to 9). Even though the Steelers defeated the Ravens twice in the regular season, the Ravens played tough and could have easily won both games. In fact, the first game ended in overtime, and the second game ended in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. These two games were hard-hitting, tough, and dirty. In more concrete language, these games were brutal and some players felt it: in their first meeting, the Ravens lost starting running back (RB) Willis McGahee, but he recovered to play the following week; the Steelers lost rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall to a season-ending left shoulder fracture which placed him on injured reserve; the Steelers also lost starting guard Kendall Simmons to a season-ending Achilles injury.

When these two teams met, players on both sides played violently rough (so injuries, scuffles, and helmets being knocked off were not uncommon). Thus, NFL commentators/fans were salivating for their third meeting in the AFC Championship Game, for their prior games were entertaining.

Their third meeting on Sunday, January 18, 2009 was no different and lived up to the hype. The Steelers received the ball first, and their offense took the field looking to strike first. The opening plays were tough, but they converted 3rd-and-12 for 45 yards to get a first down. The play was executed by a deep middle pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger to WR Hines Ward, which placed them on the Ravens’ 23 yard line. A few plays later, the Steelers were unable to convert 3rd down-and-3, so they settled for a successful 34-yard field goal by Reed. They were up 3 to 0.

The Ravens, on their first drive, tried to answer back as rookie QB Joe Flacco led his offense on the field. The first play gained two yards; the second play gained nothing, which set up a 3rd-and-8 that was unsuccessful. The Steelers took possession and they, too, went three and out as they failed to convert a 3rd-and-9 due to a sack of QB Roethlisberger. When the Ravens offense took the field again, they employed the no-huddle offense no to avail and committed an interception. The turnover occurred as Flacco, being pressured on third down, tried to complete a pass to his WR, Derek Mason, but it was picked off by cornerback Deshea Townsend. This interception was crucial, for it placed the Steelers in great field position to put more points on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, the Steelers did not score a touchdown, but the turnover did render three more points via a 42-yard field goal by Reed.

At the end of the first quarter, the Steelers led 6 to 0.

In the second quarter, the Steelers’ offense did not let up. Early on in the quarter, the Steelers lined up for third down and scored a 65-yard touchdown. The play was executed when Roethlisberger, heavily under pressure, scrambled out of the pocket and flipped a pass to the right side to WR Santonio Holmes; he did the rest by breaking a couple of tackles and got some great blocks from his teammates as he ran for more than forty yards for a diving touchdown on the left side. The extra point kick by Reed was good. This drive was quick and efficient, taking only 3 plays that lasted 1 minute and 37 seconds.

The Steelers were up 13 to 0.

The Ravens’ offense took to field with more than 13 minutes left in the second quarter. They were doing pretty well running and passing the ball, and were slowly driving down the field. In fact, they managed to get three first downs. The way they started the drive appeared as if they were bound to score, if not a touchdown at least a field goal. Unfortunately, their more-than-six-minute drive was fruitless, for they did not score any points and had to punt the ball to the Steelers. The Ravens’ defense came up big by stopping the Steelers from scoring again and was given another chance to score before the intermission. Unlike the previous drives, the Ravens scored this time, thanks to a defensive pass interference that put their offense three yards away from a touchdown. Being that close to the end zone, the Ravens gave McGahee the ball and he ran it in for a touchdown. The extra point by kicker Matt Stover was good. They were still down but content to get on the scoreboard before halftime, which cut the deficit to six.

During the half, the Steelers were ahead 13 to 7.

In the third quarter, both teams struggled to score due to their smothering and strong defensive plays. Both teams, on offense, were unable to move the ball in scoring range in their opening drive. The only score in the third quarter came via Reed who kicked a 46-yard field goal for the Steelers, giving them a nine point lead. This scoring drive was the longest drive of the quarter, which lasted more than five minutes.

At the end of the third quarter, the Steelers were ahead 16 to 7.

The fourth quarter, like their previous two games in the regular season, was interesting. The Ravens were not going down easy and would not surrender. They made it a close game by scoring their first touchdown since the second quarter. This touchdown occurred almost in the same fashion like their first. Flacco gunned a pass inside the end zone to WR Smith, which drew a costly pass interference penalty, placing the Ravens’ offense on the 1 yard line. With 1st-and-goal, McGahee was given the ball and he carried it in for a 1-yard touchdown, his second touchdown of the game. The extra point by Stover was good. The Steelers were still up 16 to 14.

When the Steelers got the ball on offense, they went the conservative route by running on 1st and 2nd down. On 3rd down, Roethlisberger lined up in shotgun mode, but he was sacked by outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, losing three yards. When the Ravens got the ball back with 6 minutes and 50 seconds left in the game, they went into hurry-up mode by employing the no-huddle offense. They moved the ball a few plays; in fact, Flacco completed a 20-yard pass to his tight end, Todd Heap. But on 3rd-and-13, Flacco made a costly mistake when he tried to deliver a pass to Mason, which was picked off by strong safety Troy Polamalu. Not only did he intercept the pass, but he dodged many defenders to score a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. The extra point was good, which provided the Steelers a comfortable lead of 23 to 14.

The Ravens tried to rally back, but it was not their day. When they got the ball back, they did not only have to fight the defense of the Steelers but also the game clock which was winding down. Therefore, they continued their hurry-up mode, but were oblivious of what would happen next.

On 2nd-and-6, Flacco delivered a short middle pass to Willis McGahee; and as soon as he turned around to head up field, he was viciously leveled by free safety Ryan Clark (causing him to drop the ball that the Steelers recovered). The hit, legal but violently vicious, left both McGahee and Clark motionless on the ground. Training staff from both teams rushed on the field to assess the situation. The collision was scary and serious, so serious that players and coaches from both teams converged on the field, while the trainers assisted the injured players. Clark remained on the ground for about two minutes and sluggishly walked off the field with the help of two trainers: one on his left side holding his left arm; and one of right side holding his right arm. McGahee, on the other hand, remained on the ground as the training staffs took extra precaution by securing his neck and entire body. A stretcher was brought out onto the field, where he was carefully placed and carted off (after being on the ground for more than six minutes). He did, however, have some subtle movement in his hands and legs while on the ground, which was a good sign.

After this collision, viewers could tell that energy from both sides was subdued. The Steelers’ offense took the field and milked the clock down to the two-minute warning. The Ravens, knowing their hope for a comeback was over, got the ball back with 1 minute and 45 seconds left; they tried to score, but Flacco committed an interception, which sealed the game for the Steelers.

The final score was 23 to 14, earning the Steelers a trip to the Super Bowl. The Ravens entered Heinz Field on Sunday, January 18, with the intention of celebrating a victory on the Steelers’ home turf, but they met a stronger opponent that had a steel that was unable to be penetrated or conquered. This will be the Steelers seventh appearance in a Super Bowl; they have already won five Super Bowl titles and will try to win their sixth title in the most important game of the NFL season. (Their latest title was captured on February 5, 2006, Super Bowl XL.)

Overall, this AFC Championship Game was amazing and entertaining – and of course, hard-hitting! It was actually one of the best playoff games during the postseason. Both teams played the best they could and presented two tough defenses; however, the difference-maker of the game was the defense exhibited by the Steelers. They were simply tougher and made more big plays overall. They lived up to their name because their defense was robust as steel.

The Pittsburg Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens represented the NFL well by rendering a spectacle NFL Films will gladly add to its collection and broadcast in the future with pride. The rivalry between these two teams will continue for years. The Ravens’ season ended in a heartbreaker, while the Steelers move on to play the Arizona Cardinals in the biggest game of their lives, Super Bowl 43, on Sunday, February 1, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.

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Originally published January 28, 2009 via now-defunct Web site Helium.com

2009 NFL Playoff Game Review: Philadelphia Eagles v. Arizona Cardinals

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January 26, 2009


The Arizona Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles have come a long way to meet in the National Football Conference (NFC) Championship Game – a game that would determine which team would move on to play in the biggest game of the National Football League (NFL), the Super Bowl. The paths that brought them to this important game were different but equally difficult.

The Cardinals ended the regular season with a 9 and 7 record in an NFC West division that was weak and uncompetitive. In fact, the NFC West was one of the weakest divisions in the NFL; however, the Cardinals won their division which earned them a wild-card berth in the playoffs. In their first playoff game, the Cardinals faced Atlanta Falcons, a team that was expected to win by many NFL commentators with an 11 and 5 record, but the Cardinals played tough and defeated the Falcons 30 to 24. In their second playoff game, the Cardinals faced the Carolina Panthers, one of the best teams in the NFL which ended the regular season with a 12 and 4 record. Moreover, because of Panthers’ great record, they earned a bye the first week of the playoffs and home-field advantage. Unfortunately, the week off and the home-field advantage did not help, for the Cardinals not only defeated the Panthers on their home turf but embarrassed them by a score of 33 to 13.

The Eagles, on the other hand, ended the regular season with a 9-6-1 record in a very competitive NFC East division. They did not win their division but finished second, which earned them a wild-card berth. The Eagles entered the playoffs on a hot note, obliterating the Dallas Cowboys in a blowout fashion, 44 to 6, in the final game of the regular season. In their first playoff game, the Eagles faced the Minnesota Vikings on their home turf and defeated them by a score of 26 to 14. In their second playoff game, the Eagles faced 2008 Super Bowl XLII Champions New York Giants, which ended the regular season with a 12 and 4 record. This was not the first meeting between the two teams. The Eagles and the Giants met twice in the regular season: in Week Ten, the Giants won 36 to 31; in Week Fourteen, the Eagles won 20 to 14. The third meeting was a tossup, but Eagles came out victorious, defeating the Giants on their home turf by a score of 23 to 11.

The Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals worked hard and defeated tough teams to meet head-to-head in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, January 18, 2009. The Cardinals entered the game as underdogs; no one thought they had a chance to win. In fact, the consensus by NFL commentators predicted that they would lose. The consensus was not far-fetch, for Eagles played and defeated tougher teams throughout. Moreover, the Eagles and the Cardinals met in Week Thirteen in the regular season, where they easily defeated the Cardinals 48 to 20. But their second meeting was a different story, and the Cardinals proved all the doubters wrong.

The Cardinals came to play and it showed early on. In the first quarter, the Cardinals received the ball first; they put together an impressive drive that lasted nearly six minutes and it paid off. QB Kurt Warner threw a short pass to WR Larry Fitzgerald, and he did the rest by breaking tackles and scored a touchdown; the extra point kick by Neil Rackers was good, giving them an early lead of 7 to 0.

The Eagles’ offense finally took the field to answer the Cardinals’ touchdown. On their first play, QB Donovan McNabb dropped back to pass but found no one open, so he tucked in the football and scrambled for 21 yards. The drive continued with the Eagles getting another first down, but it ended when they failed to convert on 3rd and 9 due to an incomplete pass by D. McNabb. Nonetheless, their drive did not go in vain, for kicker David Akers kicked a 45-yard field goal to put 3 points on the scoreboard.

At the end of the 15-minute quarter, the Cardinals led 7 to 3.

In the second quarter, the Cardinals simply dominated the Eagles. The Cardinals employed a trick play, the flea flicker, which led to a beautiful touchdown. Warner lateraled the ball to his running back J.J. Arrington, forcing the defense to converge on him; Arrington then delivered a backward pass to Warner, who gunned a 62-yard touchdown pass to Fitzgerald. The extra point attempt was good, giving the Cardinals a 14 to 3 lead.

When the Eagles got the ball, they did pretty well and easily drove down the field when McNabb threw a short pass through the middle to WR Kevin Curtis, who gained a bulk of yards as he avoided tacklers and ran down the sideline until he was knocked out of bounds at the 19 yard line. The pass to Curtis gained 47 yards, but they were unable to score a touchdown. Thus, they settled for a 33-yard field goal by Akers. The score at this point still had the Cardinals leading 14 to 6.

Near the end of the second quarter, the Cardinals put together a long drive that lasted nearly six minutes and scored a 1-yard touchdown. The touchdown was executed by a pass by Warner to Fitzgerald; this was his third touchdown catch of the game. The extra point by Rackers was good. The Cardinals was up by two touchdowns, leading 21 to 6.

With less than three minutes left in the second quarter, the Eagles’ offense took the field in dire need of a touchdown. They gained one first down before the two-minute warning and had possession shortly thereafter. They tried to march down the field, but the Cardinals’ defense was too tough and stopped them on third down, which caused Cardinals to gain possession. With the ball, the Cardinals did not score a touchdown, but the offense placed their kicker in great position to put more points on the scoreboard. With three seconds left in the half, Rackers kicked a 49-yard field goal, giving the Cardinals a commanding lead at halftime.

During the half, the Cardinals were ahead of the Eagles 24 to 6.

They simply dominated the entire first half and the Eagle had no answers. Would the Cardinals continue their dominance in the second half? Not quite. The Eagles were determined to make the 3rd and 4th quarter competitive and that’s what they did.

The third quarter started with the Eagles getting first possession. The Eagles found a way to move the ball down the field, but the drive ended when McNabb was sacked and fumbled the ball, causing the Cardinals to recover the ball. In the Cardinals’ first possession of the third quarter, they went three and out and failed to get a first down, giving possession back to the Eagles. The Eagles executed a well-rounded drive by milking the game clock and moving the ball down the field, which eventually rendered a touchdown. The biggest play of the drive happened when McNabb hooked up again with his WR, Curtis, for a 50 yard play. A few plays later, McNabb found his open TE, Brent Celek, for a 6-yard touchdown pass; the extra point was good. This drive occupied 13 plays that lasted 5 minutes and 59 seconds.

With the score, the Eagles closed the gap but were still down 24 to 13.

When the Cardinals received the ball, the Eagles’ defense tightened up and kept Fitzgerald in check; what was working in the first half was not working in the second half. Warner threw two incomplete passes and was sacked on third down. They went three and out in an unsuccessful drive that took less than one minute. This is exactly what the Eagles needed and they took advantage. Late in the third quarter, McNabb threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Celek, his second touchdown catch of the game. Strangely, Akers missed the extra point kick wide right.

The Eagles were climbing back and closed the gap to a touchdown but were still behind 24 to 19. They dominated and ended the third quarter by scoring all the points.

In the fourth quarter, the game became more interesting. Thanks to veteran QB McNabb, the Eagles’ offense did not let up. In the top of the fourth quarter, McNabb gunned a 62-yard touchdown to rookie WR DeSean Jackson. The play as a whole was simply amazing; McNabb rolled out for a play-action pass, looked down the field, and gunned a beautiful pass to his speedy receiver, who bobbled the ball but eventually caught it for a touchdown. Instead of going for the extra point kick, the Eagles went for a two-point conversion to make it a three-point lead, but they failed.

Nonetheless, the Eagles were ahead in the game for the first time, 25 to 24.

Some of the players on the Cardinals’ sideline looked stunned; the entire stadium went silent. But, like the Eagles, the Cardinals also had a veteran QB, Warner, who knew how to handle the pressure since he played in many big games, and won Super Bowl XXXIV with the St. Louis Rams in 2000 (as well as the MVP of that game). Warner and his offense took the field with 10 minutes and 39 seconds left in the game. They executed a lengthy and important drive, which put them in a great position to take the lead via a field goal or a touchdown. Fortunately, they scored a touchdown, executed by an 8-yard pass from Warner to rookie RB Tim Hightower with 2 minutes and 53 seconds left in the game. They bypassed the extra point kick and settled for a two-point conversion which was successful. This entire drive was crucial, for it occupied 14 plays that took 7 minutes and 52 seconds.

The Cardinals retook the lead by seven, leading 32 to 25.

The Eagles tried to answer back but failed to convert a 4th down conversion when Curtis was unable to catch a pass as he was falling to the ground. Curtis, and other players, thought he was interfered with, but no flags were thrown by the referees. The Eagles would get the ball again with 9 seconds left at their seven yard line (deep near their end zone), but they were unable to pull out the miracle.

In the wild, eagles are clearly much stronger and dominant birds than the cardinals. However, in the University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cardinals showed that they were the stronger bird. They did the unthinkable, defeating the Eagles 32 to 25 – and earned themselves a trip to the Super Bowl (for the first time in team history) to face the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers.

After the game, the play-by-play commentator shouted vociferous with euphoria and surprise, “The Cardinals have shocked the world!” Not only did they shock the world, but they shocked the Eagles, who were predicted to win. Confetti rained down on the field as if they won a Super Bowl, with overjoyed players wearing big smiles while others shed tears of joy.

Overall, this NFC Championship Game was amazing and entertaining. It was actually one of the best playoff games during the postseason. Both teams played well, but the difference-maker of the game was the Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He was simply unstoppable and abused the Eagles’ defense, catching 9 passes for 152 yards and scored 3 touchdowns.

The Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals represented the NFL well and rendered a spectacle that will be a great edition for NFL Films. The Eagles’ season ended in a heartbreaker, while the Cardinals move on to play the Pittsburg Steelers in the biggest game of their lives, Super Bowl 43, on Sunday, February 1, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.

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Originally published January 26, 2009 via now-defunct Web site Helium.com

Review: Top NFC Division Champions of 2008-2009 NFL Season

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March 18, 2009
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Like every NFL season, the 2008-2009 NFL season started with predictions on which teams would be dominant and which teams would be weak and fall short of success. Some of these predictions, made by NFL analysts, were somewhat spot-on while others were outright inaccurate.

NFC EAST
The NFC East is a good example where predictions were far from true. With well-known players like wide receiver Terrell Owens, quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, linebacker Zach Thomas, and a few others, the Dallas Cowboys were predicted by some NFL analysts to at least be a contender for the number one spot in the NFC East. The predictions were not far from impossible, because the previous year they won their division and ended the 2007-08 regular season with an impressive record of 13-and-3. However, the predictions in the 2008-09 season were not even close (albeit they finished with a winning record).

The team of course had talented players, but talent can only get a team so far. If players can not play as a team (due to infighting) and be one, then problems will occur and that is exactly what transpired – thanks to Mr. Troublesome, Terrell Owens.

The Cowboys started off well and had a chance to extend their season via the postseason, but they crumbled at the end due to the lack of discipline, distractions and infighting, precipitated by Owens for not getting the ball thrown his way. Had they won their last two games, their record would be 11-and-5, placing them second in their division and playoff bound. Unfortunately, luck was not on their side, for they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 33-to-24 and was murdered by the Philadelphia Eagles 44-to-6. Their last game against their NFC East rival, the Eagles, showed how dysfunctional the team was and miserably wrapped up their season.

At the end of the regular season, the standings were as follows: the New York Giants won the NFL East with a 12-and-4 record; the Philadelphia Eagles finished second with a 9-6-1 record; the Dallas Cowboys finished third with a 9-and-7 record; and the Washington Redskins finished last with an 8-and-8 record.

New York Giants topping the NFC East was no surprise, for they had enough talent and discipline to accomplish such feat. Moreover, they had an excellent 2007-08 season: they ended the regular season with a great record of 10-and-6; they fought their way through the playoffs, and thus defeated the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42 in impressive fashion.

As a result, many had high hopes for the Giants to follow-up with a great season and postseason – and perhaps repeat a Super Bowl Champions. Indeed, they had a great regular season with a 12-and-4 record, which awarded them homefield advantage and a first-week bye in the playoffs. Although they had a great regular season, they faltered near the end and were not the same team, losing 3 of their last 4 games: they were defeated by the Eagles (Week 14), the Cowboys (Week 15), and the Vikings (Week 17).

The Giants was without their key wide receiver Plaxico Burris, after he was suspended by the team for accidentally shooting himself in the leg with an unregistered gun at a New York nightclub on November 28, 2008.

Not only did Burris’ absent affect the Giants’ effectiveness on offense near the end of the regular season, but it also affected their play in the playoffs. Consequently, they lost their first playoff game to the Eagles 23-to-11; Eli Manning failed to throw a single touchdown. With their season over, the one what-if question that permeated through the minds of many was obvious: Had Plaxico Burris been present, would the outcome be different? Who knows?

NFC NORTH
The NFC North was an interesting division, not to mention a funny division due to one team’s struggle throughout. It was one of those divisions where fans focused on their team, but also keyed on the Detroit Lions, simply because people were interested to see if they would make NFL history – not in a good way but rather in a bad way.

The Lions, under head coach Rod Marinelli, started the season very poorly and their struggle continued every time they stepped onto the field. Granted, they lost a few close games that were winnable, but their entire season was an embarrassment of enormous proportion. Not only did they (players, coaches, and the franchise as a whole) embarrass themselves, but they embarrassed the NFL. Finding a win was like trying to find a few good playmakers that could turn a game around, and a fixed quarterback to lead the team.

During one game, a fan had a large sign that read: “CONGRESS FORGET GM BAIL OUT THE LIONS.” Some fans even covered their heads with brown paper bags, because they were so embarrassed. In consequence of their misery on the field, they became infamous and made NFL history by going winless, 0-and-16, in a sixteen-game season.

They were the laughingstock of the league, and rightfully so; everyone had something to say, from fans to NFL analysts/sportscasters, from comedians to late-night talk show hosts, etc. To make matters worse, the franchise had been awful for years. In fact, during the three-year reign of head coach Marinelli, the Lions recorded a dismal record of 10-and-38.

Quarterback Dan Orlovsky stated, “I don’t ever want to be a part of this again. We haven’t won since, November of 07, maybe? I don’t even know the last time we won a game.” Actually, the Lions’ last win came December 23, 2007 when they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, but it’s sad enough when a player does not know when his team recorded a win. Head coach Marinelli, unsurprisingly, was fired shortly thereafter.

The NFC North had two teams fighting for the top position, the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears. In the end, the standings were as follows: the Minnesota Vikings were crowned division champions with a 10-and-6 record; the Chicago Bears finished second and failed to make the postseason with a winning record of 9-and-7; the Green Bay Packers finished third with a 6-and-10 record; and the pathetic Detroit Lions rendered a winless season.

The Vikings had a good season and made the playoffs as a team, but one player that was instrumental with their success was running back Adrian Peterson. In his second season, he won the rushing title with 1,760 yards; he averaged 4.6 yards per carry. He also rushed for more than 100 yards in ten games. The Vikings having such talent on their team was (and is) a plus. However, in the playoffs, Peterson and the Vikings met a stronger competitor, the Philadelphia Eagles, and were eliminated.

NFC SOUTH
The NFC South, unlike the NFC North, was a very competitive division. Three teams finished with a winning record and had a chance late in the season to top their division.

At the end of the season, the standings were as follows: the Carolina Panthers were crowned NFC South Champions with a 12-and-4 record; the Atlanta Falcons finished close behind with a record of 11-and-5 and made the playoffs; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished third with a 9-and-7 record (they lost their final 4 games); and the New Orleans Saint finished last with an 8-and-8 record.

The Carolina Panthers had one of the best records in the NFL, which granted a first-week bye in the playoffs. The Panthers were predicted to be a force to reckon with in the playoffs; in fact, they were heavily favored to defeat the Arizona Cardinals and make some noise. They did make some noise, but not the noise that many predicted. Instead, the noise came on the sideline as players muttered and looked shocked by how they were being dominated by the Cardinals. The Panthers were never in the game and were battered by a score of 33-to-13.

NFC WEST
The NFC West division recorded the lowest win total in the NFC with 22 total wins. Not one team in this division rendered a double-digit win total. In fact, one team had a winning record, which was the Arizona Cardinals.

At the end of the regular season, the standings were as follows: the Arizona Cardinals won the NFL West with a 9-and-7 record; the San Francisco 49ers finished second with a 7-and-9 record; the Seattle Seahawks finished third with a dismal 4-and-12 record; and St. Louis Rams finished last with a pathetic record of 2-and-14.

The Cardinals struggled a bit during the regular season and had an up-and-down personality. However, they were in a weak division and it was to their advantage. Had they been in another NFC division, they would not be playoff bound. The Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East, the Chicago Bears in the NFC North, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South all finished with the similar record of 9 and 7 and were left out of the playoffs. Nonetheless, the Cardinals entered the postseason and solidified their position by going deep into the playoffs.

Sixteen teams started the regular season with hopes of making the playoffs, but when the regular season ended, only six NFC teams made it and were seeded accordingly: (1) New York Giants, 12-and-4; (2) Carolina Panthers, 12-and-4; (3) Minnesota Vikings, 10-and-6; (4) Arizona Cardinals, 9-and-7; (5) Atlanta Falcons, 11-and-5; and (6) Philadelphia Eagles, 9-6-1.

These teams fought hard, but only two earned a place in the NFC Championship Game on January 18, 2009: the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals. This would be their second meeting. Both teams met in Week 13 of the regular season, November 27, 2008, where the Eagles easily defeated the Cardinals by a large margin, 48-to-20.

Unlike their first meeting, the NFC Champion Game was competitive, entertaining, and rendered a different outcome. The Cardinals dominated the first half and led 24-to-6. In the second half, the Eagles executed a comeback to take the lead, 25-to-24, early in the fourth quarter. Withstanding the pressure, the Cardinals answered back with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to rookie RB Tim Hightower with 2 minutes and 53 seconds left to play, and converted a two-point conversion to go ahead by seven. The Eagles tried to rally no to avail.

In the end, the Cardinals surprised many by defeating the Eagles 32-to-25 and were crowned NFC Champions, earning them a spot in Super Bowl XLIII to represent the National Football Conference – their first Super Bowl appearance in team history.

On Super Bowl Sunday, February 1, 2009, the Cardinals entered Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida to take on the AFC Champions Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams came out to play and put together an exciting game for audience worldwide. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their season would not end as Super Bowl Champions. The Steelers were a better team that night and won a nail-biter, 27-to-23, via a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to become Super Bowl Champions.

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Originally written/published on March 18, 2009 via now-defunct Web site Helium.com

Review: Top AFC Division Champions of 2008-2009 NFL Season

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February 2, 2009
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Every team in the National Football League (NFL) fights throughout the 16-game regular season to win its division, because it assures a playoff berth and a chance to reach the Super Bowl to battle for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Some are even lucky and given a bye the first week of the playoffs if their records top their respective conference. Sadly, some teams are completely left out even though they finish with a winning record. That’s why it is crucial for all teams to strive for that top spot in their division.

In the 2008-2009 NFL season, the top American Football Conference (AFC) division champions were somewhat surprising. Some teams that were predicted to top their division failed to do so, while other teams that were predicted to be at the bottom of their division finished atop.

AFC EAST
The AFC East division was a perfect example. This was one of the toughest divisions in the NFL with three teams battling for the top spot, but one team had to finish on top and it was a shocker.

At the end of the regular season, the records were as follows: the Miami Dolphins were crowned AFC East Champions with an 11-and-5 record; the New England Patriots finished second with the similar record of 11-and-5 but missed the playoffs; the New York Jets finished third with a 9-and-7 record; and the Buffalo Bills finished last with a losing record of 7-and-9.

The Miami Dolphins winning the AFC East division was surprising to many, because they were the worst team in the 2007-2008 NFL season – with a dreadful record of 1-and-15. (Their one win came late in the season through overtime.) Ignoring their prior nightmare season, the Dolphins entered the 2008-2009 season with optimism, including a complete overhaul of the team.

The franchise, in fact, employed two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Bill Parcells to take reign as Executive Vice President of Football Operations late in the 2007 season. Parcells exercised his position and fired general manager Randy Mueller; he would later fire head coach Cam Cameron, along with majority of his staff.  In that off-season, Dolphins parted ways with longtime Dolphins, defensive end Jason Taylor (who later signed with the Washington Redskins) and linebacker Zach Thomas (who later signed with the Dallas Cowboys).

With Parcells in charge, he employed Tony Sparano as head coach.  Many important transactions were made to improve the team.  However, the most important transaction came late in the preseason when the Dolphins acquired veteran quarterback Chad Pennington.  This was possible because the New York Jets released Pennington after signing future Hall of Famer Bret Favre.

On September 7, 2008, the Dolphins started the regular season rather shaky, losing to the Jets 17 to 10. They also lost their second game, starting the season winless. Their third game against the Patriots, however, was a different story; they looked totally different as they employed the “Wildcat” offense, which worked flawlessly.  They defeated their AFC East rival 38 to 13. They went into an early bye (Week 4) with a 1-and-2 record. The Patriots would get its revenge in Week 12 by defeating the Dolphins 48 to 28.

Thereafter, the Dolphins went on a 4-game winning streak, improving their record to 10-and-5 and in control of their destiny. Their last game would be the final decider regarding the playoffs: if they won, they were in; if they lost, they were out.

On December 28, 2008, the Dolphins faced their AFC East rival, the New York Jets, and were looking for revenge after losing a close game in the opener. Victory was for the Dolphins as they won 24 to 17, earning them a wild-card berth.  Not only did Dolphins defeat the Jets, but former Jets’ QB Pennington outplayed Favre, which made the moment more pleasing since he was released in the off-season in favor of Favre.

Unfortunately, the Dolphins, on January 4, 2009, lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 27 to 9, in the first round of the playoffs, ending their great season.

AFC NORTH
This division had only two teams that competed for the top spot, while the other two found themselves struggling the entire season.

At the end of the regular season, the standings were as follows: the Pittsburgh Steelers were crowned AFC North Champions with a 12-and-4 record; the Baltimore Ravens finished second with an 11-and-5 record; the Cincinnati Bengals finished third with a losing record of 4-11-1; and the Cleveland Browns finished last with a losing record of 4- and-12.

The Steelers, AFC North Champions, started the regular season off well by defeating the Houston Texans in their first game 38 to 17. They entered the bye (Week 6) with a 4-and-1 record; their only defeat came from the Philadelphia Eagles in their third game. After their week off, they only lost three games – not to any team, but to impressive teams that ended the regular season with amazing records: the New York Giants, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Tennessee Titans. These defeats were quite close and winnable.

In Week 8, the Giants defeated the Steelers 21 to 14. They were actually leading 14 to 9 at the end of the third quarter, but they could not hold on to the lead. The Giants scored 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win.  In Week 10, the Colts rendered the Steelers their third loss, 24 to 20. The Steelers, again, were ahead at the half but lost. Their fourth and final loss of the season came in Week 17 when they faced the Titans, who defeated them 31 to 14.  At the end of the third quarter, the Steelers were down by three, but they allowed the Titans to score 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

Despite these four defeats, they were situated well at the end of the regular season, thanks to their amazing record (which earned them a first-round bye in the playoffs). The only challenge within their division came from the Baltimore Ravens, who ended the season with an 11-and-5 record, but lost twice to the Steelers during the season. The Ravens, however, did make the playoffs via a wild-card berth.

AFC SOUTH
The AFC South was an interesting division, for some NFL analysts felt compelled to bring up the phrase “undefeated season” for one team. Unfortunately, the tough NFL season would be too demanding for such feat.

At the end of the record season, the standings were as follows: the Tennessee Titans were crowned AFC South Champions with a 13-and-3 record, the best record in the NFL; the Indianapolis Colts finished second with a 12-and-4 record; the Houston Texans finished third with an 8-and-8 record; and Jacksonville Jaguars finished last with a-5-and-11 record.

The Titans started the season with a 17 to 10 win against their AFC South rival Jacksonville Jaguars. But during that game, the Titans lost their starting QB Vince Young in the fourth quarter when he injured his knee; he was expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks. Backup QB Kerry Collins came in to finish the game. Young never started after his injury, because head coach Jeff Fisher made the decision to go with veteran QB Collins for the remainder of the season. This decision paid off because Collins led his team to an amazing record, something many NFL analysts claim would not have occurred if Young was the starter.

Early on in the season, the Titans defeated all opponents. After defeating the Chicago Bears in Week 10, they were the only undefeated team in the NFL with a 9-and-0 record. NFL analysts began talking about the chance of an undefeated season. The talks were escalated the following week when they defeated the Jaguars for the second time, 24 to 14, giving them a 10-and-0 record. On November 23, 2009, all the talks about an undefeated season were silent when the New York Jets trampled the Titans 34 to 13. Despite their defeat, they recovered on Thanksgiving Day with a 47 to 10 blowout win against the horrendous Detroit Lions – a team that made NFL history by ending the regular season with a 0-and-16 record.

The Titans would eventually lose two more games, but it did not matter because they finished with the best record in the NFL.  This was advantageous because they were awarded home-field advantage and a first-week bye in the playoffs.  Sadly, they failed to take advantage of the opportunities and were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens 13 to 10.

AFC WEST
The AFC West division was competitive for a couple of teams, but not in a good way.  In fact, the top team ended its season with a mediocre record, whereas other teams in the NFL with the same record finished last in their division (e.g., Washington Redskins in the NFC East division and New Orleans Saints in the NFC South division).

Nonetheless, at the end of the regular season, the San Diego Chargers were crowned AFC West Champions with an 8-and-8 record; the Denver Broncos finished second with the same 8-and-8 record; the Oakland Raiders finished third with a 5-and -11 record; and the Kansas City Chiefs finished last with an awful record of 2-and-14.

This division was unexciting.  These four teams struggled the entire season and played more than enough ugly games to turn fans off.  As a whole, this division ended with 23 wins, one of the lowest win totals in the NFL.  The Chargers, for example, came out on top, but it was not too pretty.  They had an up-and-down season and pulled it off at the end. Following a 4-and-8 start, they won their last four games to earn a wild-card berth in the playoffs.  In the first round, they defeated the Colts in overtime but were eliminated in the following round by the Steelers, losing 35 to 24.

When the regular season ended, the six AFC playoff teams were seeded accordingly: (1) Tennessee Titans, 13 and 3; (2) Pittsburgh Steelers, 12 and 4; (3) Miami Dolphins, 11 and 5; (4) San Diego Chargers, 8 and 8; (5) Indianapolis Colts, 12 and 4; and (6) Baltimore Ravens, 11 and 5.

These teams fought hard, but only two were worthy to play in the AFC Championship Game on January 18, 2009: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.  Like their two previous games in the regular season, this championship game was entertaining, hard-hitting, and very competitive.  In the end, the Steelers came out victorious 23 to 14 and crowned AFC Champions, earning them a spot in Super Bowl XLIII to represent the American Football Conference.

On Super Bowl Sunday, February 1, 2009, the Steelers entered Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida and represented the AFC well by defeating the NFC Champions, the Arizona Cardinals, in a nerve-racking game 27 to 23. The win earned the Pittsburgh Steelers its sixth Super Bowl title, making them the most winning franchise in the NFL.

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Originally written/published on February 2, 2009 via now-defunct Web site Helium.com