What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next month and a half providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
I know what you’re thinking. Most teams don’t even open training camp until this weekend, so choosing the winners of the league’s highest-profile position battles before these guys take a single snap is a fool’s errand. To that I say that you obviously aren’t aware of my never-ending quest to embarrass myself. For the next few days, we’ll be anointing starters around the league based on nothing but speculation and guesswork. Because here at the Triangle, we’re all about science.
Montee Ball vs. Ronnie Hillman, Broncos, running back
Depending on how the Von Miller suspension works out, running back will be the biggest question for a Denver team that comes into this season as the favorite in the AFC. Ronnie Hillman has made his stance on the job opening clear, but I think we can safely say there’s a conflict of interest in play there.
The Broncos took Ball, who had a widely productive college career (that included a lot of carries) high enough in April’s draft that it’s reasonable to think they want him to be a significant part of their offensive plans at some point in his career. Ball rushed for at least 1,800 yards twice at Wisconsin, and he’s the sort of back that would be set up to succeed in a Peyton Manning offense. The Broncos are going to run when it’s advantageous, and Ball is more than capable of grabbing yards in five-yard chunks. Knowshon Moreno is essentially a lesser version of what Denver is hoping for with Ball, and we saw the type of productivity Moreno had when Manning was putting him in the right spots.
Hillman is the type of home run threat that Ball is not. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash in the lead-up to last year’s draft, and his big-play potential is far greater than Ball’s. Hillman’s challenge will be maintaining some of the bulk he’s put on this offseason.
Winner: Ball. Hillman will start training camp working with the first team, but my guess is that at some point during the season, the Broncos see the look Ball gives them. In an offense run by Peyton Manning, a consistently reliable running game is the ideal running game, and that’s what Ball should provide.
Although it might not seem like it right now, there actually will be more to free agency than Peyton Manning. While the talent pool isn't quite as deep as the group that hit the market last year, in Mario Williams, it has a franchise player that might be more valuable than last year's star, Nnamdi Asomugha. And while there are some thin spots at quarterback and offensive tackle, the list of available players goes pretty deep at key positions like wide receiver and cornerback. You could put together a pretty solid starting 22 without even having to touch restricted free agents or franchised players. No, really, look:
This was a very odd game — with a very dramatic finish.
Early in Sunday's Super Bowl, the New York Giants — aided by New England quarterback Tom Brady's safety — looked unstoppable. The Giants had a huge advantage in both momentum and yards, but despite all this, they only scored nine points. Then Tom Brady and the Patriots became, well, Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Brady went 16-for-16 with two touchdown passes sandwiched around the halftime show, and New England looked like it might simply run away with the game. And then I'm not even sure.
The Giants kicked a couple field goals, Brady roughed his shoulder up on the turf, and then — with about four minutes left in the game — the Patriots had one of the most heartbreaking sequences in franchise history: Brady and Wes Welker, who know a thing about throwing and catching, failed to connect on a throw up the seam, where Welker was essentially uncovered. Then New York quarterback Eli Manning hit Mario Manningham on a nearly impossible throw down the sideline for a huge 38-yard gain. By now, you know the rest. The Giants scored the game-winning touchdown after Patriots coach Bill Belichick smartly let them, and Brady failed to make good on his desperation drive with a late Hail Mary. Giants win, 21-17.
Let's compare those two game-changing pass plays: the failed pass from Brady to Welker and the play of the game, Manning's fantastic throw to Manningham down the sideline.
This late in the playoffs, nothing comes easy, and that was certainly true of the New York Giants 20-17 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Ostensibly the game was won — or lost — because of San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams's fumble in overtime, which set up Eli Manning and the Giants for a short, game winning field goal in sudden death. But outside of a few mistakes, the game was incredibly well played. particularly by the defenses. And it was also the type of game where stats can be a bit misleading: 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, as a result of a couple of well placed throws to tight-end Vernon Davis, had the edge over Eli Manning in some key passing statistics, including passer rating and yards per pass attempt, which is my favorite non-advanced passing metric. But those belied the reality: Manning put in an incredible performance against an absolutely ferocious defense, repeatedly delivering key throws under pressure (which he was under constantly). It took him an incredible 58 pass attempts (plus six sacks, making 64 called pass plays) to generate just over 300 yards, but the Giants run-game was nearly non-existent until late. Indeed, if not for the symbiotic relationship Manning had with receiver Victor Cruz — who had 10 key catches for 142 yards — there would have been no 17 hard-fought points, no overtime, no Super Bowl berth.