Belfast American Football Writing

I write a column on American Football for a local paper - here you can read the reports a couple of days before they go in print; and my confused waffles...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

One last step to Super Bowl

THERE is just one last step to take for the four teams battling it out tomorrow (Sunday) night to reach Super Bowl XLI in Miami – one step between American Football history and crashing out.

The Conference championship games feature the four teams to emerge after staying the pace throughout the regular season.

In the NFC game the top two seeds will battle it out when the New Orleans Saints visit the Chicago Bears.

“This is the match-up we wanted,” said Chicago corner back Nathan Vasher. “It’s great for us, great for TV, everything. We wanted to see the highest-seeded team and beat the best.”

It’s January at Soldier Field, so the running game should play a big part in this one. Both teams come equipped with RB tandems. The Saints bring in “the big guy,” as Bears LB Brian Urlacher calls him – 6-1, 232-pound Deuce McCallister – and fleet rookie Reggie Bush.

The pile-moving McAllister rumbled for a Saints playoff-record 143 yards and two TDs in the Divisional. Bush produced some spectacular moves, including a four-yard TD scamper and a 25-yard run that set up a field goal.

The Bears have their own ground-eating tandem in Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, the second-year runner who has been worked into the rotation more and more recently. The two combined for 1,857 yards this year and 111 yards last week
New Orleans – 6-2 on the road this season – arrives with the league’s No. 1 offence, but for all the attention Chicago QB Rex Grossman has received – “he’s taken us to 14 wins,” said head coach Lovie Smith - one stat is overlooked.

In the AFC two teams with identical records and a fierce rivalry, the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts come face-to-face.

And for them it will be all about which QB can afford turnovers, with both Tom Brady of New England and Peyton Manning of the Colts susceptible to being picked off when they try to force plays.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Wild card weekend

THE play-offs begin on Saturday in the NFL – there are no more second chances; lose and you’re out. And it all starts with Wild Card Weekend match-ups.

The wild card play offs are for the two divisional winners who have the worst records of the four in each conference, matched up with the teams, who were not divisional winners but had the next best records.

If that all sounds complicated even casual American Football fans will know that this weekend there are four games set to be classic match-ups.

The weekend's first game sees Kansas City travel to take on the Indianapolis Colts in what will be a massive contrast in styles. The Chiefs running game is led by the league’s number two rusher of the season Larry Johnson. Problem for the Colts is they can’t stop the run.

And the problem for Kansas City is that they are poor defending the pass – and the Colts are led by QB Peyton Manning who seems to collects passing records each and every week.

Next up Dallas travel to Seattle, last year’s beaten Super Bowl finalists. The Cowboys freshly blooded QB, Tony Romo will have to rely on running backs Marion Barber and Julius Jones to set up plays; while Seattle know that Dallas have a problem in defending the running game – and the Seahawks have the talented Shaun Alexander leading the ground assault.

Sunday’s first game sees the New York Jets visit divisional rivals, the New England Patriots. Only a vintage performance by Pats QB Tom Brady, matched by a strategic master class from coach Bill Belichick will see New England through.

Wrapping up Wild Card Weekend is the all NFC East match-up when the New York Giants visit the Philadelphia Eagles. Cast your mind back a year and you may remember the Steelers rode the emotional ‘bus’ to help secure a Super Bowl for Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, their retiring running back in his final season.

The Giants want to achieve a similar result for Tiki Barber, who finishes his career this year. Only the Eagles linebackers, led by Jeremiah Trotter can contain the Tiki attack.