Sunday Countdown online: Your weekly NFL guide

Updated: January 10, 2008

Weekly Picks

Mike Ditka Keyshawn Johnson Emmitt Smith Chris Mortensen Tom Jackson
  Ditka Johnson Smith Mortensen Jackson
Seattle @ Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay Green Bay
Jacksonville @ New England Jacksonville New England New England New England New England
San Diego @ Indianapolis Indianapolis Indianapolis Indianapolis Indianapolis Indianapolis
N.Y. Giants @ Dallas N.Y. Giants Dallas Dallas Dallas Dallas
Wild Card Record 2-2 2-2 2-2 3-1 3-1
Overall Record 169-91 173-87 171-89 165-95 172-88
More picks: Our other experts' selections | SportsNation: Pick Divisional Playoff games

Countdown Confidential

by Rachel Nichols, Sal Paolantonio, and Bob Holtzman

All in the family: Current Seattle and former Green Bay head coach Mike Holmgren might have nurtured Brett Favre into an elite NFL quarterback, but neither he nor Favre believes that gives him any special insight as the teacher prepares to face the pupil at Lambeau Field this Saturday.

Mike Holmgren/Brett Favre

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There are no secrets between these two.

After all, Favre argues, it's not as if he is particularly tough to figure out. "I'm no secret," he says. "My history has shown I like to take chances, I'll do whatever. It's not like some inside story he's telling these guys."

Still, just because Holmgren isn't sitting down with his defense for a special skull session on Favre's tendencies doesn't mean there isn't cross-franchise information being divulged. Packers general manager Ted Thompson spent four years as the Seahawks director of football operations, making him Holmgren's key consultant on personnel, and early this week he sat down with Packers coach Mike McCarthy to go over the Seattle roster.

McCarthy -- of course -- used to be Matt Hasselbeck's quarterbacks coach. McCarthy says that regardless of how much, in the end, all the ties between the teams have an effect on the actual game plans, it's sure "not normal. … It's the most unique situation in professional football."

-- Rachel Nichols

Vulnerable Jaguars? Going into Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots have never lost a playoff game, the Jacksonville Jaguars are confronted by the obvious: How do they slow down Tom Brady and New England's record-breaking passing attack?

For weeks, the Jaguars have been the boutique pick to stop the Pursuit of Perfection. But that trendy little notion has ignored some cold hard facts. Jacksonville's pass defense has been middle of the road all season, finishing 15th in the NFL.

Rashean Mathis

Icon SMI

Defensive back Rashean Mathis and the Jags' secondary are on the hot seat Saturday.

And the Jaguars have allowed three quarterbacks -- most recently Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger in last Saturday night's wild-card game, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees -- to throw for more than 300 yards against them. And the Houston Texans had 329 passing yards against Jacksonville back on October.

Brady has thrown for more than 300 yards in eight games this season. "It's going to take all 11 of us," said cornerback Brian Williams. "It's going to take the defensive line getting pressure on the quarterback. It's going to take the linebackers getting in their drops, us [cornerbacks] getting jams on them. It's going to take everybody."

Pay attention to the details of what Williams said. The defensive line needs to get pressure. Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Smith is loath to blitz. The Jaguars' scheme is a deep shell, trying to force the quarterback to throw into tight windows. Others have tried that this season against Brady -- and failed miserably.

But others have tried to blitz him, too, and the results haven't been much prettier. In 2007, Brady was the NFL's most blitzed quarterback. He faced the heat on 219 of his 578 attempts, or 37 percent of the time. (By comparison, Jaguars quarterback David Garrard was blitzed on just 94 of his 325 attempts, or 28 percent.) Brady's quarterback rating in the face of the blitz: 118.7 with 17 touchdown passes, and just two interceptions -- by far, the best in the league.

-- Sal Paolantonio

Somehow under the radar: Lost somewhere beneath the headlines of the undefeated Patriots, Brett Favre, Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson are the 13-3 defending Super Bowl champs.

The Colts might be mostly ignored, but they are far from offended.

Joseph Addai

AP Photo/Tom Strattman

Joseph Addai and the Colts keep doing the job quietly.

Defensive lineman Raheem Brock said this week, "We're not worried about the pub, we're just trying to win Super Bowls."

Peyton Manning doesn't mind the lack of attention either.

"Anytime you can keep winning and stay under the radar," Manning said, "that's a good thing."

But the spotlight might find the Colts soon enough. They believe they're a better team right now than the 2006 version that won the Super Bowl.

"I think we're doing a lot of things better than at this time last year," head coach Tony Dungy said. "But I think the competition is better too."

-- Bob Holtzman

Divisional Playoffs: Numbers Crunching

by Aaron Schatz, FootballOutsiders.com


Each week, Football Outsiders takes a look at every game with a mix of interesting numbers and in-depth statistical analysis. Football Outsiders stats explained here.

Chargers at Colts (Sunday), 1 p.m. ET

Both of this season games between the San Diego Chargers and theIndianapolis Colts might be decided by tight end health. Dallas Clark missed the first game, while Antonio Gates is very likely to miss this one.

Clark does not actually play tight end most of the time -- he's the Indianapolis slot receiver on virtually all first and second downs. That makes him very important this week, because San Diego's defense ranks seventh against No. 1 and first against No. 2 receivers, but 30th against "other receivers."

The Chargers gave up big games to guys like Detroit's Mike Furrey, Green Bay's James Jones, and Denver's Glenn Martinez. Nickel corner Drayton Florence is not having a good year; he lost his job to Antonio Cromartie at midseason. Rookie Eric Weddle is a hard hitter, but in general, safety is the Chargers' weakest position.


• More Chargers-Colts: Intel Report | EA Simulation

Giants at Cowboys (Sunday), 4:30 pm ET

If the Dallas Cowboys go up on the New York Giants early, they'll be a tough opponent to come back on. The Cowboys offense ranks third in DVOA when leading by 1-8 points, first when leading by nine or more, and second in late and close situations (second half or overtime, score within one touchdown).

The more yardage needed on third down, the worse the Giants offense has been compared to the league average. The Giants rank 11th on third-and-short, 21st on third-and-medium, and 31st on third-and-long. (Obviously, they've looked a little better than that over the last two weeks.)

Which Giants defensive lineman made the most drive-killing plays? No, it wasn't Michael Strahan or Osi Umenyiora. It was Justin Tuck, who was third among all defensive linemen in the NFL with 29 defeats, plays in which the offense lost yardage, turned the ball over, or failed to convert third down. Jared Allen of Kansas City and Trent Cole of Philadelphia were the only linemen with more defeats than Tuck.

Jacques Reeves was targeted on 21 percent of charted passes against Dallas, the highest percentage of any cornerback in the league.


• More Giants-Cowboys: Intel Report | EA Simulation

More Divisional Playoffs previews from Football Outsiders


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Ask Sunday Countdown

On This Week

Sat. and Sun., 11 a.m. ET
  • NFL MVP Tom Brady sits down with Chris Berman to talk about a record-setting year and the Patriots' perfect season.
  • Mike Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck sit down with Chris Berman to talk about their unique coach-QB relationship.
  • Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders finds motivation from a videotape his father made when Sanders was a child. Tom Jackson talks to Sanders and his family.
  • Giants DE Osi Umenyiora and Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware have shared a close relationship since they rode the same bus together in high school. Greg Garber reports.

Video

Chat Wrap

with Chris Mortensen

Brad (New Mexico): Hey Mort, I haven't heard much out of Buffalo's camp regarding their GM/OC hunt. Do you have any inside info you could divulge?

Mort: The GM job is not as critical, inasmuch as Marv Levy really was more of a PR hire while the duties were handled more specifically by people already in place with Dick Jauron having a major voice. The OC and now O-line coach hires are critical but I haven't heard names yet. Too much going on but we'll try to keep you posted.

Rob (Toledo, Ohio): Mort, I know you can't answer this in depth, but generally what do you think the Lions need to do to turn this franchise around? It's getting hard to get excited about my Lions.

Bill Cowher
Cowher

Mort: Well, if you can just look at this year's record as real progress, then I'd say keep the hope for 2008. I think you let Rod Marinelli keep buiilding this thing.

Ed (Pennsylvania): Names heard about Joe Gibbs' replacements in Washington, D.C. are Bill Cowher (says he doesn't want to coach now), and Gregg Williams (not a stellar track record) don't seem realistic to me. Don't you think Russ Grimm would be a great hire there?

Mort: Grimm is a name I expect to hear for obvious reasons -- he's a Redskins legend, so to speak. I don't know if that's a match but we'll see how the process goes.

Mike (Boca Raton, Fla.): Any consensus around the league regarding the job Mike Tomlin did in his first season as Steelers head coach?

Mort: That he did a good job and probably learned a lot from some mistakes, like most first-year coaches do.

Cory (Oklahoma): Alright Mort. Your prediction for the Boys vs. Giants game.

Mort: Let's see … Cowboys 31, Giants 24 … or something like that.

Matt (Chicago): Most mock drafts suggest that the Seahawks will draft Rashard Mendenhall in the first round. Do they really need another running back?

Mort: I wouldn't pay attention to mock drafts yet but they could use another RB, though I'm not sure in the first round.

Mark (Chicago): Do you find it a little disturbing that the Bills are considering promoting the QB coach of an offense that scored 20 TDs last season? There is a ton of coaching talent available.

Mort: I will repeat: They were playing with a rookie QB.

Ben (Boston): If the Pats win the Super Bowl, is it more likely than not that Bill Belichick will retire from coaching?

Mort: I have a hard time imagining Belichick not coaching but I'm always prepared for that kind of surprise.

Tommy (Danville, Va.): Mort, Are you pretty sure Jason Garrett will stay in Dallas for another year?

Mort: I believe Garrett will stay even though Atlanta and Baltimore are very high on him and could offer him their jobs.

Complete chat transcript  

Notes from the Film Room

by Gary Horton

    San Diego at Indianapolis

    The Chargers' secondary will be vulnerable in the middle: We know how good the Chargers' defense is and we know how good they are on the edge, especially ball-hawking CB Antonio Cromartie, but the safeties are vulnerable. With Colts WR Marvin Harrison back in the lineup San Diego's safeties will have to cheat to the perimeter to give the corners help over the top versus Wayne, Harrison and the slot receiver. But this will open up the deep middle of the field. If the Chargers are in nickel they will use Drayton Florence as the No. 3 corner covering the slot, but after that the ability of the Chargers to match up in coverage with the safeties or linebackers is greatly diminished.

    N.Y. Giants at Dallas

    Watch out for Bradshaw: The Giants' offensive line blocks better for the run than the pass, and once they make contact they do a nice job of staying on their feet and maintaining blocks. The Giants primarily used big back Brandon Jacobs last week and he is an upright, north-south runner who will punish defenders on the second level but is not real nifty or creative and most of his runs are to the right side. That is why we should see more of backup RB Ahmad Bradshaw this week.

    Bradshaw is really an impressive guy on film and although he is not as physical as Jacobs, he is much niftier and he is excellent on cutback runs, where his offensive line can seal off versus an aggressive Cowboys run defense. He is also much more effective in space and when he gets to the second level he is dangerous. The Giants may pull their guards to trap Dallas OLBs Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware, and they would love to get Bradshaw through that off-tackle hole.

    Complete Gary Horton column