Snap Judgments: New blood in Super Bowl; dismal year for kickers
Vikings, Jets seeking first Super Bowl appearance after long absences
Nate Kaeding is the latest kicker to fail his team during the postseason
More notes on Mike Nolan, Chan Gailey and player retirement watch
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we contemplate the final three games of the NFL's postseason and dissect news from around the league.....
One way or another, there figures to be a healthy dose of new blood in this year's Super Bowl. Sure, the Colts are the exception to the rule, having won the Super Bowl just three years ago, the last time the game was played in South Florida. But the Saints, in their 43rd season, are one of just five teams to never play in a Super Bowl (along with the Browns, Texans, Jaguars and Lions); the Jets haven't gone to the league's biggest game in 41 years; and the Vikings are trying to return to the Super stage after an absence of 33 years.
On an individual basis, Brett Favre's quest to make another Super Bowl 12 years after his most recent one represents the largest gap for any starting quarterback in the game's first 43 years of history. The Jets have fresh faces galore, with rookie head coach Rex Ryan, rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and rookie running back Shonn Greene setting the pace so far during their unlikely playoff run. And one of the stories of the year in New Orleans is the addition of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is still seeking his first Super Bowl ring in this, his 20th season of NFL coaching.
Even the playoff-tested Colts have a rookie head coach in Jim Caldwell. No matter who wins Sunday in Indianapolis, the AFC champion will feature the fifth rookie head coach to make the Super Bowl, joining Baltimore's Don McCafferty (1970), Denver's Red Miller (1977), San Francisco's George Seifert (1989) and Oakland's Bill Callahan (2002).
Here's our up-to-minute ranking of the four potential Super Bowl matchups, in terms of juiciest storylines:
1. Colts-Vikings: Peyton Manning and Favre both gunning for a second Super Bowl ring -- with Favre trying to become the first starting QB to win with different teams -- would be the NFL's dream matchup.
2. Saints-Colts: Not only would it give us the first matchup of No. 1 seeds in a Super Bowl since the Bills and Cowboys rematch of 16 years ago, but also we'd have Manning facing off against his hometown team, and the franchise for whom his dad, Archie, remains a beloved icon.
3. Jets-Vikings: Favre against the team he played for just last season would be fun, especially the juxtaposition of the graying 19-year veteran quarterback against the kid who replaced him, Sanchez.
4. Saints-Jets: The Jonathan Vilma Bowl anyone? Actually this pairing would give us our only rematch from the regular season, with New Orleans having soundly handled New York 24-10 in Week 4 at the Superdome. It was the Jets' first loss after a 3-0 start, and the first time Sanchez played like a rookie quarterback.
What a dark and unexpectedly dismal year it has been for some kickers in the NFL this season. And the carnage just keeps right on coming in this year's playoffs. San Diego's Nate Kaeding and Dallas's Shaun Suisham were the latest goats, joining Cincinnati's Shayne Graham and Arizona's Neil Rackers, who missed chip-shots in the first round.
Kaeding is a sad story unto himself. The Chargers kicker was named All-Pro this season, and in his six years in the NFL, his field goal percentage is a sterling .872 (150 of 172) in the regular season. But with three misses on Sunday in San Diego's three-point loss to the Jets, Kaeding is now just 8 of 15 (.533) on field goals in the playoffs.
He missed from 36, 57 and 40 yards against New York despite entering the game with 20 consecutive field goals made, and an NFL record 69 in a row from inside of 40 yards (dating from December 2006). He missed as many kicks in one day as he had all season, given that he was 32 of 35 this year before facing New York.
Can't remember an offseason where we ever had as much potential news on the retirement front. We're now waiting to hear if we've seen the last of Kurt Warner, Ed Reed, Derrick Mason, Brian Westbrook and LaDainian Tomlinson. Oh, and don't forget about a certain quarterback in Minnesota who practically invented the modern-day retirement watch.
Anyone else sensing something of a trend here? The 2005 Steelers were a defensively-led No. 6 seed that went on the road to win the Super Bowl, having knocked off the No. 1 seeded Colts in the divisional round. The 2007 Giants were a defensively-led No. 5 seed that went on the road to win the Super Bowl, having knocked off the No. 1 seeded Cowboys in the divisional round.
And under the heading of so far, so good, the 2009 Jets are a defensively-led No. 5 seed that is just one more road win away from the Super Bowl, having knocked off the No. 2 seeded Chargers in the divisional round. (Anybody else pick up on the Colts, Cowboys and Chargers all starting with a C? No, I didn't think so.)
If the Jets beat the Colts, it'll mark the fifth consecutive season a team that played in the first round went on to reach the Super Bowl (Steelers in 2005, Colts in 2006, Giants in 2007, Cardinals in 2008).
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