The Fine 15
1. Indianapolis (16-2). Will Dwight Freeney play in the Super Bowl? And what will it mean if he does not?
2. New Orleans (15-3). I don't care what anybody on the Saints says. If the Freeney story's legit, and he is either hampered or does not play, Sean Payton is thrilled ... and left tackle Jermon Bushrod will be high-fiving someone privately about it too.
3. Minnesota (13-5). "We'd like to be playing next week,'' Jared Allen said in the middle or the first half of the Pro Bowl on the NFC sidelines, "but at least you can come out here with your peers and jump around a little bit.'' Just a little.
4. New York Jets (11-8). Let me get this straight -- Rex Ryan gives some fans the finger at a Mixed Martial Arts event Saturday night and has to apologize for it? Wouldn't that actually be commendable behavior there?
5. San Diego (13-4). Philip Rivers missed this game because of the birth of his fifth child. Makes population explosion seem worthwhile.
6. Dallas (12-6). Happiest player of the night in Miami: Miles Austin. Signed autographs forever, gave away gloves and towels, beamed from the time he walked onto the field until the time he left it.
7. Arizona (11-7). Good piece Friday by Don Banks on SI.com about Matt Leinart, making the point that Leinart isn't a lost cause. I'd forgotten he was competent as a rookie, completing 60 percent of his throws in five of his last six games.
8. Green Bay (11-6). I'll tell you the player the guys in the NFC practice sessions were most impressed with last week -- Aaron Rodgers.
9. Baltimore (10-8). I think Ray Lewis will be playing in the 2030 Pro Bowl.
10. Philadelphia (11-6). Donovan McNabb, throwing into three of the wrong-colored jerseys on his first Pro Bowl series, looking very much like he looked in the last eight quarters of the year against Dallas.
11. New England (10-7). A little advice for Vince Wilfork: Not a smart thing to talk about how much you're being disrespected and how much of an insult it is when you can show up at work on Day 1 next year and be guaranteed $7 million if you're franchised by the Patriots. Not today. Not in this economy.
12. Pittsburgh (9-7). The Steelers are Linebacker U., again. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were two of the guys who actually gave an honest effort last night.
13. Carolina (8-8). I see where Julius Peppers' agent says he hasn't heard from the Panthers about a long-term deal. Where would talks for such a deal start -- $20-million a year? His contract is so stratospheric it's going to be impossible for anyone to pay him what he thinks he's worth after Peppers earned more than $18 million this year.
14. Cincinnati (10-7). That Bengal helmet looked like a monstrosity with the ugly AFC uniform.
15. Houston (9-7). Way to give the franchise a nice moment, Matt Schaub. Not to be snide or anything, but now it's time to beat the Colts.
Stat of the Week
In the past five years, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams -- first with Washington, then with Jacksonville -- faced Peyton Manning three times. Manning went 2-1 in those meetings, losing in his third game back from two arthroscopic knee surgeries, in the summer of 2008. If anything is to be gleaned from recent history, it's that the advantage heading into this matchup definitely goes to Manning. The stats from the three games:
A 70-percent passer. Fourteen scores in 24 drives. Not trying to be a Negative Nate about the Saints' chances here, and obviously the players are different than Williams had in Washington and Jacksonville, but New Orleans has a tall order Sunday, as every team has when facing Manning. Open Sports Illustrated this week and you'll see a more detailed analysis of the Williams-Manning matchup from me.
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