Playoff Power Rankings: Breaking down NFL's Final Four
Here we go, left with one heck of an NFL Final Four with the NFL's three best teams of the 2009 season ... and then the ultimate underdog with the most brass and brash on their side.
Let's dig in and really compare how these teams stack up ...
Breaking down the Quarterbacks
1. Peyton Manning, Colts — Enough about the lack of multiple Super Bowl bling. Give him time, and the NFL's king of commercials should match up with history's best quarterbacks just fine in the jewelry department. By the time he's finished his playing days and coaching up his own little Mannings, he may own every passing record in the book — even all of Brett Favre's prodigious numbers, including Mr. Wrangler's Iron-Man streak of consecutive starts.
2. Brett Favre, Vikings — Having his best season ever, finally controlling his gambling urges at age 40.
3. Drew Brees, Saints — The hero to those with unusual birthmarks, all the inspirational Brees is missing is a title.
4. Mark Sanchez, Jets — No 23-year-old should be able to handle his success and the Big Apple madness with such ease.
MORE ON THE QBs ...
Breaking down the running backs
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings — This was never a question until recently, as Peterson has inexplicably struggled to hit the 100-mark recently. But talent-wise, Favre's sidekick can still go yard on any play — especially in the domed setting he'll be enjoying in New Orleans Sunday. Until Chris Johnson came along and joined the 2,000-yard club this season, Peterson was considered to be hands-down the best back in the NFL. Don't forget about him.
2. Thomas Jones, Jets — One of the more underappreciated backs of this era, he has 2,714 rushing yards and 27 rushing TDs over the past two seasons.
3. Shonn Greene, Jets — Coming on very strong, the rookie has averaged 125.5 yards and 6.4 yards per carry in the games he's carried the rock 15 or more times.
4. Pierre Thomas, Saints — When healthy, he (not Mr. Kardashian) is the most important Saints running back.
MORE ON THE RBs ...
Breaking down the Pass-Catchers
1. Reggie Wayne, Colts — Marvin who? No disrespect to the future Hall-of-Famer Harrison, but Wayne has picked up the torch as Manning's new No. 1 in Indy without hiccup. Wayne has six straight 1,000-yard seasons, three Pro Bowls and finished with 100 catches for the second time this year as the main man for the Colts. And by the way, do you remember Wayne celebrating excessively, over-tweeting or berating his QB? How refreshing.
2. Marques Colston, Saints — Almost as much as Brees, Colston transformed the Saints offense from the moment he arrived in mini-camp as a low-round draft pick in 2006.
3. Sidney Rice, Vikings — The third-year pro has an eery connection with Favre, as well as some startling numbers that should propel him among the league's elite young WRs.
4. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets — Doesn't have the gaudy stats thanks to the Jets' run-first attack, but no WR is tougher in the middle.
Best tight end
1. Dallas Clark, Colts — Maybe the biggest reason why the Colts just keep on chugging in the passing game, Clark is listed as a tight end but acts more as the ultimate zone-busting wide receiver. He's got the numbers to prove his worth to the Indy attack, with 27 TD catches over his past three seasons — plus he notched a rarity for TEs, a 100-catch season this year. He is Peyton Manning's most-trusted target when he needs a first down.
2. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings — Only fantasy dudes are hip to the guy with the unusual name, but Favre's secret weapon scored 11 times in 2009 while providing big-time blocking.
3. Jeremy Shockey, Saints — Still a bit injury-prone (though props for his toughness gutting it out through injury vs. the Cardinals), Shockey has turned down the hothead act since arriving in New Orleans.
4. Dustin Keller, Jets — This is no slight at all, as the kid has lots of talent and will make a Pro Bowl or two before he's done his career.
MORE ON THE PASS-CATCHERS ...
Breaking down the Offensive Lines
Best overall O-line
1. Jets — Without arguably the NFL's most physically dominant offensive line, the Jets would probably not have reach .500 this season let alone crashed the NFC title game. The running game is predicated on wearing down opposing defenses, mostly thanks to the powerful stuff handed out by D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold and the gang. They are also the reason why Mark Sanchez has been able to evolve and develop throughout the season minus being scarred from getting hit too much.
2. Colts — This no-name group must assimilate more info than most and be ready to change plans at a moment's notice with Manning behind center.
3. Vikings — Health has been an issue lately, resulting in Favre taking a few extra hits and the struggling running game. But when healthy, they are huge.
4. Saints — Brees and the offense have had few interruptions, especially thanks to unheralded guard Jahri Evans.
MORE ON THE O-LINES ...
Breaking down the Defensive Fronts
Best overall D-line
1. Vikings — Combine the run-stuffing ability of the "Williams Wall" with the pass-rush chaos of Jared Allen, Ray Edwards and the rest — and you have a defensive line that has the best chance to wreak havoc without having to blitz on every down. Allen brings his own special brand of madness to Minnesota, and is incredibly consistent with between 14.5-15.5 sacks in each of the past three seasons. The loss of linebacker E.J. Henderson for the season in December was a huge blow, however.
2. Colts — The best defensive lineman in the NFL may very well be Dwight Freeney, but he's hardly alone on an incredibly fast defense.
3. Jets — The Jets would be ranked higher with DT Kris Jenkins in the lineup, but Rex Ryan's linebackers can wreak havoc.
4. Saints — The Saints can be run on and lack that elite, game-changing pass rusher.
MORE ON THE DEFENSIVE FRONTS ...
Breaking down the Secondaries
Best overall secondary
1. Jets — Rex Ryan said it best after the season when making the case for his guy Darrelle Revis for Defensive Player of the Year: The Jets allowed only eight touchdown passes on the entire season ... in a passing league, with 12 different QBs throwing 25-plus TD passes this season.
2. Colts — Have you heard of Kelvin Hayden, Jerraud Powers or Melvin Bullitt? Opposing wide receivers have.
3. Saints — Remember when the Saints were a complete, utter joke in the secondary ... all of one season ago?
4. Vikings — The clear weak spot of the Vikings could cost them against Drew Brees and the Saints.
1. Darrelle Revis, Jets — The guy arguably should have won Defensive Player of the Year honors for the way he completely shuts down the best of the best big-game receivers. Randy Moss, T.O. and Ochocinco have all talked big games only to completely disappear on "Revis Island." He is the Deion Sanders of this generation.
2. Jabari Greer, Saints — Maybe it was just a coincidence that the Saints' defense struggled with Greer injured this season? Maybe not.
3. Antoine Winfield, Vikings — He's getting up there in NFL years, but can still do it all — though maybe not quite as well as he did in the past.
4. Lito Sheppard, Jets — Didn't have the home-runs from his Philly days, but has helped shut down the other side of Revis Island.
1. Darren Sharper, Saints — Two teams have given up on him mainly due to age concerns, yet year after year Sharper continues to generate the biggest of big plays. In a way, he was the defensive Brett Favre this season — coming to a team and unit that desperately needed a spark to get his team over the hump. Sharper's nine interceptions tied for the NFL lead and spearheaded a Saints defense that finished with the second-most takeways in the league.
2. Antone Bethea, Colts — Became a true star around the league for his ballhawking style this season in Indy.
3. Jim Leonhard, Jets — Learned the Rex Ryan approach while in Baltimore, and has assisted in spreading the defensive gospel while in New York.
4. Kerry Rhodes, Jets — Yes, he was benched during the season. But since his wake-up call, he has been a new man and playmaker.