The Opening Kickoff – 02.03.12

We’re just two days away from the Super Bowl, so we’ll kick things off with some Super Bowl items, but arguably the biggest news yesterday involved Tom Brady’s biggest rival and Eli’s brother. We’ll break it all down for you below.

Super Bowl: Throughout the week, the injury focus has been aimed at Rob Gronkowski. But the Giants also have an integral part of their offense that has remained largely in the training room than on the practice field. New York running back Ahmad Bradshaw practiced for a second straight day yesterday and is likely to play on Sunday night.

Bradshaw has been nursing an injured foot throughout the season and this week is reportedly the first time that he had practiced on back-to-back days all season. The running back was banged up for most of the year and rushed for just 659 yards in the regular season. However, he’s made an impact in the playoffs rushing for 200 yards in 3 games and was utilized out of the backfield more in the NFC Championship Game catching 6 passes. As Brandon Jacobs continues to struggle, Bradshaw will be the primary back in the running game on Sunday.

Super Bowl (Part 2): The Giants have displayed a confidence that borderlines on arrogance throughout the week in Indianapolis. Despite being a 2.5 point underdog heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl, many feel that New York’s combustive pass rush will ambush Tom Brady much like it did 4 years ago. Apparently Jason Pierre-Paul agrees.

In comments to the media this week, Pierre-Paul said that the Giants pass rushers were in Tom Brady’s head, cause Brady to flinch and simply throw balls away when he didn’t need to. Whether or not the Giants are truly in Brady’s head is something only the Golden Boy knows, but if we had some advice for Pierre-Paul and the rest of the Giants it would be focus more on the game and less on the trash talk. As the old saying goes, if you really need motivation for a Super Bowl then you’ve got bigger problems as a player and team, but nonetheless it can’t be wise to kick a hornet’s nest this close to kickoff.

AFC South: Peyton Manning has been cleared by doctors to return to football, but will be be able to play? In a statement issued on Thursday by his neck surgeon, Manning was medically cleared to play football again. And while Manning’s doctors may have authorized him to return to football, others are necessarily buying it.

Jim Irsay tweeted yesterday, “Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for The Indianapolis Colts. Team statement coming on Friday.”

This should be viewed as nothing more than a PR move by Manning’s camp as he likely braces to become a free agent. The fact that Manning has been “cleared to return to football” has never really been an issue. His neck surgery has reportedly progressed on schedule. But the real question remains as to whether the nerves have healed sufficiently enough for Manning to play football at the caliber required of an NFL quarterback again. That answer remains in limbo.

As the dance goes, we should be expecting some type of response from Jim Irsay today regarding this latest news. The Colts have until March 8th to make a decision on the $28 million bonus due to Manning.

AFC West: Matt Cassel may have his work cut out for him come training camp. As a new coaching regime is finalized in Kansas City, new head coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli both said that Cassel needs to face some competition for the starting quarterback job.

In comments to the Kansas City Star, Crennel said, “What happens in free agency remains to be seen. “I know competition makes everybody better, and we’ll just have to see what kind of competition we’re going to have at the quarterback position.”

Pioli added, “We’ve been saying it for three years, and I’m going to continue to say it, because it’s a core part of our philosophy: There will be increased competition at every position, including the quarterback position.”

The Chiefs signed Kyle Orton late in the season after he was waived by the Denver Broncos, but was quickly hurt and played sparingly. The only other quarterback on the roster at this time is Ricky Stanzi, who just completed his rookie year. Cassel has shown signs of being a comparable quarterback in his 3 years in Kansas City. However, other than a lone playoff berth, he’s yet to show the type of talent that is going to take this team to the next level. In addition to Orton, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Chiefs address their lack of depth at quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft.

NFC North: The move long expected by the Packers is official. On Thursday, the team named Tom Clements its new offensive coordinator. Clements previously served as Green Bay’s quarterback’s coach and will replace Joe Philbin, who left last month to become the head coach of the Dolphins. “Tom has been an integral part of our success and our staff, making it an obvious decision to promote him to offensive coordinator,” head coach Mike McCarthy said in a statement released Thursday by the club. “He has earned this opportunity and we look forward to continued offensive success in 2012.”
Clements had been rumored as a candidate for several head coaching jobs, including at Penn State and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But, in the end, Clements will remain in Green Bay where he aided one of the most dynamic offenses from a season ago. Clements is not likely to be the play-caller for the Packers, as those duties should remain with Mike McCarthy, but his impact should be felt across the offense in 2012.

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