7 Points: Wild-Card Weekend Edition

LB Ray Lewis (J.McIsaac/Getty Images)

After 14 years, Ravens LB Ray Lewis is still commanding respect ... Why Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson needs to get off to a fast start ... The Dolphins impact rookie that no one drafted ... Why Peyton Manning deserved the MVP Award. You'll find all this and more in Ed Thompson's latest "7 Points" feature.

1. Ravens MLB Ray Lewis is still one of the most respected and feared defenders in the game.
As Baltimore prepares to take on the Dolphins this Sunday, expect to see No. 52 play a prominent role in the outcome of the game. While Lewis still has plenty to offer his team beyond this season, the 33-year-old linebacker knows that he likely only has a few seasons left to grab another World Championship ring.

That said, even Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano acknowledged this week that Lewis isn't showing the wear and tear of a 14-year veteran who is in the middle of the action on the field from week to week.
 
"The guy can still run sideline to sideline, he still makes all of the tackles on the field if you let him make all of the tackles on the field." he said.

"You've got to match this guy's intensity that he brings to that group and certainly, you've got to put a hat on him. If not, there are several guys in this league that can ruin the game for you. He's one of the guys that can ruin the game for if you don't block him."

2. Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson needs to get off to a fast start against the Eagles.
If the third-year quarterback doesn't get on a roll early, head coach Brad Childress should bench him by halftime and insert veteran Gus Frerotte. Why? Because Jackson has posted his best passer rating numbers during the first half, and specifically during his first ten throws of the game this season. Jackson's passer rating dips from 107.6 in the first half to 89.6 in second half, and five of his nine touchdown passes were tallied during his first ten throws in games this season.

If he struggles early, that's not a good sign.

Jackson finished near the bottom of the list out of all starting NFL quarterbacks in completion percentage this year. And among NFL playoff quarterbacks, his yards per game average is the third-lowest, even when you only count his five starts.

Over the past three weeks, Jackson has shown better accuracy, completing 61 percent of this throws, and he's tossed just one interception in his last four game appearances. But if the Vikings need him to deliver in the final two minutes of either half, he hasn't had much success this season, posting a passer rating of just 50.7 during those critical time periods.


Colts QB Peyton Manning searches for an open receiver.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

3. Peyton Manning was the right choice for MVP.
While there were a number of players who deserved consideration, the Colts quarterback distinguished himself from the other elite players by overcoming a number of obstacles during the season. The Colts have two new players at the guard position and have been forced to rotate a rookie in at the center position as Jeff Saturday battled some sporadic injury problems, yet Manning only allowed himself to be sacked 14 times this year, fourth-best in the league. RB Joseph Addai, a 1,000-yard rusher his previous two seasons, only gained 544 yards this year as the Colts finished the regular season ranked 31st in the league in rushing, averaging just 79.6 yards per game.

The now three-time MVP had to be sharper than ever to keep the Colts offense moving as teams learned that they needn't be so concerned about the Indy running game—and Manning delivered. Distributing his passes across his talented group of wide receivers and tight ends, he completed 66.8 percent of his throws for 4,002 yards, averaging 250.1 passing yards per game and 27 touchdowns.  During the Colts nine-game winning streak, Manning threw 17 touchdowns against just five interceptions and was sacked just five times. And he hasn't completed less than 70 percent of his passes in a game since mid-November.

That's pretty darn impressive for a player with less-than-stellar protection and a weak rushing attack. He received my vote as MVP when I submitted my ballot for the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America annual NFL awards.

4. Keep an eye on how often the Titans, Cardinals, Giants and Ravens hurt themselves with penalties during the postseason.
Those four clubs are the only playoff teams that finished the year as one of the top-ten most penalized teams.

The Titans finished the year with the fourth-highest penalty count with 108. The Cardinals were fifth at 107, the Ravens were 7th with 103, and the Giants were 8th with 102.

Which playoff teams were penalized the least? The Atlanta Falcons were flagged just 71 times (30th) and the Philadelphia Eagles were flagged 74 times (29th).

5.  The Chargers have the most to lose if they represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Prior to Saturday's game against the Colts, San Diego currently has the 16th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft based on their mediocre 8-8 regular season record. And as long as they don't make it to the Super Bowl, they'll hold onto that slot, but if they win the AFC Championship, they'll drop to the 31st pick in the draft. If they win the Super Bowl, they fall to No. 32.

But that's a price that the Chargers will undoubtedly be glad to pay.


Dolphins WR Davone Bess
Marc Serota/Getty Images

6.  NFL teams should be asking themselves how they overlooked drafting WR Davone Bess, who will be running routes for the Dolphins against Baltimore this Sunday.
I don't work as a professional talent evaluator for one of the league's 32 teams, but when I watched Bess in person during a one-hour session for receivers and quarterbacks inside the RCA Dome at the NFL Combine last year, I could tell he was special.

Last February, I wrote that he "did some outstanding work during the gauntlet drill, showing his quick reaction time, good acceleration and strong concentration skills. But he also impressed with his cutting skills while running his routes and for his ability to locate the ball and make over-the-shoulder catches in stride."

Bess was nothing short of spectacular during that workout, and at least the Dolphins—a team with many needs during the draft—were sharp enough to recognize his talent and made the signing of the talented prospect a priority right after the draft concluded.

The rookie drew the praise LB Joey Porter this week, a teammate who is a tough competitor and who is not easily impressed.

"Bess makes key catches and doesn't even know how big these catches are, you know what I mean? He is 4-for-4 for catches with the game on the line; he just grabs them," Porter said.

7. Unless you're a Panthers fan, you may not be aware of the impact that kicker Rhys Lloyd could have on the outcome of the playoffs.
Lloyd, who only had three games of NFL experience prior to his 16-game stint with Carolina this year, is the team's kickoff specialist, so don't beat yourself up too badly if you're not all that familiar with his work.

But the 26-year-old kicker, who was born in Dover, England, broke the NFL record for touchbacks since the league started using the K-ball back in 1999. Lloyd's 30 touchbacks out of 88 attempts helped boost the Carolina special teams kickoff coverage from 19th-place last year to 3rd in the league this year.

If Lloyd can continue to convert one out of every three kickoffs into touchbacks during the playoffs, teams with highly-talented kickoff returns specialists will feel the pinch.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.

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