Around the NFL: Brees gives Manning a run for his money

Steve Doerschuk

Big dog meets underdog in the NFL season kickoff game Thursday.

In this corner, 1998 No. 1 overall pick Peyton Manning, aging nicely, having turned 31 just after winning a Super Bowl.

In that corner, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, 32nd pick of the 2000 draft. Brees, five inches shorter than Manning, changed the Chargers from chumps to division champs, then pulled the Saints from the cellar to within a win of the Super Bowl.

Among passers with at least 1,500 career attempts, Manning ranks second only to Steve Young with a 94.4 rating. Brees and Trent Green share ninth place at 87.5, a whisker behind Tom Brady’s 88.4.

No GM would trade away Manning for all six of the passers picked first in a draft since he was, even if they agreed to play for free. The six pack: Tim Couch, Michael Vick, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning and Alex Smith.

Teams that picked Couch, Vick, Carr, Peyton’s brother and Smith wish they had Brees.

Brees is among the few QBs who can outplay Peyton Manning on any given Sunday. In preseason action Thursday against the Chiefs, he was 17-of-19 for 182 yards in the first half of a 30-7 win.

Faith Hill and Kelly Clarkson, incidentally, will perform at a free concert in downtown Indianapolis the day of that Saints-Colts game.

Trading those two for Manning and Brees would run to taste.

Better days ahead

In 2005, the Saints (3-13), Jets (4-12), Eagles (6-10), Ravens (6-10), Chargers (9-7), Cowboys (9-7) and Chiefs (10-6) didn’t make it past New Year’s Day.

In 2006, all seven partied in the playoffs.

In 2004, the Bears (5-11), Bucs (5-11), Giants (6-10), Redskins (6-10), Panthers (7-9), Bengals (8-8) and Jaguars (9-7) and Redskins 6-10 missed the postseason.

In 2005, all seven were playoff teams.

In each of the last 10 seasons, the league has had at least five teams in that playoffs that weren’t there the previous year.

Tough on Buffalo

Nobody’s strength of schedule is more daunting than the Bills’. They face 12 teams that went 8-8 or better in 2006.

The Raiders, Chiefs, Colts, Titans, Texans and Chargers are in the next tier, each with 11 games against teams that were .500 or better.

Buffalo faces eight teams that made the playoffs, twice as man as the Cardinals, Bucs and Seahawks.

Nobody’s first-half schedule beats the Bills’ for pain: Denver, at Pittsburgh, at New England, Jets, Dallas, Baltimore, at Jets, Cincinnati.

This one could age GM Marv Levy, who was born when the league was 5 years old.

Sensen of urgency

The NFL went from a 14-game schedule to 16 games in 1978.

Since the change, not counting the strike-shortened 1982 seasons:

- The 410 teams that won season openers combined for 216 playoff appearances, including 123 division champs.

- The 410 teams that lost kickoff games combined for 96 playoff appearance, including 54 division winners.

The Browns buck the trend. They have reached the playoffs nine times since 1978, including the discombobulated strike year. They lost five of the games.

They would have been 4-4 in those openers had Dwayne Rudd not flipped his lid in 2002 against the Chiefs on what would have been the last play of a 39-37 win. When Rudd was penalized for taking off his helmet, the game was prolonged for one play, a field goal that gave Kansas City a 40-39 stunner.

Green’s autumn

That oddball Browns-Chiefs game came in the early days of Trent Green’s career breakthrough.

The ’07 Browns made a run at Green in the offseason before he landed in Miami.

Green was 31 when he began his first prolonged stretch of NFL success. From 2001-05, the former No. 222 pick averaged 4,024 passing yards.

He gives a little hope to guys such as 2005 No. 213 overall pick Derek Anderson of the Browns.

It’s questionable how much hope Green gives the Dolphins at age 37 and coming off a concussion-ravage year.

Extra points

- Some of the Steelers think their 2006 hangover is over. Bill Cowher’s 2005 team won a Super Bowl. “I think we’re just as good,” veteran receiver Hines Ward told the Post-Gazette. I’m with the majority. I don’t.

- The NFLPA should spend more time taking care of old players with postconcussion syndrome and less trying to scramble after the money Michael Vick threw away.

- The Browns are running an ad campaign fishing for single-game renters of luxury suites, a program that gets less attractive if the team keeps playing ugly.

Reach Canton Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com