By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts director of emotional distance
The Cold, Hard Football Facts treat the NFL with all the emotional warmth of a box of lug nuts. If you want a feel-good story, watch Oprah. If you want the naked, emotionless, frost-bitten truth about football, chill yourself each week around our Icy Issues.
Icy Issue: Is 2006 Rookie of the Year Vince Young the real deal?
Icier Response: He's as real as the slow burn of Tennessee sour mash.
Despite his ROY year performance last season, Young receives more than his fair share of criticism for that awkward passing motion and unimpressive 66.7 passer rating.
These critics might as well look at the mole on Cindy Crawford's lip and tell us she's ugly. The truth is that Young makes offenses, and teams, better than they are without him.
  • The Titans scored just 18.7 PPG in 2005, before Young's arrival.
  • The Titans scored an anemic 11.0 PPG in the first three games of 2006, with Young in a backup role.
  • The Titans scored 22.4 PPG during Young's 13 starts last year.
  • The Titans were 0-3 without Young
  • The Titans were 8-5 with Young.
(Young's former Texas Longhorns, meanwhile, plummeted from 50.9 PPG with Young leading the team in 2005, to 35.9 PPG in 2006.)
His passing capabilities will come around. Don't forget, it was Young, not the much more widely publicized Matt Leinart of USC, who led all of college football in passing efficiency in 2005. Young's Longhorns also led the nation in scoring that year, while Leinart's Trojans were No. 2.
Young's 8-5 record with Tennessee is truly miraculous when you consider that the Titans fielded what was probably the single worst all-around defense in the NFL last year. The 2006 Titans ranked:
  • 32nd in total defense
  • 31st in scoring defense
  • 30th in rushing defense
  • 27th in pass defense
  • 32nd in the Cold, Hard Football Facts Defensive Hog Index (a measure of defensive line strength)
Young ripped off 8 wins in 13 games as  rookie NFL quarterback. Imagine what he might do with a little experience behind him and a decent defense covering his back.
You might see what others have seen: an amazing winner: Young has a 52-9 (.852) record as a starting quarterback, dating all the way back to his senior season with Madison High of Houston.
Icy Issue: Can Indianapolis repeat as Super Bowl champions?
Icier Response: Not without some water, aspirin and a greasy breakfast.
The Colts face an enormous challenge this year: the Super Bowl hangover that's laid up all but one champion since 1998.
  • The 1999 Rams rolled on both sides of the ball. The 2000 Rams fielded one of the worst defenses in recent years and lost in the wildcard round of the playoffs.
  • The 2000 Ravens fielded the best defense in modern history. The one-dimensional franchise was won just one playoff game since their Super Bowl victory.
  • The 2001 Patriots carried home their first Lombardi Trophy. The 2002 Patriots didn't even make the playoffs.
  • The 2002 Bucs won the Super Bowl. The franchise has averaged just 6.8 wins per year since.  
  • The 2004 Patriots went 17-2 and won their second consecutive Super Bowl. They 2005 Patriots fell apart defensively and went 10-6.
  • The 2005 Steelers pulled off perhaps the greatest postseason run in history. The 2006 Steelers stumbled through an 8-8 campaign and missed the playoffs.
The 2006 Colts were a historic anomaly, too. They surrendered 22.5 PPG during the regular season, worst for any Super Bowl champion. They also surrendered a dreadful 5.33 yards per rush attempt. That gave the Colts the NFL's worst run defense since the expansion 1961 Vikings (5.36 YPA). Yet the Colts somehow turned it up several notches in the playoffs, allowing just 16.3 PPG in wins over Kansas City, Baltimore, New England and Chicago. It's asking an awful lot for Indy to capture defensive lightning in the bottle once again this year.
Icy Issue: Will the NFC compete with the AFC?
Icier Response: Not this year and not anytime soon.
The NFC has not won a season series against the AFC since 1995, and its teams have won just three of 11 Super Bowls over that period.
It's not getting any better. Over the past three seasons, the AFC has posted two of the most dominant seasons ever in interconference play, including last year's mark of 40-24 (.625) against NFC competition.
MOST DOMINANT SEASONS, interconference play              
Winner (Record)
Winning Pct.
AFC (36-16)
NFC (27-12-1)
AFC (44-20)
AFC (19-9)
AFC (33-19)
NFC (33-19)
AFC (38-22)
AFC (40-24)
* First year of interconference play.
There's little hope of this disparity changing any time soon. Last year, every AFC division had a winning record over its NFC opponents. The romp was led by the AFC East's record of 12-4 against the NFC North, a division which included NFC champion Chicago.
Icy Issue: Is New Orleans ready to win the Super Bowl?
Icier Response: Two letters: N.O.
The Saints were the feel-good story of the 2006 season, overcoming the disastrous 3-13 post-Katrina campaign of 2005 to reach the NFC title game in 2006.
If the Cold, Hard Football Facts had feelings, they might revel in the accomplishment, too. Fortunately, we're not swayed by the heart-tug of emotions. The Saints certainly excited fans, especially with their high-powered, star-studded offense.
But the truth is, at the end of the day, they were just two games over .500 and with serious problems on defense.
The 2006 Saints surrendered a dreadful 4.94 yards per rush attempt. And even their lofty No. 3 ranking in pass defense was wildly deceptive. The NFL ranks teams by yards allowed, which is rarely an accurate indicator of overall success. A much better measure of a pass defense is a team's defensive passer rating. In this category, the Saints ranked just 23rd, allowing opposing passers to rack up a haughty 85.1 rating. Quarterbacks ripped the NO defense for 26 TDs (30th in the league), while getting picked off by Saints defenders just 11 times.
Unfortunately for Saints fans, New Orleans management seems, like many people, enamored by its offensive firepower. They've made little effort to fix the defensive holes that proved their undoing in the NFC championship game, where the Bears shredded the Saints for 196 yards on 46 attempts (4.3 YPA).
New Orleans has all the makings of a contender again in the NFC. But even if they should actually make the Super Bowl, it's hard to envision a flawed defensive team beating the AFC's elite.
Consider this: the Saints somehow managed a No. 2 seed and first-round bye with that 10-6 record last year. Over in the AFC, heavyweight New England went 12-4, but managed just a No. 4 seed.