Mike Ditka on the AFC West: “It’s Really Not a Strong Division Right Now”

ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson previewed today’s NFL action with Suzy Kolber, analysts Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski and NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. Some excerpts from today’s show:

On the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Steelers-Giants game…

Jackson: “I think that Coach Coughlin, really when he told his football team, you have a chance to make the community feel better for a few hours on Sunday, I think that gave them a certain focus that they can feed off of.”

Ditka: “One great thing about sport in the history of our country: it’s an outlet… So for two-and-a-half, three hours today, it’s going to be football as usual, life as usual. I wrote down one thing: life doesn’t stop after a disaster like this, but it sure slows down a lot.

On Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos: are they a Super Bowl contender?

Carter: “Nothing’s changed since the day they signed him. They were a Super Bowl contender the day they signed him.”

Ditka: “It’s really not a strong division right now, and they are the best team in the division because of Peyton Manning. He has brought confidence and hope to this organization, and these guys are thriving on it.”

On comments made by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers about the team’s running game…

Carter: “The problem with society is, no one wants to really hear the truth. And Aaron Rodgers, he spoke the truth as far as their personality as a football team. He spoke up as a quarterback, and to me, he showed maturity… It’s the reality. You’re at the midway point and your stats are what they are.”

Jackson: “Aaron is smart enough to understand how what he says translates to the media and to his coach and to his team, so I agree. He sent a message.”

On Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton vs. Washington Redskins quarterback RG3…

Johnson: “They’re both dominant quarterbacks, and they’re going to be around for a very long time, so just sit around and enjoy it.”

Jackson: “RG3 has been given one of the best running games in the National Football League to set up play-action pass. It is something that is a necessity if you’re going to be successful playing quarterback. His coach took the time to bring some of the things that he did from college into the pro game with him, so he’s made him very comfortable right now. Cam Newton is the leading rusher on his football team with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in place. How can you run the ball and be the guy who throws the ball on play action? Just think about it when you start thinking about what’s happening to Cam Newton.”

On the Pittsburgh Steelers defense vs. Eli Manning…

Johnson: “The Steelers defense can handle anybody, except here’s the problem: Eli Manning is playing quarterback almost as good as anybody in the National Football League, especially in the fourth quarter.”

Ditka: “The key to this game to me is defense, guys. And it’s pressure on the quarterback. It’s trying to control these guys. You’re not going to stop them. You’re not going to shut them out. You’ve got to try to control them where they can’t have those big games. So I think it’s going to come down to pass rush.”

On the Miami Dolphins vs. the Indianapolis Colts – who wins and why?

Jackson: “I’m picking the Colts because they already have shown me how they can react emotionally to Coach Pagano in any situation. Him being on hand and possibly visiting with them in the locker room, I think is going to give them something extra when they take the football field. I’m picking the Colts.”

Johnson: “When you look at Coach Philbin and you look at Coach Pagano, look at the two organizations and where they come from: the Baltimore Ravens with some strong stability, the Green Bay Packers with strong stability. With that being said, though, I’ve got to go with the Miami Dolphins because I think that they’re just doing a much better job with lesser talent.”

On Peyton Manning – what impresses you most?

Jaworski: “I think most importantly, he’s an unselfish football player.”

Jackson: “He is a great teammate as well. We all can see what he can do on the field… he is all those things that he embodies as a quarterback, but he is also a wonderful, wonderful teammate and leader.”

Johnson: “Bottom line, he’s special. When you look at a player that changes teams – most of the time they change teams because they can’t play anymore. Not the case with him.”

Carter: “Very seldom in the National Football League do you get a legend who gets an opportunity to maybe change the end of the story… Peyton Manning has changed that last chapter, and he’s still writing.”