The NFL season winds down so quickly. So after the last week of the season comes the last week of the critically-acclaimed weekend roundup I started writing this year. Now that we know the playoff teams have been set we can all be incredibly wrong about which team will end up winning the Super Bowl. I, for one, am excited to be wrong.
(Just as I finished writing this, half of the coaches in the NFL got fired. I didn't like the Lovie Smith firing and every other firing I had no problem with...again, not that anyone cares about my opinion.)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22 Atlanta Falcons 17
Even if Dunta Robinson and John Abraham are injured and miss the playoff game in two weeks, I still think Mike Smith made the right call to play them. Yeah, it seems like a risk to play these two guys, but I think with the two week layoff it was important to keep them in the flow of the season rather than giving them the equivalent of three weeks rest. The Falcons didn't come out with an especially challenging game plan and the Buccaneers seemed to have more motivation, especially Doug Martin who seemed to desperately get his name in the running as a serious contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Of course, that's hopeless with Luck, Wilson and Griffin also in the running. Who cares anyway, it's just a stupid award. Since I am here to nitpick, the Falcons ability to run the ball scares me a bit when it comes to being a serious Super Bowl contender. I know having a good run game is overrated and all, but Michael Turner only had two 100 yard games this season and averaged only 3.6 ypc. Jacquizz Rodgers wasn't much better with 3.8 ypc. So I believe in the Falcons ability to throw the football, but I wonder if they end up matching up against a team like the Seahawks in the second round of the playoffs, will the Falcons be able to run the ball well enough to take pressure off Ryan when throwing the football? As far as the Buccaneers go, I'm still not convinced Josh Freeman has bounced back into the upper 50% of NFL quarterbacks, but they certainly do have a lot to look forward to next year with Mike Williams, Martin, and Vincent Jackson on offense.
Buffalo Bills 28 New York Jets 9
Any person who thinks this Jets season could have been turned around with Tim Tebow as the quarterback, well, that person would be wrong. The Jets aren't the Broncos from last year and don't have Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas as the wide receivers. I don't know if Rex Ryan should be fired, but the Jets definitely need to draft better. I do think Chan Gailey needs to be fired (and he was as I finished writing this) and the Bills should try to build the offense around C.J. Spiller. My humble opinion is perhaps the Bills should draft a quarterback in the second or third round, so that means keep Fitzpatrick for one more year. Bills fans would probably strongly disagree and think the Bills need to go get Geno Smith or Matt Barkley in the first round. Either way, the Bills have some offensive and defensive talent, which is nice but they need to find a way to do better with the players they have. I'm not sure Chan Gailey is the guy to do this. Mark Sanchez has to be out in New York. He didn't do anything in this game he hasn't been doing for 2-3 seasons now and if the Jets don't have a dominant defense then Sanchez isn't close to being the quarterback the Jets need to get back to the AFC Championship Game or even the Super Bowl. It seems his teammates love him (or at least his ex-teammates), which is nice, but at a certain point a quarterback has to play the quarterback position better than Sanchez does.
Cincinnati Bengals 23 Baltimore Ravens 17
It's hard to judge teams in a game like this when starters for both teams seem to sit the majority of the game. I feel like the AFC is top-heavy in some ways. I don't believe in the Bengals or the Ravens and think at this point I don't see what will stop a Patriots-Broncos AFC Championship Game (so is there any way I could jinx this matchup more?), other than Joe Flacco playing like the quarterback he believes himself to be or the Bengals proving me wrong and winning two playoff games. I'm not completely writing either team off, since the Ravens seem to randomly play like the best team in the AFC at times and the Bengals have not lost once since November 4. Obviously the Bengals are going to have to put up more than the 189 yards they put up in this game (as well as have the starters play the majority of the game) to win a playoff game. I thought Tyrod Taylor acquitted himself well as a backup and Bernard Pierce ran the ball well and showed he is also a good backup. It's hard to tell in games like this when the backups play a lot, but I think the Bengals-Texans game is going to be a tough one for me to pick.
Chicago Bears 26 Detroit Lions 24
It's tough for the Bears to have won 10 games and still not make the playoffs. Of course we all know it is Jay Cutler's fault. Pretty much everything is. The Bears threw the ball well in this game, especially for a team that was described by the FOX pregame crew as having "one receiving threat." It probably hurt Bears fans to cheer for the Packers in order to get their team in the playoffs and of course the Packers can't even win a fucking game when Bears fans want them to. Detroit lost this game partly because they committed four turnovers, including three by Matthew Stafford. The Lions are one of those teams that don't seem to outwardly have problems on offense, but if you look deeper you see areas that need improvement. They could probably get some offensive line help and maybe another receiver. If I am Detroit, I probably look for defensive help in the secondary as the first priority during the offseason. Stafford took a step back this year in terms of being turnover prone, so that clearly has to stop. The Bears, and I am just guessing here, are probably going to try and find some offensive line help in free agency and in the draft. It's a shame they didn't make the playoffs this year and I still think they are a better team than the Vikings, which of course it doesn't matter what I think. Either way, let's blame Jay Cutler. It just feels right and is something Terry Bradshaw would probably like for us to do. The Bears lost six games this year, all of them to playoff teams. They were the 13th best team in the NFL during the 2012 season it seems. I guess this wasn't good enough to help Lovie Smith keep his job. I'm not sure how I feel about his being fired.
Tennessee Titans 38 Jacksonville Jaguars
The Titans had four return touchdowns in this game. As if Jacksonville didn't have enough problems winning games, they go and give up two special teams touchdowns and two touchdowns on offense. I'm still not convinced Chad Henne is the answer for Jacksonville, nor am I convinced Mike Mularkey is the right coach for the Jaguars. Henne threw for a lot of yardage, but the Jaguars were behind for most of the game and Henne got sacked seven times. I know it takes more than one year to turn a team around and Maurice Jones-Drew was injured for most of the season, but I feel like a change in culture is more important than anything in Jacksonville. No matter what, Chad Henne can't start off next year as the definite starter for the Jaguars. The Titans will probably keep Mike Munchak around for one more year and I don't know if it is the right call. Has Jake Locker really developed in his second year? That's partly how Munchak is going to be judged, on how much progress Locker has made. Locker has been pretty mediocre during the 2012 season and in 10 games he threw more interceptions than touchdowns and had a completion percentage of 56.2%. I think the Titans have the receivers for a strong offense with Britt, Washington, and Wright, so they need a quarterback to consistently get them the ball. This game showed the Titans defense is occasionally up to the task of winning games. Of course as the (not) old saying goes (no one says this), they can't play Jacksonville every week (but I bet they wish they could).
Indianapolis Colts 28 Houston Texans 16
I know I keep harping on this, but for how impressive Andrew Luck was this year he wasn't a very accurate with his passes. I realize the wide receivers have to catch the ball, but Luck didn't throw for over a 50% completion percentage in the past five games and hasn't had a completion percentage over 60% in seven games. Luck also didn't average over 7 yards per attempt in the last seven games either, so it isn't like he was throwing deep and that explains his lower completion percentage. So he's been very good this year, but if he starts to struggle next year don't be surprised when his lack of accuracy is suddenly mentioned as the cause (which is, of course, probably going to be unfair). Still, I can't argue with success and the Colts put the Texans down with a fair amount of ease. What worries me about the Texans is this is the kind of game they need to show up and win to help me feel good taking them seriously in the playoffs. They are going against a division rival and needed to win in order to solidify their seeding, but then they came out and got beat. It may mean nothing at all in the playoffs, but I don't know if I feel good about the Texans playing against the Patriots or Broncos in the playoffs. I feel like they are missing another receiving weapon on offense and against a good offensive line they won't be able to get the pass rush they need to beat good playoff teams.
Carolina Panthers 44 New Orleans Saints 38
Cam Newton got injured at one point in this game and while he was laying on the field some of the Saints fans in the Superdome began cheering his injury. These are probably the same Saints fans who defended Sean Payton through the bounty scandal. What a terrible group of people who cheered and you would think after the bounty scandal they would at least be self-aware to not act like assholes in a situation like that. As it relates to this game, Drew Brees certainly can't do much more than lead the Saints to score 38 points (seven of those points did come on a pick-six), but the Saints defense yet again gave up a ton of points and yardage. Carolina got 44 points in this game and ran for 273 yards. Perhaps this game saved Ron Rivera's job, though it all depends on who the next GM is of course. It is hard for me to feel bad for Drew Brees, but I do feel bad for him. He had another great year and the Saints defense gave up the most yardage in the history of the NFL. Of course with Sean Payton coming back to coach the Saints next year then the defense will magically get fixed. Carolina did their typical late-season winning after they have been eliminated from playoff contention. It's almost a Christmas tradition for the Panthers to win games at the end of the year and rue the day they lost 1-2 early season games that would have made games played in December actually matter.
New York Giants 42 Philadelphia Eagles 7
I have said probably four or five times I'm not concerned about the Giants as it pertains to them making the playoffs. I'm officially concerned about their ability to make the playoffs now that they have been eliminated from the playoffs. A week after getting their ass kicked by the Ravens, the Giants come out and run over the Eagles. Very typical of a team that had a very up-and-down year. Joe Morgan is very upset about the consistency of this Giants team. Two things are for certain in regard to the Eagles. Andy Reid is not going to be the Eagles coach next year and Mike Vick isn't going to be the Eagles quarterback...or at least he shouldn't be. This loss wasn't all on Vick, but I think it is clear at this point Vick is too turnover prone and probably not going to be a starting NFL quarterback that can get his team far into the playoffs. It just doesn't seem he possesses that kind of talent anymore. The Giants never seemed to have found a way to play consistently on a weekly basis and the Giants defense started off the game well about one week too late. David Carr even got a cameo appearance in this game and he somehow managed to not only avoid being sacked, but also didn't seem to duck in fear of the oncoming pass rush. It seems like Carr can still envision the opposing team's pass rushers sacking him from his early days with the Texans and playing behind their offensive line. We didn't get to see much of that against the Eagles. Maybe that says more about the Eagles pass rush and how long Carr was in this game more than anything else.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Cleveland Browns 10
I know he didn't win this game for the Browns, but I was surprised at how well it seems Thaddeus Lewis played. Of course since he was tutored at Duke by David Cutcliffe (who worked with Eli and Peyton Manning when they were in college), it probably shouldn't surprise me all that much. That's why I am excited to see how Sean Renfree plays in the NFL and where he gets drafted. Lewis isn't going to replace Brandon Weeden anytime soon, but given Weeden's age he could be the Browns quarterback of the future (I'm kidding...sort of). Of course the Browns are starting all over again, so maybe that starting all over again is something Browns fans can look forward to. The Browns committed four turnovers on offense, but the Browns defense held the Steelers offense to 212 yards of offense, which of course isn't in any way Todd Haley's fault at all. Todd Haley is an offensive genius and we should never question this as not being true. For the Steelers, any time they don't make the playoffs then the season is seen as a failure, but I have no doubt they will be back next year. They need to make a few changes, like upgrade the aging defense and find a miracle cure that prevents running backs and offensive linemen from being injured. Also, fire Todd Haley...just because they can. Knowing how Haley seems to find a job no matter what, I wouldn't be surprised if he was named a head coach for an NFL team even if he got fired by the Steelers.
Denver Broncos 38 Kansas City Chiefs 3
Thank God for Chiefs fans this season is over. The Chiefs had 119 yards of total offense, gave up four sacks, had seven completions in a blowout game, and held the football for only 22 minutes. This season being over has to be the third-best news for Chiefs fans along with knowing Scott Pioli will be fired and the only way Brady Quinn plays quarterback for the Chiefs again is if he buys a copy of Madden 2013. Quinn had 49 yards passing. Of course, is it all his fault? Probably not, but he makes Blaine Gabbert look like Aaron Rodgers. Now that I am done thrashing the Chiefs for the next eight months, let's move on to the Broncos, winners of their last 22 straight games (or so it seems). Peyton Manning is red hot and combining John Fox's great coaching ability with Manning's quarterbacking ability makes it seem like the Broncos could go far in the playoffs. Don't you just get the feeling the fictional script is being written to get Peyton Manning into the Super Bowl with the Broncos? It's amazing now what he did in Indianapolis with Jim Caldwell as his head coach, especially when Caldwell now doesn't seem completely trusted to be an offensive coordinator in the NFL. Oh yeah, the Broncos also have a great defense and Von Miller shouldn't be as overshadowed by J.J. Watt in the Defensive Player of the Year race as I am sure he will be.
Minnesota Vikings 37 Green Bay Packers 34
I'm a hater. I think Christian Ponder isn't a very good quarterback. He has been bad to terrible in too many games this year and I firmly believe if he didn't have Adrian Peterson in the backfield with him then he would be another Mark Sanchez. Ponder played well in this game though and was able to throw accurate passes when he needed to. What I like about Adrian Peterson is he was 9 yards short of the NFL record for rushing yards and when he was asked about it after the game he didn't even know how close he was. Unlike other players (ahem, Drew Brees) he isn't always exactly aware of where he stands in regard to personal records. I still think the Packers are going to beat the Vikings this upcoming weekend when these two teams meet again, but Minnesota showed they can play and score with the Packers. I don't know what has happened to the Packers pass rush nor do I understand how they can't protect Aaron Rodgers, but both the defensive and offensive lines look like major issues to me going into the playoffs. There were times yesterday that Rodgers barely had time to drop back before there were Vikings defenders on him and Ponder was too often given a clean pocket to throw in. If Green Bay wants to win this weekend they have to rattle Christian Ponder. Of course stopping Adrian Peterson would help also.
New England Patriots 28 Miami Dolphins 0
The Patriots defense sacked Ryan Tannehill seven times and created two turnovers in this game. As good as the Patriots offense has been, if the Patriots defense plays well and creates turnovers then they are going to be very difficult to beat. Tom Brady has had an incredibly quiet MVP-type season. He has 34 touchdown passes, 8 interceptions and 4800 yards passing. I don't know if he has had a better season than Peyton Manning, but I think Brady should at least be talked about a lot more in terms of being a serious MVP candidate. I feel like he is getting shortchanged in that discussion. Clearly, the Patriots are entering the postseason with some type of momentum, whatever that is worth, while the Dolphins didn't exactly end the season the way they would have liked. It's hard to win any games when you can't score points, but since New England has such a prolific offense, against the Patriots it is even more important to score points. The Dolphins defense didn't do terribly, but if the Dolphins want to win more than seven games next year they have to give Ryan Tannehill some weapons on offense. Expecting him to win games with Brian Hartline as his best receiver is a losing proposition. The Dolphins have a lot of decent guys on offense, but lack a consistent big play threat in the passing game, and also lack this threat in the running game when Reggie Bush decides not to show up on a given day.
San Diego Chargers 24 Oakland Raiders 21
December. It is the time of the year the fans of NFL teams not in playoff contention start to convince themselves the second or third string quarterback can be the "the answer" for the team. Raiders fans may be thinking Terrelle Pryor is "the answer" at quarterback for their team. Count me as speculative that is true. The Raiders ended another disappointing year by almost getting an upset over another disappointing team, the Chargers, who have their own quarterback issues. Mostly, what the fuck is wrong with Philip Rivers? He threw for 151 yards and led the Chargers to 210 total yards in this game. Isn't he supposed to be a Top-10 quarterback? Norv Turner and Rivers both know that Turner is gone. The Chargers aren't improving (and in fact are regressing) and Turner hasn't been able to do much to help stop this slide. I can't wait for Andy Reid to end up in San Diego. It feels like something that just needs to happen. The Raiders do have some talent on the roster and it's not fair to judge Dennis Allen on this one year. The previous regime put the Raiders in quite a hole in terms of trading draft picks and drafting personnel. It's going to take more than one year to get out of the hole the Raiders are in. I'm not over that Carson Palmer trade. It still feels crazy.
San Francisco 49ers 27 Arizona Cardinals 13
Brian Hoyer was the fourth quarterback to start a game for the Cardinals. Remember when Hoyer was being talked about as the next great Patriots backup quarterback who would be traded to an unsuspecting NFL team that thinks they are trading for a starting-caliber NFL quarterback? He did get Michael Floyd 8 catches and 166 yards, so at least this showed us all that there may be a #2 receiver to complement Larry Fitzgerald...or maybe it just showed us Michael Floyd played his best game of the season in the last game of the season. Ken Whisenhunt hasn't been so great without Kurt Warner as his quarterback. He's an offensive coordinator without a quarterback to run the offense well. Colin Kaepernick played well again for the 49ers and somehow managed to overcome Gregg Easterbrook's fictional "Crabtree Curse" to help Crabtree get 172 yards receiving with two touchdowns catches. I don't think the 49ers are going to have a receiver only make one reception in any playoff game this year because they look more well-balanced in the passing game. I still can't decide if I like the switch from Smith to Kaepernick. I was concerned before that Smith wasn't good enough of a quarterback to lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory, but Kaepernick also seems to add a higher ceiling as well as a lower floor than Smith. Being bold is good though, right? When has "fortune favors the bold" ever been wrong?
Seattle Seahawks 20 St. Louis Rams 13
Look, a Jeff Fisher team finished the season near .500! What a (non) shock. I joke, but the Rams seem to be on the upswing and are putting together a pretty good team. The Rams sacked Wilson six times and did not give Seattle a chance at another blowout win. I feel like Sam Bradford is a good enough quarterback to win games, but I'm still not sure he is a franchise quarterback. He's good, but not great in my opinion. The Seahawks already have a pretty good team and I am amazed at how well Russell Wilson has played this year. I expected him to be a decent quarterback this season after how he started the year off, but I didn't think he would throw 26 touchdown passes and be as accurate as he has been. I think the Seahawks are going to have to protect Wilson better in their playoff game against Washington. Marshawn Lynch ran for another 100 yards and Wilson was incredibly efficient in the passing game, only throwing four incomplete passes. If I had to rank the Offensive Rookies of the Year race then I would probably go:
1. Robert Griffin
2. Russell Wilson
3. Andrew Luck
4. Doug Martin
5. Alfred Morris
As much respect as I have for Luck, I think he has to be below Wilson and Griffin.
Washington Redskins 28 Dallas Cowboys 18
Sometimes there is a little bit of truth in stereotypes and assumptions. The stereotype is that Tony Romo can't win big games and throws ill-timed interceptions. Many of his positive attributes are ignored in favor of showing him as a turnover-prone choker. This isn't always true...but then he goes and throws three interceptions in a nationally televised Week 17 de facto playoff game, including one on the potential game-winning drive. Yes, Romo didn't have Miles Austin or Dez Bryant on that final drive, but that had nothing to do with the pass that was intercepted by the Redskins defense. Robert Griffin didn't throw the ball well, but he committed zero turnovers and Romo committed three turnovers. I can't help but think that's the difference in this game. It didn't help that defensive genius Rob Ryan's defense gave up almost 274 yards rushing and allowed the Redskins to be in manageable third downs for nearly the entire game. Not much else can be said about Robert Griffin at this point. He should be Offensive Rookie of the Year in my opinion, but I don't have a vote and I'm not entirely sure his teammate Alfred Morris shouldn't get some consideration too. The Redskins are going to the playoffs and the Cowboys are not. Tony Romo didn't have much help in the running game this season and he also had to deal with a shaky offensive line and injuries to his wide receivers. When it came time for a game-winning drive, he threw an interception. When the Cowboys needed to win one game to make the playoffs, Romo was responsible for three turnovers (all interceptions). He fulfilled the narrative others have set out for him.