Friday, December 26, 2008

8 In the Box- AFC

1. Kudos for the NFL for hiring time traveling bunnies to make their 2008 schedule. They managed to fandangle showdowns for home field advantage between the 4 best teams in the league in both the AFC and the NFC on the same weekend. The AFC's win and go home for the rest of the season matchup took place in Nashville, between a Steelers team who had won 5 in a row and has a defense some are calling the best in NFL history (some, not me) and a Titans team that has been kind of meh the last month of the season, going 2-2 in their last 4 and coming off a loss in Houston.

So, of course, momentum meaning nothing in this year's NFL, the Titans won by 17 points, stepping on the gas in the third quarter to close the game with 21 unanswered points. Ben Roethlisberger got sacked 5 times, and the Steelers turned it over 4 times. The moment that had everyone talking came on the sidelines though, when with the outcome in hand, LenDale White produced a yellow "Terrible Towel" and he and Keith Bulluck began stomping on it. Oooooooh...its on now. Pittsburgh got served and its on like Donkey Kong.

2. With big, wet, chunky snowflakes falling all over the place in Seattle, you would have figured the setting was perfect for Brett Favre and his childlike joy to carry the Jets to an important victory. Much to my astonishment though, no amount of tongue snowflake catching or snowman making would save the Jets on this day. They get held to 3 points by a 3-11 Seahawks team, and Mike Holmgren wins his final game as Hawks head coach, dealing a devastating blow to the Jets playoff chances. Now, unless the Jets can beat their old buddy Chad Pennington and the Dolphins this week, AND either NE loses to Buffalo or Baltimore loses to Jacksonville (neither of which is likely to happen), we'll be hearing another retirement speech from Favre in a couple of days.

3. Ah yes, the Dolphins. This team that went 1-15 last year, won their 10th game of the 2008 season last week in KC. Now all they need to do is beat the Jets this week, and they are in the playoffs as the AFC East Champs.

This brings to mind some commentary I heard while watching the games last week. I really wish I remember who said it, but one of the sages doing the either the Jets or the Dolphins game said, “That Pennington trade was a trade that helped both teams.” Really? Please fill me in how trading a QB to a team in your own division, and then having that team go from 1 win to 10 wins after that trade “helps” your team? Am I missing something or would the Jets not have been better off letting the Dolphins see if they can win 10 games with Josh McCown or John Beck at quarterback, because I’m guessing they probably wouldn’t have. Then there’s the small matter of fact that Chad Pennington will probably be the Dolphins QB for the next 5 years while Favre is most likely gone after this year. That was not a “trade that helped both teams”, it was a horrible trade for the Jets, it will look even more horrible if Chad and the Dolphins end the Jets season this week.

4. I really do find it ironic that while the BCS is an annual target of just about everybody, this year it’s the NFL’s playoff system that is turning out much more jacked up and unfair. To wit, last week the Patriots beat the Cardinals 47-7, and in all honesty the game wasn’t even that close. Nevertheless, the 8-7 Cardinals are going to the playoffs while the 10-5 Patriots have to not only win this week but hope for either the Dolphins or the Ravens to lose as well. Then there’s the guy in the picture above who ran out of the stands and tackled Junior Seau on the sideline, providing us with a poignant example of WTF Dadaism in a world gone to hell.

5. The Chargers are doing the same thing they do every year, which is to lay down for the first 10 games or so then come on strong at the end of the year. This team that was 4-8 at one point now controls its own destiny and can not only reach the playoffs but host a playoff game if they can beat the Broncos at home this week. They have had to earn this situation though, last week they went into Tampa and beat the Bucs behind 4 TD passes from Philip Rivers in what shall be heretofore known as "The Jeff Garcia 5 Alarm Great Muta Blade Job Face Game".

6. Speaking of the Broncos, they continue to be as tough and gritty as a tub of Cool Whip. They blew their second chance to clinch the AFC West, this time losing at home to a Bills team that had lost seven out of their last 8. The Bills had 2 chances to tie it on the last 2 plays of the game when Brandon Stokely twice got open in the end zone, but on the first play Cutler threw it over his head, and on the second play Stokely dropped the ball. Thankfully, there was no more time left on the clock after that so they couldn't try again and both break their legs or something. Now the Broncos have to win in San Diego this weekend to avoid missing the playoffs. Says WR and geography major Brandon Marshall, “Unfortunately we’re not going to be able to go up there and take it easy,” “Up there” being San Diego. Someone please tell Marshall he plays for Denver, not Tijuana.

7. Give kudos to Joe Flacco. One day he’s laying on his back on the cover of SI, which is not a good thing unless you are a swimsuit model, or better yet with a swimsuit model on top of you, the next he is leading his team into the final game at Texas Stadium where they are expected to quietly play Jerry Flynn to the Cowboys’ Goldberg, but instead Flacco and the Ravens actually WIN the durned game and send the entire Cowboys organization into a raging case of premenstrual syndrome. Actually, Flacco didn’t do too much, it was mostly LeRon McClain and Willis McGahee (247 rushing yards combined), but hey, he was the guy taking the pile driver on the cover of SI, so I have to give him some credit.

8. And finally, the quietest 11-4 team you have ever seen, the Indianapolis Colts, won again, this time a 31-24 nail biter in Jacksonville. Sure, the Colts play terrible opposition pretty much every week (their last 4 wins have come over Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Jax), but 8 wins in a row is 8 wins in a row I guess. With their high scoring offense, lack of a running game, questionable defense, and soft schedule, consider them the NFL equivalent of a team going into a BCS bowl out of the WAC conference, which if Hawaii taught us anything last year (and this year too…good God..getting spanked at home by Notre Dame??) is not really a good thing. Also note that since I visited Lucas Oil Field in October and bought my goofy looking Colts stocking cap and giant Peyton Manning bobblehead, the Colts have not lost.

8+1. So before I wrap here, let's review the playoff implications of the Week 17 games:

- The only way the Ravens can miss the playoffs is if they lose to Jacksonville, and New England beats Buffalo. So let's for the sake of simplicity assume Baltimore beats Jacksonville and is in as the sixth seed.

- That leaves the AFC East division champ berth as the last available slot. Miami can sew that up with a win over the Jets. If the Dolphins lose, they are out. This game is a straight up elimination playoff game for them.

- If the Jets win against the Dolphins, then the Patriots can win the division with a win over Buffalo. If the Jets win AND New England loses, the Jets are in as the AFC East champs.

So if you are a Patriots fan, go paint yourself Green and buy yourself an Eric Mangini Fathead, because unless the Jaguars are feeling really frisky, you will need their help this weekend. If you are a Jets fan, keep hating the Patriots like you already do, because you need them to lose.

- And of course, Denver at San Diego is a playoff game. Winner is in as the #4 seed and AFC West Champ. Loser is done.

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