Luckily for rest of AFC, red-hot Buffalo probably won't reach postseason
Posted: Wednesday December 29, 2004 12:19PM; Updated: Wednesday December 29, 2004 4:49PM
Before I launch my voyage through the murky world of playoff formulae, I'll tell you exactly why it's so confusing to read about all this in the papers. Because the stuff comes from the league, and the league insists on cluttering up the wording with the evil "tie" -- such as "if they win or tie," or if so and so "loses or ties." C'mon now, no one ties anymore. And by inserting that obscure element into the mix, the Tilt button is activated and we're into an overload situation.
So in my brief explanation of a team's chances all references to ties will be eliminated, and the situations will be so crystal clear you'll wonder why this couldn't have been the true pathway for so many years. And I want my mailbag, whenever I get around to doing it again (ed. note: Dr. Z's Mailbag will return Jan. 6), to reflect some measure of thanks.
NFL Power Rankings
Pittsburgh Steelers (14-1) Now look, Ben, no one was telling you to sit that one out, especially when that last little picture in the coloring book, home field all the way, had to be filled in. But you have to exercise caution. Stay out of drafts and rainy situations. When an end around is called, and I know the playbook calls for the QB to be the lead blocker, you can lead without actually throwing a block. Simply holler at the opponent, "Stop now!" And when there's the slightest hint of a pass rush, do not prolong the play. Throw it to your sidelines immediately, at Jim here, who will be holding up a sign that says, "Hit Me." There are other little things to remember, but these will do for now.
Philadelphia Eagles (13-2) I think Andy Reid is the NFL's unsung screwball. I mean, what was he doing at the end of that Rams horror show on Monday night? Getting even with Mike Martz? (More about that in the St. Looie section.) Two seconds to go and Reid has his QB, third stringer Jeff Blake, spike the ball so he can throw one more dinky little pass. And this was moments after Reid lost his valuable special teamer, Thomas Tapeh, with a dislocated hip, a terrible injury. I mean are all coaches nuts around this time of the year or what?
New England Patriots (13-2) You're watching a defense throw a furious rush at the other team -- five, six, even seven guys all coming in. They wind up merely flailing in place ... in other words, the offense had thrown up an impenetrable wall. The QB stands tall behind it and sets his feet. Given all this, you can bet that a completion of 18 yards, minimum, is coming. Patriots 23, Jets 7, Dec. 26, 2004. A protection scheme that broke down against the Dolphins was shored up perfectly last Sunday. There were many other elements to this New England victory, of course, but this one jumped out at me.
Indianapolis Colts (12-3) Tony Dungy was quoted as saying that he'll treat the finale at Denver as a "real game," even though there's nothing left to clinch. Yo Tony -- Ben Roethlisberger, ribs and sternum. Deshea Townsend, broken hand. Thomas Tapeh, dislocated hip. Yo Tony, you listening to me? Look at me when I'm talking to you.
San Diego Chargers (11-4) They had the Colts messed up, offensively and defensively. They destroyed their timing. Then a guy takes a kickoff to the house against them, and Indy is a team that hadn't run one back all season. Then Peyton's bag of tricks gets the jump on a young secondary and Peyton's in the history books and San Diego's in the dumper. But it was a hell of an effort, and based on that, I give the Chargers a serious shot in the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons (11-4) No Michael Vick against the Saints. Resting a shoulder. No Alge Crumpler or T.J. Duckett. But there's always Warrick Dunn, all 180 pounds of him. Ready to battle the demons, carry the load, do what is asked. "Warrick, we'd like you to meet your quarterback. Kid named Schaub, first name Matt. You might remember him from the exhibition season. Now we'd like you boys to get to know one another a little better."
Buffalo Bills (9-6) The two saddest words in the English language: "Too late." Why couldn't you have started your run to the roses a week earlier? Now the only way you'll make the playoffs is if you beat the Steelers, which you will, and the Jets lose to St. Louis, which ain't gonna happen, or Denver loses its home game against Indy. And since you all hung your stockings for Santa, you might make the act complete by believing in Peyton and the boys making a game of it against the Broncos.
New York Jets (10-5) Say what you want, but I just know Chad Pennington's shoulder is not right, and therein lies the problem. He could float a few and complete them against that Seahawks defense, but against the Patriots, who spring on errant passes like lizards, it just wouldn't work. The Jets will beat the Rams, though. They'll do it on heart and defense and a running game.
Green Bay Packers (9-6) They'll lose at Chicago and come into the playoffs as the third seed. That will earn them a match against ... who? One of the goon squad fighting for the sixth seed (I take that back ... I don't include Carolina in that category). I'd say that if the Packers try to tackle people the way they did in the Vikings game, the Rams would be their toughest playoff opponent.
Denver Broncos (9-6) Just a random thought. Bet you a quarter you can't tell me who the Broncos' back-up quarterback is. See, I win. It's Danny Kanell. Remember him? Florida State, tomahawk chop and all that. Guess how many passes he's thrown this year? You're right, zero. Guess who the third guy is, the disaster QB? Rookie Matt Mauck. Or maybe it's Mack Mautt. OK, I'll get serious. Broncos beat Indy and they're in. Next case.
Carolina Panthers (7-8) Tough but not impossible for the team that I'll admit I'm rooting for -- make that for whom I'm rooting. (I just hit a typo, which actually looked better than the original. I'd written, "for whom I'm looting.") Must beat the Saints. OK, next. Vikings lose to battered Redskins. Don't think that'll happen, but you never know. Or Seattle beats Atlanta, which gives the Hawks the division. That would mean Carolina gets the wild-card edge over St. Louis, whom it has already beaten. Hmmm, maybe it's not that tough after all.
Baltimore Ravens (8-7) You like all this formula stuff? Kind of dull, huh? But I'm locked into it now. The Ravens, losers of four of their last five, are still in it. They need a win over Miami, plus a Denver loss. Plus a Buffalo loss. Plus a Jacksonville loss. Plus a stock-market loss. And a loss of faith and a loss of memory.
Houston Texans (7-8) No, the 21-0 victory over Jacksonville didn't earn them the six-position jump, although it helped. I have to keep them ahead of the Jags, whom they have beaten twice -- and Jacksonville is better than the middle-range teams that follow, so I'm kind of pinned here.
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7) Speak of the devil. OK, excuses abound, I know. Fred Taylor was out. Byron Leftwich was knocked goofy. But when you're a playoff-caliber team you have to respond with a serious defensive effort, and allowing Domanick (can't really believe that's spelled right) Davis a career high 150 yards doesn't qualify.
Seattle Seahawks (8-7) Yeah, they'll probably win the division, after that stirring three-point home victory over Arizona, which nicely messed up what could have been my shocker upset of the week. They'll beat Atlanta, unless the Falcons can rouse the ghosts of Steve Bartkowski and Claude Humphrey.