Monday Morning QB (cont.)
Posted: Monday December 17, 2007 9:44AM; Updated: Monday December 17, 2007 1:55PM
Wrapping Up Week 15
There's not much drama left. Seven of the eight division titles have been clinched with two weeks left. I'm having trouble remembering less intrigue at the end of a season. Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Seattle are locked into NFC titles. New England, Indianapolis and San Diego have clinched in the AFC. The only division left to decide -- and who'd have predicted this three months ago -- is the AFC North, where the Browns and Steelers are tied with 9-5 records.
Pittsburgh holds the tiebreaker because of its season sweep of the Browns, and if the Steelers were playing well, I'd say they were a lock. But they aren't. They go to St. Louis for the Thursday-nighter this week, then finish at Baltimore. (Combined Ram/Raven record: 7-21.) And don't you think the woebegone Ravens would love to knock Pittsburgh out of a division title? They hate the Steelers. Cleveland has Cincinnati on the road and San Francisco (combined record: 9-19) at home.
Most likely wild-card matchups: Giants at Tampa Bay, Minnesota at Seattle in the NFC; Jacksonville at the AFC North champ, the AFC North runnerup at San Diego. "We don't fear going anywhere to play,'' Jacksonville QB David Garrard said last night. "We think we match up well with physical teams like Pittsburgh.''
It shows. Jacksonville has beaten the Steelers on two straight trips to Heinz Field, playing the kind of northeast December football the Giants used to play. Fred Taylor road-graded Pittsburgh for 147 yards and Garrard played another steady game. The two teams I wouldn't want to play in January: Jacksonville, Minnesota. The team I would: The Giants.
Not only are the New Yorkers not playing well right now (offensive output the last seven weeks: 13, 20, 16, 17, 21, 16 and 10 points), but they've lost Jeremy Shockey to a broken leg. They had at least nine drops last night in a bad loss to Washington, and Eli Manning is struggling enough without his receivers being so bad.
Jamal Lewis is rescuing Cleveland. Last January, when Lewis had minor ankle surgery to clean out some bone spurs, the doctor told him he'd be surprised at how good his range of motion in the ankle would be. And last night, after his 14th game on the new wheel, Lewis said he hasn't felt this good this late in a season in years. "No pain,'' he said. "I couldn't be happier with the way I feel.''
And he's running like a spry Jerome Bettis. Cleveland needed a big body in Sunday's snowstorm, and Lewis gave them 33 carries for 163 yards. Irony of the day: Before the game, Willie McGinest and Lewis were in the trainers' room, getting ready to go out, and McGinest said, "This reminds me exactly of the night we played Oakland in that snow game in the playoffs with the Patriots.'' And this one ended almost the same way, with an unlikely 49-yard field goal by Phil Dawson through a gale, the same way Adam Vinatieri kicked a field goal through a snowstorm against the Raiders.
"I've never played in a game like that,'' said Lewis. "It was fun, though. At one point, I got tackled and I got snow and dirt, kind of smashed together, all up in my facemask.''
I remember going to Cleveland last summer and seeing Lewis running like he had new legs, and listening to him say what a great year he thought he was going to have. When I wrote that, there were smirks and a bunch of you-gullible-idiot looks from peers in the business. The '07 number: 251 carries, 1,084 yards, nine touchdowns, with a couple of Bettis-like piggyback carries of defenders.
"I knew,'' he said. "I said at the end of last year that if the Ravens wanted to go back to the playoffs, they'd re-sign me, and they chose not to. I knew Cleveland made the right decision. And I knew we'd be good. I saw it in camp.''