Winning teams that won't make playoffs; losing teams that will
Top-of-the-head hunches as we stare down Week 4...
If I were forced to pick three teams that have winning records after three weeks but will still miss the playoffs, I'd go with:
1. Washington (2-1): The Redskins might very well match last year's 9-7 record and still wind up in last place in the rugged NFC East. With Washington at Dallas and at Philadelphia the next two games, we're going to know precisely where the Redskins fit into the division landscape by the close of Week 5.
2. San Francisco (2-1): Somebody's got to win the mild, mild NFC West, so why not the 49ers, who have put an impressive 64 points on the scoreboard during their two-game winning streak? Here's why: San Francisco's next four games are at New Orleans, home against New England and Philadelphia, and at the Giants. Can you say 2-5?
3. Baltimore (2-0): The rebuilding Ravens have proven they can do more than just compete in the AFC North, they can win on their home field, holding serve against the likes of the Bengals and Browns. But that Week 2 Hurricane Ike postponement in Houston now forces Baltimore to play six of its next eight games away from home. That will be too tough a road to travel to keep playoff dreams alive.
If I were forced to pick three teams that have losing records after three weeks but will still make the playoffs, I'd go with:
1. San Diego (1-2): What, you think I'm bailing on my Super Bowl pick when they're an Ed Hochuli blunder away from a winning record, and two plays away from undefeated? The Broncos are going to make the Chargers work for it in the AFC West, but that Week 17 Denver at San Diego showdown will wind up deciding the division title, and both are going to the playoffs.
2. New Orleans (1-2): OK, I'll grant you that my preseason premise that the Saints defense would be vastly improved has yet to look sage. New Orleans is giving up 27.7 points per game, and that's a ticket to 7-9. But the bleeding stops here. The Saints are about to go on a three-game winning streak, all at home, against the 49ers, Vikings and Raiders. Book it.
3. Seattle (1-2): Not for one second do I think it's going to pretty this season in Seahawks-land. It's going to be one step forward, two steps back all year long. But I can see a route to 9-7 -- barely -- and that will be good enough to squeak out a fifth consecutive division title, and a sixth-straight trip to the playoffs. It's up to the Cardinals or 49ers to convince me otherwise.
There's a side of me that keeps hoping Matt Millen comes out and says he just didn't see it coming.
But seriously, here's all you need to know about the Millen reign of error in Detroit:
In the seven-plus years he was in charge of the Lions (115 games), Detroit went 31-84 (.270), with no playoff trips, no winning seasons, and six double-digit loss records.
The rest of the Lions division over that same 115-game span, from 2001 to now?
-- Green Bay was 68-47 (.591), with five playoff trips, five winning seasons and just one double-digit loss records.
-- Chicago was 61-54 (.530), with three playoff trips, three winning seasons and two double-digit loss records.
-- Minnesota was 52-63 (.452), with one playoff trip, two winning seasons and three double-digit loss records.
-- For one year, in 2001, Tampa Bay and Millen's Lions were both in the NFC Central. The Bucs went 9-7 that season and made the playoffs.
All told, Detroit's divisional opponents during the Millen regime combined to make 10 playoff trips (going 6-10 in the postseason), with 11 winning seasons and six double-digit loss records. The Lions matched that last number all by themselves, and were a whopping 21 games worse than the Vikings, the next-worst division team, during that 115-game span.
So, yes, Matt, it was time to go.