Doesn't anyone want to win the NFC? More Snap Judgments
Week 16 ended with the Jets and Ravens in position to win out and make playoffs
The Saints were cruising earlier this month, now they find themselves struggling
From division winners to wild cards, all of the NFC contenders look flawed
PHILADELPHIA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a blowout-strewn Week 16, the final, somewhat anticlimactic, NFL Sunday of 2009. Meanwhile, can I get a little help deciphering those playoff scenarios?...
New Orleans' shocking overtime loss at home to Tampa Bay only confirms the sneaking suspicion I've had for about four weeks now. Namely that Sean Payton's once-invincible Saints played and won their Super Bowl when they turned in that near-perfect performance in trouncing the Patriots on the Monday night of Week 12.
Since then? Struggles to win at Washington and Atlanta, and a pair of home losses to Dallas and, gulp, the 3-12 Bucs. Blowing a 17-0 lead at home against Tampa Bay is a loss that should set off every possible alarm bell in New Orleans. The Saints could have squeaked by once again if they had made a late field goal in regulation -- how's that Garrett Hartley-for-John Carney call looking now, Coach Payton? -- but even allowing the Bucs to hang around this game is an indication that New Orleans is rapidly losing air from its balloon.
There's still time for New Orleans to recover some of its mojo, and either a win at Carolina next week or one more Vikings' loss will deliver the NFC homefield advantage the Saints looked destined to earn all season. But New Orleans is showing all the signs of a team that has already played its best football of the season, and it makes putting on a good performance next week against the resurgent Panthers a must for the Saints' sense of confidence as they head into the playoffs.
But it's not just the Saints. Does anybody really want to seize the momentum in the NFC these days? With New Orleans (13-2) looking as if it has peaked, the door remains wide open for someone to take control, much like Arizona did last January.
But the list of contenders all look flawed. Minnesota (11-3) is certainly having its own problems of late, the Cardinals (10-5) have ridden the rollercoaster for the past month, and playoff-bound teams like Dallas (10-5) and Green Bay (10-5) aren't exactly inspiring supreme confidence.
That leaves the Eagles, which beat Denver on Sunday for their sixth win in a row, improving to 11-4. But with the Cowboys' win at Washington Sunday night, Philly will have to win at Dallas next week to clinch the NFC East and launch a serious playoff run from one of the conference's top three seeds. I suppose the Eagles are the hottest team we've got in the NFC, and almost by default they're the conference's chic playoff pick.
As I understand it, while the big wins posted by Pittsburgh (8-7) and Houston (8-7) on Sunday aid them in their upstart bids to come back from the brink of extinction and make the AFC postseason, neither team controls their playoff fate as we head into Week 17.
The Steelers need to win at Miami, and get some help. The Texans, who just won at Miami on Sunday, need to go home and beat a New England team that will be playing with nothing on the line. Could happen.
One more nugget worth mentioning, if the Jets, Ravens and Broncos all finish 9-7 after next week's games, New York would be the AFC's No. 5 seed based on a better record against common opponents, and Baltimore would be the No. 6 based on having beaten Denver head-to-head earlier this season in Baltimore. The Broncos? They'd be the third team in league history to start 6-0 and miss the playoffs, joining the 1978 Redskins and the 2003 Vikings.
Do the Giants know how to throw a party, or what? Their final game at Giants Stadium, after 34 mostly good seasons, was more like a funeral. A loud, boo-filled funeral. New York invited franchise great Lawrence Taylor to the game for a pre-game ceremony, but I'll bet he left early like so many thousands of others.
Carolina's 41-9 butt-kicking of the G-Men was quite complete. And I think it's fair to say New York's effort was every bit as embarrassing as Washington's was in that 45-12 mail-in job against the Giants last Monday night.
New York (8-7) gets our fraud-of-the-week honor for all but killing its own playoff chances, allowing Carolina to roll up 416 yards of offense, led by Jonathan Stewart's career-best 206 rushing yards. The Panthers scored on six of their first seven possessions, led 24-0 at the half, and limited the vaunted Giants running game (well, it used to be vaunted) to just 60 yards. Making matters worse, Dallas defeated Washington in the Sunday night game, meaning New York will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2004, Eli Manning's first year in the league. That's not an earth-shattering development, but it was the NFC's longest active playoff streak, and the Giants were 5-0 at one point this season, many, many, weeks ago.
Think about that: Denver and the Giants were once 6-0 and 5-0, respectively, and they both might be done playing after next week. That's why the NFL season is indeed a marathon, not a sprint.
So let me get this straight: Tampa Bay fired its Super Bowl-winning head coach last offseason rather than risk losing its young defensive coordinator to another team that might target him as a hot potential head coaching candidate, only to find out that he maybe wasn't ready for the job he was given, prompting the Bucs to at least look into the possibility of hiring a Super Bowl-winning head coach?
If you're confused in any way, I was referencing Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris and Bill Cowher in the previous paragraph. And shouldn't the Bucs think twice before they discard Morris, given his last-place club is on a two-game winning streak and making a bit of a late-season push for respectability?
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