The Fine Fifteen
1. Tennessee (13-3). Chris Johnson is a very nice running back and a great draft choice by the Titans, but his line the other day about losing the Offensive Rookie of the Year vote to Matt Ryan was bizarre: "The whole thing [the Rookie of the Year vote] is bogus, because people are voting for it that are not on the same field as the people who are playing." True! Sports writers don't try to tackle. If you want to suggest players should vote on the award, well, that's an interesting concept, and I suppose it's debatable. But to suggest that a part-time back who wasn't the leading rookie rusher in football should win the award over a quarterback who led his team to 11 wins and the playoffs is, well, a bit flawed.
2. Pittsburgh (12-4). Chuck Noll's first two seasons: six wins. Bill Cowher's first two seasons: 20 wins. Mike Tomlin's first two seasons: 22 wins.
3. New York Giants (12-4). I think if the Yankees fired Joe Girardi tomorrow, the Steinbrenners would want to interview Steve Spagnuolo.
4. Carolina (12-4). Kurt Warner and those receivers playing in Charlotte on what might be a decent-weather evening, along with a revived defense ... not an easy night for the Panthers on Saturday.
5. Baltimore (12-5). You know who's an underrated player? Jim Leonhard, the man who shares airspace alongside Ed Reed at safety for the Ravens. Reed sucks all the publicity out of the secondary, and rightfully so, but Leonhard, in the regular defense and a part-time returner, has been a terrific complementary player since coming from Buffalo in free-agency last winter. Six tackles, an interception and a half-sack Sunday.
6. New England (11-5). Lest you doubt the bond of respect that exists between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, listen to Manning talk about their communication, and his reaction, when Brady went down in the first quarter of the first game of the season: "I couldn't watch his hit. ESPN would tease it, and I would have to turn my head. I never actually watched the play. It made me sick. First quarter of the season. Sickening. Just sickening. Then he called me after his surgery. Here we are, a couple of meathead quarterbacks, trying to talk medicine. Like: How was your surgery? How many white blood cells did I have in my knee?''
7. San Diego (9-8). I'll tell you the most amazing factoid of the coming weekend: If the Chargers win at Pittsburgh, and Baltimore beats Tennessee (both eminently possible), San Diego will host the AFC Championship Game in 13 days. Yes, the same San Diego that was 4-8 a month ago today and absolutely, positively out of it.
8. Indianapolis (12-5). Colts won 14 games in 2005, then lost their first playoff game. Colts won 12 in 2006, then won the Super Bowl. Colts won 13 in 2007, then lost in their first playoff game. Colts won 12 in 2008, then lost in their first playoff game. I'm going to say it right now: For the Colts to go winless in three of the last four postseasons -- with one of the best quarterbacks ever, and all the offensive talent, with two excellent defensive ends and an enforcer safety -- is inexcusable. I agree with every good thing being said about Tony Dungy, who is likely to retire. I don't think he should retire unless he wants to, but I do think somebody in the organization has to shake something up. Going winless in three of four postseasons? With that talent? Not acceptable.
9. Philadelphia (10-6-1). Donovan McNabb was terrific last night. Cool under pressure, good field general, good accuracy on his intermediate throws. The Giants, I'm certain, can't be pleased to be seeing the team that beat them 20-16 a month ago at Giants Stadium this week.
10. Miami (11-6). Too bad it ended that way. The good thing is that football is alive again in south Florida, and this is not going to be a one-year phenomenon, even if Bill Parcells leaves. Tony Sparano's got the ship righted.
11. Arizona (10-7). Not to be a negative Nate or anything, but as I wrote the other day, Arizona's 0-5 in the eastern time zone this year. Average losing margin: 20.0 points. Maybe Ken Whisenhunt can see if he can get Charlotte to be an honorary central time zone city for the Saturday night game.
12. Atlanta (11-6). No shame in losing a playoff game in what should have been nothing but a building year. But to have Michael Turner run like Michael Douglas, and for Matt Ryan to have a first-preseason-game kind of outing has to be disheartening for a team that had been playing so much better.
13. Minnesota (10-7). Back to the drawing board, Tarvaris.
14. San Francisco (7-9). I'd love to be Mike Martz's realtor.
15. Houston (8-8). Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is on the beach in Cabo this morning with his father -- or he'll be there this afternoon, I should more accurately guess -- and after helping the Texans to a 4-1 record down the stretch and ratcheting up the offense to a borderline top-10 unit, he deserves the break.
Quote of the Week I
"I would have, actually.''
-- Matt Millen, the deposed Detroit Lions president, asked by Dan Patrick on NBC's Football Night in America Saturday whether he would have fired himself this season.
Millen was canned by Detroit owner William Clay Ford three games into this season, his seventh with the Lions. The Lions were 31-84 in his tenure, but in fairness, you've got to add the 13 additional losses to his record this season, essentially giving his seven-year run a 31-97 mark.
Quote of the Week II
"I told him he's my guy. I can't thank him enough for what he's done for us.''
-- Miami coach Tony Sparano, on quarterback Chad Pennington, who had a nightmarish four-interception game in the Dolphins 27-9 loss to Baltimore on Sunday ... after a heroic Comeback of the Year season for Miami.
Yes, Pennington is Miami's quarterback of the near future, and there won't be a quarterback competition with Chad Henne in training camp next summer.
Quote of the Week III
"Unless there's a perfect situation out there, I'd rather sit out the year and return next year.''
-- Former Denver coach Mike Shanahan, speaking to me Friday night before leaving on a vacation to Mexico over the weekend. A bit surprising. He sounded very much like a man who'd be coaching somewhere in 2009 at his post-firing press conference the other day.
Can you blame him? What job out there is a great job? St. Louis, actively seeking a new owner? The Jets, who appear screwed up if not quite rudderless? Detroit, coming off 0-16? Cleveland, with cap and leadership issues? Shanahan's got to be thinking he'd rather wait for Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder, or some other owner to chase him in 2010 -- or before.