Snap Judgments (cont.)
In the last six days or so, I think we found out definitively who the 2009 Vikings really belong to. They're Brett Favre's team. Not Adrian Peterson's.
Minnesota's pass-first mentality is all the way back, and Favre's four-touchdown, 316-yard passing performance against the Giants -- in just 2½ quarters -- underlines that the Vikings will only go as far as No. 4 takes them this season.
Peterson is not an afterthought in the Minnesota offense, but he's clearly not the Vikings' first thought either. Peterson hasn't logged a 100-yard rushing game since Week 10, and he hasn't averaged 4.0 yards or more in a game where he had at least 10 carries (he had nine rushes for 54 yards against the Giants, good for 6.0) in his past seven games.
Favre, on the other hand, is once again on fire. Starting with the beginning of the third quarter in Monday night's overtime loss to the Bears, he has completed 46 of 62 pass attempts, for 619 yards and six touchdowns. Not bad for an old guy in just a little bit more than one full game.
The Week 17 Sunday should be one of the best days of every NFL season, with the action building to a crescendo as we watch desperate teams vying for those final playoff spots. But it was a little difficult to get pumped up on Sunday while watching the likes of Brian Hoyer, Curtis Painter, Marc Brunell, Tyler Thigpen, David Carr, Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Leinart quarterbacking their clubs.
You knew it wouldn't be long until the Saints and Colts started streaking again. But I don't think this is the textbook approach of how to enter the playoffs as a No. 1 seed: With New Orleans losing three in a row, and Indy dropping its final two games.
Looks like yet another season in which the vaunted top seeds won't be breezing to a Super Bowl showdown.
Maybe nobody in the NFL has to do more house-cleaning than the Giants on defense. New York mailed in another one Sunday in Minnesota, losing 44-7 to the Vikings, after dropping last week's 41-9 nail-biter at home against Carolina.
In the Giants' final four games, they gave up 45 points to the Eagles, 41 to the Panthers, and 44 to the Vikings. All told, New York's defense surrendered 40 points or more five times in its last 11 games, starting with that 48-point meltdown at New Orleans in Week 6. That hasn't happened to a Giants defense since 1966, in the Allie Sherman coaching era.
Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan should be far from the only one whose job is in jeopardy this offseason.
Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Broncos fans. It must be misery. Denver's season, once so hopeful at 6-0, crashed and burned amid two separate four-game losing streaks from Nov. 1 on. When will Denver fans ever have the faith to believe in this team should they get off to another fast start? The season always lasts just long enough for the Broncos (8-8) to blow a playoff trip.
A few things come to mind as we view the crazy rollercoaster ride that was the Broncos' 2009:
In the end, Josh McDaniels couldn't stop the bleeding any better than his predecessor, Mike Shanahan. Denver's late-season slides made no distinction between the Broncos old head coach and their new coach.
Boil it all down, and Kyle Orton played a lot like Kyle Orton of Chicago. Good enough to win some games, but not good enough to take you anywhere special.
And despite all those giddy moments between them when the early season wins kept coming, McDaniels and Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall are ending this year about how they began it: At odds, and seemingly headed for a divorce.
On a day Tennessee's Chris Johnson became just the sixth rusher in NFL history to top the 2,000-yard mark, I think the more impressive performance was turned in by Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. He gouged the Broncos for 259 yards rushing -- a Chiefs franchise record -- and a pair of touchdowns, and most amazingly of all, he finished with 1,120 yards this season despite not becoming a full-time player until Week 10.
Charles ran for 152 yards in the season's first eight games, and 968 in the final eight. Kansas City is going to look back and realize getting rid of Larry Johnson was its best move of the season.
You get the sense that a four-game season-ending winning streak really might change the outlook for new Browns president Mike Holmgren in Cleveland. Holmgren is on record saying he doesn't think a coaching change after one season is a fair move, but he hasn't ruled one out either. But after seeing Cleveland respond with four consecutive victories to close out Eric Mangini's first season at 5-11 -- giving the Browns their first four-game win streak since 1994 -- my guess is that Holmgren opts for patience and refuses to go for the quick hook. Especially since Browns owner Randy Lerner is still paying off sizable chunks of cash to former head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage.
The Browns still need to establish their long-term plan at quarterback, but the situation in Cleveland looks a lot brighter today than it did a month ago. The Browns have Holmgren in place, 11 picks in next April's draft, and the confidence that comes from not losing in a month of NFL Sundays.
The Patriots have got to start staying away from Bernard Pollard in season openers and season finales. It was for a different team in a different season, but Pollard found another way to hurt New England on Sunday, recovering a Fred Taylor fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in Houston's win, and being the guy credited for the tackle on the play in which Welker was hurt.
Pollard, the player who ended Tom Brady's 2008 season in Week 1, when he was then a Chiefs safety, just seems to have a knack to make himself a nuisance against Bill Belichick's club.
None of them are going to the playoffs, but congrats to Atlanta, Houston, Carolina, and San Francisco, all of whom accomplished something for themselves by finishing strong this season.
-- The Falcons won their last three games to finish 9-7 and finally log those long sought-after consecutive winning seasons, their first in the 44 year history of the franchise.
-- The Texans won their last four games to climb to 9-7, earning their first winning season in the eight years since entering the league as an expansion team. That might be enough to convince owner Bob McNair to bring coach Gary Kubiak back for a fifth season.
-- The Panthers fought their way to an 8-8 record on the strength of a three-game season-ending winning streak, which avoided a losing season and likely will wind up saving head coach John Fox's job. Only once before has Carolina posted two straight non-losing seasons (2005-06).
-- And the 49ers won their last two games to get to .500, their first non-losing season since 2002. San Francisco's 8-8 showed progress under Mike Singletary, and it ends the streak of a combined 13 losing seasons in a row turned in by the NFL's bay area neighbors, the Raiders and 49ers.
So if the Vikings (eight) and Colts (six) happen to meet in the Super Bowl in Miami, a whopping 14 replacement players have to be named to fill out the Pro Bowl rosters? Talk about watering down the honor of making the NFL's all-star game. Due to players who pull out of the game with injuries, the Pro Bowl rosters wind up being plenty padded enough by the time the game rolls around.
But the potential of bumping 14 alternates up to the game's active roster would make it more of a come-one, come-all game than a true all-star game. But I guess somebody knew that was a possibility when the game was moved to the weekend before the Super Bowl this season.
Counting their Week 3 preseason trip there, the Packers will wind up making the long trek to Arizona the maximum three times this season -- once in preseason, once in the regular season, and once in the first round of the postseason.
I suppose Green Bay doesn't mind getting out of the cold this time of year, but it probably also helps that the Packers have destroyed the Cardinals on their first two visits. In the preseason game, Green Bay led 38-10 en route to a 44-37 win over Arizona. On Sunday, in a game that meant little for the Cardinals once Minnesota's win over the Giants was in the books, Green Bay built a 33-0 third-quarter lead and cruised home to a 33-7 win.
We're on the cusp of Black Monday in the NFL, the day after the regular season ends, when some head coaches traditionally get canned. But I can't help but notice how many coaches might have rallied for a little job security with a late-season comeback. And not just the aforementioned John Fox in Carolina, Gary Kubiak in Houston, and Eric Mangini in Cleveland.
Wade Phillips is probably a playoff win away from making sure he returns to a fourth season in Dallas, Raheem Morris put on a bit of a winning charge in Tampa Bay, and Lovie Smith might have even saved his bacon in Chicago with those wins in Weeks 16 and 17. Add to that list Jim Mora's name, because he seems safe in Seattle at this point.
All of that leaves Washington, Buffalo and maybe Oakland as the teams in line to make a switch. All in all, that's nowhere near as much carnage as we were bracing for about a month ago.
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