A loaded wild-card field, an MVP pick and more Snap Judgments
Michael Vick is a one-of-a-kind story, but Tom Brady is having a historic year
The Jets are in the playoffs, but let's stop pretending their defense is elite
The 49ers' loss to the Rams may have finished Mike Singletary's time in S.F.
Musings, observations and the occasional Week 16 insight as the NFL's 12-team playoff field continues to come into focus ...
There have been plenty of wild-card teams of recent vintage that entered the playoffs and made some real noise from the No. 5 or No. 6 slot, including last year's Jets, the Ravens of 2008 and, of course, the Giants in 2007 and Steelers in 2005. And after Sunday's action, it's pretty apparent that this season's wild-card field will be stacked with quality teams too.
In the AFC, either the Ravens or the Steelers (both 11-4) will be one of the wild cards, and the Jets (10-5) the other. In the NFC nothing has been settled, but beware of Green Bay (9-6) and New Orleans (10-4), who currently own the inside track for the wild-card berths.
Green Bay is the potential wild-card team that exited Week 16 with the biggest dose of momentum heading into January. The Packers in essence started their playoff run Sunday with a 45-17 destruction of the Giants at Lambeau, and they now hold the key head-to-head tiebreaker with New York. Green Bay still must beat Chicago at home next week to clinch a berth, but the Bears have already locked up the NFC North and won't have as much to play for as the Packers.
Green Bay has a hot quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, and a defense that's starting to come together. The Packers picked off Eli Manning four times and forced six New York turnovers on Sunday. And facing Rodgers will make any playoff opponent nervous. Coming back from his second concussion of the season, Rodgers threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns against New York, with Green Bay amassing 515 yards of total offense. The Packers scored in every quarter and buried the Giants 24-3 after halftime.
If the Packers put a whipping on the Bears next week at home, they'll go into the playoffs without being intimidated at all by the thought of playing in Chicago for the second time this season. The Packers have already won at Philadelphia, and at the Jets this season, and their strong performance at New England last week also gives them confidence that they can handle the wild-card route.
We've got one more week for the regular-season storylines to unfold, but I've already got the feeling that this year's wild-card teams won't be easy outs. And that hunch starts with what I see from Green Bay, but could include three other strong wild-card qualifiers as well.
I'm certain Michael Vick is going to garner his share of MVP votes, but while his is a one-of-a-kind story this year, it would be a travesty to overlook the historic nature of Tom Brady's season. No. 12 has been fantastic all season long.
What's Brady's most impressive statistical feat this year? It's hard to choose. How about going 10 full games without an interception, with Brady on Sunday breaking Bernie Kosar's 1990-91 NFL record of 308 consecutive passes without a pick? Brady finished his work day in New England's 34-3 AFC-East-clinching win at Buffalo 15 of 27 for 140 yards and three touchdowns, and has now thrown 319 passes without tossing one to the wrong color jersey. Brady's last interception came in a three-point overtime win against Baltimore, in Week 6. That was mid-October, more than two months ago.
Brady's three touchdowns in Buffalo gave him an NFL-high 34 this season, against a league-low four interceptions. And he leads a New England offense that has scored at least 31 points every week during the course of its seven-game winning streak, without turning the ball over once. Let me repeat that: The Patriots have gone seven consecutive games, well over 400 plays, without a turnover.
No disrespect to the season Vick is having, but at this point I know whose name will be on my MVP ballot.
Now that Troy Smith and Mike Singletary have gone at it on the sideline, as they did Sunday in the second half of San Francisco's loss at St. Louis, can there be any more doubt about the woefully lacking management skills of the 49ers head coach? He doesn't seem capable of getting along with either of his quarterbacks -- Alex Smith and Troy Smith -- and his yo-yo routine of repeatedly pulling them out of the lineup only reinforces the perception that Singletary doesn't know what he wants for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
Troy Smith was eventually benched in favor of Alex Smith in the 25-17 loss to the Rams, which mercifully ended any chance of the sad-sack 49ers winning the mild, mild NFC West. As for Singletary, his time in San Francisco arrived Sunday night when the Niners fired him.
How fitting that the loss to St. Louis dropped his team to 5-10, because he's been running the NFL equivalent of a dime-store operation all season long.
The Jets have reason to like what they saw out of their offense in Sunday's 38-34 loss at Chicago, but it's getting harder all the time to pretend New York has an elite defense. The Bears aren't a bad offensive team by any stretch, but when they can put up 38 points on you, rolling up 322 total yards, it could make for big trouble in the playoffs against the heavyweights of the AFC.
With Mark Sanchez's shoulder looking sound against the Bears, and Shonn Greene again running strong (70 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries), the Jets offense seems to be fully over its recent slump. But there's no reason to get too giddy about New York's just-clinched wild-card berth. The Jets need to tighten things up defensively, and now, or it's going to be a shorter playoff run than the one they went on last January.
David Garrard picked the worst possible time to turn back into David Garrard. Under pressure deep in his own territory early in overtime, the Jaguars quarterback threw an ill-advised sidearm pass on third down that was intercepted by Redskins second-year cornerback Kevin Barnes. Moments later, Washington kicker Graham Gano made Garrard and Jacksonville pay for the horrible miscue, banging home the game-winner from 31 yards for a 20-17 Redskins win.
The Jaguars' (8-7) playoff hopes are only flickering after the loss, and that's the kind of pick that likely prompts Jacksonville to go shopping for another quarterback in 2011. Garrard played quite well during Jacksonville's surprisingly strong second half this season, but the Jaguars have seen him make that kind of killer mistake in the clutch a bit too often over the years.
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