5 figures under playoff microscope
Bill Polian will be second-guessed forever if Colts don't win title
Brett Favre will be viewed as failure if Vikings don't make NFC title game
Window might be closing on the Patriots' Bill Belichick and Tom Brady
Lost amid the talk of which coaches are staying and going is the scrutiny playoffs teams are about to endure. Here's my list of five playoff figures to keep an eye on as the second season begins.
Bill Polian, Indianapolis Colts president.
The funny thing about Polian being at the top of this list is that he brought on himself. I don't have a huge problem with his decision to rest Peyton Manning and some of the other Colts in the last two games. What bothers me is the inconsistency of the message and the miscalculation of how to go about it.
I have often said the only way a locked-in playoff team can really look foolish is if one of its elite players gets hurt in a meaningless game. The Wes Welker injury is a perfect example and gives credence to the way the Colts went about their business. But what I don't understand about the Colts is their decision to play Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark the entire Jacksonville game in Week 15 and for 2.5 quarters against the Jets in Week 16, after home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs had been secured. What was the logic there?
Not only that, but I think Polian underestimated the negative backlash his decision would create, especially in Indy. Most of that could have been mitigated had he explained during the week leading up to the Jets game how long the guys were going to play. Instead, both the fans and some of the players had the look and feel as if the rug had been pulled from underneath them. The irony, of course, is that Polian made the move in part to escape the pressure of going undefeated. Obviously they failed to realize that their move would put even more of the onus on their players to win the Super Bowl or bust. And even if they do win it all, there will always be that "what if" hanging around.
Wade Phillips, Dallas Cowboys coach.
The consensus is Phillips needs to win Saturday's playoff game to keep his job. I'm not so sure that should be the case.
For starters, Phillips has done a masterful job staying the course with this team and has led them to an NFC East title and a home playoff game. Second, nobody understands the likelihood of a work stoppage in 2011 better than Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. When you couple that with the disdain that Jones has for paying someone big money to do nothing, I would not be surprised if the Cowboys pick up Wade's option for 2010, barring an embarrassing loss to the Eagles.
Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings quarterback.
Favre has had an amazing season and any talk of a late-season swoon by the old man is simply nonsense being spewed by people who don't actually watch the games. The Vikings' flaws down the stretch have been along the offensive line, in the secondary and with the special teams units. It hasn't been Favre's fault.
But as I stated after the Vikings signed him in the preseason, Favre will ultimately be judged by what he accomplishes in the postseason. The 12-4 record is a two-game improvement over what Gus Frerotte/Tarvaris Jackson accomplished last season. In other words, no big deal. The only way the Favre move was worth it is if the Vikings get to the NFC championship game. At a minimum. Absent that, this will have been just a sideshow that slowed what could have been another year of growth for Jackson and/or Sage Rosenfels.
Bill Belichick, New England Patriots coach.
I bet you're surprised to see his name on the list, but don't be. I know Belichick's résumé speaks for itself and he is one of the best coaches of all time. That much is indisputable.
The problem is Belichick and Tom Brady won their third Super Bowl together after the 2004 season, Brady's fifth in the NFL. Since then, in years 5-9 of Brady's career, they have made one Super Bowl and lost. And now that Wes Welker is out, this postseason is not exactly looking promising. That means Belichick could go 0-5 in terms of winning championships during what are supposed to be the best years for an NFL QB, especially one destined to be remembered as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Phillip Rivers, San Diego Chargers quarterback.
This may be a bit of a stretch to say that Rivers, who has been magnificent all season long, is under the microscope, but hear me out . Rivers is part of the 2004 draft class, which will rival the class of 1983 for the best crop of quarterbacks. Peers Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning already have Super Bowl rings, yet Rivers has yet to even make it to the big game.
With the way the Chargers and Rivers have played during their 11-game win streak to end the season, you have to think this could be their year. If not this year, then when? I'm not saying Rivers can't win the big one, I'm just saying he has such an amazing opportunity to do so this year that he must take full advantage of it. There's no telling what could happen in the future in San Diego with injuries, free agency, etc. This is Rivers' moment and I think he realizes that.
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