Offensive Players of the Week
Charlie Whitehurst, QB, Seattle
Not a statistical gem (22 of 36, 192 yards, no sacks, one TD, no interceptions, 84.5 rating), but in the second start of his career, Whitehurst won a playoff game to qualify for the playoffs. He led Seattle on a six-play, 87-yard touchdown drive to open the game and had no negative plays that set the Seahawks back. Terrific job under the pressure of the biggest game Seattle's played in three years.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego
Better late than never, I guess. Mathews, the rookie runner the Chargers drafted after trading two high draft picks last April, had his first franchise-back performance, rushing 26 times for those 120 yards, with touchdowns of 27, 12 and 31 yards. If only he'd been healthy for the season instead of nursing ankle injuries most of the year, we'd probably have seen this more than once.
Defensive Players of the Week
Erik Walden, LB, Green Bay
Starting at right outside linebacker because of a knee injury to incumbent Frank Zombo, Walden, an itinerant 2008 sixth-round pick of the Cowboys, led the Packers with 11 tackles and two sacks in their playoff-clinching 10-3 win over the Bears. Green Bay has had outstanding front-seven depth this year, and Walden was the cherry on top of that Sunday.
Raheem Brock, DE, Seattle
The 'Hawks have relied on defensive end Chris Clemons for most of their pass-rush threat this year, but Brock, a longtime Colt, did his best Dwight Freeney imitation Sunday night in Seattle's 16-6 NFC West-clinching win over St. Louis. His 2.5-sack effort included the finishing touches on St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford on the Rams' desperate last drive.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Eric Weems, PR/WR, Atlanta
The players and coaches got one thing right in Pro Bowl voting, putting a superior special-teams player like Weems in the game. He responded by running a punt back 55 yards for a touchdown in the Falcons' rout of the Panthers.
Julian Edelman, PR/WR, New England
He set the franchise record with a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown in the Patriots' rout of the Dolphins. The Patriots keep rolling out depth that wins games, and Edelman, who emerged last season with New England after being a college quarterback at Kent State, was having a quiet year this season until breaking a tackle just after receiving the ball, then weave-sprinting through the crowd for his touchdown.
Coach of the Week
Raheem Morris, head coach, Tampa Bay
To win 10 games in a tough division in what appeared clearly to be a rebuilding year ... amazing. As was the 23-13 upset of the Saints in New Orleans. The Bucs had lost their previous major tests this year, but not Sunday. The impressive thing about watching Tampa play now is its young players in vital roles and not shrinking from them. Thirteen of the Bucs' 45 dressed players last week against Seattle were rookies; on Sunday, 12 were. Merging that many young guys into the game is a great accomplishment for a coach.
This Is When You Know It's Time To Retire Dept.:
Brett Favre, 41, whose daughter Brittany turns 22 next month, got hurt twice this year.
The first came when, after looking downfield for 24-year-old Sidney Rice, Favre got creamed from behind by 22-year-old Buffalo linebacker Arthur Moats. That resulted in a damaged shoulder.
The second came when Favre targeted 23-year-old running back Toby Gerhart against Chicago, and the quarterback had his head drilled into the turf by 23-year-old defensive lineman Corey Wootton of the Bears.
Favre's career stat line, compared to that of Peyton Manning, who will chase Favre's numbers for the next six or seven years:
The most interesting thing to me? Manning turns 35 in March. He'd need to average 4,319 passing yards and 28 touchdowns a season over the next four years to own the two most significant quarterback records in history -- yards and touchdowns. If uninjured, he's likely to break both. But that's a big if. (Of course, Manning could get a big assist from the NFL if it goes to an 18-game season in 2012, as expected.)
The Washington Redskins holiday card plays "Hail to the Redskins'' when you open it.
JetBlue, which is as humane an airline as there is (well, maybe except for Virgin), had this interesting come-on for its in-flight food on the back-of-seat video screen Friday when I flew to Pittsburgh: "EAT UP: Try our selection of tasty hand-selected boxed meals.''
How do you "hand-select'' a "boxed meal,'' exactly?
Thanks to the swell generosity of my employers at NBC, I took nephews Vince and Luke Ranalli to the Winter Classic on Saturday night. We had seats about halfway up on one of the blue lines. They are college students in the Pittsburgh area and they, in turn, took me to their friends' tailgate, where I learned several things I didn't know about tailgating, the Pittsburgh-Washington rivalry, and hockey youth in Pittsburgh:
1. There is this strange custom called a "Keg Stand'' that all kids evidently do now. You stand next to the keg, put both hands on the side of the keg, have two others lift your legs so that you're upside down, and, at that point, a third person takes the beer nozzle from the keg and puts it in your mouth while you drink it. A fourth person pumps the keg. And everyone counts the seconds you can last. (Dumb me, I didn't even know what this thing was, and it's apparently the most common of drinking games.) I didn't do it, thankfully. But congrats to Brittany, the biggest Sidney Crosby fan there is (who must be all of 102 pounds), who was able to last 24 seconds. Drinking upside-down. What a country.
2. I'd been to last year's Winter Classic at Fenway. This year was totally different. Last year was a fun game with two NHL teams. This year was a class war between two teams that hate each other and two fan bases that do too. Luke, who got all emotional when he sat down for the game ("This is the best night of my life!'') compared Caps fans to communists in America in the fifties. Hey, at least he's learning something over there at Robert Morris.
3. Sign leading into Heinz Field, from a panhandler shaking a cup: "Even the homeless hate the Caps.''
4. Everyone in this tailgate -- and I mean every one of the 12 to 15 college-age kids -- is watching the 24/7 Caps-Penguins show on HBO. They recite the lines and scenes the way they recite heavy-metal lyrics. Amazing. I've seen a couple of the shows. They're ridiculously good, shining a light on a cultish sport that can only do one thing: make a sport that should be a lot more popular, more popular.
Best moment so far: Two Penguin rookies returning from a meal on the road the night before a game in Buffalo to find all of their furniture in the hallway. All of it -- beds, lamps, desk, everything. One of the kids says: "We're going to find out who did this! And then probably do nothing about it.''
One final note about this event: I'll go every year I am able. It's the Super Bowl of hockey. NBC's Jon Miller and his partners in this game at the NHL had a brilliant idea a few years ago, and it only gets better every year, even with the vagaries of the weather.
"Rob Ryan probably shouldn't show Sunday's reel during his head-coaching interviews.''
--@greggrosenthal, Rotoworld Managing Editor Gregg Rosenthal, after Ryan's Cleveland defense collapsed in the first half Sunday and fell behind Pittsburgh 31-3.
Reviewing my preseason forecast, this much is clear: If I were a meteorologist, I'd have called for sun and light winds on the day last week's blizzard hit the northeast. The best and the worst from my summer predictions (see them here and here) for the 2010 season:
1. The Steelers and Packers would go a combined 22-10 in the regular season and reach the Super Bowl. They went a combined 22-10 and are alive for it.
2. I picked the correct record for Philadelphia (10-6), Washington (6-10), Cleveland (5-11) and San Diego (9-7). For eight other teams -- Oakland, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, the Jets, the Giants, Green Bay, New Orleans and Seattle -- I was one victory off. So on 12 of 32 teams I was on target or pretty close.
3. Justin Tuck would be the defensive player of the year. He's in the ballpark, but he won't win.
4. Pick Arian Foster high in your fantasy draft. A good piece of advice considering he led the NFL with 1,616 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
The Worst (uh, it's a longer list)
1. John Fox would be coach of the year and Carolina would make the playoffs. The Panthers were the worst team in football, and Fox (which was not unexpected, regardless of how he coached this year) won't be back.
2. Dallas, San Francisco, Carolina and New York would be the four NFC teams playing on wild-card weekend. None made the playoffs.
3. Ryan Mathews and Dexter McCluster split my vote for offensive rookie of the year. Not a mention of Sam Bradford or Maurkice Pouncey.
4. The Falcons would go 9-7 and not make the playoffs, while the Patriots would go 10-6 and be an AFC wild card. Atlanta and New England have home-field advantage through the playoffs.
5. The Chiefs would finish last in the AFC West at 6-10. Kansas City won its division.
6. In my worst display of prognosticating since, well, since John Fox, I said the Bucs would finish with the worst record in the league (2-14). Tampa Bay won 10 and was in playoff contention until Sunday afternoon.
And that, dear readers, is why they pay me the big bucks.
Regarding the Panthers: As Fox told me late last night, "I never thought you were very far off on your predictions. But unfortunately you were.''