Welker1

After all the eight-way tie talk and the strength of victory debate and the math that I haven’t dealt with since I somehow pulled off the most gratifying D- of my life back in grade 11, nothing really changed.

Coming into this week, the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens “controlled their own destiny.” And sure enough, we have the same 12 playoff teams that we were on target to have one week ago. Now we have a chance to turn the page and look ahead to wild-card weekend, which is one of the best weekends of the year (right after divisional weekend, conference championship weekend and Super Bowl weekend). But before we get to that, a couple other major talking points to take away from the Sunday that was…

The great “rest” debate

Wes Welker is done for the year. Charles Woodson is hurt. Neither needed to be on the field. Outrage shall ensue, right?

The good news, Packers fans, is that Woodson is expected to be okay, but the shoulder injury that forced him out of Green Bay’s meaningless game surely irked many of you. Patriots fans, though, have to be beside themselves, considering that Welker is one of the three most important players on that team.

And now everyone’s implying that Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell suddenly have the right to snicker at the naysayers who criticized their decision to bench starters in the face of a perfect season. Not so. Perfection is special; it was something to play for.

The Patriots still had seeding on the line against Houston, and Bill Belichick may have wanted to try to ensure that his team would be able to rule out matchups with certain teams. Plus, if the No. 3 seed and the No. 4 seed end up winning the divisional playoffs, the No. 3 seed would get home-field advantage in the conference championship game.

I can’t defend the Packers. I have no idea why Green Bay left its starters out there for so long, but they can take solace in the fact that Woodson should be good to go Sunday in Arizona.

The hoopla regarding resting starters in “meaningless” games has reached an all-time peak this year. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell went as far as to say that additional draft picks could be used as incentive for teams with nothing on the line to keep playing hard in late-season games. But there are two problems with that proposal:

1) Inferior teams would complain that their draft selections would be lower through no fault of their own.

2) Draft picks, while very valuable to every general manager, just won’t persuade a guy like Polian to play his best guys. “How many draft picks am I going to get to lose Wes Welker in a meaningless game?” said Tony Dungy on NBC Sunday evening. He’s right. If you’re stubborn enough to rest starters due to fear of injury and driven enough to be solely focused on the Super Bowl and only the Super Bowl, a few extra late-round picks (and believe me, they’ll be late-round picks) just wouldn’t be enough incentive.

I guess the ultimate irony here is that it’s Goodell who’s pushing for an 18-game season. You can’t stand teams handing away meaningless games now? Wait until teams have wrapped up divisions with four or five games to play. And I don’t even want to think about the injury factor with two more games on the schedule.

It’s also been proposed that teams in already-clinched situations should be required to declare a “status” by, say, Friday. But that would be hard to impose.

Fact is, this problem won’t be fixed. Teams that build up big leads earn the right to rest down the stretch. Is it a good strategy? History shows it isn’t. So, sure, it sucks that teams like the Jets get to walk into the postseason because of a lucky final stretch, but that’s the nature of the game. If you’re the Texans or the Steelers or the Broncos and you’re upset right now that this late-season coasting may or may not have cost you a playoff spot, maybe you should take a long, hard look at yourselves. Had you won 10 games, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Rams on the clock

The Rams now have the opportunity to draft one of the most hyped potential No. 1 overall picks in years, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Here’s a look at the first nine teams that’ll pick on Thursday night, April 22. There are a bevy of ties to be broken after the top nine, so I’ll leave those teams out for now.

1) St. Louis – Suh would be a nice complement inside with Chris Long on the outside.

2) Detroit – Surely thinking wide receiver.

3) Tampa Bay – The above comment was a joke. I think.

4) Washington – It should either be an offensive tackle or a quarterback. The safer choice is the tackle, so expect the quarterback.

5) Kansas City – They’ll take the best player available, unless it’s a quarterback.

6) Seattle – I’m thinking we go this far before a quarterback gets picked. Seattle takes Jimmy Clausen or Sam Bradford. Am I crazy? Probably.

7) Cleveland – Another best player available situation at this point.

8) Oakland – I wouldn’t dare try to predict this one right now.

9) Buffalo – Does the other quarterback go here?

‘Black Monday’ looms

This puppy gets published bright and early on Monday (or in my world, very late on Sunday), so the wrath of Black Monday will be a topic for a future blog, but most prognosticators are predicting it’ll be a tame one, with only a few coaches expected to be terminated, at best (or worst?). Here’s a look at some of the situations to watch:

Don’t expect changes

Chicago – I don’t understand why, but Lovie Smith is expected to be retained.

Houston – First winning season in franchise history? That means Gary Kubiak will be back. But he’ll likely lose his offensive coordinator, because Kyle Shanahan will want to join his pops in Washington, if indeed that situation unfolds the way it’s supposed to.

Jacksonville – Four straight losses to end the year but Jack Del Rio is still reportedly safe. He should be, because the Jags surpassed expectations in 2009.

Miami – Just throwing it out there. Bill Parcells has a short temper and the Dolphins really took a nose dive at the end of the year, but there’s no speculation that Tony Sparano is in trouble.

Expect changes

Cleveland – Eric Mangini’s fate won’t be determined today. It’ll be determined on Tuesday. And it’s not looking good. Mike Holmgren will likely bring on a fresh face he’s comfortable with. The Cleveland media will rejoice.

Oakland – It’s not a sure thing and Al Davis is unpredictable, but Tom Cable is not expected back. That could go down today.

Washington – It’s widely known that Jim Zorn is done, while Mike Shanahan is reportedly already putting together his coaching staff.

Anyone’s guess

Carolina – John Fox has the option to return for what could be a lame-duck season. He’s being coy so this probably won’t resolve itself immediately.

Seattle – Jim Mora’s future depends on what Seattle does with its vacant general manager spot.

Tampa Bay – Raheem Morris’ first year was a disaster, but it was sort of supposed to be a disaster. He claims he doesn’t know his fate yet, but I’m thinking ownership gives him another year to turn things around.

Early wild-card thoughts and predictions

How unpredictable is this league? Here are my preseason playoff predictions:

AFC
1. Patriots
2. Chargers
3. Steelers
4. Titans
5. Colts
6. Ravens

NFC
1. Giants
2. Saints
3. Bears
4. Cardinals
5. Vikings
6. Packers

Eight out of 12 isn’t bad, but four of my eight division winners didn’t even make the playoffs. Only six of last year’s playoff teams are back, while none of the four teams that had byes last year made the playoffs in 2009.

My Super Bowl prediction back in early September: Patriots 30, Saints 27. So that’s still alive. But will I stick with it? I’m afraid not. Here are my revised predictions:

AFC wild-card: (3) Patriots 27, (6) Ravens 24; (5) Jets 20, (4) Bengals 17

I’m having a lot of trouble with that Wes Welker injury and I do see it hurting a long-term run to the Super Bowl, but I also think Julian Edelman is a very good replacement in the slot. I reserve the right to change that one (or any of these, for that matter). I think the Jets are simply a much better team than the Bengals.

NFC wild-card: (3) Cowboys 30, (6) Eagles 27; (5) Packers 23, (4) Cardinals 20

I think the Cowboys and Eagles are very, very similar teams, talent-wise. But Dallas has home-field advantage and a ton of momentum. And you can’t tell me all of these rematch blowouts mean nothing. The Jets, Cowboys and Pack outscored Cincy, Philly and Arizona 94-7 on Sunday.

AFC divisional: (1) Colts 35, (5) Jets 17; (2) Chargers 27, (3) Patriots 17
NFC divisional: (5) Packers 23, (1) Saints 21; (3) Cowboys 24, (2) Vikings 21
AFC conference championship: (2) Chargers 27, (1) Colts 23
NFC conference championship: (3) Cowboys 30, (5) Packers 23

Super Bowl XLIV: Cowboys 28, Chargers 27

By the way, I’ll be at that game, trying not to cheer the Cowboys too outwardly from the Dolphin Stadium press box at my first Super Bowl.

TWITTER ZONE: THOUGHTS IN 25 30 35 WORDS OR LESS

+ Beware, Saints: No team has ever made the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season with three straight losses.

+ The last time the Browns won four straight, Bruce Willis was just wrapping up Die Hard: With a Vengeance.

+ Beats the Bills in Toronto = Late-season run to the playoffs. First the Dolphins, now the Jets.

+ Right when the pressure was the highest, Brett Favre might’ve just had his best game of one of his best seasons.

+ In their final two first halves of the season, the Giants were outscored 55-0.

+ Since halftime last Monday night: Vikings 61, opponents 13

+ Another example of this league being generally ridiculous: Tennessee and the Giants had the top two records in the NFL this year. Those two teams lost games by scores of 59-0 and 44-7 this year.

+ And another example: Denver was 6-0, the Giants were 5-0. Neither made the playoffs.

+ More quarterbacks (10) passed for 4,000 yards this year than any other year in NFL history. The previous record was only seven.

+ If there’s such a thing as a quiet 13 touchdowns, Vernon Davis had ‘em this year. Who would’ve guessed Davis would tie the NFL tight end record in that category?

+ Big fan of Tony Dungy, the person. Not a big fan of Tony Dungy, the television analyst.

+ Shane Lechler, best punting season of all-time?

+ This bears repeating: In the three rematch wild-card situations, Dallas, Green Bay and the Jets outscored their upcoming opponents by a combined total of 94-7 on Sunday.

+ Funny thing. I actually predicted this at the beginning of the season: NFL’s top four rushers in Week 17: Jamaal Charles, Fred Jackson, Willis McGahee, Jason Snelling. Yup, makes sense.

+ Funny thing. I actually predicted this at the beginning of the season: NFL’s top five receivers in Week 17: Jabar Gaffney, Malcom Floyd, Sidney Rice, Malcolm Kelly, Julian Edelman. Yup, makes sense.

AWARDS

Player of the week: Fred Jackson — I’m very, very excited for Buffalo to start the 2010 season with this guy as its feature back. He finishes off a great season in style, rushing for 212 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark.

Team of the week: New York Jets — I don’t care how hard the Bengals tried, that was one of the most dominant victories of the season. Cincinnati completed one pass and accumulated a total of zero passing yards.

Surprise player of the week: Jamaal Charles — I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by his performances anymore, but 259 rushing yards against Denver’s half-decent and desperate defence?

Surprise team of the week: Green Bay Packers — I’m surprised by the blowout victory, sure, but I’m more surprised by how long starters stayed in the game. Unnecessary.

IF THE SEASON ENDED TODAY (AS OPPOSED TO, YOU KNOW, YESTERDAY…)

MVP: Peyton Manning — You can’t really use the last two weeks against him.

Offensive player of the year: Chris Johnson — You can’t rush for 2,000 yards (and more yards for scrimmage than any player in NFL history) and not win this award, can you? In fact, I’m thinking Johnson ends up getting a lot of MVP votes.

Defensive player of the year: Charles Woodson — Woodson was a bigger playmaker than Darrelle Revis, but Revis had one of the best cover seasons in decades. Both guys are very deserving of the award.

Offensive rookie of the year: Percy Harvin — Final rookie season stats: 60 catches, 790 yards, six touchdowns, two return touchdowns. Pretty good considering how many weapons there are in that Minnesota offence.

Defensive rookie of the year: Clay Matthews — Brian Cushing had better numbers (and either could win it and I’d be satisfied), but Matthews made more impact plays.

Coach of the year: Norv Turner — I suppose he had it wrapped up last week, since this one didn’t matter.