OK, that was just ridiculous. I know they all are, but that was just…wow. Now, we’ve got only two weeks plus a day to go and 22 teams still well alive in the race to capture 12 playoff spots. Here are our initial attempts to react to the events that took place on the 15th Sunday of the 2011 NFL season, and here’s what slipped through those cracks…
1. Who the hell wants the sixth seed in the AFC? Seriously. Jets get killed. Raiders lose again. Titans fall to a winless team. Bengals beat the Rams, for what it’s worth. It’s a tough finish for the Jets (Giants and Dolphins), who control their own destiny. No one else looks like a playoff team. It’s just a mess. Can’t see Baltimore or New England or Pittsburgh losing to the No. 6 seed on wild-card weekend.
2. The Ravens lay another egg. Winning in San Diego in December isn’t easy, which is why Baltimore probably should have been an underdog Sunday night. That said, the Ravens didn’t even show up. They’re fortunate that the Texans lost and the Steelers will be in tough Monday night in San Francisco, but there’s almost no way they finish with the top seed now. And now the Ravens have once again collapsed right when the hype machine was turned up. Disappointing, and maybe season-changing. Now, they’ll likely have to travel in January. Considering that they’re 7-0 at home and 3-4 on the road, that could be a death knell.
3. Philly might actually pull this off. The winner of Eagles-Cowboys this weekend probably wins the division. I think the Jets are better than the Giants, and they’ll have their fans at MetLife. Then I can see the G-Men playing spoiler at home in Week 17 against Dallas. If that happens, and Philadelphia finishes with wins over Dallas and Washington, the Eagles win the NFC East with an 8-8 record.
4. Problem is, Michael Vick’s playing hurt. He looks really hurt, but his presence is saving the Eagles, who wouldn’t be breathing with Vince Young under center. Vick hasn’t been himself, though, and you can tell that the Eagles are holding him back a little.
5. Speaking of being held back: Adrian Peterson. He looked great when he had the ball Sunday, but only got 10 carries. We were baffled, as was Peterson, who claimed his ankle injury wasn’t a factor. I know it’s usually tough to get more than a dozen carries in a blowout loss, but this was a close game in the first half and Peterson was virtually ignored. Don’t get it.
6. Aaron Rodgers is human. There have been clues of late, but we got indisputable evidence against the Chiefs. The key to beating the Packers: Have a really, really good secondary. It’s that easy. Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr make up one of the best cornerback duos in the league. Imagine how good these guys would be with a healthy Eric Berry…
7. Patriots win in Denver, lose best pass rusher. Andre Carter will need surgery for a left leg injury. He and his 10 sacks took some of the pressure off of one of the league’s weakest secondaries, so this one hurts. With the Texans and Ravens suddenly struggling and the Steelers sort of a mess with injuries and suspensions, New England might still remain a fave in the AFC, but that conference truly is a disaster right now.
8. And considering that disaster, I wouldn’t want to run into the Chargers in January. Hottest team in the messy AFC. Three wins, zero losses in December. Points for: 109. Points against: 38. Seven sacks for and zero given up against the Ravens, whom they manhandled on Sunday night. The problem is that even if they win in Detroit and Oakland to finish the year, it might be too little too late. We’ll see.
9. In two games against the Dolphins this season, the Bills have converted exactly zero third downs. That’s right, 0-for-23. Miami’s defense has been superb, but that’s beyond unacceptable. Buffalo has been killed by the injury bug, but so have a lot of teams. Major changes are in order this offseason. Despite the hot start to 2011, the future hasn’t looked this bleak in a while.
10. Reggie Bush: breakout season or fluky season? The guy had 203 yards rushing against Buffalo, which is more than half of his total from the 2008 and 2009 seasons in New Orleans and more than he had in 2010 with the Saints. He has more rushing yards this season than he had in his previous three years combined in the Bayou. But he’s also getting the rock a lot more (career-high 194 carries thus far) and his receiving numbers have taken a hit. I’ll admit that he’s had an extra bounce in his step at times, but his yard-per-carry number of 5.0 isn’t even close to his career high of 5.6 (’09). I think Bush never got enough credit with the Saints — he’s an electric player with the ability to make anyone miss when he’s healthy.
11. Bill Polian delivers obvious news at an obvious time. Polian announced right after Indy’s first win of the season that Peyton Manning wouldn’t start either of the Colts’ final two games. I feel strongly that, had Indianapolis lost to the Titans, Manning would be pushing to start to help the team avoid making the wrong kind of history. Now, they’ve avoided 0-16 but can’t afford to win again, lest they risk losing the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft.
12. Say goodnight to the Bears and Titans and probably the Raiders. Losers of four straight, two straight and three straight, respectively. Can’t do that in the month of December in the middle of a playoff race. Oh, and say hello to the Seahawks and Cardinals. Seriously — the Lions can still screw this up. It’s all about when you peak.
13. Speaking of peaking: New Orleans Saints. Hottest team in football. In fact, it’ll be tough to decide who should lead our power rankings this week. At a neutral site right now, I think it’s a toss-up. The only problem: New Orleans will have to travel to Green Bay if they meet in the postseason. That was close to a flawless game for the Saints in Minnesota. Net yardage: New Orleans, 573, Minnesota, 207. First downs: New Orleans, 36, Minnesota, 12. Drew Brees is playing the best football of his career.
14. Maybe Greg Jennings is more important than we realized. Somehow, someway, the Chiefs were simply the better team Sunday. This wasn’t a typical upset, where the bounces were all bouncing in the direction of the underdog. Kansas City outplayed Green Bay, arguably by a wide margin. I haven’t seen the Packers’ offense look that out of sync in about a year. Or, more accurately, exactly a year. Their last loss came 365 days ago, on Dec. 19 2010 in New England.
15. So did the Pack peak too early? The injuries are getting worse. Might Green Bay become just the latest team to flirt with a perfect regular season before falling in the playoffs? I’m trying not to overreact, but I’m quickly losing confidence in this team.
16. The same can be said about the Texans, who finally felt the wrath of not having guys like Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips Sunday against Carolina. Houston looked really bad on both sides of the ball. The chips will be stacked against the Texans in January, and they might get a run for their money from the suddenly quasi-respectable Colts Thursday night.
17. Joe Webb deserves a start or two. And Christian Ponder deserves a break. That might have been the worst performance of Ponder’s rookie season, and the boos can’t be helping the young dude’s confidence. With two fierce pass-rushing teams on the remaining schedule (Washington and Chicago), it couldn’t hurt to give Webb a start or two to finish the year.
18. Washington has single-handedly ruined the Giants’ season. Eli Manning’s worst two games of the season came against the Redskins, both losses. This one was particularly ugly, as “Bad Eli” made his first appearance in weeks in a three-interception debacle. The Giants’ inability to beat Washington could cost them a playoff spot.
19. What about A.J. Green for offensive rookie of the year? I know Cam Newton’s gonna win it, but Green does deserve some love. In many other years, he’d be a prime rookie of the year candidate. He’s now over 1,000 yards after his fourth 100-yard performance in 13 tries. The guy’s been a monster all season despite taking passes from a rookie quarterback. A good quarterback, but still a rookie quarterback nonetheless.
20. Every Cardinals win looks exactly the same. And they all seem to involve John Skelton, not Kevin Kolb. Oh, and usually Patrick Peterson makes a game-changing punt return. He did it again Sunday, again in overtime.
21. The difference in Oakland: Third-down conversions for the Lions: 8. Third-down conversions for the Raiders: 1. Oakland outplayed Detroit badly on first and second down for three and a half quarters, but it still wasn’t enough. It’s all about sustaining drives on offense and limiting them on defense.
22. And now Jason Babin becomes the hottest pursuer of the single-season sack record. Six sacks in two games, and now he needs five more in his final two games to reach 23 and steal the record from Michael Strahan. Against the Cowboys (30 sacks allowed this year) and Redskins (37 sacks allowed), he might have a chance. The Eagles have taken a lot of heat for some of their offseason signings, but Babin is helping the front office save some face.
23. I wonder what Todd Haley’s thinking today. Like, is he proud or bitter? I think I’d be bitter, but that’s just me.
(Touch of Tebow via Timothy Burke)