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The NFL is not a place where perfectly ordered proceedings live, and everything always falls just as it should, in exactly the manner you predicted. There are mistakes so creative that duplicating them is difficult (and inherently foolish). Yesterday, one team lost a playoff spot against a team that played spoiler after doing nothing but losing for the first six weeks, and another lost a game at home for the first time in 14 tries.

Yes, ’tis the season for playoff roller derby.

And what a day it was Sunday for post-season jostling and elbowing, and general hating. It was so much great fun that before we go about the business of discussing how you won and lost paychecks in your fantasy championship, let’s figure out where the hell the major players lie in the annual bumper cars for the real playoffs.

Clinched: With their wins by a combined score of 120-34, the Patriots, Broncos, and Bengals clinched their respective divisions. The Broncos and Patriots still need to settle the matter of homefield advantage throughout the AFC bracket next week, which Denver would clinch with a New England loss or tie, though that happening against Buffalo at home feels mighty wishful. Meanwhile, with a divisional win over New Orleans sealed by Cam Newotn’s touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left after a monsoon dumped half an ocean on the field, Carolina joined Seattle as the only other NFC team to clinch a playoff berth. At 11-4, they lead the NFC South, and they currently hold a first-round bye.

The Panthers also made Drew Brees do this while sacking him six times (three from Greg Hardy)…

Chumped: There was choking aplenty (more momentarily), but the Chiefs deserve their very own special title following their 23-7 loss to Indianapolis in which they failed to score a single point after their fifth play. That’s well over three full quarters of nothingness in a potential playoff matchup, and now that they’ve lost the AFC West to Denver, a team that started the season with nine straight wins will begin the playoffs on the road. Oddly, it seems that facing the gauntlet of Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrelle Pryor, Case Keenum, and Jason Campbell during those games really might have been incredibly easy, and not at all a representation of quality competition.

Choked: The Lions play in a division with a team that calls Aaron Rodgers its quarterback. Yet Rodgers hasn’t played since Nov. 4, and since then the Packers have scraped together games with Scott Tolzien, Seneca Wallace, and now Matt Flynn. The Bears were also without their regular starter for a prolonged period, though they received much better play from backup Josh McCown.

Still, that’s two backups starting games for the two teams that were behind Detroit when they were 6-3 and leading the NFC North after a Week 10 win over Chicago. That’s when the rip chord was pulled, and only one win followed, a fall out of playoff contention that mercifully concluded with a overtime loss Sunday to the Giants, a team that went 0-6 to start the season. Much of the demise falls on the arm of Matthew Stafford, who threw a fourth-quarter pick six that tied the game to force overtime. Of Stafford’s 19 interceptions this season, 13 were thrown after the Lions’ Week 9 bye.

The final groin kick will come when Jim Schwartz is fired next Monday. Headsets in Detroit can rest easy.

Another more minor choking matter was the Seahawks, who could have clinched homefield advantage. The way they stumbled to the Cardinals was shocking, though, as despite picking off Carson Palmer four times, Seattle was able to generate little offense, with only 3.8 yards gained per play. The 17-10 loss ended a 14-game home winning streak, while keeping the Cardinals alive should New Orleans stumble in Week 17.

Crushed: And repeatedly. The Dolphins had the luxury of controlling their own destiny, and advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 required two wins. Instead an offensive line with gushing holes gave up seven sacks, which inevitably led to an even more daunting number: 103. That’s Miami’s total offensive yardage against Buffalo, only 17 of which came on the ground.

Or maybe this number is worse: 0. That was their point total.

And so the Dolphins fall to join the four teams at the bottom of the AFC fighting for the sixth and final seed, with each less deserving then the next. Baltimore is among them after losing 41-7 to the Patriots, and with that the Ravens have reminded us that little good will come from going seven quarters without scoring a touchdown. So they’re in the gaggle (a flock? No, a gaggle) along with the Dolphins and Chargers, who are all at 8-7.

Then there’s the Steelers, who are clinging to life because the Packers almost lost theirs.

Cornered: A game steeped in Green Bay slop — from Nick Perry’s offside to give Pittsburgh a free first down with 1:35 on the Packers’ five-yard line, to the miscommunication that ended in Flynn’s hand getting hit and a wobbly pass grabbed for a pick six, and the mismanaged 10-second run off which resulted in a frantic game-ending incompletion — may have been influenced by the  karma of one woefully incorrect call.

The sequence of strange events in question started when what should have been a chip shot field goal by Mason Crosby was blocked.

Ryan Clark recovered the blocked kick and had two hands on it to, in theory (dear god, in theory) demonstrate possession before he lateraled to William Gay while falling. Gay bobbled the lateral, and in a panic attempted to bat it forward instead. That’s a ruh roh, as a fumbled and therefore loose ball which is possessed by no one can’t be batted forward. If it is, an automatic first down for the opposition is granted. We can’t have loose balls intentionally fumbled forward to gain a field position advantage, because that would indicate a lawless society.

That all would have been really sucky yet fair, if it was the proper ruling by referee Carl Cheffers and his crew. Again for emphasis: a penalty for a forward batt can only be given if there’s no possession. But if having two hands on a ball and your knee down while being touched is still what we call “possession”, Ryan Clark had plenty of it.

Thankfully, karma prevailed in many ways, including Troy Polamalu doing his crazy hairball thing, forcing a game-altering fumble when Flynn scrambled at his own 10-yard line.

Never fear, though, foam head wearers, as the Bears sucked more. Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia circus rung up the Bears for 54 points during the Sunday nighter, the second most points ever scored on a Bears defense. As in forever, as in all-time, and that’s a dusty archive to go through for a team that’s been around since 1919. The Bears’ now infamously jelly-like run defense was rung up for 298 rushing yards at a pace of 8.0 per carry, and 133 of that came from LeSean McCoy.

Winding down the conclusion of our day with many possibilities and little solved, that Sunday night outcome gave us two play-in games next week. After Tony Romo lived the good half of the narrative to beat Washington by hitting DeMarco Murray for the game winner and his first career touchdown reception, he gets the Eagles next week in the third annual NFC East Week 17 classic. And the Packers’ inability to finish combined with the Bears inability to stop anything at all (Philly had 514 yards of total offense) gives us a similar NFC North death clash.

Alright then. When do we begin drinking?

Fun with numbers

  • With another one yesterday, Marcedes Lewis now has a touchdown in four straight games. How many touchdowns did he have over his previous 20 games? Yep, four.
  • Luke Kuechly had 24 tackles Sunday. 24.
  • Hammering it home with feeling and seven more quarterback takedowns, the Bills set a new franchise record for sacks in a season (they now have 56 overall). But FYI, with one game remaining they’re not remotely close to the 1984 Bears, and their all-time single-season record of 72 sacks. Over the past three seasons the team that led the league has averaged 50 sacks.
  • The Bills did their teeing off on the Dolphins, which was easily the most delicious fantasy defensive streaming matchup of the week (best pass rush + weakest offensive line = mmmmmm). It was the ninth week this season Ryan Tannehill has been sacked at least four times. Few good things will happen in that setup (hence the little offense, and zero points even in a game when due to injuries and an ejection, Buffalo was down to its fourth-string wide receiver).
  • Another almost record: with his 249 passing yards Sunday on a completion rate of 70.2, Andrew Luck now has the second most passing yards by a quarterback in his first two seasons (7,673).
  • The Saints had possession for over a full quarter of game clock more than Carolina (the final was 38:48 to 21:21, which resulted in 365 yards of total offense to the Panthers’ 222), and yet they still scored only six points over the first three quarters.
  • Fred Jackson just keeps chuggin’ while eternally frustrating C.J. Spiller’s fake football owners. Sunday he became the third running back in Bills history to run for over 5,000 career yards, joining some guys named Thurman Thomas and O.J. Simpson.
  • When Andre Johnson finished with four receptions during the Texans’ loss to Denver, he tied an NFL record by securing his fifth straight season with at least 100 catches (with a week left he currently sits at 103 receptions). Johnson is 32, which is creeping towards the perilous wide receiver drop off pont. But if he can catch 100 balls from Matt Schaub and Case Keenum, he still has at least one more prime year left to break that record.
  • With two more Sunday, Richard Sherman became just the fourth defender since the merger with eight or more interceptions in consecutive seasons.

MONKEYS RIDING DOGS HERDING SHEEP

At least once every season, some halftime show organizer who’s both a hero and a gift to this earth blesses us with the spectacle of monkeys ridng dogs herding sheep.

No explanation is given, and none is needed. They’re monkeys, they ride dogs, and they herd sheep.

I’m no professional with judging matters of this nature, but I feel pretty confident saying that’s the best diversion we’ve had around here all season. Though I do fear that after monkeys riding dogs herding sheep it can only go downhill from here, as all things do.

Anywho, let’s take a gander at the players who either won you some sweet, sweet fantasy cash Sunday, or at least brought you close to it heading into the Monday nighter. I’ve already secured my holiday degenerate good tidings, and I hope you all did the same.

Peyton Manning is your 2013 NFL MVP

And the fantasy MVP too.

Peyton Manning easily justified that fake fantasy cash you spent on him in the form of either auction money or a high draft pick all season long. And when it came time to turn that into real cash, well, he was pretty good too. Record busting good.

As the Broncos did their clinching thing and their Texans pounding thing, Manning was once again the hammer, completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 400 yards and four touchdowns (two of those touchdowns and 10 of Manning’s compeltions went to Eric Decker, who contributed to the Broncos fantasy machine with his 131 receiving yards). That last part was the big deal, and the record-breaking deal. Manning tied and then surpassed Tom Brady’s single-season mark of 50 touchdown passes, and he did it while throwing four or more TDs in a game for the eighth time. Here’s a quick fun game: if we subtract almost half a season from Manning’s 2013 year and count only his touchdowns in those eight games, we get to 36, which is also still more than any other quarterback in the league.

Yes, Manning has been that damn good, and he still needed one less game than Brady to throw one more touchdown pass. Yesterday also marked his fourth game this season with at least 400 passing yards, which started back in Week 1 when he tied the single-game record for touchdowns passes with seven. The next record to shatter in Week 17 as the Broncos look to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs could easily be Drew Brees’ bar of 5,476 passing yards in a season. Currently resting at 5,211, Manning is well within reach. He needs 265 yards, and he’s been averaging 347.4 per game.

For you, the fantasy owner, all of this meant that for the final week when it mattered most, you rostered the week’s highest scorer (32 fantasy points), and it doesn’t take much deductive reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that Manning will be on the most championship rosters. And for the rest of us, there hasn’t been any doubt about who the 2013 MVP will be for quite some time.

Don’t lose sight of Manning’s age. In August of 2012 we had no idea what Manning we’d see in the regular season, and if the Manning we knew in Indianapolis would ever truly reappear. Now at age 37 and only two years removed from four major next surgeries (highlighted by a spinal fusion procedure), he’s become the first quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in one season.

In the same game Manning did all that, and set one record while closing in on another, Matt Schaub threw perhaps the worst pass of the year. This is the NFL world in which we live.

Matt Schaub everyone. on Twitpic

Pierre Garcon has found a pretty nice friend in Kirk Cousins

As expected (so very, very expected), Kirk Cousins has quickly become quite fond of Pierre Garcon, who had eight receptions and 107 yards in just the first half of Washington’s eventual debacle, a half in which he was already targeted nine times. A receiver who can both bust a secondary deep but also — and more importantly — easily turn a pass that travels two yards in the air into a 30-yard gain is a nice little security system for an inexperienced quarterback making his fourth career start, but one who’s highly accurate..

Garcon then finished with 144 yards on 11 catches, giving him 273 total yards and two touchdowns on 18 catches during Cousins’ two starts, and a title as the new Redskins’ single-season receptions record holder (Garcon has 107 catches, breaking Art Monk’s record). The bro love runs deep between quarterback and receiver, with Cousins targeting Garcon 27 times over the past two weeks.

Jamaal Charles gives the Chiefs a scary vision

Jamaal Charles had his usual success that made his fake owners pleased, with 144 total yards on 18 touches with a 31-yard touchdown on the Chiefs’ opening drive against the Colts, his fourth score of +30 yards over his last two games. While it’s swell that he delivered you 20 fantasy points and likely a championship with the 11th game this year when Charles jogged past 100 total yards, the way in which those yards arrived is a little concerning in reality.

Nearly a quarter of them (the 31 yards on his opening-drive touchdown run) came on one very early play. Sure, there were bursts and chunks at times throughout still, but nothing close to the booming runs we saw last week. That’s because last week the Chiefs played Oakland, a team that couldn’t nearly match Charles’ elusiveness and lateral speed. The Colts couldn’t either, but they at least gave a respectable effort. Turns out that may be all that’s necessary.

If the Chiefs’ defense continues to surrender its own chunks, an offense that isn’t at all built to come from behind and engage in that chunk war will be exposed. Throws are forced, and mistakes are made, like Alex Smith’s two interceptions, which matched the number he had thrown over his previous seven games.

That’s how you give up 23 unanswered points and have Charles’ touchdown followed immediately by offensive nothingness.

Donald Brown brought the chunks

And about those Chiefs chunks: Brown did most of the chunking, but don’t call him chunky brown. That’s something else entirely.

Brown finished with 110 total yards, his best yardage total of the season as he continues to make the Trent Richardson trade seem downright dumb. But true promise lies in how that yardage came, with Brown scoring on a 51-yard run where he tiptoed the sidelines and leaped to elude tackles, and a 33-yard reception.

Those brave enough to use Brown in either their flex spot or as a low-end RB2 were rewarded with 22 fantasy points. Or put another way with more awesome, Brown was tied for the second highest production at his position behind only LeSean McCoy.

Gio Bernard adds to his GIF list

Giovanni Bernard’s 41-yard catch and run during the Bengals’ 42-14 dummying of Minnesota to stay as the AFC’s third seed came complete with a juke, a stiff arm, and just plain outrunning dudes to spots he shouldn’t have been able to reach. But this spin move is the sort of thing that gets grown men to wave towels

gio Gio Bernard with the incredible spin move

This kid is going to be really, really special.

Le’Veon Bell continues to renew respect in the Steelers’ backfield

Not so long ago fast Willie Parker was bruising in Pittsburgh, and before that Jerome Bettis. There was never a shortage on brute, until of course last year when Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman brought too much slug, and the Steelers averaged only 96.1 rushing yards per game. In Le’Veon Bell, they’ve found a willing and more able human ball of hurt who’s restored the tradition of Steelers smash go boom.

Bell finished with 124 rushing yards and a touchdown in the Steelers’ win that keeps their flicker of playoff hope alive. Showing both how far the Steelers’ run game has come and how far it has to come, Bell was their first +100 yard rusher in 22 games.

Big Red balls out hard

Andy Dalton is a tricky character. How so? Simple, sort of. Look at the last two weeks of his NFL existence…

  • Week 15: 230 passing yards at a pace of 5.2 per attempt with two touchdowns and a completion percentage of 56.8
  • Week 16: 366 passing yards at a pace of 9.6 per attempt with four touchdowns and a completion percentage of 71.1

Yes, the Vikings this week aren’t as good at football as the Steelers last week. But a lot of this is on Dalton too, as during the same year his completion percentage has risen above 70.0 five times, it’s also dropped below 55.0 three times, and there’s been three weeks when his YPA has fallen below 6.0.

All those wayward rates add up to a quarterback who has plenty of arm and pocket sense, but little consistency, and sometimes even less accuracy.

A new candidate for the year’s best doink interception

DOINK on Twitpic

I’m reminded of those iconic McDonalds ads from the early 90′s with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. You know, the ones where they banked shots off the moon and whatever while wagering Big Macs.

Matt Cassel wouldn’t get past the first round in which he had to make a conventional free throw.

Quote of the week

Manning knows that chicks dig records…

Meanwhile, Phil Simms knows very little, and he’s self-aware…

Ouch

It was a regular potpourri of injuries in Week 16, with some that derailed fantasy championships and they could do the same to real championships, others that are hobbles which could linger, and then there’s the ultimate sadness: the non-playoff team that suffers a key late-season injury, and it could carry over into next year.

So much fun.

  • The latter and saddest description there applies to Jake Long, the Rams’ main prize last offseason to solidify their offensive line. Long tore his ACL, and suddenly now a franchise that hasn’t done much winning this year will watch as both its highly paid left tackle and the quarterback he’s assigned to protect spend an offseason recovering from major knee injuries. See, we’re already have fun here.
  • Steve Smith felt and heard the worst kind of pop in his knee early in the first quarter when he planted and tried to elevate for a pass. He exited and re-entered the game, only to exit again. None of that is good, especially for a playoff-bound team. He’ll have an MRI later today.
  • Amid all the glorious things for the Broncos Sunday (clinching the AFC West, Manning smashing records) there’s this turd: Von Miller left early, and he may join the lengthy list of ACL rip victims. That would be a clearly devastating blow to the Broncos’ pass rush, as Miller has five sacks despite appearing in only nine games.
  • There was some disagreement over what kind of injury Tony Romo has, which is pretty Cowboys. Thankfully, Romo knows what’s wrong with Romo. He was hobbled by a back problem during Dallas’ comeback.
  • Eddie Lacy‘s beasting and end-zone spiraling was interrupted by a re-aggravation of his right ankle sprain suffered earlier this month. After the Bears handed over the gift of Christmas playoff life Sunday night, the Packers would very much like to have their human pinball during a play-in game next week.
  • Elsewhere in Packers injury sadness that could be especially depressing in a week, Clay Matthews aggravated his thumb problem which resulted in four missed games earlier this year. There’s a real chance the Packers are without both him, Lacy, and Aaron Rodgers next week. Godspeed.
  • Ryan Tannehill left with a knee injury in the third quarter, mostly because he’s a weak little man whose pipe cleaner body can only sustain 57 sacks in a season. What a chump.