Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's the End of the Season As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

What a final week: Five playoff teams decided, Four divisions decided, Ten games that had playoff ramifications. The league couldn't have been happier especially following 2007 where every single division had been wrapped up prior to the final week of play, making virtually all of the contests inflated exhibition contests.

This season has been one of the most unpredictable and for lack of better words "wacky" in NFL history (or at least my years following it). Among the anomalies of the year: An 8-8 division winner who never had a winning record at any point during the year and never lead it's division until the final week of the season; an 11-5 squad who represented the AFC in the Super Bowl last season not making the playoffs; two teams with 8-3 starts that failed to make the playoffs; a 1 win and 3 win team from the previous season both making the playoffs; two teams with rookie coaches and rookie quarterbacks making the playoffs; seven teams that didn't make the post-season last year in the playoffs this year (though this is becoming something of a commonality); 5 of the 6 NFC teams in the playoffs did not make the post-season last year; all four home teams are underdogs on Wild Card weekend; two of the road teams in the Wild Card have better records than the home team they are playing; and last and certainly least, the first 0-16 team ever.

Before we get to the final rankings of the year, and yes it's all academic at this point, here are my playoff predictions, taking into account the fact that the last three Super Bowl champions played on Wild-Card weekend and only once this decade have the two teams with homefield advantage both advanced to the Super Bowl:


Atlanta over Arizona; Minnesota over Philadelphia

Divisional Round:
New York over Atlanta; Carolina over Minnesota

New York over Carolina


Baltimore over Miami; Indianapolis over San Diego

Divisional Round:
Tennessee over Baltimore; Indianapolis over Pittsburgh

Indianapolis over Tennessee

Super Bowl
Indianapolis over New York (sorry, Pierre--but take solace in the fact I predicted the Jaguars to win it in the pre-season)--I just have a notion that the Cigarette-Smoking Man will make the Manning Bowl finally happen this year

The Rankings:

1. Tennessee Titans (13-3): Their decisive victory over a hot Pittsburgh team last week put them here in a coin toss. Disregard their last game, although you'd think they wouldn't want to end their great season with a shutout loss, even if it was ultimately worthless in terms of seeding. And Vince Young's performance against the Colts' scrubs has to give them pause for the future of the franchise.

2. New York Giants (12-4): Even with starters rested after halftime Minnesota needed a 50 yard field goal to beat them, this bodes well for their prospects of a Super Bowl return.

3. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Found their groove when they shifted their offensive focus to the running game leading to four wins in the final five weeks, but that one loss to the Giants may doom a team that went 8-0 at home.

4. Indianapolis Colts (12-4): Ending the year with a NFL best nine game winning streak and giving Jim Sorgi his annual paycheck earning appearance, the Colts are unquestionably the hottest team in the league. Their record would have nabbed them at least a tie for the lead in every division but their own.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Will keeping Ben Roethlisberger in for a meaningless drubbing of the Browns wreck their playoff potential? Does their 4-4 record against this year's playoff crop belie that perhaps they are not an elite team?

6. New England Patriots (11-5): Best team to not make the playoffs ever? Arguable. Obviously this is a homer pick, but I always felt that if the 1991 49ers who finished with a 10-6 record after suffering injuries to Joe Montana and Steve Young found a way into the post-season, they could have given the Mark Rypien lead Redskins a serious threat. As for the QB situation, Bill Belicheck isn't an idiot, he will keep Matt Cassel until Tom Brady plays an entire season healthy.

7. Baltimore Ravens (11-5): The Ravens who already won at Miami in October have extra motivation this week considering that they were the 2007 Dolphins only win and that Dolphins squad was coached by Ravens' coordinator Cam Cameron.

8. Atlanta Falcons (11-5): Remember after the draft when players were complaining that Matt Ryan was overpaid for someone who never took a snap?

9. Miami Dolphins (11-5): Giving hope to the Lions for next year. Can they keep up their error free play against a takeaway hungry Raven's D?

10. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): Tavaris Jackson is finally living up to potential, which is good because the Eagles will not allow the Vikings to be one dimensional and make their contest an Adrian Peterson run-fest.

11. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1): Unlikely earned a playoff spot despite needing the Texans to beat the Bears, the Raiders to beat the Buccaneers, the Arena League to cancel the 2009 season, the Lakers to beat the Celtics on Christmas Day and Valkyrie to have a 10 million dollars plus opening weekend. Donovan McNabb is one preservative son of a bitch, but until the Eagles win the Super Bowl, Philly fans will continue to talk shit, it's their nature.

12. San Diego Chargers (8-8): Before they start celebrating too much, let's just note that the four game win streak that catapulted them to the AFC West title included victories over the Raiders, a Kansas City victory they needed a furious final two minutes to win, and two teams that finished the season with four game losing streaks: Tampa Bay & Denver. Not exactly primer for a Super Bowl run.

13. Arizona Cardinals (9-7): With the exception of a week two victory over Miami did not beat a single playoff team this season. In fact, they only won three non-NFC West games the whole year.

14. Chicago Bears (9-7): How strange is this for a Bears team, the defense will have more questions in the off-season than the offense (other than their need for a big play receiver).

15. Dallas Cowboys (9-7): New York Yankees take note, a high payroll and acquisitions of big name players doesn't always translate to a championship no matter the jersey being worn.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7): Second consecutive collapse once clinching a winning record. There will have to be a youth movement in the South Bay eventually? Right?

17. New York Jets (9-7): When I wrote my coaching hotseat article, I did not take into account Eric Mangini, because usually coaches aren't fired after a five game win improvement from the prior season. Even if Brett Favre, an aging quarterback who hasn't been to the Super Bowl since the 1997 season (that's 11 seasons for those keeping track at home) had the owner thinking big.

18. New Orleans Saints (8-8): Drew Brees finishing sixteen yards shy of the all time single season passing record is an apt metaphor for the Saints, they are too talented a team to continually underachieve.

19. Houston Texans (8-8): Hard to get a read on this team, started 0-4 with the same personnel that ended the year 5-1. Is the impressive late run promising for next year, or like last year's 8-8 finish, a mediocre team that just happened upon a late hot-streak.

20. San Francisco 49ers (7-9): Promoting Mike Singletary immediately following the end of the game (after the team went 5-2 in its final seven games) showed a rare decisiveness for the York family and considering his popularity amongst players and fans, it was the right move. While Mike Martz had his ups (vast offensive production improvements from 2007) and downs (namely insisting upon JT O'Sullivan as starter and the fucking last play in the Arizona game) but I would've like to see the two Mikes work together one more year for continuity sake alone. A new era seems to be in San Francisco's sights, but before we get too excited, let's remember the last two 49ers teams to go 7-9 followed those seasons with a 2-14 and 5-11 performance the following year.

21. Denver Broncos (8-8): The other coach I never considered as a candidate for being fired is Mike Shanahan, the only coach to lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory. I am guessing his dismissal was due to a power struggle, and his not wanting to give up control (although Mike Holmgren went a similar route and still lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl). Probably won't stay unemployed too long, might I suggest returning to your offensive coordinating roots with a certain bay area team you once had ties to (hint: not the Raiders).

22. Washington Redskins (8-8): Looked awfully bad the last few weeks, losing four out of five. Their offense needs to be more explosive.

23. Green Bay Packers (6-10): Well Brett Favre didn't make the playoffs either and you didn't become the team to give the Lions a win. Two positives after a late season five game losing streak. Offense is looking good for the future with Rodgers, Grant, Jennings and Driver being a potentially explosive nucleus

24. Buffalo Bills (7-9): How's this for consistency, Dick Juaron has led the Bills to a 7-9 record all three seasons he's been their coach.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): I guess laying down and letting the Ravens blow them out was their way of enacting revenge upon the New England Patriots who ended their season in the divisional round of last year's playoffs.

26. Oakland Raiders (5-11): Tom Cable made a statement for being instated as the full time coach, the statement being defeating a Tampa Bay team coached by former Raider wunderkind head coach Jon Gruden whose coordinator is the father of Lane Kiffin thus preventing them from advancing to the post-season. You know Al Davis had to love that.

27. Seattle Seahawks (4-12): For the first time in seven seasons Matt Hasselbeck (injured for most of the year) and Shaun Alexander (cut) were not the team's passing and rushing leaders. Will Hasselbeck be back next year?

28. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1): Team played well in the last month. That coupled with the fact Carson Palmer was out for the majority of the year and the owner of the team is a cheapskate who doesn't like paying coaches that are no longer with the team, signal Marvin Lewis is probably returning. The question is: does he want to?

29. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14): Tyler Thigpen looks to have potential and they were very competitive, half of their loses were by a touchdown or less. The problem was they blew leads in many of those close games.

30. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Ended the year without an offensive touchdown in six consecutive games and two consecutive shutout losses. In fact, the only touchdown scored in that span was a meaningless fourth quarter interception by Eagles second string QB Kevin Kolb.

31. St. Louis Rams (2-14): After weeks of incompetence, they showed some improvement in the last weeks of the season, losing four of the last five games by four points or less. Team still has some talent, just a question as to what they need to motivate them.

32. Detroit Lions (0-16): Historically bad, but probably not the worst team of all time. Just of this season. But hey, if the Dolphins, Falcons and Ravens can all turn around....nah, never mind.

Enjoy the playoffs, thanks for reading.


Mummbles said...

i pretty much agree with your playoffs picks. the nfc is pretty weak besides the giants and i like titans or colts in the afc, but who knows, it could all be shaken up by a team who is on fire..my guess for possible playoff spolier.. falcons, chargers, and dolphins. either way it should be a fun post season.

Colonel Mortimer said...

Wow...one week in and I really screwed the pooch on this one.

Mummbles said...

yeah...its been a crazy week already, i guess nfl is trying to copy the college bowl games and go all upsets

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