The NFL is finally getting what they've been trying to get for a while, a lot of mediocrity. Going into the last game of the season 11 teams have records of either 8-7 or 7-8, over a third of all the teams. Depending on how things play out, it's at least possible that half the league will finish with between 7-9 wins. There's only 1 elite team, the Packers, and around 5 teams that are good but also have obvious areas of concern (49ers, Patriots, Ravens, Saints, and Steelers). While the rest of the NFL seems to be made up of slightly above average to slightly below average teams, with a handful of teams that just stink. At least we can feel good knowing the Broncos aren't receiving anymore divine help.
Break out the Natty Light Detroit (Fooch, you can drink some if you like as well), the Lions are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1999! I guess that means tonight they're going to party like it's 1957! You know, because that was the last time they won it all. I can't help but feel like I'm missing a more obvious reference. Matthew Stafford threw for 373 yards and 3 touchdowns and Calvin Johnson had 102 yards receiving and a TD as the Lions jumped out to a 24-0 first half lead before cruising home for the blowout win. The win ends the Lions 11 year playoff drought while the loss eliminates the Chargers for the second straight season. I was about to say it's hard to believe a team with that much talent could miss the playoffs two years in a row but then I noticed the Cowboys were also about to miss for the second straight season. Wait, I remembered the more obvious reference. Tonight they're going to party like it's 1995, since that was the last year the Lions won 10 games in a season.
Andy Dalton threw for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns joining Peyton Manning and Cam Newton as the only rookie quarterbacks to throw for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in their first season. The Bengals defense intercepted John Skelton 3 times, Jerome Simpson scored a highlight reel TD while doing his best impersonation of Mary Lou Retton (Do younger people know who she is?), and the Bengals withstood a late Cardinals charge to hold on for the win and take sole possession of the last playoff spot in the AFC. A win at home against the Ravens in their final game will lock up only the Bengals 3rd playoff appearance over the last 20 years, all under Marvin Lewis. The Bengals are so desperate to have only their second home sellout of the year when they play the Ravens this Sunday they were offering buy one get one free tickets. So if the Bengals clinch a playoff spot next week and no one in Cincinnati is watching, are they a tree? No, that's not right. If they Bengals clinch a playoff spot and no in is there, do they make a sound? Wait, that's not it either. Maybe, if the Bengals are a tree and they fall over in the forest but no one is there, did they really fall over? Give me time, I know I'll get it eventually.
The rest of week 16 after the jump...
The Raiders were so bad in this game they finished with more penalty yards (92) than rushing yards (71), converted only 3 of their 11 3rd down attempts, went 0-3 in the red zone, and allowed the Chiefs to rack up 435 yards on offense, yet still somehow beat the Chiefs in overtime. "An ugly win is better than a pretty loss," said Carson Palmer who threw for 237 yards and a TD but also had two interceptions. I guess it depends on what you're talking about. If you're talking about going home with a girl I'll take the pretty loss. The win also means the Raiders can still win the AFC West if they beat the Chargers at home next week and the Broncos lose to the Chiefs. I'm just wondering who they're supposed to pray to if they want to ask for a Broncos loss?
Did you ever run into that guy who was always talking smack but would never back it up? Well if you haven't, say hello to Jets head coach Rex Ryan. He's almost like the NFL's version of Cartman from South Park. Whether he's bragging about his team winning the Super Bowl or just being the best team in NY, every time he opens his mouth it seems like it's just so he can put his foot in it. "We are the better team," Ryan said before the start of the season. "We are the big brother." He reiterated those statements in the week leading up to this game. Afterwards Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who ran for 42 yards on 7 carries, found Ryan and reportedly told him, "It's time to shut up fat boy." Ryan yelled back, "Hey! I'm not fat! I'm big boned!" Of course, the thought is Ryan only runs his mouth to take the spotlight off his players. I know if Mark Sanchez were my QB, given his accuracy issues that don't seem to be improving, I wouldn't want people looking closely at him either. So what did the win mean for Giants coach Tom Coughlin? He said it meant, "We won the game." And what does that mean for your playoff hopes? He said it means, "We won the game, and it keeps us in the playoffs." Man, Ryan may be annoying but at least he says things that are entertaining.
Browns 14, Ravens 20
Joe Flacco continued to struggle with his accuracy, completing only 11 of his 24 passes for 132 yards, but he also threw 2 touchdowns as the old Browns beat the new Browns, who are technically still the old Browns since the city held onto the name and all the records. The Browns did make it interesting late, that is the new Browns not the old Browns, with two second half touchdowns but their final drive stalled at midfield and the Ravens, who are the old Browns, were able to run out the clock to finish their first perfect season at home since leaving Cleveland back when they were known as the Browns. "I've never been perfect at home in 16 years of football," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's amazing." Isn't he the guy always talking about protecting this house? Now the team formerly known as the Browns just needs to beat the Bengals next week to lock up a first round bye. Fortunately for them I'm sure there will be more Ravens fans at the game than Bengals fans so it should at least feel like another home game.
Broncos 14, Bills 40
The 4th quarter this season has been Tebow time. However, against a Bills team that had lost 7 in a row and who's last win came in Canada, it became his own personal nightmare. Tebow turned the ball over 5 times (4 interceptions, 1 fumble) and watched as two of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns just 18 seconds apart. Of course the 4th quarter collapse probably shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone considering Jesus was busy with other things since it was the day before his birthday. Strangely, the Broncos are still in control of their own destiny and just need to beat the Chiefs at home next week to lock up the AFC West. And if you haven't heard the QB who was the Broncos starter at the beginning of the season but was benched in favor of Tebow and was cut a few weeks later, Kyle Orton, is now the starting QB for the Chiefs. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Bills fans gave their best regards to Tebow chanting, "Merry Christmas!" Looks like Orton was the real one to get the Christmas present.
When the Bucs lost to the Panthers 38-19 a few weeks ago, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said, "I can take getting beat by a better football team. I wish they were." So if he didn't feel the Panthers were the better team after they doubled them up at home, I wonder how he feels after getting tripled up on the road. Cam Newton threw for 171 yards and 3 touchdowns, breaking Peyton Manning's record for most passing yards in a season by a rookie, and also ran for 65 yards and a TD, his 14th of the season. After a promising 10-6 season last year, the Bucs have now lost 7 in a row, falling to 4-11, and have lost by an average of 19 points per game in those 11 losses. But Morris doesn't feel he should be fired. "You've got to go play within the system and make the plays that technique and opportunity allow you to make," he said. "Once you got those things, it's just like the year before." Sure, if the players had just stuck to your system they'd probably be 11-4. He went on to say, "This year we'll have great examples on how to lose games, and we'll have great example on how to win games." Way to put a positive spin on things. So the country hasn't been in a prolonged recession, a lot of people have just had great examples on what it's like to lose their home.
The Jags hung around behind the NFL's leading runner Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran for 103 yards and a TD, and a defense that forced 3 turnovers, but they couldn't quite get it done against the Titans. Matt Hasselbeck threw for 350 yards and TE Jared Cook caught 8 passes for 169 yards and a TD as the Titans kept their slim playoff hopes alive. All they need to do to make the playoffs is to beat the Texans next week, have the Bengals lose to the Ravens, have the Jets beat the Dolphins, and have the Raiders lose to the Chargers, or they can make it if they win, the Bengals lose, the Jets win, and the Broncos lose, or they can make it if they win, the Bengals lose, the Jets lose, and both the Raiders and Broncos win, or finally they can make it if they win, the Bengals lose, Republicans and Democrats decide they aren't that different after all, all the governments in the world decide to just get along, and Tebow's immense faith brings about the second coming of Christ. That doesn't sound too hard.
Dolphins 24, Patriots 27
The Patriots defense showed how bad they can be when they let the Dolphins jump out to a 17-0 first half lead. The Patriots offense then showed just how good they can be when they scored on 5 straight drives to jump on top 27-17. The end result was a 304 yard passing effort from Tom Brady who threw for a TD and ran in two more from 1 yard out as the Patriots gutted out a tough win against the resurgent Dolphins. "They committed penalties in the first half," said Dolphins guard Richie Incognito. "We turned the ball over and committed penalties in the second half." Sure, penalties were the main difference and it had nothing to do with Brady completing only 7 of his 19 passes in the first half for 87 yards, while completing 20 of his 27 second half passes for 217 yards. It's kind of like when I beat my son at Madden, no freebies in my family, and he blames it on things other than the fact I'm simply better at the game than he is.
Rams 0, Steelers 27
The Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger but that didn't mean a whole lot when you're playing a team that doesn't even seem like they're trying. Charlie Batch threw for 208 yards, Rashard Mendenhall ran for 116 yards and a TD, and the Steelers cruised to a ridiculously easy win. The Rams offense was stymied for most of the game and managed only 232 total yards as they were shut out for the second time in 20 days. The Rams did attempt 2 field goals but Josh Brown missed on both occasions. "There's always room for improvement," Batch said after the game. Yes, there's always room to crush the Rams by even more than 27 points. Next week perhaps.
Eagles 20, Cowboys 7
After the Giants beat the Jets, this game became meaningless for both teams. The Eagles were eliminated and the Cowboys playoff hopes rested on beating the Giants next week regardless if they beat the Eagles or not. So naturally Fox made this their game of the week even though a game that actually did have playoff implications, the 49ers at Seahawks, was also happening at the same time. Tony Romo bruised his hand in their first series, the Eagles jumped out to an early lead, and the Cowboys would have been blanked if not for a late TD with just 7 seconds remaining. "If we had gotten into the playoffs we would have done some damage," said Michael Vick who threw for 293 yards and 2 touchdowns. "It's unfortunate we didn't." Yes it is, and it's unfortunate for me I threw down a dime on you guys winning the Super Bowl so you're not getting any sympathy from me.
Bears 21, Packers 35
Last year the Bears and Packers played at the end of the year with the Bears locked into the #2 overall seed and the Packers fighting for their playoff lives. If the Bears had won the Packers would have been out. Instead the Packers won a game in which the Bears rested many of their starters and the Packers snuck in as the #6 seed. The Packers then returned the favor by beating the Bears in the NFC Championship game. This time it was the Bears fighting for their playoff lives and the Packers all but locked into the #1 overall seed. Again the Packers showed no gratitude by pounding the Bears who have yet to win a game without Jay Cutler and the Bears were officially eliminated from the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers had the first 5 TD game of his career and the Bears who kept it close early just couldn't hang with the Packers in the second half. "We're not real happy where we're at," Bear linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "Our coaches aren't happy, but that's what we get." Yes, that's what you get when you make no effort to find a competent backup QB. Just ask the Colts.
Texans 16, Colts 19
Speaking of the Colts, that's called a segue and not the kind you ride, Dan Orlovsky threw for 244 yards and a last second TD as the Colts rallied to beat the Texans for their second straight win. Orlovsky is now 2-2 as a starter this season including a tough 31-24 loss on the road to the Patriots. I can't help but feel if the Colts had started Orlovsky from the beginning they'd have a lot more wins. I mean, they'd probably have at least 5. Now if the Colts win their last game of the season at Jacksonville and the Rams lose (a distinct possibility considering the Rams are playing the 49ers), the Colts will lose out on the top pick. Suck for Luck indeed. I know I speak for most Colts fans when I say, Curtis Painter really wasn't that bad. Why not play Painter against the Jags?
Falcons 16, Saints 45
If this were a movie I'd be rolling my eyes thinking, this would never happen. The hero, Drew Brees, was told he could never succeed because he's too small and doesn't have a strong enough arm. He has some success with his first team but is let go for the young up and comer, Philip Rivers, who better fits the mold of what teams want in a QB. To make matter worse, he suffers a serious injury and only the lowly Saints want to take a chance on him. He turns the team around, they win the Super Bowl not long after a natural disaster ruined the city, and then he sets the single season passing record at the end of a game against their division rivals on Monday night, and it's even a TD pass. Seriously, the only way it could have been more Hollywood is if the pass won the game for them and clinched the NFC South title. Oh wait, it wasn't the game winner but it did clinch the NFC South for them. I guess this is what would be considered life imitating art, if art were a cheesy Hollywood movie.
At the start of the second half Adrian Peterson suffered a cringe inducing knee injury, and on the very next play Christian Ponder suffered a concussion, yet somehow the Vikings still managed to win. Toby Gerhart ran for 109 yards on only 11 carries, Joe Webb threw 2 touchdown passes, and Rex Grossman once again proved you can count on him to turn the ball over at least two times every game (1 interception and 1 fumble). The win guarantees they won't finish worse than their 1984 team that finished with a franchise worse record of 3-13. Considering they play the Bears next week, I have a feeling they won't even tie the record.
49ers 19, Seahawks 17
For the 4th time this season the 49ers won a game after trailing on the road in the 4th quarter. It was also their 5th time overall this season coming from behind in the 4th. The 49ers defense and special teams gets most of the credit for their success, but you have to give Alex Smith and the offense some of the credit for their success when 42% of their wins have come after the team was trailing in the 4th. Also, in order for David Akers to set the single season FG record at 42, the offense had to at least move the ball into FG range. But seriously, if they could just turn one or two of those field goals into touchdowns they wouldn't need to come from behind to win and my stress level would be a lot better.