The Titans and Redskins control playoff chances; Patriots four away from history
How Cyd saw the week
15 down, 4 to go
I've been counting down for months now until the Patriots are 19-0 and officially dubbed as having had the greatest season in the history of the NFL. I've been hearing lots of talk about 16-0, as though that's some kind of prize. While it will be a great accomplishment to be the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season, the ho-hum with which some of the Patriots have met questions about an undefeated regular season to me rings true.
This let-down in their first playoff game that some hater fans of other teams are predicting for the Pats is humorous. Anyone who thinks the players would, two weeks after their final regular season game, not be able to get up for a home playoff game (likely against the Steelers or Jaguars) still doesn't understand how special this team is. Yes folks, there are still some who don't see that they are the Greatest Team Ever. For the rest of us living in reality, just keep enjoying it.
How Jim saw the week
PLAYOFF RUN: It’s hard to believe, but the Tennessee Titans, who have flown under the radar all season, will be in the playoffs if they beat the Indianapolis Colts next week. Normally, that would be a tall order, especially with the game in Indy. However, the Colts (13-2) have nothing to play for and will be playing a lot of subs.
Peyton Manning will start at QB for the Colts, but coach Tony Dungy says he will play no more than a half. My feeling is that if wide receiver Marvin Harrison is able to play for the first time since October, he and Manning will play a few series to try and get their rhythm back. Running back Joseph Addai is likely to sit, as will several defensive starters. This does not ensure a Titans’ win since the Colts’ second-stringers might be better, but it makes it at least an even game.
The early Vegas line has the Titans a four-point favorite. Tennessee has not won at Indy since 2002, which tells you how much (or little) the bookies think the Colts will play their starters.
Living in New York, it's also pretty hysterical to hear Giants fans moaning about how the Giants "better not rest their starters" and they better give the Patriots a game. First, as New York coach Tom Coughlin knows, the Giants aren't going to beat the Patriots with their starters, even if he was able to go back and use players from past great Giants teams. Might as well rest your players who could (after a season of injury after injury for the Giants) really use a rest. No team owes it to anybody else to do what's in the best interest of fans of other teams. If the Giants want to rest their players, and they feel that's in their own best interest, then they should. If they want to risk injury and waste some energy on trying to beat the Pats, then they can do that. Same with the Colts, same with the Cowboys. Just because your team wasn't able to stop the Patriots or (in the case of the Browns and Vikings) secure a playoff spot outright, that doesn't mean some other team should do your dirty work for you.
It's too bad that the Giants have to hear this nonsense from their own fans and own local papers. Seriously. The team should be left to do what it thinks is best. Instead, Coughlin and the Giants players are going to be distracted all week by this crap when they should just be focused on the playoffs.
Interestingly, the Patriots' story is definitely lessened by exactly what Bill Belichick has been doing all season. If the Pats had listened to all of those whiny "experts" and haters all season, and had pulled their starters when they were up big in third and fourth quarters, they'd be hounded by these same ridiculous questions about starting their stars. Instead, thanks to Belichick's genius of pouring on the pressure every game all season, the questions are focused on their opponents, and teh Greatest Team Ever is left to simply focus on the game. Genius.
The weather forecast for Giants Stadium Saturday night: Mostly cloudy, dry, low of 34, Patriots demolition of yet another team in the Meadowlands.
Dungy said “tough” when asked about resting starters with other teams needing to Colts to win. He has to only worry about his team and it’s the right attitude to have (Addai and starting receiver Anthony Gonzales were banged up in Sunday’s 38-15 rout of Houston). If Cleveland misses the playoffs because the Titans beat a weakened Colts team, Browns fan should not bitch – they should instead blame their team for falling short against mediocre Cincinnati.
The situation is similar in the NFC, where Washington gets in the playoffs with a win over Dallas. The Cowboys are 13-2 but have clinched home field advantage and have nothing to play for. Terrell Owens is hurt and definitely out and is it unlikely that QB Tony Romo will play very long. Washington will be favored at home. If Washington loses, Minnesota is in with a win at Denver. New Orleans gets in with a win and losses by Minnesota and Washington.
We do know one wild card game: The New York Giants at Tampa Bay. In the other NFC wild card game, Seattle will host Washington, Minnesota or Seattle. In the AFC, San Diego and Pittsburgh will host wild card games against a combination of Jacksonville and Tennessee or Cleveland.
COLLAPSE: Derek Anderson has been the toast of Cleveland since taking over the Browns’ quarterbacking duties in Week 2. But his play Sunday in a 19-14 loss to the Bengals may have made Cleveland’s playoff chances toast. Anderson’s last four games have been blasé as the Browns have gone 2-2. Sunday he was awful, throwing four interceptions against a Bengals team that gave up 51 points to the Browns the first time they played.
Anderson looks more and more like a flash in the pan, a guy who started strong but fell to Earth once defenses got to see him more in person and on film. My prediction is that, short of a solid playoff run, Anderson will have to compete with Brady Quinn next season for the starting job.
SPREAD ‘EM: The New England Patriots won an amazing eight games in a row against the point spread to start the season, almost unheard of. They were made huge favorites (20+) in four of their last seven games, but have failed to cover all of those large spreads. Sunday, they were 22-point favorites over Miami and raced to a 28-0 halftime lead. Then the teams must have switched uniforms at halftime because the Pats went scoreless and allowed a touchdown; all of this made Dolphin bettors quite happy with a final score of 28-7.
16-0?: Next week’s game between New England and the New York Giants will be weird. Both teams are in the playoffs and have nothing to play for in terms of their seeding. The Giants must play in the wild card round, so will have incentive to sit key players. The Patriots, though, are 15-0 and have a chance to make history with a win, becoming the first 16-0 team and only the second to finish an unbeaten regular season. The question for the Pats will be how much to play their starters – 16-0 is nice, but losing a key player to injury could kill them in the playoffs. My sense is that the Pats will keep their starters in as long as it takes and win over mostly scrubs for the Giants.
TWO SHORT: Tom Brady is two shy of breaking Peyton Manning’s record for touchdown passes in a season; Manning threw 49 in 2004 and Brady has 48. Manning accomplished his feat in 15 games (he sat all but one series in the Colts’ last game), but Brady will still have a legit mark if he tosses two next week.
One mark he likely won’t beat is Manning’s record for highest QB rating over the course of a season; Manning finished with a 121.1 rating in 2004 and Brady is below that heading into next week (117.1); someone figured out that Brady would need about 300 yards passing with seven TDs and no interceptions against the Giants to pass Manning’s mark.
KICKING HIMSELF: Good note from Don Banks of Sports Illustrated: Has anyone in the history of NFL punting ever had a worse day than Green Bay punter Jon Ryan did in windy Chicago? In the first half, Ryan fumbled away the first punt snap he saw, coughing it up at Packers' 32. He had his next punt blocked at his own 7. Later in the half, he shanked one for all of nine yards to the Bears' 45. Then, in the coup de grace, Ryan had a second punt blocked in the third quarter, with Chicago's Corey Graham returning the loose ball seven yards for a Bears touchdown. It had been 12 years since Green Bay had a punt blocked, let alone two in one game.
RUNNING IT UP: The New York Giants ran for 291 yards against the Buffalo Bills, their most since the 1970 merger. For all the grief QB Eli Manning and Coach Tom Coughlin have gotten in the New York media, the Giants have won 10 games and have made the playoffs for the third straight year. So much for home field with the Giants: they are 3-4 at home but 7-1 on the road.
BEST DIVISION: The AFC South is the league’s best division this season. The four teams are a combined 42-20 and 30-10 outside the division. This makes the Colts’ 5-0 division mark even more impressive; Jacksonville has only four losses, but three inside the division.
TIGERS OR PUSSY CATS?: Jacksonville is the team all the "experts" will tout as "the team no one wants to meet in the playoffs," but count me as unimpressed. The Jaguars are a classic front-running team who look unbeatable against the dregs but crumble in crunch time against really good teams. I would bet on Jacksonville losing its playoff opener, likely at Pittsburgh. I know the Jags won there a week ago, but the Steelers are the more playoff-tested team and January football is much different than any other month.