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How Outsports saw NFL Week 17

Bring on the playoffs

How Cyd saw the week
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16 down, 3 to go.

I’ve been counting down to 19-0 on this site for quite a number of weeks. I’ve been counting down to 19 because 16 is barely an exit this team is passing on the highway to perfection. I was glad to hear that the players and coaches will be relishing in the first-ever 16-0 regular season in NFL history for a couple days. But just a couple days.

Greatest Team Ever

I love that I’m now, FINALLY, starting to hear more people stringing these words together about the Patriots. ESPN “experts” are starting to chime in. With every playoff win, it will get louder, and even the haters will finally start to admit that it’s at least possible. With the records this team has set for excellence, some of which have stood for decades, it’s hard to think of a superlative that doesn’t befit this team.

How Jim saw the week
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Let’s get right to the wild card picks:
AFC

Jacksonville (11-5) at Pittsburgh (10-6), Saturday: The Jaguars beat the Steelers two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, 29-22, by rushing for 224 yards. The Jaguars have also been made a narrow road favorite over a Steeler team that lost three of its last four. All the experts are high on Jacksonville, but something tells me the Steelers will bring their A game next week. On a hunch: Steelers 23, Jags 20

Tennessee (10-6) at San Diego (11-5), Sunday: These teams met in Nashville three weeks ago and San Diego rallied from 17-3 down in the fourth to win 23-17 in overtime. The Chargers are the hottest team outside of New England, winning six in a row and going 7-1 at home. I am not impressed with the Titans offense and can’t see them keeping up with the Chargers. An easy win: Chargers 31, Titans 13.

Some thoughts from a cool Pats reporter

I got the chance to talk with the sports editor of Metro Boston, Chris Price, who’s been covering the Patriots since 2001. We chatted for almost an hour this afternoon about the Patriots, and he shared a lot of great stuff with me. I’ll be including a lot of it in an article I’m writing for Boston Spirit Magazine about having an openly gay pro athlete in Boston, but some quick observations:

- The jury of the team is apparently out on Laurence Maroney, and I’m not surprised. Any running back to turns around and starts running backwards when he gets touched just isn’t the kind of back you thought you were drafting.
- It may have be the Colts’ new contract with Bob Sanders that is the final nail in the coffin of Asante Samuel’s future with New England. When Samuels looks at what the Colts gave Sanders, he’s going to have a tough time not venturing onto the free-agent market.
- I asked him about the role of religion on the team, and he said it simply doesn’t dominate any aspect of what the team does. There is no pressure from any coaches or players to participate in prayer meetings (contrary to many other NFL teams, including the Colts). It was great to hear.
- He also had some incredible things to say about the Patriots and how he thinks they’d react if a Patriot came out of the closet. But I’ll save that for the article.

Shut up Mercury Morris

I’m kind of glad this marginal player from the ’72 Dolphins, whose mouth is bigger than any personal accomplishment of his, keeps talking. I’m hearing from Patriot haters that they actually will find some solace in the Patriots going 19-0 because it will shut up Mercury Morris. In case you haven’t figured it out, Morris is that obnoxious guy they roll out every year to proclaim the Dolphins who carried him to an undefeated season as the greatest of all time. Few former players are as bad at player-hating as Morris. I mean, the only thing this loser has going for him is a zero that he had a marginal role in achieving.

If I saw the guy on the street, I might try to give him a quarter and a couple nickels.

So keep on talking, you has-been. In about five weeks you’re going to be sent to the proverbial trash heap of history.

Classless Giants fans cling to small victories

I watched the game in a mostly Giants bar in Manhattan, so I don’t know why I was surprised at the classlessness exhibited when Randy Moss was shown injured on the field. As soon as the shot came across the TV of Moss crumpled down on the field, the bar erupted in cheers, clapping, and high-fiving. It was a disgusting display of the classless fans of a loser team that, deep down, knew they could only hope for a moral victory.

Two plays later, Moss scored his record-tying touchdown.

With about 25 minutes left in the game, the crowd in the bar erupted into “Boston suck, Boston sucks, Boston sucks” chants. Oh, Boston sucks, really? That’s interesting. The Celtics are the top team in the NBA; the Knicks are one of the worst. The Red Sox won the World Series for the second time in four years; no New York team has done that ; and in the NFL, the Bruins are virtually tied with the Rangers and Islanders.

Oh, and of course, the crappy Giants choked away a 12-point lead in the second half in losing to the Patriots, the Greatest Team Ever; and the Jets absolutely suck.

So much for moral victories.

The Gi’nts themselves, on the other hand

I’ll give the Giants this, they played a good game. Definitely. They showed a lot of class and heart in taking that field and playing the game to win. I don’t know why Tom Coughlin is the rumored coach-on-the-hot-seat every year. He’s one of only three coaches to take his team to the playoffs last season. And this team just isn’t that good on paper. They should have been 6-10 at the absolute best, but after an 0-2 start they went on a great run. Unless they can land a 2,000-yard rusher, they’ll never win the Super Bowl with Eli Manning. But Coughlin’s a hell of a coach who gets the most out of his team, so kudos to him and kudos to the players.

Quick notes from elsewhere

Most of these games, despite being high-scoring, were totally boring this week. All of this nonsense we’ve heard this week about wanting to win every game you play; that certainly didn’t show up on the field.

There are a lot of wonderful Philadelphia fans on this Web site, but seriously, booing Donovan McNabb after he throws his first interception since mid-November? We know the blame-game is enticing, but A.J. Feeley is not the answer.

Did anyone else hear Titans LB Stephen Tulloch yell “F*ck” very loudly and very audibly as he walked to the locker room at the start of the fourth quarter? I wonder how much NBC will be fined for that one.

Wild Card thoughts

I’m not going to try to pick these Wild Card playoff games, because I can see anything happening. But, some thoughts:

Titans-Chargers (55 degrees & rain). I think what will go under-analyzed this week is the coaching. Jeff Fisher is, to me, one of the three or four best head coaches in the league. I mean, it’s Belichick and then Fisher and Dungy. Norv Turner, not so much. I’ve underestimated the Titans and their quarterback a lot. Don't be surprised if this game is very close, or the Titans are leading, in the fourth quarter.

Jags-Steelers (41 degrees & cloudy). All season I’ve thought the Jags were a top team, and I’ve thought the Steelers were frauds. That usually would make me lean toward the Steelers in this one. But the Steelers have looked, almost every week this year, worse than the Jaguars, including when the Jags beat the Steelers. Still, I can't help but think that all this talk about the Jags being the team no one wants to play somehow hurts them.

Redskins-Seahawks (42 degrees & rain). Seattle’s lost two of its last three games, and Washington’s coming in on the fourth-longest win streak in the league. But Seattle’s 7-1 at home with their only loss a fluky game against the Saints. I like the Seahawks a lot in this one, especially given the expected weather conditions.

Giants-Bucs (70 degrees & sun). You’re going to hear all week long how the Giants did the “right” thing by playing hard against the Pats. But the Bucs have also done the “right” thing by resting their guys; it’s not as flashy, so you’ll hear less of that. I’m hearing how New York is “America’s team” because of how they lost that game against the Patriots. Everything points to a big Tampa Bay victory, to me.
NFC

Washington (9-7) at Seattle (10-6), Saturday. The Redskins have won four in a row and backup QB Todd Collins has been terrific in that stretch. Seattle can’t run the ball (ranked 20th in the league), which means the Redskins can focus on getting pressure on QB Matt Hasselbeck. The ‘Skins stay hot: Redskins 20, Seahawks 17.

New York (10-6) at Tampa Bay (9-7), Sunday: Beware the curse of playing the Patriots – the last seven teams that played New England lost the following week. The Giants played valiantly in taking the Pats to the limit Saturday and I am not sure what they’ll have left for a Bucs team that has coasted the past two weeks since clinching the division. The Giants are 7-1 on the road this season but have usually followed strong efforts by laying an egg. The curse continues: Bucs 24, Giants 20.

TITANS IN: The Tennessee Titans secured the final playoff spot in the AFC with a weird 16-10 win at Indianapolis. Weird in the sense that the Colts played their backups for the final three quarters and it was much easier for the Titans to stop Jim Sorgi and Craphonso Thorpe than Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne.

Still, it took Vince Young getting hurt to lift the Titans. Young, the Titans’ starting QB, left the game in the third and the Titans trailed 10-7. Enter Collins, one of the streakiest QBs ever. The Titans were lucky that they got the hot version of Collins (10 of 13) and he led Tennessee on three straight field goal drives.

BROWNS OUT, QUINN IN: Cleveland finished 10-6, good enough to win two divisions in the NFC, but not enough to make the playoffs in the tough AFC. The Browns were eliminated when Tennessee beat the Colts. However, Brady Quinn fans finally got to see the hottest man in the NFL take his first snaps as quarterback.

Quinn took over late in the first half when starter Derek Anderson got hurt and entered the game to a roar from the hometown fans. Quinn led the Browns to a field goal but should have had more. He had consecutive catches dropped in the end zone, first by Braylon Edwards and then by Kellen Winslow. "I am human -- sometimes," said Winslow of his drop.

Anderson struggled down the stretch and I expect Quinn to challenge him for the starting role next season. The Browns are a team on the way up and really need some defensive help to be a serious contender.

SORRY, NORV: I was among those ripping the San Diego Chargers for hiring Norv Turner as coach, but now apologize (not that I think he’s a regular reader). Turner started 1-3 but led the Chargers to a 10-2 mark down the stretch; it was the first time since 1995-96 that the Bolts have made the playoffs in consecutive years.

With San Diego being a nine-point favorite against Tennessee next week, the irony is that Turner could accomplish what his predecessor Marty Schottenheimer was unable to do – win a playoff game.

WEIRD STAT: The Colts wound up giving up the fewest points in the league (246), quite an accomplishment for a team whose defense sucked in the 2006 regular season. Their improved defense is a major reason the Colts will be dangerous if they have to travel to New England for the AFC title game.

SEASON AWARDS:

Offensive MVP: Randy Moss. I have written why I Randy Moss is my least-favorite NFL player (read it here if you wish.) But there is no denying what he has meant to the Patriots this season. Without Moss, Tom Brady would have probably 18 fewer TD passes and slot stud Wes Welker a third-fewer catches. Moss has to be accounted for on every play, and one mistake and it's touchdown New England. He’s still an ass but he did perform this season.

Defensive MVP: Bob Sanders. The Colts safety makes more difference to his defense than any other player. With him the Colts have a championship-level D; without him, they’re mediocre.

Coach of the year: A guy who cheats won’t get my vote, so I’ll go with Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, who took over a moribund Packer team a year ago, got Brett Favre to play smart football and has the Pack with a first-round bye.

Offensive rookie: Adrian Peterson. The Minnesota Vikings running back set a record with 296 yards rushing against San Diego. The sky’s the limit if he ever gets a passing game to make the defense not line up eight or nine guys to stop him on every play.

Defensive rookie: Patrick Willis. The San Francisco 49ers linebacker was amazing, leading the league in tackles and making an awful defense from 2006 respectable.