Chargers out of playoff race with another lousy performance; Carson Palmer better off without Chad Ochocino and Terrell Owens; Peyton Manning, speed demon; Chiefs go from worst to first; playoffs in focus and hot player of the week.
By Jim Buzinski
How I saw Week 16 in the NFL:
There are many candidates for most disappointing team in the league. Dallas and Minnesota met in the playoffs last season, but have a combined 10 wins between them this year. Houston (5-10) went 9-7 a year ago and was allegedly a team on the rise, but the Texans have gone 3-10 since starting 2-0. San Francisco was a big favorite to win the crappy NFC West, but the Niners are 5-10 and fired Coach Mike Singletary on Sunday night after their playoff chances ended.
|Hot player of the week: Chiefs QB Matt Cassel
My pick, though, is San Diego (8-7). The Chargers have statistically the No. 1-ranked offense and No. 1-ranked defense. Big deal. The Chargers are barely above .500 despite having played only five games against teams with a winning record. They had four games against the NFC West, essentially four byes, and went 2-2. In contrast, AFC West champion Kansas City swept the NFC West, winning each of the four games by at least 14 points.
The Chargers began the season playing contract hardball with offensive tackle Marcus McNeil and wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and started 2-5. They then got hot, winning four games and looking like the typical Chargers team that ran the table in November-December (they had won their last 19 December games coming into this season). But a loss at home to the Raiders crippled their playoff chances, and an inexplicable 34-20 loss to the Bengals (who were 3-11 coming into the game) on Sunday ended them.
One play exemplified the season - the Bengals led, 20-13, in the fourth quarter and faced a key third down. The Chargers' defense, though, was disorganized, and forgot to cover wideout Jerome Simpson. By the time a defender got over, Simpson had started down the sidelines and hauled in an easy 59-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer. Lack of attention to detail and poor preparation sum up the Chargers' season.
The blame can first be laid on general manager A.J. Smith (the "Lord of No Rings," as the local media call him), who is stubborn and refuses to ever admit he's wrong. That's why he'll stick with Coach Norv Turner, despite the Chargers going from two playoff wins in 2007 to one in 2008 to none in 2009 (when they had the No. 2 seed) and not even in the playoffs this year. Expect the 2011 Chargers to look like champions on paper and play like chumps when it matters as long as Turner is the coach.
No distractions: The Bengals scored 34 points -- their most this season - and QB Carson Palmer was near perfect (16 for 21 for 269 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions). This was without talented diva receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. I don't think it's a coincidence. Palmer has looked distracted during games this season, constantly trying to keep T.O. and Ocho happy. The Bengals should dump both of them next season - Palmer will be a better quarterback and there will be a lot less drama.
Hail to the Chiefs: By beating the Titans (6-9) and with the Chargers losing, the Chiefs (10-5) went from 4-12 in 2009 to division champs in 2010. This is a talented, young team that will be fun to watch in the playoffs. It would be cool to see a Chiefs-Patriots playoff game (unlikely unless it's the AFC title game) because the Chiefs are the Patriots of the Plains with alums Matt Cassel (quarterback), Mike Vrabel (linebacker) and assistant coaches Romeo Crennell and Charlie Weis, along with general manager Scott Pioli. Props to Cyd for picking the Chiefs to win the West before the season.
Speed demon: Funniest play of the day was watching Peyton Manning scamper 27 yards on a bootleg for a first down to seal the Colts' 31-26 win at Oakland. Manning runs like a spastic giraffe and he apparently did not even tell his teammates he was keeping the ball.
"That was just a great call by him," running back Dominic Rhodes said. "They had been biting, they were trying to stop me from running the football. Even I thought I had the football, along with everybody else. The whole defense converged on me."
The Colts (9-6) win the AFC South and make the playoffs for a record-tying ninth straight year by beating the Titans next week (or with a Jacksonville loss at Houston). This would be quite a feat for a team with so many key players missing because of injury.
Hot player of the week: In terms of simply being very good looking, Matt Cassel of the Chiefs can't be beat. The former New England Patriot is also having a hot season in leading the Chiefs to their first playoff appearance since 2003.
Playoff reset: The AFC field is all but set. The Patriots (top seed), Steelers, Chiefs, Ravens and Jets are in. The South will be won by either the Colts or Jaguars.
The NFC is more wide open. The Bears, and Eagles have won their divisions and the Falcons have clinched a playoff spot (thanks to a reader who corrected this). In the NFC West, the winner of the lightweight match between the Rams (7-8) and Seahawks (6-9) takes the division and gets a home playoff game the following week. NBC has made it the national game next Sunday, a real test of the ratings draw of the NFL. The Saints (10-4) and Packers (9-6) control their situations for wild card spots, with the Giants (9-6) and Buccaneers (9-6) needing to win and get help.