Missed me last week? Sure ya did. With the Holiday and travel being what it is, I didn’t get around to writing after Week 16. Its a shame too because some of the games and performances were fantastic but, having viewed almost 16 hours of football through a haze of wing sauce and $5 pitchers, it was probably for the best. Week 17 was nothing short of amazing, for fans and networks alike. Not just de facto but legitimate Divisional Title games. In effect, the playoffs started a week early for many teams. A look back on a great finale to one of the better seasons in recent history, referees be damned.
What I learned this week…..
The Cleveland Browns have really outdone themselves. Firing Chudzinski less than a year after hiring him means Cleveland will have its eighth head coach in the 13 years since they’ve rejoined the league, and their fifth since 2008. When he took over, owner Jimmy Haslam preached about continuity at the coaching position. If you’re looking for a blueprint to ruin a franchise….just wait until my draft column.
With all this talk of seeding and byes you’d think it would make more of a difference but there’s only been one Super Bowl in recent memory featuring two top seeds: Colts vs. Saints. In fact, six of the last eight winners did not have a bye. Going back to Super Bowl XXXV (Ravens – Giants in Tampa) 26 teams have made the Super Bowl. Of those 26, only eleven were #1 seeds, and six more were #2, meaning 17/26 teams in the Super Bowl have enjoyed he first-round bye. That’s a darn good percentage considering the level of playoff competition, so the week off certainly seems to help. But only two times has a #1 seed won: the 2003 Patriots and the 2009 Saints (who incidentally beat the AFC’s top-seeded Colts). Four times a #2 seed has lifted the Lombardi Trophy for a grand total of six top two seeds becoming eventual champions. Looking deeper, Super Bowls in which a team that did not enjoy the bye week played a team that did the lesser-seeded team is 6-1, the only loss being Super Bowl XLIII, in which the Steelers beat the Cardinals.
Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots finished the regular season with 105 catches, 1,056 yards and 6 touchdowns. Although Danny Amendola was seen as the replacement for Wes Welker, with Rob Gronkowski missing most of the season it was Edelman who stepped into the fold as Brady’s go-to-guy. This was foretold: in the first quarter of the 2009-10 season finale in Houston, Welker ripped up is knee and missed the rest of that game and the playoff game the next week. Against Houston, Edelman totaled 10 catches for 103 yards. In the playoff game he caught 6 balls and scored the Patriots’ only two touchdowns. In Welker’s best season in Foxboro he caught a mind-boggling 122 balls for 1,569 yards and 10 TDs adding 8 punt returns for 82 yards. When his return role was phased out it was Julian Edelman who took over. This year Edelman added 37 punt returns for 374 yards, for 1,430 total yards. Not bad for a Kent State quarterback taken in the 7th round. Oh, and he’s cool as hell.
NFC Breakdown – I see Eagles and Niners victories, which sends the Eagles to Carolina and a delivers great rematch of San Fran going back to Seattle, sight of the September 29-3 butt-whuppin’ at the hands of the Seahawks. I’ll take the Seahawks and Eagles in those two, for a Philadelphia @ Seattle NFC Title game.
This just in…Remarkable coaching jobs by both Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers (12-4) and Bruce Arians of the Arizona Cardinals (11-5). The Panthers started 1-3 and then went on an 11-1 run. Meanwhile the Cardinals were a dull 3-4 before finishing the season off 7-2, including wins over Seattle and Indianapolis and near wins against Philadelphia and San Francisco. Kudos to both coaches. Elsewhere the Lions finished the season 1-6 and the Redskins 0-8, and that’s how you get fired.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugh
Good: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers - In the last two weeks, against division opponents, Cam has been nothing short of a revelation. Against the Saints he led the game-winning drive into the teeth of a highly rated Saints passing defense, and delivered the NFC South on three absolute rocket throws. In a hostile Georgia Dome he did not have his best game but again, showed up when the Panthers needed him to, and his defense did the rest, led by Greg Hardy, who registered 7 sacks in those games. Dear Alex Smith/David Carr/ Sam Bradford, this is what a #1 overall QB looks like.
Bad: Chris Conte, Safety, Chicago Bears – He never even imagined Randall Cobb would streak past him on a seem route, but he did, and the Bears safety was left as the only one playing zone on the Packers game-winning strike. Wasted a masterful effort by Matt Forte too, who totaled 137 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Ugh: Miami Dolphins & Baltimore Ravens – Having played their way into a positions to sneak in, the Dolphins and Ravens both yoked away chances. Miami lost the final two weeks by a combined 34-7, getting shutout in Buffalo and then losing to the Jets at home by two scores. Yes, both the Bills and Jets have good defenses, but what do you think you’d face in the playoffs? Baltimore fared no better, getting outscored 75-24 in routs by both New England and Cincinnati. If the Ravens were going to make any noise about a repeat, they would’ve had to play one if not both of those teams in January anyway.
FWIW…I don’t wanna hear anything from any Cardinals fans about revamping the playoffs. You want in, don’t lose to the Rams to start the season. The only other 11-win team to miss the playoffs in this format was the 2008 Brady-less New England Patriots, and even those fans know losing at home to the Steelers and Dolphins by a combined score of 71-13 is what kept them out.
AFC Breakdown – As you’ll see, I’m taking Kansas City in the dome over Andrew Luck. Silly maybe because he has a great home record and somehow is still seen as an underdog, but the Colts are missing so many talented players I’m not sure they can continue this run. I also like the Bengals to dispatch the Chargers, though not by the eight they’d need to cover. Those results send the Bengals to Foxboro and the Chiefs back to Mile High for their third tilt with prohibitive favorite Denver. Tough to beat the same team three times in one year, but also tough to throw for 55 TDs in a single season. Broncos come out on top and then get set to host the Patriots for Brady-Manning XV.
You gotta figure…with all the coaching carousel turns in the past two years (16 jobs have opened up, some twice) you’ll see the pendulum swing the other way for a while. Patience is a virtue, but it doesn’t usually play in the NFL. However, sooner or later, you gotta dance with the one that brung ya. Less than a year for some of these guys to fix a horrid situation is just not enough. Then again, teams look at Chip Kelly, finishing the season 7-1 and winning the NFC East and wonder, “why not us?”
W2W4: Well New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens was not quite the barn-burner I had hoped it would be. Last week I would’ve said the Eagles @ Cowboys NFC East Divisional Title game, but with Romo out it seemed to lack its dramatic punch. Who’d have known Kyle Orton would’ve Romo’d at the end anyway? This week I’m looking to Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts. Why, you ask? Didn’t the Colts just beat the Chiefs two weeks ago in a game to which Andy and the Reids barely showed up? When a win and a Denver loss could’ve meant the division? Yes. Yes to all of that. But, I have it on good authority (read, anyone who knows more than me about football) that the Chiefs were expecting this match-up and went very vanilla. Not even like French vanilla, like the vanilla where you can’t even see the little beans. Like “plain Vanilla.” I think the Chiefs come out much differently here than in Week 16, and use the speed and aggression of reigning sack king Robert Mathis against him: screen pass city.
Locks of the Century of the Week…Just by the hair of my chinny chin chin as I went 3-2 in Week 16, accurate on a Colt win and an Eagle blowout, nowhere close on the Cardinals in Seattle. Didn’t make any plays last week, and its for the best since I would’ve gone 2-3 in my picks, but last week I liked KC +14.5 (b/c I didn’t think they’d deactivate the entire city), SF +3 (b/c I just think they’re better). Would’ve lost on the Eagles -7, Panthers -6 and the Lions -2 in a game I thought they’d be playing to save their coach. Apparently they didn’t think so.
KANSAS CITY +2.5 @ INDIANAPOLIS As noted earlier, the more I look into it the less stock I’m putting into the Week 16 Colts win. Yes, the Chiefs laid an egg in a game that really should’ve meant more to them, but their performance against division rival San Diego in an attempt to keep them out of the playoffs, with the JV Chiefs I might add, was a wonderful bit of coaching, and I expect them to continue the trend after their self-awarded bye. Chiefs + 2.5
NEW ORLEANS @ PHILADELPHIA -2 As my buddy Ed said, “ I just don’t know how they’re going to stop Jimmy Graham.” Well, Ed, they may not have to. I won’t rip through another set of mind-numbing stats to show you how insane and dominant the Eagles offense has been at times. You saw the Bears game. Just know this: the Eagles can absolutely keep up with the Saints in a shootout. Now, add to that the 11-5 Saints lost all five of those on the road. The Saints have the 2nd best passing defense in the league, the Eagles, the 9th highest passing offense. On the other hand, the Saints have the 25th best run defense, and the Eagles offense is #1 on the ground this season. Flip the coin and you get the Eagles with the worst passing defense in the league (albeit improving since early in the season) against the #2 passing offense in the the NFL. Now, Saturday night is going to be cold. It may be rainy. Nothing that will completely unhinge the Saints mind you, but enough to make them (and anyone else) uncomfortable. So, who will make the big play? Which team will turn the other over? In the midst of bowl season, I like Chip and the Eagles to fly high. Home teams in the playoffs getting points? Probably a trap, but for the sake of Special Ed…Eagles -2
SAN DIEGO +7 @ CINCINNATI Let me be completely clear: I don’t think the Chargers can win a thing. They shouldn’t even be in this game: on an inexcusably missed 41-yard FG that would’ve won for the JV Chiefs and sent the Steelers into the playoffs the referees (SPOILER ALERT) missed a clear/blatant/obvious penalty call when the Chargers lined up too many men on the same side of the line. The penalty would’ve given Ryan Succup [JOKE REDACTED] a chance at redemption with a 36-yarder, which I think we can all agree he would’ve hit, thus sending the Chargers to their much-deserved fate. Later still, in overtime, the Chargers faked a punt on their first possession and ran DB Eric Weddle on a direct snap into the line. The referees determined, before Weddle was stripped of the ball which was eventually returned for a Kansas City touchdown, that his progress had been stopped, a curious decision considering his own offensive lineman were plowing into the pile behind him and inching him forward towards the first down marker. This is all to say that the Chargers needed miracles from on high, and some dubious mistakes by zebras, to even be in this game. Yes, a nice win on a short week in Denver helped, but I’m not convinced. Thing is, you’ve got to be wary leaning too heavily on what just happened. The playoffs can be odd, and most of the games are tighter than you can imagine. Ok, not the Broncos in Foxboro two seasons ago, that was a gimme. Andy Dalton threw four interceptions in Week 17 against the Ravens. In their Week 10 win in San Diego he was 14-23 for 190 yards. They won 17-10, and statistically were about even. It was the Bengal running game that won for them. Since then the Chargers won four straight and have improved to the 12th best run defense in the league, by holding three of those opponents under 100 yards, including only 18 yards rushing for the Broncos in week 15. Listen, I don’t think they belong, and I don’t think they will win, but I don’t think anyone is winning this game by 8 points. Chargers +7
SAN FRANCISCO -3 @ GREEN BAY Put simply, I don’t know if any team can beat the 49ers, so I’m certainly not having them lose this one. Generally getting points at home in the playoffs is a good thing, but in this case, I lean to San Francisco. On Sunday Colin Kaepernick turned in his best performance since the opener against Green Bay and not coincidentally, so did Anquan Boldin. The 49ers have won six in a row and the Packers needed a bevy of good fortune to win the NFC North. With Clay Mathews out of the game, and Aaron Rodgers playing for back-to-back weeks for the first time in two months, I think the hard-hitting Niners take it to Lambeau and beat the Pack. Niners -3
Thanks for joining me in this inaugural season of 10 & Out. Later this week I’ll post my season end awards, and get more into the playoff talk.
NFL Week 17
Topics: 10 & Out, AFC, Andrew Luck, Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Murray, Brady-Manning, Bruce Arians, Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Chip Kelly, Chris Conte, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Danny Amendola, Denver Broncos, Eagles, Football, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Jimmy Haslam, John Elway, Julian Edelman, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFL, NFL News, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Rob Chudzinski, Ron Rivera, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Succup, Tony Romo, Wes Welker