NFC looks wide open, more Snap Judgments from Week 17
• They say momentum is a prerequisite of success in the NFL postseason, but this year's NFC playoff field sure hopes it's an overrated factor. Because there's not a lot of mojo flowing in the National Flat Conference these days.
No. 2 Minnesota (12-4) on Sunday managed to rout a listless Giants team, 44-7, but the Vikings will still enter the postseason with three losses in their past five games, and having not won on the road since Nov. 1. The win over New York was impressive, but I'm not sure how much beating the Giants is really worth these days.
No. 4 Arizona (10-6) was blown out 33-7 at home by fifth-seeded Green Bay (11-5), the very team the Cardinals have to play host to again next week in the first round of the playoffs. Arizona has now lost three of its last six games, fairly well duplicating last year's late-season slide. Worst of all, the unpredictability factor has returned to Arizona.
And then there's the curious case of the Eagles (11-5), who went into Dallas on a six-game winning streak, but came out strangely flat and got out-classed 24-0 by the Cowboys (11-5). Philadelphia had the No. 2 seed within its grasp with a win, but tumbled all the way to the bottom of the NFC field, at No. 6, and now must return to Dallas next week.
With so much malaise everywhere you look in the NFC, it's hard to spot a favorite. Dallas and Green Bay both look dangerous, and the Cowboys (three wins in a row) and Packers (7-1 in the second half) are playing with great confidence. But Dallas hasn't won a playoff game in 13 years, and Green Bay has to do it the hard way, hitting the road as a wild-card entry.
Add it all up and the NFC looks like a wide open six-team tournament, with anyone capable of showing up to represent the conference in Miami five weeks from today. I could make a legitimate case for all six teams heading south next month.
It could be fun. But it could be chaos, too. Either way, it's about to start.
• Kind of hard to take the Bengals seriously in the AFC playoffs field after their 37-0 debacle in the Meadowlands.
New York's got a legit defense, but the Bengals set offensive football back at least a couple decades with that showing. Cincy hasn't been explosive on offense all season, but before Sunday night, it had at least found ways to move the ball.
Of the three rematches in the first round of the playoffs next weekend, I'd say the Bengals (10-6) turning right around and beating New York (9-7) next Saturday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium is the most unlikely of all scenarios. The Jets are going to the Queen City with a world of confidence, and the feeling that they're already playing with house money by even making the postseason. It wouldn't shock me if New York blew out the Bengals again, this time on the road.
I don't think the Jets are a strong threat to beat anyone else in the AFC field, but the Bengals clearly are their best matchup. That much was proven in vivid detail. Cincy has one and done written all over it, and making matters worse, it's facing a short week of work to close a very sizable gap between itself and New York.
• With the Patriots-Ravens and Jets-Bengals first-round games featuring four scuffling teams that all lost six or seven games this season, form has a great shot to hold in the AFC half of the bracket, delivering to us a Chargers at Colts AFC Championship Game in three weeks. Divisional-round pairings of Patriots at Chargers, and Jets at Colts could be very competitive matchups, but I'd take my chances with the rested squads from San Diego and Indianapolis winning their way to the title game. And then we'd be in store for what might be the real Super Bowl this season: Chargers at Colts, in a playoff rematch from 2008 and 2007 -- both of which were San Diego victories.
• Half the teams in the NFL postseason did not make the playoffs last season: The Patriots, Bengals and Jets in the AFC; the Saints, Cowboys and Packers in the NFC. It's the 14th consecutive the NFL playoffs have featured at least five new teams.
• You have to figure the left knee injury suffered by
But maybe all is not lost, given that New England immediately got a heck of a Welker impersonation from rookie receiver
Still, Welker's 123 catches led the NFL this season, and that number becomes even more mind-boggling when you realize he missed almost three complete games. Hard to see Edelman replacing Welker as
Playoff-bound teams not playing all-out to win when they're facing playoff contenders is much worse for the image of the league than the hit the NFL takes every August when those meaningless preseason games stir a similar debate. Goodell knows that, and wants to find ways to give teams incentives to legitimately play out their regular-season schedules, be it extra draft picks or another such carrot at the end of a stick.
It's rather bizarre that it has come to this: The NFL trying to give teams incentives for winning and playing a late-season game straight when it comes to their lineup. But it's an effort worth making, even if it only puts a dent in the now annual trend of seeing playoff qualifiers treat the final two weeks of the regular season like a necessary evil.
• With Welker (knee),
But hey, somebody's got to play in these games. This isn't college football. There aren't 80-man rosters.
• My early, early read on next weekend's playoff pairings (at least the ones we know): The Packers look like they have the Cardinals pretty well figured out, and maybe only the potential loss of the injured
I don't know what to make of the Eagles' uninspired performance at Dallas, but the Cowboys clearly have the psychological edge going into their third meeting with their division rivals.
The Baltimore-New England matchup in the AFC will be the most physical game of the weekend, and I think the Ravens are a dangerous opponent for
• In the last six days or so, I think we found out definitively who the 2009 Vikings really belong to. They're
Minnesota's pass-first mentality is all the way back, and Favre's four-touchdown, 316-yard passing performance against the Giants -- in just 2½ quarters -- underlines that the Vikings will only go as far as No. 4 takes them this season.
Peterson is not an afterthought in the Minnesota offense, but he's clearly not the Vikings' first thought either. Peterson hasn't logged a 100-yard rushing game since Week 10, and he hasn't averaged 4.0 yards or more in a game where he had at least 10 carries (he had nine rushes for 54 yards against the Giants, good for 6.0) in his past seven games.
Favre, on the other hand, is once again on fire. Starting with the beginning of the third quarter in Monday night's overtime loss to the Bears, he has completed 46 of 62 pass attempts, for 619 yards and six touchdowns. Not bad for an old guy in just a little bit more than one full game.
• The Week 17 Sunday should be one of the best days of every NFL season, with the action building to a crescendo as we watch desperate teams vying for those final playoff spots. But it was a little difficult to get pumped up on Sunday while watching the likes of
• You knew it wouldn't be long until the Saints and Colts started streaking again. But I don't think this is the textbook approach of how to enter the playoffs as a No. 1 seed: With New Orleans losing three in a row, and Indy dropping its final two games.
Looks like yet another season in which the vaunted top seeds won't be breezing to a Super Bowl showdown.
• Maybe nobody in the NFL has to do more house-cleaning than the Giants on defense. New York mailed in another one Sunday in Minnesota, losing 44-7 to the Vikings, after dropping last week's 41-9 nail-biter at home against Carolina.
In the Giants' final four games, they gave up 45 points to the Eagles, 41 to the Panthers, and 44 to the Vikings. All told, New York's defense surrendered 40 points or more five times in its last 11 games, starting with that 48-point meltdown at New Orleans in Week 6. That hasn't happened to a Giants defense since 1966, in the
• Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Broncos fans. It must be misery. Denver's season, once so hopeful at 6-0, crashed and burned amid two separate four-game losing streaks from Nov. 1 on. When will Denver fans ever have the faith to believe in this team should they get off to another fast start? The season always lasts just long enough for the Broncos (8-8) to blow a playoff trip.
A few things come to mind as we view the crazy rollercoaster ride that was the Broncos' 2009:
In the end,
Boil it all down, and
And despite all those giddy moments between them when the early season wins kept coming, McDaniels and Broncos receiver
• On a day Tennessee's
Charles ran for 152 yards in the season's first eight games, and 968 in the final eight. Kansas City is going to look back and realize getting rid of
• You get the sense that a four-game season-ending winning streak really might change the outlook for new Browns president
The Browns still need to establish their long-term plan at quarterback, but the situation in Cleveland looks a lot brighter today than it did a month ago. The Browns have Holmgren in place, 11 picks in next April's draft, and the confidence that comes from not losing in a month of NFL Sundays.
• The Patriots have got to start staying away from
Pollard, the player who ended Tom Brady's 2008 season in Week 1, when he was then a Chiefs safety, just seems to have a knack to make himself a nuisance against
• None of them are going to the playoffs, but congrats to Atlanta, Houston, Carolina, and San Francisco, all of whom accomplished something for themselves by finishing strong this season.
-- The Falcons won their last three games to finish 9-7 and finally log those long sought-after consecutive winning seasons, their first in the 44 year history of the franchise.
-- The Texans won their last four games to climb to 9-7, earning their first winning season in the eight years since entering the league as an expansion team. That might be enough to convince owner
-- The Panthers fought their way to an 8-8 record on the strength of a three-game season-ending winning streak, which avoided a losing season and likely will wind up saving head coach
-- And the 49ers won their last two games to get to .500, their first non-losing season since 2002. San Francisco's 8-8 showed progress under
• So if the Vikings (eight) and Colts (six) happen to meet in the Super Bowl in Miami, a whopping 14 replacement players have to be named to fill out the Pro Bowl rosters? Talk about watering down the honor of making the NFL's all-star game. Due to players who pull out of the game with injuries, the Pro Bowl rosters wind up being plenty padded enough by the time the game rolls around.
But the potential of bumping 14 alternates up to the game's active roster would make it more of a come-one, come-all game than a true all-star game. But I guess somebody knew that was a possibility when the game was moved to the weekend before the Super Bowl this season.
• Counting their Week 3 preseason trip there, the Packers will wind up making the long trek to Arizona the maximum three times this season -- once in preseason, once in the regular season, and once in the first round of the postseason.
I suppose Green Bay doesn't mind getting out of the cold this time of year, but it probably also helps that the Packers have destroyed the Cardinals on their first two visits. In the preseason game, Green Bay led 38-10 en route to a 44-37 win over Arizona. On Sunday, in a game that meant little for the Cardinals once Minnesota's win over the Giants was in the books, Green Bay built a 33-0 third-quarter lead and cruised home to a 33-7 win.
• We're on the cusp of Black Monday in the NFL, the day after the regular season ends, when some head coaches traditionally get canned. But I can't help but notice how many coaches might have rallied for a little job security with a late-season comeback. And not just the aforementioned
All of that leaves Washington, Buffalo and maybe Oakland as the teams in line to make a switch. All in all, that's nowhere near as much carnage as we were bracing for about a month ago.