Texans, Falcons ugly losses give Super Bowl race wide-open feel
Not too excited about the top seeds in the NFC and AFC, are you, in the wake of bad losses by the Falcons and Texans in Week 14? There's a reason. Atlanta and Houston are clearly vulnerable entering the last three weeks of the regular season.
In the last five weeks, Atlanta is 3-2. Composite score: Falcons 117, Foes 116.
Houston has played four current division leaders and is 2-2 in those games. Composite score: Foes 122, Houston 112.
Atlanta wins home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning two of its last three games. Houston gets AFC home-field by sweeping its last three. But does it matter? I don't think so.
Increasingly, the NFL postseason is ruled by the teams playing the best at the end of the season, not the teams playing at home. That's obvious just by looking at the seeds that have won the last seven Super Bowls: 6, 3, 5, 2, 1, 6 and 4. The home field in January is nice but not the sort of edge it used to be (the first or second seed won the Super Bowl for eight straight years, from 1989 to 1996), as these numbers show:
Last point: If I'm Atlanta coach Mike Smith or Houston coach Gary Kubiak, I'm not taking my foot off the pedal in any of these last three games, health be damned, even if home-field through the playoffs is clinched. Too often we've seen what happens to teams that have clinched the home-field edge in the playoffs resting guys entering the postseason, mostly with bad results. Aaron Rodgers looked like the preseason Aaron Rodgers in losing to the Giants after going 20 days without playing in a game last year. It never helped the Colts to rest their guys. Football's a game of momentum. For players who skip Week 17, have a bye, then have to play a team that's been building momentum, it's not smart to expect them to play well after having three weeks off.
Now for your email:
IT'S ABOUT TIME.
I agree with the coaching change. Watching from the perimeter, I think it was evident that Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco co-existed more than they meshed as partners in the offense. That's not good. Not blaming either side; just stating the reality that Flacco (who should not escape blame for being one of the league's most inconsistent quarterbacks) often chafed at Cameron's offense and his play-calling.
And the running game ... I get the frustration of Ray Rice, which was evident over the last few weeks. Shonn Greene has more carries than Rice. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has more carries than Rice. Now, I like Cameron, and I like him as a coach, but the offense wasn't humming in Baltimore, and I support the change, even at this late date in the Ravens' season.
CAN JIM CALDWELL GET THE JOB DONE?
Sometimes you have to be inside the building to judge something like that -- and it's true Caldwell hasn't been an every-down play-caller since he was the Wake Forest coach more than a decade ago. But Caldwell and Flacco get along well. He's not a dictator type, and Flacco will feel more invested in a game plan he has more say in -- at least that's what I'm told. You know, at the end of the day, I'm sure what the Ravens felt was this: Right now, they're an average playoff team. They might win one playoff game, but there's no way they'd be a major playoff factor the way they were playing on offense. We'll see if this works.
I DOUBT IT, AT LEAST FOR TEBOW.
I don't see Tebow with the Jets next year. I think he'll be released. Just too much of a sideshow. I do think the Pistol with Tebow would be smart and productive. But he needs to lose a little weight. I don't think a 250-pound quarterback running the option is a good idea, because of his loss of speed and quickness.
PETERSON DESERVES THE COMEBACK PLAYER.
Otherwordly. Hmmm. I have great, great respect for Peterson's comeback, but it's the same thing as Wes Welker did three years ago. Welker had his knee reconstructed four weeks later than Peterson after his nasty injury in the last game of the regular season ... and Welker had an eight-catch game in the season-opener the next year. So, I understand everyone has an opinion on this, and I understand what Peterson is doing is tremendous; I have noted it many times this year. But it has happened to an offensive player who needs quickness to be good, like Peterson. And it has happened recently.
MAKE PENALTIES CHALLENGEABLE.
I like the idea. If a coach wants to risk one of his challenges on a play like this, let him risk it, knowing it could affect his ability to challenge something later in the game. The NFL needs to understand this is a very difficult call to see at full speed, and I think it's smart to consider making it reviewable.
ARE YOU LISTENING, MIKE SHANAHAN?
A great idea. Arizona should consider it -- but not for the first-round pick, which will be in the top 10. A second-rounder, smart.
I FORGOT MCCARTHY.
You're right. I blew it. McCarthy deserves to be considered for the award. Thanks for keeping me honest.