Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we stare down both the holidays and the final 32 games of the NFL's regular season.....
• I'm just throwing it out for debate here, but is this team of the decade stuff really all but sewed up for New England now that Pittsburgh looks like an extreme long shot to match the Patriots' record of three Super Bowl rings in the 2000s?
That's the conventional wisdom, but as I pointed out in my dissection of the team of the decade standings in June, don't forget about the Colts. Yes, the Colts, they of the 7-7 playoff record this decade entering next month's Super Bowl tournament. Without a doubt, Indy going one-and-done in the playoffs five times in the first nine years of the decade is a huge advantage for New England. But for argument's sake, what if Indy can stack the following accomplishments side by side with the Patriots' impressive body of work:
-- The first 19-0 season in NFL history, besting the record-breaking 18-1 near-miss the Patriots put together two years ago. A 3-0 run this postseason would lift the Colts to 10-7 in the playoffs from 2000 on, still far short of the 14-3 mark New England has compiled thus far (which could drop a bit with a quick Patriots exit in January), but not the yawning chasm it has been for most of this decade. And at 19-0, wouldn't we have to coronate these Colts as the greatest team ever, just like we were prepared to do for New England's 2007 team?
-- A second Super Bowl title in the decade's final four seasons, giving the Colts just one less ring than their nemesis from New England. Indy would be 2-0 in Super Bowl trips this decade, compared to the Patriots' 3-1 mark.
-- Indianapolis two weeks ago broke the league record for most wins ever in a decade, besting the 49ers of the 1990s (114-46, .713). The Colts are 115-43 with two regular-season games remaining. Assuming a perfect season, Indy's 117-43 record for the decade would work out to a .731 winning percentage. The best the Patriots can finish this decade is 113-47, for a .706 winning percentage.
-- The Colts are working on a league-record 23-game regular-season winning streak, and would push that mark to 25 by finishing 16-0. New England, of course, held the previous mark, with 21 consecutive regular season victories from 2006 to '08.
-- Indianapolis has won 12 games or more in an NFL-record seven consecutive seasons and is the third team to start a season 14-0, joining the 1972 Dolphins and 2007 Patriots. By comparison, New England has just four seasons of 12 wins or more this decade. The Colts also lead the Pats in terms of winning seasons (9 to 8) and playoff seasons (9 to 7, assuming a New England trip this year), but would trail the Patriots 7-6 in division titles this decade should New England win the AFC East as expected.
-- Indy started the decade by losing seven of its first eight games head-to-head against New England from 2000 to '04, including two playoff matchups. But in the decade's second half, the Colts are 5-1 against the Patriots, including the memorable 2006 AFC title game, which featured Indy clawing out of an 18-point second-quarter hole to win. If the two rivals were to meet again this postseason, with Indianapolis winning, the latter half of the decade would clearly belong to the Colts.
Assuming five more Indianapolis victories and a historic 19-0 season -- not to mention a hasty playoff demise for New England -- is admittedly assuming a lot. But it's now within the sphere of possibility, and that kind of finish in Indy would more than cast the team of the decade debate in a new light. Suffice to say New England was the clear-cut team of the first half of the decade, but the Colts would have a strong case to claim they owned the second half. And at that point, let the argument begin as to which franchise prevailed overall.
• So with Mike Holmgren heading to Cleveland to run the front office, and Mike Shanahan being penciled in for the Redskins head coaching job by everyone short of TMZ, which former Super Bowl-winning head coach will be walking into a bigger quagmire?
That's a tough one. I suppose if I had to choose, I'd say Cleveland is the tougher gut-and-rebuild project, given the Browns have been losers in 10 of their 11 seasons since rejoining the league in 1999. And you can add to that the competition within the AFC North, which still has three teams in the playoff hunt through 15 weeks this season.
But still, the Redskins may actually be the bigger mess, with a new starting quarterback probably required, huge issues on the offensive line to solve, and declining stars like Clinton Portis and Santana Moss to finesse in Washington. Then you've got the Daniel Snyder factor to deal with, and I don't care what anyone says about him planning to take a step back, he's still got the reverse Midas Touch until proven otherwise.
• All that snow removed from FedEx Field on Sunday and Monday, a reported 25 million pounds of it, and for what? So the Redskins could quickly bury themselves beneath a different kind of avalanche against the Giants on Monday night? What a waste of manpower.
• There's something about the purported pairing of Bruce Allen and Shanahan in Washington that no one seems to have explained to me. Can a former Raider and former Bronco really peacefully co-exist? Aren't they supposed to detest one another? But come to think of it, they're both former Raiders of different eras, and they could probably swap horror stories about working for a certain mercurial team owner whose initials are A.D.
• My take on the Brett Favre-Brad Childress melodrama is what would you expect from No. 4 in that situation? Once you sign Favre, you know what you're getting. You can't start acting like the rules aren't different for him at that point. Of course they are, and there's no way he was coming out of that game in Charlotte Sunday night. Favre should have been the good solider and kept his mouth shut in the postgame about the disagreement, but since when has he ever been capable of that once he gets his undies in a bunch?
That said, Childress just kind of botched the whole deal in my estimation, and he got the reaction -- and the ensuing fallout -- he probably deserved. I don't really fault Favre for being irked at that way things went down. It was ham-handed, at best, for the Vikings head coach to be mixing his messages so severely at that point in the game and in the season.
Once you pay your quarter and climb on, you're pretty much committed to taking the whole Favre ride, come what may. And Childress should have known that better than anyone. He most assuredly does now.
• I wish Rex Ryan would make up his mind. Are his Jets dead in the water in the AFC wild-card chase at 7-7, or very much alive? Because he's been all over the map on this one the past few weeks.
"I was dead wrong,'' Ryan said Monday, after declaring his Jets were toast in the wake of Sunday's 10-7 home loss to Atlanta. "We've got a chance.''
Well, yeah. Providing they win at Indianapolis on Sunday they do. Oh, and the Jaguars, Dolphins and either the Broncos or Ravens have to lose this week, too. (Which, if you look at the schedule, could actually all happen). At that point, the Jets would enter their Week 17 home game against the Bengals with control of their own playoff-race fate.
At least I think that's the scenario Ryan is pushing at the moment. When it comes to New York's up-and-down playoff chances, it's hard to tell at times the color of his mood ring.
• More than 14 hours have passed and I still can't get over the Redskins' fake field goal call at the end of the first half of Monday night's game. The one they telegraphed to New York, and then stuck with even after a Giants timeout. What must have been going through the mind of Redskins holder Hunter Smith, who took the snap from Todd Yoder and saw three Giants defenders being allowed to rush him unimpeded, as if that was all part of the trickeration?
That seven-man swinging-gate formation that Washington aligned itself in on the extreme left side of the field, outside the hash marks? I do believe that Redskins head coach Jim Zorn should watch out and not let it hit him in the you-know-what on his way out of D.C.
• Teams play once a week in the NFL, and that leaves us six whole days to invent reasons why the sky is falling every time a club loses a game. You gotta love this week's overreactions.
-- What's wrong with the Saints? Teams can run on them too easily, they get too one-dimensional on offense, and Drew Brees just lost the MVP race with that bad game (his first of the season) against Dallas.
-- What's wrong with the Vikings? The Favre-Childress showdown is a disaster waiting to explode and engulf the season in controversy. Adrian Peterson can't run effectively any more, and the offensive line is in a shambles.
-- How could the Packers secondary give up 503 yards of passing and a game-winning final-play touchdown pass to Pittsburgh? Green Bay will get torched in the playoffs by all the great quarterbacks in the NFC.
-- What's up with the Bengals, who can't beat any good teams outside of the AFC North? Last week they didn't throw the ball enough to win at Minnesota. This week they threw the ball great at San Diego, and still lost.
-- How did the Broncos ever win eight games with a defense that can give up 241 yards rushing to Oakland? And isn't Kyle Orton just a pedestrian quarterback who will never be able to lead a team much beyond mediocrity? Did anyone really ever mention Orton as an MVP candidate when the Broncos were 6-0?
On the plus side, we now know that Wade Phillips can really coach in December, the Cowboys have all kinds of heart, Randy Moss remains a vital cog in New England's offense, and Giants have a pass rush after all.
• It's comical to me to hear that Dallas took supreme motivation from Tony Dungy giving them no chance to win at New Orleans. What you have to love about that is the realization that once ex-coaches and ex-players become part of the media, they find themselves saying the kind of things that they once would have used for motivational fodder -- see world, us against it -- if someone else had dared utter those same predictions.
I heard Dungy and former Patriots linebacker-turned-ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi last week both predict a Saints victory over the Cowboys. Bruschi confidently said New Orleans would go 16-0 this season. My point is, we NFL analyst types have got to take a lot of stands during the course of a season, and some of them are occasionally (ha!) going to be incorrect.
I can still recall standing in front of Bruschi's locker plenty of times in a postgame setting, listening to him remind the media how it had gotten things wrong and failed to discern what was obviously going to be the outcome of a game. Well, welcome to the club, Ted. You're starting to get the hang of this job.
• Oh, and one last zinger for the Redskins today: How 2007 first-round pick LaRon Landry keeps his starting safety job, I'll never know. The guy whiffs on open-field tackles, gets routinely faked out of his cleats, and makes a big play every lunar eclipse or so. Landry was the sixth overall pick in the draft, and he was hailed as one of the next, great impact safeties to come out of college. But he has regressed to the point in his third NFL season where he's a liability for Washington's defense.