10 things we learned in Week 16
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 26, 2010
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Professor of Pigskin
And the triad is about to be one again.
After two seasons where the AFC's holy trinity of Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and New England were sadly split, they are about to be reunited in the 2010 playoffs.
The Colts' 31-26 win in Oakland, combined with Jacksonville's 20-17 loss at Washington, more or less guaranteed that Indy would win the AFC South – unless you think the Colts are going to lose at home this Sunday against the reeling Titans.
It's as it should be.
Either the Patriots, Colts and Steelers have represented the AFC in seven straight Super Bowls, and assuming the Colts win Sunday, they'll collectively have 25 double-digit-win seasons in their last 30 attempts.
This trio makes a mockery of parity, and if we had a house to bet on the postseason, we'd split it between them to win another Super Bowl.
On to the rest of Week 16, which was one heck of an entertaining Sunday made even more entertaining by the fact that we didn't have to hear about Michael Vick or BrettFavre, thanks to the weather.
1. Bears at Packers is going to be one interesting football game. Barring a Vikings upset of Philly Tuesday, the Bears and Packers will both be playing for something extremely important at Lambeau Field – Chicago for the No. 2 seed, the Packers for a playoff spot.
The first matchup between the two was a mini-classic, with the Bears winning it 20-17. Both teams did what they do in that one – the Packers were able to move the ball, but came up short, as they've done too often this year. And the Bears forced turnovers, got a return TD from Devin Hester, and won a close game.
On Sunday, the Packers flashed that top effort that makes them a Super Bowl contender in crushing the Giants 41-17. But Chicago's win was as impressive, hanging 37 points on the Jets and showing that they can do it on offense, defense and special teams vs. anyone.
Another interesting NFC North battle is for last place, Minnesota at Detroit. The Lions' 34-27 win at Miami on Sunday left them able to leave the division cellar with a home win Sunday. Parity is overrated in the NFL, but the fact that the Lions can finish 10 games behind the Vikings one year and (at least) tie them the next is a tribute to the vagaries of the game.
2. Tampa Bay would have made a great NFC West champion. The Bucs can still make the playoffs, but it'll take a Saints loss to Atlanta Monday night, a road win in New Orleans next week and the Packers losing to the Bears.
Not gonna happen, although stranger things have.
Tampa's season has really been great, though, one of those that you just can't see coming. Josh Freeman completely removed the mistakes from his game as a sophomore, and adds himself to the list of legitimate franchise quarterbacks – teams like the Panthers and Cardinals are learning the hard way that you must have a franchise QB to compete.
It's too bad that Freeman and the Bucs, barring a mini-miracle, will miss out on the playoffs. Wouldn't you rather watch Tampa play an extra game rather than the Seahawks (who Tampa pasted 38-15 Sunday) or the Rams?
St. Louis, which got some of its mojo back in a 25-17 win over 49ers can at least bring some respectability to the NFC West by beating Seattle Sunday and winning the division with an 8-8 record.
3. The Patriots are playing a different brand of football than everybody else. Looking at the gamebook from New England's 34-3 win at Buffalo it jumped out that the Patriots had allowed 369 yards but just three points – a seemingly impossible feat of Bendability.
The average team allows a point for every 15 yards or so; the Patriots allowed one for every 123!
According to the pro-football-reference search engine, only four times previous did a team allow 369+ points and three points or fewer, most recently in 1999 by Cincinnati.
Amazing that New England's fatal flaw in 2009 was red-zone ineptitude. The Patriots have scored 60 touchdowns this year, 11 more than the second-place Colts. More amazing was the 75 touchdowns they scored in 2007 – sweet lord, that was ridiculous stuff.
What the 2010 Patriots have that the 2007 didn't is momentum. The 2007 Patriots stumbled over the finish line with a lot of narrow wins. Here in 2010, few teams have ever been hotter than the Patriots as the postseason nears, and it would rank as a pretty huge shock if they didn't tool on Miami next week to extend the run.
Not bad for a rebuilding year.
4. Funny how the shakiest coaches lost the biggest games. Mike Singletary. Norv Turner. Tom Coughlin. All of them with talented, underachieving rosters, all of them getting the wrong kind of attention from the media, all of them needing big wins on the playoff hunt.
All of them laying eggs.
For Singletary, it meant getting fired, while Turner and Coughlin will have to see which way the wind is blowing in San Diego and New York.
Singletary at least could lay blame at his "Mr. and Mr. Smith" quarterback problem. But there was enough talent elsewhere on the roster to think that an NFC West title (hardly a big accomplishment) should have been achievable.
Turner and Coughlin, meanwhile, had all the pieces, and had teams that found ways to lose games that they should have won. The Giants lost against better teams, while the Chargers lost when they were in the mood to lose – to Oakland twice, St. Louis, Seattle and Cincinnati on Sunday.
Either way, it's going to be an uncomfortable week for two veteran coaches.
5. The 2010 crop of wild cards might be the best ever. The Jets, Ravens and Saints all won playoff games last year, while the Packers lost a classic wildcard shootout 51-45 to the defending NFC champ Cardinals. All four teams have legitimate Super Bowl talent this year, and all four are more than likely going to be your wildcard teams this season. Replace the Packers with the Giants, and you add a team that won it all three years ago.
Either way, you'd take that group over division champs Rams/Seahawks, Chiefs, Eagles, Bears or Jaguars/Colts.
Since the league went to four divisions in 2002, only 10 wild-card teams have boasted records of 11-5 or better. This year, if Green Bay beats Chicago, the Jets beat Buffalo and the Saints win one of their final two, all four wild cards will be at least 11-5.
6. Tee-bow! Tee-bow! The 2010 crop of rookies was already looking like one of the best ever before its most famous name joined the list of excellence here of late.
Tim Tebow isn't a finished product, but back-to-back excellent games have him in the conversation to be Denver's starter next year. Denver fans witnessed pretty much the greatest moment of their season Sunday in the Broncos' 24-23 win over the Texans, as Tebow started gaining on John Elway's fourth-quarter comeback legend.
With most of the draft's top 10 picks playing up to their status, and other first-rounders like Brandon Graham, Mike Iupati, Maurkice Pouncey, Dez Bryant and Devin McCourty looking like perennial Pro Bowlers, the Class of 2010 is classy indeed.
7. The Ravens are quietly building an impressive resume. Baltimore has lost four games, but they were tough losses – five points at Cincy, three points at New England, five points at Atlanta and three vs. Pittsburgh. They were in position to win all four in the fourth quarter, but couldn't quite do it.
Baltimore hasn't been manhandled once under John Harbaugh; their worst beating was a 31-17 loss to Green Bay in 2009, a game in which the score was 21-17 heading into the fourth.
The Ravens didn't expend a lot of energy in their 20-10 win at Cleveland on Sunday and seem to be the quietest team in the playoff mix. But they've got a lot of things going right. Ray Rice is a factor whether he's getting three yards and a cloud of dust or breaking a 50-yarder, and Joe Flacco has quietly thrown just three picks over the last 11 games.
More importantly, they're one of the great road playoff teams in the NFL. The Ravens won two consecutive postseason games on the road in their Super Bowl-winning season of 2000, and they've added road playoff wins in 2001 (at Miami) and 2008 (at Miami, at Tennessee). And last year Baltimore pounded the Patriots in Foxboro in the wildcard round. It's the only game Tom Brady's lost at home since 2006 and it was no contest.
8. No one put on a better push to keep their jobs than Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer. Two weeks ago, only the Cincy organization's reputation for sticking with what they had seemed to be protecting this duo. At 2-11, with the No. 1 pick in reach, it had to be looking like the end of the line for both.
Then they woke up.
Cincy has played decent football, while losing all its close games. But the Bengals broke through by beating Cleveland 19-17 in Week 15 and then really handled San Diego Sunday in a 34-20 win.
Palmer went 30-of-44 for 478 yards, two TDs and no picks in the two victories, erasing many of the bad memories from earlier in the season.
And if the Bengals brass was on the fence about Lewis, seeing his team respond late in the season probably got them off it.
9. Three of NFL's major league-leaders were complete non-factors just 12 months ago. At this time last year, Cameron Wake, Arian Foster and Brandon Lloyd were just names on a roster. Wake was playing well but stuck behind Joey Porter in Miami, Foster was just getting a look in Houston and Lloyd was seeing his first action of the season in Denver.
And now, they're the probable sack champ, rushing champ and receiving champ.
Wake (14.0) has a 1.5-sack edge on Jason Babin, Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware. Foster (1,436) is 56 rushing yards up on Jamaal Charles. And Lloyd (1,375) is 88 receiving yards up on Reggie Wayne. Atlanta's Roddy White is probably the guy with the best shot of surpassing Lloyd. He boasts 1,284 receiving yards and still has two games left to play.
Interestingly, all three of them got their only starts of the season in Week 17 last year, suggesting that fantasy fans should keep an eye out this weekend for the unexpected stars of tomorrow.
10. The Colts finally got a break on the injury front when Maurice Jones-Drew went down. There's little doubt that the Jaguars would have beaten the Redskins instead of losing 20-17 in overtime had they had their little big man. But, for the first time in his career, Jones-Drew had to sit out with a knee injury, and the Jags couldn't overcome the loss.
Washington hadn't stopped the run with any regularity all season long, and Jones-Drew certainly hadn't been stopped much of late. Before getting hurt last week vs. Indy, Jones-Drew had put together five straight 100-yard games.
Backup Rashad Jennings couldn't fill his shoes against the 'Skins. He carried 15 times for 32 yards and caught four balls for 29 yards.
And you wonder why the Colts wear those horseshoes on their helmets.
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