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Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 21, 2008
This week's Monday Morning (turned afternoon) Hangover was pieced together after a long weekend pounding many bottles of Brasserie Dupont's Les Bons Voeux Christmas beer. This is good hooch, folks: it comes in a fancy corked champagne bottle (so you can pop it on New Year's Eve, too, with all the pizzazz of champagne) and you should drink it out of a big win glass. It's bubbly and tasty and goes great with food.
On another note: the big prize in the CHFF Yankee swap Christmas party this weekend was a bacon wallet.
Sounds great. But turns out it wasn't a wallet made of actual bacon. Turns out it was a wallet made of plastic that merely looked like bacon ... which we found out the hard way: when it started to release a poisonous black smoke while frying in a skillet.
(By the way, if your team's game doesn't appear here this week, it's because our abbreviated hangover includes only those games that had playoff implications ... sorry San Francisco and St. Louis.)
Game of the Week: N.Y. Giants 34, Carolina 28
Panthers-Giants will probably go down as the biggest and best game of the 2008 season: an overtime showdown with huge playoff ramifications between two of the toughest teams in football.
The Giants gave the Panthers a taste of their own medicine – as noted in our Week 16 winners & losers – as the tandem of Derrick Ward and Brandon Jacobs combined for 302 yards on the ground just two weeks after Carolina's tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart shredded Tampa for 301 yards on the ground.
The most promising aspect for the Giants was the return to the smash-mouth style football that had left them in recent weeks. New York dominated:
- The ground battle (301 to 158)
- The clock battle (39:07 to 25:56)
- The second half (21 to 7)
In the process, he Giants became the first NFC team in 15 years to win the Super Bowl one year and follow it up with the conference's top seed the next year.
The Cowboys pulled off the feat back in 1993 and held serve as the top seed to win their second consecutive Super Bowl – the last NFC team to capture back-to-back NFL titles.
Christmas Song of the Week: The Trolls have gone astray
The wisdom of our readers is clearly in question in this week's homepage Troll Poll. As of Hangover press time, 73 percent of you said the best Christmas song of all time is a song other than "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby.
We hate to bear bad news here during the holidays, but 73 percent of you are wrong.
"White Christmas" is the best Christmas song ever because it was introduced in the 1942 movie "Holiday Inn," in the early days of World War II, when things looked bleak for western democracies and at a time when millions of Americans were fighting overseas in God-forsaken shitholes like Northern Africa or Guadalcanal ... or Europe. And, well, the world looked a hell of a lot darker then than it does today.
So it's not just a pretty song. It's a cultural benchmark that captured the hearts of millions of Americans overseas (perhaps like our pal Jerry McConnell) and the memories of those who sat here at home in misery wondering if their sons and daughers would ever return. It's a song that defined, in many ways, the Greatest Generation, the folks who sacrificed their lives and their family members and one of their most sacred holidays so that assholes could sit around today and pretend to be offended by a harmless symbol on a town square.
So next time you hear "White Christmas," don't just think about Bing Crosby's baritone ... think about your poor friggin' grandparents and the hell they went through back in the 1940s, and how when they heard this song that maybe they just wished so painfully to return home for Christmas. And maybe think, too, about the Americans overseas today.
And that, Charlie Brown, is why "White Christmas" is the greatest Christmas song. (It also happened to sell more copies than any other song in history, too.)
As Irving Berlin, a Russian-born Jew, reportedly said after completing his Christmas ode: "I've just finished the best song I've ever written. Hell, I've just finished the best song anybody's ever written."
(This is the version of the song as it appeared in the follow-up to "Holiday Inn" called "White Christmas.")
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Tennessee 31, Pittsburgh 14
The 12-2 Titans owned the league's best record, including a 6-1 mark at home, but entered their Week 16 showdown against the Steelers at LP Field as underdogs.
After 60 hard-fought minutes of football, there's no doubt that Tennessee is the team to beat in the AFC.
The Titans locked up the top seed in the AFC by forcing Pittsburgh's volatile QB Ben Roethlisberger into four turnovers (2 interceptions, 2 lost fumbles).
Tennessee rookie defensive end Jason Jones led the ball-hawking effort, forcing three fumbles and recording 3.5 sacks, while safety Michael Griffin picked off two passes and returned one 83 yards for a touchdown.
Roethlisberger has committed 21 turnovers (14 INTs, 7 lost fumbles) this year, matching the league-leading total of Brett Favre (19 INTs, 2 lost fumbles).
Not a good sign for the Steelers who, even with a first-round bye and a home playoff game, will not face a single easy out in the top-heavy AFC playoffs.
Buffalo 30, Denver 23
It's a sad sign of the state of the conference when the team with the best record in the AFC West loses – at home – to the team with the worst record in the AFC East.
It looks worse when you consider the Broncos were locked in something akin to a die-or-die game and that the Bills were stuck in a 1-7 tailspin that included home losses to the Browns and 49ers
It looks even worse when you consider that the Bills had not enjoyed a single victory over a Quality Team all year until beating the Broncos.
But "Quality" is sometimes a relative term: No matter who wins the Denver-San Diego showdown for the AFC West title on Sunday, the victor might go down as the worst division champ in league history.
The current owner of the title of worst division champ ever is the 1985 Browns, who captured the AFC Central with an 8-8 record, while being outscored 287-294. They're the only .500 division or conference champ in NFL history and one of the few teams that's reached the playoffs despite surrendering more points than they've scored.
Here's what it means for the sorry AFC West:
If the Chargers beat Denver in their primetime battle Sunday night, they'll join the 1985 Browns as the only division champs that didn't have a winning record.
If the Broncos win the game (barring a major blowout victory), they could enter the postseason with the worst scoring differential of any playoff team. Entering the season finale, the Broncos have been outscored by 47 points this year (349-396).
Either way, it won't look pretty when the AFC West winner has to face any of the red-hot teams that dominate the rest of the conference.
New England 47, Arizona 7
Only one of the teams that competed at snowy Gillette Stadium Sunday is assured a spot in the postseason – and a casual observer certainly couldn't tell which by the outcome.
The playoff-hopeful Patriots dominated the NFC West champs from the start, limiting the Cardinals to three offensive plays and a punt on each of their first four possessions.
By the time playoff-bound Arizona finally picked up a first down with 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter, New England already enjoyed a 21-0 lead.
The score was 47-0 when the Cardinals averted a shutout with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Matt Leinart, who had replaced an ineffective Kurt Warner. By connecting on just a third of his throws (6 of 18 for 30 yards), Warner equaled the lowest single-game completion percentage of his career.
The New England offense has become one of the big stories in the NFL over the past several weeks: the Patriots have scored 96 points in their last two games and have scored 47 or more three times in the past five weeks. They now stand as the highest scoring team in the AFC this year, averaging 26.5 PPG.
New England also kept alive a series of impressive streaks, including:
- 15 straight regular-season wins against the NFC – dating back to September 2005
- 5 straight wins against the Cardinals – dating back to 1991
- 11 straight December wins – dating back to 2006
Atlanta 24, Minnesota 17
The Vikings fumbled so many times on Sunday that it reminded us of a CHFF reader trying to pick up a girl in a bar.
Minnesota ball carriers fumbled seven times, with four recovered by the opportunistic Falcons, leading to 10 points – easily the difference in a 7-point game.
It was another nut-kicking loss for Vikings fans seemingly inured to them over the years, because it happened in a game they otherwise should have won. Widely criticized Minnesota QB Tarvaris Jackson outplayed Atlanta rookie phenom Matt Ryan, for example, while the Vikings won every major statistical battle:
- rushing yards (155 to 98)
- passing yards (195 to 124)
- first downs (24 to 18)
- Yards per play (5.0 to 3.8)
- And even penalties (3 for 15 to 6 for 70)
But the Vikings lost the two most important battles, turnovers (4 to 0) and score (24 to 17).
As a result, the Vikings not only fumbled away the game, they may have fumbled away – in typical Minnesota fashion – their shot at the playoffs.
To capture the NFC North, the Vikings now have to beat the Giants in Week 17 or hope that the Bears lose one of their last two to Green Bay (Monday night) and Houston.
It won't be easy.
Sure, the Giants have already wrapped up things in the NFC. But recent history has shown that the Giants don't rest for the playoffs: they play to win. Remember, it was only last year that the Giants already knew their playoff fate in the final week of the season, but laid it all on the line to play spoiler against the undefeated Patriots.
The Giants lost that game – but the moral victory propelled them to greater things in the playoffs. So, given that track record, it's hard to see the Giants laying down against the desperate Vikings.
Miami 38, Kansas City 31
Chad Pennington fell in Miami's lap back in August. He's proven to be the biggest acquisition of the 2008 off-season, and the Dolphins have the remarkable turnaround from 1-15 last year to 10-5 this year to prove it.
The Dolphins claimed a key road win this week when their rivals from New York could not, and claimed control of their own destiny in the AFC East in the process.
Pennington threw three touchdown passes to ensure a Miami victory, while the Jets – the team that released him when love-struck by the typically ineffective Brett Favre – faltered badly against a lousy Seattle team, thus giving the Dolphins the inside track to win the division.
All three of Pennington's scoring throws went to his tight ends, with Anthony Fasano catching two and David Martin grabbing the other. Miami tight ends have now caught 10 of the team's 18 TD passes.
For the third straight game, Pennington posted a passer rating above 100 (111.8), and his season mark of 96.4 ranks second in the NFL (Phillip Rivers, 104.0).
San Diego 41, Tampa Bay 24
With no runaway MVP candidate this season, Phillip Rivers is quietly building one hell of a resume in San Diego.
The fifth-year quarterback ranks No. 1 in most major passing categories, including touchdowns (32), yards per attempt (8.3) and passer rating (104.0). He's also fifth in yards (3,802) and ninth in completion percentage (64.8).
More importantly, Rivers has led the Chargers from the abyss and back into playoff contention. In fact, their season finale is, for all practical intents and purposes, a playoff game: San Diego, winners of three straight, hosts Denver Sunday in a winner-take-all primetime battle for the AFC West title.
The Chargers have been tough-luck losers this season: their eight defeats have come by a combined 33 points, and they're the only team in the AFC West that's scored more points than it has surrendered. They lost by one point, 39-38, in Denver early this season.
San Diego has also faced some stiff competition, with 10 games against Quality Opponents – nobody in the AFC has played more. However, the Chargers have struggled with a 3-7 record in those 10 games.
Seattle 13, New York Jets 3
His stat line may not compare with those of Drew Brees or Philip Rivers, but Seneca Wallace continues to prove to be a solid, though probably not spectacular NFL quarterback. Of course, in our eyes, solid often wins out over the spectacular in football's most important position. After all, Tony Romo is spectacular ... and look where it's got him and the Cowboys. Brett Favre has been spectacular since the seas were made of molten lava ... and has one 12-year-old ring to show for it.
Wallace, however, has quietly posted a 90.9 passer rating over his nine appearances this season, and has played his best football in the last three weeks.
In his past three games against the Jets, Rams and Patriots, Wallace has completed 53 of 78 passes (68%) for 613 yards, 7.9 YPA, 4 TD, 0 INT and a 108.5 passer rating. His only interception of the season came in his first start of the year and his current streak of 189 attempts without an interception is the longest in the NFL.
Even more impressive, Wallace is doing all this despite playing in an injury riddled Seahawks offense. Sunday, all five of Seattle's offensive linemen were injury replacements with only Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack having started an NFL game prior to this season.
Washington 10, Philadelphia 3
The Eagles of the Andy Reid Era have been anything but a running offense, throwing the ball 55 percent of the time.
But if the 2008 season is any indication, Philadelphia may be at their best when they utilize their ground game.
In their eight wins, the Eagles average 31.4 carries and 124.9 YPG on the ground and are unbeaten when they rush 24 times or more in a game. In their five losses and one tie, Philadelphia averages 20 carries for 80.1 YPG.
This phenomenon is nothing new for Reid's Eagles. In the 159 games since he became the head man in Philadelphia, the Eagles are 67-21 (.761) when they run 25 times or more and 30-40-1 (.430) when they don't.
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