Monday Morning Hangover
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 16, 2007
This week's Monday Morning Hangover was pieced together on soggy stadium napkins while shaking off the effects of too much Whale's Tale Pale Ale and and Hurricane Rum from our friends at Cisco Brewers and Triple 8 Distillery of Nantucket.
And since we're in a New England state of mind, let's start out with the only compelling storyline between now and the playoffs: the Patriots' chase of perfection.
As the 2007 Patriots were beating the Jets to become just the second 14-0 team in history, the 1972 Dolphins were reuniting at Dolphin Stadium, and inspiring the 2007 Miami team to win their first game of the year (a 22-16 victory over a Baltimore team that hung up their Christmas stockings and their cleats a couple weeks ago).
It's the closest the NFL's only two 14-0 teams will ever come to being on the field at the same time. So we size up the two teams through 14 games the only way we know how, with the Cold, Hard Football Facts:
- The 1972 Dolphins beat two Quality Opponents, outscoring them by 10.0 PPG
- The 2007 Patriots beat five Quality Opponents, outscoring them by 17.4 PPG
- The 1972 Dolphins scored 27.5 PPG
- The 2007 Patriots scored 37.4 PPG
- The 1972 Dolphins surrendered 12.2 PPG
- The 2007 Patriots surrendered 16.6 PPG
- The 1972 Dolphins won 11 games by double digits
- The 2007 Patriots won 11 games by double digits
- The 1972 Dolphins won four games by three touchdowns or more
- The 2007 Patriots won nine games by three touchdowns or more
- The 1972 Dolphins beat zero division winners and zero playoff teams
- The 2007 Patriots beat four division winners and five likely playoff teams
Clearly, New England has had more blow-out victories. But you can argue that the 1972 Dolphins were actually just as dominant as the 2007 Patriots. The Patriots outscore teams by 20.8 PPG and the Dolphins outscored teams by 15.3 PPG. But that difference can largely be chalked up to the different eras in which they played: the Dolphins played in the low-scoring Dead Ball Era. The Patriots play in the high-scoring Live Ball Era.
The Dolphins beat their opponents by an average of 2.254 points to 1. The Patriots beat their opponents by an average of 2.253 points to 1 point. We call that a wash.
But the Patriots have definitely done it against tougher opposition.
And with their 20-10 win over the Jets yesterday, the Patriots sewed up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. So they'll have one luxury the 1972 Dolphins never did.
Because of an archaic playoff formula that awarded home-field advantage in conference championship games on a rotating basis, the undefeated 1972 Dolphins actually had to visit 11-3 Pittsburgh for the AFC title game.
The Steelers were fresh off the first postseason win in franchise history, a 13-7 victory over Oakland that came courtesy of the Immaculate Reception, but didn't have the horses to hold off the undefeated Dolphins at home, losing 21-17.
BUT ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY ...
Indy hardly impressed yesterday, with a 21-14 win at Oakland. But with a 12-2 record, they're now the first team in history to win 12 or more games in five straight seasons.
The Colts are likely to finish 14-2, as are the NFC's Cowboys and Packers, and each of them present a challenge in this parity-less NFL that the parity-filled league of 1972 didn't offer up against the Dolphins.
Other than the Dolphins, no team in the NFL in 1972 was better than 11-3. Here in 2007, it's very likely a record four teams will finish 14-2 or better.
The Colts already proved they can hang with the Patriots. And let's add another team to the list of contenders that could knock off the Patriots: the Jaguars.
Any game between the Patriots and Jaguars would be played in Foxboro. But as Jacksonville proved in its snowy, 29-22 win over Pittsburgh yesterday, the Jags can play well out of their element.
NEWS FLASH! IT'S HARD TO THROW IN SH*TTY WEATHER
There were four wintry bad-weather games yesterday. The Jaguars beat the Steelers, 29-22, in Pittsburgh; the Patriots beat the Jets, 20-10, in Foxboro; the Browns beat the Bills, 8-0, in Cleveland; and the Redskins beat the Giants, 22-10, in New Jersey.
Only the Jets' supposedly weak-armed Chad Pennington had anything that approached a normal completion percentage (25 of 38, 65.8 percent), and nobody reached 200 yards passing. Garrard came closest, passing for 197 yards.
Garrard: 17 of 33 (51.5%), 197 yards, 5.97 YPA, 3 TD, 1 INT
Roethlisberger: 16 of 33 (48.5%), 146 yards, 4.42 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT
Anderson: 9 of 24 (37.5%), 137 yards, 5.71 YPA, 0 TD, 0 INT
Edwards: 13 of 33 (39.4%), 124 yards, 3.76 YPA, 0 TD, 0 INT
Brady: 14 of 27 (51.9%), 140 yards, 5.19 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT
Pennington: 25 of 38 (65.8%), 186 yards, 4.89 YPA, 0 TD, 0 INT
T. Collins: 8 of 25 (32.0%), 166 yards, 5.78 YPA, 0 TD, 0 INT
E. Manning: 18 of 52 (34.6%), 184 yards, 3.11 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT
These eight quarterbacks combined for just seven TD passes ... and six of them by Garrard and Roethlisberger in the Jacksonville-Pittsburgh game. Miraculously, despite the snowy conditions, only Garrard and Brady threw picks (one each).
JAGUARS MADE THE OFFSEASON MOVE OF THE YEAR
The Cold, Hard Football Facts was one of the few outlets in the nation that applauded Jacksonville's preseasoon decision to dump Byron Leftwich in favor of relatively untested back-up Garrard.
Our reaction met with great enmity from the lesser football sites, most of which thought it was the wrong decision. But Garrard has been the singular difference between the 10-4 Jaguars of 2007 and the 8-8 Jaguars of 2006.
Garrard entered yesterday's victory over Pittsburgh with the lowest interception percentage in NFL history (1 of 274 attempts, 0.36 percent). And, as loyal Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know, players who don't throw interceptions win games.
He threw 1 pick yesterday, on 33 attempts on a snowy day in Pittsburgh, but his rate of throwing INTS on 0.65 percent of attempts (2 of 307) remains second in history. The leader, of all people, is Damon Huard who last year with Kansas City tossed just 1 INT in 244 attempts (0.41 percent).
If you look at other variables, you'll find that Garrard is the one great differentiator between the 2006 Jaguars and 2007 Jaguars. The Jacksonville defense, for example, was actually better last year, when it ranked second in total defense and fourth in scoring defense. This year, Jacksonville ranks 14th in total defense and eighth in scoring defense.
FEAR THE DOLPHINS!
Miami's 22-16 win over Baltimore was its first win since a 21-0 victory over, that's right, the Patriots in Week 14 of the 2006 season. New England is 19-1 since that day. Miami is 1-16 since that day.
The Patriots host the Dolphins next week, of course, with a chance to surpass the 14-0 mark of the 1972 Dolphins and become the first team in history to go 15-0.
DEC. 16: DEJA VU FOR DOLPHINS
Cold, Hard Football Facts friend and contributor John Dudley chimed in today to let us know that Dec. 16 is a historic date for Miami victories over Baltimore.
Not only did the Dolphins beat the Ravens yesterday for their first win of the season, it was 35 years ago to the day that the 1972 Dolphins completed their undefeated regular season with a 16-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts.
BRIAN WESTBROOK IS SMARTER THAN WE ARE
Of course, there are certain single-celled organisms smarter than we are. We, like you, nearly coughed up Beer No. 11 when Philly's Brian Westbrook, heading into the end zone completely unimpeded for a game-sealing score against the Cowboys, chose instead to fall down at the 1 yard line.
Another touchdown would have given the Eagles a 17-6 lead with less than 2 minutes to play. Surely, Westbrook needed to score and put the game away, we thought.
But not Westbrook. By falling down inches shy of the end zone, Donovan McNabb was able to take four straight knees and run out the clock with Dallas never touching the ball again.
It was a sense of field awareness that makes Westbrook one of the premier players in the league: in 99.99999 percent of instances, any other player would have run into the end zone.
The other team would have gotten the ball back – albeit with little shot to win – but a shot just the same. Westbrook ensured that the Cowboys never got that shot.
NICE JOB, WADE
Our big Monday feature for this week? It was supposed to be a glowing report on our possible Coach of the Year, Wade Phillips of the Cowboys.
Then his team went out and laid an egg against the Eagles, losing 10-6, in their worst offensive showing of the season.
The 12-2 Cowboys are suddenly in danger of losing homefield advantage in the playoffs. It's not likely – their final two opponents are Carolina and Washington – but Dallas must go on the road for both of those games. And as the Panthers proved with their win at home over Seattle yesterday, we're not dead yet! The 12-2 Packers, meanwhile, must win at Chicago next week and a home finale versus the free-falling Lions.
Still, it's been a remarkable run for Phillips. Don't forget, the Cowboys were hardly a foregone conclusion as one of the great teams of 2007. They were just 9-7 last year and snuck into the playoffs as a wildcard team on the last week of the season, before losing a 21-20 heartbreaker at Seattle.
Then they lose a legendary coach, Bill Parcells, only to pick up Phillips, who's success this year is really unprecedented. Entering this year, he had a career record of 48-39 (.552) and had never won more than 11 games in a season. He's also never won a playoff game (0-3).
So, given his past record, the 12-2 performance of his Cowboys has been a career year for the coach. Now he just has to earn the first postseason victories over his career, or a wonderful 2007 season is all for naught.
CHARGERS, LIONS REAFFIRM MOMENTUM AS A CONCEPT
San Diego's 51-14 victory over Detroit yesterday marked the culmination of two turnaround stories for teams heading in opposite directions.
Four weeks into the Norv Turner Era, the Chargers were 1-3 and the object of scorn, derision and tears both inside and outside the organization. Today the Chargers are 9-5 and have wrapped up their second straight AFC West title.
The Lions, meanwhile, began the year as one of the league's great success stories with a 6-2 record and major-media articles about QB Jon Kitna, who promised a 10-win season.
Today, the Lions are 6-8 and back in their rightful place as Black & Blow Division cellar-dwellers (actually, they have a half-game lead over the Bears heading into Chicago's Monday night showdown with Minnesota).
The six-to-eight wins might be enough to save Matt Millen's job. After all, it's quite an improvement over his traditional three-win seasons.
As for the Chargers, it will be interesting to see how the postseason plays out. In all likelihood, they'll get the No. 3 seed and host Cleveland, Jacksonville or Pittsburgh in the wildcard round. Then, if they win, it will be a visit to Indy.
As we saw last season when the Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer, the organization is so desperate for a playoff victory it would sacrifice a 14-2 coach. You might be desperate, too, if you had gone 13 seasons since your last playoff victory.
PLAYING (OR NOT) FOR THEIR COACH
Every game matters in December for an NFL coach on the brink of losing his job. Think an owner's sometimes volatile emotions don't cause him/her to make rash decisions? Look no further than the tear-stained cheeks of Wayne Huizenga for proof.
Carolina's John Fox and Baltimore's Brian Billick are two veteran coaches in similar situations. Both have been to Super Bowls with their teams, both have fallen on hard times.
But while the Panthers rallied for their coach, likely saving his skin with a nice 13-10 win over Seattle, the Ravens came one step closer to kicking their man out the door with a loss to the Dolphins.
Billick gets extra minuses for his coaching decisions Sunday, kicking a game-tying field goal from the 1-yard-line with a couple of seconds left instead of going for the win in Miami. On the road, with a No. 3 QB (Troy Smith) in the game? It's a Cold, Hard Football Fact: go for the win. Will it cost Billick? Time will tell.
PATRIOTS POISED TO JOIN 300 CLUB
In the world of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, the 300 Club is the average weight of one of our contributors. In the world of the NFL, it's the collection of teams who have scored 300 points more than they've surrendered.
It's a very exclusive club: nobody's ever done it.
The 1942 Bears, who we saw last week was the single most dominant team in history, came the closest. They were +292 in the scoring ledger (376-84).
The Patriots right now are one point behind at +291 (523-232). And with two games to play, New England merely needs to beat the 1-13 Dolphins and free-falling Giants by a combined nine points to become the first and only team to score 300 points more than they surrendered.
Here's how the 2007 Patriots stack up against some other notable teams, including the best teams of the NFL's most famous dynasties.
- 1942 Bears +292 (376-84)
- 2007 Patriots +291 (523-232)
- 1999 Rams +284 (526-242)
- 1962 Packers +267 (415-148)
- 1991 Redskins +261 (485-224)
- 1998 Vikings +260 (556-296)
- 1985 Bears +258 (456-198)
- 1968 Colts +258 (402-144)
- 1984 49ers +248 (475-227)
- 1968 Cowboys +245 (431-186)
- 1996 Packers +246 (456-210)
- 1972 Dolphins +214 (385-171)
- 1975 Steelers +211 (373-162)
- 1992 Cowboys +166 (409-243)
By the way, the Patriots have now won 17 straight regular-season games, tying the 1933-34 Bears for second-longest win streak in NFL history (official NFL records do not count postseason games). The 2003-04 Patriots hold the official record of 18 straight regular-season victories, along with 21 straight victories including their three wins in the 2003 playoffs.
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