Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
28 Dec 2005
by Al Bogdan
(Vivek is a bit under the weather this week, so it's a solo Scramble. Vivek sent in his best bets below.)
If Tampa Bay beats the New Orleans Saints in Tampa as expected on Sunday, they'll lock up the NFC South and the #3 seed in the playoffs. Even if the Saints somehow manage to end their four-game losing streak and pick up just their second conference victory on the season, Tampa is pretty much guaranteed a playoff spot anyway. In fact, the only scenarios in which Tampa could miss the playoffs are so obscure, that the NFL doesn't even bother to detail them as part of the official playoff scenarios. After you go through the usual "team X wins or ties" scenarios to get Tampa into the playoffs, the official scenarios end with the curious phrase "TB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over DAL or NYG," without any explanation for what actually has to happen in that scenario for the Bucs to end up on the driving range next week.
Have no fear, Tampa fans looking for something to worry about this New Year's weekend, here is what needs to happen for the Buccaneers to miss the playoffs. To even get to a tiebreaker situation which would leave Tampa Bay on the outside looking in, the Raiders must first beat the Giants on New Year's Eve. On Sunday, Washington has to beat Philadelphia to win the NFC East, forcing the Giants into a wild card spot. After the Saints beat Tampa, Carolina has to beat Atlanta to capture the NFC South crown. Finally, Dallas has to beat St. Louis in the nightcap on Sunday to finish with 10 wins. If any of those things don't happen, Tampa is in the playoffs.
But if all those things do happen, the Buccaneers will be tied with Dallas and New York for the two Wild Card spots. As we all know, the first step to break a three-way Wild Card tie is to get down to one team per division. The Giants would win out over the Cowboys, because New York has one more NFC East win than Dallas does. New York and Tampa would then battle it out to determine who the #5 seed will be in the NFC.
New York and Tampa didn't play this year, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is out. After Tampa's loss to New Orleans, both teams will have NFC records of 8-4. Tampa and New York have the requisite four common opponents to apply the third tiebreaker (Minnesota, New Orleans, Washington, San Francisco), but thanks to losses at San Francisco and the Week 17 upset at home, Tampa will finish tied with New York at 3-2 over their five games against the common opponents.
That brings us to the old reliable strength of victory tiebreaker, a tiebreaker so rarely used that the NFL doesn't list an explanation for how you determine it on its website. A team's strength of victory is the winning percentage of the opponents that a team has beaten this season. Since the two teams in the tiebreaker situation have defeated the same number of teams, and there haven't been any ties so far in the NFL this year, we'll use the total number of wins instead of winning percentage for simplicity.
Taking into account the scenario which is already needed to get to this point, New York would have a strength of victory of 71 wins while Tampa would have 70. The Giants would need wins from Arizona, San Francisco, Kansas City, and Denver to add to their strength of victory, while Tampa would need Minnesota, Buffalo, Green Bay, Miami and Detroit to win to add to the team's total.
If both teams end up with the same strength of victory, we next go to strength of schedule, adding in the records of the teams New York and Tampa lost to this season. The Giants seem to have the advantage in that regard, with the Buccaneers having lost to San Francisco and the Jets and the Giants not having a loss to anyone with a sub-.500 record. If Tampa gets the strength of victory tiebreaker over New York, the Giants end up with the #6 seed because of their aforementioned tiebreaker over Dallas.
If the Giants lock up the #5 seed, however, that still leaves Tampa and Dallas to battle it out for the final playoff spot. The teams didn't meet head to head, and would both have 8-4 NFC records if Dallas beats St. Louis and Tampa loses to New Orleans. The teams have four common opponents (Carolina, Washington, San Francisco, and Detroit), with Dallas and Tampa both 3-2 in those games. That brings us back to our good buddy strength of victory. Dallas would start with the disadvantage to Tampa, with a strength of victory of 69 to Tampa's 70. Both teams defeated Detroit, making the result of the Lions' game against the Steelers meaningless for this discussion.
Dallas does have an advantage, however, in that it shares three of its four remaining vanquished opponents with the Giants -- Arizona, San Francisco, and Kansas City. Their fourth, San Diego, plays against New York's fourth, Denver. Since the Bucs had to lose the strength of victory tiebreaker with the Giants for their tiebreakers with the Cowboys to matter, they'll probably lose a nearly identical tiebreaker to Dallas. If the Bucs and Cowboys tie on strength of victory, they would move to strength of schedule, which as we mentioned before, doesn't help out the Buccaneers.
So what does this mean for you Tampa fans out there who want to avoid having to sit through the final Sunday Night Football game of the year on ESPN waiting to see if Dallas has a chance to knock your team out of the playoffs? In addition to the playoff scenarios listed everywhere, add "losses by San Diego, Kansas City, San Francisco, and Arizona" and "wins by Minnesota, Buffalo, Green Bay, and Miami" to the list. If Tampa is losing to New Orleans late, get out your slide rule and start checking the scoreboards to see if you'll need to cancel your plans on Sunday night.
Jim Mora Sr. was arguably the greatest coach of all time once he got to his post-game press conference. His legendary "Playoffs?! Don't talk about playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs?! I'm just hoping we can win a game, another game!!?!?" rant will be replayed on sports radio stations and on highlight shows across the country until those forms of media are no longer in existence.
Not to be outdone by his poppa, Jim Mora Jr. created his own scene on Saturday, after an interviewer from the official radio station of the Atlanta Falcons had the audacity to ask him why his team was punting with a minute left in overtime. Mora responded to the insulting inquiry by taking off his headset and throwing it to the ground, reportedly almost striking one of the radio station's employees.
Count me among those who won't miss Monday Night Football next season. Of course, we'll still have Monday night football next season, just on a different channel as ESPN starts carrying the games. There will also still be a primetime game on broadcast television every week as the Sunday night game moves to NBC.
So what exactly is the big deal here? If anything, football fans will benefit from this switch. Moving the broadcast game to Sunday night will allow the NFL to more easily give that network flexibility to get better games later in the season. It's much easier logistically for the NFL to switch a game from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night than it would be to switch that game to Monday night.
With fantasy season over, our readers are starting to send in some of their stories of what went wrong this season. Here's one:
You asked for the nightmare drafts. I've got you covered. Situation is an eight team league, start 2 QB, 3 WR, 2 RB, 1 TE, 1 FLEX (QB/RB/WR/TE), 1 K, 1 DEF, and one head coach. This is my draft:
1 K. Jones, DET RB; 2 D. Culpepper, MIN QB; 3 M. Bulger, STL QB; 4 B. Westbrook, PHI RB; 5 S. Jackson, STL RB; 6 M. Clayton, TAM WR; 7 H. Ward, PIT WR; 8 D. Jackson, SEA WR; 9 J. Plummer, DEN QB; 10 M. Bennett, MIN RB
Plus, this is the first year of a keeper league where you retain three players each year, so the damage is magnified. Manning? Tomlinson? Nah. Steven Jackson! Mike Anderson! (And, Rudi Johnson, the result of that sweet mid-season deal you guys recommended I take.)
Who would have recommended something like taking Kevin Jones with a first round pick? Oh yeah, that was us. Only Westbrook was a decent fantasy option this season, and even he got hurt in time to destroy whatever fantasy playoff hopes you may have had.
Rex is looking for some special teams points:
So all-knowing football guru people, tell me if you can ... who are the 'hottest' punt and kick return guys in the league right now? Thank you and have a great hoilday season!
The hottest one you'll be hearing about all off-season is Terrence McGee from Buffalo, who returned a kickoff and an interception for touchdowns against Cincinnati on Sunday. McGee is a free agent and should earn himself a huge signing bonus from one of the many teams in the league that can use an upgrade at both cornerback and kick returner.
The best kick returner in the league this year has been Jerome Mathis, one of the few bright spots on the Texans this year. Not only is he number two in the league behind McGee in average kick return yards, but he's one of the main reasons -- if not the only reason -- Houston has an amazingly dominant kick return team according to our special teams rankings. Through Week 15, the Texans kick return squad has produced 27.5 points above average, five points higher than any other team since 1998, which is as far back as the Football Outsiders special teams rankings go.
There haven't been too many spectacular punt returners in the NFL this year. There have only been six punts returned for a touchdown, compared to 11 kickoffs brought back to the house. For all the heat he's received for his poor play at cornerback, Pacman Jones has put together a nice season as the punt return man in Tennessee. He's averaged nearly ten yards a return, including one touchdown. He's also done a nice job on kickoffs, averaging over 25 yards per return. Both Tennessee's punt and kick return teams rank among the best in the league according to our rankings.
Reader Jeremy Norris gives his nomination for this week's KCW Award:
I'd like to nominate CB Will Allen of the Giants for this week's Keep Choppin' Wood Award. He got beat badly on all three of Santana Moss' touchdowns, and he was out of position on Clinton Portis' 19 yard TD run around the left end, leading to the score. That's four Redskins TDs that resulted directly from Allen blowing his assignment in one way or another.
Thanks for that great transition, Jeremy. As bad as Allen was against Washington, he doesn't deserve all the blame for those Moss touchdowns. According to Tom Coughlin, Allen was supposed to have help from a safety on the two long passes to Moss, but that help never arrived. If you want to give the award to someone from the Giants for their loss on Sunday, you could give it to Eli Manning for not throwing an accurate pass all game after Plaxico Burress dropped a sure touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
I'm going to stay away from that game, though, since the Giants still clinched a playoff spot after losing to Washington. If you're going to give it to a defensive back, you should give it to one who cost his team a playoff spot instead. This week's award goes to the players who weren't able to stop the vaunted Baltimore passing attack -- Ralph Brown, Dovonte Edwards, Antoine Winfield, Fred Smoot, Darren Sharper, and everyone else in the Minnesota secondary who couldn't stop Kyle Boller from throwing for 289 yards (second most in his career) and three touchdowns (tying a career high).
The standings should be updated shortly, but for now, here are your Loser League All-Stars:
QB: Steve McNair, TEN: -3 points (13 passes, 34 yards; 1 carry, 8 yards; 2 INT)
RB: J.J. Arrington, ARI: 2 points (10 carries, 23 yards)
RB: Antowain Smith, NO: 3 points (13 carries, 33 yards; 2 catches, 5 yards)
WR: Eddie Kennison, KC: 1 point (2 catches, 19 yards)
WR: Justin Gage, CHI: 1 point (2 catches, 14 yards)
K: Lawrence Tynes, KC: -4 points (3/4 XP, 0/1 FG)
Vivek: (2-1 last week, 26-26-1 overall)
Not being in the red is uncharted territory for me. Combine this with my performance on The Writers web site, and I'm pretty happy with my 2005 picks.
Al: (0-2-1, 21-21-2 overall)
I've gone 3-13-2 since coming back from paternity leave to let Vivek back into this race. I can't risk losing this on a tiebreaker because of Vivek's nine extra games, so I'm going to pick 12, that's right, 12 games this week to make sure that doesn't happen. I'm leaving out the Washington/Philadelphia game just so I don't have to root for anyone in that matchup. Every other game that you didn't pick gets one from me.
The Broncos are holding four starters out against the Chargers, and it's unlikely Jake Plummer and other key Denver players will see any action in the second half now that the team has the #2 seed locked up. San Diego will play hard to finish their disappointing season on an up note, and to knock the Chiefs out of the playoffs. Michael Turner should have a nice game against Denver's second string front seven.
We'll see a lot of Jim Sorgi, Dominic Rhodes, and Troy Walters, but the starters should be in long enough to give the backups a ten point cushion.
Look for Kyle Boller to continue his inexplicable late season surge and totally screw up the Ravens' offensive plans for the off-season.
FoxSports doesn't have the odds for this game up as of press time, so I'm going by USAToday, which inexplicably has the Bills as only a one point favorite against the Jets.
DeAngelo Hall is out for the season finale. If Steve Smith can keep himself in the game, he could have a 200-yard day.
The Vikings will be interested in trying to keep their jobs, while the Bears are looking to keep everyone healthy. We should see a big dose of Kyle Orton in this one, which makes the Vikings defense a great fantasy play for those leagues that are still active in Week 17.
Yes, Cincinnati's defense has not played well as of late, but neither has Kansas City's. You can beat their corners deep, which means a big game from Chad Johnson. The Chiefs may have been able to contain a hobbled LaDainian Tomlinson last week, but a healthy Rudi Johnson should do well if his offensive line can get him into the Kansas City secondary.
This was supposed to be the Doug Flutie farewell game, but New England will still have a shot at moving into the #3 spot in the playoffs with a win.
The Steelers could have a playoff spot locked up already thanks to a San Diego win over Denver's second string.
Even though Jacksonville is locked into the #5 seed in the AFC, I still like their chances in this game. Byron Leftwich should play more than he would otherwise so that he can get some reps at actual game speed in preparation for the playoffs.
I don't care if Seneca Wallace plays 95% of his team's offensive snaps, they should stay within a field goal of the Packers. I just can't bring myself to give points with this Green Bay team.
It seems like the Rams haven't played a football game in a month. There's no reason to expect them to show up in a road game against the Cowboys, who Bill Parcells will have playing hard in hopes of finishing the year with 10 wins, even if they're out of the playoff hunt by kickoff.
30 comments, Last at 01 Jan 2006, 10:34am by NextCoast Winos