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?
24 Dec 2008
by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley
With Vince back from his trip to St. Louis (yes, he went up the Arch), it's time to say thanks again to Bill Barnwell for filling in last week -- and time to look forward to this weekend's action. By now, you know what's on the line for teams like the Jets and the Dolphins, or the Eagles and the Cowboys. But what about the Redskins and 49ers, or Giants and Vikings? Let's go game-by-game through the Week 17 slate and figure out what's on the line in every contest:
Titans at Colts: Oh Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
With the Titans having locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, will we see an emotionally fragile Vince Young take snaps under center this week? How nervous (and outraged) will Colts fans be if the Chargers beat the Broncos, and the likely 12-4 Colts are forced to go on the road to face 8-8 San Diego? Is there a reason that I'm writing this paragraph entirely in question format, and does it have anything to do with eggnog?
Lions at Packers: The Schadenfreude Bowl
We all know that the Lions will lose on Sunday, but here's something I just learned courtesy of the hilariously named SportsNation blog The Pride of Detriot: If the Lions let the Packers hang 48 points on 'em on Sunday, that will bring the Lions' season total to 534, and a new record for the most points allowed in a single season (the 1981 Colts allowed 533). C'mon Lions, lose in a blowout and make all of us Seahawks fans -- and Bengals and Rams and Chiefs fans -- feel some guilty holiday cheer.
Patriots at Bills: Jauron or Jauroff?
Bills owner Ralph Wilson says that head coach Dick Jauron's fate will be decided in the next two weeks; meanwhile, Jauron himself refuses to divulge whether he's even under contract. Better hope this game doesn't determine your fate, Dick.
Chiefs at Bengals: Please, Please, Please Don't Fire Herm
With G.M. Carl Peterson on his way out the door, we've officially begun the Herm Edwards head coach death watch. Although he clearly deserves to be fired, his loss would likely lead to mass suicide among our loyal readers of The Week in Quotes, so let us all make it our Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Festivus wish that Herm quickly land a gig with ESPN and be paired with Emmitt Smith.
EMMITT: Coach, did you expect to get debacled against the Dolphins and their innocuous Wildcat offense?"
HERM: Well, we expected to see some of that, and so we prepared for that. We just didn't execute what we prepared, and that's on me. You understand, Emmitt, THAT'S ON ME! We've got a lot of young guys with something to prove, and when they prove what they are trying to prove, we will find that success is proof of what we are all trying to prove. But we can build on this.
EMMITT: Well coach, don't quit. Don't even quit.
Jaguars at Ravens: Shack-Fu, Del Rio Don't Got Nothin' to Prove
So the Jaguars finally forced out longtime Vice President of Player Personnel James "Shack" Harris this week. Although he didn't get nearly as much press, Harris is arguably the only person on the planet worse than Matt Millen at evaluating wide receiver talent (consider: Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Jerry Porter). With that said, can you identify which of the following lyrics from Shaquille O'Neal's "Shaq-Fu: The Return" are genuine?
I bring the ruckus for you brothers I jam like Smuckers
Don't udder because my style is buttah
My styles act wild like Jurassic Park after dark
Tyrannosaurus Rex blows the discotheque
I pose the threat, like an Arabian, blowin up your stadiums
My milky styles flows Canals like Panama
My style's water like Evian, that's why you Wonder like
Stevie and how I get wreck with Erick Sermon and
Shaq-Diesel and, I'm comin down with the funk
Punks, that's how we go, you know my style
You know my steelo
Answer: They're all real.
Jets at Dolphins: Hey, Who Are the Quarterbacks?
You should probably watch this game.
Seahawks at Cardinals: Goodbye, Walrus
As the Cardinals stumble into the playoffs, seemingly devoid of a running game or a defense, a surprisingly motivated Seahawks team will roll into Glendale on two-game winning streak and playing their final game for Mike Holmgren. Can Kurt Warner can go from NFL MVP candidate to "Guy the Cardinals might need to think about benching in the playoffs" in a mere three weeks? Tune in to find out.
Redskins at 49ers: We Want More Trou Dropped
Perhaps the most disappointing development this season is Mike Singletary's rapid evolution from Crazy Loon Who Might Out-Herm Herm to mature, confident head coach. The 49ers will have a very interesting decision to make in April, as Shaun Hill may have done just enough to convince the front office to hold off on drafting a quarterback. A win at home will likely lead the team to drop the "interim" from Singletary's job description, so you can bet FO's TWIQ department is rooting for San Francisco.
Rams at Falcons: Dirty Birds Build Nest of Padded Stats
With a playoff berth ensured, only two things stand between Atlanta and a first-round bye: A Saints win over the Panthers, and one of the worst defenses in recent history. A win here is a foregone conclusion, so Roddy White and Michael Turner can devote their energies to chasing the receiving and rushing yardage titles -- and Turner can breach the dreaded 370-carry barrier.
Bears at Texans: Prepping for 2009
Before the season, I thought the Texans would have a losing season before becoming playoff contenders in 2009. A win here would let them end 2008 on a 5-1 streak, with plenty of momentum next year. The Bears, meanwhile, couldn't care less about that -- a win here and a loss by the Vikings (or losses by the Cowboys and Bucs) put them into this year's postseason.
Giants at Vikings: NFC Championship Preview?
Minnesota needs to win to wrap up their division; New York needs to get through this game without getting anyone injured. If both teams can meet their goals and keep winning, they'll be playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl in three weeks, for the second time this decade.
Panthers at Saints: Drew Chases Dan
Drew Brees needs 401 passing yards to break Dan Marino's 28-year-old record of 5,084. The most prolific day any passer had against the Panthers this season was Kurt Warner's 381-yard performance in October. Brees, meanwhile, has topped 401 yards four times in his career, including twice this season (against the Falcons and Broncos). There's also the little matter of Carolina needing a win to guarantee a first-round bye.
Browns at Steelers: What Dumb Thing Will Happen Next?
Neither team has anything to lose or gain on the field, so the real focus will be on what sideshow attraction will steal the show. Nothing is off limits. Franchise quarterbacks may get in fist-fights with teammates. Santa Claus may show up. Romeo Crennel could be fired by halftime. It's all on the table.
Raiders at Buccaneers: Jon Gruden Probably Still Hates Al Davis
Forget about the Bucs needing a win and help to make the postseason -- it's another chance for Chucky to humiliate his old employer! If it's a blowout in the fourth quarter, look for Gruden to put himself in at quarterback, like he did in Tampa Bay's practices leading to their win over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Cowboys at Eagles: The Playoffs Start Early
The loser is out; the winner is (probably) in. It's a heated division rivalry. And it's one more chance for Philly fans to boo Terrell Owens.
Broncos at Chargers: The Playoffs Start Early, Part 2
It's a 53-on-53 battle to determine the worst division winner in years! The Chargers can redeem Ed Hochuli by taking care of business at home. The Broncos can take pride in making the playoffs despite going 11 or 12 deep in the tailback slot. Either way, the winner will await the Colts seven days later. And it's not like either of these teams has a bad playoff history with Indiana-- um, sorry, Denver fans.
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.|
Some really stupid plays this week, from James Harrison's personal foul on a Titans field-goal attempt that led an eventual touchdown (and homefield advantage for Tennessee throughout the playoffs) to Eric Mangini's inexplicable decision to punt instead of kicking a 50-yard field goal -- after Jay Feely had just booted a 45-yarder on the previous play (negated by penalty). However, KCW this week is shared instead by Adrian Peterson (Bears version) and Packers safety Aaron Rouse. Having just tied the game on a field goal, with their season on the line, the Bears kicked to the Packers, needing only to hold them off for one minute to force overtime. During the ensuing kick return, Peterson grabbed Will Blackmon as he was running out of bounds at the 50-yard line -- and then threw Blackmon to the ground. The resulting 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put the Packers in field-goal range and nearly ended the Bears' season, but because Aaron Rodgers must suffer in Job-like fashion this year, Mason Crosby's kick was blocked.
But what's truly amazing about this story is that during the first series in overtime, after a short pass from Kyle Orton to Greg Olsen, Packers safety Aaron Rouse did the exact same thing as Peterson and got called for a horse-collar tackle on Olsen at the 50-yard line. A few plays later, Robbie Gould sealed the win (and saved the season) for the Bears.
Although this award typically goes to a head coach, there's no doubt who had the biggest cojones this week: Derrick Mason. His performance on Saturday night against the Cowboys was the grittiest performance from a wide receiver we've seen this year (east of Anquan Boldin's face-plate, of course).
QB: Now here's a name that hasn't seen this space too often: Kurt Warner, who put up a 1 against New England. MVP! MVP!
RB: Warner wasn't the only Arizona player to struggle against the Patriots. Tim Hightower posted a 2, which tied him with Willie Parker for the week's low score.
WR: Brad Smith caught two passes for 3 -- yes, 3 -- yards against Seattle. That's a 0. The way Brett Favre was underthrowing receivers, maybe all his passes should have been that short.
K: You may have heard by now that Mason Crosby had a rough night in Chicago, missing two kicks (one of which was blocked) and scoring a -1.
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