Can We Get In? NFL Week 15 Recap

What a wild, wild week in the NFL. As the playoff race in the NFC boiled down to seven teams, the AFC wildcard hunt swelled to eight contenders. It’s bedlam. Do the champs still have a shot to repeat? Shocking upsets, snowballs, laser pointers, and bare butts; like I said, week 15 had it all.

The aftermath of Sunday’s events will take a few days to sift through. What we know right now is this: The final NFC playoff spot will go to the Cowboys or Giants. The Vikings and Cardinals are in trouble. The Steelers have life, along with seven other AFC hopefuls. The playoffs will be spectacular. And if you trash talk Steve Smith, he will embarrass you on national television. After all, the rules and regulations are “89.” Let’s get to it.

So long, playoffs: 49ers

Kicking Off

Can the champs get in? Yes, but they need help. Unless Baltimore loses out and Pittsburgh wins their last two, the Steelers can’t top the Ravens (division record). Therefore, this is what Pittsburgh needs. Obviously, they must win out and hope the Broncos lose one game. It’s also critical that Jacksonville loses. If Denver, Jacksonville, and Pittsburgh all finish 9-7, the Steelers would lose their head to head tie-breaker advantage over Denver, and Jacksonville would advance on conference record. (FYI: the following is based solely on the conference record tiebreaker. I will go further in depth with the tiebreaker situation in this week’s playoff projections.) Finishing 9-7 would give Pittsburgh the tiebreaker over Tennessee, Miami, and Denver (head to head wins). They may need Houston and New York to drop one of their final games as well. Both play a challenging schedule, so a loss for each is likely. The aforementioned losses would provide the Steelers with the tiebreaker based on conference record. Remember, depending on how the common game tiebreakers shake down, this may not be necessary. I will have a definitive breakdown for you manana.

How did we get here? AFC wildcard contenders wanted to invite more guests to the Christmas party. Heading into week 15, there were four 7-6 teams. Of that bunch, the Ravens were the only winners. The Dolphins, Jaguars, and Jets all fell to 7-7. To add to the madness, three 6-7 teams won. The Steelers, Texans, and Titans all moved to 7-7. The cherry on top was Denver’s surprising loss at home to Oakland, putting them at 8-6. This Christmas party is getting crowded.

Were the Saints exposed? Yes, but to quote Dennis Green, “the Saints were who I thought they were.” The Cowboys stormed out of the gates and held on to defeat the overrated Saints on Saturday night. As I mentioned last week, the NFC playoff matchups do not favor the Saints. Contrary to popular belief, their defense is average, Drew Brees is never Drew Brees in BIG, BIG games, and an October running game doesn’t equate to a December running game. The Cowboys went into Nawlins and silenced the locals, and undoubtedly left the Saints nervous about the playoff run. Are the Saints the best team in the NFC? Ehh, probably. It’s getting closer though. As Dallas proved Saturday night, pressuring Brees keeps the Saints’ offense out of rhythm. Their running game won’t win playoff games and their defense won’t keep the potent NFC offenses at bay. While the conference does not consist of any outstanding defenses, every playoff contender can hit the quarterback in the mouth. Without a healthy running game, Brees is a lamb surrounded by hungry lions.

Who wants to step forward in the NFC? Well, we’re still waiting. The Saints aren’t untouchable (see above). The Vikings are tanking along with Brett Favre. Favre’s been inaccurate lately. His performances have begun to resemble his late season collapse with the Jets. On top of Favre’s struggles, the Vikings can’t run the football. The Cowboys fought off a three game losing streak with a gigantic win this week. However, their secondary is suspect AND they have two more December games. So they could miss the playoffs entirely. Arizona has been playing poorly since beating Minnesota. They were manhandled by San Francisco last week and struggled in Detroit on Sunday. That leaves us with the two hottest teams in the NFC; Green Bay and Philadelphia. While they may be the hottest, they both have their own issues. The Eagles need answers on defense and still have yet to go an entire game without going through an offensive lull. The Packers can, and will throw the ball on anyone. I’m not taking too much from their Pittsburg defeat because that was a hopeless situation. Still, Green Bay is penalized more than any of the teams mentioned here. Penalties prove twice as costly in the playoffs. The Packers are also dealing with a make-shift secondary. To conclude, we’re still waiting for an NFC favorite to step forward.

That was impressive…
  • Philip Rivers and the Chargers responded to the Bengals game-tying field goal by going 46 yards in 50 seconds (aided by a missed call) to kick the game-winning field goal.
  • Lions DB Louis Delmas taking a Kurt Warner interception 100 yards the other way for a touchdown and sparking a Detroit rally.
  • The Bears finally spared their fans by sitting Jay Cutler with five minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. Kyle Orton’s mailbox must be overflowing with Christmas Cards from Chicago fans.
  • What an exciting 4th quarter in Pittsburgh. The Steelers and Packers combined for 35 points as every drive ended with a score in a back and forth affair. The team that had the ball last was going to finish on top.
  • Andre Johnson is the league’s best receiver. It’s not really close either.
  • Titans QB Vince Young’s 1st quarter interception was tipped four times by three different players before finally falling in the arms of Miami DB Vontae Davis.
  • He’s not always loved, but Andy Reid has gotten his club to the playoffs in eight of his eleven years. Even without a Super Bowl title, that is quite an accomplishment.
  • Panthers WR Steve Smith is entertaining…and fiery. Think Kobe Bryant on grass.
  • Bengals QB Carson Palmer hustling to recover a fumble that flew 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Palmer’s recover saved the game at the time and led to the Bengals tying field goal.
  • 83 yard pass and catch between Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Greg Jennings that resulted in a 1st quarter touchdown.
  • The Bengals’ call to run a quarterback draw on a two point conversion early in the 4th quarter. The conversion got the Bengals to within three and later allowed them to tie the game.
  • Ben Roethlisberger and game-winning, toe touching touchdown passes.
  • It wasn’t entirely pretty, but Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell led the Raiders on a 10 play, 75 yard drive in 2:54. The drive culminated in the game winning touchdown, leaving the Broncos with less than 40 seconds to respond. The beginning of a career 180 for Russell?
  • Jerome Harrison.
  • Joshua Cribbs.
  • The Miami Dolphins’ comeback. They would eventually come up short, but the Dolphins fought off an 18 point deficit to tie the game late in the 4th quarter. The comeback all started with Titans RB Chris Johnson’s fumble.
  • Teams that have “nothing to play for” conquering opponents in heated playoff races (Raiders, Panthers, Falcons), while others battled hard in defeat (Rams, Lions, Bills).
  • Patriots WR Randy Moss taking a hit en route to a 3rd quarter reception that prevented an interception. It was clear all the lazy talk over the past few weeks got to him. He played tough today.
Not so much…
  • Dropped interceptions. There are so many of them each week. I know that’s why defensive backs are wide receivers, but some of these drops are awful. Chargers DB Quentin Jammer dropped a cupcake in the end zone today against the Bengals.
  • Young quarterbacks came up small in big games. Alex Smith, Mark Sanchez, and Chad Henne all threw 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions in defeats. Conversely, Vince Young threw 3 touchdowns and 1 interception in victory.
  • 49ers TE Vernon Davis hearing the footsteps of Eagles safety Quintin Mikell. Davis made no effort to go for the ball and break up Mikell’s interception.
  • Packers kicker Mason Crosby and Cowboys kicker Nick Folk missed easy field goals in big games this past week. Both kick for playoff contenders. Folk is probably gone this week; Crosby will join him if he doesn’t shape up, fast.
  • The Buffalo Bills committed 8 penalties for 104 yards… in the first half.
  • The Texans/Rams and Buccaneers/Seahawks matchups were just too hard to watch. Except for the Rams’ yellow throwbacks of course.
  • My Cleveland at Kansas City “under” pick hit the over before halftime. Don’t gamble, kids.
  • Eagles FB Leonard Weaver wins the award for bonehead play of the day. Instead of getting to the line during the 2 minute drill, Weaver was jawing with 49ers DE Ahmad Brooks. Get that Christmas recipe from him after the game, Leonard.
  • Raiders DT Tommy Kelly losing two layers of pants when he made a tackle late in the 4th quarter. Not a pretty sight.
  • If the Jets could kick a field goal, they’d be in great position for a playoff berth. Instead, New York fans will have nightmares of three attempts that ended with a bobbled snap, a miss, and a block. They lost by three.
  • Onside kick? Really Mike Tomlin? You’re up two, with four minutes to go and your playoff lives on the line? Really?
  • Brett Favre should have sat out until October, he’s been lousy. Who’s the better QB now, Aaron Rodgers or Favre? If you said Favre, you’re fooling yourself.
  • Alex Smith and Brady Quinn are not gaining supporters to be their respective teams’ starters next season. Both looked bad today, really bad.
Take that man to Chic-Fil-A

QB Ben Roethlisberger: 29/46 503 YDS, 3 TD
RB Jerome Harrison: 34 Carries, 286 YDS, 3 TD
WR Vincent Jackson: 5 Rec, 108 YDS, 2 TD
WR Steve Smith: 9 Rec,  157 YDS, 1 TD
TE Dallas Clark: 7 Rec, 95 YDS, 2 TD
D Cowboys: 17 Points Allowed, 336 Total Yards, 4 Sacks, 3 Turnovers

Probably should have stayed in bed

QB Matt Hasselbeck: 27/46 256 YDS, TD, 4 INT
RB Cadillac Williams: 19 Carries, 42 YDS, 2.2 AVG
WR Terrel Owens: 2 Rec, 20 YDS
WR Percy Harvin: 1 Rec, 10 YDS
TE Greg Olsen: 1 Rec, 8 YDS
D Browns/Chiefs: Surrendered 75 Points and 900+ Yards to two horrible offenses

Quick Slants

Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart is a bull. Wait a second, the Panthers won with a healthy running game, Steve Smith, and Julius Peppers? I think I’ve read someone plead for this recipe several times this season. If only I could remember who… (Angrily pointing at myself).

There was a lengthy delay in the 4th quarter of the Raiders/Broncos contest because a fan was flashing a laser pointer on the players. How old are we?

Chicago Bears through 14 games in 2009 with Jay Cutler: 5-9. Chicago Bears through 14 games in 2008 with Kyle Orton: 8-6. Just checking.

How about those Raiders? If they find a quarterback, they might be a decent team next year. Well, at least until Al Davis trades their 2nd and 3rd round picks for Terrell Owens.

Donovan McNabb has an arm. He needs to stop trying to make every downfield pass perfect. As Steve Smith once told Jake Delhomme, “you can’t over throw me.” McNabb needs to allow DeSean Jackson to run to the ball. McNabb did this early in the 2nd half. I thought Jackson could have dove for the ball and made the catch (I guess WR don’t do that anymore). Regardless, I think this should be the philosophy.

The Cleveland Browns (CLEVELAND BROWNS!!!) had touchdown plays of 100 yards, 47 yards, 103 yards, and 71 yards today. LeBron James was not involved in the offense either.

Cardinals RB Chris “Beanie” Wells was a stud for Arizona today. He made all the big plays and led the offense.

They’ve beaten bad teams, but the Ravens offense has found its stride. It will be interesting to see if they can continue their recent success against the Steelers next week.

The Cincinnati Bengals topped last week’s passing total 17 minutes into their game against the San Diego Chargers. The Bengals will need that passing attack to make noise in the playoffs.

Please Andy Reid, leave the ridiculously stupid 4th down calls to Bill Belichick. Not punting on 4th and 1 from your own 30 is not your style.

“He’s beginning to look Jeff George-ish.” – FOX Analyst Brian Billick on Jay Cutler. That’s not a compliment either. It would be like comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter.

Too much 4th quarter excitement in the late afternoon games. Between my computer and TV, I was balancing the end of the Raider/Bronco game, Bengal/Charger game, and Steeler/Packer game. Needless to say, my wife was amazed and overwhelmed by my uncanny skill.

Speaking of my wife, here’s “watching football with women who don’t care for sports is fun,” reason 1,572. As the Raiders were driving to score the game-winning touchdown, CBS color commentator, Steve Tasker shared this analysis: “The Broncos are dropping back into coverage, daring JaMarcus Russell to find a hole in their defensive back end.” My wife was laughing hysterically.

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