By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s Week Sixteen NFL Review
PHILADELPHIA– Like a thrilling Kentucky Derby race, the 2008 NFL Season has hit the final turn with cries of “And Down the Stretch They Come” in the air. By design or mere coincidence, “Parity” has caused almost every game in the final two weeks of this season to have playoff implications.
Week 16 of the NFL season maybe a throwaway week in most fantasy football leagues, but thankfully the games on the field were definitely worth watching. With temperatures reaching frigid levels and snow in several NFL cities — Seven games this week had a game-time temperature of 32 degrees or below including a thermometer reading of 10 degrees for the Chiefs and Dolphins game — the action on the gridiron heated up as teams frantically tried to clinch division titles, home field advantage, first round byes, and playoff berths.
For fans there is nothing better than watching your team making a season cementing playoff run in December — NFL games were played on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday sending football junkies into a frenzy.
With 20 teams at .500 or better entering week 16 and 21 teams still in the playoff mix, no one could have predicted the twists, turns, ups, or downs the 2008 NFL rollercoaster during this crucial week.
Some of the bigger storylines from week 16 included:
Possible Conference Championship Previews – Two of the most anticipated games on the week 16 slate pitted the two top ranked teams in the AFC and NFC (Steelers @Titans and Panthers @ Giants). To everyone’s liking the two heavyweight battles did not disappoint and we now know the roads where the teams will have to travel inorder to get to the Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa.
Tennessee Titans over the Pittsburgh Steelers — In the early afternoon co-feature, the Titans cemented their place as the AFC’s bully with a 31-14 home throttling. Suprisingly with the weather getting colder outside, it was the Steelers who continued to defy the elements by suddenly going pass-happy (passed 40 times), which I believe was a major contributor to their week 16 woes.
The Steelers passing ways exposed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to pressure causing Big Ben to loss two key fumbles in the first half and be intercepted twice that led directly to 21 points for the Titans. Conversely the balanced Titans ran 31 times and threw 29 times as they efficiently were led by veteran Kerry Collins producing over 300 total yards. The Titans became the first team in ’08 to go over 300 total yards against the Steelers.
On defense the Titans playing without Pro Bowl DT Albert Haynesworth attacked as usual harrasing the Steelers into four turnovers including Michael Griffin’s 83-yard interception touchdown return that iced the Titans’ win. Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of the win, “This was not a statement game by no means, it was a momentum game. We needed to build momentum for the playoffs and the bye week by playing well and winning the game. The bonus is the second game here at home.”
However the Titans may have set the stage for a revenge meeting in the playoffs as Titans players RB LenDale White and LB Keith Bulluck disrespected the Steelers’ Terrible Towel by stomping on it on the sidelines after the win – I think the Titans better pull out tape of the 2005 Bengals pulling similar shanighans after a big regular season win and then the fired-up Steelers sticking to them in the playoffs.
New York Giants over the Carolina Panthers in overtime- For the second week in a row, the focus of the nation shifted to the New York Giants as the NFL’s defending Super Bowl champion was featured on NBC Sunday Night Football. However the Giants entered the huge match-up with the NFC supremacy challenging Panthers with questions. The biggest question being were the G’Men distracted from the whole Plaxico Burress shooting fiasco – lost in consecutive weeks to NFC East rivals the Eagles and Cowboys while not running for 100 yards in both losses.
The answers didn’t come right away as the Giants trailed 21-13 at the half, but in the second half Big Blue rode efficient passing from quarterback Eli Manning and their stellar power running game (301 yards on the ground) to a statement 34-28 overtime win over the upstart Panthers. The game featured running at its best as the Giants RB Derrick Ward (see Game balls) and Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (108 rushing yards and 4 TDs) locked horns. But in the end, the Giants had too many horses as their “Earth, Wind, and Fire” backfield (Ward, Brando Jacobs, and Ahmad Bradshaw) wore down the Panthers D-line.
The G’men survived a late potential game-winning 50-yard field goal attempt by Panthers veteran kicker John Kasey (too windy) and then in overtime, Ward carried the rock into the redzone with Jacobs providing the winning margin with a bulldozing 2-yard touchdown run. New York Giants running back Derrick Ward said of the #1 seed clinching win, ” We were down early. I’m pretty sure everybody was counting us out. But we knew as a team that we could get the job done.”
Teams failing to get closer to the playoffs due to upsets – I don’t know what it is about the end of each football season, but teams routinely look past inferior competition on their way to surprising letdown losses.
This week the Jets (lost 13-3 to the Seahawks in snowy Seattle as Favre — tossed two interceptions to bring his league-leading total up to 21 — continued his end of season swoon), Eagles (In a 10-3 loss to the Redskins, the Birds offense went away from the run throwing the ball 46 times in the cold and they had 7 drops. The last of the drops occurred in the endzone by rookie DeSean Jackson), Broncos (In a must-win game against the Bills, Mike Shanahan’s team squandered a three quarter lead and now they must beat the Chargers in San Diego to win the AFC West), and Cowboys (Everyone figured on Texas Stadium’s last game that the Boys would blowout the supposed overachieving Ravens. Unfortunately for T.O and Romo, the Ravens defense got pressure and their offense hung around long enough before sealing the game with two long touchdown runs – the ‘Boys will need to win in Philly on Sunday to avoid another losing record in December – Romo is 5-10 lifetime in December and January).
Falcons clinch NFC playoff spot — The NFC playoff picture became somewhat clearer on Sunday, as the Falcons’ 24-17 win over the Vikings moved the NFC’s surprise team into the playoffs after a disastrous 3-13 record in 2007. To their credit the Falcons and their owner Arthur Blank put Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick out of their mind with their huge road win. In the game, the Falcons survived a furious 10-point fourth quarter comeback attempt by the Vikings as rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, and defensive end John Abraham led the way.
Get ready for the wrong kind of history – It has become overwhelming apparent that the 2008 Detroit Lions are absolutely the NFL’s all-time worst franchise for one season. On Sunday, the Lions became the NFL’s first 0-15 team with a 42-7 home loss to the Saints. The Lions eclipsed the previous marks of futility set by two teams (1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 and the 1980 New Orleans Saints also started the 1980 season 0-14). Tough veteran head coach Rod Marinelli was really pounded in the postgame press conference with questions of “Why his son-in-law is his defensive coordinator?” and other gut-wrenching topics. Marinelli said of his team being the first 0-15 team, “I’ll let the record speak for itself.” The Lions are now 10-25 in two-plus seasons under Marinelli and have now lost 22 of their last 23 games. The Lions have one chance to avoid NFL infamy in week 17 as they travel to Green Bay to face the Packers, who are also struggling as of late. Maybe former Packers nemesis quarterback Daunte Culpepper can provide the spark needed for the hapless Lions.
Milestones galore in week 16
In a win over the Rams, Niners WR Isaac Bruce moved up to second on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards list, and became the fifth player to record 1,000 career receptions.
Browns RB Jamal Lewis became the 24th player in NFL history to eclipse 10,000 yards rushing, and is currently the fifth active player on the exclusive list — Edgerrin James (13th), Tomlinson (14), Fred Taylor (19) and Warrick Dunn (19).
Saints quarterback Drew Brees posted his ninth 300-yard game of the season with 351 yards passing against the Lions, the second-most in a single season in NFL history. Brees also needs 402 passing yards in week 17 to tie Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 set in 1984.
Colts head coach Tony Dungy led his team to the playoffs for the 10th straight seasons — the playoff run dates back to 1999 when he was the coach at Tampa Bay and the mark is the best by any coach in NFL history, topping Tom Landry’s run with the Cowboys from 1975-83.
Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson topped 1,000 yards for the season becoming just the third rusher in NFL history to pass the mark in each of his first eight seasons — joined Curtis Martin, who did it with the Patriots and the Jets in each of his first 10 seasons from 1995 to 2004, and Barry Sanders, who reached the mark in each of his 10 NFL seasons with the Lions from 1989 to 1998.
The muddled 2008 NFL playoff picture is listed below
Already IN — NYG (12-3) host the Vikings – You have to wonder if the G’Men will try to recreate their ’07 magic by playing hard in week 17 as they did before their miraculous Super Bowl run.
CAR (11-4) at the Saints — Lost the #1 see to the Giants and if they lose to the Saints with the Falcons winning, they could lose the NFC South crown. Need to be physical with the inconsistent Saints.
ATL (10-5) host the Rams – One the NFL’s beset turnaround stories got better as rookie head coach Mike Smith led the Falcons to the postseason. They will be a very dangerous team in the playoffs.
ARI (8-7) host the Seahawks – The reeling Cardinals need to win their last game to prove that they are not a fluke created by the weak NFC West.
Out: Redskins, Saints, Lions, Rams, Seahawks, Niners, and Packers
TB (9-6) host the Raiders — You know Gruden wants to stick it to the Raiders, but Garcia is ailing as are the rest of the Bucs after a shellacking by the Chargers in week 16. Need a win and the Cowboys to lose to get in. LV’s Pick: Will beat the Raiders, but it will be too much, too late for the playoffs.
DAL (9-6) at the Eagles – Romo continued to look bad in December in week 17 and now the Cowboys must regroup and get a win in hostile Philly to make the playoffs. Win and they are in as the #6 seed. LV’s Pick: Will beat the Eagles to claim the final playoff spot.
MIN (9-6) host the Giants — Blew a great chance to clinch the NFC North against the Falcons. Need to win against the assumed resting Falcons to win the NFC North. LV’s Pick: Should win the NFC North with a win over the resting Giants.
PHI (8-6-1) host the Cowboys — The Eagles seemed to blow their playoff chances by not taking the Redskins seriously in a bad loss. Andy Reid’s team will need a win over the hated Cowboys and a loss by the Bucs or Bears to get in. LV’s Pick: Will lose to the Cowboys sending McNabb closer to the door.
CHI (9-6) at the Texans – Continued to be dominant at home as they worked overtime to beat the Packers in frigid soldier field. Need a win over Texans and a Vikes loss to clinch the NFC North crown. LV’s Pick: Will lose to the Texans giving the Vikings the NFC North title.
Already IN — TEN (12-2) finish at the Colts – Don’t expect to see many of the starters as the Titans have clinched the AFC’s first overall seed and a week 1 bye in the playoffs.
PIT (11-4) finish at the Browns — You know the Steelers will look to finish strong against the pitiful Browns even though they have already clinched the AFC’s 2nd seed and a bye.
IND (11-4) host the Titans – Look for Tony Dungy and the Colts to attempt to go into the playoffs with 9 straight wins. The Titans will probably rest players, but the Colts want to be the first team in NFL history to win 12 games for six straight years.
Out: Browns, Jaguars, Chiefs, Raiders, Bengals, Texans
BAL (10-5) host the Jaguars – After a huge win over the Cowboys, all the Ravens need to do is beat the lowly Jags to make the playoffs. LV’s Pick: The Ravens beat the Jags to complete an improbable playoff run.
NYJ (9-6) host the Dolphins – A couple of weeks ago, the Jets were on top of the world after beating the formerly undefeated Titans. After losing 3 of their last 4 games, Favre and the Jets need to defeat the Dolphins and hope that either the Ravens or Patriots lose. LV’s Pick: The Jets beat the Dolphins, but the Patriots win the AFC East title and the Ravens claim the last playoff spot as Favre moves closer to retirement.
NE (10-5) at BUF — The Patriots as good as they are need a win and a Dolphins to claim the AFC East title and thus avoid becoming the second 11-5 team to miss the playoffs. LV’s Pick: The Patriots veteran core steps up as they beat the Bills and the Jets win securing the playoffs for Bill Belichick.
MIA (10-5) @NYJ — The NFL’s best story of 2008 (Great turnaround from 1-15), but the Dolphins need to finish the job against the Jets in the Meadowlands to win the AFC East crown. LV’s Pick: In a make or break game, the Dolphins can’t beat the cold or the Jets and the Patriots finally claim the AFC East title.
DEN (8-7) @SDO – Does Denver really deserve to make the playoffs after losing so many games down the stretch including a loss to the Bills in week 17. LV’s Pick: The Chargers win sending Broncos home for another winter.
SD (7-8) host the Broncos – In an NBC Sunday Night spectacular the Chargers need a win against the hated Broncos in the Ed Hochuli Bowl. LV’s Pick: L.T and his crew wanted a chance at redemption after only having five wins a couple of weeks ago and no they get their chance. Expect the Chargers to finish off the reeling Broncos as they make the playoffs.
New York Giants RB Derrick Ward – Often overshadowed by bulldozing back Brandon Jacobs, the speedy Ward busted out against the Panthers on Sunday Night Football. The player dubbed “Wind” of the Giants’ Earth-Wind-Fire backfield ran for an amazing 215 yards on just 15 carries for an NFL record 14.3 yards per carry average. Ward killed the Panthers late and in overtime including runs of 51 yards and 14 yards on the Giants’ winning drive.
Chicago Bears DE Alex Brown - In a Monday Night Football instant classic game, Brown willed the Bears to a comeback victory over the Packers. The temperatures may have been frigid, but Brown was red-hot as he finished with two tackles, 1 interception in the first half and most importantly a block of a game-winning field goal attempt at the end of regulation.
New England Patriots QB Matt Cassel - It must have been great for Cassel to show former USC first stringer Matt Leinhart what a real NFL quarterback looks like – the Patriots breakout player exited the game against the Cardinals with a 47-point lead while the man he couldn’t beat out at USC, Leinart, entered the game in garbage time. Cassel (20-36, 345 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) was magnificent leading the Patriots to a huge snowy embarrassing win over the Cardinals. Cassel, Southern California native, said of playing in the snow, ”I’ve never played in the snow before, it was a lot of fun.”
Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning – In a thrilling come-from-behind win over the Jaguars on Thursday Night football, Manning went 29-of-34 for 364 yards and three touchdowns — fourth 300-yard passing output of the season. The Colts won their 8th straight game and clinched a playoff berth for the 7th straight year. Manning completed his first 17 passes and completed at least 70 percent of his passes in five straight games. In my opinion, Manning should definitely be right in the mix of any MVP talk.
Baltimore Ravens RB Le’Ron McClain – Known as a bruising fullback in college at Alabama, McClain showed his speed in a big road win for the Ravens. McClain (22 rushes for 139 yard and 1 TD) closed out the Ravens’ win with a thundering 82-yard touchdown gallop.
Washington Redskins DE Jason Taylor – After saying the week before that he was not worth the contract he was earning this year, Taylor played up to his Pro Bowl level in the Redskins 10-3 win over the Eagles. Mr. Dancing With the Stars had three tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble that set up the only touchdown of the game for the Redskins.
New York Jets QB Brett Favre – The legend of Brett Favre maybe in its final NFL days as the surprising 2008 Pro Bowl player was awful in a 13-3 road loss to the lowly Seahawks. Once know as a good cold weather quarterback, Favre looked ancient in the snow of Seattle finishing with terrible numbers of 18-31, 187 yards, 0 TDs, and 2 INTs. With the loss to the Seahawks, the Jets have dropped three of four games and Favre has thrown just one touchdown over that span with six interceptions.
Philadelphia Eagles - After winning three straight games over the Cardinals, Giants, and Browns the Eagles returned to their struggling ways against the Redskins. In a game the Birds had to win, head coach Andy Reid forgot to run the ball — ran the ball only 16 times to 46 passes – and the Eagles suffered. I know all fingers will be pointed at quarterback Donovan McNabb, but Big 5 can’t catch the ball for his receivers — 7 dropped passes including several by LJ Smith and a potential game-tying catch in the end zone by DeSean Jackson.
Tennessee Titans – I know you won the game over the Steelers, but show a little class. The first offense was Titans rookie running back Chris Johnson almost got caught at the goal-line by a hard charging Troy Polamalu as he was high-stepping in for a score. But I the Titans biggest error was RB LenDale White, DE Jevon Kearse, and LB Keith Bulluck disrespecting the Steelers’ Terrible Towel with acts like stomping on it on the sidelines after the win
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger – Big Ben was terrible when the ‘Burgh needed him most. Roethlisberger finished with passing numbers of 26-40, 331 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs. But his most egregious plays in the loss were 2 lost two first-half fumbles, including one at the Titans’ 1-yard line (Titans scored touchdowns after both).
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo – The poster boy for the Dallas Cowboys’ Dysfunctional Family did not play well enough in Texas Stadium’s closing loss to the Ravens. Romo (24/45 252 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs) looked frazzled in the loss and he will need to find a way to pull out a win in week 17 at Philly or big changes will be coming.
Special Note: Thanks to my new son Brayden, who arrived on DEcember 18th just in time so we could enjoy Christmas and all of the NFL games together.