One Wild Week
Week 17 of the 2008 season would change all that.
In the American Football Conference, the wild card races offered very little in the form of drama, as the results were predictable: the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots both defeated the woefully underachieving Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills (respectively), ensuring that the No. 6 spot went to Baltimore. This left the division races for the AFC East and West, where the real drama was. The Patriots still had a hope if the New York Jets could defeat the Miami Dolphins, but Miami would prevail in a back-and-forth game that was easily the best game all afternoon. In the process, the Dolphins (11-5) became the first team to win a division a year after finishing 1-15 as well as ensure New England would be the first 11-5 team out of the playoffs since the 1985 Denver Broncos. In the West, the division title would be determined by the winner of the night game between the San Diego Chargers and the Broncos (the “NFL Playoff Play-in Game”, if you will). The winner wasn’t much of a shock- San Diego had won three straight going into the game, the Broncos had lost two straight- but the result was. One expected Denver, trying to avoid becoming the first team to blow a three game division lead with three games to go, to come up with an inspired effort, but they could only offer a flaccid performance in a 52-21 loss to San Diego. The Chargers did win their third straight division title, but it was their most improbable- a month ago they were 4-8 and written off, but like baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies in 2007 against the New York Mets, they ran the table to overcome those odds to claim the title. The Broncos and their defence probably meant that they didn’t deserve a title anyway, but even still, there’s no excuse for their monumental collapse.
Even with the Chargers’ and Dolphins’ completion of their improbable runs, the NFC would still outdo the AFC. At the start of the day, the Philadelphia Eagles were 8-6-1 and needed everything short of a planetary alignment to get themselves in the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings all stood in front of them at 9-6, with the Bears and Vikings still battling for the NFC North division title with the loser still in the running for the wild card. The Eagles would play the Cowboys themselves, but Tampa Bay was playing the woeful Oakland Raiders, Chicago was playing the already eliminated Houston Texans and Minnesota was playing the New York Giants, who already knew they were the No. 1 seed. Minnesota would be the only team of that group which won, as Chicago and Tampa Bay both lost close games in a pair of upsets. The Eagles were thus still in the playoff picture when they faced Dallas, and it must have buoyed them since the Eagles literally ran all over the Cowboys in a 44-6 rout. Not to be forgotten would be the Detroit Lions- or should I say “Kittens”- who made NFL history in a 31-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers, ensuring that they are 0-16. Here’s hoping that is the bottom for Detroit, because I can’t imagine what that kind of losing streak would feel like.
Much of the talk after Sunday’s games focused on the futures of both the Cowboys and the Jets’ (for now) Brett Favre. There’s little to say about the Cowboys except that they just blew it, with the chief culprit being head coach Wade Phillips. Phillips never got the team to play as a team and could never be convincingly in control of his troops. Terrell Owens needs no introduction here, since he obviously believes he’s the coach in insisting that he (and new buddy Roy Williams) should receive the ball more, admonishing Tony Romo for throwing to Jason Witten (easily Dallas’ most reliable receiver, if not the only one). However, against Philadelphia it was obvious that it wasn’t just Owens who was causing problems- in the 2nd quarter, facing a 4th-and-short, Romo waved off the punting team that Phillips sent out and ran a (successful) play himself. If that’s not an indicator that Phillips has lost control of his team I don’t know what is, since there’s no excuse for letting your own players overrule you. Taking heed of their suggestions is one thing but letting them tell you what to do is another. Speaking of Romo, it may be time to part ways with him- he clearly can’t handle the pressure of being the Dallas quarterback, a mentality issue that prevents him from becoming a truly elite quarterback. Owens could go too, although if owner/General Manager Jerry Jones does the right thing and hire a disciplinarian head coach that might temper Owens and allow him to shine more as a receiver.
Favre’s future was dicey before coach Eric Mangini was fired earlier today. Reports indicated that Mangini didn’t like Favre’s decision-making and- like he does for the rest of his players- called out Favre for them in front of the team. This was not how Favre was treated in Green Bay (where he had his own “office”) and had Mangini stayed, Favre may have retired. With Mangini gone, Favre may just stick around, because he can still play- he didn’t get the Jets to 8-3 by doing nothing. The interceptions are still terrible, but the truth is in the last five games, the Jets’ short passing attack has failed them (for example, where was Dustin Keller, the highly touted tight end at mid-season), meaning Favre has to throw it long. Thus, the Jets’ focus this off-season should be at the tight end spot to give Favre a short passing option he can trust, because that is what ultimately did the Jets in during their December collapse.
That story will be revisited in the offseason. Now, the regular season is over and the Playoffs can begin. With so many bizarre finishes in Week 17, who knows what will be in store for the Playoffs. One thing is certain though- with the crazy ride that was Week 17, this can only mean the real Playoffs are going to be fun.