By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
The playoffs are just over two weeks away so let’s take a quick look at how things are stacking up in both the AFC and NFC.
First, the other conference, where the Packers are one win away from clinching home field throughout the post-season. As things stand right now, the 49ers own a tiebreaker over the Saints for the No. 2 seed, a first-round bye and a home game, and that’s an advantage to which they’d be well served to keep given how much better New Orleans is playing at home vs. playing on the road. The fourth seed will be whatever NFC East team pukes on its own shoes the least; don’t be surprised if whichever team that is, the Cowboys, Giants or Eagles, backs in by default. After that, the Wild Cards are looking a lot like the Falcons and the Lions although the Seahawks and even the Cardinals are lurking on the periphery. If things stay the way they are now, look for the fifth seed Falcons to wipe away whatever undeserving team from the East they get in the first round and the Saints to wipe the floor with the Lions in similar fashion to the way they did it back in Week 13. Then, even with the game being on the grass out in San Fran, the Saints experience should be enough to carry them past the young, not-quite-ready-yet Niners, while the Packers will eliminate Atlanta for the second straight year in the Divisional Round. This scenario will set up a rematch of Opening Night in Green Bay, where the Packers escaped a last second charge by the Saints. The NFC Championship won’t be that close, and Green Bay will be back in the Super Bowl with a chance to repeat.
In the AFC, it’s looking a lot like another No. 1 seed for the Pats. And we all remember what happened under those circumstances last year. Baltimore has the inside track on No. 2 with Houston, despite its sudden major issues, a lock for No. 3 thanks to its early clinching of the AFC South. At No. 4, it will be the Denver Broncos winning the West, but don’t try to tell 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Andy Gresh and Scott Zolak that Tim Tebow had anything to do with it. As far as those guys are concerned, the Broncos have won seven of nine with Tebow calling the shots completely in spite of him, he’s a worthless piece of shit who deserves no credit whatsoever and was probably responsible for the Kennedy assassination despite it happening 24 years before he was born (and if you think this is hyperbole, just listen to them for 10 minutes some day and try to avoid the unadulterated venom that will spew from your radio when Tebow comes up). The Wild Cards in the AFC? The Pittsburgh Steelers, who could have moved into Baltimore’s spot before last week’s loss to the 49ers, and (gulp) the Jets, who are the least lousy of all the lousy teams (Cincinnati, Tennessee, Oakland, San Diego) fighting for that last spot.
Under these circumstances, the Steelers will end the Broncos dream season out in Denver and the Jets will use their experience to overcome their own shortcomings and the happy-to-be-there Texans. These results will set up rematches of both Divisional Round games from last year: Steelers/Ravens (though this year, the game will be in Baltimore) and Jets/Pats. Even with the Ravens getting to finally play at home, it’s hard to see them beating Pittsburgh for a third time this year. And the Pats? No one in Foxboro would even dream of saying this, but there isn’t a single team in the AFC they’d less rather see than the Jets. For the sake of this argument (and because we’re homers – this site is called Patriots Daily, isn’t it?) we’ll take the Pats. But we’ll do it while holding our breath. After that, a Steelers/Pats, AFC Championship game, a rematch of Pittsburgh’s blowout win from Week 8, will be on tap. And the Pats will exact their revenge, not just because the game will be in Foxboro, but because the Steelers never, ever beat the Pats in the playoffs, no matter where the game is played (see AFC Championship Games, circa 2001 and 2004 for more information).
If all this comes to fruition, it’ll be a Green Bay/New England Super Bowl, a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI, which was won by the Packers in convincing fashion. What will happen this time around? Stay tuned.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. Green Bay: Sure, the Packers quest for a perfect season ended in Kansas City (of all places!!??) last week. And there were some potentially catastrophic injuries suffered by key offensive linemen in that game. But if anyone thinks any of that means Aaron Rodgers and Co. aren’t still the best in the business, they haven’t been paying attention.
2. New Orleans: The Saints continued to look ridiculous on offense playing indoors, with Drew Brees completing 32-of-40 passes for 412 yards and five TDs in last week’s blowout win over the Vikings. But as great as this offense is, and as otherworldly as Brees has played, wake me when it’s time for the Saints to play the Packers for the NFC Championship on a 12-degree day (with a windchill of 15-below) in Green Bay in January.
3. New England: 41, 34, 31, 38, 34, 37. This week’s Mega Millions number? Nope, although that would be awesome if someone knew that ahead of time, wouldn’t it? It’s a actually a sequence of numbers that represent the Pats scoring output during their six-game winning streak, game by game. The 41-spot came against a Broncos D that was only allowing 17 per game over its previous six. The point is, if the Pats can continue to score like this, their putrid defense will be absolved from its putridness.
4. San Francisco: What a huge win for the Niners on Monday night, snapping out of their recent, mimi-malaise to not only beat the Steelers 20-3, but physically beat the the shit out of them, something that rarely happens to teams from Pittsburgh. They even looked semi-competent in the red zone. San Francisco had better hope it holds on to that No. 2 seed in the NFC; getting to play New Orleans at home in the Divisional round instead of on the road would represent a monumental difference. Based in the results of Monday night, the Niners are looking the part.
5. (tie) Baltimore/Pittsburgh: Man are the Ravens an ugly good team. QB Joe Flacco completes just 57 percent of his passes (those are Mark Sanchez numbers, folks) but still complains that he and his teammates don’t get as much attention as Tim Tebow before deciding to not even show up for a nationally televised game last Sunday night against San Diego. Oh yeah, all four of their losses are against teams with losing records. As for the Steelers, they missed what was probably their best shot at re-taking the AFC North from Baltimore with their dreadful showing in the Bay Area. Still, if any team can win three road playoff games and get to the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh is a safe bet.
This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. St. Louis: With the Colts in the win column twice, the Rams are now officially the league’s worst team. They deserve credit for playing Cincinnati tough last week with one scrub after another filling in for all their injured players. But the fact remains that despite their nice uptick last year, the Rams are 2-12 not quite two years out from being 1-15.
2. Indianapolis: Big, big ups to the Colts for winning two games in four days, last week against the Titans and last night against the suddenly reeling Texans. But still, it’s hard to imagine many teams for whom it would have been more fun to see go 0-for the season than the self-righteous, sanctimonious outfit from Indy.
3. Tampa Bay: Eight straight defeats, the last three by an average of 21 points. It’s hard to imagine Tampa winning again this year or Raheem Morris, not too long ago one of the most impressive, up-and-coming coaches in the league, keeping his job.
4. Minnesota: Stories broke this week about Vikings defensive players ignoring calls from the coaches on the sideline and in the booth, choosing instead to do their own thing. This, combined with painfully overmatched head coach Leslie Frazier getting an assurance that he’ll be back next year, has to make Minnesota fans feel just great, don’t you think?
5. (tie) Jacksonville/Buffalo: Remember when the Bills beat the Patriots and looked like they had truly turned the corner as a franchise? Not really? Can’t say we blame you; they’ve lost seven straight by an average of 18 points per game and couldn’t even beat Miami at home in the snow last week. Ouch. As for the Jags, they followed up their 41-14 win over Tampa with a 41-14 loss to Atlanta that may as well have been 100-0.
Romeo Crennel, Chiefs: The former Pats defensive wizard and relatively overmatched head coach of the Cleveland Browns took over the Chiefs on an interim basis after last week’s firing of Todd Haley, and slayed the Green Bay dragon. Now, a handful of his players (including tamba Hali, only KC’s best defensive player) and coaches are lobbying the front office to give him the job full-time. Why not?
Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks: One of the easiest NFL QBs to rag on has suddenly led his team to five wins in six games (a run that includes home wins over Baltimore and Philly and a shellacking of the Bears in Chicago last week), a 7-7 record and a reasonable shot at the playoffs. His passer ratings the past three weeks have ranged from the excellent (94.4) to the more excellent (96.4) to the absolutely sublime (137.0) and he’s done it all with a torn pectoral muscle. One more loss and Seattle is done, and that may come this week against the division leading 49ers. But Jackson’s work this season, particularly lately, warrants mentioning.
The Eagles: In yet another act of blind cruelty to their fans, the Eagles have somehow re-entered the NFC playoff picture thanks to two straight victories and with a win over the Cowboys tomorrow combined with a Giants loss to the Jets, they will be one step closer to actually making something of this steaming pile of a season. The odds are long, which seems to suit a team that finds new ways to disappoint, overwhelm and fuck with its fan base more than most any others perfectly. Oh yeah and also, this resurgence, whether it mans the playoffs or not, will probably guarantee the return of Andy Reid. Commence puking, Eagles fans.
The Titans: Oh my god, is Tennessee not trendy. With a chance to put themselves firmly into the driver’s seat for one of the AFC’s two Wild Card slots, the Titans lost to the Colts. Yep, the Colts. Now at 7-7 and behind both the Jets and Bengals for that post-season berth, this team has no one to blame but itself.
The Bears: It seemed obvious that things would get tough for Chicago when Jay Cutler then subsequently Matt Forte went down. But four straight losses and a full-on tumble from the NFC playoff race? That was a bit unexpected. Now, on the heels of their blowout at home to Seattle, the Bears turn to journeyman Josh McCown at QB for their Christmas night game at Green Bay. McCown was coaching high school four weeks ago. Brutal.
The Raiders: It took Oakland, now losers of three straight, less than five minutes to blow a 13-point lead at home against Detroit last week, and that was with a bonafide, vintage performance from Carson Palmer (32-of-40, 367 yards, one TD). Now the Raiders, who seemed primed to reverse nearly a decade of incompetence less than a month ago, are completely on the outside looking in, in need of not just two wins to close out the season (both against hot, division rivals) but help from elsewhere as well.
As was pointed out recently, we are non-denominational here at Patriots Daily. But that doesn’t mean we can’t say happy holidays to all of our loyal readers. This is a strange time of year, one that’s full of love and joy and togetherness, but also a pretty fair amount of aggression, impatience and anxiety (and if you don’t believe me, try taking a spin through the undersized parking lot of the shopping plaza across the street from my apartment some day). So instead of using this space as another opportunity to take more shots at all of the requisite favorite targets (with the exception of Andy Reid, see above), we’ll just say we hope you enjoy kicking back and watching games on Christmas Eve, have the happiest of happy holidays and thanks so much for reading Patriots Daily!