If there's anything I have learned from today, it's that picking NFL games is not easy. With my current standing of 4-6, and the Chargers appearing to have a win versus the Broncos secure (that will set me back to 4-7), it is safe to say I didn't do too hot. And there's another interception for the Chargers. But hey, I took some chances. Touchdown San Diego: 38-13. My two upset alerts kept it close. The Lions hung in there until the end. The Saints had Carolina beat until a last second field goal by Kasay. And Drew Brees was a completed pass on his last throw away from breaking Dan Marino's record. I took a chance on the Bears, but Andre Johnson and the Texans were too much for the Bears' defense. Carney's missed field goal cost me my Giants pick. And the Buccaneers and the Jets just didn't perform. However there is no need for me to make excuses. I made my picks and like in most poker games as of late, the chips failed to fall my way. Aside from my inability to pick in Week 17, I also learned a few other things about the NFL.
1. The Lions aren't the only pathetic team in the NFL. Let's not forget to add the Buccaneers, Broncos, and Jets to the list. After a disappointing loss to Brad Johnson and the Cowboys, the Buccaneers won 3 straight and had a lot of analysts believing in the team. However, with a playoff spot easily within site, the Buccaneers lost, and they lost, and they lost twice more. They were even humiliated by the 6-8 Chargers and 4-11 Raiders at home. To summarize in one word: pathetic. But hey, Philadelphia couldn't be happier about it. The Broncos held a 3-game lead in their horrid division with 3 weeks remaining, but failed to muster up a win in all 3 weeks, allowing the 4-8 Chargers to come all the way back and win the division at 8-8. Impressive guys. And the Jets, fresh off their two wins against Tennessee and New England, must have felt a little overconfident for the next 5. Favre's arrogant comments after the Tennesee win, saying something along the lines of, "I'm not saying we're the best team in the league, but we just beat the best team in the NFL" (seemingly inferring that they were indeed the best), proved to be laughable as they lost 4 of their last 5 games when it mattered; failing to even make the playoffs. The Lions should be ashamed of their record-breaking season, but if its any comfort to them, they should know that they're not the only pathetic team in the league.
2. The lower seeds are the ones to watch out for. The teams that generally make noise come playoff time are, more often than not, the hottest teams going into the playoffs. Who's hot? Indianapolis, San Diego, Miami, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Four Wild-card teams and a #3 and #4 seed. It'll take some hard-fought road wins, but these teams are very capable of making a run at the Super Bowl. Indianapolis has won 9 straight and are confident as ever. The Super Bowl champs from two years ago look top notch and are undoubtedly the hottest team in the NFL. The only question mark appears to be the running game. If Addai can get going, this team will be lethal in the AFC race. San Diego is riding a four game win-streak entering the playoffs, emerging from the worst division with an 8-8 record. However, they cannot be overlooked. They've been a threat to win the Super Bowl the last few years, and aside from the loss of Shawn Merriman, they're the same team. A first round upset of Indianapolis would make a huge statement, and scare a lot of AFC teams. The surprise team of the year, Miami, has won five straight. In a tight playoff race with New England and New York, the Dolphins never faltered. It has been a storybook season for the Dolphins who tied the biggest turnaround in NFL history, rebounding from 1-15 season just a year ago. I don't think it'll end as Cinderella-esque as a Super Bowl title, but the Dolphins will certaintly be able to build from this for years to come. Atlanta and Baltimore look stronger every week, and I fear Philadelphia in the NFC. There's no one they think they can't beat out of the NFC, and their defense and offense are clicking at just the right time. I think the only thing that could slow them down would be a lapse-game like the one in Washington last week.
3. It's time for Jerry Jones to coach the Cowboys. I'm tired of hearing Jerry Jones criticize his players and coaching staff. He takes chances on all of the ex-convicts and troublemakers, encourages drama, and expects his coaches to overcome it. I think it's time for Jones to walk the walk rather than continue to talk the talk. Seeing him coach would give me so much enjoyment, because he seems to think he knows everything. Oh ya Jerry? I say prove it. Show Wade Phillips what he's doing wrong. Help Tony Romo win the big game. Keep TO in line. Toughen Marion Barber up so he doesn't sit any more games out with an injury. It's so easy from upstairs in the booth right? Be a man and put the headset on. Rest the team on your shoulders and see what happens. I think it would give a much needed laugh to NFL fans across the country.
4. Chad Pennington deserves some respect. For years I've ridiculed Chad and his arm strength. But that never stopped Chad. He just kept playing his game, and doing it well. And look where it has gotten him. Back in the playoffs after leading his team to a division-clinching win against the team that no longer needed his services: the New York Jets. Good for you Chad. Not only did he display an arm strength I hadn't seen from him since his days at Marshall, he also made few mistakes, and came through for his team when they needed him. It's been a storybook year for Chad and the Dolphins. It was hard-earned and much deserved. It was nice to see a good guy like Chad overcome two rotator cuff injuries (unheard of), and stick it to the team that sold him out for Old Faithful.
5. If it wasn't obvious before, Brett Favre should retire already. A good team took Brett a long way last year. Then he sold out the franchise that had been good to him for so long and signed with the Jets. The washed-up Favre had a nice stat-padding game versus the Cardinals and rode Thomas Jones to an 8-3 record early on. But when the season carried on, and the Jets relied more on Favre (why I don't know), his age caught up to him and the Jets' losses nearly caught up to their wins. Throughout the year Favre made countless terrible decisions, costing the Jets many crucial possessions and games. It was only fitting that Favre ended his season on a bonehead, rushed play he called himself, tossing what would be the game-ending interception; the story of his season. He finished the year with 22 TDs and a league-leading 22 INTs. He certaintly widened the gap for his career interceptions record. Yet Favre, somehow made the Pro Bowl. That makes sense right? Phillip Rivers was tied for the NFL lead with 34 TD passes to only 11 interceptions and Chad Pennington had 19 TDs to 7 INTs, throwing for more yards than Favre in the process. Oh yeah, and they made the playoffs too. I would be embarassed to go to the Pro Bowl if I were Favre. So what did Brett accomplish? Once again, the Jets failed to make the playoffs. Mangini is now fired, because Brett didn't like being treated equally with all the other players. Ya see at Green Bay Brett could do whatever he wanted and no one ever yelled at him. Mangini scolded Favre for his reckless throws and decisions, and Favre couldn't take the heat he deserved. He wasn't pampered like he was in Green Bay, so he complained. Now Mangini is without a job. Favre can hurt the Jets in two ways: returning or leaving. Either way the Jets will struggle. I say get out of there why you can Brett. You already missed the perfect season to throw in the towel (last year), it's only going to get worse. Do yourself a favor and retire.
6. Drew Brees is a heck of a quarterback. Drew I hope that team builds around you sometime soon, because you've been a real diamond in the rough. He deserved that record this year. Unfortunately his receiver quit on his route and cost him the passing record I thought would forever be untouched. Who knows, maybe next year Drew. If the Saints could string together a defense and stay healthy on offense they would be something else. Only time will tell if that will ever happen. Until it does, hang in there Drew.
7. Hats off to Matt Cassel and Bill Belichick. After losing the NFL's best player, it would be easy for a coach and team to roll over and give up on the season. But not Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Many people expected the Pats to explore the free agent market. However, Belichick said from day one that Matt Cassel was their quarterback. He stood by his quarterback through the tough weeks and built a confidence in him and his team that only grew stronger as the season went on. A chaotic season left the 11-5 Patriots out of the playoffs (only the second time that has ever happened). But the Patriots showed themselves what they are capable of and found an emerging bright star on their roster. Belichick put forth quite possibly his most impressive season as a coach. It should be interesting to see how Cassel fairs in his second season if Brady is forced to sit out another year. Could we have a quarterback controversy with Tom Brady? Wouldn't that be something?
Images taken from Yahoo! Sports