(Philadelphia, Pa) — As we enter the final regular season weekend of the 88th NFL season – by the way where did the time go- teams are either in the driver’s seat toward the playoffs or helping out fantasy football owners by putting stats up as they finish the string in meaningless end of season games.All eight divisional titles have been procured and ten of the potential twelve playoff spots have been clinched except for the last two remaining wild card spots. I fully anticipate the Tennessee Titans to take the AFC spot (Defensive-minded V.Y led team poised for a win with the Colts expected to sit several veterans) and the resurgent Washington Redskins to enter the NFC tournament (Trying to continue their winning streak — 3 game winning streak since the funeral of Sean Taylor –against Cowboys, who have nothing to gain by winning the game. Both teams have veteran coaches (respectively Jeff Fisher and Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs) and had the benefited in week 16 of producing wins while the Browns and Vikings blew their chances in “win and your in games”. The Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts game is so anticipated that NBC invoked their “flex” scheduling rule and moved the game to prime time at 8:15 PM on Sunday.
With home field advantage already attained by America’s Team the Cowboys (NFC) and America’s most feared/hated/revered (pick an adjective) team the Patriots, there are lingering questions of whether these two anticipated Super Bowl teams and the other already in the playoffs teams will rest their veterans or play out the string. I fully expect most of the teams to employ the tactic of resting or getting valuable players out early especially the Cowboys (injuries) and Colts (injuries and Dungy’s history). Health is paramount as it can be a playoff teams ally or foe this time of the year and every playoff coach wants a full compliment of healthy players heading into the playoffs.
But one team that you know will not be resting their veterans in week 17 is the New England Patriots who are attempting to become the first NFL team to go 16-0 in the regular season. The evil empire and their fans will travel down I-95 as they face the already in the playoffs Giants at the Meadowlands in a Saturday Night bout. This anticipated historical game was so important that the NFL due to the prodding of the media and some influential people (Congressmen) decided that the game needed to be seen by the NFL Network’s small viewership (about 39% of cable households), simulcasting the game on NBC and CBS as well. That’s right three networks showing one game that will probably be over at halftime — the last time a game was shown on this many outlets was Super Bowl I.
Many have speculated that it would be egregious for the Giants to not play hard to keep the Patriots from the 1972 Dolphins Holy Grail record of perfection, but expect the G-Men to rest up (injuries to RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Plaxico Burress, and others) and get ready for another road test in the playoffs. The Pats on the other hand want to prove that spygate never happened and that they are the best team ever, so you know Brady, Moss, and other key players will be in until the game is safely tucked away. NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said of the Patriots, “I know they want to go 16-0. They are going to pull their guys only if they have that luxury (of a lead).” But don’t look for Bill “Darth Vader” Belichick to show any mercy on the G-Men’s backups as he may play all of his veterans for at least three quarters. Belichick said, “We’ll do whatever we feel is best for the football team.” The to the point coach added resting all 22 starters is impossible, because sitting selected players creates a situation in which some are labeled more important than others.
I caution the Patriots that 16-0 is good, but a Super Bowl win and a 19-0 record is truly colossal, so they need to focus on staying healthy for the games that matter. The Patriots will also be chasing other historical figures in the big NFL Network battle: Brady will be looking to eclipse Peyton Manning’s touchdown record of 49 (one behind with 48), Moss needs two touchdown catches to tie Jerry Rice’s touchdown receptions mark (22), and the Patriots offense needs six points to tie the 1998 Minnesota Vikings scoring record of 556 points. They also have an outside chance of matching the 1984 Miami Dolphins season touchdown record of 70.
Whatever happens it will all be seen on NFL Network (as mention earlier NBC and CBS will also show the game) as the cable channel that most people don’t have will be featuring a record 65.5 hours of Patriots and Giants specific programming – compared to the 36.5 hours on NFL Network prior to Patriots-Colts on Nov. 4th. The overkill and over hype for their game will include a six-hour live pregame show featuring a whopping 14 hosts. The pre-game length matches the longest NFL pregame show, including for a Super Bowl, on a single network.
Now on to the rankings for this week.
1. Patriots (15-0) -Easily dumped the pitiful Dolphins as they are now knocking on the door of the ’72 Dolphins. I have a strong feeling they will make history as they travel to the Meadowlands to face the Giants, who already know their playoff opponent.
2. Colts (13-2) – Came out and whipped the Texans early on the way to an easy home victory and a much-needed (too many injuries) first round bye in the playoffs. Will probably rest several starters as they host the Titans in a game they have nothing to play for.
3. Cowboys (13-2) – Romo didn’t let the Jessica Simpson masked fans of the Panthers stop him in a crucial road win that clinched home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Unfortunately for the Cowboys the win over the Panthers was costly as T.O hurt his ankle badly and will need all three weeks to get ready for the playoffs. Will probably rest almost half their team in a game against he surging Redskins, who need the win for the playoffs.
4. Jaguars (11-4) – The Raiders were the latest opponent to fall to the NFL’s best body punching physical team, who clinched a playoff berth. The Jags travel to Houston for a grudge match against the Texans, but look for Del Rio to pull his starters early in this meaningless game.
5. Packers (12-3) – Blew a golden opportunity to hang with the banged up Cowboys for home filed advantage, but their biggest rival the Bears kicked their butt as it was special teams gaffe after gaffe. Will need to regroup for the playoffs as they host the inconsistent Lions in a game that doesn’t matter for the Pack.
6. Steelers (10-5) – Pounded the hapless Rams on Thursday Night football in St Louis, but the victory was costly as they lost RB Willie Parker for the year. With not much else to play for other than getting RB Najeh Davenport as they travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens, who have lost nine straight.
7. Seahawks (10-5) – The ‘Hawks finally got their running game going as they beat up on the struggling Ravens. Will probably increase win their fifth game out of six as they travel to Atlanta to face the “ready for next season” Falcons.
8. Chargers (10-5) – The Chargers worked to secure the third seed in the AFC as they pounded the Broncos behind L.T on Monday Night Football. The Bolts understand that when they travel to Oakland to face the Raiders it is always a fight, but they need this game to avoid the Patriots early in the playoffs.
9. Giants (10-5) – The G-Men finally went to their dominating running game instead of error prone quarterback Eli Manning as they dominated the Bills on their way to securing a playoff birth. Everyone may want the Giants to play all their starters in the “big” game versus the record setting Patriots. But look for the G-men to treat this like a preseason game as they are already slated to go to Tampa Bay next week.
10. Buccaneers (9-6) – The Bucs got aging quarterback Jeff Garcia out early as they didn’t seem to care much as the Niners won over the NFC South champs. Gruden will probably continue to rest veterans like Garcia and LB Derrick Brooks against at home against the Panthers.
11. Titans (9-6) – Kept their hope alive for the last AFC playoff spot by squeaking by the Jets. V.Y, Keith Bullock, and the crew with a win can clinch a playoff berth as they travel to Indy to face a probable resting Colts squad.
12. Redskins (8-7) – Won their third straight game as Todd Collins helped lead the Redskins on the brink of the playoff with a big road win over playoff “pretenders” the Vikings. The playoffs will be on the line as the ‘Skins host a Cowboys team who is more worried about team health entering the playoffs than this old-time NFL rivalry.
13. Browns (9-6) – Just when you thought the Dawgs turned the corner, they played like a bunch of puppies especially quarterback Derek Anderson in a bad loss to the Bengals that probably ended their playoff chances. Host the Niners in a game they should win, but the best story of the season will probably end as the Brownies will more than likely be watching the playoffs from the outside.
14. Vikings (8-7) – The Redskins dominated the NFL’s most potent running game on Sunday Night Football as the Vikings now need help to get in the big dance. Will face a reeling Broncos squad in a game they must win to have a chance, but I think they already blew it.
15. Texans (7-8) – Though the Texans have won their highest number of games in their existence, the Colts showed them that they have much work to do. Host the Jags in a “stats only” game that doesn’t matter to the playoff picture.
16. Eagles (7-8) – The inconsistent Birds got it right again as they traveled to New Orleans got a revenge win and found the “old” Donovan McNabb in the process. The Birds will be shooting for a .500 record for the season and three straight wins going into the off-season as they host the Bills.
17. Saints (7-8) – Were dominated by the Eagles as they lost another running back as Aaron Stecker was injured. They still have a chance a very small chance of getting to the playoffs with Redskins and Vikings losses, but they need to beat the host Bears first in a rematch from last season’s NFC Championship.
18. Cardinals (7-8) – I will give the Cards credit they really know how to put up points and yards. However they had a surprisingly difficult time with the hapless Falcons in their win last week. Host the reeling and infighting Rams as they attempt to jump start ’08 by finishing at .500 this season.
19. Bills (7-8) – The game started off on an emotional high as injured comrade Kevin Everett walked into Ralph Wilson stadium, but the G-Men pounded their way via the run into the playoffs despite Eli. The Bills will try to finish up at .500 as they travel to Philly to face the Eagles.
20. Lions (7-8) – Finally stopped their second half swoon as they beat the reeling Chiefs in a pride game. Travel to Green Bay to face to the Packers, but don’t expect to see much of #4 in a “stats” only game that will probably have a pre-season feel to it.
21. Panthers (6-9) – Carolina fought hard and showed some heart for probably leaving head coach John Fox in a loss to the Cowboys. Travel to Tampa Bay to face to the Bucs, but don’t expect to see much of Garcia or any other of his banged up comrades in a “stats” only game that will probably have a pre-season feel to it.
22. Broncos (6-9) – The AFC Division champion Chargers showed no mercy as the Bolts quarterback Philip Rivers mocked them in a bad loss. Host the angry Vikings, who need the win over the Broncos to have a shot at the playoffs. The Broncos poor run defense should expect a heavy dose of Taylor and Peterson.
23. Bears (6-9) – Even with Kyle Orton at the controls the Bears continued their Super Bowl hangover in a loss to the Vikings that ended their season. The Bears still can have some this week as they host their long-time rival the Packers in a game that means more to the Pack.
24. Bengals (5-10) – Surprised everyone as they may have knocked the Browns out of the playoffs and maybe they saved the job of beleaguered coach Marvin Lewis. Finish up in sunny Miami as they face the Dolphins in the NFL’s version of the toilet bowl.
25. 49ers (5-10) – The Niners won a game that the charging toward the playoffs Bucs didn’t really care about. Look for the boys from the bay to be carved up by the host Browns, who need a win and a Titans loss to get into the playoffs.
26. Raiders (4-11) – Machine gun armed quarterback JaMarcus Russell finally got his chance to play extensively, but the host Jags pounded them. Host the Chargers in an old-time AFL rivalry game as the Bolts need the win to avoid the Pats.
27. Ravens (4-11) – Billick went to Troy Smith against the Seahawks, but it was the same result as the Ravens lost for the ninth straight time. The Ravens may have to eat the huge contract they gave Billick as the season will mercifully end as they host hated rival the Steelers.
28. Jets (3-12) – The J-E-T-S were no match for the possibly playoff bound Titans. Herman Edwards will be back as this is the ultimate meaningless end of season battle with the equally pitiful Chiefs.
29. Chiefs (4-11) – The Lions showed that the Chiefs might be one of the NFL’s worst this season. Travel to the Meadowlands to face the equally horrible Jets in the return of Herman Edwards.
30. Rams (3-12) – The Rams were not even close as the Steelers throttled them on Thursday Night Football. Travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals in a “stats” only game.
31. Falcons (3-12) – New coach Emmitt Thomas had his team play the Cards tough in Arizona losing in overtime. The poor Falcons will finish out the string as they host the playoff bound Seahawks.
32. Dolphins (1-14) – The ‘Phins couldn’t help their ’72 brethren as the Patriots stayed perfect in a dominating loss. Oh well the Dolphins can now look toward the first pick of the draft (LSU DT Glenn Dorsey) under the guidance of new VP of Football Bill Parcells. Host the Bengals in a game that could very well be the last for beleaguered head coach Cam Cameron and GM Randy Mueller.