2008 NFL Review – Week 17

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The curtain closed on the 2008 NFL regular season with a fast and furious Week 17.  With the regular season ending, 20 teams’ dreams of moving on to the playoffs were officially closed.  Leaving 12 teams (Titans, Steelers, Colts, Ravens, Chargers, Dolphins, Giants, Panthers, Vikings, Cardinals, Falcons, and Eagles) to continue following the 2008 NFL’s moniker of “Believe In Now”.

Changes is definitely in the air around the NFL as for the 13th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before.  This year there are 7 teams including: Arizona, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minnesota, Miami and Carolina.  Also there are seven new division winners (Tennessee, NY Giants, Minnesota, Chargers, Miami, Carolina, and Arizona) setting a new record since realignment in 2002, topping the six new division winners of 2003.

Before we move on to the ensuing playoff madness starting with a very interesting wildcard round, let’s take a look at the final regular season week of the 2008 NFL season.

Some tidbits and news from Week 17 includes:

Teams stepping it up to make the playoffs — With their season’s on the line, the Dolphins, Eagles, Ravens, Vikings, and Chargers all had the wherewithal to “Seize the Day” and claim 2008 playoff berths. 

  • Chad gets his revenge as the Dolphins roll passed reeling Jets — The Dolphins had probably the easiest equation to the playoffs. Beat the host Jets and they won the AFC East thus ensuring hosting a wildcard game in Sunny Miami, Florida. In a game they had to have, the Dolphins (11-5) never trailed as they powered passed the turnover prone (4) Jets 24-17. The game was a tale of two quarterbacks as Dolphins starter and former Jets jettisoned signal caller Chad Pennington showed the J-E-T-S what they let go with a performance of 22-30, 200 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs. On the flipside much ballyhooed Jets starter and NFL legend Brett Favre looked like he might be ready for retirement throwing for pedestrian numbers 20-40, 233 yards, 1 TD, and 3 game-turning interceptions. The Dolphins outgained the Jets 126-80 on the ground, controlling the time-of-possession 33:48 to 26:12 as they won the AFC East for the first time since 2000.
  • The Eagles embarrass the “Paper Champion” Cowboys to claim the NFC’s final wildcard spot – When the games started on Sunday, everyone assumed that the Bucs or the Bears would win thus rendering the playoffs chances moot by their 4:00 PM start against the Cowboys. To the chagrin of many, the Eagles-Cowboys game became very meaning full as the Bucs and Bears stumbled opening the door to the Birds. Thriving on a “Win and We Are In” attitude, the Eagles fueled by five turnovers pummeled the overrated Cowboys 44-6 to the delight of a sold out Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles (9-6-1) led offensively by an efficient Donovan McNabb (12-21, 175 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT and 1 rushing TD) and sparkplug running back Correll Buckhalter (10 rushes for 63 yards and 3 receptions for 59 yds with 1 TD). But it was the performance of the Jim Johnson’s defense that was the story for the Birds as the veteran defensive coordinator’s unit forced five Cowboys turnovers and scored on back-to-back defensive touchdowns to start the third quarter. The Eagles for the first time in their history had no penalties in the game plus they were able to shutout Cowboys Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware – went sackless as he needed three sacks to surpass Strahan’s record of 22.5 sacks.
  • Ravens are efficient in playoff clinching win – I have to tell you there is a quiet, but deadly team forming in the Charm City as the Ravens are gaining momentum at the right time and will be tough out in the playoffs. Led by a career-high 297 yards passing from Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco, the Ravens cruised passed the beleaguered Jags 27-7. As good as Flacco was in the game, the story for first year head coach John Harbaugh’s team was defense. Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed recorded two interceptions, veteran linebacker Ray Lewis recovered two fumbles, and the Ravens are the first team since the 1962 Packers to hold their opponents under 14 points in every home game.
  • Vikings win the NFC North even though they were already in – You couldn’t blame the Vikings if they were scoreboard watching on Sunday, as a loss by the Bears to the Texans, would put the Vikes in the postseason. It didn’t matter as the Vikings (10-6) jumpstarted their own playoff hopes with a close 20-19 home win over the Giants. Kicker Ryan Longwell nailed a 50-yard field goal with five seconds remaining in the game, giving the Vikings the victory and their first division championship since 2000. The win had to be satisfying for Vikings, but in the back of their mind they surely had to wonder what the outcome would have been if the Giants didn’t rest some veterans (QB Eli Manning, RB Brandon Jacobs, and others) for the majority of the game. The Vikings were led by NFL rushing leader RB Adrian Peterson, who shook off a first quarter fumble, to finish with 103 yards — the 10th 100-yard game of his two-year NFL career – and 1 touchdown (67 yards sprint). The Giants held the ball nearly 10 minutes longer than the Vikings, but the 2007 Super Bowl Champs did not display a sense of urgency as three trips into the red zone produced only two field goals.
  • Chargers continue their miraculous playoff run with a shellacking of the Broncos – If you had told me four weeks ago that the Chargers — (4-8) at the time — would go on a four game winning streak to win the AFC West title, I would have thought you were crazy. But that is exactly what happened as the streaking Chargers (8-8 with a 4-game winning streak) disposed of the reeling Bronco (finished the season with a three-game losing streak) 52-21 in San Diego. The win avenged the Chargers highly contested week 2 loss to the Broncos and put an exclamation point on their fourth AFC West title in the last five seasons. The Chargers were led in the NBC Sunday Night Football massacre by RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who finally looked like his old self, rushing for 96 yards and a season-high three touchdowns in less than three quarters – left in the fourth quarter with a groin strain. The Chargers scored on six of their first seven drives and didn’t punt until 57 seconds left in the third quarter. The Chargers also became the first team in NFL History to make the playoffs following a 4-8 start.

Teams folding under playoff pressure – I don’t know if the Cowboys, Buccaneers, Bears, and Broncos were looking forward to the playoffs, but they all couldn’t get the job done in Week 17 to make the Big Dance

  • Cowboys shouldn’t have even made the trip to Philly – Incredibly with their season on the line, the high priced Dallas Cowboys had no fight in Philadelphia.  Entering their crucial Week 17 game with the Eagles, the Cowboys kept saying, “All Was Well” as their ship kept sinking in the past three weeks (record of 1-2) with a huge amount of drama-laden infighting.  Miraculously the Cowboys had the chance to “Win and Get In” versus an Eagles team that they had beaten in Week 2 of the season.  Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they never showed up indicating that some changes maybe coming in Big D besides their new billion-dollar stadium.  The catalyst of the Cowboys demise was quarterback Tony Romo as “Mr. September” — now (5-10) for his career in December and January including two playoff losses — was harassed into producing two turnovers (1 INT and 1 Fumble) including a fumble returned for a touchdown.  The Cowboys finished the season leading the NFL in penalties and finished 30th in turnover margin.   To matters even worse, the Cowboys continued to fight amongst themselves on the sidelines in the loss plus Cowboys FB Deon Anderson got into a fight with LT Flozell Adams on the flight home from Philadelphia.
  • Bucs lose one at home to Gruden’s old squad – In one of the week’s biggest upsets, the Bucs failed to clinch a playoff spot as the Oakland Raiders knocked them out with a 31-24 road victory.  The Bucs fought back from a 14-7 halftime deficit, but in the fourth quarter the Raiders rode powerback Michael Bush (177 rushing yards) to a hard earned victory.  The win had to be extra satisfying to Raiders owner Al Davis as the man in the black sweat suit got to stick it to his former coach and Bucs headman John Gruden.  The Raiders ended their season with a two-game winning streak and it was their running game that showed the way against the Bucs — outrushed Tampa Bay 192 to 125 and had a possession edge of 31:58 to 28:02.  The Bucs loss coupled with the Bears loss to the Texans opened the door for the Eagles to get in the playoffs.

The Detroit Lions are the NFL’s First 0-16 Team — The Lions lost their season finale to the Green Bay Packers 31-21 to complete the league’s first 0-16 season. I don’t know if champagne bottles were uncorked in Tampa Bay or not, but now the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) are no longer the only team to complete an NFL season without a victory.  You knew it was going to be a long day for the Lions when they trailed 14-0 after one quarter, however Lions head coach Rod Marinelli’s troops stormed back to tie the game at 14-14 after three quarters.  The fourth quarter again proved to be the Lions doom as the Packers poured on 17 points to finish with a ten-point win.  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the star of the game for Pack completing 21 of 31 passes for 308 yards and 3 TD’s.  For the Lions offensive threats RB Kevin Smith (28 rushes for 92 yards and 1 TD) and WR Calvin Johnson (9 receptions for 102 yards and 2 TD’s) tried their hardest to avoid NFL infamy, but two turnovers (both interceptions by quarterback Dan Orvolosky) and defense that allowed 484 total yards were the NFL’s 2008 hard luck team’s undoing.  Well at least the Lions will have their options (Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, Georgia QB Mathew Stafford, Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree, USC LB Rey Maualuga, and others) for the 2009 NFL Draft’s first player selected.  It will be interesting to see how fast owner William Clay Ford removes Marinelli on Monday, which is “Black Monday” around the NFL for all of the coaches usually fired on the first day after the close of the regular season.

Milestones were aplenty in Week 17

  • The New England Patriots (11-5) became the second team to finish with 11 wins and not qualify for the playoffs – 1985 Denver Broncos are the other team.
  • With 207 yards, Philip Rivers finished the season with 4,009 passing yards, joining Dan Fouts as the only Chargers QBs with 4,000 in a season.
  • Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren coached his final game for the Seahawks in a 34-21 loss to the Niners.
  • The dubious 0-16 Lions in their 31-21 loss to the Packers were the first team in NFL history to allow an opponent to have two 100-yard rushers (Ryan Grant and DeShawn Wynne) and two 100-yard receivers (Greg Jennings and Donald Driver) in the same game.
  • With 11 wins, the Dolphins tied the 1999 Colts (13-3 after 3-13 the previous season) for the biggest turnaround in NFL History (11 games going from 1-15 to 11-5)
  • The Dolphins finished the regular season with 13 turnovers, beating the N.Y. Giants’ record of 14 set in 1990 for the fewest ever in a 16-game season.
  • The Steelers finished just shy of becoming the first defense since the 1991 Eagles with a 1-1-1 ranking in total defense, run defense, and pass defenses. They finished second in the league in run defense to the Vikings, who allowed an average of 76.9 yards per game to the Steelers’ 80.2.
  • The Panthers backfield duo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams combined for 2,351 yards, which is the highest total in the NFL in 24 years — the eighth best total of all time for a pair of teammates.
  • Falcons WR Roddy White set the team single-season record for receiving yards (1,382), breaking Alfred Jenkins’ mark (1,358) from 1981.
  • Quarterback Matt Ryan is the first Falcons quarterback to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season since 1998.
  • Vikings RB Adrian Peterson finished the season with his first career rushing title (1,760 yards) and he joined Eric Dickerson, Clinton Portis, and Earl Campbell as the only backs to run for 3,000 yards in their first two seasons.
  • New York Giants RB Derrick Ward rushed for 77 yards against the Vikings, putting him over 1,000 for the season and making the Giants just the fourth team with two 1,000-yard running backs in the same season (Brandon Jacobs has 1,089) – Others were Browns Byner and Mack; Dolphins Csonka and Morris; Steelers Bleier and Harris.
  • Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished with 386 passing yards against a very stingy Panthers defense leaving him 15 yards short of breaking Dan Marino’s NFL single season passing yardage record of 5,084 yards.  Brees finished with 5,066 yards, which made him only the second player in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season.  

Game Balls

Oakland Raiders RB Michael Bush – A player that I really liked coming out of Louisville in ’07 despite a senior year ruined by a broken leg.  Bush showed why he was once one of the best players in college football by ravaging the Tampa Bay Bucs defense for 177 rushing yards on 27 attempts in a huge 31-24 upset win.  Bush’s biggest play came on a 67-yard touchdown rumble through the Bucs defense.  The former Louisville All-American also caught one pass for 6 yards and threw a long pass – former high school quarterback – that drew a pass interference penalty.

Honorable Mention

Atlanta Falcons RB Michael Turner – The biggest free agent pickup of 2008 ran 25 times for 208 yards and 1 TD in the Falcons 31-27 win over the Rams. Turner’s touchdown was the 17th of the season, which is a new Falcons’ franchise record.

Baltimore Ravens DB Ed Reed – The Ravens Pro Bowl safety and my pick for the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award recorded two interceptions in the Ravens 27-7 win over the Jaguars.  Reed had an NFL leading 9 interceptions for the season.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary – Iron Mike II led the Niners to a 27-24 win over the Redskins giving him a record of 5-2 since taking over at midseason.  As a reward the tough coach attained the full title “Head Coach” after the win removing the word “interim” from his title.  Singletary’s first move as full head coach was a popular one as he fired malcontent offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

Philadelphia Eagles DE Chris Clemons -After signing a big contract in the offseason, Clemons had struggled for much of the year — played mostly on special teams. The former Raiders sack man saved his best performance for last game of the regular season finishing with two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble return for a touchdown. Clemons 73-yard return of a Tony Romo fumble early in the third quarter basically buried the Cowboys.

Lloyd’s Lackey

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo – The player synonymous with “America’s Team” or is that former team, get this week’s award for his collapse on and off the field against the Eagles.  In a must win game, Romo (21-39, 183, 0 TD, 1 INT) and the Cowboys continued to not live-up to the hype in their embarrassing 44-6 loss to the Eagles.  Romo never had time in the pocket throwing an interception and his two fumbles, including one that was returned for a touchdown, were game breakers.  Romo needs to figure out how to win late in the season – 5-10 in December and January – or the Cowboys may need to find a quarterback in the draft.  The key question is, “Where do the high priced Cowboys go from here?”  It will be a very interesting off-season in Dallas (who will be the head coach Wade Philips or Jason Garrett) and owner Jerry Jones has to be wondering if he is getting enough return on his investment.

Other Dishonorees

New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini – His team never showed up in a season-ending home loss to the Dolphins.  The former “mangenuis” could not get his team to do better than 1-4 down the stretch.  **Note: Mangini was fired on Monday after posting a 23-26 record in 3 years.

Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan – His team was destroyed by the Chargers and down the stretch they couldn’t win the pitiful AFC West, losing 3 straight to finish 8-8.  **Note: Shanahan was fired on Tuesday, so I guess two Super Bowl victories from over 10 years ago buys you so much time.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The Detroit Lions are the NFL’s First 0-16 Team

The Lions lost their season finale to the Green Bay Packers 31-21 to complete the league’s first 0-16 season. I don’t know if champagne bottles were uncorked in Tampa Bay or not, but now the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) are no longer the only team to complete an NFL season without a victory.

You knew it was going to be a long day for the Lions when they trailed 14-0 after one quarter, however Lions head coach Rod Marinelli’s troops stormed back to tie the game at 14-14 after three quarters.  The fourth quarter again proved to be the Lions doom as the Packers poured on 17 points to finish with a ten-point win.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the star of the game for Pack completing 21 of 31 passes for 308 yards and 3 TD’s.  For the Lions offensive threats RB Kevin Smith (28 rushes for 92 yards and 1 TD) and  WR Calvin Johnson (9 receptions for 102 yards and 2 TD’s) tried their hardest to avoid NFL infamy, but two turnovers (both interceptions by quarterback Dan Orvolosky) and defense that allowed 484 total yards were the NFL’s 2008 hard luck team’s undoing.

 It will be interesting to see how fast owner William Clay Ford removes Marinelli on Monday, which is “Black Monday” around the NFL for all of the coaches usually fired on the first day after the close of the regular season.  Well at least the Lions and their new head coach will have their options (Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, Georgia QB Mathew Stafford, Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree, USC LB Rey Maualuga, and others) for the 2009 NFL Draft’s first player selected.

2008 NFL Preview – Week 17

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Hard to believe, but the final week of the 2008 NFL season is upon us.  With cries of “Where did the time go?” all around the NFL — except for places like St. Louis, Cleveland, and Detroit – the most exciting time in sports, the NFL playoffs, is almost upon us.  For the 13th consecutive season, five or more teams will qualify for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before – already in are Arizona, Atlanta and Carolina, who all did not make the playoffs last year.  This Sunday, that number will definitely jump to four teams with either Minnesota or Chicago winning the NFC North and with other scenarios it could get larger — the fifth (and potentially sixth) teams will come from the pool of Baltimore, Miami and the New York Jets, who are competing with New England (2007 AFC East champion) for two AFC playoff berths. The number of new playoff teams could explode as high as eight if Denver emerges as the AFC West champion and Philadelphia or Chicago takes the final NFC wild card spot.

The holidays have brought gifts for some (Titans, Giants, Steelers, and Falcons) and letters not answered by Santa for some others (Browns, Chiefs, Rams, and Lions).  But there are still more storylines to be written and told in Week 17 as 11 teams scramble for the last five available playoff berths, postseason awards are waiting to be claimed, possible records to be broken, and draft slotting is finalized. Though some teams (Colts, Steelers, Giants, and Titans) have already clinched playoff spots, first round byes or home field advantage and may have the option of resting selected players, the overwhelming majority of games in Week 17 have playoff implications.  Being selfish for a moment, I like that playoff scenarios are involved in the last week of the NFL season as it gives more credence to the “Every Game Counts” mantra of the league.  Teams only need to look at last year’s magical Super Bowl championship run by the wildcard New Giants (10-6 record in 2007) to see how playing hard in Week 17 can ignite a team’s fire in the playoffs – lost to the then undefeated Patriots 38-35.  But the Giants’ effort was not in vain as the team learned that they could play with the “Super Patriots” and beat the 18-0 monster as we learned in Super Bowl XLII.

The most important aspect of NFL Week 17 is getting your card punched for January’s playoff dance by any means necessary — getting help from other teams losing, winning yourself, and key tiebreakers (head to head, conference record, common opponents, etc).  Chicago Bears defensive end Alex Brown summed up NFL Week 17 best when he said, “You win, you keep playing”.  Brown and his Bears (9-6) teammates should take his comments to heart as the “Monsters of the Midway” need to take care of business in Houston against a gritty Texans (7-8) team with the hope that the Giants don’t rest their veterans against the Vikings.  Speaking of the Vikings, I am sure that NFC North leading squad (9-6) will lean heavily on NFL leading rusher Adrian Peterson (1,657 yards) — needs only two yards to join Eric Dickerson, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, and Earl Campbell as the only players who have rushed for at least 3,000 yards in their first two seasons — against the Giants staunch defense (currently ranked 5th in the NFL) as they attempt to clinch their first division crown since 2000 when former head coach Mike Tice was patrolling the sidelines.

The Giants-Vikings is not the only game on tap that should keep everyone glued to their seats from 1:00 PM to 11:30 PM EST on Sunday to find out “Who is in and Who is out”.  A programming note all NFL games in Week 17 are played on Sunday December 28th — no Monday Night Football — meaning all playoff destinations will be known in time for Sunday’s ESPN SportsCenter

  • Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles – One of the biggest rivalries in professional football will have greater significance as the Cowboys will “get-in” the playoffs with a win at hostile Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones has spent a lot of time and money on this year’s team, so expect urgency to be high for on the “hot seat” head coach Wade Phillips, end of season swooner quarterback Tony Romo (record of 5-10 lifetime in Dec and Jan) and the rest of the drama-filled Cowboys. The Eagles on the other hand need a win plus help from Bucs and Vikings losing to keep playing plus who knows this could be the last time in green for safety Brian Dawkins, quarterback Donovan McNabb, and possibly head coach Andy Reid. The unfortunate part for the Eagles, is that this game has been “flexed” from a 1:00 PM start to 4:00 PM and the Birds probably will know they have been eliminated from playoff contention with an expected Bucs win over the Raiders at 1PM. LV‘s Pick: The Cowboys win as they need this game much more than the Birds. Look for T.O and Romo to pour it on as the in-for-some-changes-in ’09 Eagles start making off-season plans after watching the Bucs trounce the Raiders
  • St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons – This 1:00 PM starting game features a team rising from the ashes (Falcons) against a team falling to the lowest of NFL depths (Rams). The Falcons led by surefire rookie of the year quarterback Matt Ryan need a win and a Panthers loss (against the Saints) to become the sixth NFC South champion to go from last to first in one season since the division was established in 2002. LV‘s Pick: Falcons win and they claim the NFC North as the Panthers tumble to the 5th spot.
  • New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills – Everyone’s pick for breakout player of the year, Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, leads his team against the spoiler happy Bills. Everyone knows about the mess that AFC East currently is with the Patriots and Dolphins tied at the top and the Jets not far behind. The Patriots should take care of business at 1PM then they will turn their attentions to the huge Jets-Dolphins showdown. If the Dolphins lose then the Patriots win the division. LV‘s Pick: Patriots
  • Miami Dolphins at New York Jets – With the ghosts of Doug Betters, AJ Duhe, Mark Gastineau, Richard Todd, and Nat Moore running around the Meadowlands, the game has huge AFC East title implications will take place at 4:15 PM EST. The weather in New York is expected to be around 50 to 60 degrees at kickoff, so we won’t see the ‘Phins buttoned up as they typically have been in late season trips up North. The Dolphins if you can believe it have a chance to clinch the division after going 1-15 in 2007. The J-E-T-S were in the drivers seat of the division race a couple of weeks ago, but have recently struggled – lost 3 of their last 4 games with quarterback Brett Favre producing 1 TD and 6 INTs during this stretch. LV‘s Pick: I like the Jets to bounce back by winning by a very small margin (field goal game) thus sending the AFC East champion Patriots to the playoffs.

In Week 17 of the NFL, history will be relived (1958 Championship Game) and unfortunately might be negatively created (Lions finishing 0-16).

The Greatest Game Ever Celebrated — How many professional sports leagues can pinpoint the exact spot, the exact day, even the exact time they “arrived?” The National Football League can: Yankee Stadium, December 28, 1958, 4:51 PM EST. Fifty years ago this Sunday (December 28th), will mark the 50th Anniversary of the legendary 1958 Championship Game between the Colts and Giants called “The Greatest Game Ever”.  The Colts won when fullback Alan Ameche burst through a hole for a one-yard touchdown with 6:45 left in overtime taking the National Football League with him into a new era. The NFL would never be the same again as football was discovered by American pop-culture and started roots that have made it the nation’s new passion over baseball.

During Week 17 around the NFL, “The Greatest Game Ever” will be celebrated everywhere with stories regaling football legends like John Unitas, Raymond Berry, John Mackey, Gino Marchetti, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Emlen Tunnel and Lenny Moore, who were all part of the black-white television spectacular.  Pro Football Hall of Fame head Joe Horrigan said of the 1958 Championship Game, “The Greatest Game Ever moniker has stood the test of time. We can look back historically and see that this game not only played a significant role in the development of television, which it’s often cited for, but beyond that, it was a great catalyst for expansion in the National Football League and the emergence of the American Football League. It was also putting a game in the city of New York, which was of critical importance to the league in terms of the growth of its popularity”. 

Sure there are other games that could be debated as the “Greatest” — The Ice Bowl, Super Bowl III’s Namath predicted Jets upset over the Colts, my favorite the classic Chargers-Dolphins playoff in 1982, the one-yard short Rams-Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, and Super Bowl XLII with the Giants overcoming the Goliath 18-0 Patriots.  But the perfection of the 1958 Championship game was the explosive collision of time, place, and history that will probably never be seen again in sports.  Just think about it….the game had marquee players (Gifford, Unitas, and others), a compelling finish (overtime for the first time ever), was played out on national television for the first time (most NFL games were blacked out back then), was held in the United States’ focal point (New York City), and in the nation’s most revered stadium (Yankee Stadium).  Long live the “The Greatest Game Ever” and here is hoping more historic NFL memories can be made in the near future.

Detroit Lions trying to avoid NFL (0-16) Infamy — It has become overwhelming apparent throughout the 2008 NFL season that this season’s Detroit Lions may absolutely be the NFL’s all-time worst franchise for one season.  Last week, the Lions became the NFL’s first 0-15 team with a 42-7 home loss to the Saints — 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).  So the stage is set this Sunday for the Lions to become the NFL’s first 0-16 squad playing against old-time rival the Green Bay Packers on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  The final game of the season couldn’t have come sooner for embattled head coach Rod Marinelli, who currently sports a 10-25 record in two-plus seasons with the Lions including losing 22 of their last 23 games.  The Packers at (5-10) are not much better than the Lions, but do you really believe that the Pack can lose to the woeful Lions in their own stadium — legendary coach Vince Lombardi would rollover in his grave.  Maybe former Packers nemesis from his days with the Vikings, Lions backup quarterback Daunte Culpepper, can come off the bench to save his team’s season, but I doubt it.  LV‘s Pick: Move over 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) as there is a new pathetic team in NFL history. 

Lloyd’s Leftovers

New Leadership in NFL Divisions – Heading into Week 17, there are already five divisions guaranteed to have a different champion from last year. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only repeat division winner at this point. The potential seven new division winners would set a record since realignment in 2002, topping the six new division winners of 2003.

Rookie RB’s Shining — With 10 and 12 yards, respectively, running backs Steve Slaton (1,190) of Houston and Matt Forte’ (1,188) of Chicago can join Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (1,228) as the first trio of rookie backs in history to each rush for 1,200 yards since 1983.

Giants Dynamic Duo looking for history — The New York Giants’ Brandon Jacobs (1,089) and Derrick Ward (948) seek to become only the fourth set of running-back teammates to rush for 1,000 yards each in the same season in 23 years (Browns’ Mack and Byner).

Saints quarterback Drew Brees needs 402 passing yards in week 17versus the Panthers to tie Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 set in 1984.

The Indianapolis Colts need a home win over the Titans to continue their NFL record streak of 12-win seasons (currently five years).

Featured Game

DENVER BRONCOS (8-7) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (7-8) NBC, 8:15 PM

Broadcast Team: John Madden, Al Michaels, and Andrea Kremer (Field reporter). 

It’s either the AFC West division title or nothing. There’s no in-between in this crucial Week 17 battle, where the winner wins the awfully weak AFC West division and the loser goes home, missing the playoffs.  A couple of weeks ago with the Broncos having a comfy 3-game lead (Denver was 8-5 to the Chargers 5-8) and the Chargers struggling due to injuries and failed expectation, you never would have suspected a showdown game of this magnitude – this game is so big that NBC “flexed” its scheduling muscles to move the battle to Sunday Night primetime. But after the Broncos came up short against the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills, while the red-hot Chargers led by maybe soon to be fired head coach Norv Turner have rattled off a three game winning streak including a 41-24 shellacking of the Bucs last week, the stage is set for this old-time AFL grudge match.

The struggling Broncos are trying to keep their composure about this tense game with their Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler (4,210 yards passing) saying, “If you told us at the beginning of the year that it was a one-game series with us down in San Diego to go to the playoffs, we probably would have taken it, we’ve got to keep our heads up.”  But you have to wonder if the Broncos and their embattled head coach Mike Shanahan believe that their luck may have run out.  I talk about luck in this game, because in their week two meeting, beleaguered NFL referee Ed Hochuli was part of a huge officiating gaffe that clearly benefited the Broncos.  In the final minute of the September game, Hochuli ruled that an apparent Chargers recovered fumble that had slipped from Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler’s grasp was an incomplete pass instead of a fumble and the Broncos went on to win 39-38 after converting an improbable game-ending two point conversion.  Of course replay could do nothing as usual and on the Monday after the game, Hochuli admitted his incorrect call followed by an avalanche of borderline fan harassment. Luckily the AFC West title game will be free of another Hochuli blunder as he will be in frigid Green Bay, Wisconsin refereeing the Lions-Packers game — Hopefully the Lions will get a fair shot from Hochuli’s unit. The NFL has assigned referee John Parry to the AFC West showdown – for the record per league policy, officiating crews do not do two games between the same teams in any season.

Ever since the Week 2 fiasco, the Chargers have been waiting for their chance for revenge.  The Chargers volatile quarterback Philip Rivers — NFL’s passer rating of 104.6 with 3,802 passing yards – looked like a fortune teller when he said after the Week 2 loss, “We’ll get another shot at them later in the year. Hopefully, it’ll be for all the marbles.”   Rivers and Cutler seem to have a rivalry that goes back to their college days in the South (Rivers at NC State and Cutler at Vanderbilt), so this should be a pass-happy game especially with the anticipated great weather conditions and both team weak passing defenses – both allow over 300 total yards a game with the Broncos averaging a whopping 366.8 yards and the Chargers not far behind at 346.2 yards.

The Chargers have won five of the past eight matchups to trim the Broncos’ overall series lead to 53-43-1, so it will be fun to watch these two evenly teams matched for their automatic ticket while Madden describes every “BOOM” on the field.  Make sure you watch for Denver receiver Brandon Marshall in this game as the player described as “Baby T.O” needs two catches to reach 100 reception despite missing a couple of games due to suspension.

LV‘s Pick: Moment and Karma are tough things to beat, so I believe the Chargers this time turn the tables on the Broncos.  Their home crowd should be in the game and the excitement of the playoffs should push the Chargers passed the reeling Broncos 31-21.  After entering the playoffs, the real fun will start as the Chargers try to be the only 8-8 playoff team to win a game in the postseason.

Week 17

Sun, Dec 28

STL @ ATL 1:00 PM  (FOX)

NE @ BUF  1:00 PM   (CBS)

KC @ CIN  1:00 PM  (CBS)

DET @ GB  1:00 PM  (FOX)

CHI @ HOU  1:00 PM  (FOX)

TEN @ IND  1:00 PM  (CBS)

NYG @ MIN  1:00 PM  (FOX)

CAR @ NO  1:00 PM  (FOX)

CLE @ PIT  1:00 PM  (CBS)

OAK @ TB  1:00 PM  (CBS)

SEA @ ARI  4:15 PM (FOX)         

WAS @ SF  4:15 PM  (FOX)         

DAL @ PHI  4:15 PM (FOX)

MIA @ NYJ  4:15 PM (CBS)

JAC @ BAL 4:15 PM  (CBS)

DEN @ SD  8:15 PM  (NBC)

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

WVU QB Pat White Shines in Last Bowl Game

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West Virginia senior quarterback Pat White shined in his final collegiate game as he passed WVU to a comeback win over North Carolina in the Meineke Bowl

For years I have heard that West Virginia 5th-year senior quarterback Pat White was nothing more than a glorified running back. Well to everyone that assumed White was not a “thrower”, just take a look at his performance in his final collegiate game.

White may have finally silenced scouts, who questioned his passing ability throwing for 332 yards in his final college game, including the game-winning 20-yard touchdown pass to Alric Arnett in the fourth quarter to give West Virginia a 31-30 comeback victory over North Carolina on Saturday in the Meineke Bowl.

The most storied running quarterback in college football history – added 55 rushing yards to push his record to 4,480 rushing yards – came out throwing in his final game and he did not disappoint producing his best passing day in his prolific college career. White completed his 14 of his first 15 attempts on the way to a 26 of 32, 332 yards (hit seven different receivers), three touchdowns, and one interception passing performance, which put a huge cherry on top of his WVU resume. White was also voted MVP of a bowl for the third straight year and set an NCAA record by being the only starting quarterback to go 4-0 in bowl games.

After the game, West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said of White. “He’s the greatest to ever wear the old gold and blue. It’s a fitting tribute that this man’s the MVP.” A giddy White added in the postgame press conference, “Knowing that this is the last time I’m going to put on this uniform, I definitely wanted to go out on top and we accomplished that.”

To everyone that automatically wants to paint White as the next “Antwaan Randle El slot receiver type” before allowing him to throw in the NFL, shame on you — imagine the possibilities out of the “Wildcat” formation. I say give the kid a chance – remember the Patriots drafted former NFL quarterback great Rich Gannon as a DB – before an automatic conversion. To his credit White has signed on to participate in the Senior Bowl to prove or not prove that he is an NFL caliber passer.

Detroit Lions trying to avoid NFL (0-16) Infamy

It has become overwhelming apparent throughout the 2008 NFL season that this season’s Detroit Lions may absolutely be the NFL’s all-time worst franchise for one season.  Last week, the Lions became the NFL’s first 0-15 team with a 42-7 home loss to the Saints — 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).  So the stage is set this Sunday for the Lions to become the NFL’s first 0-16 squad playing against old-time rival the Green Bay Packers on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. 

The final game of the season couldn’t have come sooner for embattled head coach Rod Marinelli, who currently sports a 10-25 record in two-plus seasons with the Lions including losing 22 of their last 23 games.  The Packers at (5-10) are not much better than the Lions, but do you really believe that the Pack can lose to the woeful Lions in their own stadium — legendary coach Vince Lombardi would rollover in his grave.  Maybe former Packers nemesis from his days with the Vikings, Lions backup quarterback Daunte Culpepper, can come off the bench to save his team’s season, but I doubt it. 

LV‘s Pick: Move over 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) as there is a new pathetic team in NFL history.

The Greatest Game Ever Celebrated

How many professional sports leagues can pinpoint the exact spot, the exact day, even the exact time they “arrived?” The National Football League can: Yankee Stadium, December 28, 1958, 4:51 PM EST. Fifty years ago this Sunday (December 28th), will mark the 50th Anniversary of the legendary 1958 Championship Game between the Colts and Giants called “The Greatest Game Ever”.  The Colts won when fullback Alan Ameche burst through a hole for a one-yard touchdown with 6:45 left in overtime taking the National Football League with him into a new era. The NFL would never be the same again as football was discovered by American pop-culture and started roots that have made it the nation’s new passion over baseball.

During Week 17 around the NFL, “The Greatest Game Ever” will be celebrated everywhere with stories regaling football legends like John Unitas, Raymond Berry, John Mackey, Gino Marchetti, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Emlen Tunnel and Lenny Moore, who were all part of the black-white television spectacular.  Pro Football Hall of Fame head Joe Horrigan said of the 1958 Championship Game, “The Greatest Game Ever moniker has stood the test of time. We can look back historically and see that this game not only played a significant role in the development of television, which it’s often cited for, but beyond that, it was a great catalyst for expansion in the National Football League and the emergence of the American Football League. It was also putting a game in the city of New York, which was of critical importance to the league in terms of the growth of its popularity”. 

Sure there are other games that could be debated as the “Greatest” — The Ice Bowl, Super Bowl III’s Namath predicted Jets upset over the Colts, my favorite the classic Chargers-Dolphins playoff in 1982, the one-yard short Rams-Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, and Super Bowl XLII with the Giants overcoming the Goliath 18-0 Patriots.  But the perfection of the 1958 Championship game was the explosive collision of time, place, and history that will probably never be seen again in sports.  Just think about it….the game had marquee players (Gifford, Unitas, and others), a compelling finish (overtime for the first time ever), was played out on national television for the first time (most NFL games were blacked out back then), was held in the United States’ focal point (New York City), and in the nation’s most revered stadium (Yankee Stadium). 

Long live the “The Greatest Game Ever” and here is hoping more historic NFL memories can be made in the near future.

No Ed Hochuli for AFC West Showdown Game

NFL fans can put their minds to rest knowing that infamous refree Ed Hochuli will not be working the playoff eliminator Denver-San Diego game.  To refresh everyone’s memory, Hochuli in Week 2 of the 2008 NFL season officiated the Chargers-Broncos game in Denver and was part of a huge officiating gaffe.  In the final minute of the September game, Hochuli ruled that an apparent Chargers recovered fumble that had slipped from Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler’s grasp was an incomplete pass instead of a fumble and the Broncos went on to win 39-38.  Of course replay could do nothing as usual and on the Monday after the game, Hochuli admitted his incorrect call followed by an avalanche of border-line extreme fan harassment.

Luckily the AFC West title game will be free of another Hoculi blunder as he will be in frigid Green Bay, Wisconsin refereeing the Lions-Packers game.  The NFL has assigned referee John Parry to the AFC West showdown – for the record per league policy, officiating crews do not do two games between the same teams in any season.

Hopefully the Lions, who are trying to avoid NFL infamy by being the first 0-16 team in league history, will get a fair shot from Hochuli’s unit.