2009 NFL Season – Week 17 Rankings

Backup QB Troy Smith and the Baltimore Ravens need a win in Week 17 to secure an AFC playoff spot

The last week of the 2009 NFL regular season will either be a happy or forgettable event for some NFL teams as the New Year rolls in.  Though 10 of the NFL’s 12 coveted playoff berths have been claimed, there are several Week 17 storylines around the two remaining berths plus  the “Who” and the “Where” pieces of the playoff puzzle left to be decided. 

The NFC playoff picture is pretty clear as all six playoff spots have been claimed (New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, and Green Bay Packers) with the Saints as the No. 1 seed, but the other five seeds need to be sorted out.  The AFC side of the ledger is a bit more complicated, though the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers have clinched the top two seeds, because there are 7 teams vying for the conference’s last two wildcard spots.

In looking at the current NFL standings one last time before the “real” games start, here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Colts (14-1), Saints (13-2), Chargers (12-3), Eagles (11-4), Vikings (11-4), and Cardinals (10-5); “In the Playoffs or on the Cusp” — Bengals (10-5),  Packers (10-5) Cowboys (10-5), Patriots (10-5), Ravens (8-7), and Jets (8-7); “Help Needed” teams that need help from others in their conference just to get in the playoffs  — Texans (8-7), Steelers (8-7), Broncos (8-7), Jaguars (7-8) and Dolphins (7-8); and lastly the “Finishing Out the String” teams (See you at the 2010 NFL Draft) – Giants (8-7), Falcons (8-7), Titans (7-8), Niners (7-8), Panthers (7-8), Bears (6-9), Seahawks (5-10), Bills (5-10), Raiders (5-10), Browns (4-11), Redskins (4-11), Chiefs (3-12), Buccaneers (3-12), Lions (2-13), and Rams (1-13)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (14-1) – The champagne corks were flying for the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the Colts chose to “rest” key players in the second half of a disappointing loss to the “thankful” NY Jets.  I will debate the point all day that the Colts’ management was wrong to rest players, but GM Bill Polian’s crew has stuck to their “Non-Perfection” stance and we will see how the playoffs turnout.  Expect to see more of backup QB Curtis Painter and company as the Colts close out the regular season against the host Buffalo Bills.

2.  Chargers (12-3) – The Chargers won their 10th game in a row as they thumped the host Tennessee Titans on Christmas Day.  Don’t expect to see head coach Norv Turner to take his foot off the gas when San Diego hosts the Redskins in Week 17 as the Chargers want to go into the playoffs “hot”.

3.  Saints (13-2) – Ought…Oh, the formerly “perfect” Saints appear to be leaking oil as they head to the playoffs.  Though the Saints wrapped up the NFC’s number one seed, they did not look good as they squandered a 17-point lead in a disappointing home overtime loss to the scrappy Tampa Bay Bucs.  Even though the Saints shouldn’t have much to play for against the host Carolina Panthers, expect a strong effort from QB Drew Brees and company.

4.  Eagles (11-4) – Don’t look now, but outside of the San Diego Chargers, the Birds are the hottest team in the NFL.  In another tough close victory, the Eagles put aside Brian Dawkins homecoming to pull-out a win over the reeling Denver Broncos.  Somewhere former Eagles head coaches Dick Vermeil and Buddy Ryan are smiling as it will be Philly vs. Dallas for the NFC East division in Week 17.

5.  Cardinals (10-5) – As the playoffs approach, the Cards are getting better and have a running game.  The 2008 NFL runner-ups looked good in pulling out a tougher than expected NFC West division win over the St. Louis Rams.  With playoff seeding on the line, the Cardinals will host the Green Bay Packers and these two could possibly meet next week in the 1st round of the playoffs.

6.  Vikings (11-4) – I don’t care what anyone says, the Vikings are not on the right page at the wrong time of the season.  QB Brett Favre and company continued to limp into the playoffs as they lost in overtime to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.  With a shot at still claiming the NFC’s #2 seed, if the Eagles lose, expect the Vikings to get back on track by thumping the Giants.

7.  Patriots (10-5) – The Pats showed their veteran pedigree as they won their 3rd straight game with a drubbing of the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars.  You know Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would like nothing more than putting an end to the Houston Texans’ playoff hopes, so expect to see QB Tom Brady and WR Randy Moss in Week 17.

8. Cowboys (10-5) – The ‘Boys continued to answer the bell in December 2009 as they shutout the crawling home Washington Redskins.  In a signature game, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips and QB Tony Romo have a chance to wash away a long history of end of season woes by beating the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 and claiming the NFC East crown.

9.  Bengals (10-5) — The veteran group of head coach Marvin Lewis, QB Carson Palmer, and — dare I say it – Chad Ochocinco willed the Bengals to a win over the Chiefs to claim the AFC North.  With not much to play for by their late Sunday Night Football start, expect the Bengals to “rest” against the NY Jets who they quite possibly will see in the first round of the playoffs.

10. Packers (10-5) – Led by Pro Bowl CB Charles Woodson, the dangerous Packers destroyed the reeling Seattle Seahawks to claim one of the NFC’s wildcard spots.  Expect the Packers to go for a “momentum” win against the Cardinals in Week 17.

11.  Ravens (8-7) – The Ravens lost a tough road game to the Pittsburgh Steelers (dropped passes, touchdowns negate by penalties, and not enough pressure on Big Ben), but they still are in the driver’s seat in the AFC Wildcard race.  Expect to see Ravens head coach John Harbaugh to pull out all of the stops as Baltimore needs to get a win over the host Oakland Raiders to fulfill their playoff hopes.

12.  Steelers (8-7) – You have to wonder how bad the Steelers as kicking themselves for their 5-game losing streak that included losses to the Chiefs and Raiders.  The Steelers kept their flickering playoff hopes alive by winning a thrilling game over the Ravens.  The first order of business for the playoffs is for the Steelers to beat the host Miami Dolphins then hope for some help.

13.  Texans (8-7) – You know the upstart Texans would like nothing more than to end their 8-8 streak and sneak into the playoffs for the first time.  In Week 16, the Texans went on a mission to South Florida and kept their playoff hopes alive while sending the Dolphins closer to next year.  It will be “Put Up or Shut Up” time when the Texans host New England in Week 17, but Houston still will need some help for their first playoffs.

14.  Falcons (8-7) – Too bad QB Matt Ryan was hurt for some earlier crucial games as the Falcons are playing some of the best football in the NFL.  Mike Smith’s team continued their end of season run by thumping the hap-hazard Buffalo Bills.  In a pride game that will mean a winning season, expect Ryan and the Falcons to go all out in Week 17 versus the surging host Tampa Bay Bucs.

15. Jets (8-7) – I know the J-E-T-S are very close to securing one of the AFC’s wildcard berths, but they have a lot of work to do.  After Peyton and his crew handed the Colts’ backups a 5-point lead, it didn’t take long for Rex Ryan’s team to secure Jim Caldwell’s gift victory.  The Jets may get their second “gift” win in a row, on the way to the playoffs, when they face the Bengals who may also be resting players.

16. Giants (8-7) – The G-Men never showed up in a terrible loss to the Carolina Panthers in the Meadowlands’ last game.   It is player evaluation time for GM Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin as the G-Men travel to Minnesota in Week 17.

17.  Broncos (8-7) – Not even the return of former Eagles veteran safety Brian Dawkins could spur the reeling Broncos to a win in Philly.  Hard to believe after their hot start, the Broncos and energetic head coach Josh McDaniels are on the brink of missing the playoffs.  In order to keep their flagging playoffs hopes alive, the Broncos must first win at home against the Chiefs.

18.  49ers (7-8) – Mike Singlegtary’s team is getting better, but 2010 maybe their season.  The Niners hammered the ready-for-the-draft Detroit Lions. Looking to build something for next year, expect the Niners to try like crazy for (8-8) as they face the 1-win Rams in Week 17.

19.  Panthers (7-8) – Panthers head coach John Fox got the okay to return in 2010, but does he? Too bad Fox took so long to insert QB Matt Moore as the starter, because the youngster looked good again this time in a win over the Giants.  The Panthers will continue to play “spoiler” when they host the suddenly stumbling New Orleans Saints.

20. Titans (7-8) – Not even Santa could wrap-up a win for V.Y and the Titans against the red-hot Chargers on Christmas Day.  With visions of V.Y producing again in 2010, the Titans will look to finish (8-8) when they face the Seattle Seahawks.

21.  Dolphins (7-8) – Week 16’s “Desperation Bowl” against the Houston Texans did not produce a good result for Miami.  The Dolphins will be looking to finish .500 and keep their flickering playoff hopes alive when they face the Steelers in Week 17.

22.  Jaguars (7-8) – The Jags have limped home after being in the AFC Wildcard driver’s seat at (7-5) after 13 weeks.  The  New England Patriots showed no mercy as they pounded the Jags in a deflating loss.  With their playoff hopes on life support, the Jags will try to get a win in Cleveland against the red-hot Browns.

23.  Bears (6-9) – The real “Monsters of the Midway” showed up as the Bears looked like a new team in producing a Monday Night Football overtime win against the Vikings.  Maybe QB Jay Cutler can pull another win out of his magic hat as the Bears face the Detroit Lions in Week 17.

24.  Browns (4-11) – You have to believe that the Browns are really starting to impress new football czar Mike Holmgren as they dominated the Oakland Raiders.  The Browns will try to save head coach Eric Mangini’s job as they host the playoff-hopeful Jacksonville Jaguars.

25.  Raiders (5-10) – Oakland put-up a fight, but the surging Cleveland Browns were too much for them.  Could the Raiders play the role of spoiler for the second year in a row?  The Raiders host the Ravens, who just need to get a win to make the playoffs.

26.  Bills (5-10) – It looks like the Perry Fewell head coaching experiment is about to end as the Falcons bludgeoned the Bills in Week 16.  It will be interesting to see how the Colts’ JV team does in a meaningless Week 17 game in Buffalo.

27.  Seahawks (5-10) – The Hawks’ didn’t even bother to show up at Lambeau in a horrible loss to the playoff hungry Packers.  Expect to see plenty of young players when the Seahawks host the Titans in Week 17.

28.  Redskins (4-11) – After the Redskins were shutout by the Cowboys, new GM Bruce Allen probably cannot wait for Black Monday to fire “Dead Man Walking” head coach Jim Zorn.  Look for the ‘Skins to mail-it-in when they travel across the country to play the red-hot San Diego Chargers.

29.  Buccaneers (3-12) – Head coach Raheem Morris’ team responded to the challenge of facing the host 13-win Saints by beating them in overtime. The Bucs will look to keep fighting and learning when they host the Atlanta Falcons in Week 17.

30.  Chiefs (3-12) – The Bengals pulled out a tough home win over KC to win the AFC North.  With not much else to play for other than stats, the Chiefs travel to Denver for an old-time AFL battle with the Broncos.

31.  Lions (2-13) – The Niners showed no mercy in  thumping the Lions.  In a game that will only have draft slotting implications, the Lions will host the Chicago Bears.

32.  Rams (1-14) – The Cards piled-up more offensive stats in a quality win over the Rams.  It is “Just Lose, Baby” time for the Rams against the Niners so they can claim the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft – more than likely Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh.

  

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)

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2009 NFL Playoff Picture entering Week 17

Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb and his team need a win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 to claim the NFC’s #2 seed

I love the last week of the NFL season as there are always many different playoff scenarios to figure out on the way to the playoffs. Sure we know 10 of the 12 teams that will be in the playoffs, but the two remaining coveted berths plus the “Who” and the “Where” pieces all need to be put together in Week 17.

For the 14th consecutive NFL season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before (Saints, Bengals, Cowboys, Patriots, and Packers are in with the Broncos, Jets, Texans and Jaguars still having playoff aspirations). 

One thing is for sure expect a wacky ending to the 2009 NFL Season – remember the 2008 Philadelphia Eagles, who were 8-6-1 coming into Week 17, had a myriad of wins and losses come together so they could make the playoffs and they ended up in the NFC Championship Game.  Let’s hope the AFC’s last wildcard spot, being contended for by five or more teams, doesn’t come down to league tiebreaker Number #11, which is a coin flip.

Also it is “Just Lose, Baby” time for the St. Louis Rams as RB Steven Jackson and Company need to lose against the Niners so they can claim the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft – more than likely Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh.

NFC East – The Philadelphia Eagles (11-4) lead the Dallas Cowboys (10-5) by 1-game in the division race.  Ironically the Eagles and Cowboys will face-off for the NFC East crown in Week 17 at Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium (4:00 PM EST on FOX).  If the Eagles win they will be NFC East Champs plus there is also the added incentive if the Vikings lose, then the Eagles will be the NFC’s #2 seed.  If the Cowboys win then they will be NFC East Champ by virtue of their head-to-head wins tiebreaker over the Eagles.  Dallas can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Eagles + MIN loss + ARI loss or tie.  The Giants (8-7) and Redskins (4-11) have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

NFC West — The Arizona Cardinals (10-5) have already clinched their second straight NFC West crown.  But the Cardinals still have incentive when they host the Packers in Week 17 as they still have a slim chance of winning the NFC’s 2nd Seed.  Arizona clinches a first-round bye with a win over the Packers + MIN loss + PHI loss.  The Niners (7-8), Seahawks (5-10), and Rams (1-14) have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

NFC South — The New Orleans Saints (13-2) lost for the second time this season as the Tampa Bay Bucs surprised them by a score of 20-17 in overtime.  But all was not lost as the Vikings’ loss to the Bears on Monday Night Football assured the Saints, the NFC’s #1 playoff seed which brought a bye and home field advantage. Expect the Saints to go for a “momentum” win against the host Carolina Panthers, but if they get a lead QB Drew Brees and other key players could be relegated to the bench.  The Falcons (8-7), Panthers (7-8), and Bucs (2-13) have already been eliminated from playoff contention.  An interesting note from the NFC South (created in 2002) is that in 6 out of 7 NFL seasons including 2009 with the Saints, the division winner was a worst to first team (only exception was the Falcons going from worst to 2nd place in ’08).

NFC North – The Minnesota Vikings (11-4) are the NFC North champs, but they appear to be limping into the playoffs after another loss (36-30 defeat to the Bears in overtime).  With an eye still on winning the NFC’s #2 seed, expect the Vikings to play hard in their regular season finale when they host the NY Giants. Minnesota clinches a first-round bye with a win over the Giants + PHI loss or tie or the extremely unlikely scenario of a Viking tie against the Giants and a Philadelphia loss.  The Green Bay Packers (10-5) have already clinched a wildcard berth, but they are unsure if they will be the NFC’s 5th or 6th seed.  The Bears (6-9) and Lions (2-13) have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

AFC East – The New England Patriots (10-5) after three straight wins clinched the AFC East title.   The Patriots still may still put-up a fight against the Houston Texans (8-7) as New England has playoff seeding issues to workout.  The NY Jets (8-7), who were recipients of the Colts resting players in Week 16, have a very good chance of clinching an AFC Wildcard berth.  The NY Jets clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals, who already clinched the AFC North crown and maybe resting QB Carson Palmer and Company.  The Miami Dolphins (7-8) still have a playoff shot too.  Miami clinches a playoff spot a win over the Steelers + NYJ loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + JAC loss or tie.  The Buffalo Bills (5-10) have already been eliminated from playoff contention. 

AFC West — The San Diego Chargers (12-3), who have won 10 consecutive games and are the hottest team in the NFL, have already wrapped up the AFC West crown and the AFC’s #2 seed.  Even though there is talk of the Chargers resting some veterans, expect head coach Norv Turner to seek a “momentum” win and get some of his players to key stats when San Diego hosts the Redskins in Week 17. If the Chargers win against the ‘Skins, they will be riding an 11-game win streak plus the Bolts have eliminated the Colts from the playoffs the last 2 years.  The Denver Broncos (8-7) after a glorious 6-0 start have crashed back down to Earth, but they still have a playoff chance.  The Broncos can clinch a playoff berth with a myriad of scenarios: 

   1) A Broncos win over the Chiefs + NYJ loss or tie + BAL loss or tie OR

   2) DEN win + NYJ loss or tie + PIT loss or tie OR

   3) DEN win + NYJ loss or tie + HOU win OR

   4) DEN win + BAL loss or tie + PIT loss or tie OR

   5) DEN win + BAL loss or tie + HOU win OR

   6) PIT loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + JAC loss or tie OR

   7) PIT loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + NYJ loss OR

   8) PIT loss + BAL loss + JAC loss or tie + NYJ loss OR

   9) PIT loss + HOU loss + JAC loss or tie + NYJ loss OR

  10) NYJ loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + JAC loss or tie

The Raiders (5-10) and Chiefs (3-12) have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

AFC South – With their “rested” 29-15 loss to the NY Jets, the Indianapolis Colts (14-1), in my opinion, gave away their opportunity of being the NFL’s only 19-0 team in history…but that is a debate for another day.  Even though the Colts’ NFL-record 23-game winning streak is over, they still are the AFC South division champs and have clinched AFC home field advantage plus a first-round bye.  To the dismay of many, expect to see the Colts’ JV team against the Buffalo Bills in Week 17. 

The Houston Texans (8-7) are attempting to not only end their 8-8 streak (2007 and 2008), but also trying claim one of the AFC’s wildcard berths.  In order to clinch a playoff spot, the Texans need some help.  

1)       A Texans win over the Patriots + NYJ loss or tie + BAL loss or tie OR

2)        HOU win + NYJ loss or tie + DEN loss or tie OR

3)       HOU win + BAL loss or tie + DEN loss or tie

The Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8) after looking very good for a playoff spot after 13 weeks – record of 7-5 at the time – have limped home and need a lot of help just to make the playoffs.

   1) A Jaguars win over the Browns + PIT loss + BAL loss + DEN loss + HOU loss OR

   2) JAC win + PIT loss + BAL loss + DEN loss + NYJ loss OR

   3) JAC win + PIT loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + NYJ loss OR

   4) JAC win + PIT loss + DEN loss + HOU loss + NYJ loss OR

   5) JAC win + NYJ loss + DEN loss + HOU loss + BAL loss

The Titans (7-8) have already been eliminated from playoff contention. 

AFC North — The Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) after their Week 16 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, claimed their 2nd division title under head coach Marvin Lewis (other in 2005).  You can probably expect the Bengals to be resting players by the time they face the NY Jets on NBC Sunday Night football as there may not be any incentive (playoff seeding) for Cincy. 

Another AFC North team that looks to have a good chance to join the Bengals in the playoffs is the Baltimore Ravens (8-7).  All the Ravens need to do to get in the playoffs is to win at Oakland, so they can claim one of the AFC’s two wildcard berths. 

The other AFC North team with playoff dreams is the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7).  The Steelers need a bevy of events to occur just to have a chance to return to the Super Bowl chase.

1) A Pittsburgh win over the Dolphins + HOU loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie OR

2) PIT win + HOU loss or tie + BAL loss or tie OR

3) PIT win + NYJ loss or tie + BAL loss or tie + DEN loss or tie

The Browns (4-11), have won 3 straight games and are dangerous, have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

A great tool for sorting out all of the “What If” scenarios surrounding the 2009 NFL Playoff match-ups can be found on the Yahoo Sports website

Week 17

SUN, JAN 3 

Indianapolis at Buffalo 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Jacksonville at Cleveland 1:00 PM (CBS)

Chicago at Detroit 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Atlanta at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)  

New Orleans at Carolina 1:00 PM (FOX)  

New England at Houston 1:00 PM (CBS)  

San Francisco at St. Louis 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Pittsburgh at Miami 1:00 PM (CBS)

NY Giants at Minnesota 1:00 PM (FOX)

Green Bay at Arizona 4:15 PM (FOX)

Washington at San Diego 4:15 PM (FOX)

Tennessee at Seattle 4:15 PM (CBS)

Baltimore at Oakland 4:15 PM (CBS) 

Kansas City at Denver 4:15 PM (CBS) 

Philadelphia at Dallas 4:15 PM (FOX) 

Cincinnati at NY Jets 7:35 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)

The Colts resting Manning & Company in their first loss sends the wrong message

The decision by Colts’ management including head coach Jim Caldwell to “rest” players in the team’s first loss of the season sent the wrong message

The champagne corks popped in South Florida on Sunday, but the 1972 Dolphins’ celebration of perfection had to be a hollow one this year.  Sure the Indianapolis Colts (14-1) lost for the first time this season to the New York Jets by a score of 29-15. But “C’MON MAN”, the “real” Colts, namely quarterback Peyton Manning, left Sunday’s game in the 3rd quarter.  Sure the Colts had staked their second stringers to a 15-10 lead, but from the time when Manning & Company took a seat on the bench — 5:36 left in the third quarter — Indy was outscored 19-0. 

Colts’ backup quarterback Curtis Painter was awful, to say the least, as he produced putrid numbers of 4/11 passing for 44 yards, 0 TDs and 1 interception in an effort that made most Colts fans long for former quarterback Jack Trudeau.  The former Purdue signal caller’s biggest play of the game, a fumble recovery for a touchdown by the Jets, came immediately after Colts’ fans realized Manning was done for the game and serenaded the young quarterback with boos.  Painter was hit by NY Jets linebacker Calvin Pace and lost the ball, with Marques Douglas recovering and scoring. A 2-point conversion pass from NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez to TE Dustin Keller made the score 18-15 and New York never relinquished the lead.

After the game, Manning as he always does said all of the right things.  The soon to be 4-time NFL MVP said, “Until any player in here is the head coach, you follow orders and you follow them with all of your heart. That’s what we’ve done as players. We follow order”.   Okay Peyton we get it that Colts owner Jim Irsay, GM Bill Polian, and rookie head coach Jim Caldwell had all agreed that it would be better for the veteran laden team to rest rather than go for the NFL’s second 16-0 regular season.  But you have to think the Colts players, by their competitive nature, wanted to show the world that they were just as good if not better than the 1972 Dolphins or 2007 New England Patriots (finished 18-1 after a perfect 16-0 regular season).  The  Colts’ management decision robbed everyone from NFL historians to Colts fans to Caldwell’s players.

The Colts were so close after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars last week in dramatic fashion that they should have “Gone For It” in their two remaining games against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills (combined record of 13-17).  Rest is overrated in the National Football League as “momentum” is omnipotent going into the playoffs.  History has shown that resting for the playoffs after attaining the #1 seed and securing home field advantage in the postseason doesn’t guarantee success in the playoffs.  Since 1990 only 17 of 36 number one seeds in the playoffs have made it to the Super Bowl with only 8 of those teams winning it all.  The last time two No. 1 seeds faced-off was in 1993 for Super Bowl XXVIII with Buffalo vs. Dallas. 

The Colts were already riding an NFL-record 23 game regular season win streak and by not letting Manning, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne and any other Colts’ player that was rested on Sunday not go for perfection is a travesty.  The NFL has been around for 90 years and the fact that only the 1972 Dolphins can put up their fingers as true unblemished No. 1’s, is an unbelievable accomplishment.  Manning and his guys had the unbelievable chance of joining the 1972 Dolphins, but they were robbed of that opportunity by a non-players who think they know more than the guys on the field.

Could the 2009 Colts (Manning, Freeney, Wayne, Brackett, and others) have walked in destiny with the 1972 Dolphins (Cszonka, Griese, Warfield, Scott, and others), we will never know.  Cause the Colts just rolled over and the NY Jets – record of (8-7) and clinging to a chance at the playoffs — gladly accepted their belated Christmas gift.  I have to equate what Indy did yesterday to the 1980 US Hockey (eventual gold medal winners) walking away from the challenge of playing the vaunted Soviet Union team in the medal round at Lake Placid.  You see before that historic game that lives forever in sports lore, many felt the young US team had zero chance given that just a short period before the Olympics, the Soviets had soundly beaten the US upstarts… boy I am glad Herb Brooks never listened to the naysayers and told his players to fight with all of their might.

 The Colts may have initially thought “resting” players was not a “give up”.  But the move of taking out their key starters when the game was still winnable was a true “Throw Your Hands in the Air” surrender moment.  The reason for always trying is that nothing is guaranteed in sports and most players, if not all, never want to look back and have a “What If” stamped on their career. 

The Colts’ management better hope their decision doesn’t backfire in the playoffs — like in 2005 when their former 13-0 regular season team lost in their first playoff game —  because they robbed their players an opportunity to make history.  If the Colts go on to win the Super Bowl, sure all will probably be forgotten within their fan base, but nothing is guaranteed and you should always play to win the game. 

“I don’t blame them a bit, man,” Colts’ center Jeff Saturday said. “I probably would have booed, too. I don’t blame them. They pay to come see us win games, and we didn’t get it done.”

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)

2009 NFL Season – Week 16 Rankings

LB Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers are looking to wrap-up a playoff berth in Week 16

It is now crunch time around the NFL and there is little time left to secure one of the league’s 12 coveted playoff berths.  Though the Saints, Colts, Eagles, Vikings, Chargers and Cardinals are all already in the playoffs, there are 13 teams still vying for the 6 remaining playoff spots up for grabs with two weeks left in the 2009 NFL Season.  Hopefully Week 16 of the NFL season will bring some much-needed clarity to a jumbled playoff picture, but we will have to wait and see as teams out of the mix like the Oakland Raiders (5-9) are still playing hard.

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Colts (13-0), Saints (13-1), Vikings (11-3), Chargers (11-3), Eagles (10-4), and Cardinals (9-5); “Strong Playoff Contenders” — Bengals (9-5),  Packers (9-5) Cowboys (9-5), Patriots (9-5), Giants (8-6), Ravens (8-6), and Broncos (8-6); “In the Hunt” teams that will soon be either in or out of the playoffs  — Jaguars (7-7); Jets (7-7), Dolphins (7-7), Steelers (7-7), Texans (7-7), and Titans (7-7); and lastly the “Finishing Out the String” teams (See you at the 2010 NFL Draft) – Falcons (7-7), Niners (6-8), Panthers (6-8), Bears (5-9), Seahawks (5-9), Bills (5-9), Raiders (5-9), Redskins (4-10), Chiefs (3-11), Browns (3-11), Lions (2-12), Buccaneers (2-12) and Rams (1-13)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (14-0) – What a great game! The Jacksonville Jaguars fought hard the entire game but Manning to Wayne did the Jags in and the Colts wrapped up everything in the AFC.  It will be interesting to see if the NFL’s last unbeaten continues to chase the 1972 Miami Dolphins or rest players when they host the desperate New York Jets.

2.  Saints (13-1) – The Cowboys decided to not go into the December Night, so quietly.  QB Tony Romo and WR Miles Austin led Dallas to an upset on Saturday Night football that knocked New Orleans from the ranks of the unbeaten.  Though “perfection” is gone, the Saints still have work to do when they host the 2-win Bucs because NFC home field advantage is still at stake.

3.  Chargers (11-3) – In an emotional game, the Chargers continued their ascension to the top of the AFC playoff picture by pulling out a gritty win over the heavy-hearted Bengals.  With a chance to secure the AFC’s #2 seed and a first round bye, the Chargers will look to win their 11th game in a row as they travel to Tennessee to take-on the improving Titans in a Christmas Day special.

4.  Vikings (11-3) – Is it me or are there some cracks — no running game, injuries, poor quarterback play, and Favre/Childress feuding —  starting to form in the Vikings’ armor.  In a lackadaisical game, the Vikings were thumped by the Carolina Panthers on Sunday Night Football.  The Vikings better wake-up when they face the host Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, because the Eagles are hungry for the NFC’s #2 playoff spot.

5.  Eagles (10-4) – The Birds are looking like real contenders for the NFC crown after dismantling the Niners at the Linc –- Thanks to WR DeSean Jackson.  The Birds clinched their 8th playoff berth in Andy Reid’s 11-year tenure as head coach.  It will be an emotional homecoming for Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins as the Eagles and Broncos meet in a game with huge playoff implications.

6.  Cardinals (9-5) – It was a struggle, but the Cardinals pulled themselves together enough to put away the 2-win Detroit Lions and win the NFC West title for the second year in a row. If the Cardinals want to prove that they are legitimate contenders to return to the Super Bowl then they must take care of business against the 1-win Rams.

7.  Patriots (9-5) – Despite injuries all over the place, the Patriots gutted-out a tough victory over the better than expected Buffalo Bills.  With an eye on clinching the AFC East, the host Patriots will need to be ready for the desperate Jacksonville Jaguars led by RB Maurice Jones-Drew.

8. Cowboys (9-5) – Despite former kicker Nick Foulk trying to give New Orleans a chance, led by remarkable DE DeMarcus Ware, QB Tony Romo, and WR Miles Austin, the ‘Boys finally reversed their December fortunes by beating the formerly undefeated Saints.  The Cowboys cannot celebrate their big win over the Saints too long as they will need to take care of business in the Nation’s Capital against NFC East rival, the Washington Redskins.

9. Packers (9-5) – The Pack almost sent the Steelers to their 6th straight loss, but it was Big Ben and emerging rookie receiver Mike Wallace to the rescue as Pittsburgh pulled out a narrow victory.  Mike McCarthy’s team will be looking to get the one win needed to qualify for the playoffs when they host the struggling Seattle Seahawks.

10.  Bengals (9-5) — Cincy playing with a very heavy-heart almost stopped the San Diego Chargers winning streak, but the Bolts led by QB Philip Rivers pulled out a close victory.  Now that the Bengals have found their passing game again, expect Cincinnati to win one for fallen teammate Chris Henry and put away the AFC North when they host the tougher than their record KC Chiefs.

11. Giants (8-6) – The G-Men played with pride and emotion as they trounced the Redskins in all three phases of the game on Monday Night Football.  With no room for error, the Giants will need to forget about their big MNF win and concentrate on beating the Carolina Panthers in the Meadowlands.

12.  Broncos (8-6) – You would have thought Denver would have put up a better effort against their hated rival, the Oakland Raiders, but Tom Cable’s team ran all over them in a big win.  It appears that the Broncos are heading for their second straight year where they lose focus at the end of the year and nearly miss the playoffs.  In order to reverse their end of season swoon, the Broncos led by former Eagles veteran safety Brian Dawkins will need to beat the Birds in Lincoln Financial Field.

13.  Ravens (8-6) – The Ravens look like a new team as they have outscored their last two opponents 79-10.  It wasn’t even close as Baltimore humiliated the Bears to move closer to a playoff bid.  In a true grudge match, the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh to face the desperate Steelers, who have to win-out and get some help just to make it back to the playoffs.

14. Titans (7-7) – It took overtime, but V.Y gave a gritty performance and kicker Rob Bironas nailed the game-winner against the resilient Miami Dolphins.  On Christmas Day, the Titans will hope to unwrap a win over the surging San Diego Chargers.

15.  Dolphins (7-7) – In an overtime thriller, the Dolphins came back to make it a game, only to have the Titans led by QB Vince Young pull out the victory in the extra quarter.  In Week 16’s “Desperation Bowl”, the Dolphins will host the Houston Texans – both are (7-7) teams – with the loser packing it in for the season.

16.  Jaguars (7-7) – The only thing that I do know about the Jags is that they are the most inconsistent team in the NFL.  With a chance to put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat for the AFC playoffs, the Jaguars played great for 3 ½ quarters only to let the undefeated Colts off the hook on Thursday Night Football.  Hopefully the extra rest that the Jags got will help them in cold New England as the hungry Patriots are looking to permanently derail Jacksonville’s playoff hopes.

17. Steelers (7-7) – It was gut-check time for the 2008 Champs as it took a miraculous 500-yard passing performance by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger to beat the upstart  Green Bay Packers by a very narrow margin.  For the second straight week at Heinz Field, the Steelers will look to revive their flagging season by winning a tough game against a playoff worthy opponent, this time against the Baltimore Ravens.

18.  Texans (7-7) – Can you please tell me how QB Matt Schaub threw for over 350 yards and the Texans still struggled to beat the 1-win Rams…but a win is a win.  If the Texans are hoping to avoid their third straight (8-8) season and want to keep their dimming playoff hopes alive, they will need to take care of business in Miami against the equally desperate Dolphins who are also (7-7).

19.  Falcons (7-7) – Even though they were eliminated from the playoffs earlier in the day, the Falcons led by tough QB Matt Ryan showed their resiliency in coming back to beat the host NY Jets.  You have to hand it to Falcons head coach Mike Smith as his team continues to fight-on and I am sure it will be no different this week when Atlanta hosts the T.O and the Buffalo Bills.

20. Jets (7-7) – With a chance to jump to the front of the AFC’s crowded playoff pack, the J-E-T-S, especially interception-prone QB Mark Sanchez, blew it against the comeback Atlanta Falcons.  NY Jets head coach Rex Ryan will definitely need a better effort from his quarterback and offense when the Jets travel to Indy with the J-E-T-S hoping that the Colts will be resting players.

21.  49ers (6-8) – Mike Singlegtary’s team showed that they are still just a little too young as mistakes doomed the Niners in a winnable game against the playoff bound Philadelphia Eagles.  With only pride on the line, the Niners will look to finish their season strong as they host the 2-win Detroit Lions.

22.  Panthers (6-8) – Maybe Panthers head coach John Fox is not done in Carolina after all.  The Panthers dominated the playoff-bound Minnesota Viking and harassed QB Brett Favre into mistakes in a season-defining Sunday Night Football win.  The Panthers can continue playing the role of “spoiler” when they travel to the cold and windy Meadowlands in search of a win against the G-Men.

23.  Raiders (5-9) – Al Davis’ team is one tough bunch and they showed it as they piled up over 200 rushing yards in a huge road win over the suddenly dormant Denver Broncos.  In a game that a couple weeks ago looked like Week16’s “Toilet Bowl”, but now it doesn’t…the Raiders will travel to Cleveland to face the improving Browns.

24.  Bills (5-9) – Buffalo lost two quarterbacks and possible Defensive Rookie of the Year, safety Jarius Byrd, in a physical loss to the New England Patriots.  Bills receiver Terrell Owens’ returns to his part-time home in Atlanta, Georgia as his team faces off against the Falcons in a “Pride Only” game.

25.  Bears (5-9) – Wow have the Bears fallen!  It looked like Chicago should have never boarded the flight to snowy Baltimore as the Ravens ran up and down the field with little resistance in a huge win.  With possibly Bears head coach Lovie Smith’s job on the line, the “Monsters of the Midway” better find their bite when they host the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.

26.  Seahawks (5-9) – The Hawks’ horrible season got even worse as they were humiliated at home the Tampa Bay Bucs.  Former Green Bay quarterback and current Seattle starter Matt Hasselbeck will look to return to Lambeau Field with win as the Seahawks face-off against the playoff hungry Packers.

27.  Redskins (4-10) – The ‘Skins probably made new GM Bruce Allen sick to his stomach as they were embarrassed by the NY Giants at FedEx Field on Monday Night Football.  With “Dead Man Walking” Redskins head coach Jim Zorn finishing out the string, Washington will hope to pull themselves together to give the surging Dallas Cowboys some competition.

28.  Browns (3-11) – With unbelievable performances by KR Josh Cribbs and RB Jerome Harrison, the Browns answered the bell over and over in a thrilling victory over the scrappy KC Chiefs.  With new Browns football czar Mike Holmgren watching, Cleveland will try to make it 3-consecutive wins when they host the Oakland Raiders.

29.  Chiefs (3-11) – Though quarterback Matt Cassell continues to struggle, the Chiefs may have found their running back of the future in speedster Jamaal Charles.  The Chiefs fought to the end against the Browns, in a game that may have been Week 15’s Game of the Week.  The Chiefs maybe facing “Mission Impossible” as they travel to Cincy to play the emotional Bengals, who are looking to lock up the AFC North.

30.  Buccaneers (2-12) – You can say what you want about young head coach Raheem Morris and his Bucs, but this improving team showed heart last week in a big win over the Seattle Seahawks.  The young Bucs better watch out as they are travel to New Orleans just one week after the Saints lost their first game of the season.

31.  Lions (2-12) – The Lions fueled by young QB Drew Stanton and their scrappy defense put up a good effort in a close loss to the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals.  In a “Pride Only” game, the Lions travel to San Francisco to face the Niners and no-nonsense head coach Mike Singletary..

32.  Rams (1-13) – The poor Rams gave it their all, but they came up just short in a surprisingly tough game to the Houston Texans.  If the Rams know what is good for them – drafting dominating Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh first overall– they will lose to the Arizona Cardinals this week.

  

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)

2009 NFL Playoff Picture after Week 15

The Miami Dolphins (RB Ricky Williams pictured) are one of six AFC (7-7) teams still hoping for the playoffs

You know somewhere former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell is smiling as the phrase he coined, “Any Given Sunday” is very true in the NFL this season.  Though the Saints, Colts, Eagles, Chargers, Vikings and Cardinals are already in the playoffs, there are 13 teams who are competing for the 6 playoff spots still up for grabs with two weeks left in the 2009 NFL Season.  Competition this time of the year is a good thing as I always like watching meaningful games in Weeks 16 and 17 rather than having to be stuck with “glorified” exhibition games because teams already in the playoffs choose to rest players.

One trend that I will be watching as the playoffs draw near is the number of new teams making the playoffs after missing them the prior year.  In 2008, for the 13th consecutive NFL season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before (Arizona, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minnesota, Miami and Carolina).  This year the Saints (already-in), Bengals, Cowboys, Patriots, Packers, Broncos, Jets, Texans and Jaguars are all contenders to make the playoffs after missing out on them in 2008.

NFC East – The Philadelphia Eagles (10-4) lead the Dallas Cowboys (9-5) by 1-game in the division race.  The Eagles by virtue of their 27-14 win over the Niners are assured of a playoff berth, but they still have a chance to catch the Vikings for the NFC’s 2nd seed, win the NFC East title and achieve a first-round bye.  The Cowboys are hoping to still be one game back of the Eagles going into the Week 17 match-up, so with a win Dallas would hold the only tiebreaker needed over Philadelphia (head-to-head wins) and claim the NFC East crown.  The Giants (8-6) also have a chance, but need to win out and hope that either the Packers or Cowboys stumble. A strong possibility is the Eagles and Cowboys playing in Week 17 and then turning right back around to play again in the opening round of the playoffs. The Eagles’ remaining games are DEN and @DAL); The Cowboys’ remaining games are (@WAS and PHI); The Giants’ remaining are (CAR and @MIN)

NFC West — The Arizona Cardinals (9-5) with their Week 15 win over the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers (6-8) loss to the Eagles, clinched their second straight NFC West crown.  However expect the Cardinals to continue fighting as they still have a slim chance of winning the NFC’s 2nd Seed, if the Vikings lose their last two games and they win out.  The Cardinals’ remaining games are (@STL and GB)

NFC South — The New Orleans Saints (13-1) lost for the first time this season to the Dallas Cowboys, which threw their 16-0 dreams down the drain.  But there is still something left for them to play for.  Though they have already clinched the NFC South title, New Orleans needs one more win in their next two games (TB and @CAR) to claim NFC home field advantage. An interest note from the NFC South (created in 2002) is that in 6 out of 7 NFL seasons including 2009 with the Saints, the division winner was a worst to first team (only exception was the Falcons going from worst to 2nd place in ’08).

NFC North – The Minnesota Vikings (11-3) clinched the NFC North crown with the Green Bay Packers (9-5) loss to the Steelers.  However the Vikings still need to keep winning to hold off the Eagles for the NFC’s #2 spot and continue their outside shot at the NFC’s #1 spot.  If at the end of the season, both the Vikings and Eagles are tied at 12 wins, Philly wins the tiebreaker. The Vikes’ remaining games are (@CHI and NYG)

AFC East – The New England Patriots (9-5) after two straight wins can clinch the AFC East title with a win in one of their last two games. The Miami Dolphins and NY Jets (both are 7-7) can only hope that the Patriots stumble (losing both games) and they win out.  Even so the Dolphins and Jets need help just to get a wildcard berth.  With New England’s remaining schedule (teams with a combined record of 14-14), I would think the Pats will hang-on for their first division crown since 2007.  The Patriots’ remaining games are (JAC and @HOU)

AFC West — The San Diego Chargers (11-3), one of the hottest teams in the NFL, wrapped up the AFC West crown with their win over the Bengals and the Broncos loss to the Raiders.  Right now it looks pretty secure that the Chargers will be the AFC’s #2 seed and you know the Colts do not want to face them in the playoffs – eliminated Indy the last 2 years.  San Diego’s remaining games are (@TEN and WAS); The Denver Broncos (8-6) could be in trouble again this season as their end-of-season losses are mounting and there are a slew of AFC (7-7) teams breathing down their neck.

AFC South – The Indianapolis Colts (14-0) are the NFL’s last unbeaten and it will be interesting to see if they continue striving for perfection or shut it down by resting players for the playoffs — have  won an NFL-record 23 consecutive regular season games.  The Colts have already clinched the AFC South division crown and AFC home field advantage.  The Colts’ remaining games are (NYJ and @BUF)

AFC North — The Cincinnati Bengals (9-5) have definitely hit a mini-skid as they have lost two games in a row and to make matters worse they are dealing with the tragic death of WR Chris Henry.  The Bengals former 3-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens (8-6) has slipped to 1-game, so the last two weeks will be interesting.  Cincy only needs one win in their last two games to win their 2nd division title under head coach Marvin Lewis (other in 2005).  Remember, the Bengals are also a perfect 6-0 in the AFC North this season, so they don’t want to worry about the division record tiebreaker.  The Bengals’ remaining games are (KC and @NYJ)

Other playoff contending teams remaining schedules

GB (9-5)                 SEA          @ARI

BAL (8-6)                @PIT      @OAK

DEN (8-6)               @PHI      KC

NYG (8-6)               CAR         @MIN

JAC (7-7)                @NE       @CLE

MIA (7-7)               HOU        PIT

NYJ (7-7)                @IND     CIN

PIT (7-7)                 BAL          @MIA

TEN (7-7)                SD           @SEA

HOU (7-7)              @MIA     NE

A great tool for sorting out all of the “What If” scenarios surrounding the 2009 NFL Playoff match-ups can be found on the Yahoo Sports website

 

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 Browns hire Holmgren to be their football czar

Browns’ new football czar Mike Holmgren will have his hands full in trying to get Cleveland to their first Super Bowl

The  Miami Dolphins’ recent success under former Super Bowl-winning head coach Bill Parcells as their “football czar”, has caused NFL owners to look in familiar places when looking for a GM type.  With that thought in mind, after a brief search the Cleveland Browns are set to name Mike Holmgren (former Super Bowl-winning head coach with the Green Bay Packers) as their club’s president.  Browns owner Randy Lerner is expected to hand Holmgren a reported $10 Million dollars per year to turn around a franchise that has won just 36 games since making the playoffs in 2002 with their lone winning season during that period in 2007 (record of 10-6).

“We are pleased to announce that Mike Holmgren has agreed to join the Cleveland Browns,” Lerner said in a statement. “We will spend the rest of the week finalizing the details of the agreement and will make a formal announcement next week.”  It is well documented Cleveland’s struggles since their heyday in the 1950’s with legendary Hall of Famers Paul Brown (head coach) and RB Jim Brown.  From never playing in a Super Bowl to former owner Art Modell moving his franchise to Baltimore to the team’s re-emergence as a expansion team in 1999 to poor drafting decisions (see former No. 1 overall busts QB Tim Couch and DE Courtney Brown), so the 61-year old former head coach will have his work cut out for him.  It will be interesting to see if Holmgren – regular season coaching record of 161-111 and a playoff record of 13-11 over 17 years – is ready to solely be an architect where he will be called on to make all personnel decisions. 

In Green Bay during Holmgren’s Super Bowl winning tenure, he worked under GM Ron Wolf.  Then in Seattle, Holmgren was the head coach and GM until being stripped of his GM duties before the 2005, when ironically the Seahawks made the Super Bowl that season.  The key factor for me will be whether Holmgren decides to keep Browns 1st year head coach Eric Mangini and his staff in place or go with someone that he is more familiar with.  Though some are saying that Mangini was spared the indignation of a one-and-done season with the Browns (3-11) due to his team’s recent two-game winning streak including a huge win over hated rival the Pittsburgh Steelers, I still am not sure.

There are the two big negatives of both Mangini and Holmgren have pretty large egos and they also have “zero” familiarity together.  We will have to see as the regular season closes and teams make changes come “Black Monday” if Mangini will be on the outside looking in at that point.   My gut-feeling is that Man-genius will be at the Senior Bowl (week of January 26th) looking for a job.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

Some interesting subplots to the Holmgren hiring are:

  • The Browns have been informed that former GM George Kokinis has filed for arbitration with the NFL claiming he was unjustly fired. Kokinis was dismissed in November after only nine months on the job and he is seeking more than $4 million in compensation and damages. 
  • With the hiring of Holmgren, Browns owner Randy Lerner has moved current president Mike Keenan to the role of Chief Financial Officer.

 

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)

Eagles clinch a playoff berth with their win over the Niners

In their 27-14 playoff-clinching win, the Eagles’ defense harassed Niners QB Alex Smith all-day

Snow-filled Lincoln Financial Field became a winter wonderland for the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday.  By virtue of their 27-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers, the Eagles have made the playoffs for the 8th time under head coach Andy Reid.  By no means was the win — their 5th straight — perfect for the Eagles. 

After storming out to a 20-3 halftime lead fueled by some bad mistakes by the visitors — four Niners’ turnovers in the first half – things got interesting in the second half for both teams.  But in the end, the experience of the Eagles overcame the youth and vigor of the overmatched and inconsistent Niners. 

Too often, the Niners were their own worst enemy in a game where they had fought extremely hard to get back into in the second half.  There was a bad fumble at the Eagles’ 8-yard line by TE Delanie Walker after a punishing hit by CB Sheldon Brown that saved Reid the indignation of explaining why he unsuccessfully went for it on 4th and 1 at his own 29-yard line. But the number one culprit in the Niners’ demise was inconsistent quarterback Alex Smith.  The former first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft was tentative in the pocket (3 sacks), floated passes, and forced passes into coverage that became turnovers.  “Alex did not have his best performance,” Singletary said. “I thought that Alex played poorly. He knows that. He’s capable of playing better than that. Sometimes you try to make things happen and you force it. As a quarterback, you’ve got to learn you can’t force it.”

After a terrible first half, Smith (20/37, 177 YDS, 1 TD, and 3 INT) did have his moments including throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to WR Josh Morgan that cut the Eagles’ lead to 20-13 in the 3rd quarter.  However Smith and Niners’ 27th ranked offense were stifled over and over by an Eagles unit that is looking playoff-ready. 

Though RB Frank Gore rushed 16 times for 107 yards, which snapped the Eagles’ 23-game streak without allowing a 100-yard rusher, the Birds were able to get off the field when it mattered most (Niners were 0-11 on third downs).  The Eagles effectiveness on 3rd downs and their great effort in causing 4 turnovers, including CB Asante Samuel’s 8th interception of the season, were defensive keys to victory – allowed only 261 net total yards.

On offense, the Eagles had balance (33 passes and 36 rushes), but it was the play of explosive receiver DeSean Jackson that showed their strength.  On a day where QB Donovan McNabb’s numbers (21-36, 306 yds, 1 TD, and 2 INTs with an 8-yard touchdown run) were better than his play at times, Jackson showed why he is garnering Pro Bowl consideration.   

Jackson continued to show his big-play ability producing six catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. The former 2008 second-round pick now has 1,087 yards this season, becoming only the third Eagles receiver under Andy Reid to reach 1,000 yards in receptions (Terrell Owens and Kevin Curtis). Also Jackson’s 19-yard touchdown catch was his first score under 35 yards this season.

Though the win solidified their playoff spot and their defense played well, the Eagles were still a little sloppy and have some areas to tweak in the coming weeks. 

1)      McNabb needs to get sharper and not force passes into Jackson

2)      Reid cannot take chances deep in his own territory

3)       FB Leonard Weaver cannot waste valuable time jawing with the opposition like he did at the end of the first half (lost 5 to 6 seconds on a drive that could have been a touchdown)

4)      The Eagles offense cannot rely on the big play so much

5)      Defense has to do a better job stopping the run.

6)      More pressure from their front four other than DE Trent Cole (2 sacks versus the Niners, giving him 11.5 for the season)

7) Figure out how much of a contribution RB Brian Westbrook (concussions) and backup QB Michael Vick (thigh bruise) are going to make

The Birds need to focus and treat their next two upcoming opponents like playoff match-ups — Denver Broncos (WK 16) and at the Dallas Cowboys (WK 17).  There is still a chance for the Eagles to catch the suddenly struggling Vikings for the NFC’s 2nd playoff spot (playoff bye).  But more importantly, the Cowboys are breathing down the Eagles’ necks in the race for the NFC East division. 

Did I mention that their next opponent, the Denver Broncos, will be coming to town with former Eagles legend safety Brian Dawkins?  Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said of the challenge of facing Dawkins, “He’s going to bring a lot of energy, and we’ve got to match that energy.”

The good thing for Philadelphia is that playoff-tested veterans on the team like McNabb, Brown, and Samuel know that getting into the playoffs is just the first hurdle (no locker room celebrations at the Linc on Sunday) on a long trek back to the Super Bowl.  All-in-all the possibility of a 12-win season and securing a spot in the playoffs after earlier missteps, like losing to the Raiders (Week 6), must feel like one big present under Eagles fans’ Christmas Trees.    

 

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)