Monday, December 17, 2007

The wheat from the chaff

After a weekend that saw weather play a significant factor in several games for playoff bound teams, and a whole lot of wild-card eliminations, there are a number of things that can be taken from the games played from Thursday through yesterday. Sorry guys, but tonight's tilt has no bearing on the post-season (unless Chicago somehow upsets Minnesota - which I have a hard time seeing).

Here are some of my thoughts.

The Patriots (contenders) - They played a different type of game yesterday in the bad weather, pounding the Jets and winning the battles in the trenches. This led to a solid running game by the team that included 104 yards on 26 carries (4 yard per carry average) by the often maligned Laurence Maroney.

While good to see them move the ball on the ground, it was done against a moribund Jets rush defense that is currently ranked 30th in the league giving up an average of 141 yards per game. That average lowered with the Patriots 131 net yards from scrimmage yesterday. So, as nice as it was to see the Patriots pound the ball on the ground, they were still below what is average for this team to give up.

I like that Maroney runs hard, but I have to question his vision...or maybe it's just the coaching instructions he receives. I like that he seldom takes negative yards, but he often runs into clogged lanes when there are openings elsewhere. That won't cut it in the post-season against better run defenses than the Pats faced yesterday.

The Colts (contenders) - After struggling mightily after their mid-season loss to the Pats, Indy seems to have collected itself and managed to right the ship, clinching their division and the other AFC bye with their win over the Raiders (the best Jacksonville could do is tie their record, but Indy has the tie-breakers).

This Colts team appears built for bed weather better than team of the past, with a greater reliance on the run - although, it's not as if they lacked quality running backs in the past, it hasn't helped them in bad weather, and the Colts won't be playing in truly bad weather until they possibly rematch against the Patriots at Gillette.

Also, the fact that even depleted the Colts should have destroyed the Raiders should be some cause for concern.

The Jaguars (contenders) - They went to Pittsburgh and handed the Steelers their helmets in decidedly un-Jacksonvillian weather. This team could be very dangerous to anyone in the playoffs. If there was one team that could put together three road wins to get to Arizona, these are the guys.

The Steelers (pretenders) - See the Jaguars. Really, unless this team fixes what is ailing them, which seems to be the defense, they might be on the road to Cleveland or San Diego the first weekend of the playoffs, and they're not playing like a team that can win three in a row on the road. Hell, they've only won two of the six road games they have already played. Sure, the final two are against the Rams (3-11), and Ravens (4-10), but they lost on the road to the Jets (3-11), Cardinals (6-8), and Broncos (6-8).

The Chargers (pretenders) - Yes, they are playing better than they did early in the season, and yes they demolished the Lions 51-14, but they still have Norv Turner calling the shots and their only wins against winning teams were at home against Indy after they were beat up by New England, and at Tennessee. With the exception of their win against the Colts, they have lost to every other playoff contender they have faced - New England, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Jacksonville - by an average of 14 points per game.

The Browns (pretenders) - Cleveland is one of the great NFL stories this year. With games left against the Bengals and the 49ers, and the Steelers struggling, the Browns could go from worst to first with the potential of an 11 win season - a far cry from the 4-12 fourth place 2006 campaign (if Romeo Crennel isn't a coach of the year candidate, then I don't know how they're defining the award).

As great a story as this is for Cleveland, the fact remains that the Browns defense is 29th overall, and that doesn't get you far in the playoffs.

I'll deal with the NFC contenders/pretenders later in the week.

Other thoughts on the weekend -

Tony Romo's thumb injury and Terrell Owens suddenly playing like...well Terrell Owens (short arming, giving up on routes, not hustling on turnovers) could cost the Cowboys home-field in the playoffs, and any real hope at a Super Bowl berth.

Speaking of issues from Cowboys/Eagles - Brian Westbrook might have made one of the most heads up plays I have ever seen in the NFL when he decided to forgo the touchdown and sat down at the Cowboys one yard line with just over two minutes to play. The move allowed the Eagles to run out the clock. Had Westbrook run the ball in, the Cowboys would have gotten the ball back at the two minute warning, down by 11 - plenty of time to score and try an on-sides kick. It really was a thing of beauty.

Dick Jauron has done a great job with Buffalo this season, keeping the Bills in the playoff hunt until their loss to the Browns yesterday. Like Crennel, he will be a candidate for coach of the year.

After Brian Billick's spitting the bit against the formerly winless Dolphins, one has to wonder if the Ravens braintrust is regretting that extension they granted to Billick. To not try to punch it in and go for the win on the half-yard line against a team like the Dolphins who haven't stopped anyone all year is just unjustifiable.

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