Monday, December 29, 2008

Wrapping things up

It's been a Helluva season in the NFL this year.

Gonna start with my beloved Patriots.

They lost a lot this season. They lost their quarterback, their safety, their signal-calling-linebacking leader, their running back, and a slew of supporting characters. And, ultimately, they lost in their bid for a playoff spot.

I'm not going to complain about the Chargers making it. Teams play the hand they're dealt, and the AFC East was tough this season. The West wasn't. Complaining about the Chargers making it would be hypocritical and disingenuous of me, given the blasting I gave "Hammering" Hank Steinbrenner over his whining about the Dodgers making it, in spite of the Yankees having a better record.

The Pats had plenty of chances to take care of business during the season and fell short - they were blown out of the water by a high school formation being run by the Dolphins in September; they had a three point loss to the Colts with a chance to tie it up late, only to get a personal foul that killed a potential game tying or winning drive; the defense failed to stop Brett Favre on a third and fifteen in overtime.

Win anyone of those and the Pats aren't looking for help Sunday, they win the division outright.

I'm not going to spend anymore time on that. What I will dwell on are the positives.

The Patriots found a guy that has potential to be a franchise quarterback. They saw strong performances from defensive rookies Jonathan Wilhite and Jerrod Mayo. Mayo started strong and Wilhite finished strong. The team began generating a pass rush late in the season with increased playing time for Mike Wright, Jarvis Green, and LeKevin Smith. The team found their running game, rushing for 628 yards over their last three contests. Before the injury, Pierre Woods looked more solid than he had ever been, and Gary Guyton looked like a keeper.

A lot of this gets the team a lot younger on the defensive side of the ball, and gives them a lot of flexibility in regards to what they want to do on that side of the ball going into next season.

When I've really had an opportunity to digest the Patriots' season, I will go over how I see the team going for the rest of the league...

Crush and burn...

This season has been a long, strange trip in which we learned a lot about a lot of teams - we learned who had heart, who was heartless, who was horrible, and who just plain didn't have balls.

Let's start with those who crashed and burned...

The Cowboys, Jets, Broncos, Redskins, Bills, and Buccaneers all were thought to be locks for the playoffs, or to at the very least challenge for them, at one time or another during the season. At the beginning of the season all the pundits thought that the Cowboys were the most talented team in the NFC East. Six games into the season the Bills were thought to be a lock, running away from the the AFC East before crashing hard to earth; later the Jets were the best team in the division before Brett Favre became color blind, throwing more completions to the guys in the other jerseys than he did touchdowns. In one game the Buccaneers defense aged before our eyes and never recovered, the Broncos showed us they were ready to be sold to the glue factory and the to say the Redskins became one-dimensional once Clinton Portis was injured would be generous.

We learned that Tony Romo might be the most over-hyped quarterback in the NFL, that Brett Favre wasn't the answer, and that all of those teams were soft and lacked heart when it was needed most.

Props to the Detroit Lions who completed only the second perfect 16 game regular season - their record will live in infamy and as a standard against which football futility will be measured. The team has now lost 17 straight going back to last season, putting them nine games behind the Buccaneers 26 game losing streak spanning the 1976 and 77 seasons. Of course, the Bucs were an expansion team. The Lions just suck. Even if they win a game within the first nine next season to avoid tying or beating the Bucs mark of futility, all they have to do is lose the first game to have the distinction of being the only team to have a losing streak span three consecutive seasons.

Then there was the just plain bad - and that covered a lot of teams. The Browns were a mess, as were the Bengals, Jaguars, Raiders, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Rams. These teams struggled as much with injuries (Seahawks, Chiefs, Jags, Bengals, Browns) and bad coaching (Rams, Raiders), as they did with boneheaded front offices (Raiders, Browns).

Just above them were the teams that fought their way to mediocrity, or underachieved into the same - the 49ers, Bears, Packers, Saints and Texans all ended up there usually due to some shortcoming on the team such as the Packers and Saints poor defense, or the Bears erratic offense.

Later I will hit on the playoff teams and the recent baseball developments.


Suldog said...

Mangini - Gone - YAY!!!

Teresa said...

I appreciate your sportsmanship on the subject, so I whined for you in my last post. I don't think you should be able to go to the playoffs without a winning record. Period. End of story.

Kevin Smith said...

I saw that and appreciate it. Also, I'm not saying it's easy to take or that I like it, but this is the hand you deal yourself as a pro-sports league when you continue to subdivide your conferences into more and more divisions - eventually you're just going to get the occasional division that can't play its way out of a paper bag.

The way I look at it is let the 8-8 team in, but seed the teams based on record, not on division title. It seems to me that if you win ten or eleven games, and the winner of a rival division wins fewer games, then the team with more wins did more to earn the higher seed.

Teresa said...

I don't know if you read the article from Goodell that he thinks the Colts should be hosting the game tomorrow night and not the Chargers. I am sure that endeared him to fans in SD.

What gets me is that San Diego actually thinks they belong. Whatever.

Kevin Smith said...

Hadn't seen that yet, but good for Goodell.

Honestly, just because I think that their winning their division is a ticket for them to get into the post-season, it's not the same thing as thinking they belong. They and the Cardinals are so obviously the two weakest teams in the post season.