Wednesday, December 26, 2007

NFL 2007 Week 16: AFC Edition

AFC EAST: This was the last week I could have hoped for a loss for the Patriots. The Dolphins had nothing to lose, but had no answers for New England’s attacks. This week, the Pats will likely be playing to break all the records to be called the greatest team ever assembled. True or not, the playoffs are always a different picture than the regular season and, to state the obvious, they’ll be up against the best in the conference, not teams like the Jets and the Dolphins. They have a huge target on them and haven’t played at even close to the level that they did at the beginning of the season. If they don’t step their game up to where it was then, a team like the Jaguars has the potential to run roughshod over them. The rest of the division, with an 11-34 record (26-34 if you count New England’s record), is pathetic and the worst division in football, so there isn’t much to say about them. Any strides the Bills made this year will have to wait until next. Losing two straight and going 2-3 in their last five games is no way to stay in a playoff hunt. The Jets’ poor play has kept the unlikely and inconsistent Titans in the hunt and, unlike the Bills and the Dolphins, their future will look a lot like this for a few years still. One would have thought that Miami would have come off their only win fired up and ready to beat the Patriots, but that person would be wrong. They played like they simply didn’t care.

AFC NORTH: Pittsburgh may have clinched their division, but without Willie Parker, they’re in the worst position of any team on the AFC side of the playoffs. Davenport is not good or reliable enough to depend on and, when you combine that fact with the general inconsistency of their play, they will not go far into the playoffs. The Browns weren’t anywhere in the playoff picture at the beginning of the season, then they were by mid-season, and now they’re pretty much out for good. They’ve had a stunningly successful season; now they have to decide whether Derek Anderson is a real quarterback or a flash in the pan. Unfortunately for them, they will make the wrong choice and pay him a ton of money. He’ll be happy, too bad Browns fans won’t. Though they won, Carson Palmer gave a performance typical of himself and the Bengals this year. They’ve knocked the Browns from the playoffs, but no credit to them for the job. The Browns lost the game for themselves and Cincinnati was just there to reap the benefits, such as they are. The Ravens “contest” against the Seahawks was over before it began. With all the injuries on defense and utterly terrible offensive production, the Ravens have completely fallen apart. They’re playing as bad or worse than the Jets and, like New York, they won’t be in any better a position next year.

AFC SOUTH: Indianapolis put the final nail in the coffin of what has been a surprisingly good Texans’ season and roll into the playoffs as the easy #2 seed in the playoffs. The Colts played their typical game which, exceptional as those performances have been, has become unexceptional. There were a few weeks that they weren’t playing to their level, but they’ve remedied all of this and are playing at the same high level that the Patriots game. What I don’t want to see is another Colts/Pats matchup but, luckily, I don’t believe that will happen. The Jaguars have become the team to beat at the end of the season and, whether they come to Indy to play or New England, I feel like Jacksonville has the advantage. They are playing such strong smashmouth football, with an incredibly efficient quarterback to boot, that any team (and especially New England) should be quaking in their cleats to face them. They are my dark horse AFC champion, but they’re becoming less and less unlikely all the time. It’s between Tennessee and Cleveland for the last playoff spot and, no matter how badly they’ve played at times, it’s the Titans who’ll hold that last wildcard slot. It’s hard to believe that a team with a winning record has been outscored over the course of the season but, no matter how hard the defense hits, they haven’t been able to repeat what the old Ravens had done: win big in spite of an anemic offense. The Texans’ best season has been essentially over for a few weeks now, and they played like it against the Colts this week, but they’ve been very impressive at times. If they can shore up the holes that they’ve had for years: the quarterback, running back and, especially, offensive line issues, they could be a real force. Undoubtedly, it would have been easier for them in any other division, and may well have been a full-fledged playoff team this year, but they play in the toughest division in football so it’s going to continue to be difficult for them to gain handholds up the ranks in the South.

AFC WEST: I can accept that the Chargers have won the division by games and that the rest of the teams have played terribly, but I’m indignant that Norv Turner has brought the team out of the mire. Turner sucks, and is going to continue to suck, but the team is so damn talented that it masks his lack of it. Win or lose, it was always hilarious to see Tomlinson jawing at Rivers. I love strife in teams I hate but, once they got it together, not only is it all smiles, they even collectively jaw at their opponents. No AFC West division game will ever be civil, but Rivers sure deserved a punch in the face for his “bye bye wave” to Cutler, and Cutler is just the man to do it. The Broncos will remember this next season, and San Diego will have their comeuppance. Denver looks like they’ve essentially stopped playing, between the drubbing last week and the even worse one this week. I’m just searching for draft picks now; no team needs linebackers worse than Denver, but there really aren’t that many out there to choose from. It could be a sad couple of years for the Broncos, but Shanahan’s always done what it takes in the offseason to build a playoff ready franchise, though he faltered this year, and I have to think this will continue this year. I at least have to hope it. The Chiefs and the Raiders are equally crappy, but the Chiefs have the inside track to a fifth win. They play the Jets and the Raiders play the Chargers. One of these outcomes is 100% clear. The best thing is that neither team has taken any steps toward improvement, so we can expect more of this for years to come, which will give me great pleasure whether the Broncos are winning or not.