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2009 NFL Playoffs – Wild Card Round Saturday Games Preview by Lloyd Vance

NY Jets (9-7) AT Cincinnati Bengals (10-6), Saturday January 9th, 4:30 PM ET on NBC

Broadcast Team: Tom Hammond, Joe Gibbs, Joe Theismann, Tiki Barber (Field reporter)

Let’s Do It Again…but this time, the game will be in Cincy.  Last week, the NY Jets needed a win to get in the playoffs and they dominated the Bengals by a score of 37-0.  I don’t know if the Bengals are suffering from playing a long hard 2009 season, where they lost both WR Chris Henry and the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, but they need to look more like the team that swept the AFC North (6-0) than the group that has gone 3-4 in their last 7 games.

The Bengals have been a great turnaround story this season – won AFC North for the second time under head coach Marvin Lewis after starring on HBO’s Hard Knocks – but they are playing a young and energetic NY Jets team led by brash rookie head coach Rex Ryan.  The veteran defensive minded coach is trying to become 10th rookie head coach since 1990 to win his playoff debut.  Much like his father, former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator has brought a “swagger” and a defensive presence to New York.  The Jets won five of their last six games after losing six of their previous seven games to make the playoffs.  New York allowed 252.3 yards per game and 14.8 points per game, which were both NFL-lows.

However as good as the Jets has been on defense, other than their vaunted running game – led the NFL with 172.3 rushing yards per game – New York has struggled to move the football offensively.  Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Ryan have developed an offense that relies on RB’s Thomas Jones (1,402 yards and 14 TDs – both 3rd in the NFL) and rookie Shonn Greene plus Wildcat QB Brad Smith (92 yards rushing yards including a 32-yard TD run last week) in an attempt to hide rookie starting QB Mark Sanchez (196-364, 2444 yards, 12 TDs, 20 INTs, and a 63.0 QB rating).  The USC rookie played well through the Jets’ first few games, but lately he has been a turnover machine.  Even in last week’s blowout of the Bengals, Sanchez had mediocre numbers of 8 for 16 passing for 63 yards.  If the Jets are to win, Sanchez is going to need to provide more and may have to throw the ball more than 20 times, mostly likely to his favorite target Braylon Edwards (35 catches for 541 yards and 4 TDs with the Jets). Look for the Jets to run at the injury-depleted Bengals defense — 257 rushing yards in Week 17 — that earlier lost big D-linemen Pat Sims (forearm) and Domata Peko (season-ending knee surgery).  Conversely, the Bengals (301.4 yards allowed – 3rd in AFC) will be looking to pressure Sanchez in the hope of more picks to their talented cornerback duo of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph (career-high 6 INTs).

Offensively, the Bengals have a Fantasy Football roster of weapons including former Pro Bowl players QB Carson Palmer (282-466, 3094 yards, 21 TDs, and 13 INTs), RB Cedric Benson (over 1,200 yards), RB Larry Johnson, and WR Chad Ochocinco.  But last week the Bengals were pathetic against the Jets’ defense and will need to do better –1 for 11 on third downs and finished with just 72 net yards on offense.  In front of their home crowd, the Bengals will need to establish Benson and Johnson against the Jets’ stout defense led by their LB’s Bart Scott, Danny Harris (ankle), and Calvin Pace.  If the Bengals running game can produce some yards, then Palmer can go play-action which should help his mediocre numbers from last week — career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7).  But the Bengals will need find a way to get their catalyst Ochocinco (72 catches for 1,047 yards and 9 TDs) going.  The talkative receiver last week after bragging and “Tweeting” that he would show NY Jets Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis (6 INTs), “How to play the game”, never showed up.  Ochocinco was held to no catches (first time since September 29, 2002, a span of 120 games) and to make matters worse he tweaked his knee in warm-ups after slipping on the cold Meadowlands turf.  All indications are that No. 85 will play in the game and the Bengals will need him.

LV’s Pick: Last week you saw that the Jets are surging while the Bengals have not been able to sustain their early season success. But to me this game boils down to “physicality”.  The Jets can run the ball, control the clock, and produce turnovers.  The Bengals despite some good running backs are a passing team that is missing that does not have a deep threat any longer.  Unless Sanchez has an interception party, expect the Jets to win an ugly defensive game in the cold of Cincinnati – Jets win 17-13.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-5), Saturday January 9th, 8:00 PM ET on NBC

Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Andrea Kremer (Field reporter).

If you thought the stakes were high in Week 17’s NFC East title showdown, then buckle-up because this is the playoffs and Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar playpen will be rocking.  The Eagles and Cowboys will play for the 3rd time this season after Dallas swept the other two games for the first time since 2005.  Not to bring up some awful info for Eagles fans, last week in one of the league’s most anticipated Week 17 games, the Cowboys won in dominant fashion by a score of 24-0 to claim the NFC East crown – first since 2005.  So with the thought that just 6 days earlier they dominated the Birds, the Cowboys are hoping to duplicate the efforts of the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers.  Last year’s Super Bowl champs beat the Baltimore Ravens three times, including in the AFC Championship game, on their way to the title.  Since 1970, 19 teams have gone 2-0 against an opponent in the regular season and then faced that club in the playoffs.  Surprisingly, the sweeping team has won the postseason meeting 12 times (63.2 percent).  On the other side of the rubber match, the Eagles will be trying to follow in the footsteps of the 2007 New York Giants who defeated the Cowboys in the Divisional round after Dallas had defeated them twice in the regular season.

The history between these two teams is lengthy (played 98 times with the Cowboys holding an edger of 55-43), but you know the recent Dallas’ star spitting incident involving Eagles web guy Dave Spadaro will make fans from both sides even more heated.  This will be the 4th time these two teams have met in the playoffs, but Saturday’s meeting will be the first time since 1995 when the Cowboys thumped the Eagles 30-11 – the Cowboys have won 2 of previous 3 playoff meetings.  The key player of the game will be much-maligned Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who broke three team single-season passing records this season — completions, pass attempts and yards – but as everyone knows he is 0-2 in two playoff starts.  Romo will be trying to put away his bobbled snap on a potential game-winning field from the Cowboys loss to the Seahawks in 2006 and his Cobo trip during the team’s bye week before their loss to the Giants.

But Romo and the Cowboys definitely have a new swagger about themselves after winning the NFC East for the first time since 2007 and putting up a respectable 3-2 record in December and January this season. Included in that end of season success were a huge win over the formerly undefeated New Orleans Saints and posting back-to-back shutouts in Weeks 16 and 17 over the Redskins and Eagles.  Make no bones about it, the Cowboys are a hot team right now, they won their regular-season finale for the first time since 1999, have won 3 straight games and swept the Eagles for the first time since 2005.  The Cowboys in their Week 17 win over the Eagles established the run early with power running Marion Barber and speedy Felix Jones (ran for 179 yards on just 19 rushes).  Then Romo hit some big throws to WR Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten as he was only sacked once by Philadelphia.  To show the Cowboys dominance in Week 17, Dallas had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession.  Look for the Cowboys to go right back to that same plan unless Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott can dial-up “pressure” that his mentor the late Jim Johnson was so great at doing against Romo and the Cowboys.  The key players for the Eagles defense will be Pro Bowl players CB Asante Samuel (9 INTs) and DE Trent Cole (11.5 sacks), but others, namely the Birds underachieving linebackers, will need to step-up.

When the Eagles have the ball offensive, they will need to get more out of their running game (only 37 rushing yards last week) and establish veteran running back Brian Westbrook and rookie LeSean McCoy on screens.  The Eagles lack of a running game or balance, allowed the Cowboys to harass Eagles QB Donovan McNabb all-day with 4 sacks to show for their efforts.  The Birds were never able to find explosive Pro Bowl WR DeSean Jackson (An NFL record 8 TDs of 50 yards +) or rookie Jeremy Maclin.  The Eagles failed to score and had their 6-game winning streak snapped – in 21 possessions against the Cowboys this season, Philly has produced 7 points.  With Dallas Cowboys head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips running the show, the Cowboys defense has been awesome — allowed 37 points in their last four games and became the first defense to post back-to-back shutouts since 2000.  The Cowboys 2nd ranked NFL Defense will count on pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer plus Pro Bowl NT Jay Ratliff.  If the Eagles are to have any success against Ware and his mates, McNabb will need to make plays in and out of the pocket plus spread the ball around to everyone and not just emerging TE Brent Celek.

LV’s Pick: Last week the Cowboys dominated by a score of 24-0 and everyone is now picking them to finally end their playoff futility by beating Philly – Dallas has not won a playoff game since 1996.  However when I look at this match-up I have to point to the quarterbacks and head coaches.  Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid has never lost in an opening playoff game (7-0) while Phillips has zero playoff wins under his belt going back to his days in Denver.  McNabb is 9-6 playoff games and Romo has well documented playoff struggles.  With all of the pressure on the Cowboys, expect a looser Eagles teams to be more prepared.  The Eagles win a hard fought game on a David Akers field goal.  — Eagles win 23-20

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2009 NFL Season – Week 17 Review by Lloyd Vance

January 5, 2010 1 comment

The Dallas Cowboys led by QB Tony Romo dominated the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 to claim the NFC East title and secure the NFC’s 3rd seed in the playoffs

The curtain closed on the 2009 NFL regular season with a somewhat disappointing Week 17. Though there were some great individual performances (see Game Balls) and teams punching their playoff tickets, only two of Week 17’s sixteen games – all played on Sunday, which was great — were decided by four points or less.  There were also two shutouts and several other lopsided games that caused fans to yearn for the upcoming NFL playoffs to arrive sooner, rather than later. 

I don’t know if it is end of season blues or teams “resting” players for the playoffs, but it is a shame that the 2009 NFL regular season ended with such a whimper.  There has been some talk that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is actively seeking input from around the league asking “how” everyone can fix the whole playoff teams resting players dilemma.  Goodell said on a CBS broadcast regarding the Resting Players-gate situation, “We are considering a lot of different things. We are talking with the Competition Committee and John Madden’s committee on how you incent people and reward them. I don’t think you can punish them for not playing. The other thing that has to happen is you have to make it clear to the public that you are not going to be playing someone, like we do with our injury reports.”

Though I do like Goodell’s thought of providing an incentive to teams (draft picks??) to play everyone through the NFL’s closing weeks, I don’t know how the league’s Competition Committee and franchises can take away a successful team’s prerogative to get ready for the games that really count.  One big negative to Goodell’s plan may have occurred in Houston, Texas where New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, league receptions leader with 123 catches, was lost for the playoffs with a devastating knee injury in a “meaningless” game against the Texans.  To New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s credit, he said he would still play all of his players the majority of the game, if he had to do it all over again.  I have to agree to with Belichick as players can get hurt in a preseason game or any other situation where there is contact whether it is in practice or a game, so why not play to “win” in the NFL’s closing weeks.  Kudos should go out to the Indianapolis Colts for playing QB Peyton Manning, TE Dallas Clark, WR Reggie Wayne and others in snowy Buffalo, so the veterans could achieve certain milestones.  The move was a far cry from the Colts give-up to the NY Jets in Week 16.

Despite some uninspired play by some teams in Week 17, we did finally find out which teams are going to the “Big Dance”.  The AFC’s last two wildcard spots were claimed by the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens plus a sometimes clouded playoff picture for the entire league including division titles was finally sorted out. The regular season marked the end of 20 team’s dreams of moving on, but now the real fun starts for teams holding a playoff ticket.  There are now 12 teams (AFC — Colts, Chargers, Patriots, Bengals, Ravens, and Jets; NFC — Saints, Vikings, Cowboys, Cardinals, Packers, and Eagles) who will attempt to live-up to the 2009 NFL’s moniker of “Own the Moment” by making Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, Florida. 

In looking at the NFL’s standings and playoff picture after Week 17, change once again is definitely in the air around the league.  For the 14th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before.  This year, the six new playoff teams are the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Cincinnati Bengals.  Also the 2009 NFL regular season produced five new division winners (Indianapolis, Dallas, New England, New Orleans, and Cincinnati).

Before we move on to the ensuing playoff madness starting with a very interesting wildcard round – three rematches of Week 17 lopsided games including two at the same venue — let’s take a look at the final regular season week of the 2009 NFL season.

Some tidbits and news from Week 17 include:

Teams stepping it up to make the playoffs — With their season’s on the line, the Baltimore Ravens and NY Jets had the wherewithal to “Seize the Day” and claim 2009 playoff berths. 

  • Ravens run all over the Raiders into the playoffs — Everyone knew going into Week 17 that despite stumbling in Pittsburgh the week before that the Ravens could “Win and Get in”.  The up-and-down Ravens, who always seemed to let penalties and inconsistent play stop them throughout 2009, needed to play inspired against the Oakland Raiders in their home stadium.  Before the game, veteran linebacker Ray Lewis delivered an inspiring speech that drove the Ravens to a tough 21-13 win over the Raiders.  “Ray was unbelievable,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of the 34-year-old linebacker. “When he spoke in here before the game, it was off the charts. The theme was, ‘Be the team we can be. Leave the penalties in their pockets. Hit everything in sight. Don’t let up. Be the Ravens.’  The stars for the Ravens were veteran RB Willis McGahee (see Game Balls) and rookie LB Dannell Ellerbe (returned an interception deep into Raiders territory).  Once the Raven knocked Raiders starter Charlie Frye (ankle) out of the game, inconsistent backup JaMarcus Russell was no threat.  The Ravens clinched a wildcard berth by also running the ball to the tune of 240 yards with an amazing 6.9 yards per carry average.  Next up is the beat-up New England Patriots who should be fearful of the dangerous Ravens.
  • The NY Jets take care of business on Sunday Night Football – After enduring a week of “gift wins” talk, the Jets went out in Sunday’s last game and blew the doors off the Cincinnati Bengals 37-0.  The NY Jets clinched their first playoff berth since 2006 and made rookie head coach Rex Ryan the 2nd NY Jets ‘ head coach to make the playoffs in his first season – joined Herman Edwards.  Despite a non-passing day by starter Mark Sanchez  (8/16 for 63 YDS), the NY Jets ground up the Bengals by playing tough defense (Ranked #1 in the NFL) and running the ball. Behind Wildcat QB Brad Smith (see Game Balls) and RB Thomas Jones (78 yards and 2 TDs), the Jets had 57 rushing attempts — the second most in franchise history (one shy of the team record set in 1973) —  for 257 rushing yards.   The Jets’ defense also held both Bengals, in particular stars QB Carson Palmer and WR Chad Ochocinco , in check the entire game –1 for 11 on third downs and finished with just 72 net yards on offense. By winning five of their last six games after losing six of their previous seven games, the Jets are now in the playoffs and should be considered dangerous (attacking defense and can run the ball).  These two teams will play again next week in Cincinnati in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
  • The Dallas Cowboys claim the NFC East Crown and look playoff ready – In one of the league’s most anticipated Week 17 games, the NFC East title was on the line in Big “D”.  Unfortunately for Philadelphia Eagles fans only the Cowboys chose to show-up in a dominating 24-0 win that allowed them to claim the NFC East crown – first since 2005.  The key player of the game had to be much-maligned Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who broke three team single-season passing records — for completions, pass attempts and yards —  in a huge win.  Romo finished with 311 yards and two touchdowns plus was only sacked once.  To show the Cowboys dominance, Dallas had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession.  The Cowboys harassed Eagles QB Donovan McNabb all-day as the Eagles failed to score and had their 6-game winning streak snapped.  In the end, Dallas Cowboys head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had to be happy of his team’s defensive effort — allowed 37 points in their last four games and became the first defense to post back-to-back shutouts since 2000. The Cowboys have now won 3 games in a row, including knocking off playoff teams the Saints and Eagles.   Dallas also won their regular-season finale for the first time since 1999 and swept the Eagles for the first time since 1999.  The Cowboys and Eagles will face each other again in the first round of the playoffs, right back at Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium.

The St. Louis Rams claim the top stop in the 2010 NFL Draft — For a little while it looked the like the Rams didn’t want the top spot as they hung tough with the Niners.  But in the end, the Rams’ 28-6 loss to San Francisco assured them of the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.  It will be the 3rd year in a row that the Rams have picked either 1st or 2nd in the draft (OT Jason Smith – 2009 and DE Chris Long – 2008), but this time they will be the first ones on the clock.  I am sure their prize will be dominating Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who some are comparing to former Cardinals Pro Bowl player Eric Swann in his prime.

Black Monday is Here – The Monday after the regular season ends typically is not a good day for underperforming head coaches, assistant coaches, general managers, and front office types.  Most teams don’t like to make job security decisions in-season so on “Black Monday” walking papers are given so teams can get ready for the upcoming draft.  Even though there are some uncertain CBA times around the NFL given the threat of an uncapped year in 2010 and possible owner’s lockout in 2011, some on the hot seat head coaches will be getting their pink slips on “Black Monday”.  Already new Redskins GM Bruce Allen has told head coach Jim Zorn his days as Washington’s head coach are numbered – you can insert Mike Shanahan by the end of the week.  And Buffalo interim head coach Perry Fewell is sure to be pushed aside for a bigger name (Bill Cowher??) plus there are sure to be other changes to follow.  Some other head coach who may not return for the 2010 are Cleveland’s Eric Mangini (new GM Mike Holmgren evaluating and it doesn’t look good);Oakland’s Tom Cable (appears to be done, but who wants the Raiders job anyway); Carolina’s John Fox (despite an 8-8 finish, no extension after 2010 yet); Chicago’s Lovie Smith (owed over $11Million the next two years), Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio (team lost four straight to end the season); Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris (young coach only produced two wins); Texans Gary Kubiak (After the franchise’s first winning season, got a vote of confidence…but you never know); and Dallas’ Wade Phillips (needs a playoff win to probably be safe).

Back-to-Back winning seasons for Atlanta – By virtue of their 20-10 win over the Bucs, for the first time in the Falcon’s 44-year history they have posted back-to-back winning seasons.  Not that 9-7 is as good as last year’s 10-6 mark and their wildcard berth, but at least the Falcons fought through injuries to QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner to post a winning season.

Denver joins some not so elite company —  Sorry rookie head coach Josh McDaniels, but the Denver Broncos (8-8) became just the third team since the 1970 merger to miss the playoffs after starting 6-0. The Broncos implosion was similar to the 1978 Washington Redskins and 2003 Minnesota Vikings.

Milestones were aplenty in Week 17

  • This season, 10 quarterbacks each passed for at least 4,000 yards, which is the most in a single season in NFL history – Texans’ Matt Schaub (4,770), Colts’ Peyton Manning (4,500), Cowboys’ Tony Romo (4,483), Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (4,434), Patriots’ Tom Brady (4,398), Saints’ Drew Brees (4,388), Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (4,328), Chargers’ Philip Rivers (4,254), Vikings’ Brett Favre (4,202) and NY Giants’ Eli Manning (4,021).  The previous record was seven in 2007. 
  • Twelve quarterbacks passed for at least 25 touchdowns this year, which is the most in a single season in NFL history – Brees (34), Favre (33), P. Manning (33), Rodgers (30), Schaub (29), Brady (28), Rivers (28), Bears’ Jay Culter (27), E. Manning (27), Roethlisberger (26), Romo (26) and Cardinals’ Kurt Warner (26). The previous record was 10 in 2007. 
  • Tennessee running back Chris Johnson had 154 scrimmage yards (134 rushing, 20 receiving) in the Titans’ 17-13 victory over Seattle.  Johnson totaled 2,509 scrimmage yards this season (2,006 rushing, 503 receiving), surpassing surefire hall of famer Marshall Faulk (2,429 in 1999) for the most yards from scrimmage in a single season in NFL history.  Johnson also led the league in rushing with 2,006 yards and became the sixth player in league history with 2,000 rushing yards in a season.
  • The Green Bay Packers improved to 11-5 with a 33-7 victory over Arizona.  The Packers became the first team in NFL history with a 4,000-yard passer (QB Aaron Rodgers), 1,200-yard rusher (RB Ryan Grant) and two 1,000-yard receivers (WRs Donald Driver & Greg Jennings) in consecutive seasons.
  • Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 125 yards in the Panthers’ 23-10 win against New Orleans.  Stewart (1,133) and DeAngelo (1,117) are the first set of teammates to each rush for 1,100 yards in a single season. 
  • Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre threw four touchdowns in the Vikings’ 44-7 win against the New York Giants.  Favre, who passed for 33 touchdowns this season, reached the 30-TD mark for the ninth time in his career, the most in NFL history.  Favre also passed for 316 yards against the Giants to reach the 4,000-yard mark (4,202) for the sixth time in his career, tying him with Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the second-most in NFL history.   
  • Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson had 65 receiving yards in the Texans’ 34-27 win against New England.  Johnson, who has led the NFL in receiving with 1,575 yards in 2008 and 1,569 yards in 2009, joined future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only players since 1970 to lead the league in consecutive seasons.  Rice topped the league in back-to-back seasons in1989-90 and led the NFL three years in a row from 1993-95.  Also Johnson and former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison (2001-02) are the only players in NFL history to record at least 1,500 receiving yards in consecutive seasons.
  • San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis had a touchdown catch in the 49ers’ 28-6 victory over St. Louis.  Davis, who tied for the NFL lead with 13 touchdown receptions in 2009, tied San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates (13 in 2004) for the most TD catches by a tight end in a single-season in NFL history.
  • New Orleans finished with 510 points scored in the 2009 regular season to become just the 12th team in NFL history to score 500 points in a season.  The Saints finished sixth on the league’s all-time season scoring list and averaged 31.9 points per game.
  • Indianapolis’ Dallas Clark joined Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends in league history with 100 receptions in one season.
  • Bills WR Terrell Owens passed Tim Brown and moved into third on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list.

Game Balls

Kansas City Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson – The former University of Texas linebacker was everywhere for the Chiefs, who sent the Broncos home packing for the season with a dominating 44-24 road win.  Johnson picked off Broncos QB Kyle Orton twice, returning both for touchdowns (45 and 60 yards).  For the game, Johnson finished with six tackles, 2 INTs, and 2 TDs.

Honorable Mention

Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson – What a game for the NFL’s leading rusher in a close 17-13 win over the Seahawks.  Against a Seahawks defense that had allowed only 100-yard rusher entering the game, Johnson finished with 134 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries (11th straight 100-yard rushing game). On a 9-yard reception in the second quarter, Titans RB Chris Johnson broke surefire Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk’s 10-year old record for scrimmage yards in a season (2,429). In the third quarter, he broke Earl Campbell’s franchise record of 1,934 rushing yards. In the fourth quarter, he became the sixth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season – finished with 2,006 yards rushing for the season.

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers – The Cardinals better watch-out next week because Rodgers played unbelievable in a huge win over Arizona.  Brett Favre’s former understudy completed 21 of 26 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown before being pulled early in the fourth quarter. Rodgers finished the season just 24 yards shy of Lynn Dickey’s team record for passing yards in a season (4,458 to 4,434).  He also became only the second quarterback in team history (Bart Starr was the first) to finish a season with a 100-plus passer rating.

Houston Texans safety Bernard Pollard – Pollard was everywhere as the Texans tried in vain to make the playoffs for the first time.  The active linebacker had six tackles plus intercepted Patriots QB Tom Brady and recovered a Fred Taylor fumble for a touchdown in the Texans’ 34-27 win.

Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles — It was an unbelievable performance by Charles in a huge win over the Broncos.  The former Texas running back set a Chiefs franchise record with 259 rushing yards and added two touchdowns.  Charles became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,100 or more yards on less than 200 carries. Charles rushed for 5.9 YPC behind the same offensive line that looked so bad former Chiefs malcontent Larry Johnson (2.7 YPC).

Baltimore Ravens RB Willis McGahee – The veteran back came off the bench to pace the Ravens with 167 yards and three TDs (tied franchise record).  The Ravens piled-up over 240 rushing yards and McGahee had the play of the day on a long run.  Displaying power not seen in a while, on a 77-yard scoring run in the second quarter, the former Miami Hurricanes star threw Raiders safety Hiram Eugene to the ground with a Payton-esque stiff arm then sprinted the rest of the way to the endzone.

Other Honorees: NY Jets WR/QB Brad Smith (the NY Jets’ do-it-all former college quarterback had 92 yards rushing yards including a 32-yard TD run);Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo  (broke three team single-season passing records and finished with 311 yards and two touchdowns in a rout of the Eagles and threw 11 TD’s and 2 INTs in his last six games); Chicago Bears LB Tim Shaw (had 6 special teams tackles and had a forced a fumble/recovery on a kickoff); Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson (intercepted Cardinals QB Matt Leinart for his career-high ninth pick of the season and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown); Chargers WR Malcolm Floyd (made the most of his opportunity as the Chargers’ No. 1 wide receiver with Vincent Jackson getting the day off by finishing with a career-high nine catches and 140 yards); Chargers QB Billy Volek (led the Chargers to their 11th consecutive win by coming back on the Washington Redskins and threw a late touchdown).

Lloyd’s Lackey

The Philadelphia Eagles – In a game where the Eagles had the chance to win the NFC East title and claim the NFC’s #2 seed, the Birds “Mailed It In” and were shutout 24-0 – first shutout loss since Dec. 5, 2005.  Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid’s team will have to look at some awful film for their preparation for their return match-up with the Cowboys. There were dropped passes, penalties, overthrows, constant quarterback pressure on Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (4 sacks) wasted timeouts, bad interception attempts and missed assignments galore.  The Cowboys had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession.  Dallas rushed for 179 yards against the Eagles on just 32 carries for a sparkling 5.6 yards per carry average – only allowed 76 yards on 23 carries in a 20-16 loss in November to Dallas.  The Cowboys swept the Eagles for the first time since 2005.  The Eagles’ 6-game winning streak was snapped and they are now the NFC’s 6th seed and will have to play the confident Cowboys back in Dallas in the wildcard round.  Surprisingly after the blowout loss, McNabb blamed youth for a huge contributing factor in the loss.  “We showed our youth,” McNabb said. “We showed our youth in situations where everyone would begin to look around to see who was going to make the play instead of stepping up and making that play. That’s something that comes with the territory when you have a young group. I think at this time, having discussed it with the guys, everybody understands it.” — Better clean it up Eagles, because next week is a single elimination game and excuses won’t matter.

Other Dishonorees

Cincinnati Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco – After a week of bragging and “Tweeting” that he would show NY Jets CB Darrelle Revis, “How to play the game”, Ocho Stinko never showed up.  The Bengals’ talkative receiver was held to no catches (first time since September 29, 2002, a span of 120 games) and to make matters worse he tweaked his knee in warm-ups after slipping on the cold Meadowlands turf.  It was all roses to Revis after the game as Ochocinco tweeted, “@revis24-hands down u the best in the game, see you n 6 days bruh bruh, try giving out maps next time-its easy to get lost on that island!”

Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer – Maybe the Bengals should have rested Palmer the whole game.  The former No. 1 over pick finished with career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7) in a horrible loss to the NY Jets on Sunday Night Football.

Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart – Another bad passing performance for a player that is looking more like a “flop” every time he takes the field.  Leinart finished with weak passing numbers of 13/21, 96 YDS, and 2 INTs in a blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Oakland Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell – Once he entered the game, the Ravens knew they were going to win.  Russell looked tentative in the pocket as he threw for only 102 passing yards and had a drive-killing interception and lost fumble.

2009 NFL Week 17

Buffalo (6-10) over Indianapolis (14-2), 30-7 

Carolina (8-8) over New Orleans (13-3), 23-10 

Cleveland (5-11) over Jacksonville (7-9), 23-17  

Chicago (7-9) over Detroit (2-14), 37-23 

Houston (9-7) over New England (10-6), 34-27 

Pittsburgh (9-7) over Miami (7-9), 30-24 

Minnesota (12-4) over N.Y. Giants (8-8), 44-7 

San Francisco (8-8) over St. Louis (1-15), 28-6 

Atlanta (9-7) over Tampa Bay (2-14), 20-10 

Dallas (11-5) over Philadelphia (11-5), 24-0 

Green Bay (11-5) over Arizona (10-6), 33-7 

Kansas City (4-12) over Denver (8-8), 44-24 

Baltimore (9-7) over Oakland (5-11), 21-13 

San Diego (13-3) over Washington (4-12), 23-20 

Tennessee (8-8) over Seattle (5-11), 17-13 

N.Y. Jets (9-7) over Cincinnati (10-6), 37-0 

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 entering Week 17 by Lloyd Vance

December 30, 2009 1 comment

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)

2009 NFL Playoff Picture after Week 15 by Lloyd Vance

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, Vikings, Chargers 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)