Before discussing the games I saw this week, I would like to make some observations as we move into the pivotal Week 17 where many playoff spots will be decided.
AFC East: The AFC East is the wildest and most intriguing playoff race in the NFL. Patriots’ fans will find themselves in the ironic position of having to root for the rival New York Jets to beat the Miami Dolphins so they can secure the AFC East, or root for the Jacksonville Jaguars to beat the Baltimore Ravens so they can secure a wild card spot. It would be a shame if the Patriots end up with a record of 11-5 and miss the playoffs. They have overcome numerous injuries on defense and of course the biggest blow, the loss of Tom Brady at the start of the season. Matt Cassel has developed into a legitimate starting quarterback and if they beat Buffalo Sunday, they deserve a playoff spot. It has been 23 years since an 11-5 team did not make the playoffs, the 1985 Denver Broncos. Usually the last playoff spot goes to a 9-7 or even 8-8 team.
AFC West: Meanwhile, two mediocre teams will be fighting it out for the AFC West crown, the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. If the Chargers win, an 8-8 team makes it in. I can’t stand either of these teams but I like Denver better this year so I hope the Broncos beat the whiney Chargers Sunday.
New York Giants and Tennessee Titans: The Giants and Titans have reestablished themselves as the teams to beat in the NFC and AFC. Each did it by beating the teams, at home, that many considered to possibly be the best teams in their respective conferences. The Giants beat the Carolina Panthers in a game that secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Titans defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, also securing home field advantage in the playoffs. By winning their respective games, these are the two best teams in the league in my opinion and we very well may be seeing a Giants-Titans matchup in the Super Bowl.
GAMES I WATCHED
New England Patriots over Arizona Cardinals, 47-7
Matt Cassel continues to prove that he is not only a viable starting QB in the NFL, but possibly even an elite one. In a cold, snowy, icy game, the Patriots used a short passing game and the run to dominate the Arizona Cardinals from start to finish. The Cardinals didn’t even seem to show up for the game and put up an embarrassing performance for a playoff team who already won their division. It looks like they will be going into the playoffs on a down note, regardless of what happens in their game Sunday.
New England could end up 11-5 and still not make the playoffs, which would be a real shame. Go JETS and JAGUARS on Sunday.
MVP: Matt Cassel, QB, New England Patriots
Indianapolis Colts over Jacksonville Jaguars, 31-24
Jacksonville actually showed up and played a competitive game against the Colts in their Thursday night matchup. The Jaguars jumped out to a 14-0 lead but with Peyton Manning at QB, a 14-0 lead is as ephemeral as an early morning fog. But the Jaguars hung in the game to the very end. The death knell occurred when Keiwan Ratliff picked off David Garrard and ran it back for a touchdown with a little over four minutes to go, giving the Colts their 31-24 margin of victory.
Peyton Manning is playing extremely well and the Colts could run the table in the playoffs. Their biggest weaknesses are a suspect running game against the better defenses and their defense, as usual, gives up a lot of yards and points. But with Peyton looking like he’s hit his stride, anything is possible.
MVP: Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Baltimore Ravens over Dallas Cowboys, 33-24
The Ravens defense tore the Cowboys and Tony Romo up. Dallas looks dysfunctional and their offensive line has gone south. How they get so many false start penalties at home is beyond me. It’s unfortunate Dallas is still in the running for a playoff spot given how things shook out this week, because their play the last few weeks isn’t deserving of the playoffs.
The Ravens defense continues to be dominating and intimidating, which could take them far in the playoffs. Joe Flacco continues to look like the real deal at quarterback and they can run the ball well. The Ravens still struggle on offense against really good defenses, but they almost beat Tennessee earlier in the season so that can definitely compete with any team in the league. I hope they lose against the Jaguars next week to open up the wild card spot for the New England Patriots. But if the Ravens make the postseason, they will be fun to watch.
MVP: Ed Reed, FS, Baltimore Ravens
Atlanta Falcons over Minnesota Vikings, 24-17
The story of this game is four Minnesota turnovers and two botched shotgun snaps, which pretty much took the Vikings out of any chance to pull this game off. My offensive player of the year, Adrian Peterson, fumbled the ball twice and had problems with ball security all game long. Much of his troubles were from trying to do too much, allowing the Falcons defense to swarm to the ball. Other than the turnovers the game was competitive. The Vikings are another team I look forward to seeing in the playoffs because they have played some of the wildest games this year, have a stout defense, and big play ability.
Visanthe Shiancoe, the Vikings tight end, had a phenomenal game with seven catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Falcons guard Justin Blalock made the play of the game when he recovered a Matt Ryan fumble in the end zone for touchdown, which was the difference in the game. He had an excellent day blocking as well.
With this win the Falcons have secured a playoff spot and completely turned their franchise around after the Michael Vick debacle.
MVP: Justin Blalock, G, Atlanta Falcons
New York Giants over Carolina Panthers, 34-28 OT
The New York Giants served notice to the league that they are the best team in the NFC with their overtime win over the Carolina Panthers in frigid conditions. The Giants went back to their bruising running game, rushing for over 300 yards. Derrick Ward pounded out 215 yards on only 15 carries, while Brandon Jacobs got goal line duty turning in three short runs for touchdowns.
Carolina had a lead for much of the game riding the heels of DeAngelo Williams who had over 100 yards rushing and four touchdowns, but the Giants were resilient in the second half and pulled off the win.
The Giants secured home field advantage in the playoffs with this win and we could see a rematch of this game for the NFC Championship.
MVP: Derrick Ward, RB, New York Giants
Chicago Bears over Green Bay Packers, 20-17 OT
How have the Bears been able to pull off two overtime wins despite being outplayed by their opponents? The Bears overcame a few turnovers and being more or less beaten in this game, but in the fourth quarter they were able to tie the game and pull out the win in overtime on the legs of Matt Forte. While Forte didn’t have eye popping statistics, and was out for part of the second half, he dominated on the ground in the fourth quarter. The Bears are still in the running for a playoff spot as a result.
MVP: Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offensive Player: Derrick Ward, RB, New York Giants. 215 yards rushing
Defensive Player: Jason Jones, DL, Tennessee Titans. 3 ½ sacks and 3 forced fumbles.
Offensive Lineman: Justin Blalock, G, Atlanta Falcons
Special Teams: John Carney, K, New York Giants
Rookie of the Week: Jason Jones, DL, Tennessee Titans