Several NFL teams experienced the joy of the holiday season on Saturday, but for some, Christmas Eve was quite unkind.
Tony Romo gave Dallas Cowboys fans a scare after exiting the game with a bruised throwing hand in the first quarter and leaving some dude I’ve never heard of (aka Stephen McGee) to quarterback the team against the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite suffering a 20-7 loss to Philly, the ‘Boys still lead the NFC East but will need a win over the Giants in week 17 to keep it that way. X-rays of Romo’s right hand came back negative which is a good sign, although he was unable to grip the ball or take snaps on the sideline following the injury. After the loss, Romo told reporters that he would be just fine hinting that he will indeed play against the Giants in the regular season finale. Hell, if the guy could play with broken ribs, we can assume he’s tough enough to give it a go a week from now.
Despite a 33-26 win over the Washington Redskins, the Minnesota Vikings also received a huge lump of coal this Christmas. The Vikings four-time Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson suffered a torn ACL during a rushing play in the third quarter where he planted his foot, then got hit by a defender pushing his knee in the opposite direction. Adding injury to injury, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder went down on the very next play after a helmet-to-helmet hit resulted in “concussion-like symptoms” for the rookie. Peterson is looking at a nine-month recovery process jeopardizing his availability for the beginning of next season. No word on whether or not Ponder will return for Minnesota’s meaningless regular season finale against the Bears, although backup Joe Webb looked great finishing out the game in week 16.
Highlights & Playoff Picture
As for the games themselves, lets start with the obvious Christmas choice, the Denver Tebows…errrr … Broncos. Although the Broncos got smoked by the Bills (40-14), yes, those Bills, from Buffalo (no, Tebow did not earn his wings with a late-game comeback or anything of the sort), Denver still leads the AFC West and can seal the deal with a victory over the Chiefs in week 17. Here’s where it gets interesting though: The Broncos will host the Chiefs, quarterbacked by one Kyle Orton who was ousted by Denver in October to make way for Tim Tebow as the starter. Plus, it looks like the Chiefs really like interim head coach Romeo Crennel and will fight hard and play to win in hopes of helping him get him the permanent gig.
Should the Broncos lose to KC and the Raiders beat the Chargers in week 17, Oakland will win the division. Even if Denver wins the division for the first time since 2005, Oakland could get in as as a wildcard which means that TWO teams from this heinous division will make the postseason. Hard to believe, but true.
The AFC North will also be decided in week 17 but it’s not quite that simple. Both the Steelers and Ravens have clinched a playoff spot, but a #2 seed/first-round bye is still up for grabs. Pittsburgh, without Ben Roethlisberger shut out the Rams 27-0 in week 16 and will hope for a similar performance against the Browns on Sunday to catapult them out of the wildcard spot (#5 seed) in which they currently sit. Baltimore leads the division at the moment and can claim the #2 seed with a win over the Bengals on Sunday, but Cincinnati will give it their best as beating the Ravens guarantees the Bengals a playoff berth. Should the Bengals lose to the Ravens, they can squeeze into the playoffs with either a Jets and Raiders loss OR the Raiders winning the AFC West and a Jets loss to the Dolphins.
The T.J. Yates-led Texans have clinched the AFC South and will host the Tennessee Titans in Houston in week 17. Interestingly enough, should the Titans beat the Texans Sunday, they will reach the playoffs as a wildcard team and play the Texans again in Houston during Wildcard Weekend.
The AFC East-leading Patriots are kicking butt, despite allowing the Dolphins to actually think they were a good football team for the first half of their week 16 matchup. In the end, Tom Brady and the New England offense ripped Miami to shreds as the Pats are just one win away from home field advantage throughout the playoffs until the Super Bowl itself. Should they beat the Bills at home on Sunday, we might be in store for several weeks worth of smug news conferences from Bill Belichick. Cue Bart Scott… CANT WAIT!
Speaking of Bart Scott, it’s time for the Jets to put up or shut up as their postseason hopes are on the line in week 17. It’s hard to have faith in the Jets after watching them get worked by the Giants, despite Rex Ryan going balls out from the get-go in sending only Plaxico Burress to represent the Jets captains at midfield before the coin toss in week 16. How awkward was it watching Plex shake hands with his former Giants teammates? The super quick and icy exchange between Burress and Eli Manning was cringe-worthy, wasn’t it? After getting out of prison, Burress publicly expressed his disappointment with Manning for not visiting him in the clink and it looks like he still holds a grudge. Back to the playoffs now, I for one would love nothing more than to watch the always entertaining Sexy Rexy and his Jets trash talk their way through the playoffs for a third straight season, but for my dreams to become a reality, New York will have to beat Miami Sunday, plus the Bengals, Raiders and Titans must lose OR the Raiders win the West while the Titans lose in Houston. Good luck Sanchize!
As for the NFC, the Packers took care of the Bears in Green Bay (thanks Jordy Nelson for almost eviscerating my lead going into my fantasy championship on Monday night) on Christmas, securing the top seed/bye week and eliminating Chicago from playoff contention. Green Bay’s offense rolled and heck, even the defense, which is one of the worst in the league, showed up for this one. And how ‘bout Aaron Rodgers carrying the ball and splitting the defense, causing a Bear-on-Bear collision between Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher? When you force two of the NFL’s best linebackers to look like they’re acting out a slapstick scene from the Three Stooges, you’re the man.
The Lions are playoff bound for the first time since 1999 having clinched a wildcard spot (either the #5 or #6 seed depending on the Falcons) after exposing a fraudulent, never-to-be-trusted Chargers team with a convincing 38-10 victory in Detroit.
Meanwhile the 49ers and Saints are both fighting for that elusive #2 seed/bye behind the #1 Packers. If the Falcons beat the Saints in New Orleans on Monday night and log a win over the lifeless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Atlanta in week 17, the birds will win the NFC South and San Francisco will watch Wildcard Weekend from home as the #2 seed with the Saints in as a wildcard team. The Saints can clinch the NFC South with one win or one Falcons loss (Atlanta would then be in as a wildcard team) but can only secure the #2 seed with a 49ers loss (among a few other factors). I wouldn’t count on a 49ers loss as Jim Harbaugh’s team is playing the horrendous St. Louis Rams to close out the regular season. Sorry Rams fans. All three of you.
At this point, the real excitement in this conference lies in the week 17 NFC East matchup between two mediocre teams in the Cowboys and Giants in Jersey. Winner takes all, loser goes home. The Giants looked good against the cross-town rival Jets in week 16, but the same cannot be said for the Cowboys after losing Tony Romo to injury in the first quarter against the Eagles. With running back Felix Jones dealing with a bum hamstring, the regular season finale will be especially tough for the ‘Boys, even if Romo plays injured (to some degree). The East winner will occupy the #4 seed.
Not much can be said for the Colts, Jaguars, or Rams, but there is room for a few non-playoff honorable mentions.
The first one goes to the Seattle Seahawks who had few expectations from anyone outside of the organization to start the season, yet managed to come away with some good wins behind Tarvaris Jackson and a skittle-snacking, ghost-riding Marshawn Lynch. The running back alone made his team worth watching as Lynch had some of the best runs of the season in all of the NFL.
The Arizona Cardinals also made things interesting as backup QB John Skelton made somewhat of a name for himself going 4-2 as a starter.
And finally, the last but certainly not least honorable mention goes to one Killa Cam Newton. I have to admit, I was a non-believer in Newton, who I thought would prove to be a 1-year-wonder and a possible draft bust. But Cam converted me, not only with Panthers wins, but with his performances in certain losses as well. With Carolina’s 46-16 beat down of the Bucs in week 16, Newton surpassed Peyton Manning’s rookie passing record, raising the bar as he now has 3,893 yards through the air. Newton is responsible for 34 Panthers touchdowns this season, 20 passing and 14 rushing, the latter number, more than any quarterback in NFL history. We can’t ignore Newton’s 16 interceptions and 5 fumbles, but we can cut the rookie some slack as the young man is smart, composed and already viewed as a leader by young players and veterans alike in his locker room.
While the most important matchups are probably the Giants/Cowboys and the AFC North games (Big Ben could use the rest of a first-round bye while the Ravens would appreciate home-field advantage for once), I am looking forward to watching Cam and the Panthers one last time in week 17 as they take on my guy Drew Brees and the playoff-bound Saints.