NFL Week 17 Recap: For All Whose Families Ruined the Final Week

black monday

Tough week, right?

I’m not necessarily talking about San Diego & Kansas City’s playoff hopes, Ndamukong Suh’s chances of playing in the postseason, or the Mike Smith era in Atlanta—though all those things certainly suffered a knockout blow in week 17.

I’m talking about a tough week for so many football fans who had to change up their Sunday routines (or worse, had to abandon football altogether) because of the ongoing holiday weekend celebrations and family get-togethers. It’s the final week of a great regular season, and there was plenty on the line. Why can’t our families just leave us alone for these final 11 hours?

I was luckier than most. Even though my Mom was visiting LA and doesn’t have much interest in football, she and my fiancee spent most of the day planning our wedding (and quite possibly five others based on the amount of discussion & online purchases that took place).

It was pretty great until the end of the morning games when they suddenly forgot the lengthy warning I gave them months ago that I would not be adjusting my usual football over-saturation on this particular Sunday. The next few hours were full of complaining and guilt trips. But I persevered.

For those of you who weren’t so lucky, please take this stroll through the week 17 fallout with me via a series of random thoughts.

Any playoff talk that I gloss over here will be covered ad nauseum later this week. Don’t you worry about that.

  • The Sunday morning reports that were essentially confirmed by Cleveland’s owner stating Johnny Manziel threw a party on Friday night that several players attended is a level above mind-boggling. If these guys waited just 48 more hours, they could have gone on a six-week bender without anyone noticing. Saying “that’s just common sense” would be understating it.
  • And the poor Browns could be in as desperate of a situation at quarterback going into the offseason as about 14 other teams are. It’s too small of a sample to rule Manziel a bust for his on-field talent, but the off-field bullshit is already too much.Their other rookie QB Connor Shaw showed nothing yesterday, and a Brian Hoyer resigning wouldn’t inspire any confidence at this point anyway. What a change from late September when people were concerned with how Cleveland would ever get Manziel in the lineup with Hoyer playing so well and possibly getting a contract extension.
  • I couldn’t help myself and I took a flier on the prop bet of a Kansas City wide receiver catching a touchdown pass on Sunday (+160 odds). They were on the verge of joining an exclusive club of teams that went an entire season without having such a touchdown catch. With Chase Daniel replacing regular starter Alex Smith, it seemed like the perfect time for something cute and unlikely to happen.
  • But the joke was on me because when Dwayne Bowe stretched across the goal line after an 11 yard catch, the referee ruled it a fumble that Travis Kelce recovered for the touchdown…by a tight end instead of a receiver.
  • I almost had the Tampa Bay / New Orleans game nailed. I said last week that it would be just like the Bucs to blow the 1st overall pick. Remember that even in a year where there seems to be two can’t-miss quarterback prospects, having the 1st pick instead of the 2nd is huge. Just ask Indianapolis and Washington.
  • More interesting in that otherwise meaningless game was Drew Brees throwing three more interceptions and ending the season with 17 of them. Brees now has six seasons with at least 16 interceptions. By comparison, neither Tom Brady nor Aaron Rodgers have ever had even one season with that many picks. I worry that Brees at this point is turning into a less-criticized Brett Favre. It’s worth keeping an eye on.
  • I’ll just say that if certain coaches (*cough* Bill Belichick *cough cough*) called games the way Jason Garrett has the last two weeks, there’d be an emergency Senate Hearing on the unfairness and lack of sportsmanship. Two weeks ago Garrett kept starters in the game—INJURED STARTERS—during a 42-7 blowout win over the Colts (not to mention when he finally inserted the backups, he had Brandon Weeden throwing 40-yard bombs to the receivers). This week Garrett attempted trick plays, including a surprise onside kick, while leading Washington by two touchdowns.
  • I never root for injuries, but when I noticed Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray still in the game late in the 4th quarter, I decided it wouldn’t be the worst if one of those guys hurt himself and had to miss a few games.
  • Just an absolute no-show by what was the 10th best passing defense as the Dolphins gave up 358 yards through the air to Geno Smith. That should make it fair game for Stephen Ross to take back his statement last week that Joe Philbin was definitely returning in 2015.
  • As I was watching all of the afternoon games yesterday, I thought about this constant week 17 issue of resting players, playing starters just a little bit, etc. I felt like most years there’s at least one significant injury in the final week of the season, and then I thought about how it was looking like we might avoid that this year. One hour later Aaron Rodgers had a big scare with his aggravated calf injury. A few hours after that, Le’Veon Bell left the Steelers / Bengals game with a knee injury that looked pretty bad. Please do not let me convince myself that Pittsburgh will be OK if Bell is out for any playoff games. Too often I try to ignore a monstrous injury when making picks because I fall in love with certain teams regardless of who’s playing.
  • Seeing it in real time I didn’t know if Ndamukong Suh stepping on Rodgers was dirty, but on replay I’m sure. His first foot stepped on Rodgers lightly. At that time Suh obviously knows there’s a body behind him. At that point he takes another step back, plants his foot on Rodgers, and puts all his weight on that foot. C’mon with that “accidental” bullshit.
  • Fun with numbers:
    • The AFC went 33-30-1 vs the NFC this year.
    • Six teams from each conference finished with double digit wins.
    • Like I’ve been saying all year, I think we’ve reached a nice balance between the two conferences after years of the NFC being much better.
    • Favorites and underdogs were dead even over the course of the regular season, with both covering 123 games (10 games that had a PICK for a line or resulted in a push didn’t factor into those numbers).
    • All that means is that this sport is impossible to bet on, and this is why Vegas can afford such nice things.
    • And just like almost every year in recent memory, five teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year qualified for the playoffs this year (Dallas, Arizona, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Baltimore).
  • Speaking of the playoffs, here were my picks from the preseason: NFC 1-New Orleans, 2-Seattle, 3-Philadelphia, 4-Chicago, 5-Green Bay, 6-Tampa Bay. AFC 1-New England, 2-San Diego, 3-Pittsburgh, 4-Indianapolis, 5-Denver, 6-Miami.
  • Only six of 12 correct for me. Not very good at all. At least in the AFC I nailed three of them exactly (the #1, #3 and #4 seeds).
  • As I finish writing this at 7:30am Pacific Time on Monday morning, it appears as though Mike Smith, Rex Ryan and Marc Trestman have all been fired. The GMs of the Jets and Bears have also been let go. Jim Harbaugh, of course, has parted ways with the 49ers and will take over at Michigan.
  • There was a prop bet yesterday where the over/under on the number of coaches fired between last night and the 1st playoff game was six. So far we have three (I don’t think Harbaugh counts towards that number). Will we have at least three more? You can on the Raiders firing interim head coach Tony Sparano, but other than that there are no definites (Jay Gruden and Ken Whisenhunt should probably be worried though). Once again, Vegas seems to know what it’s doing by setting a perfectly intriguing line.

On a personal note, I finished week 17 with a 9-7 against the spread record. It’s been a decent run for me over the past two months, not dipping below .500 more than a couple times. But honestly, it was such a rough season that I stopped keeping track and don’t have the desire to go recount.

A chance at retribution awaits me in the playoffs. My sports bucketlist includes going 11-0 against the spread during one NFL postseason. Will 2015 be the year for me?

Find out later this week when I post my Wildcard Round picks column. Happy New Year to all my readers!

Week 17 NFL Recap: And Then There Were 12

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Another fantastic day is in the books for the NFL. Our wallets might have taken a big hit in 2013, but the unpredictability of the NFL season provided the best start-to-finish drama in the history of the league.

It started with the league’s other 31 teams and fan bases taking a big nervous gulp on September 5th, when the Denver Broncos put up 49 points, via SEVEN Peyton Manning touchdown passes, on opening night.

It ended with the league’s other 31 teams and fan bases bursting into laughter on December 29th, when the Dallas Cowboys, via a back-breaking Kyle Orton interception, choked away the NFL’s final playoff spot.

It was a season-long emotional roller coaster for the common football fan.

And week 17 was a microcosm of the whole thing:

In the AFC:

  • Baltimore and Miami, in what turned out to essentially be “win and you’re in” games, both screamed loud enough for the whole world to hear, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
  • The Ravens were gift-wrapped a game in which Andy Dalton threw FOUR interceptions. But not to be outdone, Joe Flacco threw his own handful of picks (only three) and the Ravens’ putrid offense could only muster up nine points off those four Dalton turnovers. A spectacular 222 yards of offense for the Ravens in a must-win game.
  • Meanwhile down in Miami, the Dolphins were busy giving up 374 yards to the Jets, aka the team ranked 27th in offense according to Football Outsiders. In fact, they let Geno Smith finish the game with a QBR of 90.7. His QBR for the year is 35.9. Oh, and Ryan Tannehill joined in on the interception fun from that other game. He had three of them himself.
  • After Pittsburgh took care of business against Cleveland, they got to watch in horror as Kansas City’s backups pissed away a 24-14 4th quarter lead in San Diego. A Chiefs win would send the Steelers to the playoffs. A Chargers win would send them to the playoffs while knocking out Pittsburgh. This was set up for a dramatic ending that everyone would remember for both the Steelers and Chargers rising from the dead and for the final AFC playoff spot being decided on a final play in an outstanding game…And then the refs provided one very important moment that we absolutely needed in week 17 if you were going to dub this a microcosm of the entire season. The refs blew Kansas City’s 41-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation by not calling San Diego for an illegal formation. The error, confirmed by the NFL, would have given Ryan Succop a 35-yard-field goal attempt, instead of the 41-yarder he ultimately missed.
  • Obscure field goal formation penalty that alters a game and a team’s season. Sound familiar, Patriots fans?
  • So the Chargers get into the playoffs in a somewhat controversial way. They’re 8-8, and while no one expects them to do much, I will say they are easily the most entertaining choice out of those four AFC wildcard contenders. Maybe Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, a throwback Antonio Gates and the combo of Ryan Mathews & Danny Woodhead can get hot and make a game out of it in Cincinnati this weekend.
  • Nothing else too dramatic in the AFC on Sunday. As Denver (#1), New England (2), Cincinnati (3), Indianapolis (4) and Kansas City (5) all maintained the same seed that they entered the day with.
  • The attention in the AFC is going to be devoted to Denver & New England, due to them getting the byes and the Brady-Manning rivalry, as well as to Kansas City because of the franchise’s immediate turnaround under Andy Reid and the intrigue over how well they’ve played all year. But I want to spend a minute addressing the other two division winners who might get overlooked.
  • Indianapolis: Don’t bank on them in the playoffs just because they’ve won their last three games in blowout fashion (25-3 over Houston, 23-7 at Kansas City, and 30-10 over Jacksonville this past Sunday). Remember that those opponents are two awful teams and one that was resigned to its #5 seed fate and probably didn’t give 100%. No, if you’re going to back Indy in January, it’s going to be because they’re battled-tested (six regular games vs playoff teams) and seem to play up to their competition (4-2 in those six games). And if they get past the visiting Chiefs in the wildcard round, they’ll face a team they already beat this year…the Denver Broncos.
  • Cincinnati: Here’s your case for picking Cincy to win it all. They are 2013’s version of the 2012 Ravens. AFC North team with a solid defense that people wrote off because of injuries (Leon Hall and Geno Atkins = Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, etc). They have a young QB who no one has faith in, and who constantly is the butt of jokes from other teams’ fans (Dalton = Flacco). They’re a team that didn’t impress much during the regular season and that is largely being overlooked as the playoffs begin.
  • The difference is that Cincy has even more offensive talent than last year’s Baltimore team.
  • And remember that there was absolutely no indication heading into last year’s playoffs that Flacco was about to put up 11 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions during a four-game Super Bowl run (working against this comparison is that Dalton has looked far worse this year than Flacco did last year).
  • I doubt I’m going to pick the Bengals or Colts to be that longshot team that gets hot and wins it all, but they’ve each got at least a little case to be made.
  • I was watching Peyton Manning shamelessly pad his passing stats against Oakland when Andrew Siciliano, DirecTV’s Red Zone Channel host, told us, “Call it what it is. The greatest quarterback season in the history of the NFL.”
  • And it’s so true. I’m just glad the stars have realigned back to the good old days when Manning is breaking every regular season record while the entire world greases his pole, and Brady and the Patriots are back to winning ugly, getting lucky and being discounted by the national media.
  • Another sign that glory days might have returned for New England? Brady threw a pass in the 4th quarter that was intended for #45, Williams….Who? Apparently D.J. Williams. Unrecognizable players popping up in key spots = another Patriots Championship Days Staple.
  • Amazingly, LeGarrette Blount is now in the “can’t afford to lose him” conversation for the rest of the year. Just like we drew it up when we penciled the Patriots in for 12 wins and a run to the Super Bowl.
  • One AFC-related gambling note: If you didn’t run to your computer to lock in “Oakland +3 2nd half,” during halftime of the Raiders-Broncos game, then you must hate money. Manning had just broken Drew Brees’ single season passing yards record and added four more passing touchdowns to his collection. The Broncos were up 31-0. Me and my 10 closest friends could have outscored the Broncos in the 2nd half.

In the NFC:

  • Not nearly as chaotic in this conference as a late Carolina push against Atlanta, then a New Orleans blowout of Tampa Bay and an easy Seattle win over St. Louis locked the Panthers into the #2 seed, the Saints into the #6 seed and the 49ers into the #5 seed.
  • But I’d like to take a moment to offer a respectful, professional golf clap to the 2013 Arizona Cardinals. After the 2012 disaster known as “Kolb, Skelton, Hoyer and Lindley try to play QB,” the Cardinals put up a fine season with a serviceable Carson Palmer, a hidden running back gem in Andre Ellington and a nasty defense. Ten wins will get you into the playoffs more often than not, but it wasn’t meant to be this year. Thanks for single handedly making a few NFC teams push themselves through the final week due to your constant nipping at their heels.
  • If you got on the Arizona bandwagon around midseason, you were handsomely rewarded from a betting standpoint. They covered eight of their final nine games of the season. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed them so much. I often picked them as my most confident bet of the week.
  • Kind of couldn’t have asked for a better game then Green Bay-Chicago. There was a ref screw job alert when a Bears player got called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty after trying to pull up on a hit against Aaron Rodgers, only he had to use his arms to break his fall and lightly touched the Green Bay QB. There was also player ineptitude when Rodgers fumbled in the 2nd quarter, only all 22 players on the field thought it was an incomplete pass so everyone awkwardly stood around while the ball was sitting still on the ground and the refs refused to blow a whistle. Of course the Packers finally recognized the situation and promptly scored.
  • These are the kinds of plays that determine divisions when your division is full of hot steaming garbage.
  • For Green Bay’s troubles, they’ll draw San Francisco in the opening round of the playoffs…an opponent that causes Aaron Rodgers to angrily mumble under his breath for three straight hours while Mike McCarthy self-induces a coma to avoid making a game-changing mistake and Dom Capers sits in the coach’s box repeatedly shitting himself.
  • And for our third referee screw job reference of the blog, let’s turn to Al Michaels at Cowboy Stadium:
  • “So the Cowboys get screwed on that situation,” said Michaels when a clock glitch turned into a Dallas penalty with five minutes left in the 4th quarter in the division-deciding game against Philly. Gotta love how the refs did not let week 17 go by without altering the course of events for the 2013 playoffs.
  • Another great NFC game, this time decided by ages-old rule that states, “Whichever man lines up behind center for the Dallas Cowboys shall lose games in the most ball-busting fashion possible…it does not matter if his name is Tony Romo or something goofy like Orton.”

So there you have it, folks. Twelve playoff teams’ hopes and dreams on the line over the next 34 days, and eleven bitter disappointments guaranteed.

We’ll be back with separate AFC & NFC playoff previews later in the week. And I might just dig through the archives to find my best and worst predictions from the 2013 preseason.