By Columnist Jean-Paul Bergeaux
Things I know.
The NFL successfully made week 17 important. The NFL tried to adjust the season schedule to have fewer teams sitting starters than in the past. Going into the games there were 8 out of 16 games that mattered and really only a few teams with absolutely nothing to play for. With Tampa winning against NO’s second string in the second half of the early games, it put pressure on GB and the Giants to win in the NFC. In the AFC, the North and the South as well as some seeding details were still up for grabs. Well done with the schedule NFL.
Higher expectations prior to the season means more coaches in danger after the season. It’s often said that missed expectations, even if they are unreasonable, is what makes people upset. This year started with more teams expecting to have good seasons and fewer divisions “locked up”. The result is that more head coaches are in danger than probably would have been. We’ve already seen several coaches gone, and this week is probably going to be hard week especially with some enticing coaches out there that many teams might want to hire.
The Raiders dominated both Wests. But not much else. The Raiders are the first team in NFL history to go undefeated in their division but not win their division. But there’s more than that to Oakland’s West dominance. The AFC West played the NFC West this year. The only teams that Oakland beat were from one of those divisions. They went 6-0 against the AFC West and 2-2 against the NFC West for a total 8-2 record total. They went 0-6 against non-West teams. Maybe they don’t travel well, or maybe the caliber of opponent mattered. The NFC West is regarded as the weakest division in football with none of them finishing the season with a winning record. The AFC West isn’t far behind.
Things I think I know.
Houston firing Frank Bush Sr. is a good move. Rumor has it that Houston is firing Bush after Sunday. That defense has been underperforming under Bush since 2007, while the talent put in place by the front office has been stellar. Yet the defense consistently seems to let the team down. There were several games that the defense seemed to be either out of place or playing the wrong scheme. That’s not a player problem, that’s a coaching problem. With that said, this is probably Kubiak’s last chance to hold on to his job if he doesn’t get fired with Bush. If he doesn’t succeed with the next D coordinator, he’ll be gone soon.
Several teams with similar records are going in different directions. Once you get below the playoff teams, there are lots of records that could be deceiving. The Cowboys (6-10) and Lions (6-10) should be encouraged. They both showed some progress, one after firing the head coach and one just maturing over the course of the season. The Lions were 4-1 in the last 5 games, even without Stafford. The Cowboys were 5-3 under Jason Garrett. On the other hand, the Dolphins (7-9), Titans (6-10) and Redskins (6-10) all collapsed at the end of the season. All three finished 1-4 in the last five games. The Dolphins just seemed to be regressing. The Titans are in a crisis with Jeff Fischer and Vince Young. The Redskins are a non-stop drama factory. Not good for any of them.
The NFC Wild Card teams are coming in hot. Both the Saints and the Packers are entering the playoffs hot. The Packers are 7-1 in the last 8 games that Rodgers started and finished (lost two when he was out). The Saints were 7-1 in the last 8 games that they played their starters for a full game (they pulled starters in the final game). That’s better than both the divisional opponents that they will face next week. It’s hard to play on the road in the playoffs and win, but could either of these teams be this year’s 2007 Giants or 2005 Steelers?
Things I know I don’t know.
Is the NFL continuing to move from a rushing league to a passing league? Here’s some interesting stats that give a mixed answer. This year was the first time in NFL history that 11 QBs in the league have thrown for 25 or more TDs and the first time in a decade that no RB has run for 15 or more TDs. However, at the same time, there was a big drop off in yardage by QBs. Only 4 QBs threw for 4000 or more yards, which hasn’t happened since 2005. Also, this year there were 16 RBs who ran for 1000 or more yards, right about the average over the last decade. So is there really continued shift from rushing to passing? Just to add to the stats to mull over. None of the top 5 rushing teams were also the top 5 passing teams. The combined records were exactly the same for both at 46-34 (averaging 9.2 wins).
Has all the “illegal hit” noise distracted from Steelers LB James Harrison’s great season? James Harrison leads all LBs with 6 force fumbles and is near the top of other categories. He has 2 INTs, 7 passes defended, 10.5 sacks and 100 tackles. That’s versatility. Sure there are LBs with more sacks. There are LBs with more INTs. And yes there are LBs with more tackles. But are there any LBs out there who are in the top of all those categories like Harrison? He’s been more noticed this season for being the most fined and vocal players about the fines. Harrison is the emotional and field leader of the top scoring defense in the league. Normally that garners more attention that it seems Harrison is getting. Should he be the defensive MVP of 2010?
Was McNabb really the problem with the offense in Washington? Since Shanahan benched McNabb for Rex Grossman, the Redskins offense has looked much sharper. The rumor is that Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator (and Mike’s son) doesn’t get along with McNabb and doesn’t trust him. It could be that Kyle is calling a different game with Rex in because he trusts him more, but what the heck?. There is definitely something different with Rex in. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Rex Grossman is the answer for Washington, but it probably means that McNabb isn’t the answer.