Monday, December 14, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 14: The Playoff Blender on High Speed

Okay, Ravens fans, it was a BIG victory scoring the most points in Ravens history beating the Detroit Lions 48-3. However, as uplifting as this chilly game in the cold rain was, it would be premature to get too excited about renewed playoff hopes. Yes, what needed to happen today took place, Jacksonville lost too. We must remember this bold victory was against the Detroit Lions, a team with two victories this year after losing them all last year. When’s the last time they won a game on the road? Second, the Ravens are dependent on Jacksonville losing one more game while the Ravens must win their last three games to secure a wild card berth. The other possibility would be Denver’s collapse losing two of their last three games. The Ravens host the Bears next week before travelling to Pittsburgh then Oakland to finish the season. Jacksonville faces Indianapolis then travels to New England and Cleveland. Denver hosts Oakland, travels to Philadelphia, then hosts Kansas City to finish the year.

Jacksonville faces two contenders, but how seriously will Indianapolis fight to go for an undefeated season when they have everything wrapped up for playoff seedings. New England could be fighting for their playoff life in week 16. It’s hard to imagine Jacksonville losing to Cleveland. A reality check would suggest Jacksonville will lose one more game, but Denver having both Oakland and Kansas City at home looks like a lock to be the first wild card seed.

The Ravens must win three games. A team like the Chicago Bears could rise up and beat them but the Bears are battered and not playing good football down the stretch. As horrible as things look for Pittsburgh, hosting Baltimore could be their last hurrah for the season, a chance to salvage a little pride. While they are out of the playoff picture, they could at least revel in knowing they knocked off the Ravens. The Ravens will have their hands full in Pittsburgh, but at the beginning of the year, did not most experts indicate they would have to go two out of three in their games against Pittsburgh and Indy? Surely, their trip to Oakland cannot be considered a freebie.

Lurking in the balance is the fate of the New England Patriots who could be ousted by Miami or perhaps the New York Jets as a long shot. They simply do not have their characteristic on field discipline this year. Their defense is full of holes. Tom Brady and his receivers are not automatic. Though Buffalo and Houston aren’t awesome contenders, these will be road games while they’ll have one heck of fight hosting Jacksonville.

The NFC playoff picture is far easier to discuss. Three divisions are surely secured at this point, Minnesota in the North; New Orleans in the South with both those teams securing first round byes. Arizona has all but locked up the West. Green Bay will be one of the two Wild Cards at 9-4. The opening is in the NFC East where three teams are in competition for two spots, the Division lead and the second Wild Card with Philadelphia, Dallas, and the New York Giants sorting out who moves on. Philadelphia clearly appears the strongest of the three teams while both New York and Dallas have significant problems. Once again, Dallas is in full self-destruct mode in December having lost miserably to the New York Giants in Week 13 and looked completely out of it this week despite only a three point loss to San Diego. It could have been much worse.

Looking at the competition ahead, things don’t look good for Dallas. They travel to face the undefeated New Orleans Saints next week then move on to Washington, DC where the Redskins will be playing for some measure of honor for what has been an embarrassing season. They’ll wrap up hosting Philadelphia in a game they hope will still be meaningful. Philadelphia hosts San Francisco then Denver. San Francisco would have to be playing on a higher level than shown so far this year to beat the Eagles. Denver could be tough but has not played well on the road during the second half of the season. If they win both those games, they should at least have a playoff berth secured by the time they travel to finish the season in Dallas. The New York Giants have two games they would win handily travelling to Washington then hosting Carolina. Their last game should be interesting playing Minnesota for their final game. Will Minnesota put their “A” team on the field or go easy to keep everyone healthy for the playoffs?

The road ahead would seem to cast Dallas as the odd team out. Their competition is tougher and their reputation for late season play is awful. Having listened to Wade Phillips comments to reporters, one does not see a coach with the fire in his belly prepared to lead a team into intense battle. Tony Romo, once again deserves his share of the blame, but the Cowboys’ failures are on both sides of the football.

Philadelphia appears to have the advantage. The Giants have definite weaknesses on defense on in its receiving corps. Further, Quarterback Eli Manning is far from 100% still nursing a sore heel. Their showdown tonight proved Philadelphia a touchdown better than the Giants in a 45-38 death match where both teams showed moments of brilliance then turned around looking sloppy and confused. Emotions were at a fever pitch with minor episodes breaking out to almost a brawl after the Giants gave up a fatal turnover deep in their own territory with seconds left. How ironic that the Giants started 5-0 and perhaps might not make the playoffs if Dallas holds up.

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