The NFL regular season is in the books and the firings have already begun. There are going to be a lot of takes on the end of the season soon (and some already), so I’m just going to hit on some of my opinions, and later in the week we’ll have a model wrap-up and look forward to the weekend’s playoff games.
There were two direct play-in games, and both were pretty exciting. The Packers beat the Bears with a last-minute touchdown on what was apparently a mix of a good blitz and terrible coverage. I don’t think there’s too much to say about the play other than Rodgers made a great move to keep to escape the rush and get off a throw. But since I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else yet, I wonder if Cobb should have fallen down on the five instead of scoring the touchdown. I wouldn’t expect a guy to think of it under those conditions (running open on busted coverage on a fourth down), but it would have given the Packers the field goal choke hold. Instead the Packers had to sweat out a last-gasp drive and a throw to the end zone that could have won the game for the Bears. The Eagles-Cowboys game wasn’t quite that thrilling, but it did feature a goal-line stand, a blown two-point conversion to tie, and another game-ending interception. Given that the NFC North and East seemed pretty dead over the course of the season, it was good to get some fairly high-quality play in exciting games for both divisions.
The Chargers managed to sneak into the AFC side of the playoffs basically as late as possible. The Dolphins had first crack and blew it; the Ravens had the next shot and couldn’t do it either (although they weren’t really projected to). Going up against the Chiefs’ second string, San Diego managed to win in overtime to keep the Steelers out.
In cases like this, fans (both of specific teams and of sports in general, who want to see the ‘best teams’ get in) can get a little upset when an ‘undeserving’ team makes it instead of their favorite/the ‘hot’ team/someone who had a harder road. Given the circumstances of the Chargers’ win and the Steelers’ strong play at the end of the season, I think there’s a little ill will going on. I also think it’s kind of short-sighted. If you’re a Steelers fan and you’re disappointed, that’s understandable. But otherwise, are those four teams really that different? They were all essentially .500 teams. Are you upset that the Jets didn’t make it? If you like the ‘hot’ team, who’s hotter than the Chargers, who had to win four in a row to get in, including a game over the Broncos in Denver? If you think the Chargers just aren’t deserving somehow, why do they have the best point differential (+48) out of the four (Pittsburgh was +9 and Baltimore and Miami were outscored on the season). And just because the AFC had the more complicated scenario, does that mean everything in the NFC was kosher? How about Dallas and Chicago staying home at 8-8? Or the Cardinals at 10-6? Two teams with worse records are going to the playoffs while they stay home.
On a related note are the stories you’re reading about teams blowing their playoff chances this past week (there’s a lot of this in Bill Barnwell’s article). The Bears failed because Rodgers got off that throw; the Cowboys failed because Orton didn’t quite get the job done; Miami and Baltimore choked away their chances. But the Cardinals provide another window into what I think is a better view. What did they do wrong? They lost to the 49ers, but they wouldn’t have made it even with a win because the Saints won. No, Arizona missed the playoffs in week 1 when they lost to the Rams. Or maybe it was week 3, 6, 7, or 13 (those games were at New Orleans, at San Fran, Seattle, and at Philly, by the way: losses you wouldn’t really blame a team for). Had they won any of those games, yesterday’s scenario is different.
It cuts the same way for teams that got in; the Chargers won out to sneak into the playoffs, but the Saints made it on the last day because they won 10 other games before that, and had they missed the playoffs it would have been because of losses to the Patriots, Jets, Seahawks, Rams, and Panthers. For me, it was disappointing to see the Lions lose to the Giants. But they were only in that position because they lost very winnable games to the Steelers, Bengals, Bucs, and Ravens. If any of those games go the other way, then maybe they play Calvin Johnson yesterday at least enough to beat the Vikings and get into the postseason. On the other hand, if they lose their close games over the Cowboys or Bears they were already out of it. When you want a borderline team to get in, the story is going to be messy.
Anyway, if you read that Barnwell article (or some of his other stuff), you know he’s against firing coaches (or making other decisions) based on an outcome that came down to one play. The same way the Bears shouldn’t fire their defensive coordinator over that blitz call, other teams can’t really blame week 17 for their playoff fortunes. There are 16 games in the season and they all count equally.