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NFLOL: Week 15

Coach Jim ZornWeek 15 was supposed to clarify the playoff picture, with some teams able to clinch division titles and postseason berths, and others looking to pull away from the pack.  Instead, Green Bay failed to clinch, Denver failed to clinch, Cincinnati failed to pull away in the AFC North, three 7-6 teams lost, and four 6-7 teams won.  The playoff picture is now an out-of-focus impressionist canvas, with a whopping six different teams sitting at 7-7 in the AFC and only four of the 16 teams eliminated.  With the Broncos reeling and the Ravens and Steelers squaring off next week, we could be looking at seven different 8-7 AFC teams in Week 17.  In other words, nearly the entire country has an excuse to ignore relatives in favor of televised football this weekend.  Thanks, NFL!

Indianapolis 35, Jacksonville 31

Even against a depleted Colts defense, the Jaguars offense couldn’t get it done in a game that was meaningless for Indianapolis’ playoff chances and of dire importance to Jacksonville’s.  Indy rested some of its defensive starters, but were still clearly trying to win.  Next week, expect even more resting, at least a cameo appearance by Jim Sorgi, and a bored Peyton Manning throwing touchdown passes left-handed just to see if he can do it.  For Jacksonville, expect a disappointing loss to New England followed by the franchise moving to Los Angeles.

Dallas 24, New Orleans 17

Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?  Dem Cowboys, dat’s who.  Dallas dominated the game, but a missed field goal almost allowed New Orleans to come back and win.  Cowboys’ kicker Nick Holt has been terrible, and was released after the game in favor of kicker Shaun Suisham, who was released by the Redskins after HE blew a chip shot against New Orleans which let them come back and win.  They’ve got Tony Romo revisiting his career lowlight as the new holder, and now Suisham will face his former team in his Dallas debut.  It’s as if Wade Phillips is trying to maximize the nightmare potential for every single field goal, something he exacerbated this week by inadvertently icing his own kicker before the blown kick.

Meanwhile, New Orleans has released their own erratic kicker, John Carney, part of a weird trend where half of the NFL’s playoff contenders are switching kickers with a few weeks left. It’s sort of like how all the terrible teams fired their offensive coordinators a few weeks before the season, only less depressing.  John Carney, the released kicker, may later be found out as a secret degenerate gambler.  He whiffed on a field goal that would have guaranteed to the over-under against the Patriots, and years ago, he <a href=”http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2003/dec/26/columnist-sal-defilippo-dont-blame-the-kicker—-s/”>preserved a point spread cover – and blew the Saints playoff chances – by whiffing on a PAT after the Saints completed a last-second three-lateral touchdown play.  If Carney becomes the new Tim Donaghy, you read it here first.

Cleveland 41, Kansas City 34

Even two of the worst teams in the league can play an exciting game if they both refuse to tackle!  Brady Quinn threw for 66 yards and two interceptions -and the team still put up 41 points, thanks to two kick return touchdowns from Josh Cribbs and a near-NFL record 286 yards from Jerome Harrison.  If Harrison’s teammates really cared about him, they would have let Kansas City score so he could have set the single-game record in overtime.  Enjoy that third win, jerks.  Kansas City earns the draft tiebreaker under the Browns, meaning they’ll draft ahead of Cleveland if both teams finish with three wins, which they will.  The Chiefs plan to use their pick on a disappointing player.

Atlanta 10, New York Jets 7

The Jets dominated this game completely, but botched three field goals, in three totally different ways.  They missed one outright, botched a snap on another, and had a third blocked.  If only they’d had Tony Romo to hold for them!  Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions to match the three blown figgies, but the Jets still would have won if they’d guarded Tony Gonzalez on Atlanta’s last-gasp fourth-down play from the six.  Despite Sanchez’s late charge for the interception title and yet another fourth quarter defensive meltdown, the Jets are still in the playoff chase.  Maybe they could stick Thomas Jones behind center for the rest of the year.

Tennessee 27, Miami 24 (OT)

Tennessee took a big lead, but Miami crawled back in the game with the help of an INT-turned-long completion courtesy of standout Caucasian wideout Brian Hartline.  But as the Caucasian wideout giveth, so does the Caucasian wideout taketh away: Greg Camarillo put the Titans in field goal range after a late-hit penalty in overtime.  One white wide receiver is fine; two is just asking for trouble.  Just like how NBA teams will start only one Russian, and only one player with an extended goatee.

New England 17, Buffalo 10

Tom Brady threw for only 115 yards, and Randy Moss had 70 of them, as the Patriots won their first real road game of the season.  Luckily, Buffalo logged even more than that in penalty yardage (124), and handicapped themselves by bringing in Trent Edwards in the fourth quarter.  Edwards threw two passes for -1 yards, then took a nine-yard sack and injured his ankle.  Later, a hobo stole Edwards’ car from the parking lot and crashed it into the team training facility.

Buffalo came very close to recovering an onside kick, but went offsides.  Generally, Buffalo has outstanding special teams, while the rest of the team plays like Special Olympians.  The loss makes it unlikely that their interim coach will keep his job, and rumor has it that Marty Schottenheimer wants the job.  Marty in Buffalo!  The NFL coach and the NFL city most synonymous with playoff failure, finally reunited! Please make this happen.

Arizona 31, Detroit 24

Arizona clinched the NFC West title with a surprisingly close game against Detroit.  They’ll warm up for the playoffs by playing St. Louis next week.  You remember those Marines commercials where a sword gets hammered out by a hot forge to toughen it up for battle ahead?  The Cardinals have basically been dipped in warm butter and massaged like baby veal cows with their six NFC West games, plus bonus contests against the Lions and Bears.

Third-stringer Drew Stanton led a comeback in relief of Daunte Culpepper, and appears to have locked down the starting job for the remainder of the season.  This has two benefits: One, Stanton can show his stuff and earn some future playing time.  Two, that playing time will likely come as the result of a trade away from Detroit.  As Michael Scott would say, that’s a win-win-win.

Houston 16, St. Louis 13

Houston continued their unlikely playoff push, getting back to 7-7 with a win over the hapless Rams.  This is confusing for Texans fans, who would dearly love to make the playoff for the first time, but would also really like to see Gary Kubiak fired.  As for the Rams, they may have given up entirely on watching film of upcoming opponents, since they seem locked into 1-15 and the first pick in the 2010 Draft.  I imagine that film sessions consist of the coaching staff drooling over slow-motion footage of Ndamukong Suh throwing blockers into Colt McCoy.

Oakland 20, Denver 19

The Broncos were once 6-0, and seemingly a lock for the playoffs.  With a loss to the Raiders, they’ve fallen to 8-6, and a dogfight for a wild-card spot.  Some would argue that allowing a game-winning touchdown drive by Jamarcus Russell, the worst quarterback in the NFL, should disqualify a team from the playoffs automatically.  To which I say, Hey, voice in my head, the Broncos will lose to Philadelphia on their own.

San Diego 27, Cincinnati 24

It was an emotional game for the Bengals, who lost teammate Chris Henry this week.  The game was full of tearful moments, including an end zone prayer by Chad Ochocino and lots of pointing to the sky.  Of course, given Henry’s track record, are we totally sure those players were pointing in the correct direction?  Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding overdid a little after hitting an admittedly-difficult 52-yard game-winning field goal, leaping into the holder’s arms and pumping his fists.  Dude, the funeral was Tuesday. Tone it down!  Also, you’re only a fucking kicker. Tone it down!

Philadelphia 27, San Francisco 13

The 49ers and Alex Smith are a horribly mismatched couple in a desperate, loveless marriage, sticking together for the sake of the children and the salary cap because, deep down, both know they can’t do any better.  Philly overcame a sloppy first half and pulled away, thanks to the stellar play of Desean Jackson.  He’s a great receiver and a great cold-weather player, despite appearing to be the NFL player most uncomfortable in cold weather.  About 85% of his face is covered by various hats and masks, he wears big gloves, and his sideline parka looks like it was custom-fit for Andy Reid.  It’s possible that his terrible end zone celebrations are not in fact awful dances, but instead, his body’s involuntary reaction to snowy conditions in Philadelphia.

Baltimore 31, Chicago 7

Eight months ago, the Bears gave up Kyle Orton, two first-round picks, and a third-round pick to get Jay Cutler.  Sunday, Jay Cutler completed 10 of 27 passes and threw 3 INTs, for a quarterback rating of 7.9.  That’s the equivalent of getting a 410 on the SAT.  What would Chicago get if they tried to trade Cutler right now?  Kyle Boller, two first-grade Pop Warner players, and a third-degree burn from torch-wielding Bears fans chasing Cutler to the edge of town.  Cutler’s backup also threw an INT, and the Bears fumbled three times as well.  A team of actual Bears would hold onto the ball better than this team would, and even though it’s hibernation season, they wouldn’t sleep walk through games nearly as blatantly.

Tampa Bay 24, Seattle 7

Tampa Bay put some SERIOUS DAYLIGHT between themselves and the St. Louis Rams with a dismantling of the Seahawks.  How did Seattle win five games this year?  Next week should mark the end of the Matt Hasselbeck Era in Seattle, as Hasselbeck is poised to enter the Brunell phase of his career: holding for field goals, backing up future washout quarterbacks in Detroit, and holding a clipboard so tightly that his fingers turn blue.  Unfortunately, the Jim Mora, Junior Era in Seattle has at least another year to run. Mora cut his teeth coaching Michael Vick in Atlanta. Hmm, college star, mobile quarterback, wildly popular jersey in the South… With the 8th pick in the NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks select Tim Tebow!

Pittsburgh 37, Green Bay 36

Wildly entertaining game thanks to both defenses refusing to cover more than one receiver at once.  Ben Roethlisberger threw a pinpoint, near-uncatchable pass as time expired, after the teams traded scores in the fourth quarter, combining for 35 points.  Neither team could stop the other, but Mike Tomlin made the ballsiest call of the year when he called for an onside kick with four minutes left leading by two.  Green Bay recovered, but this meant their inevitable score came with two minutes left instead of time expiring.  Pittsburgh may have compounded their ballsiness by letting James Jones take a short pass in for a touchdown from the 24.  Of course, if Green Bay has rushed more than three guys on any play in Pittsburgh’s last drive, the result may have been different.  The prevent defense only prevented victory, and the left-for-dead Steelers now have new playoff life.  THANKS, Packers.

Carolina 26, Minnesota 7

The Panthers played quite well, but the story was Brett Favre’s meltdown and Brett Favre’s argument with his coach.  Because it’s December, and bad things happen when Brett Favre has to play outdoors in December.  His arthritis kicks in, his propensity to audible out of running plays is riskier, and the Vicodin loses potency in cold weather.  Minnesota can only hope that the usual late-season Favre Fade will be diminished by playing in a dome, and that they can hold of the Eagles for a first-round bye to ensure Favre won’t have to play in the snow.  By the way, Brad Childress is signed for four more years, Vikings fans, and that contract extension was not at all premature.

New York Giants 136, Washington -13

The game and perhaps the entire season was exemplified by a play call at the end of the first half. Trailing 24-0, the Redskins lined up for a field goal, then shifted to the “swinging gate” formation.  The Swinging Gate is a common play at the high school or college level, where the entire line moves over to the left, leaving the center alone with the ball in front of the holder.  It generally just forces the defense to shift, at which point the offense will move back and kick anyway.

This one seemed to surprise New York, as they called timeout when Washington shifted formations.  What didn’t surprise them is when Washington lined up in the same formation after the timeout – a formation that doesn’t even fool JV football teams – and still tried the fake.  Unblocked rushers swarmed the punter, who threw an interception that almost came back for a TD.  There’s a theory that Jim Zorn called the play as an eff you to the team owner; but I don’t see how that works even as misguided revenge. No, this is simply what Jim Zorn is as a head coach: an empty head with a swinging gate inside.

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