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NFL Instant Replay: Week 15
Posted by Dr. Tom on Dec 21, 2004, 22:22


�Twas the week before Xmas
And all thru the house
Not a creature was stirring
Because trying to figure out the playoff scenarios had knocked them out.

It is into that minefield that we�ll dive headlong later in this column, friends. Suffice it to say for now that the Packers are in because of about five different results, and the Broncos, Jaguars, Bills, and Ravens still have a logjam for that second wild-card spot in the AFC. Sub-.500 teams are still in contention in the NFC, and with the Rams� awful play of late, Seattle looks to be winning the West by default. It�s certainly not because they�ve earned it on the field.

Rest your brains for now, though. You might need them later.

Colts 20, RAVENS~! 10. I�m a firm believer that there are no such things as moral victories. You either win or lose, and those results matter over a season as short as 16 games. And the Ravens simply lost to the Colts Sunday night. Did they keep the Colts� potent offense in check? Aside from that one pass to Marvin Harrison, yes. Did they fluster Peyton Manning and hold him below two TD passes for the first time this year? Yes. None of that changes the fact that they didn�t win the game.

The Ravens got a good game from JAMAL~!, spelled nicely be Chester Taylor, but the ball control only got them so far. Only down 6-3 at the half, the Ravens had a key field goal blocked that proved to the be the decisive margin. Without that block, the game is 13-all instead of 20-10, and that�s huge. The Ravens had one lapse in their otherwise brilliant defensive execution, and that�s when Chris McAlister got absolutely owned by Marvin Harrison, who made a ridiculous move to get wide open for Manning�s only scoring pass of the game. The rest of the time, the Ravens� defense reminded me a lot of the way New England�s D plays against the Colts: a lot of motion, a lot of shifting and stunts, blitzes coming from who knows where, and physical play on the receivers. Unfortunately, the Ravens don�t possess the Patriots� offense. Kyle Boller�s two interceptions both proved extremely costly.

Earlier in the season, I took the Colts to task for running up the score against Houston, passing the ball with their first-team offense when they enjoyed a clearly insurmountable fourth-quarter lead. Sunday night, up 20-10 with just under a minute to play and the ball at the Ravens� 4-yard line, Peyton Manning took a knee. Twice. He was � and remains � just one TD pass shy of breaking the record, yet he did the classy thing and took the knee. The game was over, both teams knew it, and trying for another TD would be piling on. Good show, Peyton.

Other Games

Steelers 33, Giants 30. Eli Manning went from having one of the worst games of the season to a good game against the tough Pittsburgh defense. Steeler detractors point to close wins against lesser teams as a sign that Pittsburgh isn�t the top team in the league, but that�s rubbish to me. They�ve knelt on the ball five times late in the game, when they were within range to score again. Winning big isn�t important, since there�s no silly margin of victory metric that could hold a team back in its playoff pursuit. Winning is what matters, and the Steelers keep winning.

Racists 26, 49ers 16. Don�t look now, but Clinton Portis is on his way to 1500 yards again. Maybe he wasn�t just a product of the system in Denver? DC Metro Area is looking better with Patrick Ramsey in there, and a return to the classic Joe Gibbs style of running plays. And at 5-9, they�re technically not out of the running in the NFC, as sad as that is.

Chargers 21, Browns 0. Could the Browns be any more flat? What self-respecting cold-weather team lets a west coast team come in on a snowy day and shut them out? Drew Brees attempted only six passes, but the most important one was a 72-yard strike to Antonio Gates. Maybe the Chargers� white uniforms made them hard for the Browns to see in the snow?

Vikings 28, Lions 27. �Ok, men, we�ve just scored the vital touchdown with 0:08 to go. All we need is the automatic extra point, and this one�s going into overtime! It�ll be a big win for us. Ah, here comes the PAT � good thing this is automatic, right? WTF? Nooooooooooo!� That was actual recorded footage* of Steve Mariucci on the sidelines, as a horrible snap cost the Lions the tying extra point. On the other side of the ball, this is the kind of break the Vikings haven�t gotten in recent years.

Falcons 34, Panthers 31 (OT). And so ends the Panthers� winning streak. Even at 6-8, they�d make the playoffs if the season ended today (while the same would not be true for three AFC teams with the opposite record), so they�re not out of the running yet. The Falcons got a big game from Warrick Dunn, and another very mediocre passing game from Michael Vick. As much as I�ve touted Vick�s absurd athleticism and highlight-reel tendencies, the reality is that he�s still learning how to be a consistent NFL QB. If the Falcons have to rely on him as a quarterback, not a runner, in the playoffs, they�ll be in trouble.

Cardinals 31, Rams 7. You�re Mike Martz. I�m sorry, really, but just play along. Put the bat down, will you? Christ. Ok, you�re Mike Martz. You�re still without your starting QB, and you�re playing a team that struggles against the run. With your inimitable offensive genius**, what gameplan do you devise?

A. Cram the goddamn ball down their throats with Faulk and Jackson
B. A balanced attack.
C. Only 10 rushing plays, exposing your shoddy reserve QBs as much as possible.

If you chose (C), you are obviously qualified to be a head coach in the NFL. Never mind that anyone with two brain cells to rub together would have chosen (A); you�re a genius, damnit! Even your mom says so. Instead, future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk carried the ball only 10 times, and promising rookie Steven Jackson amassed exactly 0 carries. Friends, I�ve said many times that Mike Martz is a moron who shouldn�t be an NFL head coach. Is it starting to sink in now?

Bills 33, Bengals 17. Don�t look now, but the Bills are in the thick of the wild-card race in the AFC. And their offense is outscoring the Colts� over the past month. They�ll be without Willis McGahee for at least a week, though, which will hurt them.

Saints 21, Bucs 17. At 6-8, even the woefully inconsistent and underperforming Saints aren�t out of the NFC playoff picture. Winning two games in a row is asking a lot of this bunch, but if they can do it, they have a chance to be playing football in January. That�s pathetic, but that�s the NFC for you this year.

Texans 24, Bears 5. David Carr has thrown for over 3000 yards this season, and Domanick Davis is well on his way to another 1000-yard season. With Andre Johnson at WR, the Texans have good young players at their offensive skill positions. They�ve made progress every year, albeit slower than Dom Capers did when he coached the expansion Carolina Panthers. Of course, that soon became a debacle. Houston shows no signs of debaclery, if you will.

Jaguars 28, Packers 25. This was a very big win for the Jags, who have positioned themselves nicely to grab the final wild-card spot in the AFC. Byron Leftwich took a beating from the Green Bay defense, but toughed it out and ended up throwing two TD passes to the ageless Jimmy Smith. Brett Favre, despite the much more impressive yardage figure, threw a trip of interceptions, two of them in the end zone. For all the accolades he receives, Favre still makes a lot of dumb plays that a veteran like him should have left behind long ago.

Chiefs 45, Broncos 17. Denver is playing themselves right out of wild-card contention. And I guess it�s safe to say that Larry Johnson is out of Dick Vermeil�s doghouse by now? With Derrick Blaylock a free agent, Johnson looks to be the fellow who will be backing up PRIEST~! next season.

Raiders 40, Titans 35. Look at Billy Volek�s passing line again. The Titans can do very well on offense without Steve McNair. How well they can WIN without him remains unclear. In the last two weeks, the Titans have racked up almost 1100 yards of total offense. They�re 0-2 in those games.

Eagles 12, Cowboys 7. Sure, the Eagles will play all their NFC playoff games at home, but this was a costly victory indeed. Terrell Owens� numbers are better than the rest of the Eagles� receivers combined. The yardage is about even, but Owens has outscored the other receivers 12 to 1 in TD catches. That�s absurd. Todd Pinkston has wanted no parts of tough catches over the middle the last two weeks. Someone will have to step up. The automatic double-team in the opposing secondary is gone, and the Eagles� pedestrian receivers now have to get open and make plays on their own. Let�s just say I�m not terribly confident. The Eagles look like the class of the conference for now, but their path to the Super Bowl just got a LOT harder.

Jets 37, Seahawks 14. It�s a good thing Seattle is playing hard at the end of the year, pushing toward the playoffs on a positive note. Note the sarcasm.

Dolphins 29, Patriots 28. A 2-10 team beat a 12-1 team, which is the largest win differential in a game in NFL history. I�m wondering if the appointment of Pats offensive coordinator Charlie Weis as the next head coach of Notre Dame is a distraction. Tom Brady normally doesn�t make stupid throws like he did last night. Was it his fault, or was the playcalling just worse than usual? The defense, of course, cannot be held blameless for this ridiculous and embarrassing loss.

* May not be actual footage.
** In this case, and all cases involving Mike Martz, �inimitable offensive genius� should be read as �colossal offensive stupidity.�

Pass For Show, Run For Dough

In this era of Sports Center highlights and fans with short attention spans, the passing game gets a lot of love. Every week, at least one QB goes en fuego passing the ball, and a couple teams live and die putting the ball in the air. Maybe I�m just an old-school ball-control guy, but I think the running game is still the most important offensive ingredient, since it lets you wear down both your enemies at once: the opposing team, and the game clock.

I�m going to chart some rushing statistics this season (as I did last season, until time constraints forced me to scrap this column) and see how important the running game really is. Each week, I�ll tally up the 100-yard rushers and see how their teams did. Also, I�ll look at teams that ran the ball 30 or more times, and teams that ran it 20 or fewer times, and see how they did.

Week 15:
100-yard rushers: 11
Team record: 7-4. The worst week in a long while.

30 or more rushing attempts: 10
Team record: 7-3

20 or fewer rushing attempts: 4
Team record: 1-3. Whoda thunk that Miami would be the sole winner here?

Season to date:
100-yard rushers: 149 *
Team record: 115-33 (77.70%)

30 or more rushing attempts: 171
Team record: 138-33 (80.70%)

20 or fewer rushing attempts: 75
Team record: 10-65 (13.33%)

* In the Jets-Dolphins game in Week 8, both Curtis Martin and Lamont Jordan rushed for over 100 yards in New Jersey�s dominating win. Thus, the discrepancy between 100-yard rushers and the team records, which will be off by at least one game all season long. I can live with that, since it means teams are emphasizing the running game.

Dr. Tom�s Official Power Rankings

Since there�s only so much that can be said about an endless parade of 6-8 and 5-9 teams, I�ve decided to modify the power rankings. I�ll do the top 15 teams, and then finish up with the bottom 5. A lot of the teams in-between will be very interchangeable.

1. Steelers (13-1). Still the class of the league, and now the leader for home field in the AFC playoffs.
2. Eagles (13-1). The loss of TO might cost them some spots here.
3. Patriots (12-2). Just a bad game for them all around. Will they rebound this weekend?
4. Colts (11-3). The win over the Ravens was nice, but they�ll need to do it outdoors in the cold next month.
5. Chargers (11-3). Tomlinson has looked awesome since resting up over the bye week.
6. Jets (10-4). They have the first AFC wild-cart slot sewn up, and celebrated by paddling the Seahawks.
7. Falcons (11-3). I�m not as high on them after the past few weeks.
8. Jaguars (8-6). They have the inside track on the AFC�s other wild-card spot.
9. Bills (8-6). In the last five weeks, they�re 5-0 and have the league�s best offense.
10. Ravens (8-6). There are no moral victories, but they showed other teams how to play the Colts.
11. Packers (8-6). They could easily be 9-5. Blame Brett Favre. Chances are, the media won�t.
12. Vikings (8-6). As bad as things have been for them late in the season, recently, Sunday�s win had to be sweet.
13. Broncos (8-6). They look like they�re just giving up on the season.
14. Panthers (6-8). Even after a loss, they�re still looking good for the postseason.
15. Seahawks (7-7). No, I�m not happy about ranking this heartless bunch in the top half.

And the bottom 5 . . .

28. Raiders (5-9). Who doesn�t outscore the Titans these days?
29. Titans (5-9). Who goes 0-2 while throwing for over 900 yards and 8 TDs? Billy Volek, that�s who.
30. Dolphins (3-11). This might be Nick Saban�s job, but Jim Bates has done well so far.
31. Browns (3-11). They�ve totally given up on the season.
32. 49ers (2-12). Well, at least they�ll have Matt Leinart next season.

Oh What a Tangled Playoff Web We Weave

Credit goes to Their supercomputer is better than mine, it seems.

-- New England is in the playoffs and has clinched their division.
-- NE gets a first round bye if they win, OR if they tie and the IND-SD game ends in a tie.

-- NJ Jets can clinch a playoff berth in the following scenarios:
1) NJJ win or tie OR
2) BUF loss or tie + BAL loss or tie OR
3) BUF loss or tie + JAC loss or tie OR
4) BAL loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + JAC loss or tie OR
5) BUF loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + BAL clinches strength of victory over JAC in this tiebreaker scenario.

-- Pittsburgh is in and has clinched their division.
-- They can wrap up home-field with . . .
1) PIT win OR
2) PIT tie + NE loss or tie OR
3) NE loss + SD-IND game ends in a tie
-- They can ensure themselves a bye with . . .
1) PIT win or tie OR
2) SD-IND game ends in a tie OR
3) NE loss + IND loss

-- Indianapolis has clinched their division.
-- Jacksonville can lock up the wild-card slot with. . .
1) JAC win + BUF loss + BAL loss + DEN loss + JAC clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over BUF, BAL, and DEN

-- San Diego has clinched their division.


-- Philadelphia has clinched its division and home field advantage for the NFC playoffs.

-- Green Bay has clinched a playoff spot.
-- They will clinch the division if they beat Minnesota this weekend.

-- Minnesota can clinch the division if they beat Green Bay.
-- Minnesota can clinch a playoff berth with . . .
1) MIN tie OR
2) STL loss or tie OR
3) CAR loss or tie

-- Atlanta has clinched its division and has a first-round bye.

-- Carolina can clinch a playoff berth with . . .
1) CAR win + STL loss + NO loss or tie + CHI loss or tie + SEA win + WAS-DAL game ends in a tie

-- Seattle can win the division with . . .
1) SEA win + STL loss or tie OR
2) SEA tie + STL loss OR
3) Playing with some goddamn heart for a change
-- Seattle can clinch a playoff berth with:
1) SEA win
2) SEA tie + CAR loss or tie + NO loss or tie

Scrub Division: Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Oakland, Tennessee and San Francisco have officially been eliminated from playoff contention.

Got all that? Good. There won't be a quiz later, since even I'm not that mean.

TO Uh-Oh

Monday afternoon, reported that Eagles WR Terrell Owens is likely out for the entirety of the playoffs with a severe lower leg injury. First believed to be an ankle sprain, an MRI revealed torn ligaments in the ankle, as well as a small fracture in the lower leg. Owens was dragged down from behind by Dallas S Roy Williams and immediately grabbed at his lower leg. He left the field under his own power, noticeably hobbled.

Owens will have surgery Dec. 22 and stands only an outside shot at being able to play in the NFL's championship game on Feb. 6 � if Philadelphia makes it that far, which is no certainty without him, given their recent track record � head trainer Rick Burkholder said. A screw will be implanted to stabilize and strengthen the ankle joint.

"He's a great player, but can the offense go on? Absolutely," coach Andy Reid said. "We have some pretty good players on this offensive unit, so it'll still function and do very well this week."

Owens had missed just seven games in his nine-year career entering this season. He was the key difference-maker in the Eagles� offense this season, hauling in 77 catches for 1120 yards, with a team record 14 TDs. Owens gave the Eagles a reliable set of hands and big-play ability, two things that hurt them in their previous trips to the postseason. They already lack a running game that can pound out yards and control the clock; now they lack their biggest weapon on the outside. It could be another long offseason in Philly.

Do It Again, and We�ll Send Another Nasty Letter!

Jaguars S Donovin Darius was fined $75,000 for his brutal-looking clothesline of Green Bay WR Robert Ferguson in Sunday afternoon�s game. Ferguson, who went down in a heap as his helmet popped off, was temporarily paralyzed from the hit, and only regained feeling and movement in his legs en route to the hospital. Darius was ejected from the game. He has said the hit was accidental, and that his intent was to go for the ball and knock it loose.

Intent is hard to determine (in some instances) from game film. Darius has never been fined for an excessive hit before, so it�s not like the man�s a cheap-shot artist like Warren Sapp. And Ferguson did catch the ball high, and was holding it near his neck area when Darius clotheslined him (Ferguson, to his credit maintained possession despite the hit). There is no reason not to give Darius the benefit of the doubt here.

However, he still should have been suspended for the hit. Accidental or not. He clotheslined a man to the ground, and could have very easily paralyzed him. Thankfully, Ferguson should recover quickly and fully, but the next time this happens, the fellow on the receiving end may not be so lucky. The NFL needed to send a strong statement that hitting people in the head and neck area is illegal and will be strictly punished. However, by not suspending Darius and fining him less than 2% of his annual salary (around $4 million), the league has sent the opposite message. Darius may not have been headhunting on Sunday, but an example needed to be made, and defenders needed to be taught that careless plays can have very real consequences. That example � and that point � was not made. This will happen again, and I can only hope that, when it does, the injury is neither severe nor permanent.

The NFL had better hope so, too.

Picks for Week 16

Last Week: 10-6. Frown.
Season to Date: 139-69 (66.83%)

Friday, Dec. 24
Green Bay 23 at Minnesota 26, 3:00 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 25
Oakland 21 at Kansas City 30, 5:00 p.m.
Denver 33 at Tennessee 30, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 26
Atlanta 24 at New Orleans 17, 1:00 p.m.
Baltimore 23 at Pittsburgh 20, 1:00 p.m.
Chicago 16 at Detroit 21, 1:00 p.m.
Houston 18 at Jacksonville 23, 1:00 p.m.
NJ Giants 20 at Cincinnati 27, 1:00 p.m.
San Diego 24 at Indianapolis 33, 1:00 p.m.
Buffalo 30 at The City 14, 4:05 p.m.
New England 28 at NJ Jets 25, 4:05 p.m.
Arizona 17 at Seattle 28, 4:15 p.m.
Carolina 22 at Tampa 16, 4:15 p.m.
DC Metro Area 24 at Dallas 14, 4:15 p.m.
Cleveland 9 at Miami 17, 8:30 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 27
Philadelphia 20 at St. Louis 10, 9:00 p.m.

Next week: The last NFL Instant Replay of 2004, bay-bee! It�ll be just as awesome as the rest, fear not. Until then, happy holidays.

Dr. Tom Fowler

drtomfowler at yahoo dot com


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