Monday, December 29, 2008

NFL 2008 In Review

What a weekend in the NFL. I'm not sure I recall in my lifetime a crazier final week of the NFL season, or one with more do-or-die games for more teams than we saw in the heads-up matchups here in Week 17. It was Chargers - Broncos, winner gets the division, loser goes home. It was Jets - Dolphins battling it out for the right to make the playoffs, with the fate of the New England Cheatriots hanging in the balance as well with that game. The Buccaneers and the Bears each had a win-and-you're-in scenario working for them this weekend, and when they both lost, that turned the late game between the Eagles and Cowboys into yet another do-or-die game for both teams. The Vikings needed to beat the NFC-best New York Giants in order to get themselves into the playoffs (and win the NFC North). This was an absolutely riveting Sunday of football to end the 2008 regular season, and now we can focus on the playoffs and who has the best matchups to make it to the conference championships and eventually to the Superbowl.

First, just a minute about my Eagles. I knew going into the weekend that, if the Eagles somehow found themselves in a win-and-you're-in situation heading into Sunday afternoon's games, then the Cowboys were gonna be in trouble. That's just the Philadelphia mentality. We hate the Cowboys. Ragingly. And after already losing to them in a shootout on Monday night early this season in Dallas, and with the public troubles the team has had in pressure situations, with Tony Romo's clutch performances late in seasons, and with a shot at the playoffs on the line, the Eagles were going to come to play in a big way if they knew making the playoffs was at stake. And somehow, when the opening kickoff happened, that's just the situation the Eagles found themselves in.

And speaking of that for a minute, you do realize that if either the Bears or the Buccaneers had won their Week 17 games, the Eagles were out of the playoffs, right? I mean, first in line were Bucs, playing the hapless Raiders as double-digit favorites. This Raiders team stinks out loud, and everyone knows it. All the Bucs had to do was win and they would claim the 6 seed in the NFC, with Atlanta nailing down the first wildcard after their wildly successful 2008 season. And yet somehow, Jon Gruden's team found a way to lose to Gruden's old team the Raiders, in a game where the Bucs fell behind early, fought their way back but then gave it all up near the end. If you're a Bucs fan this morning, you just feel like absolute crap. And the Bucs loss opened the door for the Chicago Bears, who merely had to beat the Houston Texans in order to sneak into the playoffs themselves after Tampa Bay's alarming loss. And yet, different team, same story. Andre Johnson ran roughshod over that formerly good Bears defense on their way to knocking the Bears out of the playoffs after the referees all but ensured the Bears would stay alive in last week's game against the hated rival Green Bay Packers.

So the Bears and Bucs' losses turned the late Philly-Dallas game into a true do-or-die situation for both teams. The Cowboys already knew if they won, they were in the playoffs. But the Eagles had needed the help of both the Buccaneers and Bears to lose games which seemed highly unlikely for them to lose, and somehow they both did. So each of Philly and Dallas entered their final game of the 2008 regular season knowing that a win gets them a wildcard spot, and a loss sends them packing until next year. And the Eagles came out and absolutely obliterated this lost Dallas team, capping off a late-season collapse that saw Jerry Jones' boys lose 3 of their last 4 games to miss the playoffs. The Eagles went to the locker room at halftime up 27-3, and soon ran that up to 44-3 before the Cowboys got on the board again with their second field goal and only other score of the game. The Eagles's Donovan McNabb threw for two touchdowns and ran in one more, and our defense came to play in a big way, running back two Brian Dawkins-forced fumbles for touchdowns in a game that was never close and which Dallas barely showed up to play for. Marion Barber fumbled one time just a couple of yards from the end zone and with his body already flying out of bounds. Tony Romo turned in another typical Romo pressure performance, going 21 of 39 for 183 yards, no scores and one interception, along another two lost fumbles as the man continues to drop the ball far too easily under anything even remotely resembling pressure. With his performance, Romo significantly added to his reputation as a step-down quarterback in key spots as his December record as a starter dropped to 5-8 overall, despite being a lofty 22-4 in the other months. Unfortunately for Romo, all the big games in sports come at the end of the season, and almost no truly big games occur in the first few months.

And most of all, I look at the coach. Wade Phillips has always been a clown in my book. I mean, I never understood for half a second why Jerry Jones, with this much talent on his team, would hire that bozo instead of bringing in a real coach with a real track record leading a team. But more than that, owner Jerry Jones insisted all week leading up to this game, and even in the locker room after the devastating loss, that he will not make a head coaching change. Why? Why on earth would you want to keep this guy? Word is today that Eric Mangini, just two years removed from being called "ManGenius" and making appearances on The Sopranos, is gone as Jets coach after missing the playoffs in losing 4 of his team's last 5 games. At least the Jets recognize that there is a problem at the top, and also that there is some solid head coaching talent with real head coaching experience out there to be signed at the moment. The big prize of course is Bill Cowher, but I would be happy to hire Marty Schottenheimer after his incredible 15-1 run with the Chargers, which obviously was a significant over-achievement for that team which has basically stunk ever since his departure. But no, the Cowboys don't want Cowher or Schottenheimer, or apparently even heir-in-waiting Jason Garrett as their head coach. They want Wade Phillips, despite the team losing 3 of their last 4 games, and scoring a total of just 51 points throughout those four games, to lead this team into next season? Wade Phillips, whose offense with Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Marion Barber got outscored on the season by 60+ points by both the Eagles and the Giants, and whose defense gave up 70 more points than anyone else in the division? The coach who presided over the dissention in the locker room that only got worse as the season went on? What exactly has Phillips done to make Jerry Jones so sure that he has the coaching staff in place to succeed for many years and bring the superbowl back to Dallas?

My money is on Jerry Jones firing Wade Phillips before the Cowboys' 2009 season begins. I don't care what he's been saying over the past week or two.

A few other fun notes with the NFL -- starting with the Dolphins and the Falcons, the two big comeback stories of the year in the league. As I've chatted with a few of you on the girly, I don't know how you tell either of those two coaches that they are not the coach of the year in the NFL. If ever there was a year made for co-coaches of the year, this is it. Atlanta, mired in the embarrassment of the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal, plucks this kid Matt Ryan out of nowhere and turns him, Michael Turner and Roddy White into stars, going 11-5 and easily making the playoffs after a disastrous 4-12 campaign in 2007. And Miami, winning just one game last season, bringing in new coach Tony Sparano after serving five years as an assistant coach in -- of all places -- Dallas, nabbing a discarded Chad Pennington, rookie wideout Tenn Ginn, Jr., and putting together another 11-win team, and capturing the division title in the AFC East, known to be one of the toughest divisions in football. What stories for the players, the fans and the coaches and ownerships of those two teams this year as the 2008 regular season has come to an end.

And Chad Pennington deserves mention in his own right. After the Jets managed to woo Brett Favre out of retirement in a shotgun marriage of sorts, they immediately cut Pennington, who had led the team for several years in his typical low-profile and yet consistent manner. The Dolphins quickly signed Pennington, their first "real" quarterback in several years, and immediately the move paid huge dividends. Pennington took the helm of an offense that led the league in giving up the fewest turnovers, in fact tying the NFL record for fwest turnovers given up in a season, period. For Pennington to be able to walk in to New York in Week 17 and knock his old team out of the playoffs, while nailing down his own team's division title in that same division in the process, what a story. One interesting stat is that, after Brett Favre threw three more picks (two of them really, really fugly ones) in the Week 17 game against the Dolphins, Favre threw more interceptions in December (8) than Pennington did in every game he started for the Dolphins this season (7). Pennington has always been one of those guys who's not necessarily glamorous about it, doesn't toot his own horn in public much, but who quietly gets the job done every year with roughly 20 touchdowns and usually fewer than 10 picks. He simply does not make the key mistakes that a guy like Tony Romo or Kurt Warner has been known to make over their careers. What a year for Pennington, and what a vindication here in Week 17 for one of the good guys in the NFL.

Lastly, I should mention the Chargers, who did their part by coming out and absolutely smushing the Broncos to capture the AFC West with the lofty record of 8-8. Although coach Norv Turner is a proven boob whose team will simply not be able to stick with the real class of the AFC in the post-season, the Chargers remain a dangerous team with the potential to blow it out on offense. And most of all, despite what can obviously be said about a team that finishes the season 8-8 and yet somehow wins their division, I for one am thrilled to see a team that got megafucked early in the season by redonkulous refereeing getting and fulfilling their chance at vindication and fighting their way into the playoffs despite the earlier uberfucking by the men in the black and white stripes.

So here are your opening futures bets to win the 2008-2009 Superbowl in Tampa, Florida on February 1, 2009:

Arizona Cardinals 40-1
Atlanta Falcons 15-1
Baltimore Ravens 12-1
Carolina Panthers 6.5-1
Indianapolis Colts 5.5-1
Miami Dolphins 28-1
Minnesota Vikings 18-1
New York Giants 2-1
Philadelphia Eagles 40-1
Pittsburgh Steelers 4.25-1
San Diego Chargers 20-1
Tennessee Titans 4-1

I will revisit this topic in future posts for sure, but my initial reactions to the above odds are to first notice that the Cardinals and Eagles are considered the greatest longshots on the board, which is interesting since the Eagles are favored by 3 points to win at Minnesota next weekend. I do think both the Cardinals and Eagles have very little chance of winning it all this year though, so I would probably stay away from the two longest shots on the board for this postseason. Other teams with essentially no chance include the Vikings, the Dolphins and the Chargers, who come in as 18-1, 28-1 and 20-1, respectively, and whom I would also tend to avoid because I just don't think these teams can win it all.

Among the favorites, I would never bet the Giants at a mere 2 to 1, not since the loss of Plaxico has left the Giants looking supremely beatable -- even at home -- during their last three games since suspending Plax for the remainder of the season, and likely the remainder of his time as a New York Giant. 2 to 1 on that bet is wayyyy to thin at this point. I also don't like the Titans at 4-1, who I think are benefiting from their 13-3 regular season record more than their actual chances of winning the superbowl. Obviously they could win it, but, as much respect as I have for their coach Jeff Fisher, I could not pick the Titans over the Steelers (assuming everyone is healthy), and I think even the Colts are likely to give them trouble given the late-season performance by Peyton Manning and crew, nor do I think the Titans would match up well against any of the likely NFC champion teams. 4-1 is not enough for me to take the Titans in this spot. 4.5 to 1 for the Steelers is intriguing, but at this point I would want to wait a week or so to see about the status of Ben Roethlisberger after Sunday's concussion before committing any serious money there. But dam that Pittsburgh defense is a tempting bet to win it all as I sit here right now.

The other two decent values I see on the board right now are Carolina at 6.5 to 1 -- with the first-round bye and homefield throughout except for the NFC championship game, I expect Carolina to be at New York in a few weeks to battle it out with the Giants for the right to go to Super Bowl XLIII. Of course NY will be favored in that game, but we saw a couple of weeks ago with everything on the line and both teams playing their hardest for the #1 seed in the NFC that Carolina can stick with the post-Plaxico Giants. 6.5 to 1 is decent odds to me for a small bet on a team with a great defense, strong offense and one of the best coaches in the NFL in John Fox. I am also intrigued a little bit by the Falcons at 15 to 1. No, I don't see this team winning any superbowl this year, but they are one of the few teams with big odds that does have the capability to win it in my view. For 15 to 1, I could see dropping $20 or $50 on them for a chance to win some nice coin.

Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger PokerFool said...

Eagles will lose by 14+ to the Vikings.

Peterson will go for 200+ yards.

Ain't no stopping us now.


1:42 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I was very surprised when I saw the Eagles were favored on the road in that game. The smart money has to be on the Vikes.

They do suck balls, though.

1:44 AM  
Blogger Chad C said...

MIN is built to stop inside RBs. With half of the "Williams Brothers" out in this game I can see the EAGLES winning this one running away. Tavaris Jackson has never seen pressure like this PHI Defense will bring and he will screw it up once they fall behind, bank on that!

4:15 AM  
Blogger BWoP said...

Matt Ryan didn't exactly come out of *nowhere*. He was briefly touted as a Heisman contender in his senior year of college.

But I do agree that Sparano and Smith deserve coach of the year . . . and you might even want to throw Harbaugh into the mix. (Joe Flacco came more out of nowhere than Matt Ryan did, although the Ravens D has been a force for years, and you can't really say that Miami/Atlanta had dominant anythings in the recent past.)

Fly Eagles Fly!

5:44 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home