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There's nothing like December football!!
If you were looking for something exciting to do this Christmas, sitting on the couch watching the NFL playoff race unfold before your eyes is as good as it gets. As of Monday December 22nd, seven of the possible 12 playoff slots have been clinched. This means that next Sunday a total of five playoff teams will be revealed. Taking a look at the upcoming slate of games, this could be settled at the last possible minute. While we await tonight's Carolina-New York Giants matchup--which will decide the NFC's top seed--and tomorrow night's NFC North showdown ( Packers/ Bears), let's take a look back at all the things we have learned this season.
Consistency, Consistency, consistency!
The NFL is very unpredictable. Anything can happen on any given Sunday. That's why it's extremely important to come out ready to play every single week. Inconsistency isn't going to cut it in this game, just ask Brett Favre. Instead of coming out and sticking it to the weak Seattle Seahawks defense, Favre's New York Jets struggle to put up points and now their playoff spot is in jeopardy. Pressure is on Favre up in New York. If something bad should happen to New York against the 10-5 Miami Dolphins next week, all the blame will fall on the gunslinging veteran.
Other examples? The Dallas Cowboys, who put their fate in the hands of teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings after the loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday. Ed Reed and Co. flat-out outplayed Tony Romo, who was unable to hit his targets on a majority of his pass attempts.
Football is a young man's game
Rookies have dominated the NFL this season, and there really doesn't seem to be a wrong answer when it comes to the Rookie of the Year. Whether it be Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Chris Johnson in Tennessee, Joe Flacco in Baltimore, Matt Forte in Chicago (etc, etc, etc). The NFL is filled with early bloomers this season. Falcons QB Matt Ryan seems to be the front-runner for the ROY as of yesterday's 24-17 win over Minnesota. Ryan seems to have all the skills and leadership of a veteran QB, such as Favre and the Manning brothers. Just one year after Atlanta went 4-12, the rookie has led the team to a 10-5 record and a wild card spot in the NFC playoffs, which was clinched after Sunday's win.
Flacco, Baltimore's QB, is having a noteworthy rookie campaign as well, leading the Ravens to a 10-5 record and just one win shy of a possible wild card spot. In the windy city of Chicago, former Tulane RB Matt Forte has totally turned Da Bears running game around with his 1,115 yards and 7 rushing TD's through Chicago's first 14 games. And of course the League's fastest player, Chris Johnson from East Carolina?! Johnson, RB for the AFC's best team (Titans, 13-2), ran through and around the Steelers defense--ranked number one in the NFL--for 69 yards and a fourth down TD run which went for 21 yards.
Not everyone can win!
That should be the motto of the Detroit "winless" Lions, who suffered their 15th loss of the season on Sunday, 42-7 against the Reggie Bush-less New Orleans Saints. There really, truly isn't much else I can say about this one. With GM Matt Millen gone (fired earlier this season), maybe the Lions will finally draft some decents players in the 2009 NFL Draft. Detroit will wrap up their devastating 2008 season next Sunday against the division rival Green Bay Packers at 1 PM ET, at the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I feel for ya, Detroit!
New England doesn't need Tom Brady
Matt Cassel has done the unexpected. He has won 10 games under center for the New England Patriots after All-Pro QB Tom Brady was injured and lost for the season back during their week one matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. A majority of NFL fans (including NE fans) and analysts believed the Pats' season was done. Not so fast, my friends. Just like Brady did to start his career, former USC back-up QB Matt Cassel has done a fine job filling in, and has even made a huge impact on fantasy teams around the country. Cassel, earlier in the season, threw for 400+ yards in back-to-back games. His 345 yards Sunday against the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals has kept his team alive and well in the AFC East division race. Some are now saying Tom Brady has been overrated this whole time. Maybe it IS the system.
Defense wins championships
The AFC's top two teams, Tennessee and Pittsburgh, have made it this far because of their stout defenses. Pittsburgh's record of 11-4 (good enough for the 2nd seed in the playoffs) is basically because of the solid play of their defense. Tennessee was able to knock off Pittsburgh because their defense got to Ben Roethlisberger countless times, forcing him to fumble FOUR times (lost twice) and throw two interceptions, one of which was returned 83 yards for a TD, sealing the 31-14 win. Baltimore has gotten to where they are now because of their nasty defense and in the West, Denver and San Diego have struggled because of poor play on the defensive side of the ball...and inconsistency on offense, but that's a whole other story. Point is, the Super Bowl will come down to whose defense plays better. Mark my words!
More to come from in the next few days. Better get comfortable, there's just too much to talk about these days.