Your Top Stories
1. Six of the seven expected coaching vacancies this offseason have been filled. Both Leslie Frazier of the Vikings and Jason Garrett of the Cowboys managed to shed their “interim” tags at the end of the regular season. From the college ranks, coveted Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh signed a five year deal to coach the San Francisco 49ers. On the coordinator front, the San Diego Chargers’ Defensive Coordinator, Ron Rivera, agreed to become the coach of the Carolina Panthers, and the St. Louis Rams’ Offensive Coordinator, Pat Shurmur, will become the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Finally, former Carolina coach John Fox agreed to become the new head coach for the Denver Broncos. That leaves the Oakland Raiders as the only current head coaching vacancy in the league.
2. This week we have a pair of unpleasant off-the-field tidbits for you. First, former Giants’ linebacker Lawrence Taylor plead guilty to sexual misconduct and patronizing a prostitute this week. As part of his plea bargain, Taylor will serve six years probation and must register as a sex offender. Taylor caught with a sixteen-year-old prostitute in May after the girl’s uncle alerted police. Taylor asserts that he did not know the prostitute was underage and that she told him she was nineteen. In other crime tangentially related to football news, Brett Favre’s sister, Brandi Favre, was arrested on Tuesday as part of a methamphetamine bust in Mississippi. She is currently out on bail, and facing charges manufacturing methamphetamine and generating hazardous waste. Her next court appearance will be on February 8th.
3. The Steelers received a visit from a familiar face yesterday, as Bill Cowher returned to watch the team practice for the first time since resigning as Pittsburgh’s head coach in 2007. Cowher became an analyst for CBS, and it was in this capacity that he watched the Steelers practice for their game against the Baltimore Ravens this Saturday. During the visit, Cowher interviewed many of his former players, including Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, and Hines Ward. Cowher, who currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, was seen hugging and shaking hands with many of the Pittsburgh players during the trip.
The Playoff Picture
Your final standings/seedings:
1. New England Patriots (14-2)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
3. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
5. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
6. New York Jets at (11-5)
My apologies for the mixup two weeks ago. I did not realize that the Colts could jump to the third seed with a win and a Chiefs’ loss. That’s not bad for a team that was 6-6 a month ago, though that’ll be little consolation now. The AFC playoff picture was exactly what we thought it would be, aside from Indy’s switch with Kansas City.
1. Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
2. Chicago Bears (11-5)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
4. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)
5. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
6. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Again, pretty much what we expected from the NFC, with the only mild surprise being that the Seahawks managed to become the first sub-.500 team to not only make the postseason, but win a playoff game. It’s a bit notable that the three teams with nothing really to play for in Week Seventeen: Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, all lost in their final week of the regular season. We saw what that lack of momentum did for the Eagles and Saints; we’ll see if the Bears can do better.
Head of the Pack
Your final statistical leaders in:
1. Phillip Rivers (San Diego) –4710 yards
2. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis) – 4700 yards
3. Drew Brees (New Orleans) – 4620 yards
Phillip Rivers jumped from third to first in Week Seventeen to become the 2010 NFL Passing leader.
1. Arian Foster (Houston) – 1616 yards
2. Jamal Charles (Kansas City) – 1467 yards
3. Michael Turner (Atlanta) – 1371
A little bit of a surprise here with Michael Turner jumping back into the top three in the final week of the season, but Arian Foster is the 2010 NFL Rushing Leader by a good 159 yards.
1. Brandon Lloyd (Denver) – 1448 yards
2. Roddy White (Atlanta) – 1389 yards
3. Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis) – 1355 yards
There were no changes from Week Sixteen to Week Seventeen, and Brandon Lloyd is the 2010 Receiving Leader.
1. DeMarcus Ware (Dallas) – 16.0
2. Tamba Hali (Kansas City) – 15.0
T-3. Cameron Wake (Miami) – 14.0
T-3. Clay Matthews (Green Bay) – 14.0
A bit of surprise here with DeMarcus Ware jumping ahead in the final week to become the 2010 Sack Leader, and with Tamba Hali pulling into second place.
Four Big Match Ups
1. Baltimore at Pittsburgh, Saturday, 4:30 P.M. EST on CBS – I have said all year that I’m not sure who the Pittsburgh Steelers have been this season. Most teams that make it to 12-4 either start rolling early and stumble at the end when there’s not much on the line, or perform consistently well with a few aberrant stumbles here and there. The Steelers, on the other hand, arrived at this record in a pretty unusual way. They started out strong, winning five of their first six games and seemed like they might even run away with the division. Then, the Steelers seemed to struggle a bit in the middle of the year, losing by double digits to New Orleans and New England. While they still managed to win at this time, they were just barely eking out victories over bad teams. Finally, they seemed to pick things up at the end, winning four of their last five games, and absolutely crushing the weaker squads in their division. If ever there’s a time to keep up that momentum, it’s now. Mike Tomlin and Big Ben are hoping to roll onto the field with the team that dominated at the beginning and end of the season, not the one that struggled in the middle. The Ravens, on the other hand, are looking to once and for all step out of the shadow of Pittsburgh in the AFC North. The two teams entered the postseason tied at 12-4, but the Steelers got the division and the bye, thanks to the tiebreaker, dropping the Ravens from a potential second seed down to the fifth seed. How did Baltimore respond? With a thirty-point beat down of the AFC West champion’s from Kansas City The Ravens looked like a team possessed as they absolutely manhandled the Chiefs. The Ravens will look to continue that type of play against their division rivals, and pave their way to the AFC Championship game. This game is my pick for the best matchup of the weekend.
2. Green Bay at Atlanta, Saturday, 8 P.M. EST on FOX – The Packers have won their last three games in a row, beating a playoff contender in the New York Giants, and a pair of division winners in the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, they’ll try to defeat their third NFC division champ in a month and unseat the Atlanta Falcons. Aaron Rodgers on offense and Clay Matthews on defense have led these Packers into the playoffs and seem to have the momentum going into this game. That said, the Atlanta Falcons have won nine of their last ten games, will be setting up shop in the Georgia Dome, and have had an extra week to rest and prepare for their opponents. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have been far and away the top team in the NFC this year, and they’ll look to continue their great season all the way to the NFC Championship game. Expect a great fight between two great teams.
3. Seattle at Chicago, 1 P.M. EST on FOX – A great many of us thought, and some still think, that the Seattle Seahawks had no business making the playoffs. Even among those of us who thought they deserved the berth, most expected the high-powered New Orleans Saints to completely steamroll a Seattle team that couldn’t even manage a winning record. Well, in a weekend of upsets, Seattle pulled off the biggest of the weekend, and one of the biggest in NFL history, as they hung on to beat New Orleans 41-36. The Seahawks have pulled off a lot of firsts this year. They were the first sub-.500 team to make the playoffs and also the first sub-.500 teams to win a playoff game. Now, can they become the first sub-.500 team to make it to the NFC Championship game? Not if the Bears can help it. Chicago is coming off a bye week. They’re rested, and looking to enter the game fired up against Seattle. With Jay Cutler, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, and Devin Hester taking the field, expect the big names of Chicago to look to make an impact in the team’s first playoff game in four years. I expect this to be a much better game than the records portend, and the kick-return battle between Hester and Leon Washington should be worth the price of admission on its own.
4. NY Jets at New England, 4:30 P.M. EST on FOX – It’s Jets-Pats, baby. How much more is there to say? In our second divisional matchup of the weekend, two of the biggest teams from this season will square off for a third time. At the Meadowlands, the Jets got a huge two-touchdown victory over the Patriots in Week Two, and looked to have the fast track to the top of the AFC East. Then, in lucky Week Thirteen, the Pats returned the favor and then some, as they absolutely demolished New York in a 45-3 drubbing at home. Now the Jets will return to Foxboro with both teams’ seasons on the line. New York initially seemed to be reeling from that New England game, but then they appeared to have righted the ship at the end of the season, winning two of their last three match ups, including an important victory over the second-seeded Steelers. The Patriots, on the other hand, have won their last eight games in a row, and scored no fewer than thirty-one points in each outing. This matchup between the top seed and the sixth seed in the AFC has the potential to be a back and forth affair or a blowout. As fans of good football, let’s hope for the former.