Epic Degrees of FAIL: The AFC

Chronicling just what killed each of the 10 AFC teams that didn’t make the playoffs, and how devastating that failure was in the end, from the least to the most.

The Break Heard ‘Round The World

New England Patriots — Now staying home despite an 11-5 record and recovering in a way no one expected after Tom Brady’s knee ligaments snapped in the opening game.  Done in due to losses acquired during adjustment period to Matt Cassel and an aging defense that gave in to division rivals, particularly Miami, once too often. Are low on the list because this was still Coach Hobo’s best work in the duress of losing his leader and star.

Bad Start Followed By Peaking Too Late

Houston Texans — Effectively destroyed thanks to Sage Rosenfels’ propensity to turn the ball over when it matters most.  Matt Schaub wasn’t doing great to start out, but Rosenfels handing a game to the Colts and having to rotate in and out while Schaub tried to find his groove ensured Houston would be a late bloomer.  Four game losing streak capped by that loss in Indy killed any hope in a division where the winner had a 10-game winning streak and the second place team enters the playoffs with a nine-game streak. At least you’re not finishing under .500 again, and you have a feature back in Steve Slaton.

Icarus Is Not A Model To Follow Here

Buffalo Bills – A 5-1 start against what turned out to be lamentably bad competition (of the teams they beat, only the Chargers made the playoffs), followed by a precipitous fall in which they lost 8 of their final 10, forgot Marshawn Lynch existed for the most part, and had to go to J.P. Losman in games that they stood a chance of winning thanks to Trent Edwards’ fragile constitution.

Cincinnati Bengals – No communication between Carson Palmer and his receivers when he was playing, he gets knocked out, team continues to suffer until its tie of the Eagles and belated discovery that Cedric Benson still has rushing skills. Oddly enough, defense not responsible for sucking more this year.  Continued fall back to reality from Wild Card finish two years ago complete.

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The Red Zone: Getting The Point Across

(Video tip to Black Sports Online.)

Seahawks 34, 49ers 13 – Normally I would not lead with this because there were a litany of better games on, and I was saved from having to watch this travesty by the grace of my local Fox affiliate who rationally decided that no one in our little part of California wanted to watch the Niners get beat. However, it produced the most coherent yet quotable of coach rants from Mike Singletary, who is visibly and understandably frustrated with a quarterback who is responsible for 11 fumbles and 17 interceptions, a tight end that dogged it a bit and cost them 15 yards on a dumb penalty, and a defense that allowed a fullback, a fullback, to gather up 116 yards and two TDs on only four receptions.

Saints 37, Chargers 32 – Essentially, the Chargers stalled themselves early in London, which allowed Drew Brees and whatever mishmash of talent he has catching footballs to get up early and get a lead. 14 penalties for more than 100 penalty yards don’t help, especially when the defense has completely quit or doesn’t have enough to stop any sort of potent offense. The AFC West is slowly morphing into the NFC West, if you can believe it.

Panthers 27, Cardinals 23 – Kurt Warner got the Cards out to a 17-3 lead, but then Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith powered a Carolina comeback in Charlotte, prodded on by an amazing play where Smith looked like he had gone out of bounds on his way to the end zone, but his heel had not touched the sideline while his foot came down near it.

Cowboys 13, Buccaneers 9 – An ugly game in which Tampa Bay essentially got stopped in the red zone when they were able to mount drives, including the last failed drive with less than a minute to go. Brad Johnson threw one TD pass to Roy L. Williams, and if you have any Dallas players on your fantasy teams, I’d advise benching them until Tony Romo comes back.

Jets 28, Chiefs 24 – New York won in spite of Brett Favre as much as they did because of him. The Gunslinger threw three picks, making Tyler Thigpen look like a competent quarterback until Herm Edwards’ late conservative playcalling got int the way. Thigpen finished with two TD passes.

Giants 21, Steelers 14 – Something I’ll never understand about defensive coordinators: you go to all this trouble, if you’re Dick LeBeau, to develop good coverage and blitz schemes to use on Sunday, yet, after your team’s offense gives up and awful safety on a botched punt snap, you play prevent. Of course, when you play prevent, you give up a score, and Eli Manning hitting Kevin Boss to go ahead for good seemed utterly predictable. It would help if Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t spending half the game on his back.

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The Red Zone: Insane Finishes

Falcons 22, Bears 20 – Qualifying for the bizarre in the end.  Kyle Orton is officially a good QB to me now, having led the Bears on an incredible drive for the go-ahead score, and finishing it with a perfect fade throw to Rashied Davis, putting it where only his guy could get it. But then, the Chicago coaching staff decided to squib kick, and those ten extra yards wound up mattering: Matt Ryan, finishing off a 300+ yard day (first of his career), hit Michael Jenkins at the 34 of Chicago with one second left. Jason Elam then redeemed himself from 48 out after missing one that might have iced the game for the Falcons earlier.

Cardinals 30, Cowboys 24 – We all saw the punt block in OT that won the game (nice play.)  But there are concerns now to addressa bout Dallas’ D, which not only couldn’t get any pressure on Kurt Warner (who hit Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston all day), but looked like a colleciton of talent more than a squad. The same went on offense, where Tony Romo fumbled as much as he threw for touchdowns.

Rams 19, Redskins 17 – So, after beating Dallas and Philly on the road and getting a good jump start on the season, Washington gives up five turnovers en route to allowing St. Louis its first iwn on the season. What  a letdown.

Eagles 40, 49ers 26 – Thankfully, Donovan McNabb led a comeback, because this didn’t look good Philly at the end of hte first half, after San Francisco returned a blocked FG for a score and took a 26-17 lead in the third. The Eagles’ defense got into turnover mode, though, creating short fields and reminding the NIners that they are, well, the Niners.

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The Red Zone: He’s Having So Much Fun Out There

Jets 56, Cardinals 35 – Loath to imagine the superlatives that sportswriters will ladel on Brett Favre following a 24-34 day passing with six TD passes (three to Laveranues Coles). Most of this was enabled by five turnovers by Kurt Warner, resulting in 34 2nd quarter points for the faux-NY Titans, one fewer than Arizona was able to scrape up in the 2nd half.

Chiefs 33, Broncos 19 – Larry Johnson runs all over the weak Denver D for 198 yards on the day, but this is the day where living dangerously via the play action pass can bite you in the butt: thrwoing picks, losing fumbles to a clearly talent-inferior team, yet one that gets revved up every time you come to town.  Mike Shanahan is now 3-14 when playing in Arrowhead Stadium; it is never a place where Denver can go an win easily, ever. (And if Kansas City were actually coordinated as a team, the score would have been that much more lopsided. There were three drives that KC should have scored touchdowns on; the first quasrter could and should have ended 21-0 or 24-0.)

Saints 31, 49ers 17 – The return of Deuce McAllister only makes Drew Brees more dangerous: Brees threw for 363 yards and three more touchdowns, torching the San Francisco secondary.

Panthers 24, Falcons 9 – Um, yeah. Like I said, Matt Ryan, meet a real defense, again.  Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith for two TD passes and Muhsin Muhammad for one in the 4th to really ice it.

Jaguars 30, Texans 27 – Jacknsoville digs in when down 24-20, getting a score to go ahead and then kicker Josh Scobee pulls it out again after Houston forces overtime.

Browns 20, Bengals 12 – The less said about this game, the better, probably. It looked like a Cleveland win as soon as everyone shockingly discovered that Carson Palmer wasn’t playing in this cripple fight.

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The Red Zone: Eddie Guns Misfires

Broncos 39, Chargers 38 – I’m a Denver homer and even I will admit that referee Ed Hochuli completely blew it. We shouldn’t have had that chance to win that game. That said, it was smart and ballsy to go for two after Jay Cutler threw it to Eddie Royal for the touchdown because it was playing with house money and because San Diego would be reeling from getting fucked over. These teams will be fighting for the AFC West crown, because Philip Rivers and that offense know how to close and come back. They wouldn’t have gotten to the AFC championship game if they didn’t. Cutler is still learning how to finish, and there could be some shaky times. But each offense looked really good for a half.

Patriots 19, Jets 10 – The game ended with the old Brett Favre that we’ve gotten used to: a late pick-off by Brandon MeriweatherMatt Cassel threw for 165 yards, didn’t throw any TD passes, but didn’t muck it up and while he’s not going to be raging up any fantasy rosters, he might stand a chance of getting the Patriots back to the playoffs.

Titans 24, Bengals 7 – How long is Marvin Lewis for this world of NFL coaching? He’s been undermined and this looks to be the worst team he’s ever fielded in his years in Cincinnati.  Kerry Collins, relieving Vince Young, threw for one touchdown and dispensed the ball to LenDale White and Chris Johnson to eat up yardage. Tennessee’s defense got lethal, and now they are in first place in the toughest division in football.

Bills 20, Jaguars 16 – What world is this we live in, with Buffalo starting 2-0?  Trent Edwards is looking like the starting quarterback they’ve been looking for (it helps if you have Marshawn Lynch to hand off to) by throwing a fourth-quarter touchdown against a tema that was in the playoffs last year.

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The Red Zone: Week 1 Highlights

Patriots 17, Chiefs 10 – It’s all about Tom Brady probably being out for the season, and the Patriots’ chances riding on that — so much so that it overrode the game itself, where the Chiefs failed at a last second comeback. Now, it’s a question of whether Bill Belichick will stick with Matt Cassel or who he will bring in to take Brady’s place.

Eagles 38, Rams 3 – More notable for Donovan McNabb being good as we’re used to from him, with three TD passes. Here’s how lousy St. Louis is: Philly had three — count ’em — three receivers reach the 100-yard mark for the game.

Cowboys 28, Browns 10 – The Cleveland hangover from the pre-season is still there, and Tony Romo and Marion Barber basically tore it up, so much so that Felix Jones could get into the act late too.

Jets 20, Dolphins 14 – Brett Favre throws two classic Gunslinger TDs (one on fourth down when kicker Mike Nugent twinged his leg) and the New York secondary picks Chad Pennington in the end zone to seal the win.

Bills 34, Seahawks 10 – Two massive special teams plays, a punt return by Roscoe Parrish and a fake punt to a TD pass, help bolster a rout of the NFC West favorite.

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Ill-Advised NFL Previews: AFC North

1) Pittsburgh Steelers – It’s Big Ben’s team and the offensive line is a bit thin right now, although getting ridd of the supposedly malcontent Alan Faneca may be addition by subtraction. Concerns have to do with the secondary outside of Troy Polamalu, but in a hard-fought division, the Steelers should still be the class of it. Adding Limas Sweed and Rashard Mendenhall in the draft to contribute to the offense are solid moves and I need a reason not to say they’ll win this division. Last year’s loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs is concerning, but that’s a first season under Mike Tomlin. They’ll learn from this.

2) Cleveland Browns* – There’s a major gamble here: trading for defensive line help for run stuffing by giving away a pretty good corner in Leigh Bodden to the Lions. Plus, they didn’t look all that impressive in the last pre-season game, and return stud Joshua Cribbs is hurt. However, that is pre-season, and I’m thinking getting Donte’ Stallworth for the receiving corps was a good move to go with Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards.  Like them as a Wild Card pick if Derek Anderson’s concussion doesn’t lead to a prolonged QB controversy with Brady Quinn.

3) Cincinnati Bengals – Too many cooks in the kitchen in the front office that all have or have had the last name Brown (or are married into the family) on personnel matters; Marvin Lewis is in a no-win situation. The team drafted a great college linebacker in Keith Rivers from USC, but one player can’t fix what has been lousy defense — plus, they’ve had to dig into the depths and re-sign Chris Henry because of the nicks given to both Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh.  In fantasy purposes, Carson Palmer is still probably a good pick, but this team’s defense will kep it at .500 again unless Lewis has found the old motivational magic that he had as Baltimore’s D-coordinator.

4) Baltimore Ravens – I really want Troy Smith to succeed and be a starting quarterback, but I don’t see the team having a very long leash for him because they’re paying Joe Flacco first-rounder money and will probably tolerate going through growing pains by inserting him into the line-up as soon as possible. (A rant about how I-AA players are getting more love and run than guys who win games and come one short of a national chip is probably later.)  Rookie head coach, probably a rookie QB midway through, and an aging defense that is a far cry from the franchise’s Super Bowl winning season. Ray Rice will be worth looking at if Willis McGahee keeps having injury issues, but this is going to get worse before it gets better.