Epic Degrees of FAIL: The NFC

We handled the AFC last night, and now assess the things that killed the hopes of the 10 teams that failed to make the playoffs in the NFC, ranked from least devastating to the most.

At Least The Building Blocks Are There

Chicago Bears – Buck up, Chi-town. Even though you missed the clear shot at a Wild Card slot (and a shot at your division-winning rivals in Minnesota this weekend), you gained this: a QB with the serious potential to be franchise in Kyle Orton and an RB who is definitely franchise in Matt Forte.  Now,  if you can get an actual receiver in there, because Devin Hester hasn’t quite developed hands yet and you can’t throw it to Greg Olsen and Des Clark all the time. Oh, right. Another safety and a corner to shore up when Mike Brown winds up on IR every year wouldn’t hurt, but still, you’re not grasping at straws or anything.

Washington Redskins – 6-2 followed by a 2-6 and a .500 finish. There was going to be lag with Jason Campbell trying to learn yet another offensive system and a first-year head coach who’d never been an OC trying to learn the ropes. O-line and some front-seven help are needed here; more important is that your megalomaniac of an owner relax for a four-year period and not panic. Fear not, Children of the Zorn.

Coming Out Of The Haze

San Francisco 49ers – Gee, if the Yorks had known that concentrating some authority in one person and hustling Mike Nolan out of town would have resulted in some hustle and heart, they’d have canned him earlier. Mike Singletary did all the things Mike Nolan wouldn’t: hold players accountable, reign in the OC who probably thought the interim title would be his, and gave the team some semblance of an identity with wins it probably wouldn’t have pulled out mere weeks ago.  Plus, he’s funny:

Touch Me, I’m Sick

Seattle Seahawks – Sometimes a team just accumulates so many injuries that it’s absolutely impossible to compete, even in the sport’s worst division. Losing somewhere in the range of five wideouts in the first few weeks of the season along with a chunk of secondary and watching the QB suffer through back problems (i.e., getting old) put a crimp in the O-Dub Mike Holmgren’s (OW = Original Walrus) last season. Looks more devastating than it actually was because of the cumulative craptacular year it turned out to be for Seattle sports fans, and at least Seahawks fans know Seneca Wallace can play QB well enough if Matt Hasselbeck is still down.

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I Think I Smell A Rat

Never let it be said that Brett Favre can’t hold a grudge.

By now, you’ve likely read about the current New York Jets QB allegedly sought out the Detroit Lions to give them advice on how to play the Packers — according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, who explained that he did not try to contact Favre because he was afraid that Favre would deny it to an ESPN source, who would then spring it on Sunday NFL Countdown prior to Glazer’s segment on Fox NFL Sunday. Favre has, of course, denied Glazer’s report.

It’s pretty low if Favre actually did this. No one begrudges former players for sharing secrets about their old teams with their new ones; that’s accepted practice and teams expect that. But trying to call a former division rival, well, let Charles Woodson explain that for you:

“He contacted them? I don’t respect that,” cornerback Charles Woodson said after the Packers‘ victory over Indianapolis on Sunday. “If they call him and he gives them information, that’s one thing. But to seek a team out and to feel like you’re trying to sabotage this team, I don’t respect that. I know he’s been the greatest player around here for a long time, but there’s no honor in that.”

If such actions aren’t considered out of bounds, Woodson said they should be.

“I’ve never called a coach on another team and told them what’s going to happen,” Woodson said. “It is what it is. Obviously he says he wasn’t bitter about what happened, but obviously there is a little bit of resentment there.”

Of course, that’s all predicated on this being true — but as MODI at SOMM points out, you’d never know it existed if you only took in your sports news from ESPN sources.  The AP’s story on the denial doesn’t even make the Four Letter’s NFL page, period. So, the question is: what can’t Favre do without earning some enmity? He got a bit over his un-retirement, but he’s been coasting again, and as the Jets sink into mediocrity, so much of it has been made that it’s because of the play-calling by Eric Mangini and O-coordinator Brian Schottenheimer not opening up the offense — or at least that’s the obvious excuse.

Trouble is, the Favre we’ve seen is the same as the few seasons before 2007 — flashes of brilliance and flashes of ill-advised throws into double coverage, and now he might be telling other teams about his old team’s strategy.

Nothing to see here.

UPDATE: Pro Football Talk got a leaked memo from ESPN, apparently telling them not to report the story, even when Favre denied the accusations.

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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Rat Fink to Cryptkeeper: “Oh No, You Didn’t!”

(Note: This post has musical accompaniment, so download this first. If anyone were to mash up the highlights from the Denver-Oakland game and put them to this particular track, it would be highly appropriate.)

Broncos 41, Raiders 14 –Your musical accompaniment provides the complete encapsulation of Mike Shanahan’s attitude whenever he leads his team against the Oakland Raiders and Al Davis, whom he still believes owes him money from his short and acrimonious tenure as Raiders head coach. Last year, I applauded the Rat Fink’s obvious douchebaggery in Week 2 by pulling the last-second time out trick on Sebastian Janikowski, and the other side of Shanny’s nasty nature towards anything in the East Bay was unleashed when the Broncos quickly jumped out to 27 unanswered points in the first three quarters. The Broncos then added two more touchdowns, and I’m sure they would have been happy to go for half a hundred, Belichick-style, if time would have permitted.

You could almost imagine Shanahan singing “I will have my vengeance; I will never end this mayhem,” as rookie wideout Eddie Royal more than made up for the absence of Brandon Marshall by catching one touchdown and racking up 146 yards receiving. Royal victimized fellow Hokie DeAngelo Hall, who clearly made All-Pro twice with his mouth rather than actual skill at cornerback. Hall chucked Royal twice for 15-yard personal foul penalties on the same drive. Jay Cutler threw with an accurate recklessness that is this close to making me give him the name “Son of Favraro,” completing 2/3 of his passes for 299 yards, and handed off to a tandem of Selvin Young and Michael Pittman, who had three sixes between them while running all over and around a supposedly revamped Oakland D (that Tommy Kelly $18 million dollar guarantee already looks like a waste.)

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Ill-Advised NFL Previews: NFC North

1) Minnesota Vikings – Best defense in the division now with the addition of Jared Allen, best running backs in the division in Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, and with the Packers rebuilding post-Favre, the obvious choice in the division. The question is whether Tavaris Jackson will be well enough to try and lead them or whether head coach Brad Childress will be leaning on Gus Frerotte to get them down the field (which is a scary proposition.)

2) Green Bay Packers – The aftermath of the melodrama, where Aaron Rodgers will just have to play up to his ability with a good receiving corps of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.  If Ryan Grant can find his form for the regular season again, that would be a help as well. Non-QB concern: whether the defense will play at a high enough level (it shows flashes of great play) to keep them in contention for a Wild Card spot. I think not, but it will be close.

3) Detroit Lions – As long as Matt Millen remains in charge, they’re really not going to be that competitive. They traded away defensive run-stuffers (who were inconsistent) to the Browns for secondary help, but I’d like to know where the Lions are going to defend the run in a division with Purple Jesus.  This team should be thrilled if it makes .500. Jon Kitna will suffer another year-long bout of matching good touchdown numbers with ill-timed interceptions.

4) Chicago Bears – Sorry, Bears fans, I think the team made the right choice with Kyle Orton over Rex Grossman, but the defense is a year old and the offensive line stinks. You’ll be seeing Grossman soon enough when Orton gets his block knocked off because someone missed an assignment on the line or a tailback missed a block.