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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Will You Bite The Hand That Feeds You? Will You Stay Down On Your Knees?

Vikings Williamses Football

I suppose I ought to apologize for borrowing a Nine Inch Nails chorus, but it’s the basic question that the NFLPA handed itself when the late Gene Upshaw ceded the union’s say in disciplinary matters years back. Then again, no one really could have predicted the reign of Lord Roger Goodell coming around, but still, any union head has to be smart enough tos ee those possibilities coming.

Now, you have a matter of NFL discipline in the hands of the legal system, becuase Minnesota Vikings D-linemen Kevin Williams and Pat Williams were bright enough to lawyer up for their suspensions over using StarCaps, which the league said had a substance on the banned list, but the players claimed a hotline put in place to answer those sorts of qustions about supplements was not functioning properly. The other players involved and suspended by the league are the Saints’ Will Smith, Deuce McAllister, and Charles Graint, along with a Texans’ long-snapper.

I have made it a point to rail against Goodell’s heavy-handed and inconsistent approach towards player suspensions (Jared Allen gets a four-game knocked down to two; somehow, Matt Jones has gotten forever to appeal a three-gamer for his coke arrest), and this is not helping matters when players are paying dues to an association that isn’t doing a whole lot to help them when they get in straits with the league’s no-tolerance policies through methods that could easily be honest mistakes.

If at any time, the NFLPA needed an outside fiture, its own Marvin Miller to help guide it to a prominence similar to the NBA Players Association or the MLBPA, this is the time — as the owners are citing the bad economic forecast as justification for pulling out of the current labor agreement. (This conveniently ignores the owners pulling out at least a few good months before the mortgage collapse truly hit the fan.)  If this is the case, it’s time to insert some levity back into the disciplinary process for on-field and off-field related matters in exchange for any sort of concession to ownership.

I’m not so sure the players can do that if they pick one of their own to replace Upshaw. For the sake of its members who pay dues and get screwed by fine-print rules which the league’s supposed 24-hour hotline can’t explain, the NFLPA needs to find an outside leader and start challenging Dictator Goodell on his power tripping.

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: 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 South

1) Indianapolis Colts – The Colts defense wasn’t too damn shabby last year except for the part where they let Billy Volek and Michael Turner beat them. Now, I know Turner’s a stud, but you don’t let the back-up QB and RB come into your house and beat you after getting a bye week. If Tony Dungy has reconsidered his stance on not playing his starters in Week 17, this team is always primed to go somewhere. This year, he may have to play his starters in Week 17. The division should be tighter than ever this year, but expect Peyton Manning (as if he won’t be starting, come on) and his offensive weapons like Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Joseph Addai, and even second-year wideout Anthony Gonzalez to bring it.

2) Jacksonville Jaguars* – Too much talent everywhere but the wide receiver position to not repeat as a Wild card team.  Signing Jerry Porter is not enough of a move to improve a receiving corps, because somehow Matt Jones is still a starting wideout.  (Maybe all the coke helps with that SEC speed.)  The defense is still pretty stout, even after letting Marcus Stroud go to Buffalo. David Garrard is efficient enough and smart with the ball; he doesn’t throw picks, and he’s got Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield — MoJo’s presence gives me an excuse to post this again:

(That’ll get you a Will Muschamp-style “BOOM, MOTHERFUCKER!” every day of the week and twice on Sundays.)

3) Tennessee Titans – Vince Young needs more receivers. So they go and grab Alge Crumpler from the Falcons to play TE — good move, but they add damn nothing in the wideout corps and draft an RB in the first round (admittedly, in Chris Johnson’s defense, he looks really, really good.) The defense looks about as stout and run-stuffing as it was last year, so that will carry it to win games, but I don’t see three teams from this division going to the playoffs this year.

4) Houston Texans – There’s too much if/when/come attached to the Texans right now. It’s a lot of “Will Matt Schaub stay healthy?” and if there is actually a running game down there (Gary Kubiak needs to hope that Steve Slaton brings it big-time, Ahman Green has been a waste of money.) Defensively, there’s a lot to like about this team up front and in the linebacking corps with Mario Williams continuing to justify his #1 selection a few years back and DeMeco Ryans getting better, never mind Amobi Okoye’s upside. Shame they have to be in the best division in the conference, but if certain things click in the running game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them leave the Titans in the cellar instead.