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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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: NFC South

Whew, last one. College football talk and the return of the Shakedown this weekend.

1) New Orleans Saints – The Saints have capable no-namers behind Reggie Bush if he continues his poor trend of not being able to rush between the tackles, but this offense has been all about Drew Brees slingin’ it around anyhow. Reliables like Marques Colston and David Patten are still around, and bringing in Jeremy Shockey from the Giants adds another threat, but the reason the Saints should win this division is that they’ve paid too much for defensive improvements not to. Bringing in Jonathan Vilma to lead their linebacking corps and re-stocking the secondary again in the free agent market has to pay off, and I see the Saints hosting a first-round playoff game.

2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers* – Too much Favre flirting, not enough improvement around Jeff Garcia. An aging Joey Galloway is still your best receiver, and while there are running backs in reserve if Carnell Williams continues to be injury-prone, this team will be riding defense again and trying to feast off the crappiness of the division. Trouble is, they stayed kind of stagnant, but the good thing is, this is enough to get a Wild Card spot in the NFC.

3) Carolina Panthers – I’ve been burned too many times on the Panthers to ever pick them to win a division again. No Steve Smith for two games because he decided to deck a CB, Jake Delhomme is returning from a devastating injury, and it just doesn’t look good on the offensive end. Defensively, if Julius Peppers is really healthy, they’re in better shape, but I don’t think they’re putting up enough points on the better defenses.

4) Atlanta Falcons – Building back up from rock bottom with a rookie starting QB (likely) in Matt Ryan is going to be really fucking rough, and hopefully the offensive line can hold up just enough to keep him alive. Next year will be a better time to gauge how the Falcons are going to pan out.