As season winds down, NFL top tier missing familiar faces
The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are two NFL teams that we just love to hate, because most years they are just so much better than our favorite team.
So for many football fans, the 2009 football season is going splendidly.
After week 14, the Steelers are sitting at 6-7, almost mathematically eliminated. The defending champs known for their suffocating defense just haven’t been able to stop opponents dead in their tracks without their beautiful-hair-having safety, Troy Polamalu. Their offense has struggled with injuries and inconsistency, and now it looks like the terrible towel will take a break from the postseason, since division foes Cincinnati Bengals, who swept the season against the Steelers, are three games up with three remaining.
The Patriots are sitting at the top of their division still, holding on to an 8-5 record, but all things are not fine in Foxboro. The team that put up a respectable 11-5 record last year, with a quarterback that hadn’t started since high school, has a pass defense that is about as useful as a chapped you know what. Randy Moss seems to have slipped out of his “one of the greatest ever” mode back into “I don’t care anymore mode,” giving us flashbacks to his Oakland tenure. The Dolphins and Jets are nipping at their heels and excluding a game in the UK, the Pats haven’t won on the road, the location of two of their last three games.
In the NFC, some of last year’s teams that had their fans hoping high – the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons – both lost this past week, falling to 7-6 and 6-7 respectively. It’s feasible the Giants could eke in to the playoffs if Dallas continues to uphold its annual December of doom, but Atlanta, so elated coming into the season with sophomore quarterback “Matty Ice” Matt Ryan, have pretty much cashed their tickets to an extra five or six weeks of vacation.
So what does this mean to my fellow fans? Should we be joyously celebrating the sub-par seasons from powerhouse football teams?
Usually I would say “Oh yeah I enjoy watching the Patriots get schlacked by the Saints,” but for some reason, I can’t help but think the playoffs will be worse if the Steelers and Pats, both teams that won multiple titles since the calendar turned to the naughts, are in fact left out.
First of all, the absence of the contenders from last year doesn’t mean we’ll be seeing any teams in the playoffs, excluding the unbeaten New Orleans Saints, that haven’t been there in a while. The Colts, Chargers, Cardinals, Vikings, Packers, Bengals, Eagles and Broncos all look to be punching their tickets, and most of these teams were close to the Super Bowl within the last three or four years.
That’s only nine teams, but other close teams, Dallas, Baltimore, Miami, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, wouldn’t be huge playoff surprises after the way the last couple of years have progressed.
So what’s going to happen leading up to the postseason? Well the divisions are pretty clear – the Cardinals, Vikings, Eagles and Saints will win their divisions in the NFC with Green Bay and Dallas/NYG getting the wild card slots. In the AFC, I still think New England will pull it out and join Indianapolis, Cincinnati and San Diego as division winners with Baltimore and Denver rounding out the wild card. None of the wild cards will make any noise after the regular season, though.
While the playoffs are an unexpected ride, I think the NFC Championship will come down to Arizona and New Orleans playing in what could be the greatest high-octane passing offense shootout we’ve ever witnessed in football (it would be indoors), with the Saints booking a trip to Miami for the Super Bowl in the end.
On the other side, I think Bill Belichick’s team just can’t find a way to make a deep run this year without Moss believing in the mission and a defense that makes teams think before they throw, but I am also hesitant to think Payton Manning’s (not Jim Caldwell’s) Colts will make it all the way through to Miami (even though the thought of an undefeated vs. undefeated Super Bowl has me giddy as a school girl). So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the AFC Championship comes down to San Diego and run-heavy Cincinnati meeting with the Chargers finally making it to the Super Bowl after being close every year.
And if, make that WHEN, it comes down to the big showdown in Miami, I am picking the Saints, known for years as the “Ain’ts”, to go home with the Lombardi trophy.
Now lets watch Bill Belichick and Tom Brady prove me wrong.