LAST WEEK STRAIGHT UP: 14-2
LAST WEEK vs. SPREAD: 11-5
SEASON STRAIGHT UP: 147-77
SEASON vs. SPREAD: 123-101
I must say, for those who are fans of the old Pete Rozelle Pigskin Parity, 2015 is proving to not be the season for you. In the AFC there are six playoff spots available, and six winning teams in the conference. Since the AFC South leader - Houston - is not among those six winning teams, that means one of Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and the New York Jets will be left out. In the NFC, there were five winning teams for six playoff spots before the Redskins "clinched" the NFC East last night and poked a half-game above five hundred, which I think is the first time all season that a team from that division has had a winning record. Congratulations, Washington, you get to wake up to this in a couple of weeks:
I'd pander to Tea Partiers by calling it karma for the latest omnibus, but (1) they can stew in their own fratricidal poisons and (2) Paul Ryan got his "receipt" early in last January's NFC Championship Game in any case.
So as a result, there really aren't any compelling, down-to-the-wire, win-or-go-home, playoffs-on-the-line matchups after last night's 'skins-Eagles game (if you want to dignify it with that label). After tomorrow night's Bengals-Broncos tilt at Mile High, even the seedings will be pretty much settled, with the Pats and Cincy #1 and #2 with first-round byes in the AFC and Carolina and the Cardinals the same in the NFC. Not that I won't be watching the latter host the Packers tonight in a game where my rooting interests will be conflicted, since I'd rather have the Cards having nothing to play for next week and (maybe) resting starters for our game on the one hand but not believing a pedal-to-the-metal coach like Bruce Ariens would ever take his foot off the gas, especially against the 'hawks, so seeing the Pack drill his bereted ass would be awesome on the other. But I'm not counting on that.
Other jumbled thoughts:
* Chip Kelly, the "mad scientist" of the Philadelphia Eagles, tried to do his Paul Heyman impression this season with all the offseason personnel turnover, moving out Shady McCoy and bringing in DeMarco Murray, trading Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, essentially swapping Cary Williams for Byron Maxwell (okay, that one was a net plus), and the 10-6 playoff team of the past couple of years (well, not last year, but they were 10-6) is now 6-9 and eliminated by the putrid Redskins. Which is like going through the "McPick" in the drive through lane and coming out with a moldy Happy Meal apple slice and a large french fry grease. He wanted total control, he got it, and now he deserves the total heat for this failure that will undoubtedly be coming his way.
* Peyton Manning is being accused of, and angrily denying, that he took human growth hormone four years ago after the most recent of his neck surgeries. And I believe him, because if the Fivehead had ingested HGH, he'd have morphed into a Sixhead at least, and none of the Broncos' helmets would have fit him anymore.
* The Patriots continue to be decimated by injuries, particularly to their skill players. The first round bye will definitely help them, but how much? Will they be the kind of paper tiger top seed that we haven't seen since the pre-Seahawk era, ripe for the taking by the Steelers or the Chiefs in the divisional round?
* Which brings us to the most overrated, and not coincidentally, only undefeated, team in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers - though it isn't their fault by any means. The Panthers are a very good team, as their rankings indicate:
TOTAL OFFENSE: #8
RUSHING OFFENSE: #3
PASSING OFFENSE: #23
TOTAL DEFENSE: #3
RUSHING DEFENSE: #6
PASSING DEFENSE: #5
They're patterned after us. Which is the greatest compliment I could ever pay them.
But they're not a 14-0 quality team. Why? Because of the schedule they drew this year. Consider: they play in the NFC South (combined non-Panther record: 18-24, no winning records). Their NFC divisional draw this season was the NFC East (combined record: 24-34, no winning records until last night), and their AFC divisional draw was the AFC South (combined record: 21-35, no winning records). That's fourteen of their sixteen games, folks, that were gimmies. In the Division 1-A college football of the old days, it's the kind of cupcake non-conference schedule that coaches like Bobby Bowden used to assemble, roll in, destroy by eight or nine touchdowns, give the Flagstaff Beauty College their (for them) big gate payoff, and send them on their way. Not, of course, that NFL teams have any control over which teams they play; the Panthers played who they were dealt and that's all any team can do. But they were dealt what turned out to be a ridiculously easy line up of patsies and pushovers.
"Okay, what about the other two teams you're not mentioning?" I can hear you asking. Yes, those were at home against Green Bay and up here at the Clink, yes, those are their two lone quality victories this season, and yes, they came in here and beat the one-play-away-from-two-time defending Champs. Although that was in our early-season fourth quarter incontinence/Roman orgy phase when we would thrash opponents for three quarters and then wharf it all up in the final stanza. If I were a Carolina fan, I'd call their 27-23 comeback victory from a 23-7 third quarter deficit a "coming of age" moment for quarterback and MVP candidate Cam Newton.
The thing is, we're not in that phase anymore, the Legion of Boom is once again its old suffocating, intimidating, ball-hawking, QB-terrorizing self (getting rid of Cary Williams, i.e. the "hole in the Force," was a big help), our O-line has "come of age" sufficiently to be at least adequate (which is all we've needed from it the past two title-winning seasons), Russell Wilson, as a result, has become the top rated passer in the league and first quarterback in NFL history to post five consecutive 135+ QBRs (which is most of why wideout Doug Baldwin joined Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only receivers to ever catch ten touchdown passes in four contiguous games). And most of that came without all-pro tight end Jimmy Graham.
It also came without Beast Mode. And it's looking like he may be back by next week, and certainly in time for another deep playoff run.
Which means that after we get done scalping the 'Skins, we're most likely coming to Charlotte for our "receipt". And that next week's NFC West rematch at the Toaster is quite possibly an NFC Championship sneak preview.
Straight up picks indicated by asterisk (*); picks against the spread in parentheses (x). And no, don't bet the farm on these picks; they're just for my amusement and your aggravation. Or vice versa. We'll see how it turns out, now, won't we?
Kansas City* (-12.5)
N.Y. Jets (+3)
N.Y. Giants (+4)