A few years ago – a few more than I care to remember, actually, as it was 1986 – there was a football match between Coventry City and Everton. It was the last game of the season and was, for some reason, being played so late in May that it was after the FA Cup final. Everton had nothing to play for. Coventry needed a win to avoid relegation. Everton turned up with pretty much a reserve side, Coventry won easily and there was, by genteel English standards, uproar.
In the world of the NFL, this sort of thing happens all the time. Which I forgot when making my predictions last week. The result of which was that the Colts only played some of their star players for half their game against the Titans, which was enough for Tennessee to win 16-10 and edge the Cleveland Browns out of the playoffs. Not a murmur of protest; that teams already in the playoffs will give their stars some down time in the last games of the regular season is almost taken as read.
Not that this made any difference to the Cowboys, who were simply dreadful against the Redskins, even with Tony Romo on the pitch and receiver Terry Glenn playing his first game back from injury. The Redskins ran out easy 27-6 winners, in doing so clinching a playoff spot ahead of the Vikings, who imploded against the Broncos and lost 22-19 in overtime.
Story of the week, though, was that the Patriots didn’t rest any of their stars against the Giants. Good job, too, as they only just won 38-35 – having at one point been 21-3 down. In doing so, they became the first team ever to win all 16 games of the regular season (the previous unbeaten team, the Dolphins in ’72, only played 14 games). Tom Brady beat Peyton Manning’s record of 49 touchdown passes in a season and Randy Moss caught 23 of the 50 to break the record for most touchdown passes caught in a season. They also set the record for most points scored by one team during a season. You’d be mad to bet against them winning the Superbowl now. In 1942 the Bears won every game they played and then lost the AFC Championship one, but there seems very little chance of the Patriots making that mistake.
All of which means that, on Saturday, Seattle and Washington will reprise their 2005 playoff game and Jacksonville will visit a Pittsburgh team that is fast running out of fit players. On Sunday the Giants go to Tampa Bay whilst San Diego entertain Tennessee. For all of these teams, THIS is their Superbowl – you simply cannot see any of the winners beating the Patriots, Packers, Colts or Cowboys the weekend after.
Plenty of other news this week:
- Brian Westbrook of the Eagles set team records for career catches and rushing yards during their last game of the season, but other results didn’t go their way despite a 17-9 home win over the Bills and so their season is over. Marv Levy resigned as the Bills’ general manager after their loss;
- Chicago ended the Saints’ playoff hopes with a 33-25 win that was easier than the results suggest. In the process, Devin Hester beat his own NFL record for kick returns in a season, a 65 yarder taking his season tally to 6 and his career total to 11. In two seasons. The NFL record in a career is 13;
- The Browns beat the 49ers 20-7 but still missed the playoffs. Remarkably, they have announced that Derek Anderson, who set a modern day record for touchdown passes for the team this season, can leave for another club – Chicago lead the running. Which might explain why Brady Quinn finally got some game time on Sunday;
- The Baltimore Ravens beat the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Steelers, who rested a number of key players, but it wasn’t enough to save coach Brian Billick’s job after a 5-11 season;
- Bill Parcells’ shakeup of the Dolphins began when he sacked general manager Randy Mueller after their 38-25 loss to the Bengals, giving them a 1-15 record for the season. Parcells was widely expected to install his own son-in-law as GM, but for some reason he wouldn’t leave the Patriots (where he holds the same post) so he hired Jeff Ireland from the Cowboys instead;
- Small consolation for the Dolphins will be that, after their worst season ever, they will have the very first pick in the 2008 Draft. Unfortunately, they can only choose one new player and not the 45 they seem to need;
- Tennessee QB Vince Young is a doubt for their playoff game on Sunday after tearing a quadriceps muscle;
- Meanwhile, the Jag’s Fred Taylor has already criticised the state of the Seelers’ pitch ahead of their game on Saturday. Nothing like getting your excuses in first, but the Steelers will be missing no fewer than 8 first choice players and have at least another 8 carrying injuries which they probably shouldn’t be playing with, so depite Taylor’s (uncharacteristic) whining, the Jags will be hot favourites;
- The Giants, on the other hand, will just be hoping to win. Neither New York team has won a postseason game since 2000;
- The Panthers beat the Buccaneers (also resting key players for this weekend). Vinny Testaverde took the final snap of the game to end his career (allegedly) in the city where he began 20 years ago;
- An 11 year old boy who has been wearing the same Brett Favre jersey since getting it for Christmas four years ago finally made it to his first NFL game on Sunday. Unfortunately for him, the Old Man hardly played in Green Bay’s easy 34-13 win over the Lions. Fortunately for the rest of us, the jersey has been washed every other day of the 1466 days of consecutive wear it has received;
- Michael Vick’s house is up for sale – a snip at $1.1M;
- Seven people were hurt in an accident on an escalator as the crowd tried to leave Giants Stadium after the game against the Patriots. Three key Giants players – centre Shaun O’Hara, plus defensive players Kawika Mitchell and Sam Maddison – were also injured during the game and are major doubts for this weekend;
- As it it wasn’t obvious from what has been said above, the end of season coaching carnage has begun. If you thought football in England was bad, remember that each NFL team has a head coach, a general manager and about 8 other coaches of various types – think of the England rugby side under Clive Woodward and you’ll get the idea. The Chiefs, Lions and Bengals have all fired people this week and more will surely follow before the month is too much older. A bigger surprise, though, is that the Niner’s coach Mike Nolan (no, not the one from Bucks Fizz) keeps his job after their disappointing season – one in which they have gone through four starting quarterbacks without ever looking like beating anyone;
- Tony Gonzales of the Chiefs set another record at the weekend, beating the mark for number of catches by a tight end. He broke the record for touchdowns by a tight end earlier in the year. How long he will hold either mark for if Tony Romo and Jason Witten continue their love-in in Dallas is anyone’s guess;
- Over in Denver, the lightbulbs had barely cooled on the spotlights before Javon Walker was insisting that he didn’t want to ask for a move, but he didn’t see his future being with the Broncos. Which isn’t asking for a move at all, honest;
- At the other extreme, Broncos veteran Matt Lepsis has announced his retirement after 11 seasons with the club. This was despite having two more years on his contract, so he is passing up $9m dollars simply because he feels he isn’t playing well enough any more;
- One bit of good news for the Vikings this week: Adrian Peterson won Rookie of the Year, despite not really doing anything since about week 11;
- Things that make you go ‘ow’: Titans tight end Bo Scaife will miss the playoffs. He has a lacerated liver;
- Clubman of the year: Bengals QB Carson Palmer, asked this week if he thought the club’s coaches could help them improve on this season’s disappointing 7-9 finish, replied “I don’t think so”. Sometimes you can be too honest…
That’s it. See you after this weekend’s games have sorted out who next weekend’s sacrificial lambs will be