December 29, 2016
Week 17, the final week of the NFL’s regular season, is finally here and there is not a whole lot of drama in regards to playoff berths.
Playoff drama, except for a few things, is basically over.
In the AFC, seeds two (Oakland) and five (Kansas City) could flip depending on outcomes this weekend. New England and the AFC West winner (Oakland or Kansas City) will get the first-round byes, with the Patriots clinching the top seed with a win or an Oakland loss next Sunday. Pittsburgh will be the third seed and Houston four. The second-place AFC West team is in line to be seeded fifth, while Miami makes its first playoff appearance in eight years. The Dolphins’ reward, likely, is a wild-card game in Pittsburgh. Miami could move into the fifth seed with a home win over the Patriots and a Chiefs loss.
In the NFC, Green Bay and Detroit will give us some drama. The winner on Sunday night will capture the NFC North. The loser could be the sixth seed if the Washington Redskins lose against visiting New York Giants. Dallas has locked up the top seed. A home win for Atlanta against New Orleans will make the Falcons the second seed. Seattle and the Packers-Lions winner round out the top four seeds. The Giants will be the five seed with either Washington or the Green Bay/Detroit loser being the sixth seed.
Quarterback play during the playoffs is vital to a team’s success. It this adage holds rue you have to like New England and Pittsburgh to advance to the AFC Finals. The Patriots have Tom Brady and the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger. The other four signalcallers are Tom Savage (Houston), Matt McGloin or Connor Cook (Oakland), Matt Moore or Ryan Tannehill (Miami) and Alex Smith (Kansas City). Not exactly the most talented group of playoff quarterbacks.
The Super Bowl and the playoff are really going to be different this year. For the first time since 2003, neither Super Bowl team from the previous year will be in the playoffs the following year. Carolina and Denver were 27-5 in the regular season in 2015; this year they’re a combined 14-16. Both franchises need to take a hard look at their quarterbacks. The Broncos have scored just 23 points in their last three games, all losses. The Panthers have the most inaccurate passer in the NFL in Cam Newton.
Week 16 brought heartache to the Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Derek Carr, a MVP candidate, got knocked out of the Raiders-Colts game Saturday with a broken right fibula. Carr directed Oakland to a stunning 12-3 start. Now the Raiders will go as far as backup Matt McGloin can take them.
Christmas came a day early in Cleveland. The Browns avoided the chance to go 0-16 with the 20-17 win over San Diego. They also moved closer to securing the top overall draft pick in 2017 by virtue of the 49ers breaking a 13-game losing streak with a win at Los Angeles.
Teams the opposition hope they do not run into during playoff action likely include Pittsburgh and Green Bay. The Steelers are the only team in the playoffs with a top-five quarterback, runningback, and wide receiver. Green Bay has won five straight by an average of 13 points a game.
Just a thought about the Cleveland Browns quarterback situation. The RGIII experiment failed miserably and no one else stepped up for the Browns so you can pretty much count on the franchise taking a quarterback with the number-one pick in the 2017 draft. A Tar Heel could come to the rescue as scouts are ranking Mitch Trubisky as one of the top few quarterbacks in the draft. And guess what? Trubisky played high school football at Mentor (Ohio) High, 24 miles east of the Browns’ field along the shore of Lake Erie. He’d clearly be a popular pick.
My NFL Coach of the Year is Jack Del Rio of the Oakland Raiders. He inherited a team that finished 4-12, 4-12, and 3-13 over the past three seasons (11-37). Oakland, at 12-3, has won more games this season than it did over the prior three campaigns.
My MVP is Tom Brady. I could care less that he missed four games due to Deflategate. At the tender age of 39, Brady has the third-highest rating of his career (110.7) and an astounding 25-to-2 touchdown-to-interception differential. The Patriots are 10-1 in games he’s started.
It may be time for the New Orleans Saints and head coach Sean Payton part ways. I know Payton has a Super Bowl title with the Saints but going 38-40 over the past five years while having one of the game’s top five quarterbacks in Drew Brees does not look good. Payton has been in New Orleans for 13 years now. The Saints may respond to a new leadership.