Start the freaking playoffs already.
That’s the attitude most teams seemed to have in a mundane week 17. With playoff qualifications secured, most contenders began the New Year trotting out backups and has-beens. While some teams stormed into the playoffs despite featuring second-stringers (New England, Pittsburgh, the Jets), many seemed content to back in with weak efforts against inferior opponents (Baltimore, Indianapolis, the Chiefs). No team looked worse than the defending champion Saints, who were thoroughly outplayed by the Buccaneers on all sides of the ball, although Saints fans will take solace in an easy first round matchup against the annoying Seahawks.
Indeed the most drama happened off the field, as the league saw a bloodier than usual purge of coaching staffs. Highlights of the carnage include:
— Tom Cable potentially stands to be kicked out of Oakland despite leading the silver and black to a respectable 8-8. Cable may have lost his job because Oakland earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to go 6-0 in their division, yet miss the playoffs. Or because Al Davis is batshit crazy.
— John Fox being ousted from Carolina before gametime, yet still being forced to coach the game.
— Eric Mangini, likely going out in style with a 41-9 beatdown at the hands of the Steelers.
— Marvin Lewis, topping everyone with the creative “You can’t fire me, I quit” maneuver even though every Bengals fan in the world wants both him and Carson Palmer out.
If anything, this is likely on the first round of firings, with Jeff Fisher, Tony Sparano and Norv Turner potentially on the chopping block and not to mention potential foolish acts of ego from Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder.
On the football field, there were still meaningful games in the NFC, where the Giants needed a win in Washington and a Green Bay loss to salvage their season. The Giants defense forced four turnovers and the year’s longest play from scrimmage, a 92 yard Mario Manningham reception allowed New York to hang on.
But the Packers wouldn’t oblige. To their credit, or perhaps foolishly, the Bears played their starters the whole game, despite being locked into the two seed. They made it tough on the Packers offense, but couldn’t score enough to knock their rivals out of the game. Finally in the fourth quarter, Aaron Rogers and Greg Jennings were able to connect on enough big plays to give Green Bay the lead. A few Jay Cutler sacks and turnovers later, and Green Bay was headed for the postseason.
Joining the Pack are the aforementioned Seahawks, who outlasted the Rams in a boring, defensive affair in the “marquee” game of the week. The Hawks made history of the wrong sort, being the first sub .500 team to qualify for the postseason. As punishment for this embarrassment, commissioner Roger Goodell rulesd that all Seattle “NFC West Champion” merchandise will be sent to Africa in lieu of distribution to players, coaches and fans.
— Brett Favre retired. Again.
— Your leading NFL rusher: Arian Foster, who ended up with the best season ever by an undrafted back. If you bet on that this preseason, you’re buying The Crew quite a few tequila shots at SXSW this year.
— Your leading NFL receiver: Roddy White. After a shaky start to his career, White has developed into a true stud and the key to the number one seed Falcons.
— Leading the NFL in interceptions: Ed Reed. Despite missing this first six games of the year. Although admittedly, he does get to play Carson Palmer twice a year.