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Week 17 Judgements: Pick against Pats at your own peril

by | Senior Writer

1. If you're a believer in momentum -- and I am -- then you must love the New England Patriots. Not only did they win their last eight; they won four of their last five by an average of 33.2 points, outscoring opponents 153-20 -- including defeats of three playoff opponents, Chicago, Green Bay and the New York Jets.

2. The way I see it, only two teams can go into Foxborough and beat New England -- Baltimore and Indianapolis. The Ravens should have beaten the Pats there this season (they lost in OT), and the Colts could have.

3. Bad news for the AFC East: New England's backup wide receivers looked as effective Sunday as the starters, with Julian Edelman, Taylor Price and Brandon Tate averaging over 24 yards a catch.

4. I can't recall a stronger field of wild-card entries for the playoffs. You can make an argument for each to make it to the Super Bowl, with the Jets the longest shot, but at least you can make the argument. The most compelling evidence that the field is deep are the odds for the opening round of the playoffs: Two of the four wild-cards are favorites, with a third (the Jets) 6-2 on the road and the fourth (Green Bay) having already beaten its opponent (Philadelphia) this season. Plus, three of the wildcards have better records than their opponents, while the fourth is tied.

5. If I have a problem with Baltimore it's with the Ravens' defense closing out games -- or not closing them out. Houston last month scored twice on fourth-quarter drives of 99 and 95 yards, pushing Baltimore into overtime. Atlanta beat it with a last-minute 80-yard drive. And Cincinnati came this close to overcoming the Ravens Sunday with a 67-yard drive in the last minute that stalled at the Ravens' 2.

5. Memo to Saints fans: I wouldn't get too worked up about that loss to Tampa Bay. Your team was coming off an emotional Monday night win and pulled its starting quarterback once it was clear Atlanta won the division. I know the Malcolm Jenkins injury is a concern, and New Orleans must play on a short week, but look at it like this: You earned a playoff game vs. Seattle.

6. Yep, that was a beating Jay Cutler absorbed in the second half of Sunday's loss, but why was he in there? The game meant nothing to the Bears. So why risk a serious injury to your starting quarterback? I heard people afterward say how much they "respected" Lovie Smith's decision to try to win, but let's be honest: If Cutler had been seriously hurt, their responses wouldn't be so generous.

7. Tom Brady wins the league MVP, but I can think of two guys not named Michael Vick who should get consideration for second place: Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman. Kansas City was 10-5 with Cassel but couldn't score without him. Heck, it couldn't gain more than 67 yards without him. Then there's Freeman, and all he did the last two weeks was lift the Bucs to critical victories by completing 42 of 52 for 492 yards, with seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 145.67. Oh, yeah, and he punctuated a remarkable year by beating the defending Super Bowl champions at their house.

8. And while we're on the subject, what was Cassel doing in there in the second half vs. Oakland? The poor guy got hammered, too.

The Chiefs' Matt Cassel might not win MVP, but his value has certainly been noticeable when he takes the field. (Getty Images)  
The Chiefs' Matt Cassel might not win MVP, but his value has certainly been noticeable when he takes the field. (Getty Images)  
9. Here's why you better take Indianapolis seriously: The Colts have shored up a previously leaky run defense, much as they did in the 2006 playoffs. Over their last four games they allowed 319 yards rushing, an average of 3.5 yards per attempt and one rushing TD. Oh, yeah, they won all four. Works for me.

10. I can't say enough about the job that Jim Schwartz did in Detroit. He won more games (four) the past month than the Lions won last year, and he did it with second-and-third-string quarterbacks.

11. I guess now we know just how bad a job Mike Singletary did in San Francisco.

12. When you wonder why San Diego didn't make it to the playoffs this season consider this: The Chargers ran 74 players on the field for at least one regular season game, tying the 2005 Arizona Cardinals for most active players in one season. The Cards didn't win that way and neither did the Bolts.

13. The Buffalo Bills had three more turnovers the past two weeks (13) than New England (10) had all season.

14. If I'm Cincinnati I stick with Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Jermaine Gresham and Bernard Scott as Carson Palmer's supporting cast, and to heck with everyone else.

15. Tom Cable should get Coach of the Year consideration for pulling the Raiders to 8-8, yet reports have him out in Oakland. You gotta be kidding me. The man raised the Titanic. Not only were the Raiders undefeated within the division; they broke a string of seven straight seasons where they lost 11 or more games each year. Paint it black, baby.

Five things I like

1. The Patriots benching Wes Welker for a meaningless game. We all saw what happened in last year's season finale. It wasn't going to be déjà vu all over again, and smart move, Bill Belichick.

2. Tampa's call on fourth-and-1 at the New Orleans 18 late in the third quarter, with the Bucs ahead, 13-10. Not only did they go for it, they threw to the end zone ... and scored, with Freeman launching a dead-solid perfect pass off his back foot.

3. Tom Coughlin returning as the Giants' head coach. He won 10 games and restored order to the franchise. So he didn't make the playoffs. He deserves to stick around. The most successful franchises are the most stable, and the Giants are near the head of the class.

4. Charlie Whitehurst delivering Seattle an unlikely playoff. I'm with NBC's Cris Collinsworth: Had Whitehurst stunk again, I'm not sure anyone would've counted on him for anything in 2011. Instead, he extended the Seahawks' season by one week, allowing Matt Hasselbeck to get healthy in the process.

5. Everything about Oakland's Jacoby Ford. The guy can do it all -- run for touchdowns, catch passes for touchdowns, return kicks for touchdowns. In short, he's one of the league's most promising playmakers.

Five things I don't

1. St. Louis' wide receivers. I've seen better hands on the Venus De Milo. Man, oh, man, did they miss Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery.

2. Eric Mangini's chances of surviving the cut in Cleveland. He meets with team president Mike Holmgren Monday, and I can't believe that 41-9 hammering by Pittsburgh nor the four straight losses to end the year, help his cause. Too bad. Mangini did a remarkable job until the last month.

3. The Bears calling timeout immediately prior to a third-and-15 late in the third quarter. They gained the first on a 16-yard pass to Chester Taylor except ... except they inexplicably called timeout from the sidelines just before the snap. Cutler then was sacked for an 11-yard loss on a play that shouldn't have been.

4. Atlanta going for it on fourth-and-3 at the Carolina 4 when it was up 14-0. Kick the field goal, guys. Instead, they tried a pass ... and missed. Guess that was the make-up call for punting away last week's loss to New Orleans.

5. Carolina taking the field goal when it was down 21-0 in John Fox's farewell. That's OK if you're fourth-and-8 at the 28. The Panthers were fourth-and-2 at the Atlanta 5. Please. You have nothing to lose but another game. Makes no sense to me.

Five New Year's resolutions

I, Stevie Johnson, pledge to take sole responsibility for any and all dropped passes. I swear to God.

I, Rex Ryan, make no more predictions, videos or Super Bowl pledges.

I, Norv Turner, promise to find another special-teams coach.

I, Sal Alosi, promise to let someone else plan the next trip.

I, Brett Favre, promise to stay home when/if teammates come calling next August.

Just asking but ...

 Where does Randy Moss play next season?

 What is up with Charlie Weis leaving the Chiefs?

 Where does Donovan McNabb play next season?

 Where next for Marvin Lewis?

 What in the name of Mike Pereira has happened to officiating this season?

Significant numbers

0 -- Johnny Knox catches

9 -- Snaps for Mark Sanchez

10 -- Osi Umenyiora forced fumbles, an NFL record

11 -- Seasons when Peyton Manning won at least 10 games

12 -- Straight games with a Drew Brees interception

13 -- Buffalo turnovers the past two weeks

22 -- Quarterbacks that threw for 3,000 yards this season, most in NFL history

33 -- Matt Ryan wins in his first three seasons, tying Dan Marino for the league record

My top five

1. New England
2. Atlanta
3. Baltimore
4. Pittsburgh
5. New Orleans

My bottom five

32. Carolina
31. Denver
30. Cincinnati
29. Cleveland
28. Buffalo


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