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Judgements: Being a wild card team isn't so bad in AFC this year

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

1. Good news, Pittsburgh fans. Your team may not win the AFC North, but this is the year to be an AFC wild card. I know, I know, that means the Steelers go on the road. Big deal. You go to Denver ... or Oakland ... and tell me you wouldn't want to play either right now. But look at the AFC's sixth seed, currently the Bengals. That team might have it better. It gets to play the Texans, and, yes, Houston has a problem. I mean, if it can't beat Indianapolis, how does it win a playoff game? It doesn't.

2. The best team in the NFC East isn't the New York Giants. It's the Philadelphia Eagles ... only they're not going anywhere but the next tee after next Sunday.

3. I guess that takes care of the speculation involving Norv Turner's future in San Diego.

4. Now, when I hear Silent Night, all I can think of is that long flight home from Detroit to San Diego.

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5. There is no speculation about Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris. When you drop nine straight and get blown out in successive weeks by Jacksonville, Dallas and Carolina, it's time to say goodnight.

6. It wasn't exactly a shock that the league flexed next Sunday's Dallas-Giants game to an 8:20 p.m. start -- basically because of the two markets involved and, of course, because of the playoff implications. But NBC had this game just two weeks ago. Granted, it's one of the day's best contests, but what about, say, Baltimore at Cincinnati? That has playoff implications, too.

7. Denver had nine turnovers in Tim Tebow's first eight starts and was 7-1. They've had seven in his last two, including four interceptions Saturday. That, folks, explains why they haven't put the AFC West away yet.

8. I'll tell you why I'm not overly confident the Giants beat Dallas if Tony Romo is handicapped or, worse, sidelined. Because they lost to Rex Grossman ... twice, no less ... and Vince Young.

9. Here's why Bill Cowher makes no sense for San Diego: Because he's tight with former Bolts' coach Marty Schottenheimer. After what Schottenheimer went through why would he recommend that job to a good friend? Answer: He wouldn't.

10. Tell me the last time the NFL's two top seeds had the league's 31st and 32nd ranked defenses. That's what makes me nervous about both Green Bay and New England.

11. The more I see David Akers kick field goals, the more I wonder why in the world Philadelphia didn't keep him.

12. Strange as it seems, one of next weekend's most significant games involves two of the league's worst teams. That would be Indianapolis-Jacksonville, with the Colts one loss away from Andrew Luck. Just lose, baby.

13. If the Rams wind up with the first pick of the draft what do they do? My guess: Sell it to the highest bidder. They need offensive linemen and wide receivers, and they need them bad.

14. Quick question for Seattle executive Scot McCloughan: What happened?

15. Pittsburgh should sit Ben Roethlisberger next week, too. It won't need him to beat Cleveland. More important, it will need him to go deep in the playoffs.


1. Detroit making the playoffs. It's been over a decade since the Lions have been anything but dreadful, but it was worth the wait. Congratulations, Jim Schwartz. Easier to clinch it at home vs. San Diego than go to Green Bay next weekend.

2. Cam Newton's chances of winning the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Newton takes it in a landslide over Andy Dalton, with Newton producing 34 touchdowns this season. Staggering. Sorry, Ben Roethlisberger, you were wrong ... but then you don't have a vote.

3. Jerome Simpson's touchdown vault. I haven't seen a landing like that since San Diego's Gary Anderson stuck a mid-air somersault 25 years ago vs. Miami in the 1986 season opener. "I stuck the landing like a gymnast," said Simpson. "It was pretty awesome, I thought." I'll second that.

4. Richard Seymour's reach. Seymour is the guy who saved Oakland's season by blocking two Ryan Succop field goals -- including a 49-yarder at the end of the fourth quarter that would've won the game.

5. Marshawn Lynch's fourth-quarter run. So what makes a 4-yard run special? This: It marked the first time anyone ... anyone ... beat the 49ers this year for a rushing score.


1. That gawd-awful Eli Manning interception. It's first-and-10 at the Giants 20. They're up by 13. They just stopped the Jets on a 13-play drive. And there are just under nine minutes left. So what do you do? What you don't do is risk an interception by throwing the ball. Of course, that's exactly what the Giants did, with the ball falling into linebacker David Harris' arms. Coach Tom Coughlin called it "a crusher," and it could've been. The Jets scored on the next possession, narrowing the gap to 6. "We had a run called," said Coughlin, "and they had too many people in the box." I don't care. They never should have thrown the ball. "You don't expect it to be intercepted," said Manning. "Unfortunate right there." No, dumb is more like it.

2. The middle of San Diego's defense. If Santonio Holmes got a look at it I can only imagine what he'd say. I know what the Lions must have said when they watched videotape: Hallelujah! On their first play, quarterback Matt Stafford threw a ball up for grabs down the middle, and it became a 46-yard Calvin Johnson catch. That was the beginning of the end for a defense that couldn't keep tight end Brandon Pettigrew from catching nine passes and couldn't make a decisive stop.

3. Kansas City's field-goal protection. I can understand Seymour blocking one kick; but two?

4. The Jets' failure to recognize Victor Cruz. I'm not talking about covering him; I'm talking about knowing who he is. Cornerback Darrelle Revis last week said he had no clue, and if you believe that I have tickets to sell you to the Rams' playoff game. Cruz not only is one of two 1,000-yard receivers for the Giants; he's the guy who punctured the Jets for 164 yards receiving, including a 99-yard catch-and-run that put the Giants ahead to stay. "I thought he was the one guy who could give us that kind of play," said Coughlin, "and he certainly did give us that kind of play. We all got a tremendous lift when he went coast to coast."

5. Anything about St. Louis' offense. The Rams have 15 touchdowns all season, for crying out loud, or less than half as many as Cam Newton. Worse, they're on pace for their second lowest output since World War II and have been blanked twice in the past four weeks.


1. New York Jets' coach Rex Ryan. He's the guy who proclaimed his club not only better than the Giants this season; but better than the Giants the past three. Well, time for a retraction. "Clearly, I was wrong," said Ryan. "They were definitely the better team this year. I will take the responsibility. It is on my shoulders, and it should be. That's just the way it is."

2. Jets' wide receiver Plaxico Burress. He said he wanted to score three or four touchdowns. He scored none. "They know me," he said of the Giants. "I think they know what kind of player I am. I think they were weary of me going down the field and making plays. They weren't going to let it happen." Or something like that.

3. Jets' wide receiver Santonio Holmes. He's the guy who shredded the Giants' secondary last week, saying they couldn't tackle and that there were "big plays" to made against them. Yeah, sure. The Jets didn't have a gain longer than 15 yards.

4. Arizona wide receiver Early Doucet. He was wide open for a game-winning pass on the Cards' last drive, but he tripped ... over the goal line ... and John Skelton's pass fell harmlessly. "That's a play I normally make," said Doucet. I would hope so.

5. Houston coach Gary Kubiak. I can understand losing to Carolina. Hey, it happens. But Indianapolis? Please.


 How soon before the Tuck Rule gets changed?

 Is there anyone in the AFC who can beat Green Bay, San Francisco or New Orleans?

 How much confidence do you have in Baltimore next weekend in Cincinnati?

 How much confidence do you have in Denver, period?

 What is wrong with Houston?


2 – Quarterbacks who threw 90-plus touchdown passes Saturday

2 – Tuck rule calls in the Giants-Jets game, both involving Mark Sanchez

9 – Straight games with a Rob Bironas field goal of 40 or more yards

10 – Times clubs have come back from 17-point deficits to win this season

36Matthew Stafford TD passes, a Detroit record

59Mark Sanchez passes on Sunday

41,273 – Paid attendance in Cincinnati

45,112 – Paid attendance in Buffalo


1. Green Bay

2. New Orleans

3. San Francisco

4. New England

5. Baltimore


32. St. Louis

31. Indianapolis

30. Minnesota

29. Tampa Bay

28. Cleveland


 Baltimore @ Cincinnati ... Maybe they can fill the house for a change.

 Kansas City @ Denver ... Now or never, it better be Tebow Time.

 Dallas @ N.Y. Giants ... Perfect way to end the regular-season.


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