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Judgements: Lions' loss means Falcons luck out with fifth seed

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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1. Next to Indianapolis, the happiest guys have to be the Atlanta Falcons. With Detroit's loss, they become the NFC's fifth seed, which means they avoid getting butchered in New Orleans next weekend. I know, the Falcons said they wanted to play the Saints again. Sure. They would've gotten torched, just like the first time. Now, it's Detroit that gets wasted.

2. Indianapolis didn't lose Sunday. The AFC South did. The Colts' 14th defeat guarantees that Andrew Luck goes to Indianapolis, which means the rest of the division has to defend Peyton Manning and/or Luck for the next 10-15 years. Congratulations, Indianapolis. You earned it.

3. Tell me the NFL wouldn't like to see a Green Bay-Pittsburgh rematch in Super Bowl XLVI. That way, the league can satisfy all those displaced and angry seat holders from Super Bowl XLV -- giving them a chance to see their teams all over again ... only this time with the league picking up the tab.

4. This is the year to be an AFC wild card. Houston and Denver are the home teams next weekend, and what do they have in common? Uh-huh, each lost its last three and look as if they won't win again. Congratulations, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. You're in the right place at the right time.

5. Detroit should be upset with Sunday's loss. If you can't beat Green Bay's backups ... and if you can't keep Matt Flynn from shredding you for 6 touchdown passes ... then how are you going to beat New Orleans? Answer: You're not.

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6. New Orleans may be the best team in football, but it doesn't go to the Super Bowl if it goes through Green Bay. Reason: Dome teams don't win conference championship games when they're outdoors.

7. And that, folks, is why Santonio Holmes never, never, ever should be anyone's team captain.

8. More evidence that the NFL should start making rules to help defenses, not scoring: Prior to this season, there were two quarterbacks in league history to break 5,000 yards passing; this year there were three to make it ... including one (Matthew Stafford) who didn't make the Pro Bowl.

9. Matt Flynn just earned himself a bundle of money. He's a free agent after this season, and he goes to the highest bidder.

10. If San Diego's Philip Rivers doesn't fumble that last-minute snap in Kansas City back in October -- a play where he basically was going to take a knee -- the Chargers win the AFC West. Sorry, but I just had to mention it.

11. Once he gets fired by St. Louis, Steve Spagnuolo becomes the hottest candidate for defensive coordinator -- with Philadelphia and the New York Giants the most logical choices.

12. I'll tell you who my Executive of the Year is: Cincinnati owner Mike Brown. I'm serious. Not only does he find his franchise wide receiver and quarterback in the same draft; he trades away a quarterback who wasn't going to play another down for him and gains a first-and-second-round draft pick in return -- effectively, setting up the Bengals for the future. It's not often Brown is applauded, but he should be now.

13. With that loss, make Mike Shanahan 11-21 in two seasons with Washington. For the record, there hasn't been one coach since Norv Turner left in 2000 to have a winning record under the ownership of Daniel Snyder. Marty Schottenheimer was 8-8. Steve Spurrier 12-20. Joe Gibbs 30-34. Jim Zorn 12-20. Now, Shanahan. Draw your own conclusions.

14. Tony Romo didn't lose that game for Dallas, but he didn't win it, either, and, yeah, that's a problem. The guy is 8-15 in games after Nov. 30, and that’s not a line you want on your resume if you want to be considered a top quarterback.

15. The best team in the AFC West isn't Denver. It's the Detroit Lions. They were 4-0 against the division, outscoring their four opponents 159-50.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Philadelphia's chances as the 2012 preseason favorite in the NFC East. It took three months, but the Eagles finally got their act together in December, winning their last four by a margin of 125-46. Too bad they didn't make the playoffs. They could've pushed Green Bay. I mean it.

2. That 21-play drive by Miami that concluded with the go-ahead touchdown. Miami covered 94 yards, chewed up 12:29 and converted six third downs. That's not supposed to happen to the Jets. But it did, and, yeah, I know, David Harris wasn't in there. But it was Matt Frickin' Moore, for crying out loud.

3. Norv Turner bowing out with a lopsided defeat of Oakland. Turner almost surely is out in San Diego, but he and the Chargers showed us what might've been with that lopsided defeat of Oakland -- a win, by the way, that kept the Raiders from winning the AFC West. Beautiful. Oakland fired Turner after the 2005 season, and he responds by pulling the plug on the Raiders' season six years later ... in Oakland, no less.

4. That diving one-handed catch by Larry Fitzgerald to set up Arizona's game-winning field goal. Fitzgerald is one of the game's best receivers, and he proved it again with a sensational grab -- stretching to snag the ball with his right hand and pull it into his chest as he was going to the ground.

5. Green Bay sitting down Aaron Rodgers. Weeks ago I said I wouldn't risk playing him in a meaningless game, not with Ndamukong Suh on the other side of the ball. Apparently, the Packers agreed. Smart move.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. Anyone's chances vs. New Orleans or Baltimore at home. Neither lost there this season. In fact, the Ravens won 18 of their last 19 home games, and the Saints put up 40 or more points on five of their eight opponents at the Superdome -- outscoring their last four by a margin of 170—74. One of those clubs was Detroit, their first-round opponent next weekend.

2. The Rams' failure to cover Michael Crabtree on San Francisco's fake field goal. I mean, don't you gotta figure there's something wrong with this picture if Crabtree -- a wide receiver -- is in on field-goal protection, right? It's mistakes like these, people, that make a coaching change in St. Louis a certainty.

3. Mark Sanchez's last two fourth quarters. They included four interceptions, one fumble, one safety and, oh yeah, two defeats. I feel for the guy, but it's performances like those that will have New York tabloids labeling him "Broadway Schmo" again.

4. Raheem Morris' chances of making it past Monday as Tampa Bay's head coach. Sorry, but that's what happens when you lose your last 10 games and get blown out by Jacksonville and Carolina. Worse, Atlanta put up 42 in the first quarter-and-a-half Sunday. Morris said last week he deserves to be retained. My question: Based on what … 2010? Sorry, the NFL is all about what's happening now, and what happened the second half of this season was that Tampa Bay tuned Morris out.

5. Carolina's defensive lapse with seven seconds left in the first half. The Panthers are tied at 17, and the Saints are on the Carolina 42. So what do you think is going to happen? Uh-huh, Drew Brees looks for the big hit on a deep pass. That's not exactly a secret. So how, then, does Carolina's Sherrod Martin let Marques Colston get behind him? I don't think Martin knows, either. Fox reporter Pam Oliver said that Panthers' coach Ron Rivera told her the play "made me want to vomit." I feel your pain, Ron.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. Dallas coach Jason Garrett. According to cornerback Terence Newman, Garrett on Saturday gave "the greatest speech I heard in all my years of playing football." Then, his team produced a stinker of a game reminiscent of the 2008 finale when they got waxed in Philadelphia, 44-6 – a victory that sent the Eagles to the playoffs. Too bad Garrett didn’t save that speech for Sunday. The Cowboys could’ve used something. They flat-out stunk.

2.Carolina's Steve Smith. Apparently, he's got a beef with New Orleans coach Sean Payton, but take it up with Payton privately. Instead, Smith runs up to him and starts barking, which is great ... except Payton responded as he should -- by drilling you and your teammates. One of these days Smith may grow up.

3. The Jets' Santonio Holmes. Take your pick: He either was benched or took himself out in the fourth quarter. Coach Rex Ryan said he took himself out; Holmes said he was lifted. All I know is that cameras caught him yelling at someone in the huddle, with reports identifying the teammate as tackle Wayne Hunter, before he took his place on the bench. "It was definitely boiling in the huddle," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson. "Guys had had enough of it at that point ... If tough for guys to follow a captain who behaves in that manner." Translation: Holmes was ticked that he had only pass thrown at him and threw a tantrum. You wonder why Pittsburgh gave up on the guy? Now you know.

4. Oakland coach Hue Jackson. He swung the deal for Carson Palmer, giving away the store in what he said was "the greatest trade in the history of the NFL." I don't think so, Hue. Palmer lost three of his last four starts, had three more interceptions this season (16) than touchdown passes and the Raiders failed to make the playoffs.

5. Houston tight end Joel Dreesen. He jumped prior to the Texans' two-point conversion, costing them five yards and crippling their chances for making it. I loved the idea of going for two. I mean, Houston had no interest in taking a game that meant nothing to it to OT. But it had a better shot from the 2.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 What do the Jets do with Santonio Holmes now?

 What are the chances of a Harbaugh-Harbaugh Super Bowl?

 Which Ryan had the worse New Year’s Day -- Rex or Rob?

 What is Philadelphia's first off-season move?

 Why does it take New England one half to wake up?

NUMBERS THAT MEAN SOMETHING

0 -- Teams with winning records that New England beat this year

2 -- Mark Sanchez passes of 40 or more yards this season, a league low

8 -- Games where Cleveland failed to score more than 13 points

11 -- Times this year a club rallied from 17 points down to win

15 -- Jordy Nelson touchdown catches this season

18-2 -- Tom Brady vs. Buffalo

40 -- Tampa Bay turnovers this season

49 -- Unanswered New England points

163 -- Oakland penalties, an NFL record

191 -- Ray Rice yards rushing

3:44 -- Time of the Green Bay-Detroit game

1,000 -- Combined passing yards by Matt Stafford and Matt Flynn

MY TOP FIVE

1. Green Bay

2. New Orleans

3. San Francisco

4. New England

5. Baltimore

MY BOTTOM FIVE

32. St. Louis

31. Indianapolis

30. Minnesota

29. Tampa Bay

28. Cleveland

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