Week 15 finally started to clear up what had been a VERY muddled NFL playoff picture, and also gave us some clarity about certain players and coaches who may be looking for new jobs in 2013. Let’s look at the non-playoff news first; then we’ll break down the postseason situation.
I never had much faith in Mark Sanchez, and have said so in this space for two years. I also never thought Tim Tebow was the answer – whatever he brings as a leader and runner, he simply cannot throw well enough to be an NFL QB. The Jets have made the worst of this situation all season, randomly throwing Tebow into the lineup (as they did Monday) and allowing neither QB to establish anything.
I think we saw the final act of this circus Monday night – Sanchez was absolutely AWFUL, throwing four interceptions in an ugly 14-10 loss to the lowly Titans. Sanchez now has completed just under 55% of his passes in 2012, with 13TDs and 17 INTs – for a fourth-year player, those numbers are terrible and show he’s simply not a starter in the NFL. Unfortunately, he’s owed a guaranteed $8.3 million next season, so Sanchez is likely to be around to hold the clipboard.
I look for big changes in Jet-land – the GM will almost certainly be gone, and I think there’s some chance Rex Ryan also takes the fall for this debacle.
San Diego is another team in trouble – after what should have been a confidence-building win in Pittsburgh, the Chargers totally mailed in their effort last week in a home loss to the 4-9 Panthers. Norv Turner is almost certainly gone, I think GM A.J. smith will also go, and it would not shock me to see QB Philip Rivers sent packing as well. Look for a complete rebuild in San Diego, and continued rumors of a move to Los Angeles in a few years.
Arizona is wasting a great defense and a great wider receiver (Larry Fitzgerald) because their QB situation is the worst in the league. They would make a great landing spot for Rivers or Joe Flacco (more on him in a minute). The rest of the team is built to win now and they need an instant QB fix. There appears to be no sure-thing QB prospects this year in the draft, so look for the Cards to make a strong push via trade or free agency. I think the work coach Ken Whisenhunt has done with the defense will buy him another year in Phoenix.
Baltimore has a real decision to make this spring with pending free-agent QB Joe Flacco – at one point it was almost assured that he’d be re-signed, but his continued issues with accuracy and consistency now make it an open question as to whether the team will make an effort to keep him, especially after the terrible play he’s shown during the Ravens’ three-game losing streak. Unfortunately, with no clear in-house solutions and as a team also built to win now (many of Baltimore’s key players are aging fast), the options are not that great for the Ravens. It looks to me like Baltimore’s window of contention may be closing sooner than expected – I think there’s a decent chance that they end the season on a five-game losing streak headed into the postseason.
Of course, no story of 2012 NFL failure is complete without discussing the Eagles, who are now 4-10 and all but certain to part ways with coach Andy Reid. His tenure is not ending well, but hopefully after the dust settles, Eagle fans will realize just how good Reid was over his 14-year tenure – he made the Eagles a perennial contender from 2000-2010. Reid is likely to succeed when he gets another shot as a head coach. As for the Eagles, it sure looks like rebuild time in Philly – the cupboard is pretty bare, especially on defense.
No team seems more in need of serious change than the KC Chiefs – I hadn’t realized how much their won/loss record has hidden their true talent level lately. Since 2007, the Chiefs have been outscored by more than 100 points every season but 2010, and have failed to score 300 points (which is the bare minimum in the NFL for a competent offense) every season but 2010 as well. This season they will be fortunate to get to 230 points, after only scoring 212 a season ago. The coach took the fall last year – look for the GM to take the fall this time around, and until the Chiefs get serious about finding a QB they will likely continue to struggle.
On to the postseason picture…In the AFC, it’s pretty simple: there are now four teams in, the Colts are 99% certain to make it, and the Steelers and Bengals are fighting for the last slot. The NFC is much more complicated: two divisions are set (Atlanta and Green Bay), the 49ers have clinched a berth, and the Seahawks have the inside track on the top wildcard. There are FIVE teams fighting for the two remaining slots – three NFC East teams are 8-6, as well as the Vikings and Bears. Many of these teams play each other in the next two weeks, so the picture will become a lot clearer…but the teams with the inside track at this point have to be the Redskins and Bears. Washington gets the free-falling Eagles and a home game against Dallas, while Chicago plays the Cards and Lions. Every other contender has a much tougher schedule.
Finally, a note about the Steelers. A lot of fans are upset about this week’s tough OT loss to Dallas. It was a good game with lots of lead changes and big plays, but that loss did not destroy the Steelers’ season in any way. They can still get in by winning the last two games, but if they do not I won’t look back at the Dallas game – I’ll look at losses to Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland, and San Diego (combined record: 29-47). Any team can lose a game or two to poor teams during a given season – but when you lose FOUR such games (and almost lose to KC as well), it’s a recipe for disaster. Good teams DOMINATE inferior competition and hold their own against top teams – the Steelers have not taken care of business, and it would not surprise me at all if they beat Cincy but lose to the Browns the following week.
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.