With the real games starting this coming Saturday, what ended up happening was that 3 of the 4 of these final match-ups will be the same match-ups that we will be seeing this coming weekend. The teams lined up are as follows:
NY Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals
*Indianapolis Colts, San Diego, New Orleans Saints, and Minnesota Vikings with a 1st round bye.
Even though these are the folks who potentially have a shot at winning the championship, there are a couple of honorable mentions that I would like to give out before we get to who wins real stuff...
Houston Texans: They finished this season 9-7 today after defeating the Patriots 34-27. This would be the first time they finished over .500 since they entered the League in 2002. Then they decided to do it against the Pats, while also almost beating the Colts earlier on in the season. The Texans also almost made the playoffs for the first time, doing their part to win, and only needed the Jets to lose to the Bengals tonight. Their QB Matt Schaub has had more passing yards than anyone else this season as well. Even though Houston is staying at home this season, they've come a long way, so watch out in the next few years.
Atlanta Falcons: I didn't realize this until it was pointed out, but the Falcons never had back-to-back winning seasons until last season's 11-5 record and this season's 9-7 record. Not even during the Vick days did the team have 2 consecutive over-.500 seasons. But regardless, Matt Ryan however has silently improved year by year and has made the Falcons competitive. It might have been more noticeable had the Saints not overshadowed their division with pretending to go undefeated throughout the season. Nonetheless, Atlanta won't be a team to be reconciled with, especially if the balance of power allows only 1 team from the NFC East in the future.
Carolina Panthers: They were not over .500 this year, or even in the running for a playoff spot. But even after their atrocious start to the year, the Panthers finish the season 8-8. They could have chosen to try and fight the Lions and the Rams for the #1 draft pick. They could have fired coach John Fox for losing, or the players could have resigned and finished poorly. But the Panthers stayed with it, and played hard in their final games - including beating Minnesota 26-7, and giving the Giants the business and taking them out the playoffs essentially by a score of 41-9. I will say, however, that Jake Delhomme's days might be over in Carolina.
Kyle Orton: And finally, I would like to give honorable mention to Mr. Kyle Orton, QB of the Denver Broncos. How the hell this man has remained in the NFL, is beyond me. It's not even like he's been in and out of starting for teams, but since he was starter for the Bears, he has been named a starting QB. In my mind, after playing at Purdue, he was chillen on the street, and Da Bears came around and asked him to toss a football. He does. And then they were like, you have a pretty decent spiral and you can throw far. We need a new QB since Grossman didn't work out. Come with us. And that was how Mr. Orton became an NFL QB. Then he showed that he failed, and then went to Denver. Only to not be the biggest reason Denver fails, because in fact their coach took that honor. Mr. Josh McDaniels chose to constantly call out his players, especially his personal nemesis, WR Brandon Marshall, and refused to coach the team properly. Thus, Kyle Orton got away with being a failure, and he will probably remain the Broncos' starter. Gosh man, how do you do it? You go, boy!
The Honorable Honorable Mention goes to Aaron Rodgers. Not just because I want to put a picture of him up here, but because he was able to have the 4th highest QB rating this season, and get his team to the playoffs, AND throw for only 7 INTs (2nd lowest) with the offensive line he had. Sure, he was only sacked like, 50 times, along with being rushed and hit and hurried and whatever other action done to him by opposing defenses... but he definitely got his team where they needed to be, throwing for 30 touchdowns and allowing them to have a shot at the Super Bowl. What a stud... QB.
I guess as a side honor, we can congratulate the St. Louis Rams on the #1 pick, and the Detroit Lions for having 3 wins on the year....
... Oh and the Cleveland Browns for having new life - 4 straight wins and Mike Holmgren as their new president. Maybe life won't be so bad in the Dog Pound...
...And I am leaving the Washington Redskins out of this. They've endured enough this year.
Many people I have noticed feel as though most of the playoff teams completely mailed it in this last game of the season, knowing that they were going to the playoffs the following weekend i.e. the Eagles, Bengals, Patriots, and the obvious ones, the Saints and the Colts.
Of course that was the case with the Colts, who oh-so upset the hell out of the world when they mailed in their season the 2nd to final week of the season, and to a degree, the Saints, although I do think the Saints' first 2 loses were genuine. Either way, I agree, some teams did put it away and left it for the playoffs.
But if you seriously think the Eagles didn't want home-field advantage, I don't know what you're smoking but it must be good. Dallas, having exorcised the December/late season demons this season to regain their NFC East champ status, has a good shot of repeating a win on Saturday. Of course, I wouldn't say the Cowboys will shut out the Eagles, but the Cowboys have shown that they might be able to get over that playoff game hump. We will see.
The Bengals and Jets game could also be a mail in. I might have to agree with that one somewhat, seeing as the Jets wouldn't have scored that many points had Cincinnati really tried. But the Jets do have a lot of confidence and momentum riding into the playoffs. They have a pretty decent defense, and with one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, they might be able to do the "impossible" (according to now Chad JOHNSON again) and stop the Bengals offense, the way they got to the playoffs.
I hope that the Colts didn't forget to play football, because even though I'm still baffled at how the world got so upset at their blatant refusal to have an undefeated season, I still am not sure how the way their last two games are going to help them. While I don't personally feel like an NFL team cheated me of something I should have, I am concerned for the fact that the Colts are probably facing more pressure to win the Super Bowl than had they not tried their antics to "rest players". Having technically 3 weeks off before the playoffs is not always a good thing.
Oh, you want predictions? Very quickly, I will call the winners of the 1st round of the NFL playoffs: Bengals, Cowboys, Ravens, and the Packers. Kind of arbitrary, right?
Hope you enjoyed this NFL season as much as I did. I thought it was one of the more entertaining years in football recently. Definitely looking forward to the playoffs now. May the best team win!