The NFL’s regular season came to an end yesterday, and the action, as dictated by the league’s creative scheduling, was Exhibit A as to why professional football is the king of the American sports world.

So here’s where things stood coming into yesterday’s games: The Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals had all already qualified for the playoffs in the AFC, while the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles had all already punched their tickets to the postseason. That left only two playoff berths open, both in the AFC, with the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens in the driver’s seat to secure those two spots.  Both teams entered the weekend knowing that all they had to do was win their game in order to make the playoffs.  But a loss by either of those teams would open the door for several other squads, like the Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Denver Broncos.

Inherently dramatic stuff, but the NFL has used its staggered scheduling system to wring even more drama out of its final weekend.  How do they do this?  In their 1 p.m. time slot yesterday, the league scheduled the Houston Texans to play New England and the Pittsburgh Steelers to play the Miami Dolphins.  With a win,  both the Steelers and Texans would still be alive for a playoff berth going into the late afternoon games, and both teams did just that.  So now the Steelers and Texans, and their fans, are now glued to their televisions to watch the late afternoon games, which featured the Baltimore Ravens playing the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs visiting the Denver Broncos, while the night game featured the Jets against the Bengals.  The Texans needed losses by two of the three teams still alive for playoff berths (the Broncos, Ravens, and Jets) in order to qualify for the playoffs, while the Steelers needed all three teams to lose.  So during the 4:15 window, the Ravens, behind a great day by running back Willis McGahee (pictured)  beat the Raiders, but the Broncos lost to the Chiefs. So now, going into the final game of the day (the Jets game against the Bengals), the Ravens had qualified for the postseason, the Steelers were eliminated (thanks to Baltimore’s win) and the Texans were hoping against hope that the Jets would lose.  They did not.  New York crushed a Cincinnati team that looked like they would have rather, all things being equal, not even bothered to play their final meaningless game of the season. (more…)

There is an insignificant Monday Night football game featuring the Cardinals and the 49ers tonight, but in essence, all the important NFL action took place yesterday.  And although big wins were registered by the Eagles, Vikings, Dolphins, Chargers and Patriots, this week’s recap will be dedicated to the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, two teams that remain undefeated at this late stage of the season, despite the fact that neither one is an All-Time great team.  So this week’s recap will be dedicated to these two imposters.

1. The New Orleans Saints ran their record to 13-0 with a 26-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.  For the third time in four weeks, the Saints looked very beatable, as this time the Falcons had the ball, down by three, with two minutes left in the game.  Chris Redman, the Falcons’ back-up quarterback, was good enough to keep Atlanta in the ball game, but was not good enough to win it, as his pass to Jason Snelling on fourth down and 2 on the Falcons’ final drive netted Atlanta only one yard.  So the Saints are 13-0, and they have games remaining against the Cowboys, the Buccaneers, and the Panthers.  And although they will be favored to win each of those games, we would nt be surprised if they lost any of them.  That’s because the Saints have been challenged in each of their last two games against inferior opponents (the Falcons could have won that game, while the Redskins should have beaten the Saints the week before.)  This team has a dynamic offense, but it has a very well-rounded defense — they have no corners (a little football humor there).  The defensive is suspect, and we’ll see if comes up to bite them later in the season.

2. The Indianapolis Colts have this way of jumping on opponents early and then allowing the other team to make a spirited comeback, only to score again late and secure the victory.  The Colts used this formula yet again to dispatch the Denver Broncos. The Colts got up 21-0 early behind two touchdown catches by Dallas Clark (pictured), then allowed the Broncos to score the next 16 points before scoring late to ice the game.  Indy won 28-16, despite allowing Brandon Marshall to catch 21 balls in the game (an NFL record.)  We don’t really have a problem with Colts pedigree as they chase perfection.  (more…)

Ladies and other non-sports fans: you officially have your Saturdays back.

College football’s regular season shuffled off this mortal coil last week (with the exception of Saturday’s Army-Navy game), so expect your sports fan to be a bit at a loss for things to do on Saturday.  There are no NFL games on Saturday this week, although that will change next weekend when the NFL Network begins double-barrell action on both Thursday nights and Saturday nights. Yes, college basketball season has started, and we will address a couple of the bigger games on tap for this weekend below.  But it is hard for the average sports fan to seamlessly transition from college football to college basketball, and most middle-of-the-road athletic supporters don’t start paying attention to college hoops until about late January or early February. So rejoice.  From now until the beginning of the NFL playoffs, when the league will schedule games for both the late Saturday afternoon as well as Saturday night, you can once again call Saturday your own.  Go purchase and decorate your Christmas tree, or make plans to go to that Saturday afternoon holiday soiree.  Your sports fan will have no excuse for not attending.  Happy Holidays, indeed.

But all that once again will come to a screeching halt on Sunday, when the NFL returns with a full slate of somewhat meaningful games.  Here’s a look for what’s on tap for this weekend.

1. There are only four weeks left in the NFL season, so we are running of games that the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints can lose.  Both teams are undefeated and both will put those unblemished marks on the line on Sunday.  The Saints will travel to Atlanta to face the suddenly-reeling Falcons, while Peyton Manning (pictured) and the Colts will host the resurgent Denver Broncos.  We have no problem saying that we are rooting for each team to lose before the end of the season, largely because we are Patriots fans, and New England is only team to navigate a 16 game regular season without losing in 2007 (Of course, they lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, ruining all the great memories that were attached to fabulous campaign.  We are still not ready to talk about that.) Our main beef with these teams is that we do not feel like either is an All-Time great team.  The Saints needed a miracle in Washington to win last week, and have major problems on the defensive side of the ball.  And this Colts team is not even the best squad they have fielded this decade (both the 2005 and 2006 teams had better personnel). So we will be cheering for both the Falcons and Broncos on Sunday.

2. Other NFL games of interest feature the Cincinnati Bengals traveling to Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Vikings, the New York Giants hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Dallas Cowboys squaring off against the San Diego Chargers in Dallas.  All three games have major playoff implications, especially the Philadelphia-New York game.  A win by the Eagles would put them in the driver’s seat in the NFC East with only three games left to go. (more…)

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We admit it.  We are not good sports.  We feel that the Broncos have gotten lucky against the Bengals, Patriots and, to a lesser extent, the Cowboys in getting off to a highly improbable 6-0 start. The team’s other three wins (Cleveland, Oakland, and now underachieving San Diego), all have losing records and two of them (Cleveland and Oakland) would have a tough time scoring on Alabama. Plus, we believe the Broncos’ throwback jerseys are ridiculously ugly.

But nonetheless, 6-0 is 6-0, even if the Broncos offense was less than impressive last night against the Chargers.  Eddie Royal’s two touchdown returns (one on a punt, the other on a kickoff) masked the fact the Broncos offense once again faltered in the middle of the game.  Kyle Orton is still Kyle Orton, no matter what you may read, and that means he is still a mediocre quarterback. They have gotten more out of rookie Knowshon Moreno than we expected, and Brandon Marshall has been at his best.  But let’s fool ourselves.  The Broncos are better than we thought they would be.  But they still ain’t no good. (more…)

APTOPIX Patriots Broncos Football

The Jets and Dolphins face off in tonight’s Monday night tilt, a game where we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having to root for Miami. But other than that, Week 5 of the NFL season is in the books.  And a week that on the surface looked like one of the least interesting in years was saved by a few grace notes of excitement and poignancy.  Come with us as we guide you through yesterday’s action.

1. A lot had been made this week of the odd schedule played by the New England Patriots as they played a team that was unbeaten in each of the first five games of the season. But equally odd was the schedule of the Washington Redskins as they played their first five games against winless teams.  At least until they got a crack at the Redskins.  The Carolina Panthers got off the schneid, beating the Redskins 20-17 yesterday to get their first win of the season.  Washington led by 15 points at 17-2 in the second half before allowing 18 unanswered points to a team that had previously looked as if they would have trouble scoring in a bordello. Funny stat.  Besides the Redskins opening game against the unbeaten New York Giants, the teams the Redskins have played have a combined record of 2-17, and both of those wins have come at Washington’s expense. Looks like it’s going to be a long season inside the Beltway, but maybe not for Redskins head coach Jim Zorn, whose hold on his job is getting more and more tenuous.  To his player’s credit, they have stressed that their poor performance is not Zorn’s fault, but when you  hear quotes like this one from Redskins defensive end Andre Carter , you get the sense that Zorn may not make it through the entire season.

“It’s not Jim,” Carter said.” I admire his character, and admire his will and strength. . . . But as a player, when you respect a coach like that, you have to come out and help him by winning games. We’re not doing that.” (more…)

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Unlike the past few weeks, this weekend is filled with all sorts of must-see events that will keep the average sports fan glued to the television from Friday at 6 p.m. until Sunday at 7:30.  In all honesty, there is no viable away to work around the sports schedule this weekend, but we suggest that if you need to make plans, that you schedule them for Saturday afternoon from noon to 3 p.m., or Sunday night after the NFL action concludes.  Otherwise, we strongly suggest you make alternate plans that do not require your sports fan’s presence.  Anyway, we’re here to let you know what exactly the sports fan in your life will be doing while you’re out and about.

1. College football’s first big game of the year is set for Saturday night when Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators travel to Baton Rouge to face the L.S.U. Tigers at 8 p.m.  Both teams are undefeated, but an argument could be made that L.S.U. could have lost two weeks ago to Mississippi State, and should have lost last week to Georgia (an excessive celebration penalty against the Bulldogs in the final minutes gave the L.S.U. great field position and allowed the Tigers to come back.)  Tebow may or may not play due to a concussion he suffered two weeks ago against Kentucky (pictured above).  We here are betting that he does play, and we’re putting L.S.U. on ass-kicking alert.  The Tigers have a puncher’s chance because they will be playing at home, but Florida is a much better team, and the jury’s still out as to whether or not L.S.U. is even good.  In other games this week, Alabama takes on Ole Miss in a game that will have national championship implications.

2. The Major League Baseball playoffs continue this weekend.  The New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins play Game 2 of their series tonight at 6, while the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels will face each other at 9:30 in the American League playoffs.  Saturday is all about the National League as the Los Angeles Dodgers will look to close out their best-of-five series against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of their divisional series at 6 p.m, while the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies will square off later that evening.  Their best-of-five series is currently tied at 1.  If St. Louis wins tomorrow night, all eight teams will be in action on Sunday, with a quadruple-header scheduled on TBS.

3. Finally, this is not a stellar week for NFL Football, but the weekend will be highlighted by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots going up against the undefeated Denver Broncos at 4:15 on Sunday afternoon.  But despite the dearth of top-notch games, the NFL owns Sunday afternoons.  And with the addition of a potential MLB doubleheader, we suggest that non-sports fans write this weekend off.

That’s it for this week.  See ya Monday.

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Brett Favre Bowl I is set to take place tonight when the Vikings play Green Bay in Minneapolis.  Favre is the former Green Bay quarterback who has made it his personal mission to get back at the Packers since he was traded by them at the beginning of last season.  Favre now plays for the undefeated Vikings. We personally believe that this game is not all that important and that the November 1 match-up in Green Bay is the true must-see event.  But tonight’s game is on ESPN, so the hype has been and will be deafening for the next several hours (our advice: just watch the game and avoid all the pre-game shows.)

Anyway, for the most part, yet another week of NFL action is in the books, and we are here to fill you in on what you may have missed (because there was no way you were spending a beautiful autumn afternoon inside watching television.)

1. Rumors of the demise of the New England Patriots have been greatly exaggerated.  After losing to the New York Jets in Week 2, many prognosticators forecast that the Pats were staring down the barrel of a 1-3 start since games against the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens loomed.  But New England is now 3-1 after handing the Ravens their first loss of the season 27-21.  Thomas Edward Brady Jr. (that’s right, we’re going back to calling him by his full name), was not at his best yet again, but he did throw for 244 yards and a touchdown to lead the Patriots to victory. The Ravens had a chance to win the game in the waning moments, but  Mark Clayton dropped a pass that would have given Baltimore a first down inside the Patriots 10-yard line.  But after the game, the Ravens reserved their animus for  the referees, who they felt made a couple of questionable roughing-the-passer calls that helped the Patriots along the way (the Patriots were also victimized by a roughing the passer call that kept a Baltimore drive alive when Mike Wright accidentally smacked Joe Flacco upside the head [pictured].  Note that Flacco still has the ball).

(more…)