QUOTE: “One of the things you can do in this business is fool yourself. It’s human nature. Don’t try to put a spin on it and the effort you made because anyone who looks can see the effort wasn’t there.” -- Bill Parcells, to his players after a disappointing loss
Sunday ended the regular season for 20 NFL teams and started a new season for 12 teams. For the 20 that are finished, they must honestly and clearly identify the reasons for losing and set a course this offseason to improve in those areas. There should be a six-month plan, along with a 12-month plan and a 24-month plan for repairing the team in every phase. Teams that make it out of this group and into the playoffs next year will be the teams that do the best jobs of self-analysis.
For the remaining 12, their hard work has paid off. But now they must work harder, prepare more intensely and, most important, understand who they are and what it will take to win in the playoffs. Teams that win usually control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and can win or tie in all three phases of the game. Being balanced as a team is critical, but perhaps more important to winning in the playoffs is for teams to play different styles and not be dependent on specific matchups.
Sunday’s games provided further insight about which contenders might be Super Bowl teams, and despite the fact there were not many attractive games, there was still much to learn.
The very good…
How about Chris Johnson? He gains 2,509 scrimmage yards this season – an NFL record, breaking Marshall Faulk's mark of 2,429 yards in 1999 -- and is the first player in NFL history with 2,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. He was fun to watch.
The Texans fighting back from 14 points down to score the last 21 points on the New England Patriots and give themselves a chance at the playoffs. This win can supply great momentum as they enter 2010 with their first winning record in franchise history. They must make the right adjustments this offseason and understand that being close is not good enough — they need to raise their level of play. It will take a huge effort next year to win nine games because everything around them will be tougher. But the best part is that I officially win my bet with my man Matt “I love me some Texans” Bowen and will be off to Amsterdam the next time the Boss plays there. Lucky me.
The very bad…
I realize the Bengals had nothing to play for, and Chad Ochocinco getting injured in pregame warm-ups didn’t help. But 72 total yards of offense in the game and only one first down in the first half? The Jets are in the playoffs after benefiting from a great schedule at the end of the season. However, no apologies are needed: They won five of their last six games to put themselves in this position and now head to Cincinnati for the rematch with a great sense of confidence.
The Philadelphia Eagles and their high-flying offense failed to fly high in Dallas. Their offensive line struggled to handle the Cowboys’ front, and the ‘Boys proved that their ability to run with the Saints’ wide receivers two weeks ago was no fluke. The ‘Boys are peaking at the right time as their defensive line is able to take over games. With the emergence of Anthony Spencer rushing from the outside, they now have three very tough defensive linemen to block one on one, something the Eagles failed to do. When it becomes a nickel game, as often is the case when playing the Eagles, Stephen Bowen is another tough matchup for the Birds, and it seemed as if Donovan McNabb was running for his life. To throw the ball down the field, as the Eagles love to do, requires pass protection, and yesterday it wasn’t there.
All the Broncos had to do was beat the Chiefs at home and they would have given themselves a chance at the playoffs. But they failed to beat the Chiefs at home, failed to beat the Raiders at home and failed to make the playoffs. Brandon Marshall will be the center of conversation about why the Broncos lost, but their inability to play run defense is the root of their problem -- going back to the Raiders game last month. Had they won that game, they’re probably in, but they again failed to defend the run. This offseason will be a long one for the Broncos, but as long as they’re honest about where they are as a team, they can be legitimate playoff contenders in 2010. They must improve their offensive line and find a way to control the line of scrimmage before they can give real consideration to being a playoff team.
The very ugly…
The New York Giants have some major issues to address, and the fact they laid a huge egg two weeks in a row clearly means they’ll have to make many changes in all three phases of their team — players, coaching and scheme. Head coach Tom Coughlin was at a loss for words last week and will be under heavy stress the next few weeks as he has to put his finger on the problem and be honest with what changes are needed. This is not just a player problem. This problem in New York runs deeper than that.
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For a look at how Wes Welker's injury affects the Patriots, check out this article from Bleacher Report.