There are some lingering Week 17 thoughts in my head, let's get them down for posterity's sake.
• For two months we were forced to watch Larry Johnson(notes) slog through unproductive carries in Kansas City. When the Chiefs finally kicked Johnson to the curb, his YPC was a miserable 2.9. Then Jamaal Charles(notes) got his chance to run with the starting unit and the rest is fantasy history; that shiny new (virtual) trophy on your mantle probably might have come courtesy of the Charles explosion.
What can we learn from all this? For one thing, most power backs are reliant on a capable offensive line; if you take away any semblance of quality blocking, those runners won't go far. Charles clearly proved he's a better player than Johnson at this stage of their careers, but he also succeeded because he fits the Kansas City spread attack better. Charles has better quickness, reads blocks better, is worlds-better in the screen game (LJ was forever lost in the passing game, catching or blocking), and has better balance and lateral agility.
Can an undersized back like Charles (199 pounds) handle the consistent pounding that a No. 1 back takes? Probably, assuming team and player continue to play it smart. The Chiefs need to realize that backs take far less physical punishment when they're used as receivers; Charles saw 17 percent of his touches as a pass-catcher this year and Todd Haley should work on increasing that number next year. And Charles can prolong his career (and increase his utility) by continuing to be smart about his body, knowing when to call it quits on a run and go into self-preservation mode. Warrick Dunn(notes) had this skill, Tiki Barber(notes) had this skill, and Charles, from what I've seen to this point, understands it as well.
Forget Charles being merely a first-round pick in 2010, I'm starting to view him as someone who's worthy of a Top 6 selection. Who's with me? If you wouldn't take that plunge, tell me everyone you'd prefer to Charles going forward.
• Very quietly the Packers have solved their sack problem – after watching Aaron Rodgers(notes) take 41 sacks over the first nine weeks of the year, he was only dropped nine times in the last seven games. Part of this was better play from the pass blocking of course – getting Mark Tauscher(notes) back at right tackle was a notable key – but in general QB sacks are more about the quarterback than the public believes. For all of Rodgers's physical gifts – and I'm very high on him – his pocket awareness has been a work in progress during his second year as a starter. By the end of the year we can safely say he's arrived as an elite quarterback in all facets.
• Although Shonn Greene(notes) was coming on like gangbusters at the end of the year (5.3 YPC in the second half), it was telling that the Jets continued to use Thomas Jones(notes) as the goal-line option. This reflects two things at play – there's a lot to be said for being quick and decisive at the goal line, and when a back shows a fumbling tendency (as Greene did), teams are often hesitant to trust you in the scoring area. Greene nonetheless has a bright future in front of him, but Jones isn't going away without a fight. Look for Jones to go in the late-second or third round next year, with Greene an upside play around Round 5.
• The NFL doesn't need to add any gimmicky rules to try to legitimize Week 17. Any team that's run away from its conference – as the Colts did – has earned the right to shut things down if it prefers to. I'd suggest some small tweaks to address the Week 17 issue; for starters, open up playoff seeding so a divisional title only guarantees you a spot in the tournament, not a Top 4 seed. Had this been in play this year both the Packers and Cardinals would have played to win last week. It's also a good idea to stack as many divisional games and conference games as you can for the late weeks; keep those races open.
Somewhat related to this theme, it would be a gross error for the NFL to adopt an 18-game schedule. The players already pay enough of a tax with their bodies and a longer season will only add to the possibility of meaningless late-season games. If Roger Goodell wants a longer season, why not give everyone two bye weeks?
• I grew up in New England and I'm a Patriots fan from way back (the Steve Grogan years), but let's be fair about Tom Brady's(notes) season – he wasn't the best pick for Comeback Player of the Year award (Vince Young(notes) and Carnell Williams(notes) were much better choices) and his Pro Bowl bid belonged to Ben Roethlisberger(notes). Popularity goes a long way.
• Up in the Air was the best movie I've seen since Sideways.
• There's a simple lesson with the Jim Zorn era – promoting a coach multiple levels at one time is pretty much a guaranteed mistake. Zorn had never been a coordinator or a play caller before the Redskins gave him the head coaching gig. Okay, the idea wasn't for Zorn to get that spot immediately – he was initially hired to run the offense, then got the big chair when several others passed – but the rule of thumb still applies.
• There must be more to David Segui HOF vote story, right? Is this a clerical error? Is it a joke of some sort? A clerical error? There's really no rational case to be made for Segui to even be on the ballot, let alone pulling votes. Pat Hentgen and Kevin Appier have no right to be grabbing votes either, but they're several rungs above the Seguis of the world.
• There's nothing quite like a football game in the snow. Don't let the outdoor stadiums in cold-weather cities die out, NFL.