As we approach the end of another calendar year, it's a bittersweet time here at 32 Questions Headquarters (or, as the cool people call it, "32QHQ"). In the coming week, we'll say goodbye both to 2007 and 20 of our favorite franchises, focusing our energies on the fortunate dozen who'll compete for a Super Bowl championship.
It'll be sad losing five-eighths of the family, particularly the teams whose obvious vulnerabilities made them such prolific sources of comic material. On the other hand, I'm running out of ways to goof on people like Panthers quarterback David Carr and Chiefs president Carl Peterson, so the break will be a welcome one.
So let's enjoy the final 32Q for awhile and savor the last weekend of the '07 regular season. You know all about the marquee games: The Pats going for 16-0 against the Giants Saturday night; the Redskins trying to close against the Cowboys Sunday afternoon; and the Titans hoping to barge down the postseason door in Indy later that night.
Now, forget the obvious and focus on three alternative clashes that, while brutally dull on paper, will serve as our salute to the friends we'll soon be leaving behind:
• 49ers at Browns: The Niners will be trying to complete their third consecutive Meaningless Flourish At The End Of A Lost Season in the Mike Nolan era, while the Browns are fighting for the sixth and final playoff berth in the AFC – with their hands tied behind their backs. Because of the way the tiebreakers play out, Cleveland's outcome against the 49ers is virtually immaterial. If the Titans beat the Colts later that night, the Browns can clean out their lockers. If Tennessee loses, the Brownies are going to San Diego or Pittsburgh the following weekend.
Rather than risking an injury to possible offseason trade bait Derek Anderson, Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel might be better served by having the franchise quarterback send text messages to Peyton Manning and other Colts, trying to goad them into trying against the Titans.
Actually, there is one arcane scenario in which the Browns' game against the Niners could matter. If the Titans and Colts tie, Cleveland would go to the postseason by virtue of having beaten (or tied) San Francisco. The last tie in the NFL was more than five years ago, when Michael Vick rallied the Falcons from a 17-point deficit against the Steelers but neither team scored in overtime.
And for the record, I just mentioned Vick's name without making a joke about dogs, prison or anything else.
• Bengals at Dolphins: Both teams have already played their faux Super Bowls – the Bengals in last Sunday's Battle of Ohio, scoring the victory that put the Browns in this helpless position; the Dolphins in the previous Sunday's overtime triumph over the Ravens that staved off the shame of a winless season.
There'll be no celebrating after this one. The most that will happen if Miami wins will be a lot of self-conscious back-patting, with the accompanying "Did You See That, Bill?" glances upstairs.
• Chiefs at Jets: Admit it, Jets fans – you circled this one when the schedule came out. So did the folks at NBC, who initially pegged this for their final Sunday Night Football telecast of the regular season.
The appeal: Former coach Herm Edwards was coming to town to lead the Chiefs into a battle of surprising playoff teams from '06.
Last year I got into it via email with a number of Jets fans who questioned my repeated praise of Edwards for squeezing a playoff season out of a deteriorating K.C. team in his first season. Though he had shown a similar aptitude for unlikely postseason runs during his time with the Jets, they said they were thrilled he was gone, reasoning that rookie replacement Eric Mangini was a far better man for the job.
Here we are a year later, and all of us would be wise to zip our lips on the subject. Edwards, thanks to his hilariously overblown "Get over it" comment, is now under siege from Chiefs fans. Meanwhile, the coach formerly known as "Mangenius" couldn't get a free sandwich at Satriale's, much less a prime table at Artie Bucco's Nuovo Vesuvio.
At halftime of this game, about half the Jets' veterans will slip a couple of bills to the assistant equipment manager to get him to start the engines of their fully packed Escalades midway through the fourth quarter.
On that note, let's enjoy our top-to-bottom drive around the league, one last time:
1. New England Patriots: Is part of their greatness that their star players are (apparently) impervious to injury in meaningless late-season games?
2. Indianapolis Colts: Could they face a less desirable opponent in their season finale than desperate, destructive Tennessee?
3. Dallas Cowboys: Is T.O.'s ankle the new Jessica Simpson?
4. Green Bay Packers: Aren't they supposed to be stone-cold locks on the frozen tundra?
6. Pittsburgh Steelers: Does Fast Willie's injury mean a fast exit from the playoffs?
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: When a Bucs player goes down with a serious injury and the whole team comes out onto the field to support him, am I the only one who thinks that's sort of touching?
8. San Diego Chargers: LT and his linemen look ready to win a playoff game, don't they?
14. Minnesota Vikings: Did Sunday night's stinker against the Redskins screw up their clear playoff path, or did that 3-6 start have something to do with it, too?
16. Houston Texans: Taking a little time off for the holidays, guys?
19. Arizona Cardinals: If the Cards beat the Rams Sunday to finish .500 – and complete their third non-losing campaign in 20 seasons in Arizona – will their fans tear down the goal posts?
21. Denver Broncos: Watching this sorry team, can you believe the AFC Championship game was played at Invesco Field two years ago?
22. Cincinnati Bengals: After last Sunday, have they replaced the Florida Gators as the most hated team in Ohio?
23. Carolina Panthers: Did you know that the '07 Panthers, according to Sports Illustrated, are the first team in NFL history to start four quarterbacks (Jake Delhomme, Carr, Vinny Testaverde, Matt Moore) in the same season – and that each of them has won at least one of those starts?
24. Detroit Lions: Will Mike Martz be back next year?
26. Oakland Raiders: When Warren Sapp, coming off his triple-personal-foul meltdown in Jacksonville, suits up against the Chargers on Sunday, will he be among the 10,000 most volatile souls at the Coliseum?
32. Miami Dolphins: How long until Bill Parcells pulls an Isiah Thomas and appoints himself as coach?