Nobody should be less excited about having San Diego in the playoffs than AFC West rival Denver.
It's not just that the Broncos lost at home to them earlier this month; it's that they lost six of their last eight games to the Bolts in Denver.
Moreover, San Diego is 2-0 against Peyton Manning
in the playoffs -- both when he was with Indianapolis.
If the Chargers can escape Cincinnati -- and, remember, the Bengals are 0-4 in the playoffs under Marvin Lewis and haven't won a postseason game since 1991 but went unbeaten at home this season -- they move on to Denver, and this just in: Two of the Broncos' three losses this year have been to two of the bottom three seeds in the AFC playoffs.
--2. Then again, Cincinnati should like its chances to buck history. The Bengals aren't just undefeated at home, they averaged 41.6 points the last five games there and scored 40 or more in four of those contests. Plus, they already beat San Diego this season ... in San Diego, 17-10.
--3. Memo to Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop
: I wouldn't include Pittsburgh in my offseason travel plans. You might get run over by the Welcome Wagon.
--4. Steelers' fans should be infuriated. First, it's Succop blowing a last-second 41-yard field goal. Then, it's officials missing an infraction against the Chargers that would have moved the kick closer. And later whistling an apparent San Diego fumble dead on a critical fake punt in overtime. The Steelers deserved better, winning six of their last eight and eight of their last 12. They could have been a difficult out for Cincinnati.
--5. The Bears have a tough decision on Jay Cutler
, whose contract expires in March. They brought him back to close out the NFC North, and he was 1-2. But it wasn't Cutler who lost the Green Bay game; it was a porous defense that crippled the Bears all season. Memo to GM Phil Emery: Keep Cutler and spend your draft picks on defense.
--6. The good news for Green Bay. Somehow, it made the playoffs. The bad? It draws San Francisco. Uh-oh. The 49ers are 3-0 vs. Green Bay since Jim Harbaugh took over, including a victory in last year's season opener at Lambeau, as well as a beatdown in last year's playoffs. Make San Francisco next week's best bet, and it's all because of good defense. The 49ers play it; Green Bay does not.
--7. Consider that a signature win for Jets quarterback Geno Smith. He not only won on the road, where he'd lost six of his first seven, but made big plays in a game with a playoff atmosphere. More important, he didn't suffer a turnover. Make that a building block for the future.
--8. Now comes the hard part for Peyton Manning. He's 9-11 in the playoffs, including seven one-and-dones. Anything short of reaching the Super Bowl taints this season for the record-setting quarterback.
--9. For a change, the Jets got something right. Rex Ryan should return in 2014. He took what should've been a four-win team and somehow, some way, turned it into an 8-8 club. With Rex's return, score one for stability, a word the Cleveland Browns
--10. On the flip side, I can't see how Jerry Jones
keeps Jason Garrett. The Cowboys showed zero improvement in his three-and-a-half years there. They've been 8-8 in each of the past three seasons, and, worse, choked down the stretch. They lost four of their last five in 2011; two of their last four in 2012 and three of their last four this season, including that debacle vs. Green Bay where they blew a 26-3 halftime lead to Matt Flynn
. That's not bad luck; it's a trend. All I know about Garrett and the Cowboys is that in each of the past three years they had a chance to win the NFC East on the last day of the season, and in each of the last three years they blew it. Check, please.
--11. Nowhere was the value of Aaron Rodgers
to Green Bay more apparent than on that last drive when he converted three fourth downs -- including the game-winning touchdown pass.
--12. No question, Nick Foles should've been named to the Pro Bowl. But whom do you replace?
--13. Miami doesn't deserve to be in the playoffs. It not only lost its last two; it scored a total of seven frickin' points against opponents with a combined record of 14-18. Pathetic.
--14. Sorry, but much of the blame for Baltimore's atypical fizzle on the shoulders of quarterback Joe Flacco
. Simply put: He was an ordinary Joe when the Ravens needed him most. In their last three games, two of which they lost, they had just two touchdowns and nine field goals. Worse, Flacco had one TD pass and five interceptions. Contrast that to his performance in last year's playoffs when he had 11 TDs and no interceptions, and you see what I mean.
--15. Cleveland tackle Joe Thomas is right. "Great franchises" don't change coaches after one season. But the Browns aren't a great franchise. They were once. Now they're a dysfunctional one, and the more they change the more they stay the same. It's not as if the new administration inherited Rob Chudzinski; it hired him. That tells me more about the decision makers than it does the head coach, and it tells me someone didn't do his homework.
--16. Nobody should be happier the Metrodome is gone than Detroit. The Lions lost 15 of their last 16 there and were 7-24 since the place opened in 1982.
--17. If, as his agent suggested, Oakland's Terrelle Pryor was "set up to fail," he succeeded marvelously.
--18. Lucky for Andy Dalton
that Baltimore didn't make the playoffs. The Ravens have more interceptions (11) against Dalton than anyone else, including four Sunday.
--19. Trust me, no matter where it is, retired Washington Reskins linebacker London Fletcher is going to a better place.
--20. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks says he wants to return to the Giants, but why would the G-Men want him? He didn't score all season, hasn't scored in 18 straight games and had 22 catches over his last eight games.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
--1. With the first pick of the draft, the Houston Texans
must choose a quarterback. Matt Schaub isn't the answer, and neither is Case Keenum. That means there's an opening for a Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, someone, anyone, the Texans view as the top quarterback in the draft, and they jump at the chance to take him next year.
--2. Never, ever, ever, count on Dallas in a season finale. That's the fourth straight time the Cowboys could've gone to the playoffs with a victory the last day of the regular season, and it's the fourth straight time they fizzled. The only difference: This time it was Kyle Orton, not Tony Romo
, making the fatal mistake. But mistakes are what characterize the Cowboys in those four contests, with Dallas making 13 of them and their opponents committing two. That will send anyone home in a hurry.
--3. This is Philip Rivers' month. The guy is the anti-Romo, with a 30-6 record in December, and, yeah, OK, so he beat the Chiefs' second team and needed Ryan Succop to blow a 41-yard field goal to survive. He still won. Again.
--4. Indianapolis may be that dangerous team that every year seems to sneak up on people and make a deep run into the playoffs. After floundering in the aftermath of Reggie Wayne's injury, the Colts have recovered -- outscoring their last three opponents 78-20. Granted, Houston and Jacksonville were two of those three, but the Colts scored a decisive ... and impressive ... defeat of Kansas City in Arrowhead. Better yet, Andrew Luck
seems back on his game, throwing eight TDs and one interception in his last four starts, and Luck is 13-3 at home.
--5. It's a mixed blessing to win a Super Bowl. Yeah, you get to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, be in a parade, meet the President and go to Disney World. But then what? Zilch, that's what. Baltimore became the ninth straight Super Bowl champion not to produce a playoff victory the following season.
JUST ASKING BUT ...
--How much do you trust Andy Dalton in the playoffs?
--What in the world happened to Joe Flacco?
--Where next for Jared Allen?
--Does St. Louis spend a high draft pick on a quarterback?
--Who's got Muhammad Wilkerson in Fantasy Football?
FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO
--1. Atlanta center Joe Hawley. It was his blown snap that blew whatever chance Atlanta had for a last-minute upset of Carolina. Hawley snapped the ball as an unsuspecting Matt Ryan wasn't looking, resulting in a 16-yard loss and effectively ending any chance for a game-winning field goal. But, hey, look at like this: Hawley's mistake spared some tough questions for Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula, whose conservative play calling on Carolina's last series kept the Falcons in the game.
--2. The entire Chicago defense. They're the dunderheads who stood around after Julius Peppers hit Aaron Rodgers, forcing the quarterback to fumble. OK, so it looked like an incomplete pass to almost everyone ... almost everyone but the Packers' Jarrett Boykin, who picked up the ball and scored. I swear, I don't understand why coaches don't tell players to pick up every loose ball for plays just like this.
--3. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. His first-half interception turned into a Carolina touchdown, killing Atlanta's early momentum and setting up the Falcons for another heartbreaking loss. Ryan's gaffe was reminiscent of a first-half interception in a 2010 playoff game vs. Green Bay, a turnover that turned that game into a defeat, too, and it should have earned him a game ball from Carolina.
--4. Chicago safety Chris Conte. He blew the coverage on Randall Cobb's game-winning TD, playing zone when everyone else was in man-to-man defense. He also blew the interception ... or, at least, the deflection ... on an earlier completion to tight end Andrew Quarless that led to a Green Bay score. Bottom line: He stunk.
--5. Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly. You have fourth-and-goal at the six-inch line, you have LeSean McCoy in the lineup and you're playing Dallas. So what in the world is Kelly doing calling a quarterback sneak with Nick Foles? Fortunately for Kelly, his defense came to the rescue, the Eagles won the NFC East and no one looks bad.
NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING
--1-8 -- Jay Cutler vs. Green Bay
--1-16 -- Oakland under Dennis Allen when opponents score first
--3-10 -- Matt Stafford in December
--4 -- Drew Brees seasons with 5,000 passing yards
--9-0 -- Ben Roethlisberger at home vs. Cleveland
--10-1 -- Green Bay in its last 11 season finales
--9 -- Sacks of Matt Ryan by Carolina, a Panthers' franchise record
--10 -- Marvin Jones touchdowns this season
--22 -- Joe Flacco interceptions in 2013, a career high
--334 -- LeGarrette Blount all-purpose yardage vs. Buffalo
--1961 -- Last time Washington lost eight straight
--Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
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