On the surface, everything looks good for the G-Men. The New York Giants (10-5) got their much-needed road win against the Buffalo Bills to clinch a playoff spot and can now treat next weekend's battle against the history-chasing New England Patriots as an exhibition game if they so choose.
However, for anyone ready to make the case that the Giants are a serious threat in the NFC playoffs, slow down. New York's resiliency and running game (47 carries, 291 yards, 3 TDs) during Sunday's 38-21 come-from-behind victory over Buffalo have to be respected, but a closer examination of the contest raises some serious concerns as Tom Coughlin leads his team into the postseason for a third straight year.
Once again, the Giants were a bit too generous. For the third time in five games, New York committed four turnovers. In addition, the Giants came out flat against the Bills, with maligned kicker Lawrence Tynes launching the opening kickoff out of bounds to set up a Buffalo touchdown. Gift wrap that same package for a playoff opponent two weeks from now and the Giants will be looking at a deflating postseason defeat pretty similar to the one suffered against the Carolina Panthers two years ago.
But hey, this is the season of joy and the Giants have a lot to be happy about … right now. Find out whom else is experiencing holiday cheer, who might be grumpy and what else of note took place during Week 16:
• The hard-to-please Bill Belichick could certainly find a couple of things to scrutinize following the 28-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins, which allows his Patriots (15-0) a chance at regular-season perfection next week. After all, they missed an opportunity at a shutout and were actually blanked in the second half against Miami. Still, that wasn't enough to overshadow: Tom Brady (47 passing touchdowns) and Randy Moss (21 scoring receptions) moving closer to eclipsing single-season records; the Patriots tying their own mark for consecutive regular season wins (18); Laurence Maroney being a force on the ground (14-156, 1 TD); and Jabar Gaffney (5 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD) suddenly becoming Brady's second-favorite target.
• Fred Taylor and the Jacksonville Jaguars certainly looked like a team out to send a message. The Jaguars (11-4) clinched a playoff berth and set a franchise high for points during their 49-11 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Taylor, with four straight 100-yard games coming in, went the distance for a 62-yard score on his first carry and finished with 111 yards on the ground.
• Lovie Smith won't be happy about missing the playoffs, but the Dallas Cowboys (13-2) are certainly appreciative of the Chicago Bears' effort. With home-field advantage still a possibility, the Green Bay Packers (12-3) were barely competitive during a 35-7 loss at Soldier Field that clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs for Dallas.
• Kyle Vanden Bosch celebrated his recent Pro Bowl selection by getting to Chad Pennington three times as the Tennessee Titans (9-6) pulled out a 10-6 victory over the New York Jets. The Titans can now clinch their first playoff berth in four years with a victory over the Indianapolis Colts next week.
• Talk about a nose for the football. Patrick Willis was in on 16 tackles and registered a pair of sacks as the San Francisco 49ers (5-10) knocked off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, further lessening the wild scenario of New England drafting Arkansas running back Darren McFadden with the draft pick it acquired from the 49ers. Willis, the rookie Pro Bowl linebacker, has now registered double-digit solo tackles in five games this season.
• Given all of the controversy surrounding Andy Reid's sons and Donovan McNabb's future, it's nice to see the Philadelphia Eagles (7-8) not mail it in. For the second week in a row, they at least temporarily (Green Bay let Dallas off the hook) damaged someone's playoff hopes after defeating the New Orleans Saints 38-23.
• Even with the day off (and Willie Parker out for the season), the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) had reason to celebrate as they won the AFC North thanks to the Cleveland Browns' let down (details below).
• With their win and the Bucs' loss, the Seattle Seahawks have locked up the No. 3 seed in the NFC.
• Derek Anderson nearly made a bad game blooper-reel worthy when the Oregon State alum came within a second of getting his "Kevin Riley" on. But even as they avoided embarrassment, Anderson and the Browns (9-6) will have a hard time forgetting about Sunday's 19-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals should they miss the postseason. Anderson was picked four times overall; twice in an 11-second span of the second quarter, leading to 10 Bengals points; and twice in the red zone after intermission. Anderson looked so dreadful in the first half that announcer Dan Dierdorf suggested the quarterback could stand for a lesson from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Ouch!
• Clearly, Cleo Lemon must be afraid of getting his jersey dirty. Twice in the third quarter with the ball at New England's 1-yard line, the quarterback seemingly had a chance to score on a rushing touchdown but the Dolphins came up empty-handed on the possession. On third down, he threw behind a receiver in the end zone when he apparently had enough space to run it in. On fourth down, Lemon tried to sneak into the corner of the end zone as two Patriots ran in his direction. Instead of lunging into the end zone, he tried to extend the ball over the goal line, but the officials ruled that he stepped out of bounds at the 1.
• If the Saints (7-8) want to become a perennial Super Bowl threat – and not just a playoff contender – they need to invest more in the defense. With a playoff berth still within reach, New Orleans' defense simply got trampled by the Eagles. In the first quarter alone, the Eagles racked up 197 offensive yards. Then with 2:55 left in the third quarter, the Eagles capped a 15-play drive that started at their own 2-yard line with a McNabb scoring pass to Greg Lewis. You have to stop a middle-of-the-road offense in this situation before you can seriously envision hoisting a Lombardi Trophy.
• Tony Gonzalez is having one of his best seasons statistically in what is one of his worst team-wise in the NFL. Gonzalez reached 1,000 receiving yards for the third time in his career as the Kansas City Chiefs (4-11) dropped their eighth straight game with a 25-20 loss to the Detroit Lions.
PLEASE EXPLAIN …
• How the Washington Redskins (8-7) have come out of nowhere to take control of their own playoff destiny with one week remaining.
• How the Browns must feel knowing that they can win in Week 17 and miss the playoffs, yet lose and make it. Pretty weird!
• Where the heck the Bears offensive linemen are in a rush to go. Chicago committed four false starts in the first 15 minutes against Green Bay.
• Why the Raiders needed to call a timeout to avoid being penalized for delay of game following the change-of-quarter timeout.
• How Leigh Bodden seems to be in the middle of any big play for the Browns defense. He had a pair of interceptions and also knocked loose a ball from Chad Johnson on a play that was initially ruled a touchdown before being overturned on a replay challenge.