With the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs no longer in their control, here's an intriguing question for the Indianapolis Colts: Would they rather be the No. 3 seed or the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs?
Of course, the No. 2 seed is still possible if the Colts beat Miami and Baltimore loses to Buffalo as both teams would finish at 12-4 with Indy owning the strength of victory tiebreaker. Adding to the drama is that the Colts and Ravens will be playing at the same time (4:15 p.m. ET), meaning that the Colts will be in full eye-dart mode as they check for updates from Baltimore.
But if the Ravens pull away from the Bills, do the Colts pull in the reins? That then begs another question: Should Peyton Manning and other key regulars play against the Dolphins? Over the past three years, Colts coach Tony Dungy has rested his regulars in such situations.
At No. 3, the Colts currently are in line to host the Jets in the first round of the playoffs. Earlier this season, the Jets gave the Colts all they could handle as Indianapolis had to come from behind to win 31-28 with a last-minute drive. By comparison, if the Colts were the No. 4, they would host Denver in the first round. Over the past four years, Indianapolis has beaten the Broncos in any type of meaningful game.
However, the problem with that scenario is that it only addresses what happens in the first game of the playoffs. At No. 4, the Colts would have to travel to San Diego for the second round of the playoffs. That's about as appealing as being asked to go hunting with Dick Cheney.
That said, the Colts likely have to beat the Chargers one way or another and it might be harder from the No. 3 seed than from No. 4. That's because the path to San Diego from No. 3 would include a stop in Baltimore in the second round. The Colts are capable of beating Baltimore, even on the road. However, playing the Ravens would leave a physical toll on the Colts, making a victory in San Diego in a possible AFC championship game even less likely.
Considering that, it's probably best to play the Chargers earlier and hope that Baltimore gets upset in the second round of the playoffs by either the Jets or New England. The Ravens, with their limited offense, are the most likely to be upset.
That's a lot of complicated thinking at this point. It's probably more thinking than most coaches want to do, fearing that such long-term thought is a terrible short-term distraction. Furthermore, another loss going into the playoffs is about the last thing the Colts need. They have dropped four of their past six games, including embarrassing defeats at the hands of Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville. The run defense is in shambles, so bad that even if the Colts won the Super Bowl, team president Bill Polian would be compelled to make changes.
That said, because the Colts are a terribly flawed team, they desperately need to consider all angles as they proceed.
It's clear that Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens has at least one job set up for after his playing career is over. Owens is already typecast for a lead role in the next "Jackass" movie.
If Owens' earlier shenanigans (skipping most of training camp, getting into a hissy fit with wide receivers coach Todd Haley and then spitting on Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall) weren't enough, his complaints after Dallas' loss to Philadelphia on Christmas Day were enough to alienate the rest of his team.
Owens had only two catches for 23 yards against his former team. That gave him five for 68 yards in two games against the Eagles this season. Owens also had at least five drops in those two games and he had a critical drop of a potential touchdown pass against the Eagles on Monday, a play that could have turned around the game.
However, after the game, Owens essentially blamed the drop on the game plan.
"I need to get involved early in the game instead of late in the game," Owens said. "I feel like I'm not involved early in the game … It's been that way throughout my career. Every team I played with [got] me the ball early and often. When [the Cowboys] start throwing to me, it's too late."
Until now, the game plans by Dallas have been good enough to get Owens a team-high 79 receptions (Terry Glenn is next with 64) for 1,063 yards and a league-leading 12 touchdowns. They were also good enough to set him up for other scores (see: the drop against the Eagles and another touchdown drop in a loss to Washington). But when you take the miscues combined with whining and excuse-making, what Owens did and said this week was the kind of stuff that alienates teammates.
It wouldn't be appropriate to talk about Owens without weighing in on the latest from Donovan McNabb. More specifically, McNabb's mother, Wilma, had some pretty stupid things to say Thursday in a blog on McNabb's website.
Wrote Wilma McNabb regarding the hot streak the Philadelphia Eagles are on with Jeff Garcia at quarterback over her injured son: "The win this week was great and I could actually say that's what I wanted for Christmas. Yes, now we have solidly beat the Cowboys with my son and without him."
Wilma should have stopped there. She didn't.
"But I can hear you asking, mama McNabb what are you really thinking? Well here it is, the real deal. It's kind of bitter sweet for me as my son, the quarterback, sits out on injured reserve watching the game during his rehab. I polled my family too and they feel the same. We want our team to win and even go to the Superbowl and win it in Miami, especially if they continue to play as they have. But oh oh, if they win the Superbowl without my son, what would be the real outcome with the fans? Will they crucify him? Maybe, then the trade talks would begin. Off season madness, worse than last year's fiasco. But guess what, I guess I'll have to take the beating if it comes. I would have to hope that scenario of the madness would not happen or be that bad. Well let's wait and see. Bitter sweet."
That may have been honest, but it's the type of political thinking that aggravates people with regard to athletes. Instead of thinking purely about what would be best for the team, McNabb's mother is concerned about how the situation is going to play out for her son. In short, individual concerns are more important than the team.
Furthermore, even if McNabb's career with Philadelphia were over because the team won a Super Bowl and decided to go a different direction, what harm would come of him? He'd get a chance to play for some other team, hoping to lead that team to a title and make millions in the process. In short, his life would be fine.
Considering that, there is nothing to be bitter about. Not even bittersweet.
The annual Brett Favre Watch could start after Sunday night when the Green Bay Packers finish the season against Chicago. The Packers are still hoping to make the playoffs, although it's doubtful they'll do much damage in the process.
Thus, whenever the season ends for Green Bay, it starts the guessing game about what Favre will do and when he'll announce it. Retire? Play again? Play again for another team? Every idea could be in play.
Agent Bus Cook said Thursday that he has no idea what Favre will do and is intentionally not asking.
"I've made it a point not to talk to Brett about what he wants to do for next season," Cook said. "Last year, it became a damn circus … When the time comes, I'm sure he'll tell me what he wants to do, probably about an hour before he tells everybody else what he wants to do. That's fine.
"Physically, he's still one of the best quarterbacks in the league. There are times he says he still feels like he's 23 and can play forever. There are other days when it's probably a lot harder. We'll just have to see."
Favre goes into the final game with 413 touchdown passes, eight short of breaking Dan Marino's NFL record of 420. As for playing somewhere else, Cook again said he hasn't broached the subject, but is certainly familiar with the possibility. Cook also represents Steve McNair, who finished his career with Tennessee last offseason and was traded to Baltimore, leading the Ravens to the No. 2 seed in the AFC as of today.
ON THE RUN
Give Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor credit for taking a stand against steroids by saying that San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman doesn't deserve to make the Pro Bowl or win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award after being suspended earlier this season because of testing positive for steroid use. Said Taylor: "There are certain rules and guidelines you have to abide by to play in this game and the steroid policy, performance-enhancing drug it is obviously what it is. It enhances your performance by doing that and it's not right. It's against the rules and ultimately it sends the wrong message to the youth in America and people that look at this game as not only for entertainment purposes but as to learn lessons from it for the young kids who play football. It's tough, you should fail a test like that and play in this league. I don't think it's right to make the Pro Bowl and all the other awards. I think you walk that fine line of sending the wrong message." That's good stuff and hopefully people don't take it as self-serving from a guy who probably will win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award if Merriman doesn't. That said, Merriman said his positive test was an accident and the four-game suspension he served was after failing a test only once. While there is a good argument to bar people from postseason awards, it also doesn't give anyone the benefit of the doubt.
While some people were a tad surprised with the deal Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms signed this week (two years, $14.5 million maximum value, including $5 million total in the first year), the truth is that Simms didn't have much of a market. Even in what is expected to be a spending spree for a lot of mediocre players, Simms wasn't getting much play. Simms, who suffered a ruptured spleen in the third game of the season, had one touchdown pass and seven interceptions this season. In fact, it appeared that only Carolina might have an interest and the Panthers still seem intent on giving veteran Jake Delhomme another chance next season. While the Buccaneers might draft a top quarterback in April, the view was that Simms' best option to succeed would be as a Buccaneer.
Some agents were wondering why guard Vince Manuwai agreed to a five-year, $20 million contract extension with the Jacksonville Jaguars when he might have gotten more with another team. Two agents said Manuwai could easily have gotten $5 million a year from the Jags or some other team if he had just waited. In fact, Manuwai was told that by several people but preferred to stay with Jacksonville.
Dolphins quarterback Joey Harrington, who will not start the season finale as Miami gets a longer look at Cleo Lemon, earned approximately $700,000 in play-time incentives this season. He could earn another $300,000, which has led some to wonder if Dolphins coach Nick Saban is squeezing him. Not so, said one person close to Harrington. "Joey had a fair chance to earn the money and he got the majority of it," the source said. "You could wonder about it, but you can certainly see where they would want to see the other guy play. It's not like it's some obvious thing where they're screwing him out of the money."
Much has been made of the fact that with five 7-8 teams vying for the final playoff spot in the NFC, the best-case scenario is that one 8-8 team will make it. At worst, a 7-9 team could qualify for the postseason. That's not good, but it's certainly not as bad as what the Eastern Conference of the NBA looks like right now. Furthermore, the good news is that only seven teams so far this season have lost 10 games and the maximum number of teams that could end up with double-digit losses is 10. In the past three years, there have been at least 12 teams with 10 losses at the end of the year, including 14 last season. In other words, there has been a pretty significant reduction in teams that were completely out of contention before the end of the season.