This week I read the New York Post referred to Ryan Fitzpatrick as “The Bearded Gift from the Football Gods”, but with three picks on Sunday up in Buffalo, this hairy deity’s season came to a screeching halt and he’ll have to wait at least 12 more months before getting a crack at his first career playoff game.
You’ve got to feel for the grisly veteran. He came in to the season as the back-up and led an overachieving Jets squad to a respectable (10-6) record when most were predicting the Bills or Dolphins to be the ‘other’ team to come out of the AFC East.
Alas, with the Steelers taking care of business on the road against the Browns, Big Ben’s squad has snuck back into the postseason by virtue of a tiebreaker.
Sayonara, New York, it was one helluva ride.
— NFL (@NFL) January 3, 2016
In the real world, sometimes storybook endings end with the hero being slain by the dragon. Not that I am in any way, shape or form referring to Rex Ryan as a dragon. In terms of fantasy land he’s probably closer to some sort of cleaned-up orc.
On the bright side, there’s a very good chance the QB job at the Meadowlands is Fitzpatrick’s to lose in 2016 – it’s hard to feel too sorry for a guy who in all likelihood has earned the second multi-million dollar contract extension of his career.
And assuming the Bills and Dolphins work out a few of their kinks, there’s a good chance that the AFC East will be THE division to watch in 2016 – but for now, everyone but the Patriots will be watching the postseason from home.
Tasty Tidbits from Week 17
Speaking of New England, Bill Belichick played it safe with Tom Brady in Week 17 and it came back to bite him in the arse.
Brady threw just 21 passes for 12 completions (134 yards) and zero touchdowns in a 20-10 loss at Miami to close out the regular season. The defeat paved the way for Denver to snatch home-field advantage away from the Patriots with a win at home against a disappointing Chargers squad.
And while it wasn’t pretty, the Broncos did in fact find a way to eke out a 27-20 victory over San Diego after Coach Kubiak benched Brock Osweiler to bring Peyton Manning in off the bench.
In Peyton’s first career NFL game where he ran out of the tunnel as the back-up, his number was called when it mattered most. Now that he delivered, we’ve added a sexy new twist to the quarterback controversy in the Mile High City.
So while the road to the Super Bowl on the AFC side goes through Denver, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a (13-3) squad in the history of the league with so many question marks.
Peyton Manning is a backup for the 1st time since 1994, when Todd Helton was the starting QB at Tennessee. pic.twitter.com/v3KpxU9L9K
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 3, 2016
Fortunately for the Broncos, they’ll have one extra week to make a final decision about who will get the start under center.
And in our final game with major postseason implications, Minnesota accomplished something that we haven’t seen very often during the Aaron Rodgers era.
The Vikings have won the NFC North.
And they did so by downing the Packers at Lambeau Field, 20-13.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) January 4, 2016
Of course in this year’s ‘bizarro’ scenario, losing the division might have been the best-case scenario for a Green Bay team that’s been slowly fading over the second half of the season.
Instead of hosting the Seahawks at home next week, the Packers will travel to Washington to take on the Redskins – not that winning at Fed Ex Field these days is a given.
The Skins have emerged from the murky waters of the NFC’s worst division as a formidable opponent and not necessarily the Wild Card fodder we expected them to be.
If there’s a Cinderella story to be had this postseason, Kirk Cousins will be driving the pumpkin.
The Kirk Cousins story grows: He’s the 1st Redskins QB EVER to throw a TD pass in all 16 games. pic.twitter.com/pJUvvnoi1q
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 3, 2016
But while Kirk Cousins is smoking hot right now, there’s little doubt that Seattle is hotter.
The Seahawks made a statement on the road in Arizona with a 36-6 thrashing of the Cardinals to remind Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer that winning the West doesn’t necessarily equate to being the division’s best shot at heading to Super Bowl 50.
In a game that didn’t really matter much, with the Panthers creaming the Bucs to maintain home-field advantage in the NFC, the Hawks were more than happy to celebrate.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) January 4, 2016
With Marshawn Lynch set to return to practice ASAP, Seattle is primed and ready to make a run at becoming just the third team ever (after Buffalo and Miami) to play in three or more consecutive Super Bowls.
Wild Card Weekend Preview
The tables are set. Let’s take a look at who needs to do what to advance to the Divisional Round.
Kansas City @ Houston
These two teams met in Week 1 of the regular season with the Chiefs taking the victory 27-20, but it’s quite the understatement to say “a lot has transpired since then”.
Kansas City went on to lose five straight before becoming the hottest team in the league while Houston rumbled through an up-and-down campaign with a roulette wheel at quarterback.
Don’t be surprised if this contest comes down to Justin Houston versus JJ Watt. (Assuming Houston is ready to go for the first time since injuring his knee in Week 12.)
Sure, they’ll never be on the field at the same time (unless Watt’s in as tight end) but the old “defense wins championships” mantra still holds some weight in today’s pass happy NFL, particularly in the postseason.
In this game, the two best players on the field line up on defense and I wouldn’t be shocked to see this one wind down to 0:00 on a game-winning sack.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) January 4, 2016
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
If the Bengals are going to win their first playoff game since beating a team that no longer exists (Houston Oilers) in 1990, they’ll have to stop one of the most dangerous offensive machines in the NFL.
While it looked like last week’s turd of a loss against the Ravens would end the Steelers’ season, the aforementioned Jets failure upstate gives Big Ben yet another crack at leading the Yellow & Black to another ring.
Losing RB DeAngelo Williams hurts but Pittsburgh has so many weapons through the air that they ought to be able to adjust.
But let’s not kid ourselves, the real hero (or goat) of this game will be (or won’t be) AJ McCarron.
We’re all aware that Andy Dalton would give this team the best shot of getting the playoff monkey off their back (even if he’s failed to do so four years running) but McCarron has proven he’s no slouch.
It hasn’t happened often per se, but seven times a back-up quarterback has won the Super Bowl…Jeff Hostetler, Trent Dilfer, Tom Brady.
That’s right, Tom Brady’s first ring came at the end of a season he started on the bench.
Hmmm.. That narrative on @10AJMcCarron is starting to change as he shows everyone that the stage isn’t too big for him..
— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) December 29, 2015
Seattle @ Minnesota
The Seahawks destroyed the Vikings 38-7 five weeks ago in Minnesota. Since then the Vikes almost beat the Cardinals before rattling off three straight wins to take the NFC North.
Don’t worry about the last matchup. Both clubs are (0-0) at this point and both are playing at an insanely high level.
But how can Minnesota get the upper hand this time?
Well, they’ll certainly need a lot more production out of the NFL Rushing Champ:
Wonder if Adrian Peterson will get more than 18 yards rushing against the #Seahawks this time…
— Cory Maas (@SeaTowN) January 4, 2016
Green Bay @ Washington
Back in September almost nobody predicted we’d see the Packers on the road in the Wild Card Round…even fewer predicted the Redskins would go (8-8), let alone have a winning record and take the NFC East crown.
And maybe like one nutty Skins season-ticket holder foresaw that Washington would be hosting the Packers AND have a legitimate chance at beating them.
Aaron Rodgers is off – so is his offense.
Let’s face it, losing Jordy Nelson really did do a number on this club’s rhythm.
On the other hand, Kirk Cousins has thrown 19 touchdowns with only two picks since Week 10. Those are Pro Bowl level stats, folks…and his favorite target? Jordan Reed? He’s playing like an All-Pro, too.
The Redskins are hungry. Especially these two:
A photo posted by Washington Redskins (@redskins) on