The final regular season Sunday of the NFL always feels a bit strange. For one thing, it's the only time all year when I don't have to worry about fantasy scores - a long time ago, we decided that the final week was just too unpredictable, and we close out our season on Week 16. For another, you routinely see teams that are fighting for their playoff lives - teams you think would be motivated beyond belief to perform as well as they can - get their tails handed to them by teams with nothing to play for but pride. Overall, it makes for a very interesting brew.
Some random thoughts on this year's version:
Brett Favre. I really don't want to belabor the point, but the whole 2008 Favre saga was offensive. If you're a believer in karma, this was the perfect way for things to end, with failure all around: the Packers missing the playoffs after being so close to the Super Bowl in 2007, and the Jets collapsing in the final month of the season, in large part due to the poor play of Favre. And the sweetener, of course, was the resurrection of former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington in Miami, who pulled himself up off the floor to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs just one year after holding the distinction of being the worst team in the NFL.
I get it that it's none of my business when Brett Favre decides he wants to keep playing. But I hope at some point that he sits down and reflects on how badly he screwed this whole thing up. Like it or not, he did a lot of damage to his image this year, and the sooner he decides what he wants to do next year, the better off we'll all be.
San Diego Chargers. On the final Sunday of November, I was in a hotel room in San Diego, unpacking for an 8-day business trip. I watched the final minutes of the Chargers' loss against the Atlanta Falcons, and then kept the TV on as the local post-game show came on. Listening that afternoon, there was no doubt in anyone on that show's mind that the season was over. All of the talk centered around the future of Norv Turner, "what happened to LT?," and how disappointing the season was, all around.
What has happened since then should serve as a lesson to every player at every level of football - never stop playing; never stop trying to win; always give your best. Because you never know what might happen. The Chargers hung in there, including a miraculous comeback in Kansas City when it really looked to be all over for their season, and stayed alive just long enough to take advantage of the Denver Broncos' December collapse. As a reward, they get a home playoff game, and right now they probably think that they can beat anyone. Unfortunately for them, the team they get to play, the Indianapolis Colts, hasn't lost since before Halloween, and Peyton Manning has probably never played better. Should be a great game, and I wouldn't be surprised (remember you read it here first!) if the Super Bowl winner is whichever team survives next Saturday night still standing.
Coaches. With the lack of patience demonstrated by most team owners, you really have to wonder when Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden are going to wear out their welcome in Denver and Tampa Bay. Sure, they both led their respective teams to Super Bowl championships, but that was a long time ago, and neither team has shown any ability to win a key game after Thanksgiving for a long time. I'm sure they're both safe for one more year, but absent deep playoff runs next year, you really have to wonder.
Dallas Cowboys. OK, I know it is probably a character flaw that I take such glee at the failures of the teams that I hate the most. With some teams, I'll accept the criticism. But with the Cowboys, no way. For decades now, the Dallas NFL franchise has exuded a remarkable combination of arrogance and hubris, and they deserve every little slice of agony that they're feeling right now. Right now, I'm really hoping that Jerry Jones keeps everyone around for another year. There's no doubt in my mind that Wade Phillips will never lead a team to the Super Bowl, and as long as T.O. is around, the chemistry will be so toxic that they'll never be able to overcome it.
So, that's a wrap. I'll probably think of more to write about later.