Monday, December 16, 2002

I watched very little football yesterday. Next week is likely to be the last Bills game of the year (at Green Bay) that I'll be able to watch; I would be extremely surprised if the Bills sold out their season finale against....the Bengals. Who wants to go out on a December Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a place so windy that they could erect windmills there to power the place if they wanted, to watch the Bills in a meaningless game against the NFL's worst team? Not me! I expect attendance at that game to total around forty thousand (the stadium seats something like 75,000).

:: I'm glad the Bills won, and a bit surprised -- the Chargers had more to play for, and despite the game's cold climate the Chargers' game is well-suited to road games in the cold. They're a power-rushing team that doesn't put the ball in the air much, and they have an underrated defense. From what I could tell listening to the radio, Junior Seau is still a force to reckon with. Drew Bledsoe had a forgettable game -- not a disaster, like his games against the Patriots, but not inspiring, either. The defense seems to have adopted a "bend but don't break" philosophy, which works sometimes but can drive one crazy.

The Bills' running back Travis Henry could post the fourth highest total in rushing yardage in Bills' history this year, eclipsing Thurman Thomas's best season (1992) and only looking up at O.J. Simpson's three best years. Henry has 1,312 yards right now, with two games left. I don't recall the number he needs exactly, but it's something like 170 yards over the next two games. My question, though, is why on earth Henry is only averaging about nineteen carries a game. A workhorse RB like Henry should be getting around thirty carries a game, which would ease things on the offensive line and Drew Bledsoe, who has been forcing his throws lately in the belief that he has to overcome his own team's defensive shortcomings.

I got to watch the last two minutes of yesterday's game, because all of the other games on CBS had gone final, so they offered "bonus coverage"...which was the Bills and Chargers. Thus, I got to see Doug Flutie's last attempt at magic. I don't think Flutie has the physical tools anymore to really play in the NFL, but there is no question that he once did. There's no reason why he had to spend most of his playing years in the CFL.

:: In this "year of streaks" in the NFL, getting hot at the right time -- the way the Patriots did last year -- could be the key to whichever team ends up going all the way. The NFC race is a thrill, with the Packers, Eagles and Buccaneers all heating up. In the AFC, the Dolphins look like the hottest team right now -- but there's no telling if that will remain the case. In any case, it's a strange feeling to be just two weeks away from the end of the season, and still not have a single playoff berth in the AFC clinched. Wow.

:: For Christmas, every player on the New York Jets should get a CD containing nothing but seventy-five minutes of Chris Berman, saying "That's why they play the games...."

:: The status of my Super Bowl picks: the amazing Eagles are not only doing OK without Donovan McNabb, they're actually fluorishing and may actually win home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. I'm not sure if McNabb would come back for the playoffs then, or at least the NFC Championship Game if they advance that far, but the injury that seemed likely to kill the Eagles' season now looks like a mere speed-bump on their way to the postseason. The Steelers control their own destiny in the AFC North; they only need a single victory in their last two games to secure the division. However, that may prove a bit difficult: their next game is at Tampa (with the Bucs still fighting for home-field), and they wind things up at home against Baltimore. If the Steelers lose to the Bucs, and the Ravens beat the Browns this weekend, then that game would be a winner-take-the-division showdown, with the loser likely exiting the playoff picture. Of course, if the Steelers beat the Bucs on Monday night, then the game against Baltimore is meaningless except for playoff-seeding purposes, if even that.

:: This season, with the amazing parity in the AFC, reminds me in a way of the seasons ten years ago or so, when there would be no dominant AFC team and an 11-5 record would be good for top-seed in the playoffs. Back then, the NFC was clearly the better conference, as was made plain each year when the AFC Champion would be beaten -- most times, badly -- by the NFC Champion in the Super Bowl. But then, there are differences: back then there was always a dominant NFC team, either Dallas or San Francisco or Washington, for whom the entire season would be an inexorable march toward the title. That's not the case this year for the NFC, and a look at the standings reveals that the NFC has seven teams with records of .500 or better, while the AFC sports thirteen such teams. There are only three losing teams in the AFC, and one of those -- Jacksonville -- could well be a winning team if a few breaks had gone its way. Right now, the three best teams in the NFL are all in the NFC, but the AFC on average seems to be better, and none of those three top NFC teams would be any kind of lock over any of the realistic AFC champions. So here we are, with only two weeks left in the season, and twenty of the NFL's thirty-two teams still have a mathematical chance at the Super Bowl.

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