The first 16 weeks of the 2013 season have been pro football’s answer to ‘American Hustle’: long, confusing, and plum fantastic.
Fantastic for myriad reasons too many for this lazy writer to count, but now just prelude to the climax of a season regular in name only. You already know it, but it’s worth repeating: 2013 will go out like a lion (not the Detroit Lions, thankfully) thanks to the game’s most historic rivalry. Packers and Bears, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler in Soldier Field for the NFC North title. Professional talkers are already using phrases like “high risk, high reward!” and “professional legacy!” Here are the three words I prefer: ‘ooh’, ‘la’, and ‘la’.
Long, as in… how long ago does it seem Peyton opened the season with those seven TD passes against the defending champs? And will that long ago game – played in Denver instead of Baltimore (where it should been played) – be what keeps the Ravens from defending their crown? The home team has won 10 of the last 11 of those primetime midweek season openers, so it’s fair to assume the Ravens would have won theirs… which would mean Sunday’s game in Cincy would be for the division title, not a fight for survival.
Now, though, let’s focus on the confusing part. I mean, what do we really know with the season 94.1% complete? (Yes, I used a calculator to determine that percentage.)
Lots of people already consider the Packers and Eagles making the playoffs a foregone conclusion, but this season has made making such assumptions an ass of you… but not me. I’m assuming nothing. In fact, I have more questions than answers. Questions like:
What if Kyle Orton beats the Eagles?
It seems impossible, but I would’ve said the same about Amy Adams being foxier than Jennifer Lawrence ’til I saw ‘American Hustle’. Dallas obviously wants the win and the subsequent post-season visit (brief though it may be), but then what? Jerry will claim he’s confident the team would’ve dumped Philly with Romo under center, but we cynics will doubt the veracity of his words. If the team finally comes through in a big Week 17 game while Romo watches from his bed, Jerry won’t be able to simply dismiss the Romo questions from the media, fans or himself. Either way the Cowboys will be saddled with $20 million devoted to a 34-year-old QB with a bum back and still just one playoff win eight years into the starting gig. In other words, win or lose on Sunday, the off-season will once again be melodramatic in Big D.
What if Aaron Rodgers doesn’t beat the Bears?
Two seconds after Rodgers’ return was announced, lots of fans and media members immediately began contemplating whether the Packers can beat the Niners in the wildcard round. Don’t forget, though, the game’s being played on Jay Cutler’s home turf. And if Cutler wins it, he’ll likely get to keep calling Chicago home for a few more seasons so he and his sizable pals Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey can build on Marc Trestman’s promising first season. If the Bears lose, though, Cutler will more likely be wearing a Texans or Titans (or Bengals?) helmet come September ’14.
Are the Seahawks unbeatable in Seattle come January?
Short answer: no. Long answer: they’re still the team to beat, but they’re a little less daunting now that Russell Wilson & Co have been taken down on their home field by Arizona’s nasty D. Seems to me Pete Carroll should be rooting for the Saints to win and the Panthers to lose this Sunday. Why? ‘Cause if the home teams win both divisional round games, it’d be the NFC South champ/second seed who’d make the trip to Seattle for the title game. The Hawks already know they can handle New Orleans outside of the SuperDome, whereas Carolina – a team built around a playmaking QB and rugged D – would make for a grind-it-out, low-scoring prison fight between stylistic dopplegangers. Then again, a divisional round visit from Aaron Rodgers – who you may recall “almost” won a game in the C-Link in September ’12 – could render my thoughts on a title game in Seattle moot. Then again – again – the sixth-seeded Panthers would go to Seattle for the divisional round if they won at Philly or Dallas in the wildcard game. Like I say, confusing.
Who’ll represent the AFC in the Super Bowl?
Denver has been the best team over the last four months, but that’s not the question posed. A decent case can made for any of the top five seeds… and after the Chargers’ win in Denver a couple weeks ago, it’s not a long shot they could go on a deep run from the sixth spot. At the very least, the six-seed – whoever it is – will be good enough to have a realistic shot at going into Cincy or Indy in the wildcard round and coming out with a win.
Before all that, though, we still have one last glorious Sunday involving all 32 teams. We won’t have another one for eight long months, so let’s enjoy it…
Warning: do NOT continue reading if you don’t want to know the results of the Week 17 games.
(14-2 last week, 154-88 on the season)
G. Bernard: GW 30-yd TD rec on 4th-&-29
T. Gonzalez: 100 yds, 2 TDs
A. Verner: 54-yd INT TD
T.Y. Hilton: 114 yds, TD
NYJ D: 6 sacks
Seriously, who cares?
B. Roethlisberger: 250 yds, 2 TDs
J. Starks: 98 yds, TD
P. Manning: 230 yds, 4 TDs
D. Amendola: 121 yds, TD
J. Graham: 111 yds, TD
D. Dockett: 2 sacks (1 for safety)
M. Lynch: 102 yds, 2 TDs
K. Davis: 115 yds, TD
L. McCoy: 179 yds/scrimmage, 2 TDs
So… that means the playoff matchups will look as follows:
#5 CHIEFS at #4 COLTS
#6 STEELERS at #3 BENGALS
BYE: #1 BRONCOS, #2 PATS
#5 PANTHERS at #4 PACKERS
#6 NINERS at #3 EAGLES
BYE: #1 SEAHAWKS, #2 SAINTS
Enjoy Week 17, everybody! I hope your team wins (unless they’re playing my team… or they’re the Ravens, Dolphins or Chargers).