Fourth and Long – Week 16 [2013]

By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer

The Thursday night games are completed, and now so, too, is the “Long” part of the column. But the column will still be “long,” so to speak, so let’s just get into it…

First Down
Dallas Does It Again
If you’ve been living in a bubble, here’s an update for you – the Cowboys blew a big lead and coughed up a winnable game with poor offensive execution and an absentee defense. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Still, I won’t blame Romo (an excellent piece by Bill Barnwell illustrates that he’s actually worse in October than December) or Jason Garrett (poor play calling doesn’t lead to scoring 36 points) or even the 11 players playing without the football who look like they simply don’t play football (aka “the defense”). I’ll just blame it on the person responsible for this entire mess – Jerry Jones. He’s the owner and GM, so ultimately that’s where the blame needs to start and stop. On a radio show Tuesday (forgive my lack of proper citation, I only heard the clip once and have not found a legitimate attribution) Jones compared the building and operating of the Cowboys to drilling for oil, where in the left hand there’s a phone with information that there’s a dry well and the money is gone, and in the right hand there’s a phone with information that the funding has been acquired to start drilling a new hole, so “you go again.” Umm… what? Here’s the difference, Jerry – 100,000+ people aren’t lining your pockets every Sunday by filing into your behemoth of a stadium, financed with public dollars, to watch their team blow 23-point halftime leads against a QB that’s played for, as I said last week, five different teams in the last two years! Without star Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay had scored 13, 13, 26, 10, and 22 points against the Eagles, Giants, Vikings, Lions, and Falcons, respectively. Based on points allowed, those defenses are ranked 17, 20, 31, 16, and 27 in the NFL. That means five below-average defenses have held the Matt Flynn-led Packers to an average of 16.8 points – which Dallas then proceeded to just about double before Romo’s interception late in the fourth quarter! Let’s also remember that the Cowboys don’t have a real running game, mostly because DeMarco Murray really isn’t a number one RB and the offensive line has functioned just about as well as the Obamacare website. All of that rests squarely on the shoulders of one man, and until he decides to surrender his GM duties the NFC East will always be a three team race.

Second Down
Jags to the Playoffs! (Redux)
Ok, so let’s just pretend that what I wrote in this space last week never happened. Deal? Thanks.

In other news, the AFC playoff race continues to have a tremendous amount of intrigue, since there are so many possible permutations and matchups that could play out as a result of the next two weeks. How bizarre are some of the scenarios? Let’s just say that there’s a chance that the Miami Dolphins, who currently would miss the playoffs if the season ended today, are still capable of not just winning the AFC East, but actually getting a first-round bye! How? Well I’m glad you asked!

First, the Dolphins need to win their final two games (at Buffalo, home to the Jets). That would give Miami a 10-6 record. In order to win the division, they would need the Patriots to also finish 10-6, meaning New England would need to lose at Baltimore this week and at home to the Bills in week 17. That’s the hard part, sure, but the rest is distinctly possible. The Dolphins hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with both the Colts and Bengals, so any tie with those teams goes to Miami. Plus, while they don’t own a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Ravens, they would wind up winning a three-way tiebreaker at 10-6 with the Ravens and the Colts because of conference record. If your head hurts, join the club, but just trust me that the Dolphins could still play a home game in the divisional round of the postseason – or finish third in the AFC East. Welcome to the results of parity.

Also, for you Steelers fans, here’s my one public service announcement regarding your playoff chances – they’re basically invisible. Still, here’s how it has to happen:

  1. Ravens and Dolphins lose out, both finish 8-8.
  2. Jets beat Browns in week 16, thus passing Miami for second in AFC East.
  3. Chargers finish 1-1 or 0-2, actual results irrelevant.

As I said, it’s basically impossible, but since Pittsburgh is technically still alive I wanted to do my due diligence on the subject. You may all now resume normal business activity…

Third Down
If The Playoffs Started Today…
1. Denver Broncos (11-3)
2. New England Patriots (10-4)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)
4. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)
6. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

Still alive: Miami (8-6), San Diego (7-7), Pittsburgh (6-8)
Eliminated: NY Jets (6-8), Tennessee (5-9), Buffalo (5-9), Oakland (4-10), Jacksonville (4-10), Cleveland (4-10), Houston (2-12)

Notes: Denver and Kansas City have clinched playoff berths. Indianapolis has clinched the AFC South division. Denver clinches the first seed because of head-to-head victory (2-0). Cincinnati wins the third seed over Indianapolis because of head-to-head victory. Baltimore wins the sixth seed over Miami because of head-to-head victory.

Fourth Down
If The Playoffs Started Today…
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-2)
2. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
4. Chicago Bears (8-6)
5. Carolina Panthers (10-4)
6. San Francisco 49’ers (10-4)

Still alive: Arizona (9-5), Green Bay (7-6-1), Detroit (7-7), Dallas (7-7)
Eliminated: St. Louis (6-8), NY Giants (5-9), Minnesota (4-9-1), Tampa Bay (4-10), Atlanta (4-10), Washington (3-11)

Notes: Seattle has clinched a playoff berth. New Orleans wins the second seed over Carolina because of head-to-head victory. Philadelphia wins the third seed over Chicago because of better conference record (Phi 7-3, Chi 4-6). Carolina wins the sixth seed over San Francisco because of head-to-head victory.