New York Giants 34, Carolina Panthers 28 OT
Great game. It's apparent we watched the two best teams in the NFC square off. But it wasn't a flawless outing, especially for the Panthers. After all, their front seven was thoroughly worn down by New York's offensive line and running backs, and the receivers at times had trouble getting open against a stingy secondary. Crazy as it sounds, I'm not so sure I would want the No. 1 seed. Think about it: during the flow of an NFL season, a team usually stays home for no more than two weeks in a row. But as the top seed in the playoffs, a team could stay home for up to a month. That is a completely different rhythm. And recent history suggests that the change in schedule can be a disadvantage. The last No. 1 seed to hoist the Lombardi Trophy was the '03 Patriots. The Panthers were creative in getting Steve Smith the ball early in this game, but once New York committed safety help, Carolina was content to go elsewhere. The Panthers have enough offensive talent to get away with this, but they might want to at least look for a big play from Smith once or twice a half regardless. Corey Webster and Aaron Ross were both fantastic Sunday night. Not enough attention was given to the fact that Ken Lucas's pass interference in the end-zone late in this game marked the first pass interference penalty called against the Panthers all season. That is simply incredible – especially considering how physical the Carolina cornerbacks are. Have you noticed that on the sideline during Giants game there always seems to be a bunch of ultra New Yorky-looking old guys who are sophisticatedly dressed as if they're about to play chess at a public park? They're the guys wearing rain coats and Scottish cashmere gill caps. Who are they?
Buffalo Bills 30, Denver Broncos 23
Watching Denver face San Diego on NBC primetime next week will evoke that morally iffy feeling you used to get when you stayed quite while witnessing your friend cheat on a test. It seems inherently wrong to watch these two middling teams play for such high stakes. The best thing Denver has going for them next week is that they're on the road. That way, when they blow what should have been an easy division title, they at least won't get booed off the field. To Denver's credit, not many teams could handle the injuries at running back as well as they have. The Broncos didn't run worth a darn in this game, but they were starting their sixth different running back on the season. Overall, Mike Shanahan's team ranks a solid 16th in the league in rushing. Mad props to the Bills for fighting back in a meaningless cross-country game in which they fell behind early. Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson were particularly impressive.
Washington Redskins 10, Philadelphia Eagles 3
The Eagles are like a hyperactive puppy or a rebellious ADD-riddled 12-year-old: the second you put down your guard and give them any sort of positive feedback, they disappoint you. Philly is actually a fairly simple team to figure out: when Brian Westbrook is right, they're good. When he's not, they're bad. DeSean Jackson had one of those defining rookie learning experiences. And this time it did not involve him throwing the ball away before crossing the goal-line. The impressive young star dropped four passes on the day, including what looked to be a game-tying grab in the end-zone. It's an utter shock, and quite frankly, a disgrace, to hear Jim Zorn's name mentioned amongst coaches on the hotseat. The first-year head man has done a semi-marvelous job with this team. Washington's problem is that they've hit a wall, in part because their running back and offensive tackles got hurt. Can Zorn do better? Absolutely. But it's up to Dan Snyder to give him the chance.
Atlanta Falcons 24, Minnesota Vikings 17
How is it that Minnesota was minus-four in the turnover battle on the afternoon, yet had an opportunity to tie the game on the final drive inside the final two minutes? Does that say more about the Vikings or the Falcons? People will start to say it now, but please, let me at least try to be the first: as great as Adrian Peterson is, it's clear the man has a fumbling problem. It came in a losing effort, but the reversal of fortunes for Tarvaris Jackson could prove to be one of the most stunning stories of the 2008 season. Benched because of ineptitude in September, it seems the talented third-year pro has somehow managed to learn the West Coast offense, as well as develop game-management techniques and poise in the pocket just from standing on the sideline and watching Gus Frerotte the past three months. Visanthe Shiancoe is also coming on extremely strong for Minnesota. As for Atlanta, they're officially the new sexy team in the NFC. Over the next few weeks, you'll hear about how incredible Michael Turner – did you know that he's L.T.'s former backup !!?? – has been, what a great job Mike Smith has done and how Matt Ryan is the next great signal-caller, ala Dan Marino or Ben Roethlisberger. It will get annoying, but at least all this hype is substantiated.
Seattle Seahawks 13, New York Jets 3
We said it on the GamePods this week: the Jets are a tired team. The most exhausted member of the squad is the man under center. Seattle deserves a lot of credit for consistently playing hard all season. They're one of the few teams that truly can blame the injury bug for the majority of their problems. Brett Favre is not getting the job done right now, plain and simple. As the season wears on, he becomes more reluctant to take hits, which makes him a more predictable and, oddly enough, reckless player. What's happened to New York's front seven? Their fall from grace continued Sunday, as Seattle, without virtually its entire offensive line, managed to get 116 yards (albeit on 29 carries) from backup running back Maurice Morris.
Oakland Raiders 27, Houston Texans 16
Eagle fans, don't give up hope just yet. In order to make the playoffs, your team must beat Dallas and these Raiders must do what they couldn't do in Super Bowl XXXVII: beat the Bucs. This has nothing to do with what happened in this game, or even on Sunday for that matter. But since nobody cares about this matchup, let me use this space to say, After the Cowboys lost to the Ravens, the farewell ceremony to Texas Stadium was one of the most depressing and anticlimactic pieces of television this era.
Tennessee Titans 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 14
If you want to get a clear perspective of the Tennessee Titans, don't listen to me. I have been wrong about this team all season. I thought they were a premature product after their surprising playoff run last season, and because of the perceived strength of the rest of the AFC South, I picked them to finish dead last in the division. Once the season got underway, I thought that Kerry Collins and the offense wouldn't be able to maintain any consistency late in the schedule. Then I thought that taking Albert Haynesworth out of the lineup would equate to a death sentence. The bottom line is, Jeff Fisher has been a great coach this year, and I've been an idiot. The Titans became the first team this season to post 300 yards against the Steelers in large part because they got great play out of their receivers, Justin Gage (five catches, 104 yards) and Justin McCareins (six catches – with every one of them seemingly coming at an opportune time – for 55 yards). Tony Brown has become a stud at DT for Tennessee. I wasn't at all impressed with the guy a year ago, but he's developed the technique to capitalize on his augmented level of energy. In Brown you get a voracious penetrater against both the run and pass.
Miami Dolphins 38, Kansas City Chiefs 31
Watching this game was bizarre. It was a huge contest for the Fins, yet frigid Arrowhead Stadium was no more than 20 percent full. There was a confusing preseason/playoff atmosphere. The Dolphins might make the postseason, but I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid. They seem to have a gift for just barely beating crappy teams. From now until Week 1 of the 2009 season, every time I mention the Chiefs, I'm going to mention that they had the worst pass-rush in NFL history during the '08 season. Kansas City was able to sack Chad Pennington zero times Sunday, which almost tied their season-high. On the year, the Chiefs as a team have just nine sacks. I've waited too long to say this, but why did CBS decide to add Dan Fouts to the payroll this season? Fouts is a good announcer, but throwing him in the booth with Dick Enberg and Randy Cross just crowds things.
San Diego Chargers 41, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24
I don't care that the Chargers have climbed back into playoff contention. The idea that they could reach the postseason with eight wins while New England could be left out with 11 wins is absolutely disgusting. One huge difference for Norv Turner's offense as of late is Antonio Gates. The All-Pro tight end finally appears to be 100 percent healthy. Phillip Rivers and his four touchdown throws Sunday validated the opinions of all those sportswriters who cried foul about the league's leading passer being left off the Pro Bowl roster. (On a related note, Brett Favre on Sunday also validated the opinions of those same sportswriters.)
New England Patriots 47, Arizona Cardinals 7
It should be illegal what the Cardinals are doing right now. Naturally, Ken Whisenhunt deserves some of the blame. Given his rigid demeanor, you wouldn't think his club would just mail it in like this. Bottom line is the Cardinals aren't good enough to do any damage in the postseason. Their rushing attack is nonexistent and their defense is a level below that. The Redskins, Eagles, Bears and Saints are four teams that are likely to miss the playoffs, yet all are better than this sorry Cardinals group. As for the Patriots, if fate puts them in the postseason, watch out. Sammy Morris and Lamont Jordan are both healthy, which gives this high-flying offense the run game that it hasn't had in recent weeks. Factor in the semi-sensational play of Matt Cassel and you're looking at some real potency. Once every blue moon you'll see a classy player blatantly draw a 15-yard personal foul penalty for excessive celebration. And every time it happens, you're okay with it because, again, the culprit is a classy player. The latest example came Sunday when Wes Welker caught a touchdown pass that put the Pats up 28-0 and commemorated the moment by making a snow angel.
New Orleans Saints 42, Detroit Lions 7
It wasn't supposed to be like this, Detroit… Drew Brees appears poised to break Dan Marino's single season passing yards record, which, given the Saints' 8-7 mark, means we'll no longer hold the single season passing yards record in high esteem. Remarkably, Brees is putting up gaudy numbers despite not having any receiver rank in the top 20 in yards.
San Francisco 49ers 17, St. Louis Rams 16
I saw only three plays from this worthless game, but what I saw, I'm glad I witnessed. Isaac Bruce returned to St. Louis and scored a touchdown on the 1,000th catch of his Hall of Fame career.
Cincinnati Bengals 14, Cleveland Browns 0
If you're still here, it means you're a truly dedicated reader. I thank you for that.
Visit Andy Benoit at NFLTouchdown.com