Chris Wesseling

The Morning After

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Playoff Permutations

Monday, December 26, 2011


Jonathan Comey of ColdHardFootballFacts.com compares Aaron Rodgers’ 2011 season to the great outlier years of Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan.

Whereas the years of 1970-1977 produced just five 5-touchdown games, Rodgers became the fifth QB this season to produce five scores, tying the franchise single-game record against the Bears. It’s the fifth game this season he’s scored at least four times, leaving his 45 touchdowns behind only the magical seasons of Tom Brady (2007), Peyton Manning (2004), and Dan Marino (1984). His 4,643 yards are the most in franchise history, surpassing Lynn Dickey’s 4,458 from 1983.

It gets better. Rodgers’ 9.25 YPA is the highest average by any QB in history with at least 400 pass attempts. His 45:6 TD-to-INT is the best ratio of any QB with 4,000+ passing yards while the 122.5 passer rating tops Manning’s 121.1 as the best ever. Rodgers also moved past Steve Young (1994) and Brady (2010) with a 100+ passer rating in 13 games. If the Packers win the Super Bowl, the 2011 MVP season will top the list of the greatest of all time.

Becoming the first team in 39 years to score at least 30 points in a game while committing no turnovers or penalties, the Packers are the fifth defending champ since 1990 to lock up the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. No longer gunning for the perfect season, the Packers can afford to rest their most valuable players versus the Lions in the season finale. We’ll have a better idea on the playing time of Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley later in the week. For now, it’s a good idea for those in Week 17 leagues to grab Matt Flynn and Randall Cobb.

 
While Green Bay landed homefield advantage, Week 16 saw the elimination of the Eagles, Bears, Chargers, Seahawks, Cardinals, and Chiefs from playoff contention. How does the action from NFL's holiday weekend shake out for Week 17?
 
Playoff Permutations
 
The Patriots must beat the Bills to lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. As usual, Bill Belichick will play his starters for all -- or at least the majority of -- the game. The Jets need the Bengals to lose (vs. BAL), the Titans to lose (at HOU), and either the Broncos (vs. KC) or Raiders (vs. SD) to lose to earn a wild card berth. Even then, it's certainly not a given that the Jets will go into Miami to knock off a frisky Dolphins squad. 
 
The Bengals can clinch that final wild card spot with a win over the Ravens. Failing that, the door is open for the Titans, Jets, and Raiders while Baltimore locks up a first-round bye. Should the Ravens lose, the Steelers can steal the No. 2 seed with a victory at Cleveland -- likely with Charlie Batch under center again. The Ravens and Steelers will have to play to win. 
 
The Texans are locked into the No. 3 seed, which means the finale versus the Titans is meaningless from their perspective. Arian Foster can't be expected to play a full game. The coaching staff would like to get a "tune-up" in for Andre Johnson, but that now seems unlikely. The safer play is to wait for the playoff opener against the Bengals or Jets -- if not a rematch with Tennessee. Even if the Jets win, the Titans can get in with losses by the Bengals and the Raiders or Broncos. Should Denver and Oakland both win, the Titans can still get in with a loss by the Bengals and Jets. 
 
The Broncos clinch the AFC West title with a win or a Raiders loss. Even if Denver wins, Oakland can land that wild card berth with a win and a Bengals loss plus Titans loss or a Bengals loss plus Jets win. 
 
The NFC East comes down to a winner-take-all bout between the Giants and Cowboys at New York. Both teams will go all out for the win. 
 
The Lions have clinched a wild card berth. The only question is whether will square off against the Saints, Falcons, Giants, Cowboys, or 49ers. Detroit may gun for the No. 5 seed, but they can rest starters if they so choose. Joique Bell was signed off New Orleans' practice squad, perhaps a sign that Kevin Smith's ankle will get a well-deserved rest in Week 17.
 
The Falcons clinched a wild card berth with the Bears' loss Sunday night. Since Atlanta still has a shot at the NFC South crown with a Monday night win, the Saints-Panthers will be moved to 4:15 p.m. ET to coincide with the Falcons-Bucs game. Even if the Saints prevail Monday night, the season finale still holds meaning. If the 49ers find a way to lose at St. Louis, New Orleans would earn the first-round bye.
 
As much as San Francisco may want to rest Frank Gore, the Niners still have to win versus the Rams if the Saints emerge victorious on Monday Night Football. Kendall Hunter won't be guaranteed 15 touches in the finale. 

Game Balls

Matthew Stafford - The first draft pick of the Jim Schwartz era completed 29-of-36 passes for 373 yards and three TDs as the Lions clinched their first playoff appearance since 1999. It’s fitting that Stafford went to the same high school as Hall of Fame QB Bobby Layne, as he’s set to "launch the best era of Lions football since the 1950s” after tossing a franchise record 36 TDs in his age-23 season. “Did you see the first [offensive] play of the game?” center Dominic Raiola asked, referring to Stafford’s 46-yard bomb to Calvin Johnson. “That was our attitude. It was, ‘You know what – let’s let it all hang out. Let’s not play conservative.’ The kid was on fire [Saturday]. You’re seeing why we drafted him No. 1 overall.”

Cam Newton - To suggest that Andy Dalton was giving Newton a run for rookie of the year honors was laughable at mid-season and absurd now. Newton passed Peyton Manning for the most passing yards (3,893) by a rookie in NFL history and joined Kordell Stewart as the only players with at least 20 passing TDs and 10 rushing TDs. Newton has accounted for 34 touchdowns overall this season, more than double the touchdowns of 2010 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford’s entire team. Any way you slice it, Carolina’s new team leader has authored the greatest statistical season in rookie history. Expect Newton to follow in Stafford’s footsteps next season, as the Panthers have risen from 2-8 to 6-9 similar to the Lions’ run to close out last season.

Victor Cruz - Give Darrelle Revis credit; he dominated his matchup with Hakeem Nicks on Saturday after continuing the tired NFL trend of feigning like he didn’t know the name of fantasy’s No. 3 receiver. Antonio Cromartie, who spent the week disparaging Cruz as less than a Pro Bowl talent, was the corner charged with covering the breakout star. Cruz went on to burn the vaunted Jets secondary for 164 yards, highlighted by a record-tying 99-yard touchdown where he left Cromartie in the dust with a change-of-direction move. Undrafted and held catchless as a rookie, Cruz’s 1,358 yards moved him past Amani Toomer’s 1,343 as the most by a Giants receiver in franchise history.  

Jared Cook - Before Week 15, Cook was an athletic tease calling to mind former Titans second-rounder Ben Troupe. With a skill-set that looks at times like part Antonio Gates and part Jermichael Finley, Cook’s 169 yards versus the Jaguars are the most by a tight end since Dallas Clark’s 183 early in the 2009 season and the 11th-most by a tight end since the 1970 merger. NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi believes Cook “can really be a force in the passing game and should be more consistent each week” in 2012. Cook’s emergence, along with the return of Kenny Britt, leaves explosive rookie Jake Locker as my No. 1 Dynasty “buy” of the offseason.

Steven Jackson - Jackson broke the 100-yard mark against the Steelers shutdown run defense as just the seventh running back in NFL history to top 1,000 yards in seven consecutive seasons. Behind S-Jax’s performance, the Rams became the first team since at least 1940 to get shut out by 27+ points while rushing for 164+ yards and committing no turnovers.


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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
Email :Chris Wesseling



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