Sunday, December 10, 2006


[Caution: NFL/esoteric football arcana post. Don't say I didn't warn you.]

To LaDainian Tomlinson, who broke the single-season rushing TD record in 13 games. For years, as the record has been broken repeatedly, old-school purists kept going on and on about how Gale Sayers had to do it in 14 games, or Jim Brown in a 12-game season. No more. Tomlinson is averaging over 100 yards and 2 touchdowns per game. San Diego's a division rival to my hapless Raiduhs and even I find it pretty damned impressive. Nicely done, LT.

I assume he now has to take his O-line out for a celebratory feast, and especially fullback Lorenzo Neal, probably the best pure blocking FB in the game. The guy routinely chips defenders at the second level, opening up additional 10-yard holes for Tomlinson. The consistency and execution would be emulated by every team if they had that kind of 1-2 talent in the backfield.

Also, in pigskin prognostication updates, I don't think anyone saw such a preciptious collapse of the first-rank teams coming so quickly. Both the Colts and Patriots got blown out in Florida road trips, by the resurgent Jaguars and Dolphins respectively. The Colts especially, since they along with the Chicago Bears were odds-on Super Bowl opponents at midseason, have stumbled hard, losing three of the last four games.

The Bears are not much better, leading the conference and securing the division, but with mediocre, turnover-prone offense. Critics are calling for QB Rex Grossman to be pulled, and backup Brian Griese to replace him so Chicago can gear up for a playoff run. That is no solution; Griese is not that much better, not enough to risk gutting Grossman's long-term morale for someone who only has a 50-50 chance of making a bigger dent in the first place. Chicago's good fortune is being in a shitty conference. There's no reason for them to panic.

With three games left to play in the regular season, Tomlinson's Chargers are looking like the team to beat in the AFC. Their only serious competition is one of the two teams to beat them so far, Baltimore, who share Indianapolis' 10-3 record in the quest for home-field advantage, or at least a bye week. The Colts have the toughest remaining schedule out of the three teams, and as good as their regular season records have been in the Peyton Manning era, the playoff history indicates that without home-field, they're dead in the water soon as they go on the road.

As for the much weaker NFC, until this evening Dallas was looking like the one team that could sneak up on the Bears. New Orleans' pimp-slapping of the Cowboys complicates the scenario a great deal, and Chicago's slam-dunk remaining schedule should -- poor QB play or no -- secure home advantage for them. Still, the Saints have been romping over their opponents, racking up massive yards. Drew Brees is leading the league in passing, and Reggie Bush is performing as advertised. A Saints-Bears matchup in the NFC title game could go either way, even in Chicago.

So, because it's been a slow news day, and I'm still winding down from the season finale of The Wire, and because no one else is dumb enough to do playoff picks in Week 14, here's my humble predictions:

AFC playoff seeds
  1. San Diego

  2. Baltimore

  3. Indianapolis

  4. New England

  5. Cincinnati

  6. Jacksonville

Colts and Pats beat Jaguars and Bengals in the wild card, respectively, then lose in San Diego and Baltimore in divisionals.

AFC Championship Game: Baltimore at San Diego. SD should win that matchup, even considering Marty Schottenheimer's interminable streak of playoff chokes. He's finally got a horse he can ride all the way to the Kentucky Derby.

NFC playoff seeds
  1. Chicago

  2. New Orleans

  3. Dallas

  4. Seattle

  5. Giants

  6. Philadelphia

Wild cards are really too close to call in the weak-ass NFC; the Giants and Eagles, even though they play each other next week, look like the best of a bad lot. I think home field rules here as well, through wild card and divisional games.

NFC Championship Game: New Orleans at Chicago. I think it all comes down to the weather at that point -- snow would give the Bears' punishing defense the chance to shut the Saints' potent offensive machine completely down. But the Saints put on a clinic in a very tough stadium tonight, and it's certainly a feel-good story for New Orleans. In the end, though, Chicago probably has a slight edge.

Which is too bad, because a San Diego-New Orleans matchup in the Super Bowl would be a better game. Against Chicago, there won't be nearly as many offensive fireworks, but San Diego should still prevail.

Unless, of course, they choke on their first playoff game.

No comments: