The only thing that suprises me anymore about the NFL is that we are actually suprised at what happens every year in the NFL. What we do know is that there will be a new AFC Champion, the New York Giants are the lone NFC team to return to the playoffs from last season and the Detroit Lions are now on the clock.
Starting off in Atlanta where the old axiom still holds true, the sign of a good team is one who beats who they're supposed to beat. Case in point, the St. Louis Rams knocked off the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins earlier this season for their only two victories, just part of the reason those two squads are sitting at home and the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles are goin' dancin'. The Falcons have had an impressive turnaround, wisely investing in "3M" (coach Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and Michael Turner) and their stock continues to soar. Atlanta finishes out at 11-5 just barely missing out on a 1st round bye and division title.
The reason Atlanta is going on the road, the Carolina Panthers and John Kasay's last second field goal gave John Fox's boys the first road victory by an NFC South team within the division. After blowing a 23-0 lead early, Carolina got the kick they couldn't get a week ago at Giants Stadium.
Sticking in the South, should John Gruden be sending off his resume to South Bend? The Bucs drop four in a row, including bowing out to Chuckie's old team at home. From 9-3 to 9-7, yikes. For all of their percieved success with Gruden at the helm, Tampa's last playoff victory came the same year the Raiders did, when the Bucs beat them in the Super Bowl nearly six years ago. With Derek Brooks and Ronde Barber the two standouts remaining, that defense isn't striking the fear of God into anybody these days.
So how does that Cowboys-Browns Super Bowl look right now? How about Cowboys-Pats?
The Cowboys day in Philadelphia must've felt longer than game 5/1/2 of the World Series. Dallas suffers its worst loss in over 20 years and the Eagles once again finish strong. So do Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb get extensions now? Seven out of the last ten years Reid and Co. have made it to January football and what a ride. From McNabb's benching, to "tie-gate," beating the Giants on the road, losing at Washington to having to wait on the Bears and Bucs to lose, Philly then found the football version of the New York Mets and spanked the Cowboys 44-6. You know for a head coach Wade Phillips makes an awfully swell defensive coordinator.
"Now we're gonna party like its 1989," the Bengals finish out winning three in a row, while the 49ers close out winning five of their last seven. Samuel L. Jackson err Mike Singletary has done an excellent job in changing the culture around the Niners and has earned a permanent gig in Frisco.
Any reason Ben Roethlisberger was playing in Sunday's tilt against the Browns, any?
In the "its not how you start but how you finish bowl," the Indianapolis Colts start out 3-4 and the San Diego Chargers 4-8, both will face each other in the Wild Card round this weekend. Which is harder to believe, that Indy at 12-4 is a Wild Card or that San Diego at 8-8 has the same or worse record than three other AFC teams (Pats, Jets, Texans) and is hosting a playoff game? The hardest to believe may be the fact that Denver was in 1st place for 16 weeks and will be sitting at home yet again.
Speaking of the AFC East, if you'd rather give Mike Smith or John Harbaugh coach of the year over Tony Sparano for winning with rookie QB's that's fine, but there's no question that Bill Parcells deserves executive of the year. But of course this is just what Tuna does right? How's that gold and burgandy working out for ya Jason Taylor?
So Parcells trumps Belichick, Pennington sends the Jets home wondering where that Subway Super Bowl went. This just in, Wall St. is inviting the Jets over to ring the closing bell in admiration of their collapse.
Hard to feel sorry for the Patriots, but to go 11-5 and end up going home, there's just something that stinks about that. The last team to do so, the 1985 Cleveland Browns. Does what happened in San Diego with L.T. and Michael Turner this season make the Pats take a closer look at bringing Matt Cassel back?
The Bills Rian Lindell may be the first kicker to have ever hooked a kick wide left and sliced one wide right on the same exact kick.
Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel and Rod Marinelli all out, is Wade Phillips short to follow?
So many storylines for Wild Card weekend, two rookie QB's in Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco going on the road to face two guys who've resurrected their respective careers, both ex- NY QB's in Kurt Warner and Chad Pennington. Then you also have two teams in the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles who nobody wants to play right about now.
Finally there were whispers of it only moments after the conclusion of Super Bowl XLII, which will inevatably be amplified in the coming weeks: Manning Bowl.