Seven wins were enough for Seattle to make the playoffs. What else did we learn from Week 17?
Seven Is Enough
When was the last time that NFL Nation was riveted by a game between two teams with losing records? That’s what it’s come to in the NFC Worst. Last night’s unique win-and-you’re-in showdown between Seattle and St. Louis was the NFL’s version of a Tuesday play-in for the NCAA Tournament — the right to be a sacrificial lamb once the real show starts. But this is a little different. After its 16–6 win, Seattle now gets to host a first-round playoff game against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints despite its 7–9 record that includes a robust 3–7 stretch run. That’s right — for the first time in the modern era in a non-strike-shortened season, there will be a losing team participating in the postseason tournament, and that team gets to host the champs to boot. Not that they’re apologizing, mind you. “There is no apologies for making it into the playoffs. The easiest way to make it to the playoffs is to win your division, period, point-blank,” said safety Lawyer Milloy. “We did that.” The Rams could have spared the NFL the embarrassment by taking care of its business, winning the division at 8–8 and entering the playoffs on the back of likely offensive rookie of the year Sam Bradford. But Bradford got no help from his receivers as the Rams were held to their lowest point total of the season. “The fact our defense played, in my opinion, pretty great, the fact that we let the team down, that we couldn’t get anything going, that’s what really hurts,” Bradford says. What really hurts the NFL is a 7–9 team hosting a playoff game. Look for the league to examine the issue of playoff re-seeding to prevent a repeat.
And so it begins. Eric Mangini is out after a 5–11 season in Cleveland. Tom Cable’s probably out in Oakland, as is Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati. John Fox is gone in Carolina. Jeff Fisher may or may not be back in Nashville. On the flip side, Leslie Frazier’s six-game audition in Minnesota was good enough to get him the job on a permanent basis. Ditto, apparently, for Jason Garrett in Dallas. Tom Coughlin hangs on in New York. Superstar free agents Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden are doubtless fielding offers through their agents. For fans of such intrigue, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. By this time next week, look for some more pieces to be in place, and for another axe or two to have fallen.
This time, I think he means it. Brett Favre says he’s retiring, and his 41-year-old body is going to hold him to it this time. “I know it’s time, and that's OK. It is,” Favre said after the Vikings’ season-ending 20–13 loss to Detroit. "Again, I hold no regrets, and I can't think of too many players offhand that can walk away and say that. Individually and from a team standpoint, it was way more than I ever dreamed of.” Then, as if he were anticipating doubts from the assembled scribes, he added, “It’s time. I’m OK with it. In my opinion, it’s never easy for any player. People, they’ll say ‘wait and see,’ but that’s OK.” Say what you will about the attention-craving, photo-texting, jeans-hawking gunslinger, but the NFL landscape will be a poorer place without him.
Brady, Aim, Fire
The Patriots are the clear favorites to win the Super Bowl thanks to their slam-dunk MVP quarterback, who’s built a staggering statistical resume this season. Tom Brady extended his streaks to 11 games and 335 passes without an interception. He finished the season with 36 touchdown passes and four interceptions. He now has 28 consecutive regular-season wins at home. Yesterday’s 38–7 rout of the Dolphins marked his ninth straight game with at least two TD passes and no interceptions, another NFL record. During their eight-game winning streak to close the regular season, Brady’s Pats have averaged 37.4 points per game. Any questions?
Foster Wraps Rushing Title
Arian Foster has traveled the unlikely road from unloved, unwanted and undrafted free agent running back to NFL rushing champ. After a 180-yard performance against Jacksonville, Foster finished the season with 1,616 yards rushing, the best showing ever for an undrafted player. He also had 604 yards receiving to become the sixth player in league history with 1,500 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving in the same year. “In this lifetime, sometimes things don’t go your way and you can take two roads,” Foster said of his unorthodox journey to superstardom. “You can fold and quit or you can follow your heart and do what you know how to do. And that’s what I did.”