The two AFC East leaders were no-shows on Sunday
Week 17 has traditionally been a week of rest for teams who have locked up their playoff position, and a week of intense games for teams driven to make the playoffs or to improve their playoff positioning. What the @#&%#@ happened this week 17? All seven teams within reach of the playoffs had something to play for, and more than half stunk it up horribly. Not all of those teams lost, and they can thank the opposition for playing worse, making these games even more dreadful to watch.
Lets run down this debacle in order:
#1. The #6 seed 10-5 Jets were in the playoffs and all they had to do was win a game against the depleted 7-8 Bills. In a game that was close on the scoreboard, it never seemed to be in doubt. The Bills held a 19 minute time of possession advantage, and their defense ended the game with three straight interceptions. In the end, the Jets decided to pass the ball rather than run it despite gaining over 7.3 yards per carry on 15 hand-offs. Per drop-back (40 total), they gained 4.8 yards-per-attempt*.
#2. The #1 seed Patriots simply needed to win versus the lowly Dolphins. In the end, the Dolphins gave up an unheard of 196 total yards to a Tom Brady led offense, and the Miami offense gained 448 on the Patriots solid defense. Wow what an egg laid by the Patriots on both sides of the ball, yet somehow the game was tied after 3 quarters. The loss slipped the Patriots to #2, but more importantly, showed that even the Patriots can struggle with a thin roster.
#3. The #2 seed Broncos needed a victory against the 4-win Chargers to lock up not just a first round bye, but as they learned before kickoff, an AFC #1 seed. With that motivation, the Broncos turned the ball over three times in their first four possessions, and the Chargers cashed those fortunes in with… three punts and zero points. Denver’s 4th turnover of the half resulted in a long field goal, and after their 5th miscue in just over two quarters, the Chargers were able to capitalize with a TD. Insert backup QB Peyton Manning who was given the credit for leading a Broncos comeback because Denver’s defense caused a turnover of their own, and on the next play, Peyton handed the ball off perfectly to Ronnie Hillman for the game winning score.
#4. The Bengals were looking for a playoff bye with a win (and a Broncos loss) and did so in sloppy and uninspiring fashion. Lucky for them, they went up against Ryan Mallett’s accuracy and propensity to become flustered under pressure. Of course there were also untimely WR drops and penalties. The Bengals squeaked out a win with Jeremy Hill’s longest run of the season on a 4th and 1 play, a PI aided TD drive, and an INT setting up another TD. As for their maturity and mental state heading into the playoffs, the outlook doesn’t look good. Dre Kirkpatrick inexplicably taunted Ryan Mallett after dropping an easy INT near the goal line early in the game, which could have resulted in a Ravens 1st and goal (maybe he was just mad at himself). On essentially the last play of the game, the Bengals intercepted Mallett’s pass and decided to play the lateral game risking a fumble return instead taking a knee and winning the game. Post-game, Marvin Lewis sounded anything but confident heading into the playoffs.
#5. The Steelers looked a little better than they did the previous week. Luckily they were playing the Browns who turned long drives into short field goals instead of touchdowns. Pittsburgh lost another starting RB and did nothing on the ground against a porous Browns run D even when Williams was healthy. One dimensional teams generally struggle in the playoffs.
#6. The Chiefs needed a win and a Broncos loss to grab the AFC West title. They came out strong versus the Raiders, then struggled to get anything going for the final 50 minutes. In the end, the Chiefs did what the Chiefs do: win with an opportunistic defense and game managing offense (minus the pick six in this game).
#7. The Texans took care of business and were the only team that came to play for nearly 60 minutes.
So who wants it? Who will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl? Lucky for the top teams, the Chiefs and Texans play in the wildcard round, which will eliminate one of the two hottest teams in the AFC. That leaves a bunch of teams that anyone would want to play if they show up like they did in Week 17.
*Includes Passing yards + Scramble yards – Sack yards