by Robert Ferringo - 01/03/2006
We have met 2005 on the field of battle. And we have defeated it.
New Year's is my favorite holiday of the year. It's a fresh start. New game. Blank page. Re-rack. It's the alpha and omega, and the tangible feeling of experience and perspective seeping into your soul is warm and illuminating.
There is a brilliant transformation that takes place on New Year's. You categorically file away an entire year's worth of occurrences, and within that process a reflection and contemplation over the meaning of these moments takes place. But while you can't help but delve into the past, there's also the overwhelming promise of endless possibilities that lie in the 365 sunrises ahead.
For all of these reasons I think it was fitting that the conclusion of the 2005 NFL regular season straddled New Year's Eve. On the one hand, it was the brutal ending to the seasons and careers of several teams and coaches. Yet, simultaneously it marked the beginning of the second season for those 12 chosen teams that have advanced to the playoffs.
It's a new year for us thrill-seekers as well, as the high-stakes circus that is The NFL Playoffs lurks. The playoffs are a place where fortunes are made and squandered, and they've crippled the life of more than one good man. But you and I are ready. We've been down this road before, and know how to handle ourselves in these treacherous waters. Experience counts, and we won't ever forget what we've learned.
Here is a look both ahead and behind on the events surrounding Week 17:
-- Have you ever heard the expression that character is what you do when no one is looking? It's trite but true, and the final week of the regular season in the NFL serves as a sort of test case for that philosophy.
What I mean is, you can tell a lot about a coach by the way that his team plays in Week 17. You can't just brush off these performances are mere happenstance. Winners play to win, whether for money or marbles. And with the whirlwind of firings that took place on Black Monday, it's no accident who's going and who's staying.
Case in point: look at guys like Nick Saban and Andy Reid. Look at how their teams performed on Sunday. Then look at someone like Norv Turner or Jim Mora, and how their players responded. That wasn't an accident, and is quite telling. One day you may be betting half your paycheck on a team under the thumb of one of these depraved lunatics. In moments like that, it's all about the details of someone's character that make the difference.
-- Since the league adopted the current 12-team playoff format in 1990, there have been 180 playoff teams and 30 Super Bowl slots. Of those 30 Super Bowl teams, 25 were among the top two seeds in their conference. Four other times it has been the No. 4 seed (Denver in 1997 and Baltimore in 2000 won it all) and once it was the No. 3 seed (Carolina in 2003).
No fifth or sixth seed has ever made the Super Bowl, and only two (Indianapolis in 1995 and Jacksonville 1996) were still around for the conference championship.
-- In overtime of Houston's game with San Francisco, it's 4th-and-2 at the 49ers 44. Instead of playing to win - for pride's sake - ex-Texans coach Dom Capers decides to punt. Is there any wonder why this team played with no heart, or why Capers is now unemployed?
-- Neil Rackers set a new record with 40 field goals, and finished third in the league in scoring with 140 points. What's really impressive is that he accounted for 45 percent of Arizona's overall scoring. By comparison, Shaun Alexander and his record-setting total of 28 touchdowns comprised of just 37 percent of Seattle's points.
-- The four top seeds in each conference (Indy, Denver, Seattle, and Chicago) were a combined 30-2 at home this season.
-- Remember when St. Louis started the 2002 season 0-5 before Kurt Warner went down with an injury? Marc Bulger entered and led the Rams back into the fray with a 5-0 run. However, when Warner returned he was re-inserted as the starter and St. Louis finished 2-4 to miss the playoffs.
I bring this up because I think that Jacksonville should start David Garrard. He's 4-1 as a starter and the Jaguars are in a good rhythm with him. However, I was also one of those guys who thought the Bears should stick with Kyle Orton, so take it for what it's worth.
-- I'm going to be pulling hard for Texas against Southern Cal on Wednesday for the simple fact that a Longhorns win will make all of those ass-clowns at ESPN look ridiculous.
--Here's a quick rundown of how each playoff team fared during the regular season against other playoff competitors:
Indianapolis - 5-1 (5-0 against other AFC playoff teams)
Denver - 3-1 (2-0)
Cincinnati - 2-3 (1-3)
New England - 2-3 (1-2)
Jacksonville - 3-3 (2-3)
Pittsburgh - 2-4 (1-4)
Seattle - 2-2 (1-2 against the NFC)
Chicago - 2-2 (2-1)
Tampa Bay - 2-3 (2-2)
New York - 2-2 (1-2)
Carolina - 2-2 (1-2)
Washington - 3-3 (3-2)
-- Chicago's quarterback and offensive line lost only nine of a possible 96 player starts to injury.
-- In 2004, San Diego went 7-1 at home and 5-3 on the road. In 2005, San Diego again went 5-3 on the road (4-1 in the Eastern Time Zone) but just 4-4 at home. That's why they're watching the playoffs at home.
-- Philadelphia had the ball with 12 minutes and 37 seconds to play, nursing a 20-17 against Washington. The Eagles faced 3rd-and-15 from their own 20-yard line and color commentator Troy Aikman wondered aloud whether Andy Reid was going to take a chance and put the ball in quarterback Mike McMahon's hands to make a play.
Sure enough, within seconds McMahon threw the game-changing interception. Clinton Portis scored on the next play to put the Redskins up 24-20, and the rest is history. That right there is why Aikman is one of the best analysts in the business.
-- Denver is the team that I would be the most concerned about heading into the postseason. In a meaningless game this weekend, the Broncos sadistically thrashed San Diego simply for not other reason than to inflict pain. That sort of ruthlessness is what January is all about.
But with Jake Plummer at the controls you just never know when they're going to implode.
-- In nine games, Larry Johnson rushed for 1,351 yards and 17 touchdowns. At that rate, over a 16-game season Johnson would have rushed for 2,402 yards and 34 touchdowns.
-- I'm really sad to see The Mike's break up by virtue of Sharman, Tice and Martz each getting canned. That trio helped me pay for moving to Atlanta, and had a hand in helping me purchase my first house. Good times. I really hope that one - if not all - of them catch on somewhere else so I can continue to capitalize on their incompetence.
-- People seemed outraged about the fact that Sherman was fired because his team was "decimated by injuries." Actually, the attrition rate wasn't much different this season from Sherman's previous six.
Of the 53 players that were on Green Bay's Week 1 roster, 43 of them (81 percent) were still on the 53-man list for Week 17. Between 2000 and 2005 Sherman was left with an average of 87 percent. That's only a difference of three players.
-- The most important play of the weekend may have been the one in which Drew Brees injured his right shoulder. Brees will have to have surgery to repair his labrum, and from what I've researched about the injury I don't think he'll ever be the same. The result is that Philip Rivers won't be going anywhere this offseason. That's a big chip that's coming off the table and it will have a major impact on the draft in April.
Questions or comments for Robert? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.