When I looked at my notes after watching every game played from Friday through Sunday, there were a lot more than six storylines that caught my interest. Week 16 had more than its share of surprises, and the ramifications will be felt in Week 17, in the playoffs, and right on through to next season.
The playoff picture
Looking at the teams that have already qualified for the playoffs as well as those on the verge of making the tournament reminds me of a few NFL truisms that we somehow lose sight of: Don't pass on a franchise quarterback in the first round, no matter how many busts you can cite. Five of the quarterbacks to qualify for the playoffs are former first-round selections: Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb and Aaron Rodgers. With Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez still in the hunt for a playoff spot, the first round will be well represented in the postseason.
How many times do we look at the NFL in August and refuse to believe the trend will continue that six teams will make the playoffs after missing out the year before? Well, it is happening again. Five new teams are already in the postseason: New Orleans, Green Bay, Dallas, Cincinnati and New England. By next Sunday, there will likely be at least six. As usual.
You would think that by December, offenses around the NFL would be well-oiled machines. But that was not the case in Week 16, as nine teams playing in the early games Sunday did not score a single touchdown in the first half of their respective games. In the late afternoon games, another five teams joined the offensive standstill. And in the night game, the Redskins joined the no-touchdown club. That's 15 teams that could not get to the end zone in the first 30 minutes of their games. Is it because of mounting injuries? Did the Christmas break adversely affect routines? Are the defenses so wired to teams' tendencies that they anticipate plays? Are most of the backups not capable of scoring? I'm going to keep my eye on it again next week, but offenses in general slowed down in Week 16.
Help wanted at left tackle, quarterback
I sat down after the Week 16 games were over and wondered what I would do if I were still in player personnel and had three games left in an 18-game season. There were so many backup left tackles and quarterbacks lining up this weekend. You may find a wide receiver or running back on the street to get you through a game, but there aren't 32 men on the planet that can play left tackle or quarterback well enough to win NFL games on a consistent basis. There were at least 12 teams that lined up a backup left tackle in recent weeks, and it showed. As for backup quarterbacks: Brian Brohm, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Keith Null, Matt Moore and Drew Stanton all started in Week 16. Not exactly household names.
Making their case for 2010
When starters get injured, benched or released, it usually means a young backup gets a chance to make his mark in the NFL. In the past two weeks, a few young men have put themselves in position to be starters in 2010. Cleveland Browns running back Jerome Harrison runs like a runaway train. Carolina Panthers QB Matt Moore has beaten the Vikings and Giants in back-to-back games, while looking sharp in the process. The more I watch Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, the more I see another Chris Johnson. And two rookie backs -- Houston's Arian Foster and Miami's Lex Hilliard -- are starting to make some noise after solid Week 16 performances.
No passing game, no problem
Would you believe that a team on a three-game winning streak, having beaten the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers along the way, is averaging just 91 passing yards in those three games? With two different quarterbacks taking snaps, the Browns' passing game has completed a total of 24 of 53 passes for 277 yards and just one touchdown in wins over Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Oakland. That's an average of eight completions in 18 attempts for 91 yards. Who says the NFL is a passing league?
The great 'moving the chains' player
We have a tendency to overlook players that excel at their position, but don't make the "big" plays. For example, there's not much public interest in defensive ends that hold the point and stop the run game -- but when it comes to getting sacks, most people can rattle off the best defensive linemen in the league. Well, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker did not score a touchdown in Week 16, but he completed a three-year cycle of moving the chains that is unprecedented in league history -- and yet it went unnoticed to some degree. Welker has now recorded at least 110 receptions in three consecutive seasons. In Sunday's win over Jacksonville, he was targeted 13 times by Tom Brady and he caught all 13 passes. Welker belongs in the Pro Bowl, but the glamour guys like teammate Randy Moss will probably beat him out. When it comes to an unsung hero that moves the Patriots offense right down the field, Welker is the man. There's no way a team can play zone defense on the guy. For some reason, he gets the nod as a good receiver but not a great one. That is wrong.