Every week, Around The League takes a closer look at four of the weekend's most interesting subplots. We call it The Filthy Four ... mostly for alliteration purposes.
The Rex Hex
We've long been told that part of Rex Ryan's brilliance is his ability to take pressure of his own team and put it on himself. This allows him to be bombastic and boastful in ways other coaches wouldn't dream of.
Unfortunately, the logic to this thinking is fuzzy at best. When Ryan says the Jets are the best team in New York, when he says he doesn't want to be seen as little brother, when he says the Jets are going to win the damn Super Bowl, that builds expectations. Expectations that his team -- you know, the guys who actually play the game -- have to back up.
Ryan suffered the lowest moment of his career in a 29-14 loss to the Giants on Saturday, a defeat that did as much damage to Ryan's reputation as it did to the Jets' playoff hopes. Critics of the coach have long wanted to write off Ryan as a blowhard, a benefactor of a couple hot runs and a healthy dollop of luck. Christmas came a day early for all those critics who wished for ammunition.
At some point this season, Ryan lost perspective on the limitations of his team. He talked them up as Super Bowl favorites before the season, then continued to do it even after Fireman Ed, Ira from Staten Island, and every other Jets fan knew that was far from the case.
Elway grapples with Tebowmania
As Tim Tebow went into self-destruct mode against the lowly Bills on Saturday, it was easy to imagine John Elway sitting in a box at Ralph Wilson Stadium, blankly staring at the field as he stuck pins into his Josh McDaniels voodoo doll under the table.
After all, it was McDaniels who -- during his reign of terror at Mile High -- drafted Tebow in the first round of last year's draft, McDaniels who stuck Elway with the expectations and limitations of Tebowmania. This should be McDaniels' quandary, not Elway's. And yet, it is not.
Tebow's had bad games before, many of which he's actually won on the strength of a single professional drive late in the fourth quarter or overtime. But Tebow threw four interceptions against the Bills -- killer turnovers that took Denver out of the game. Inaccurate with a flair for the dramatic is one thing. Inaccurate and careless with the ball is the type of stuff that lands you a roster spot on the JaMarcus Russell All-Stars.
If Tebow lays another egg in the season finale against the Chiefs and the Broncos miss the playoffs, then what? Elway's in a nearly impossible situation, one you suspect he saw coming from the very beginning. Expect many a sleepless night at Elway Manor this winter.
Bears could've used a Hostetler
If there was a debate that the NFL wasn't a QB-driven league, the 2011 season should settle that once and for all.
We know all about the Indianapolis Colts, who despite a heroic two-game win streak, lost their first 13 games of the season without Peyton Manning. And now we have the Chicago Bears, who once appeared to be a worthy challenger to the NFC throne.
That was, until Jay Cutler busted his thumb in Week 11 against the Chargers. Chicago hasn't won a game since. The Bears were whacked 35-21 by the Pack on Christmas night, losing their fifth straight game to fall out of postseason contention. Josh McCown was summoned to euthanize the Caleb Hanie
Era, but he couldn't save a season that went belly-up faster than a Kristin Cavallari "Words With Friends" competition.
Which leads us to the question: What happened to all the capable backup quarterbacks? Where have you gone Doug Williams? Kurt Warner? Tom Brady? Hell, we'd take a Ray Lucas at this point. Teams shouldn't completely self-combust when one player goes down, even when that player is the most important entity on the team. Don't be surprised if cautionary tales of 2011 lead general managers to examine their own depth charts in the offseason.
Underachievers go underground
So long to the Eagles and Chargers, two pretenders who finally met their maker this weekend. There was an unsettling narrative coming into focus last week that painted Philly and San Diego as scrappy underdogs who might somehow pluck their way into the playoffs -- "Rudy" with a black AmEx card.
Of course, both teams were in that position to begin with only because a) they both had long stretches of ineptitude earlier in the season and b) their crappy division rivals faltered down the stretch.
You don't expect either team to undergo sweeping changes, both likely under the impression that bad slumps obscured a good team. In the Eagles' case, they'll get the parting gift of Joe Buck saying things like, "The Eagles aren't playoff bound, but they're the team nobody wants to face!"
An honor to be sure, but bittersweet to say the least.