Every week, Pat Kirwan provides six observations from Sunday's action.
They lost, but they won
The regular season is over, and the seedings are set for the playoffs. I have mixed emotions about how some of the teams enter the postseason. Momentum usually is a critical factor heading into the playoffs, but it isn't always the most important component.
The Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos advanced into the dance without winning in Week 17. Sure, the New Orleans Saints entered the postseason on a three-game losing streak and went on to win the Super Bowl, but I don't have any faith that any of these three teams will repeat the Saints' title run.
Houston won its division but finished the season on a three-game losing streak and can barely break the 20-point barrier without injured quarterback Matt Schaub.
The Texans face a Bengals squad that went a combined 0-7 against teams in the playoffs this season, including a 20-19 loss to the Texans in Week 14. Two rookie quarterbacks most likely will face off in this game, and as I pointed out in my column last week, things are tough for rookie quarterbacks in the postseason.
Since the merger, rookie quarterbacks are 6-9 in playoff games and no rookie ever has led his team to a Super Bowl. The Bengals couldn't stop Ray Rice on the ground this week (24 carries for 191 yards and two touchdowns) and they will struggle against Arian Foster and Ben Tate, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Bengals won an ugly game.
Neither team is going any further than the first round, however.
As for the Broncos, another team entering the playoffs on a three-game skid, they couldn't score a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Opponents seem to have figured out the Broncos' offense, holding Tim Tebow and Co. to 40 points in the past three games. The Broncos will not get past the first round unless there are big changes. In the three-game losing streak, the Broncos' offense has one passing touchdown, four interceptions, four lost fumbles and 10 sacks. The Steelers are looking at those game tapes right now and will pose a much bigger problem than the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills or Chiefs' defenses were in the past three weeks.
The Brinks truck will arrive
Imagine if the Packers had not clinched home-field throughout the playoffs last week and had to play quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the final game like the Patriots had to in order to secure the No. 1 seed. Thirty-one NFL general managers and head coaches would have never seen the unbelievable performance by Matt Flynn. Flynn, who will be a free agent this offseason, came into the game with one career start on the road in New England. His game tapes for his four years included 55 completions and 88 pass attempts. There were rumors around the league that a few teams would look at him when he hit free agency. After Sunday's 480-yard passing day with six touchdowns, however, his whole world changed.
Flynn arguably has become more valuable than Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, college QBs expected to enter the draft. Flynn is only going to cost money and the team that secures his services will still have its first-round pick to get another player. I don't know which team will get him, but I do know the Packers can't afford to franchise him. The contract Matt Schaub signed when he was traded from Atlanta to Houston or the deal Kevin Kolb signed in the trade from Philadelphia to Arizona will be no more than a starting point for Flynn's services. As one GM said to me Sunday night, "Flynn more than answered the problem Matt Barkley caused by staying in school."
The good, the bad and the ugly
I am always interested in how non-playoff teams perform in the last week of the season. As usual, there is a message about the state of affairs and the character of a team.
The good had to be the Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers, as they played the "spoiler" role so well by knocking the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders out of the playoff mix. I'm not so sure the owners of these spoiler teams need to go out and get a new coach after the way they played.
The bad was the performance the Tampa Bay Buccaneers delivered on the last day of a disappointing season. I feel bad for the Buccaneers' young coach, Raheem Morris, because his team never showed up and they should be embarrassed for the ugly effort. The Buccaneers' players need to look in a mirror and remember what they see.
The ugly goes to the Jacksonville Jaguars with their 19-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Blaine Gabbert threw for 92 yards but was saved by the always-fantastic, league-rushing champ, Maurice Jones-Drew.
Orton, Skelton and Webb
Three teams end the regular season out of the playoff race but with some optimism moving forward because of backup quarterback play.
Kyle Orton came back to Denver after being waived by the Broncos and beat his old team. There is growing sentiment among Chiefs' fans that he needs to be re-signed and given the opportunity to compete with Matt Cassel for the starting job next season. Orton didn't have a great day against the Broncos, but he did lead his team to a win and finished 2-1 as the starter with the Chiefs. I can't remember a quarterback having this much popularity with fans when he threw one touchdown pass in three games.
John Skelton of the Cardinals wins games and he did it again this week as the Cardinals won in overtime to bring Skelton's record this season to 6-2. Kevin Kolb might have received a big contract, but Arizona just didn't win with him like they did when Skelton was under center. I'm starting to get the feeling Skelton is going to get a chance in the offseason to compete for the starting role. I know one thing for sure: Skelton gets the ball to Larry Fitzgerald and the nine receptions for 149 yards in the finale should go a long way toward solidifying Skelton's opportunity next season.
Joe Webb in Minnesota might be a long shot, but Christian Ponder better come out winning games next year or the fans will be crying for Webb. Webb makes things happen when he's on the field and even though he threw two interceptions this week, he deserves a shot at the starting job next season.
A new record for 300-yard passing days
We entered the Week 17 games with a new league record for quarterback passing days of more than 300 yards. The record before this year was 104 games and this year it was 112 games even before last weekend. Week 17 just added more 300-yard games to the record, which now stands at 121, as I predicted last Friday. One head coach I spoke to said he would guess most of them came in losing efforts, but it's not true. This week 300-yard passing efforts delivered a 5-3 record, which for the year stands at 66-55.
Can anyone play defense?
It's amazing that some of the best teams heading into the playoffs don't seem capable of slowing down opponents. It's starting to look like giving up 300 yards and less than 30 points is a pretty good day for a playoff team. The Saints and San Francisco 49ers did just that and it was good enough for solid wins.
After watching the Packers, Patriots, and Lions surrender 1,527 yards and 107 points between them, all I can say is Rodgers, Tom Brady and Matt Stafford better be close to perfect in the playoffs or this formula is going to blow up in their faces.
Of course the Steelers played a typically great defensive game coming off a loss last week, as I expected. In the last two years when the Steelers lost a game, they came back the next week and not only won the game but held their opponents to 11 points or fewer. They were right on schedule this week when the Cleveland Browns could only manage nine points.