Don't you love when teams who genuinely hate one another square off?
Webster's defines hate as disliking somebody or something intensely, often in a way that evokes feelings of anger, hostility or animosity. That description fits for how some teams feel about one another. As CBS analyst Phil Simms once told me in a complimentary way regarding Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, "The guy is a hater. He wakes up each morning and hates every opponent no matter how much money he makes." Simms is right and that feeling of hate dominated Week 13.
In "Hate Games," the standings are meaningless as the ill will is so strong that winning is the only thing that matters -- no matter what is at stake for either team. This makes for the best football, as teams come willing to do whatever it takes to get a victory, or as Uncle Junior told Tony Soprano when they were feuding, "Next time you walk through that door, you come heavy or don't come at all." Teams that genuinely hate one another always come heavy.
The playoff picture
Watching the Steelers-Ravens game, both teams came heavy and were prepared to do whatever it took to win, including players sacrificing their bodies to help their team. Baltimore made too many mistakes down the stretch to win -- the biggest was allowing Troy Polamalu to run free and create a turnover. They failed to redirect their protection and that mental mistake caused Joe Flacco to get sacked and fumble. Not kicking the field goal was a percentage call, not a mistake. Without knowing the wind conditions at that point and trying to kick a cold ball late in the game is always difficult. Plus, Billy Cundiff is a 67 percent kicker between 40-49 yards in his career. All those factors made Ravens coach John Harbaugh feel his chances of converting the fourth down were better than attempting a long kick. And had Flacco just made an easy throw, the Ravens would have been playing in overtime. Somehow, I feel these two teams will meet one more time.
Another bitter matchup came between the Chiefs and Broncos. Denver destroyed Kansas City three weeks ago, which led Chiefs coach Todd Haley not to shake hands with Broncos coach Josh McDaniels. McDaniels had been on the hot seat because of the losing, fans being unhappy and the controversy surrounding another videotaping scandal. But the Broncos played hard in what turned out to be McDaniels' last game with the team. The Broncos are not good enough to win right now -- no matter who is coaching the team. Before they made the move, the organization should have examined the effort and intensity the team gave McDaniels against the Chiefs.
Prior to this season, the Raiders had not beaten the Chargers in 13 straight tries, building the hate with each loss, but Oakland came up with a sweep and might cost San Diego a playoff opportunity. The Raiders seem to know how to run the ball on the Chargers and play with more intensity. What makes the win so amazing is that the Raiders do it without a passing game, relying solely on the run to generate offense while others have struggled to run the ball on the Chargers. The Raiders might not make the postseason, but they will feel really good about potentially stopping the Chargers from making the playoffs.
The Falcons-Buccaneers matchup does not have enough history to generate the animosity needed for a great game this year, but next season, assuming Tampa Bay is able to continue to improve, these two teams might be in a "Hate Bowl."
Week 13 ends with the "Ultimate Hate Bowl Game," as the Jets face the Patriots in New England. These two teams hate one another, and it is not just a one-year feeling. They have hated one another for many years and that intensity picked up steam when Patriots coach Bill Belichick did not want to stay and lead the Jets. That decision raised the level of hate and made each game more intense. As if the games were not interesting enough, adding Jets coach Rex Ryan and his style to the mix has only raised the bar.
Both teams are extremely tough, love to compete and, as General George Patton once told his third army, "They love the sting of battle." The Patriots have always played well for a half in New York but they falter in the second half, which means those memories of poor play will cause Brady to hate the Jets even more. I expect a good game, but I also expect the Patriots to win.
Time to start over
I love making all kinds of lists and since it is the holiday season, I thought I would share one of my recent lists based on Week 13. We know these teams are done, but what lies ahead in terms of planning is critical for them having any success in 2011.
Carolina Panthers: After the long flight back from Seattle, the Panthers' horrible season is coming to a close -- thankfully for all of us who have to watch them play. The rebuilding has to begin soon, but who is going to handle the task and in what manner are the new Panthers going to be constructed? That fundamental question must be answered before the Panthers decide who will be their next coach. They must construct an organization first, then hire the coach that fits the philosophy or else risk becoming a "Curly in the boat" team.
That phrase is based on the Three Stooges. The Stooges are in a boat preparing to go duck hunting when Moe notices the little boat has a little hole. Moe tells Curly to drill another little hole to let the water ease out into the second hole, which obviously forces the boat to sink. This metaphor is powerful regarding how some teams behave in the offseason. Many create new problems when they feel they have solved the first one.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Brown family will have to decide once again what they will do with two key employees -- coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Carson Palmer. The Bengals have a disconnect in their locker room. There's clearly no chemistry between teammates, something the team had last season. There is a mess in Cincinnati and it might be the right time to tear it down and rebuild.
Arizona Cardinals: The misconception in Arizona is that once the Cardinals lost QB Kurt Warner, they lost their chance at winning. In part that is true, but not the whole story. The 2010 Cardinals cannot play run defense, tackle, block simple blitzes or execute the passing game. They have a solid coach in Ken Whisenhunt, and now might be the right time to rebuild, redefine and re-energize this team behind his leadership.
Washington Redskins: Hiring Mike Shanahan was suppose to help the Redskins get back to being a team others hated. Now they are a team everyone wants to play. Until Washington stops behaving like Curly, and starts planning for a future without the over-the-hill gang, this team will never close the gap. For all their resources, the 'Skins refuse to put together a first-class personnel department to help them find young talent. Everyone knows Shanahan is an excellent coach, but a poor general manager. While Bruce Allen actually holds the GM title, Shanahan is running the show. The organization needs to enhance its scouting efforts.
More lists to come for the holiday season.
» I am not apologizing for Peyton Manning, but the more I watch him play, the more it is clear that the line Colts president Bill Polian complained about after the Super Bowl has not improved. Manning cannot keep throwing pick sixes, but he needs much better protection, especially when the speed at receiver is not there. …
» I admit I am an idiot at times and thinking the Bills could win in Minnesota was dumb. Before that mistake, I had a nice little streak going on NFL Network, picking upset specials every week as I was 9-1 going into last week. Why I feel for the Bills, I have no idea. Sorry for the mistake, I promise to do better next time. …
» Whoever thought the 'Skins had the personnel to play a 3-4 was misguided. Now they look so bad coming off blocks and doing the basic elements of defense. They stink on defense in every phase. …
» Speaking of the Lions, they give everyone a fight, even with their third-string quarterback. They need one more good draft to win these close games. …
The original Cowboy
» Packers receivers are effective when they have the ball in their hands and this helps replace the lack of a running game. A short pass to Greg Jennings, James Jones or Donald Driver can turn into a big gain, but getting James Starks to run for 73 yards is what they need. Big backs are a must for every team and are critical late in the season. Starks is 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, so he has the body and build that makes it hard for teams to tackle him. …
» Former Cowboy quarterback Don Meredith singing "Turn out the lights, the party is over" at the end of Monday night games will forever be remembered. "Dandy Don" passed away Monday and I will never forget hearing him as I tried to watch the end of the Monday night games without my mother knowing. After all, it was a school night. Rest in peace, Don.