NFL's Ever Changing Moods
The NFL season is only 16 games long but it seems to change more from week to week than other professional sports leagues change in a season.
The perception of the NFL in Week One is drastically different than it is in Week 17.
Here are a few examples of how fast the winds of change can sweep across the NFL.
Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning
After seven games, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was washed up and the Colts were done winning games and making the playoffs.
Now that the season is over, what retirement center is Manning going to move into?
Not so fast.
The Colts won their last nine games to finish the season 12-4 (second best mark in AFC).
Manning threw away the walker and put the team on his back. He finished the year with a 95.0 quarterback rating and 27 touchdown passes.
He also extended his NFL record to nine straight 4,000-yard seasons and will probably win his third MVP award.
So much for being washed up.
New York Jets
The New York Jets spent the first 10 weeks of the season teasing us. We weren’t really sure if were the team that spanked the Cardinals 56-35 or the team that lost to the Raiders 16-13.
Then, in consecutive weeks, the Jets got big wins over New England and Tennessee (the Titans’ first loss of the season).
Jets’ Head coach Eric Mangini was once again the “Man-Genius,” the Jets are atop everyone’s power rankings, and quarterback Brett Favre is a legitimate MVP candidate.
If only the season ended there.
The 8-3 Jets drop four of their last five games, including losses to Denver, San Francisco and Seattle (all three teams missed the playoffs).
In his final five games, Favre throws nine interceptions, two touchdowns passes and can’t surpass the 250-yard mark.
Mangini is fired the day after the season ends. Now Mangini is “Man-Unemployed.”
Buffalo Bills and Trent Edwards
The Buffalo Bills started 5-1 and Trent Edwards' name was bandied around as a possible MVP candidate.
Unfortunately, Edwards suffered a concussion in Week Five and was never really the same after that—neither were the Bills.
Edwards ended up throwing for just under 2,700 yards, with 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
His mediocre production helped the Bills win just two of their last 10 games.
The Bills finished their season at 7-9 and well out of the playoff race.
The Tennessee Titans started 10-0.
As usual, the media began the “16-0” hype. The Titans played it cool and were quick to point out they weren’t going to finish the season undefeated.
They were right.
A loss to the Jets in Week 11 proved the Titans were infallible. But three weeks later, a one-point loss to the Houston Texans proved the Titans dominance was over.
In the defeat, the Titans lost the heart and soul of their defense, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. The Titans were already without defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Both elite defensive linemen would miss the rest of the regular season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were next on the schedule and the winner would have the inside track to home-field advantage.
It was the easiest pick of the season. The Steelers will destroy the depleted Titans and ride off into the postseason knowing the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC would travel through the Steel City.
Not so fast.
The wounded Titans, in what head coach Jeff Fisher called their best game of the year, manhandled the Steelers in a 31-14 win.
Home field was saved, and the Titans enter the playoffs as the AFC’s best team.
Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles
After tying with the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Donovan McNabb admitted he didn’t know NFL games could end in a tie.
If being ignorant wasn’t bad enough, McNabb was benched at halftime the following week in a game against the Baltimore Ravens after he turned the ball over three times in the second quarter.
The Eagles would go to lose to the Ravens 36-7.
Philly fans began to calculate what they could get by trading McNabb and what it would take to have Bill Cowher replace Andy Reid as head coach.
The fans were revolting and a regime change was imminent.
Fast-forward five weeks and the Eagles are winners of four-out-of-five games and a playoff team (with a very winnable Wild Card matchup at Minnesota).
During that five-game stretch, McNabb threw nine touchdown passes and only one interception.
Maybe that regime change can wait?
When Matt Cassel started Week Two for the New England Patriots in their game against the New York Jets—it was his first start in a football game since high school.
New England won the game, but Cassel didn’t win any fans.
The Patriot faithful were clamoring for a trade, or calling for the return of Vinny Testaverde, or demanding the acquisition of free agent Dante Culpepper.
Cassel, and more importantly, Bill Belichick, stayed the course and persevered.
In the end, Cassel led the Pats to 11 wins, threw for nearly 3700 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 63.4 percent completion percentage.
Cassel became the first Patriot quarterback, and only the fifth quarterback in NFL history, to have consecutive games with 400+ yards passing. He twice won the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award.
Yes, he was sacked 47 times and the Patriots missed the playoffs, but Cassel, an unrestricted free agent in 2009, will be rewarded this off season with a lucrative contract and a starting job in the NFL.
Pretty much self explanatory.
At the end of October, the Miami Dolphins were only 3-4 but still one of the feel good stories of the NFL.
With Bill Parcells in front office and first year head coach Tony Sparano calling the shots, the resurgent Fins had already quadrupled their win total from 2007.
But the Fish weren’t a threat. They were that cute little team that ran the “wildcat” formation and had a weak-armed, strong-willed, quarterback in Chad Pennington.
After all, 2008 isn’t their year—they need another solid draft and a few more free agents before they can compete for the division title.
Obviously, the Jets or the Pats will win the AFC East, with the loser in-line to get a Wild Card spot.
However, in November and December, Miami went 8-1. In seven of those nine games, the Dolphins’ defense held their opponent under 20 points.
All this meant that when the playoffs finally arrived, it was the Jets and the Pats needing another solid draft and a few more free agents not the Dolphins.
It’s Miami's year and the AFC East's lone representative in the postseason.
New York Giants
On Dec. 7, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Giants 20-14 preventing the Super Bowl champions from clinching the NFC East and snapping their seven-game winning streak.
It was the first game after wide receiver Plaxico Burress turned himself to face charges of criminal possession of a handgun—he had shot himself three days before.
Critics claimed the turmoil distracted the Giants. They also warned that without their play maker, the G-men would be in trouble.
The next week the Giants proved the critics were right by losing to the Dallas Cowboys.
It appeared the once vaunted Giants were buckling under the weight of the Plaxico fiasco and they were no longer the dominate force of the NFC.
The next week, in a game that would decide home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, the Giants rebounded and defeated a solid Carolina Panthers team in overtime.
If the Plaxico drama had an effect, it was short lived. The Giants had sent a message to the NFC that they were still the champs and to get to the Super Bowl a team would have to defeat them in the Meadowlands.