January 3, 2011
Yesterday was the end of the line for many teams as they played their last game of the season. The 16-week NFL regular season ended with emotions in overdrive, teams both thrilled—and devastated—at how it all played out. The Redskins had a chance to play spoiler to the playoff hopes of the New York Giants, but somebody had already beaten them to it: the Green Bay Packers. The Giants commanded a 10 point lead over the Skins most of the game, but with the Skins’ 4th quarter touchdown making it at 3 point game, the Giants tried (and failed) at extending their lead in the last minutes of play. While they did manage to hold off the Skins for a win, it didn’t matter much. With barely more than 2 minutes to play in Landover, the massive TV screen projection and the eruption of cheers from the crowd at FedEx sealed the Giants’ fate. Green Bay had beaten the Bears 10-3, made the playoffs and effectively eliminated the New York Giants.
While it was a bittersweet ending for New York, even if the G-men had managed to secure the No. 6 NFC playoff seed via a Packers loss, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference down the line. Their first playoff game would have been on the road in Philly, which they more likely than not would have lost. In the past, Michael Vick and the Eagles have come up big against the Giants when it mattered most. That being said, the Eagles benched their starters in their last season game against Dallas yesterday, losing by one point. While the Cowboys started the season 1-7, they finished 6-10, just like Skins (who started 5-4). With the Skins’ disastrous season behind them, it’s time to look onward and upward. The good news: they have the No. 10 draft pick.
Other NFC playoff contenders include the red-hot Atlanta Falcons who look like the team to beat, the Chicago Bears, the-first-team-with-a-losing-record-to-reach the-playoffs Seattle Seahawks, and the world-defending champions, the New Orleans Saints.
The AFC playoff matchups will no doubt be much harder—and much more exciting. While the favored AFC championship game is a battle of strengths between the AFC giants: the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, the defending AFC champs Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts shouldn’t be counted out just yet. Many commentators counted them out four weeks ago after some devastating losses and inconsistent plays by Manning. Now take a look: they went on to win their last four games and clinch the AFC South Division Title—their seventh in eight years. The Colts and the Jets face off in the first playoff game Saturday night with the local Baltimore Ravens on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. While the Colts and Ravens are favored to win those games, there’s only one thing for sure in predicating football: you can never be sure.
After 20 years and a disappointing 2010 season, Brett Favre has officially left the game. In a press conference after the Vikings last-season game loss to the Detroit Lions, Favre finally admitted it was time to hang ‘em up. “From a playing standpoint, there’s nothing else left to do, and you can never get back that fellowship with the guys and that closeness with the guys. So those will always be great memories, not only with this year’s team, but last year’s team and all those years in Green Bay,” he says. “We were able to win a Super Bowl in Green Bay and win a lot of games. [I] played with some great teammates and so I’m just honored that I got the chance to play and was able to play at a high level for a long time. It’s truly a blessing.”
He thanked the Packers and their fans, despite the fact that since his departure — to the Jets in 2008, and then to the division rival Minnessota Vikings — Favre has become more despised than beloved in Green Bay. While many fans, reporters and even players may be skeptical of his retirement—we’ve all been through this dance before—he says it’s truly time and acknowledges there will be skepticism. “I don’t know if, for me, it’s ever easy. I’m sure throughout this year, the comment has been made that we’ll wait and see in August or September. But it’s time. I’m okay with it. It’s never easy, in my opinion; it’s never easy for any player. But … people will, they’ll say wait and see, but that’s okay.”
Elsewhere around the city, Caps fans are celebrating a victory far removed from the football field. The Washington Capitals rang in the New Year with a win in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, in the nationally televised NHL Winter Classic. The Caps scored three unanswered goals on Saturday, beating the Penguins 3-1 Saturday night. The game was sold out and the energy of the crowd and the momentum the Caps had built on the ice far outweighed the blustery conditions of the outside arena. The Caps are currently No. 2 in their division, with a record of 23-12-5 going into the New Year.
The Wizards, however, are still struggling. Michael Lee of the Washington Post summed up the Washington Wizards in his article “An improved ‘D’ has yet to net wins”. Lee states that although the Wizards have been playing better ball in recent weeks — especially on defense — it has yet to translate into wins. “The results are not evident in the win column, but they are certainly recognizable in points allowed, defensive field goal percentage and point differential,” Lee states. He points out that the Wizards are 2-6 since trading away franchise face Gilbert Arenas, but have shrunk points allowed per game, going from 105.8 to 91. Lee quotes Wizards coach Flip Saunders as saying: “We have to get our offense to catch up. We are making progress defending overall, and at times we have rebounded well. We just got to get to the point where our offense doesn’t beat us.” Lee notes, “The Wizards’ point differential is just minus 0.2 over this eight-game stretch – with only two of the losses decided by more than 10 points. It’s a considerable improvement from their 8.6 differential in the first 24 games, when 10 of their 18 losses were decided by double digits. “We’re picking it up,” Young said. “We feel we’re in mostly every game. We could be right there. We keep coming out with different routines to get each other going. We’re starting to have each other’s back now.” However, Lee’s title says it all; they still need wins.
(You can read Michael Lee’s entire article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/02/AR2011010203028.html)