While the Cleveland Browns finished fourth in the AFC North this season, their quarterback Colt McCoy finished first among the division's quarterbacks in the Positive Impact Factor (what's this?).
Here's the 2011 AFC North PIF Standings (PIF with sacks counted as rushes like the NCAA in brackets):
1. Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns, 39.1 (43.8)
2. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals, 35.6 (41.5)
3. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, 15.7 (31.5)
4. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, 13.2 (34.1)
It was not a banner year for the quarterbacks in the AFC North you would expect to have done well. Colt McCoy and Andy Dalton were in first and second in the PIF standings because they held onto the ball better than Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger.
There were fewer touchdowns and fewer wins for McCoy and Dalton but also fewer turnovers. If Roethlisberger got credit for being sacked in rushing attempts, his PIF would move ahead of Flacco, but not catch Dalton.
McCoy improved his PIF from a 37.7 in 2010 (10th in the NFL) to a 39.1 by throwing interceptions at a lower rate. Dalton, of course was a rookie, but did pretty well and helped the Bengals make the playoffs. Flacco fell from a 31.7 to 15.7 (his worst season in the NFL) because his rate of interceptions went up a little and his fumbles lost rate skyrocketed. Roethlisberger's season was bad but not his worst. In his career, he has bounced around from Top 10 in his best seasons (2004, 38.4 PIF; 2005, 40.4 PIF, 2009, 34.5 PIF) to bottom 5 in his worst year (2008, -2.6 PIF). He dropped from his average season due to a higher rate of interceptions and fumbles lost.
The 2011 NFL Draft is over and now we can look back at the selections and figure out if teams addressed their needs at wide receiver (or if they drafted as if they didn't understand they had needs at wide receiver).
Here is a list of NFL starting quarterbacks who were most victimized by dropped passes last season (5.5%+ of a quarterback's attempts being dropped is a major issue for me). Dropped passes as percentage of incompletions in brackets.
1. Derek Anderson-Arizona: 8% (16.5%)
2. Tom Brady-New England: 7.5% (22%)
3. Shaun Hill-Detroit: 7% (18.2%)
4. Peyton Manning-Indianapolis: 6.6% (19.7%)
5. Sam Bradford-St. Louis: 6.1% (15.3%)
6. Eli Manning-New York Giants: 5.9% (16%)
7. Ben Roethlisberger-Pittsburgh: 5.9% (15.4%)
8. Colt McCoy-Cleveland: 5.9% (14.9%)
9. Mark Sanchez-New York Jets: 5.9% (13.1%)
10. Carson Palmer-Cincinnati: 5.8% (15.2%)
11. Kerry Collins-Tennessee: 5.8% (13.6%)
12. Matt Hasselbeck-Seattle: 5.6% (14%)
Injuries or not, those are unacceptable levels of drops and each of the teams above should have been looking for wide receivers (and/or running backs with good hands). So did the teams above draft receivers?
Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez has had some up and down performances this season. His first playoff game was great in terms of what you want out of your game manager style of QB: 12/15 for 182 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 INT. His shaky regular season merited a QB rating of 63.0 because he threw 12 TDs to 20 INTs and only completed around 54% of his passes for less than 7 yards per attempt. His first playoff game was rated 139.4 which is more than 32 points better than his best regular season outing--a 38-0 shutout of the Raiders. The Jets running game was also rolling with rookie Shonn Greene getting most of the carries. Greene with 135 yards and a TD on 21 attempts also had his best game since that week 7 shutout of the Raiders. For the Bengals, this game was an improvement over their 37-0 drubbing at the hands of the Jets in week 17. First of all, the Bengals scored points in 2 quarters. They had the ball for over 26 minutes. Cedric Benson played and had 169 yards rushing and a TD on 21 carries. QB Carson Palmer played the whole game and crossed the 100 yard passing barrier (he had 0 yards on 11 attempts in week 17). Heck, he even threw a touchdown. WR Chad Ochocinco caught 2 more passes than the 0 he had in week 17. He was unable to celebrate a TD though. The inability of the Bengals to throw and catch the ball was simply amazing. The Bengals franchise is still not ready for the playoffs (they haven't been here often) and haven't won a playoff game since 1990. The Jets won their first playoff game since 2004 and move on to play the team they beat in that game, the San Diego Chargers.
This game turned into a blowout faster than you could have imagined. Nobody scored in the first quarter. By halftime, the game was over. Dallas got a TD on a Tony Romo pass early in the 2nd. The Eagles responded with a laser pass from Mike Vick which turned into a 76 yard TD. Dallas rattled off 20 unanswered points to make it 27-7 at half. Cowboys RB Felix Jones exploded for a 73 yard rushing TD in the 3rd to make it 34-7. Jones finished with 148 yards on only 16 carries. The Eagles had 56 yards rushing...total. Both teams' QBs threw for 200+ yards but Romo was more efficient than Donovan McNabb. McNabb was pressured often and threw 1 INT and lost 1 fumble. The Eagles turned the ball over 4 times compared to the Cowboys' 1 turnover. It is surprising to think that the Cowboys win on Saturday was their first playoff victory since 1996. It was not a shock that the Cowboys won this game. The Eagles had absolutely no way of stopping the Cowboys offense. The Eagles' defense appeared to have never defensed a screen play before. This game was similar to the Jets v. Bengals affair. It was a step forward for the Eagles over getting shutout 24-0 in week 17, but it was an effort which was far from what they needed to win the game. The Eagles finished their season in highly disappointing fashion. They had won 6 in a row until they met the Cowboys in week 17. This game was their 3rd loss to the Cowboys in the 2009 season. The Cowboys broke a two game losing streak in week 15 by upsetting the then undefeated New Orleans Saints. Dallas has been red hot ever since only allowing 31 total points during their 4 game win streak. The Cowboys play Minnesota next.
This wildcard game was over even quicker than the Eagles v. Cowboys. Aided by Tom Brady turnovers, the Ravens put up 24 unanswered points in the first quarter. It got ugly early for the Pats. The first play from scrimmage was a Ray Rice 83 yard TD run. The only Patriots players to put out any effort were RB Kevin Faulk (52 of the Pats 64 rush yards and 37 receiving yards) and WR Julian Edelman (2 TD catches). New England played this game like they were banged up and wanted to end their season. The Ravens came out onto the field jacked up and were more than ready to oblige the lethargic Pats. Ray Rice finished the game with 159 rushing yards and 2 TDs on 22 carries. The Ravens didn't need QB Joe Flacco to be good. He was terrible: 4/10 for 34 yards passing with a pick. Despite the lack of passing, the Ravens outgained the Patriots (who couldn't run--64 total rush yards) 268-196. Brady's ribs were bothering him and was clearly off during the game. He threw for only 154 yards 3 INTs and only 2 TDs. He also lost a fumble. Brady's 49.1 QB rating was the lowest of his playoff career. The Patriots were loudly booed in their first playoff home loss since 1978. Ravens LB Ray Lewis (pictured above) was dominant with 13 tackles and a sack. He also had told the CBS crew calling the game that he could pick out what the Patriots were going to run because he had Brady figured out. On certain plays where Lewis slammed into Brady or Faulk or other unfortunate Patriots, it sure seemed like he had the read the Pats playbook. The Patriots will have the offseason to try to regroup. The Ravens move on to play the Colts (a team which should be in the best of health due to basically forfeiting their last 2 games of the regular season). If the Ravens hope to stand a chance, Peyton Manning will have to turn the ball over and Joe Flacco must do something, anything, positive on offense.
If you liked the Ravens' smothering defensive performance in the early game, this latter contest (the highest scoring game in NFL playoff history) probably drove you nuts. This game started out much like the Ravens v. Patriots however. The Cardinals built a quick 17-0 lead by the end of the 1st quarter aided by Packer turnovers. Green Bay got their own offense going with a great defensive play by DB Charles Woodson. Arizona was threatening to score another TD in the 2nd quarter when Kurt Warner dumped the ball off over the middle to WR Larry Fitzgerald, Woodson used his fist like a sledgehammer and smashed the ball out of Fitzgerald's arms and Green Bay recovered the fumble. Warner was screeching at WR Early Doucet about something that had happened besides the fumble on the play. It was the only mistake Doucet made in a game where he caught his first 2 playoff TDs and set up a game winning FG chance. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had his first pass of the game intercepted. His second pass was complete and then fumbled away. Somehow Rodgers had caught fire in the second quarter after the Arizona turnover. By halftime the Packers were only down 24-10 in a game that could have easily gotten away from them. The Cardinals scored on their opening possession of the second half and were up 31-10. The Cardinals defense then turned into swiss cheese. Rodgers threw 2 TD passes to cut the lead down to 7 points. Warner responded with a TD near the end of the 3rd quarter to extend the lead to 38-24. By the 10:57 mark of the 4th quarter, Rodgers had thrown another TD pass and set up a rushing TD and game was tied at 38. Warner threw his 5th TD pass of the game about 6 minutes later. Rodgers responded with his 4th TD pass to tie the game up at 45 with 1:52 remaining. Warner, armed with 3 timeouts, quickly hurried the Cardinals down the field and hit Doucet on a 16 yard pass down to the Packers 16 yard line. The Cards used their last timeout with 14 seconds left and sent veteran kicker Neil Rackers out onto the field for a 34 yard FG to win the game. Rackers choked and pushed the ball wide left. The game was going to overtime. The Packers won the toss and of course took the ball. Arizona's offense had to be nothing short of livid that their defense had seemingly blown the game by letting the Packers get back into it. What they were thinking about Rackers probably contained too much profanity to type. However, in overtime, the Cardinals defense finally got back to the way they were playing at the beginning of the game and ended it. Here's the play, you decide what should have happened, if anything.
The defense for most of the game was so awful on both sides that there were 62 total first downs, 1024 total yards, 9 passing TDs, 3 rushing TDs and Arizona RB Beanie Wells looked good. It would normally take a stretch of the imagination to think that Wells was fast enough to play in the NFL (I'm not saying he couldn't be good in short yardage situations). Today was not one of those days. On one play, the Packers defense checked out completely and allowed Wells to get his career long run of 42 yards. Since he finished with 91 yards, that one play severely inflated his yards per carry average to 6.5. Wells hadn't looked this good since his 110 yard performance against the Detroit Lions. To be fair, those guys are so pathetic on run defense, they can make anybody's running back look great.
This was the only game of the three wild card matchups which were played on week 17 to turn out differently. In the last week of the season the Packers demolished the Cardinals 33-7. That wasn't really a fair measure of performance as the Cards rested players while the Packers did not. The Packers won't take any consolation of sending this game to overtime into the offseason. The Cardinals have the Saints next. I would really like to see New Orleans in top form (which they haven't been anywhere close to since that Cowboys loss) to get a game which will rival this wild card game in excitement.
Gameball for the former LSU Tiger in the NFL on Wild Card Weekend: Early Doucet, WR Arizona: 6 catches, 77 yards, 2 TDs and set up Neil Rackers for an easy kick to win the game even though Rackers didn't come through.
And then there were two: of the 8 playoffs teams remaining only the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings don't have a former LSU Tiger on the roster. There has been at least one former Tiger on every Super Bowl champion since 2001.
As this was the last week of the season, the focus should be on the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints. Coach Sean Payton feels that the entire history of the NFL can be overcome by a franchise that has never had a winner. So, he sat Drew Brees and started Mark Brunell who had not seen regular action since November 12, 2006. The Saints not surprisingly got beat down by a red hot Panthers team which should have made the switch from Jake Delhomme (no hard feelings, Delhomme is still a hero to my high school) to Matt Moore at midseason. Whether Payton realizes it or not, no team has lost the last three games of the regular season and made the Super Bowl. Maybe when your franchise has won two (2) playoff games in 42 seasons such things don't apply, or maybe they apply doubly--especially when your team even with Brees checked out two weeks ago. In any event, Sean Payton wins the award this week of having Herman Edwards remind him why you play the game. For the sake of the folks back home, I'd like to see the Saints pull this off to finish their historic season, but I highly doubt that they beat any of the NFC playoff teams right now.
Indianapolis Colts. Coach Jim Caldwell is the runner up for the Edwards reminder. Caldwell played Manning to continue his consecutive start streak (Brett Favre started again today also, more on him below) and Tony Gonzalez and Reggie Wayne to get them 100 catches in a season. This kind of refusal to participate meaningfully in a game has Roger Goodell thinking about incentives, such as draft picks, to keep playoff bound teams from yanking starters. Caldwell isn't going to look at the film from this game. He's not worried about it. Just like Andy Reid in 2004, Caldwell gave away the final two games to rest starters (Reid did lose Terrell Owens until the Super Bowl though). However, those 2004 Eagles are the ONLY team to lose the final two games of the NFL season and make the Super Bowl--they didn't win, you recall. The Colts got beat like a drum today and I hope they lose the first game they play in the playoffs...oh please let it be the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets.
New England Patriots. Wes Welker is done for the playoffs before they got started with a gruesome knee injury. Welker was an irreplaceable possession WR for the Pats (123 catches, 1348 yards this season) and an inspirational presence on the field. New England finished the regular season 2-6 on the road. They host Baltimore in the first round, but should they get by the Ravens, I think the season ends on the road in the next game.
Wild Card games. Really!? There's four of these games and three of them feature the exact same matchups as the final weekend of the season, Week 17 scores in brackets: Jets v. Bengals (Jets won 37-0), Green Bay v. Arizona (Green Bay won 33-7), Cowboys v. Eagles (Cowboys won 24-0). How unlucky can we get to have this happen?
Ready for the Playoffs
San Diego Chargers. They treated their final game against the Washington [redacted] like a preseason game. They rested starters after the starters put up 10 points in two drives. Perhaps this was a belated preseason game, neither team could crack 70 rush yards. Why are the Chargers in this pile and not the winners not playing to win pile,? The Chargers back ups won the game. Sure it was against Washington, but at least the team didn't pack it in without the starters. Also, the Chargers have quietly rattled off 11 straight wins. LaDainian Tomlinson says he is healthier than he has ever been to start the playoffs--look out.
Minnesota Vikings. Huh? The Vikings looked bad in losses against Arizona, Carolina and Chicago, how are they ready to go? Well the Giants were suggilated by the Vikes 44-7. Brett Favre wasn't going to let Tim Tebow's Sugar Bowl performance show him up. Favre was 25/31 for 311 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs. Favre threw for 4,000+ yards, 33 TDs and only 7 INTs on the season. He's 40 years old and this is probably his best season statistically--Favre has never thrown less than 13 INTs in a full season. He also has Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson to help him out. Due to the Jets running all over the Bengals, the Vikings rush defense is now 2nd in the NFL allowing a little more than 87 yards per game.
The 2009 St. Louis Rams make any argument for contraction (or even better, a relegation division) seem reasonable. The Rams won 1 game this year and it wasn't in Week 17. In a 28-6 loss to the 49ers, the Rams managed 109 total yards on 62 plays. San Francisco wasn't exactly world beaters this year. This game also featured twenty (20) punts for 971 yards.
Relegation Division idea: The top 20 teams in 2009 stay in the NFL, the other 12 teams are relegated (finishing last in any of the 8 current NFL divisions is an automatic relegation) to a lower division with a chance to win back their pride and make the show again. Relegated teams for 2010: St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Washington, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Buffalo, Seattle, Oakland, Miami, Chicago.
Realigned NFL for 2010: AFC & NFC, 1 Division each with 10 teams a piece. Top 6 teams in the AFC and NFC Division tables make the playoffs, the lowest two teams in each table are relegated in 2011. The top four teams from the relegation division table in 2010 replace the bottom four relegation teams from the NFL for the 2011 season.
Saints look pathetic against Tampa Bay (3-13) and back into the franchise's first ever no. 1 NFC playoff seed.
Vikings fail to capitalize on the Saints sudden ineptness on offense by losing two straight road games, including the Monday night loss in frigid Chicago. Despite all that time and exposure to cold weather in Green Bay, Brett Favre is now is 0-8 in his last 8 road games where the temperature at the kickoff was 37 degrees or lower. He's thrown 5 TDs (2 on Monday) to 13 INTs in those games. Minnesota is now 4-4 on the road this season.
Colts blow a shot at perfection to protect the health of their starters. Peyton Manning's backup Curtis Painter had a QB rating of 11.2. He also lost a fumble. This was his first action of the season and it showed. If you want to really rest the starters, just forfeit the game, don't play the game at all if you don't want to do it right. Isn't that right Herm Edwards?
The San Diego Chargers have won 10 straight games and are the hottest team in the NFL--try realizing that fact when all the attention has gone to the pursuit and failure of the Colts and Saints to stay undefeated. The Chargers and Colts have not played each other this year.
The Bengals won the AFC North. Chad Ochocino caught the game winning TD with about 2 minutes to go. They will be in their first playoff action since 2005 when they last won the AFC North.
The Patriots are in the playoffs again (obviously, not the surprise) after winning the AFC East Sunday against the Jaguars. People seemed to forget how good this team can be after their loss to Miami which dropped the Pats to 7-5. Tom Brady gave everyone another taste in Sundays' game: 23/26, 267 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs. The Patriots also ran for almost 200 yards and had a 35-0 lead until early in the 4th quarter. Even Randy Moss, whose work ethic has been challenged lately, was highly efficient: 4 catches, 3 TDs. The Patriots have won 3 straight now. They have been awful on the road (2-5), but got their second road win last week during this win streak.