Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 16: Apparently, Jets Don't Want to Win AFC East

Sorting the Sunday Pile looks back at the NFL weekend that was. It's also an unofficial Mittens blog.

Brett Favre

And now they'll need help if they hope to play into January.

New York headed into the weekend leading the AFC East, but with the Dolphins and Patriots both winning, they've fallen to third. Worse, they have to win Sunday against Miami and pray that the Bills can muster the energy to beat the Patriots. Compounding matters: Chad Pennington will be quarterbackin' up the Dolphins and even though he might not admit it, I suspect he's playing with a chip on his twice surgically-repaired shoulder.

Such storylines seldom prove more than pregame fodder, but given the stakes, the time of year, and the fact that it's New York, we'll be hearing about this matchup all week.

The Jets' 2008 West Coast futility shouldn't obscure their remarkable turnaround from a four-win season a year ago, but the organization didn't make myriad offseason moves -- headlined by the Brett Favre trade -- for a shot at moral victory. The idea was to get back to the playoffs.

If Kazaam had come to Eric Mangini this summer and told him he'd need to beat the Dolphins in Week 17 to have a shot at the playoffs, I'm guessing he would've been happy. Four months into the season and coming off the debacle in Seattle, he's probably anything but. Not only are the Jets struggling, they won't be lining up against the one-win '07 Fins on Sunday. Miami is 10-5 and one victory away from their first division title since 2000.

Given the state of that franchise 12 months ago, the thought is mind-blowing. Almost as mind-blowing as the Jets finding a way to lose to the Raiders in overtime back in Week 7. And you know that's the game they'll be thinking about all offseason should Pennington make his triumphant return to the Meadowlands in six days.

As for the New England Patriots, the other team ahead of New York in the division, they're virtually out of the running for the top spot in the East. They'll need to win in Buffalo and hope the Jets defeat the Dolphins (a tie works, too). Otherwise, the Pats will have to rely on the kindness of others to further their postseason hopes and dreams.

As J.J. pointed out following the Ravens' Saturday night shellacking of the Cowboys, things could get dicey. Simply put: if the Ravens beat the Jags next week, they'll take the final AFC wild-card spot (joining the Colts), and the Pats, in all likelihood, will be the odd team out.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves; a lot can happen in a Sunday afternoon, right Denver?

Titans Rookies Whip Steelers

The conventional wisdom heading into the Steelers-Titans game went something like this: with Kyle Vanden Bosch and Albert Haynesworth in civvies, Pittsburgh would steamroll Tennessee's defense. Not only that, but 35-year-old Kerry Collins was starting to show his age, evidenced by last week's sub-par performance against the Texans. Funny thing about conventional wisdom: it rarely proves true.

The Titans started three rookies on the defensive line and none played better than Jason Jones, who was making just his third start of the season. For all I know, Haynesworth's injury was a huge hoax and he was wearing Jones' uniform Sunday afternoon. Whoever it was, he sacked Ben Roethlisberger three-and-a-half times and also forced three fumbles. No need to nominate other players or count votes: that's an automatic Defensive Player of the Week Award, people.

Obviously, the Titans are better with Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch, but Sunday's effort against the Steelers just reinforces the importance of depth. It's relatively easy to put together a star-studded starting lineup; it's something entirely different to fashion a roster such that the backups can competently step into the job without much loss in production. Just ask Dan Snyder.

Tennessee isn't without flaws, but even without their two best defenders, they shut down Pittsburgh and forced Roethlisberger into four turnovers. With a first-round bye and homefield advantage wrapped up, and Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch returning for the postseason, the Titans are in great shape. Throw in the Original Smash and Dash, and Collins embracing the game manager role, and this team will be tough to beat. Which is what we already knew, that Week 15 loss to the Texans be damned.

Cowboys Headed to Playoffs Despite Wade

I don't suppose this will make Ravens head coach John Harbaugh feel much better, but according to the fine folks at the CBS Pregame Show, with the help of a basement full of physics nerds, Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes did, in fact, score a touchdown last week. But you know what, it won't matter, anyway.

On Saturday, Baltimore traveled to Dallas and dominated a Cowboys team that approached the game with all the urgency of a preseason affair. Worse still: word on the street is that owner Jerry Jones petitioned the league for the right to face the Ravens in the last-ever game in Texas Stadium history. Schadenfreude is a cruel mistress.

But she clearly has a sense of humor: if Dallas beats the Eagles in Philly, they're in. But even if they're back in the playoffs, then what? Another week of Tony Romo launching punts when he's not getting beat silly while the defense gets treaded by whoever happens to be running the ball? Yeah, I'll pass.

I think the "I'd rather they miss the playoffs than show up and get blown out" argument is a lame one, but I'm willing to make an exception for this Cowboys team. They haven't won in the postseason since 1996, so what's one more year? Not only that, there's the team's long-term future to consider.

If Dallas somehow manages to make it to the NFC divisional round, it increases the odds that Wade Phillips could be back in 2009. And while Jason Garrett's star has lost some of its luster, to continue the metaphor, Phillips is a head coaching black hole. Unless the organization wants to get sucked into that singularity -- and not even Jerry's hurricane-winds-resistant wig could withstand such forces -- it might be time to close out the Phillips era.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's action...

... You know, it's easy to take shots at the Detroit Lions. They're 0-15 and in a week's time, they'll be 0-16. The season has obviously taken a toll on Rod Marinelli, but I give the guy credit for standing up after every loss and answering endless variations of "why does this team suck so bad?" And those questions are perfectly reasonable since, you know, this Lions team sucks. Bad.

What isn't reasonable, however, is making the exercise a personal one. Look, we all have jobs to do: Marinelli is responsible for winning football games. He's failed miserably, but, hey, he's trying. The media is responsible reporting the whos, wheres, whys, whens and hows. The Detroit News' Rob Parker disagrees, apparently.

During yesterday's post-game presser, Parker thought it would be fun to ask Marinelli if he wished his daughter had married a better defensive coordinator. You see, the guy currently in that position for the Lions', Joe Barry, is Marinelli's son-in-law, and when you're 0-15, it stands to reason that the defense has a lot to do with it. That's fine. But why Parker (who had badgered the head coach with some form of the question earlier in the presser) decided to work on his act at Marinelli's expense -- in front to television cameras, no less -- is stupefying. By the way, when Terry Bradshaw calls you a "flat idiot," you're a complete an utter failure. Stay hot, Rob.

... On Sunday's Football Night in America, Cris Collinsworth called the Cardinals, fresh off a 47-7 whuppin' courtesy of the Patriots, "the worst division winner we've seen in a long time." It's hard to argue that point; Arizona is 0-5 when they travel east, and couldn't have been less competitive against New England had they forfeited the game and just stayed in Phoenix.

And while nobody seriously thought the Cards had a chance in Foxboro, Mike Ditka's comments during ESPN's NFL Sunday Countdown merit a mention. When discussing the matchup, he offered his: "If you thought Arizona mailed it in against the Vikings last week, wait till you see this drive-by." And he wasn't even wearing a swami get-up.

... Although I don't disagree with Collinsworth about the Cards, I'd like to nominate the Broncos as a dark-horse candidate. They've created new and exciting ways to lose at home, this time to a Bills team that gave up on the season sometime around the Presidential election. So instead of wrapping up the AFC West, Denver will now have to travel to San Diego, and the winner of that get-together will be crowned division champs and earn the right to have their brains beaten in by either the Colts or, most likely, the Ravens.

... There's not a person on the planet with access to an Al Gore Machine who doesn't know that Browns head coach Romeo Crennel will be fired on Dec. 28. The only question is if owner Randy Lerner will do it before or after the team gets back from Pittsburgh. It could mean the difference between Crennel having to hitch a ride back to Berea or allowing the man to get fired with dignity.

Whatever, here's my question: given that the Browns organization is clearly going through the motions and has been for some time, doesn't it make sense for Crennel to just tell Lerner that' he'll be coaching the team from his vacation house next week? I mean, why even pretend at this point? The owner doesn't want him and he doesn't want to be there, so what's the hold up? Romeo can't quit -- he signed a contract extension through 2011 back in the spring -- but he's not fooling anybody. I've seen Art Shell more animated on the sidelines.

... I think the Giants got the late-season jump start that served them well a year ago. In my mind, the Panthers are still the second-best team in the conference but given the depth in the NFC, who knows if they will get another crack at New York.

Post-Game Debaclings

Quotes that Emmitt Smith might like...

"Worst season I've ever played in."
- Running back Jamal Lewis, after the Browns were shut out by the mighty Bengals

"This is one big nightmare ... You want it to end, but it hasn't ended yet."
- Lions center Dominic Raiola, after Detroit fell to 0-15

"Right now, we aren't what we were ... If we're happy with winning the division, than that's all we'll do."
- Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, reading from his Denny Green quote book after getting dismantled by the Patriots

"We might not be a playoff team ... but we played like one today."

- Bills running back Fred Jackson, whose words (before the ellipsis, anyway) could've come from the Broncos' locker room and not lost any meaning

"We set milestones and we've reached those milestones at a much quicker pace than we had anticipated."
- Rookie head coach Mike Smith, after the Falcons clinched a playoff birth, with my nomination for Understatement of the Decade

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 16: Apparently, Jets Don't Want to Win AFC East originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Mon, 22 Dec 2008 08:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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