Heartbreak Season

December 12, 2006 – 8:51 pm by McD

This week’s Top 5 is all about teams getting hot for the playoffs and teams on their way out in the first round or of the playoffs altogether. At this point it’s clear now who is good and who isn’t. Now it’s all about momentum heading into January. It’s also trap-game season, where teams whose playoff spots are assured drop games they should win comfortably. In short, heartbreak season starts on Sunday and ends in February.

1. San Diego Chargers (11-2)
We’re not even mentioning the touchdown record anymore. Except to say this: greatest running back ever.

It’s so weird for those of us who are Chargers fans because we have no idea how to act when our team is good. And it’s especially strange when our team is now the flavor of the week for the sports-talk hacks and they keep saying we’re now the favorite to win Super Bowl XLI. It’s so weird that we’ve started to ignore all the NFL analysis shows on television, the segments of sports radio shows discussing football and even people on the street. That’s how afraid we are to screw up this season for the Chargers.

In any case, they are, in fact, the best team in the NFL at the moment. But that is only a week to week thing. The Chargers have a doozy of a home game against the Chiefs this week. San Diego has already clinched a playoff berth by winning the AFC West, so this is a classic letdown/trap game. The only thing the Chargers have to worry about now is playoff seeding. We couldn’t think of a more lose-able game for them. Except for the whole “at Seattle” thing next week. This season is not over for the Chargers. Momentum and avoiding injury are everything now. Just don’t ask us about it, we’re pretending it’s not happening.

2. New Orleans Saints (9-4)
We’d be much angrier about Drew Brees turning into Joe Montana and John Elway combined, but San Diego has Phillip Rivers, so we’re kind of happy for the guy. Still, WHERE THE HELL WAS THIS WHEN HE WAS A CHARGER!?!?!

There, we said it. Reggie Bush seems to have come into his own finally. That, or the Saints have finally figured out how to use him correctly. Either way, the Saints are bordering on “juggernaut” status on offense now. That beatdown of the Cowboys on Sunday was a huge win for a team that needed one. They’re getting hot at the right time of the year, so they could be dangerous. Bad news for the Bears, who really don’t need more teams that could beat them in Chicago in January.

3. Baltimore Ravens (10-3)
The Ravens, for all the talk about them, are still something of an unknown quantity in terms of how they’ll fare in the playoffs. Many comparisons have been made between this year’s team and the 2000 Super Bowl Championship team. That would be a good comparison, except that it’s ludicrous. The 2000 team’s defense was light years better. Frankly, so was the offense. Jamal Lewis still had life in his legs back then. Trent Dilfer also knew his role in the offense and played it perfectly. This year, people expect Steve McNair to make some plays, but not too many since he’s taken quite a beating in his career and no one is sure if he can be the same guy he was five years ago. It’s a fine line they’re walking this year. They could win it all or lose their first round game. Or Jamal Lewis’s re-animated corpse could go on a rampage and turn the rest of the team into brain-eating zombies. Whatever works.

4. Chicago Bears (11-2)
Good job Rex. You overcame adversity, played within yourself, did your best to help the team, blah blah blah blah. He’s still a bad quarterback. Everyone is just so surprised that he didn’t make as many egregious mistakes that they’re giving him a break. Until the next time he screws up, that is. The real bad news for the Bears is that defensive tackle Tommie Harris is now out for the year. Things have to be interesting in the Chicago locker room these days. Everyone is surprised when Grossman doesn’t screw up and key defensive starters are dropping like flies every few weeks. Still, only a great team will beat them in January at Soldier Field. Problem is, several great teams are emerging in the NFC now.

5. Indianapolis Colts (11-3)
Wow was that a bad loss to Jacksonville. The only reason this wasn’t the second time the Jaguars trampled the Colts this season is because Jack Del Rio is incompetent. This was definitely an “everyone saw it coming” loss. Maybe no one expected it to be as embarrassing as it was for the Colts, but still. They’re hanging by a thread at this point because every team they’ll play from now on will do exactly what the Jaguars did: play playoff-style football against them. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the biggest crime the Colts have committed in the Peyton Manning-era isn’t getting rid of Edgerrin James. It never was. It was failing to assemble any talent whatsoever on defense. Manning is probably the best quarterback of his generation and the Colts have never built a defense that can keep the team from needing him to play perfectly every game. It’s a shame and no one seems to be saying anything about it.

Honorable Mention: Dallas Cowboys (8-5), New England Patriots (9-4), Seattle Seahawks (8-5)

For Dallas that loss against New Orleans was bad. Really bad. Not because they got blown out or because it was a particularly important game. Instead, it’s becaus it’s now clear that T.O. wasn’t the only guy not listening to Parcells’ “Super Bowl” speech on Monday. It was also the first game where Tony Romo didn’t look like Brett Favre (circa 1995). The Cowboys are on a precipice here. Every game they play from now on is a statement on how the team thinks it’ll do. They win, they’re a danger to win it all, but if they tank like they did on Sunday, this is not the team to take down the Bears in January.

It’s sad the Patriots are so fatally flawed this year. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but it’s still sad. At this point, it’s hard to even remember that this team was a juggernaut for years before this. Tom Brady is still as good as he ever was, but there’s no one else on the team to pick up any of the burden for him. Until there is, they’ll be good enough to win their division, but not good enough to win more than one game in January.

Finally, we’re not giving up on the “don’t sleep on the Seahawks” bandwagon. Mostly because we’re the only people on it at this point and it’s kind of roomy and comfortable. Every week they’re closer and closer to getting it together for the playoffs because they’ve basically got their division wrapped up. Still, we’re excited because the NFC is becoming more and more wide open as we get closer to the playoffs. They may flame out in the first round, but could also be a real force too. Hey Jessica, call me.

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