After what was arguably the most interesting final Sunday in NFL history — The Big Lead at least had a premonition of this awesomeness, but it played out far wackier than any of us could have anticipated — and a fairly decent Wild Card weekend, we’re down the final eight playoff contestants. But while everyone pays attention to those teams, our focus is squarely on those that did not make it to the dance, and where their seasons went awry.
Of course, we’ll start the list with the beloved Black and Blue Division.
Chicago Bears (9-7)
Where It Went Wrong: Eleven seconds in Atlanta are going to haunt Lovie Smith for a long time. The Bears became just the third team in NFL history to take the lead in the final 11 seconds of a game and then lose it, thanks to a lousy squib kickoff and one completion from Matt Ryan that set up Jason Elam’s winning field goal as time expired. In terms of emotional impact and overall weight, it has to rank as the worst loss in the modern history of the Bears.
However, the Bears choking against the Texans in Week 17 with an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs may be a blessing in disguise. Missing the playoffs forces the team to address issues that may have been glossed over if they had the excuse of “Well, we made the playoffs” to fall back on. Priority No. 1 is firing horrific defensive coordinator Bob Babich, the brains behind the 30th-ranked pass defense in the league. Don’t be surprised if Lovie’s old buddy Rod Marinelli ends up in his place.
Green Bay Packers (6-10)
Where It Went Wrong: I keep trying to figure out how this team was 6-10, and no answers are coming. I realize the defense sucked, but 6-10, with two of those wins coming against Detroit? It doesn’t make any sense.
I do know it’s not Aaron Rodgers’ fault. He put up far better stats than Brett Favre this year, and both of their teams are sitting on couches right now. Yet he’s certain to become a whipping boy for many people in Cheeseland who think he’s the second coming of Anthony Dilweg. (I realize most rational Packer fans don’t blame Rodgers, but I’ve seen plenty of writing out there blaming his lack of “intangibles” and “leadership” as if that had something to do with tackling).
Detroit Lions (0-16)
Where It Went Wrong: Really, where didn’t it go wrong? From the moment Tatum Bell stole Rudi Johnson’s luggage, this team was hopelessly doomed.
Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
Where it Went Wrong: You could literally write an entire book on where it went wrong with this team. And each chapter would be more comical than the last. Honestly, there is not a more fun activity in this world than watching the Cowboys implode. One of these decades I might even feel bad for Cowboy fans when it happens… I’m thinking sometime around 2050. At least if Wade Phillips is still coaching by then.
However, I don’t think one can understate how much trading for the offensive Roy Williams backfired in Jerry Jones’ surgically altered face. Anyone who has ever watched Williams play in Detroit knows he’s a loser. He’ll always be a loser. That crap is something you can’t shed. And not that we like to brag, but we kind of saw that one coming when the trade happened. (OK, we do like to brag because we rarely predict things accurately). I doth quote myself:
I don’t see Williams helping this team any. Like T.O., he’s a petulant loudmouth. Unlike T.O., he sucks. Against the Bears, Williams had one drop for every catch that he made (if not more.) Being a close follower of the NFC North, I know that performances like that are par for the course for Roy, who always talks a big game but rarely backs it up.
Landover, Md. Ballclub (8-8)
What Went Wrong: When Landover was 6-3, Sports Illustrated had a nice write-up on Clinton Portis’ dominance and the team’s resurgence.
But then Portis got hurt, and the Ballclub went straight into the Hog shitter. So I guess you can blame the SI Cover Jinx, even if Portis was tucked away in the lower right corner.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
Where It Went Wrong: Let’s put it this way — if you lose at home to the Raiders, chances are you never belonged in the playoffs in the first place.
New Orleans Saints (8-8)
Where It Went Wrong: When will people learn that having a Gramatica brother as a kicker is not a good idea? Martin “Automatica Miss” Gramatica cost the Saints two games earlier in the season with his foot, which was about half as good as Tom Dempsey’s half a foot. New Orleans suffered a ton of injuries, especially on defense, but still could have made the playoffs if there had been a real kicker on the roster.
San Francisco 49ers (7-9)
Where It Went Wrong: Amazingly, the Niners would have been in the playoff hunt if it weren’t for the baffling decision to run the ball two consecutive times in the final 10 seconds against the Cardinals in a seemingly meaningless early November game. But I guess that’s why OC Mike Martz got his pink slip this week.
Seattle Seahawks (4-12)
Where It Went Wrong: Being located in the city of Seattle guaranteed a bad 2008 for everyone involved. Maybe ’09 will be kinder.
St. Louis Rams (2-14)
Where It Went Wrong: That one time the GM got drunk and hired Scott Linehan as his head coach.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)
Where It Went Wrong: When the league blocked Chad Ocho Cinco’s name change by making up some bullshit about Reebok being stuck with useless jerseys to sell, the year was down the tubes. Like anyone is buying Chad Johnson jerseys anyway. And do you think the WNBA would pull that stunt if one of their players got married and changed her name? Oh, wait…
Cleveland Browns (4-12)
Where It Went Wrong: When everyone decided the Browns were this years “it” team and put them in a bunch of nationally televised games. The hex was on.
New England Patriots (11-5)
Where It Went Wrong: Losing last year’s Super Bowl. The only team to return to the playoffs after losing the preceding Super Bowl since the year 2000 was the Seahawks of ’06. There’s no rhyme or reason to this trend, especially since the Pats are still one of the 10 best teams in the league and sitting at home for the playoffs nevertheless.
New York Jets (10-6)
Where It Went Wrong: When the calendar flipped to December and Brett Favre became Johnny Unitas as a Charger and Franco Harris as a Seahawk combined.
Buffalo Bills (7-9)
Where It Went Wrong: Signing Dick Jauron to a contract extension with the Bills sitting in first place with a 4-1 record. Never, ever sign a coach to an extension in the middle of a season. Especially Dick Jauron.
Houston Texans (8-8)
Where It Went Wrong: It’s hard to say anything went wrong when the sorry Texans finished break-even for the first time in franchise history. But things could have been even better if it weren’t for the infamous game against the Colts where Sage “Fucking Rosenfels” (exact words mouthed by coach Gary Kubiak on sidelines) imploded for like 8 fourth-quarter turnovers.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
Where It Went Wrong: The Jags may be the only team in the NFL I did not even see once all season, at least that I can remember. But apparently all of their issues were in the locker room, not on the field. Or cut into lines on Matt Jones’ dashboard.
Denver Broncos (8-8)
Where It Went Wrong: Same principle as the Bucs — losing at home to the post-choke Bills with a chance to clinch the division is poor, poor form. It’ll even cost you your job.
Oakland Raiders (5-11)
Where It Went Wrong: Let’s just say success will return to Oakland when Al Davis goes the way of Bill Wirtz.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)
Where It Went Wrong: You play to win the game — unless you play for Herm Edwards. Don’t look for things to get much better while he’s around.
UPDATE: Special Playoff Elimination Section
Atlanta Falcons (10-7)
Where It Went Wrong: Nobody, least of all the Falcons, expected Edgerrin James to pull off the biggest resurrection of the post-Lazarus era and resemble an NFL running back in a playoff game. But being the first team to lose a playoff game at Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona since 1947 doesn’t take the luster off an unexpectedly great season for Atlanta.
Indianapolis Colts (12-5)
Where It Went Wrong: I’ve never seen a punter and a punt returner double-handedly beat a team, but that’s pretty much what Mike Scifres and Darren Sproles did to the Colts Saturday night. Without those two in the Chargers’ lineup, we’d beat writing San Diego’s obit right now.
Miami Dolphins (11-6)
Where It Went Wrong: When this year’s Dolphins woke up and decided to start playing like last year’s edition. They turned it over five times. When the Dolphins finally scored a touchdown on the Baltimore defense, then proceeded to miss the extra point. Trailing 20-9 early in the fourth, the Fins had a last gasp of momentum with a nice drive, but then saw it slip away and lost about 15 yards on a botched handoff between Chad Pennington and Ted Ginn that put them in 3rd and a mile from midfield.
Minnesota Vikings (10-7)