1. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was visibly frustrated after watching the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson return a punt for a touchdown on the game’s final play this week, giving Philadelphia an epic come-from-behind win in a key divisional matchup against New York. Coughlin went off on rookie punter Matt Dodge for punting the ball to Jackson despite having been told to kick it out of bounds. While it’s debatable that Dodge didn’t have time to properly aim the ball out of bounds after handling a high snap, what isn’t debatable is that Coughlin should have been yelling at either himself or general manager Jerry Reese instead. Dodge has been abysmal this season with two dropped snaps, two bad holds on field goals, a blocked punt, a number of shanked or line-drive punts, and a delay-of-game penalty on a key fourth-quarter field goal try that resulted in a miss. If the Giants fail to win in Green Bay this week, they will almost certainly miss the playoffs, and the blame for that lies at the feet of Coughlin or Reese—or both—not on a rookie punter who should have been cut long ago.
2. The Giants choked last week, and Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is accused of doing the same. Never known for his superlative game management skills, Del Rio took a huge risk in the third quarter of his team’s loss to the Colts this week. With Jacksonville four points behind, Del Rio went for it on fourth-and-one from his own 39-yard line, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew failed to gain the first down. After taking over on downs, Indianapolis scored on a touchdown run by Donald Brown and never looked back. With the Colts run defense struggling and Jacksonville’s running game excelling over the last few weeks, Del Rio took an unnecessary risk and lost, costing his team a chance at the AFC South title.
3. Great PR job going on in Washington as Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan hangs former starting quarterback Donovan McNabb out to dry in order to deflect focus from the team’s dismal showing—and Shanahan’s role in it—this season. Since Shanahan traded a 2010 second-round pick and a 2011 fourth-round pick for McNabb, he shares the blame for the Redskins’ poor performance this season and for helping to sabotage their future by giving away valuable draft picks in what has become a lost season. If there was ever any question about McNabb’s future in Washington, it was settled a couple days ago when Shanahan responded to McNabb’s comment that he would like to return to Washington next year by stating that he would be welcome as a backup. Despite being known for his offensive prowess, Shanahan will enter the offseason with quality offensive starters at only four positions: wide receiver, tight end, and left and right tackle. Guards Will Montgomery and Kory Lichtensteiger have shown some promise but are far from finished projects. By acquiring McNabb and hoping for a one-year turnaround, Shanahan has put Washington in a clear rebuilding position.
4. With his squad sporting a surprising 6-6 record after Week 12, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has been mentioned as a possible Coach of the Year candidate. However, the Rams have lost their last two games and the defensive turnaround that had sparked their comeback season is quickly beginning to fade, with St. Louis playing their worst football of the year as the season winds down. That’s bad news for a Rams team needing to win their final two games (at home against San Francisco and on the road in Seattle) in order to win the NFC West crown. Over their last five games, the Rams defense has surrendered 34, 33, 6, 31, and 27 points—with that 6-point game coming against the lowly Cardinals. That’s a surprising downturn for a unit that allowed 18 points or fewer in seven of eight games to start the season.
5. Texans owner Bob McNair stated before his team’s Week 15 contest against the Titans that his Texans were headed in the right direction and were close to being an outstanding team. His comments were largely construed as a show of support for head coach Gary Kubiak and as a sign that Kubiak would return for a sixth year in 2011. Those comments and Kubiak’s likely return next season stand contrary to what most commentators were predicting, with the accepted wisdom being that McNair would pull the plug on Kubiak since he is the longest-tenured coach in the league to fail to reach the playoffs. It was surprising to see that type of positive reinforcement as the Texans, who were expected to challenge for a playoff spot, stumble toward a losing record despite having one of the most talented offenses in the league—and despite featuring an unexpected breakout season from running back Arian Foster. Sure enough, McNair’s ill-advised comments were followed shortly thereafter by a Texans loss to the Titans, in a game in which they failed to show up for the first half once again.
6. Forty-niners head coach Mike Singletary is on the hot seat with his team having a largely disappointing season despite being the consensus pick to win the NFC West. The 49ers came out of the gate slowly, losing six of their first seven games, with four of those losses coming by three points or less. While their failure to win close games has been cited as the reason for their 5-9 record, it is Singletary’s handling of the quarterback position that is causing the most head-scratching in San Francisco. When Alex Smith was injured in Week 7, Singletary chose to bypass backup David Carr in favor of third-string quarterback Troy Smith, who was picked up after being released by Baltimore at the end of the preseason. Despite going 3-2 in five starts, Troy Smith was then benched, with Singletary rationalizing that the 49ers needed a quarterback who knew the entire playbook. Alex Smith started two games, beating Seattle and losing on the road to San Diego in a game in which the 49ers offensive line had perhaps their worst performance of the year. Despite being given little time to throw during a blowout, with almost no chance of winning, Smith’s performance drew Singletary’s ire and led to the switch back to Troy Smith this week. Singletary will add to his long list of curious quarterback decisions by turning to an inexperienced play caller over a veteran in a must-win game on the road against a divisional rival. To make matters worse, Singletary is splitting the reps between his top two quarterbacks, with the clear indication that if his starter doesn’t perform well, a quick hook will be in order. That amounts to added pressure and a horrible message to send to the inexperienced quarterback he’s chosen to start. Add it all up and it will be no surprise to see Singletary fired if the 49ers fail to make the playoffs.
7. In their two games against the Raiders this season, the Broncos surrendered 98 points and more than 1,000 yards. Those are remarkable statistics considering that the Raiders feature one of the lower-ranked passing offenses in the league.
8. Sticking with the Raiders, they have a chance this season to become the first team in the history of the league to sweep its division and not qualify for the postseason. The Raiders currently sit 5-0 against their AFC West counterparts, with a Week 17 game against the Chiefs as their final divisional matchup. However, with a 7-7 record and little hope of earning a wildcard berth, they sit third in the division behind the Chiefs and the Chargers. In order to make the playoffs, the Raiders need to defeat the Colts this week and the Chiefs next week. They also need Kansas City to lose this week to Tennessee and the Chargers to lose to either the Browns or the Bengals. That’s a tall order.
9. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford went over 3,000 yards passing this week, becoming only the third player in the history of the league to accomplish that feat in his rookie season.
10. The Dolphins were eliminated from playoff contention following their home loss to the Bills this week. With a 6-1 record on the road and a 1-6 record at home, Miami becomes the first team to have opposite home and away records by such a wide margin.
11. While the Dolphins have been great on the road, the Lions have been horrible in away games for years. This week they managed to beat the Buccaneers in overtime, however, snapping a league-record 26-game road losing streak. The win also gave Detroit their first two-game winning streak since the 2007 season. Ouch.
12. With Panthers fans clamoring for the team to use the first pick in next year’s draft (assuming Carolina finishes last overall) on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, rookie signal caller Jimmy Clausen finally won his first professional game this week (over the Cardinals). That win helped Clausen in two ways. First, it should quiet his critics a bit. Second, it put the Panthers one more win away from avoiding a last-place finish. While this week’s game on the road against Pittsburgh doesn’t look promising, a Week 17 matchup against a Falcons team that will likely rest a number of starters offers Clausen another opportunity to potentially save his job.
13. As mentioned here before, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones merely paid lip service to the team’s fans by mentioning that several big names were interested in the team’s head coaching position in 2011. More likely than not, Jones’ real intention is to avoid bringing in a big-name coach who may want authority over the football operations side of the organization, allowing Jones to continue to meddle in the team’s affairs, particularly on the player personnel side. It looks like interim head coach Jason Garrett is well on his way to securing his current position for next season. With the Cowboys’ win over the Redskins this week, Garrett’s coaching record is 4-2. With Arizona up next and with the Eagles in Week 17, in a game that may carry no playoff implications, Garrett has a decent chance to finish the year at 6-2. That would provide cover for Jones to hire Garrett full-time and continue with the current organizational structure.