The early games in Week 17 mostly lacked drama. The Steelers clinched their bye easily, making the Ravens game meaningless. The Falcons dominated the Panthers, killing the Saints’ hope for a bye. And the Bucs beat New Orleans for good measure.
While we wonder if the Bucs’ improbable run can continue another week, here’s our early quick slants:
1. Pittsburgh had a flawless game offensively against an underrated Browns defense. Pittsburgh really protected Ben Roethlisberger well and opened up huge lanes in the running game. It’s a promising sign for a much maligned offensive line going into the bye week for the No. 2 seed Steelers.
2. The Ravens didn’t get the result they wanted in Cleveland, but they did get some luck on Sunday. Oakland’s win over the Chiefs made it far more likely the Ravens won’t have to face their playoff nemesis Peyton Manning. A Colts win Sunday means the Ravens will be headed to Kansas City. A Ravens-Jaguars game also remains possible.
3. Despite the win, the Ravens haven’t impressed with their play down the stretch. The Bengals had them on the ropes multiple times Sunday. The Bengals and Browns out-gained Baltimore the last two weeks. I think Baltimore’s 9-7 team last year was better than this year’s 12-4 squad. The defense and running game were more dominating.
4. The Browns and Dolphins didn’t help their head coaches keep their jobs Sunday. With reports circulating that Eric Mangini will be out in Cleveland, the Browns got steamrolled by the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s first four drives ended in touchdowns.
The Browns were a much better team this season despite finishing with the same 5-11 record, but this game was a reminder of old Browns teams.
The Dolphins were even more disappointing. They were down 31-0 to the Patriots by the middle of the third quarter. The Dolphins finish the season on a three-game losing streak to the Bills, Lions, and Patriots. Look for owner Stephen Ross to move on from Tony Sparano and try to make a splash with his head coaching hire.
5. On the other end of the spectrum, Tom Cable’s troops helped his cause with a decisive 31-10 win in Kansas City. The Chiefs played to win throughout, which made this result particularly impressive. Oakland went 6-0 in the division and there is still serious doubt whether Cable will return to the job next year.
6. The Chiefs had a truly awful day at the office. Matt Cassel was absolutely pounded, knocked to the ground all day against Oakland. Jamaal Charles was banged up in the contest. There will be a lot of negativity surrounding the Chiefs this week following the news that Charlie Weis is leaving for Florida.
7. The Saints had a similarly costly day in a similarly meaningless game. With the Falcons taking care of business in Atlanta, the Saints had nothing to gain Sunday. Instead, they lost three players to injury against the Bucs. They also lost a game where red zone turnovers popped up like earlier in the season for the Saints.
8. Tampa’s win in New Orleans keeps them alive for a playoff spot heading into the afternoon games. They need the Packers and Giants to lose to get in. The game also showed the Bucs can beat a quality team. Drew Brees came out midway through the fourth quarter in a one score game, but Tampa deserved this one. Raheem Morris likely just earned a few more Coach of the Year votes.