Seventeen weeks of the NFL season have come and gone, and we’re left with this: The best team at the end of this season is the same as the best team at the end of last season.
The Seattle Seahawks are poised to become the NFL’s first repeat Super Bowl champions since the Patriots a decade ago. The Seahawks are getting the same great play out of their defense they were a year ago and the same great play from quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, and with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, they’re going to be a very, very tough team to beat.
This season hasn’t always gone according to plan in Seattle. Through six games they were 3-3, and at times early in the year their defense looked like it had taken a step backward. It was reasonable to question during the middle of the season if Seattle was as good as it was a year ago. It was even reasonable to question whether Seattle would make the playoffs at all.
But that’s all over now. With Sunday’s 20-6 win over the Rams, the Seahawks finished the season on a six-game winning streak, with all six wins by double digits. The Seahawks aren’t just beating teams, they’re beating teams up. They’re winning the way great teams win.
And I think they’ve got three more wins left in them. On February 1, the Seahawks will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Again.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday’s game:
Break up the Panthers! I never thought I’d say this about the NFC South champions, but the Panthers might actually be a pretty good team. Yes, they’re lucky that they’re in a bad division, and that’s the only reason they’re in the playoffs at 7-8-1. But they’ve won four in a row to enter the playoffs, including a pair of 31-point road wins at New Orleans and at Atlanta to seal the division title. The Panthers, who host the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs, might just advance.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell is terrible at challenges. When Caldwell was the head coach of the Colts, Indianapolis hired former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel solely to serve as an advisor on instant replay challenges. The Colts’ brass knew Caldwell wasn’t good at it and wanted to get him some help. Maybe the Lions should do the same, after Caldwell made an absolutely ridiculous decision to challenge an obviously correct call on which Packers running back Eddie Lacy had the ball knocked out of his arms while he was on the ground and was correctly ruled down by contact. Throwing away a timeout in the second half of a close game is inexcusable, but that’s what Caldwell did. Caldwell is good at the slower, more deliberative aspects of coaching — game planning, getting his players prepared during the week, that kind of thing. But Caldwell just isn’t good at split-second decisions, and that’s easy to see when he throws his challenge flag.
Where did that Geno Smith come from? Smith, in what may very well have been his last game as the Jets’ starting quarterback, went 20-for-25 for 358 yards, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Smith was the only quarterback in the NFL all season to have a game with a perfect passer rating. But here’s the amazing thing about Smith: He was also the only quarterback in the NFL all season to have a game with a 0.0 passer rating. Smith is so inconsistent that there’s just no way the Jets can count on him going forward. Even though he had a great game on Sunday.
J.J. Watt’s great season overshadowed Justin Houston’s great season. Watt was such a force of nature for the Texans that not only will he win the Defensive Player of the Year award, but he’s a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award as well. But while we praise Watt, we shouldn’t overlook Houston, who had four sacks on Sunday for the Chiefs and finished the season with 22.0 sacks, just half a sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record. Watt is the first player to record 20 sacks in two different seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, and Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player. But don’t forget Houston when listing the best defensive players in football.
Odell Beckham is the best receiver in the NFL. Beckham, the Giants’ sensational playmaker, isn’t just the best rookie in the NFL. He’s the best receiver, period. Beckham had 12 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, and he finished the year with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing the first four games of the year with a hamstring injury. Beckham averaged 108.8 yards a game this season, the best of any receiver in the NFL. There is no receiver in football who made plays as consistently as Beckham did over the last three-fourths of the season, and he was doing it in an otherwise substandard Giants Offense. Beckham is amazing.
DeMarco Murray breaks an Emmitt Smith record. Murray finished this season with 1,845 rushing yards, the most in Cowboys history. When you’re breaking a record set by Smith, that’s pretty good. Murray will have a tough task in the Cowboys’ playoff opener against a good Lions rush defense. But that Lions rush defense will have an even tougher task dealing with Murray.
Russell Wilson is running like no other quarterback. Wilson finished this season with 849 rushing yards, the fifth best total for a quarterback in NFL history, and by far the best total of any quarterback in the NFL this season. Wilson is running better than any other quarterback in the league right now. He looks ready to run Seattle into the Super Bowl.