WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 17 (Part 2)

Our final post of regular season results – my goodness, have these four months of simulating football games just FLOWN BY! (Ed’s note: they actually have not). Still up for grabs in these last eight games of the season: both wild-card slots and the #2 seed in the AFC. Tennessee gets the bye if they beat Jacksonville or New England loses to Denver; if New England wins and Tennessee loses, they get the bye. Otherwise, here’s your long-winded cheat sheet for wild-card scenarios:

Jacksonville gets in if they beat Tennessee. If they lose, they’re out. Simple enough.

Miami already won in the results posted yesterday, so they get in the playoffs with some weird help: either a loss by Jacksonville or Denver or a Kansas City win by fewer than 36 points. Like I said: weird.

Kansas City gets in with a 36-point or greater win over Minnesota or a win and a Jacksonville loss. If they lose, they’re out.

Denver needs to beat New England and have Kansas City lose. If they lose, they’re out.

Baltimore won yesterday and would make the playoffs if Jacksonville, Kansas City and Denver all lose. Given the quality of teams that the Jaguars and Broncos are facing, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

Alright, for the final time in the regular season, here are the rest of this week’s results…

1952 Detroit Lions (3-12-1) 14, 1962 Green Bay Packers (9-6-1) 14 (OT)

The Packers’ winless streak stretched to five games as Bobby Layne threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Cloyce Box and Bob Hoernschemeyer subsequently added a two-point conversion to tie the game at 14 with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Lions then had three different opportunities to win the game at the end of regulation and overtime, but Pat Harder missed field goals from 37, 41 and 54 yards away to leave the game deadlocked. Bart Starr went 19-of-27 for 233 yards for Green Bay; Layne finished 17-of-19 for 152 yards and a touchdown. The Packers are the #6 seed in the playoffs and will play the Bears for the third time this season next week in the wild-card round.

1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) 19, 1964 Cleveland Browns (2-14) 7

Terry Bradshaw threw touchdown passes to Franco Harris and Lynn Swann, as the Steelers won their regular season finale at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steel Curtain defense added three interceptions off Frank Ryan, two of which came from Mike Wagner. Jim Brown scored the lone touchdown for Cleveland but only gained 71 yards on the ground. The Steelers will be the #4 seed in the AFC playoffs.

2005 Seattle Seahawks (8-7-1) 24, 1981 Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) 6

Shaun Alexander rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown on 26 attempts as the Seahawks ended their season on a high note, getting above .500 for the first time all year. Matt Hasselbeck added 228 yards and touchdown passes to Bobby Engram and D.J. Hackett in his 33 pass attempts. Ken Anderson and Pete Johnson hooked up for the lone Cincinnati touchdown.

1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) 20, 2000 Tennessee Titans (13-3) 5

James Stewart touchdown runs of 2 and 30 yards helped fuel a 17-point fourth quarter for the Jaguars, who clinched a wild-card berth and the #5 seed in the AFC playoffs with the win. They’ll play at Pittsburgh next week. The win also finished off a season sweep of the Titans, whose only other loss this year came by one point last week at the hands of the 14-1 Chargers. Tennessee started the scoring off with a Keith Embray sack of Mark Brunell in the end zone less than four minutes into the game and led by the baseball score of 5-3 going into the fourth quarter. But with less than eleven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Stewart scored on a gutsy 4th-and-goal call from the two-yard-line to culminate a nine-minute, 15-play, 84-yard drive for the Jaguars. Stewart added his 30-yard touchdown run on the next possession to give the Jaguars a commanding 17-5 lead with 6:57 to play – a lead they would not relinquish. The Titans now wait for the result of the Patriots-Broncos game to see if they have to play next weekend or not.

1989 San Francisco 49ers (7-8-1) 31, 2008 Arizona Cardinals (6-10) 26

Joe Montana went 17-of-20 for 201 yards and two touchdown passes to Tom Rathman as the 49ers scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to beat the Cardinals in Glendale. Roger Craig and John Taylor added touchdown runs for the Niners. Kurt Warner went 20-of-30 for 298 yards and a touchdown but also two interceptions.

1979 San Diego Chargers (15-1) 23, 1976 Oakland Raiders (4-12) 20

Even with nothing to play for, the Chargers felt compelled to come up with late-game heroics again as Dan Fouts hit Charlie Joiner with an 8-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds remaining to give the Chargers their 14th victory in a row. Clarence Williams and Mike Thomas added touchdown runs for San Diego. Mark Van Eeghen rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts for Oakland.

2007 New England Patriots (13-3) 26, 1998 Denver Broncos (8-8) 23

Stephen Gostkowski’s 44-yard field goal with three seconds remaining gave the Patriots the #2 seed and a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs and ensured Denver would not be a part of the postseason. New England had a 16-3 lead early in the third quarter thanks to three Gostkowski field goals and a 17-yard touchdown throw from Tom Brady to Wes Welker, but Terrell Davis’s 50-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter cut the Pats’ lead to six. Then after a Jason Elam field goal, Glenn Cadrez picked off Brady and returned the interception 48 yards for a touchdown and 20-16 Broncos lead. With a little over three minutes remaining, however, Kevin Faulk scored on a three-yard touchdown run to put New England back up by three. Denver drove down for a 34-yard Elam field goal to tie the game back up with 46 seconds remaining, but Brady drove the Pats 46 yards in six plays to set up Gostkowski’s game-winner.

1973 Minnesota Vikings (6-10) 24, 1969 Kansas City Chiefs (8-8) 17

Fran Tarkenton went 21-of-25 for 318 yards and three touchdowns (two through the air, one on the ground) as the Vikings scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to stun the Chiefs and send Miami to the playoffs. Tarkenton’s 8-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter tied the game up at 17 and on the ensuing possession, Tarkenton hit Carroll Dale with a 6-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winner. Chuck Foreman only rushed for 30 yards on 15 attempts but caught five passes for 110 yards. Len Dawson only went 10-of-21 for 101 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions for Kansas City, who lost their fourth game out of five to fall out of the playoffs.

Next week: The playoffs begin with the wild-card round:

AFC

(6) 1972 Miami Dolphins (9-7) at (3) 2000 Tennessee Titans (13-3)

(5) 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) at (4) 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

Bye: (1) 1979 San Diego Chargers (15-1), (2) 2007 New England Patriots (13-3)

NFC

(6) 1962 Green Bay Packers (9-6-1) at (3) 1985 Chicago Bears (11-5)

(5) 1991 Washington Redskins (11-5) at (4) 2002 Tampa Bay Buccnaeers (10-6)

Bye: (1) 1999 St. Louis Rams (13-3), (2) 1992 Dallas Cowboys (12-4)

Final Regular Season Standings

AFC East

  1. ’07 New England: 13-3 (2)
  2. ’72 Miami: 9-7 (6)
  3. ’90 Buffalo: 7-9
  4. ’68 NY Jets: 6-10

AFC North

  1. ’75 Pittsburgh: 11-5 (4)
  2. ’58 Baltimore: 8-8
  3. ’81 Cincinnati: 7-9
  4. ’64 Cleveland: 2-14

AFC South

  1. ’00 Tennessee: 13-3 (3)
  2. ’99 Jacksonville: 9-7 (5)
  3. ’91 Houston: 7-9
  4. ’06 Indianapolis: 4-12

AFC West

  1. ’79 San Diego: 15-1 (1)
  2. ’69 Kansas City: 8-8
  3. ’98 Denver: 8-8
  4. ’76 Oakland: 4-12

NFC East

  1. ’92 Dallas: 12-4 (2)
  2. ’91 Washington: 11-5 (5)
  3. ’86 NY Giants: 7-9
  4. ’60 Philadelphia: 1-15

NFC North

  1. ’85 Chicago: 11-5 (3)
  2. ’62 Green Bay: 9-6-1 (6)
  3. ’73 Minnesota: 6-10
  4. ’52 Detroit: 3-12-1

NFC South

  1. ’02 Tampa Bay: 10-6 (4)
  2. ’05 Carolina: 8-8
  3. ’09 New Orleans: 6-10
  4. ’12 Atlanta: 6-10

NFC West

  1. ’99 St. Louis: 13-3 (1)
  2. ’05 Seattle: 8-7-1
  3. ’89 San Francisco: 7-8-1
  4. ’08 Arizona: 6-10
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WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 17 (Part 1)

The final week of the Greatest of All Time season is upon us and there are several games today with playoff implications. Let’s run the pre-Week 17 standings to give you an idea of where we’re at with this whole thing:

AFC East

  1. ’07 New England: 12-3 (3)
  2. ’72 Miami: 8-7 (6)
  3. ’90 Buffalo: 7-8
  4. ’68 NY Jets: 6-9

AFC North

  1. ’75 Pittsburgh: 10-5 (4)
  2. ’58 Baltimore: 7-8
  3. ’81 Cincinnati: 7-8
  4. ’64 Cleveland: 2-13

AFC South

  1. ’00 Tennessee: 13-2 (2)
  2. ’99 Jacksonville: 8-7 (5)
  3. ’91 Houston: 7-8
  4. ’06 Indianapolis: 3-12

AFC West

  1. ’79 San Diego: 14-1 (1)
  2. ’69 Kansas City: 8-7
  3. ’98 Denver: 8-7
  4. ’76 Oakland: 4-11

NFC East

  1. ’92 Dallas: 11-4 (2)
  2. ’91 Washington: 10-5 (5)
  3. ’86 NY Giants: 7-8
  4. ’60 Philadelphia: 1-14

NFC North

  1. ’85 Chicago: 10-5 (3)
  2. ’62 Green Bay: 9-6 (6)
  3. ’73 Minnesota: 5-10
  4. ’52 Detroit: 3-12

NFC South

  1. ’02 Tampa Bay: 9-6 (4)
  2. ’05 Carolina: 8-7
  3. ’09 New Orleans: 6-9
  4. ’12 Atlanta: 6-9

NFC West

  1. ’99 St. Louis: 12-3 (1)
  2. ’05 Seattle: 7-7-1
  3. ’89 San Francisco: 6-8-1
  4. ’08 Arizona: 6-9

The NFC is pretty straightforward right now – the Bears are the only team locked into their seed, but the only playoff spot still up for grabs is the NFC South title, which will be decided today in the Bucs vs. Panthers battle. The AFC wild-card picture, on the other hand, is a complete clusterbleep with eight teams sitting at either 8-7 or 7-8. Here’s the different list of playoff scenarios depending on what happens today:

Jacksonville controls their own destiny due to their 7-4 conference record, so a win against Tennessee and they’re in the playoffs. If they don’t beat the Titans, they’d still get into the playoffs if two out of the following three teams lose: Kansas City, Miami and Denver.

Miami also controls their own destiny – sort of. They currently own the strength of victory tiebreaker over Kansas City, so a win over the Giants would virtually assure them a playoff spot. If they don’t win in New York, they’d also need losses from two out of the other three current 8-7 teams (Jacksonville, Denver, and Kansas City) as well as a Baltimore loss.

Kansas City could make the playoffs with just a win over Minnesota – as long as they win by 23 or more points than Miami beats the Giants. Otherwise, they’ll need either Jacksonville or Miami to lose in conjunction with beating the Vikings to make the playoffs. If they lose against Minnesota – no playoffs.

Denver needs a win against the Patriots and either a Kansas City loss or losses by Jacksonville and Miami to make the playoffs. If they’re able to finish ahead of the Chiefs in the standings, the Broncos would own the common games tiebreaker over the Dolphins. If the Broncos lose to the Patriots – no playoffs.

Baltimore is somehow still alive, thanks to their 6-5 conference record. If they beat the Jets, there are some far-flung scenarios involving most or all the 8-7 teams losing in which they make the playoffs. It’s a long shot, but it’s still on the table.

Buffalo, Cincinnati and Houston have all been eliminated – they wouldn’t own any tiebreakers if they found themselves tied with other teams at 8-8.

Got that all straight? Good, neither do I. Let’s start playing some (virtual) games!

1972 Miami Dolphins (9-7) 27, 1986 New York Giants (7-9) 13

Larry Csonka rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 17 attempts and the Dolphins held the Giants to 132 total yards of offense as they moved to 9-7 and came closer to clinching a playoff berth. Miami also forced Phil Simms into throwing three interceptions and completing only seven of his nineteen passes for a total of 74 passing yards. Bob Griese only went 6-of-18 for 86 yards and two interceptions himself, but the No-Name Defense’s smothering play was enough to carry the Dolphins to victory. The Dolphins will now make the playoffs with either a Kansas City win in which the Chiefs win by 35 points or fewer or a Jacksonville or Denver loss.

1958 Baltimore Colts (8-8) 23, 1968 New York Jets (6-10) 10

Johnny Unitas went 17-of-26 for 193 yards and two touchdowns and the Colts won the Weeb Ewbank Bowl to move to 8-8 and keep their very slight playoff hopes alive. Baltimore also forced Joe Namath into tossing three interceptions, including a pick-six to Carl Taseff in the first quarter to start the scoring. The Colts now need Jacksonville, Kansas City and Denver to all lose to make the playoffs.

1999 St. Louis Rams (13-3) 31, 2012 Atlanta Falcons (6-10) 10

The Rams clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a blowout win at Atlanta. Kurt Warner went 15-of-21 for 277 yards and a 20-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce in the third quarter that made the score 24-3. Marshall Faulk, James Hodgins and Justin Watson all added rushing touchdowns for St. Louis.

1985 Chicago Bears (11-5) 38, 2009 New Orleans Saints (6-10) 17

Matt Suhey was the offensive star for the Bears in the regular season finale, scoring two touchdowns on the ground and adding a 40-yard touchdown catch as a receiver as the Bears won their fifth game in a row to finish at 11-5. Jim McMahon went 13-of-21 for 242 yards and two touchdowns and Walter Payton was both the Bears leading rusher and receiver, ending up with 138 yards from scrimmage. Drew Brees threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts for the Saints.

1991 Washington Redskins (11-5) 24, 1990 Buffalo Bills (7-9) 21

Mark Rypien went 15-of-23 for 179 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions as the Redskins scored 17 fourth quarter points to win at home against the Bills. Washington clinched the #5 seed in the playoffs in the process and will face the NFC South champion in the first round. Earnest Byner rushed for 88 yards and added the game-clinching 8-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter. Thurman Thomas had two rushing touchdowns for Buffalo in a losing cause.

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6) 16, 2005 Carolina Panthers (8-8) 8

The Buccaneers took advantage of Bad Jake Delhomme and rode a five interception performance (along with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Brad Johnson to Michael Pittman) to the victory and the NFC South title. Tampa Bay will play the Redskins in the Wild-Card Round next week. The timing of Delhomme’s interceptions couldn’t possibly have been much worse: his first pick happened in the first quarter at the Tampa 23-yard line, followed by picks in the third quarter at his own 22 (leading to a Martin Gramatica field goal) and the Tampa 8 on a 2nd-and-goal play. Then to top it all off, Delhomme threw interceptions from the Tampa 13 and the Tampa 37 on back-to-back possessions and ENDED THE GAME by scrambling out of bounds for no gain from the Tampa 43. If you can think of a worse possible quarterback performance in a big game, I’d love to hear it.

1992 Dallas Cowboys (12-4) 33, 1960 Philadelphia Eagles (1-15) 0

Emmitt Smith rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns on 27 attempts as the Cowboys fought through a lackluster start to score 24 points in the fourth quarter and blow out the Eagles. Dallas sacked Norm Van Brocklin seven times (three by Jim Jeffcoat and two by Tony Tolbert) and picked him off three times, including a Larry Brown pick-six in the fourth quarter. Dallas is the #2 seed in the NFC and will have next weekend off. Philadelphia, meanwhile, clinched the worst record in the league and the #1 pick in next year’s draft…if there was a draft, which there isn’t.

2006 Indianapolis Colts (4-12) 31, 1991 Houston Oilers (7-9) 24

Peyton Manning threw for 185 yards and two touchdown passes to Marvin Harrison in 21 attempts and the Colts beat the Oilers in Houston. Joseph Addai added 151 yards and a touchdown on 14 rushing attempts. Warren Moon threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns on 28 attempts but also threw two interceptions.

Tomorrow: The regular season concludes with the two wild-card spots and #2 seed in the AFC being decided.

Here’s a Video of Joe Buck Name-Dropping Mumford & Sons at Troy Aikman’s Expense

It should go without saying that Joe Buck, and not Robert Christgau, is the current dean of American music critics – why, over the course of five seconds in the video below, he professes knowledge of cool, hip indie bands like M83 and Passion Pit and Phoenix! Of course, sometimes when you’re the most intellectual tastemaker in the country, you’ve got to step on other people’s toes for not being as hip to the jive as you are. Such is the case with Troy Aikman for having just found out who Mumford & Sons were. DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT “LITTLE LION MAN” STARTED MAKING WAVES BACK IN THE YEAR 2009, TROY? Next, you’ll be telling me you don’t know who Arcade Fire is.

Brian Urlacher’s Place Among the All-Time Great Linebackers

I wrote a post-mortem on Brian Urlacher’s career with the Bears after both sides parted ways in March, so this post won’t have anything to do with my personal thoughts on watching him play now that he’s announced his retirement. Instead, I’m going to try to get a sense of where his historical standing should be among the NFL linebackers that went before him and whether he deserves to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer or even a Hall-of-Famer at all.

The consensus that has seemed to emerge since Urlacher tweeted last week that his playing career was done was that Urlacher is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer but not as great as Ray Lewis was. There’s no shame in that, by the way – you can make a strong argument that Ray Lewis is the greatest linebacker, inside or outside, of all time. Currently (as of about 11:45 on Tuesday morning), ESPN’s SportsNation poll has Urlacher sixth out of a group of 15 retired linebackers – behind only Dick Butkus, Lawrence Taylor, Lewis, Mike Singletary and Jack Lambert and ahead of Hall-of-Famers Jack Ham, Derrick Thomas, Ray Nitschke and Chuck Bednarik as well as future Hall-of-Famers Junior Seau and Derrick Brooks.

Obviously there’s going to be some recency bias with a poll that comes out right after a player retires, but I think it’s pretty clear that placing Urlacher in a group of the top-ten linebackers of all-time is foolhardy. Currently, he ranks in a tie for 13th all time in Pro Bowl selections, a tie for 17th in 1st-team All-Pro selections, and 12th in Pro Football Reference’s career Approximate Value statistic among all linebackers. All the players who rank above Urlacher in Pro Bowl selections and Approximate Value have either been elected to the Hall of Fame or will be once their five-year waiting period is over. Two linebackers have accrued more 1st-team All-Pro selections than Urlacher and have been eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame but have failed thus far: Larry Grantham (whose five All-Pro selections came in the first five years of the AFL’s existence) and Chuck Howley (who was voted 1st-team All-Pro five times as a Cowboys middle linebacker in the late ’60s and early ’70s and seems to have fallen through the cracks of NFL history).

There’s one more linebacker who has more All-Pro selections that Urlacher whose name will come up for induction next year but who likely doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting in: Zach Thomas. The long-time Dolphins middle linebacker is Urlacher’s statistical doppelganger in a lot of ways: he had 7 Pro Bowl selections (compared to Urlacher’s 8), 5 1st-Team All-Pro selections (compared to Urlacher’s 4) and a career Approximate Value of 149 (compared to Urlacher’s 153). Both players played thirteen seasons. Both spent either their entire career with one team or virtually their entire career with one team (anybody remember Thomas’s last season with the Cowboys? Neither do I). For all intents and purposes, they’re the same linebacker. Urlacher’s notoriety as being the face of one of the most high-profile franchises in the league, however, will almost certainly push him into the Hall of Fame in his first couple years of eligibility while Thomas seems likely to wait a long time to get in, if he gets in at all.

So what rank should Urlacher slide in at among all the players who ever played middle/inside linebacker? To start out, I think it’s fairly clear that the following players were all better than him:

  • Ray Lewis
  • Dick Butkus
  • Mike Singletary
  • Joe Schmidt
  • Jack Lambert
  • Bill George

Ray Nitschke, Sam Huff and Nick Buoniconti all have fairly similar resumes to Urlacher, but all three were highly regarded members of championship-winning teams, so they probably deserve the benefit of the doubt in any ranking scenario. And while he’s still only halfway through his career at most, Patrick Willis already has four 1st-team All-Pro selections in his first six seasons, so I think it’s likely he’ll be regarded as one of the best of all-time when his career comes to a close. That would put Urlacher in a group with the likes of Thomas, Willie Lanier, Harry Carson, Karl Mecklenburg and Les Richter for the 11-16 spots all-time. Not one of the truly best of all-time, but certainly a Hall-of-Fame level.

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 16 (Part 2)

The first half of this week’s results were posted yesterday. The results of the last eight games of Week 16 shall be revealed…well, now.

1972 Miami Dolphins (8-7) 12, 1968 New York Jets (6-9) 6 (OT)

For the second time this year, the Dolphins beat the Jets with an overtime touchdown run, this time by Mercury Morris from 21 yards away 11 minutes into the overtime period as Miami kept their wild-card hopes alive. Miami actually should have won the game in regulation after Bob Griese hit Paul Warfield with a 57-yard gain down to the New York 15-yard-line with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But on the very next play, Griese was picked off by Jim Hudson and the game went to an extra period, Griese threw for 214 yards on 25 attempts but was very inconsistent, completing only ten passes and throwing two interceptions overall. Joe Namath actually performed worse, however, going 11-of-25 for just 122 yards and two interceptions.

1991 Houston Oilers (7-8) 33, 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7) 15

Warren Moon threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns on 27 attempts and the Oilers threw the Jaguars’ wild-card hopes to a perilous place by virtue of their lopsided win at the Astrodome. Allen Pinkett added 106 yards, ten of which came on a touchdown run late in the first half, on 17 attempts. James Stewart scored two rushing touchdowns for Jacksonville, who still controls its own destiny for the final wild-card slot but must host co-AFC leader Tennessee in its final game of the season.

1979 San Diego Chargers (14-1) 24, 2000 Tennessee Titans (13-2) 23

Artie Owens scored on a 6-yard touchdown run with 2:27 remaining and the Chargers used the aid of two devastating Titans turnovers to come back from a 17-point third quarter deficit and clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The San Diego comeback began on the final play of the third quarter, when Dan Fouts threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to John Jefferson to cut the deficit to 10 points. After an Al Del Greco field goal midway through the fourth quarter made the score 23-10, the Chargers ran Clarence Williams for 10 yards, Mike Thomas for 47, and Lydell Mitchell for 11 and a touchdown to come within six with under six minutes to play. On the first play of the Titans’ next possession, Steve McNair was intercepted by Woodrow Lowe, which set up a short field for Owens’ go-ahead score. The Titans drove deep into San Diego territory on the next possession, but Eddie George (who ran for 159 yards and a touchdown on 25 attempts) fumbled at the Charger 20-yard line and San Diego was able to run out the clock from there. The road to the AFC Championship now goes through San Diego; meanwhile, the Titans need either a win next week against the Jaguars or a Patriots loss to clinch the other first-round bye.

2012 Atlanta Falcons (6-9) 31, 2008 Arizona Cardinals (6-9) 17

Matt Ryan went 22-of-29 for 307 yards and three touchdowns and the Falcons beat the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Roddy White caught two of Ryan’s touchdowns and Julio Jones the other. Kurt Warner threw touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin but also threw two interceptions.

2007 New England Patriots (12-3) 41, 2006 Indianapolis Colts (3-12)

Tom Brady had one of the best passing games of the season, going 24-of-29 for 358 yards and three touchdowns as he outdueled Peyton Manning to lead the Patriots to their 12th win of the season. Randy Moss had six catches for 134 yards and Wes Welker, Ben Watson and Donte Stallworth all caught touchdown passes from Brady. Facing a significantly tougher defense, Manning was nonetheless clearly inferior, going 16-of-32 for 220 yards and two garbage time touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Patriots clinched at least the #3 seed in the AFC and, as noted in the Chargers-Titans recap, still have a shot at a first-round bye.

1999 St. Louis Rams (12-3) 24, 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) 23

Marshall Faulk rushed for 159 yards on 16 carries, including a 58-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that gave the Rams a lead they would not relinquish. Kurt Warner only went 15-of-31 for 101 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions – the last of which set up the Steelers with a golden opportunity to retake the lead late in the fourth quarter. However, Roy Gerela missed his 36-yard attempt and would later miss a desperation 58-yard try in the waning seconds. Franco Harris was outstanding, rushing for 161 yards and a touchdown on 23 attempts, but Terry Bradshaw didn’t help through the air, going 10-of-27 for 96 yards and an interception. The win puts St. Louis in the driver’s seat for home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs.

2005 Seattle Seahawks (7-7-1) 17, 2005 Carolina Panthers (8-7) 13

Shaun Alexander scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds remaining to cap a 10-point comeback in the last five minutes of the game and the Seahawks nipped the Panthers at Qwest Field. The Panthers’ loss clinched a wild-card slot for the Packers and now the only unknown playoff slot in the NFC is who will come out of the South. Carolina will play Tampa Bay next week in Charlotte to determine that final playoff team. Alexander’s touchdown was set up earlier by a 23-yard pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Joe Jurevicius on 4th-and-14.

1976 Oakland Raiders (4-11) 20, 1969 Kansas City Chiefs (8-7) 17

Fred Steinfort’s 24-yard field goal with 48 seconds remaining gave the Raiders the victory at the Oakland Coliseum and ruined a golden opportunity for their arch rivals to gain a leg up in the AFC wild-card chase. Warren McVea’s 46-yard touchdown run gave Kansas City a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Mark Van Eeghen tied it up with a little over five minutes remaining with a 22-yard touchdown run of his own. Then after Len Dawson threw an interception in Oakland territory, Ken Stabler led the Raiders on an 11-play, 39-yard drive that culminated with Steinfort’s game-winning field goal. The loss actually moves Kansas City out of the playoffs for the moment, due to some complex tiebreakers that I’ll explain before next week’s games.

Next week: These are all the games next week that have some sort of playoff implications –

1972 Miami Dolphins @ 1986 New York Giants
1958 Baltimore Colts @ 1968 New York Jets
1999 St. Louis Rams @ 2012 Atlanta Falcons
1990 Buffalo Bills @ 1991 Washington Redskins
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 2005 Carolina Panthers
1992 Dallas Cowboys @ 1960 Philadelphia Eagles
2006 Indianapolis Colts @ 1991 Houston Oilers
1952 Detroit Lions @ 1962 Green Bay Packers
2005 Seattle Seahawks @ 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
2000 Tennessee Titans @ 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
1973 Minnesota Vikings @ 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
1976 Oakland Raiders @ 1979 San Diego Chargers
1998 Denver Broncos @ 2007 New England Patriots

AFC East

  1. ’07 New England: 12-3 (3)
  2. ’72 Miami: 8-7 (6)
  3. ’90 Buffalo: 7-8
  4. ’68 NY Jets: 6-9

AFC North

  1. ’75 Pittsburgh: 10-5 (4)
  2. ’58 Baltimore: 7-8
  3. ’81 Cincinnati: 7-8
  4. ’64 Cleveland: 2-13

AFC South

  1. ’00 Tennessee: 13-2 (2)
  2. ’99 Jacksonville: 8-7 (5)
  3. ’91 Houston: 7-8
  4. ’06 Indianapolis: 3-12

AFC West

  1. ’79 San Diego: 14-1 (1)
  2. ’69 Kansas City: 8-7
  3. ’98 Denver: 8-7
  4. ’76 Oakland: 4-11

NFC East

  1. ’92 Dallas: 11-4 (2)
  2. ’91 Washington: 10-5 (5)
  3. ’86 NY Giants: 7-8
  4. ’60 Philadelphia: 1-14

NFC North

  1. ’85 Chicago: 10-5 (3)
  2. ’62 Green Bay: 9-6 (6)
  3. ’73 Minnesota: 5-10
  4. ’52 Detroit: 3-12

NFC South

  1. ’02 Tampa Bay: 9-6 (4)
  2. ’05 Carolina: 8-7
  3. ’09 New Orleans: 6-9
  4. ’12 Atlanta: 6-9

NFC West

  1. ’99 St. Louis: 12-3 (1)
  2. ’05 Seattle: 7-7-1
  3. ’89 San Francisco: 6-8-1
  4. ’08 Arizona: 6-9

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 16 (Part 1)

Just two weeks remain in the Greatest of All Time Season and we’ll unveil the first half of this week’s results shortly. Before we do that, here’s a look at the pre-Week 16 standings with a few explanations for tiebreaking procedures where necessary:

AFC East

  1. ’07 New England: 11-3 (3)
  2. ’72 Miami: 7-7
  3. ’90 Buffalo: 7-7
  4. ’68 NY Jets: 6-8

AFC North

  1. ’75 Pittsburgh: 10-4 (4)
  2. ’81 Cincinnati: 7-7
  3. ’58 Baltimore: 6-8
  4. ’64 Cleveland: 1-13

AFC South

  1. ’00 Tennessee: 13-1 (1)
  2. ’99 Jacksonville: 8-6 (6)
  3. ’91 Houston: 6-8
  4. ’06 Indianapolis: 3-11

AFC West

  1. ’79 San Diego: 13-1 (2)
  2. ’69 Kansas City: 8-6 (5)
  3. ’98 Denver: 7-7
  4. ’76 Oakland: 3-11

NFC East

  1. ’92 Dallas: 11-3 (1)
  2. ’91 Washington: 9-5 (5)
  3. ’86 NY Giants: 6-8
  4. ’60 Philadelphia: 1-13

NFC North

  1. ’85 Chicago: 9-5 (3)
  2. ’62 Green Bay: 9-5 (5)
  3. ’73 Minnesota: 4-10
  4. ’52 Detroit: 3-11

NFC South

  1. ’05 Carolina: 8-6 (4)
  2. ’02 Tampa Bay: 8-6
  3. ’09 New Orleans: 6-8
  4. ’12 Atlanta: 5-9

NFC West

  1. ’99 St. Louis: 11-3 (2)
  2. ’05 Seattle: 6-7-1
  3. ’89 San Francisco: 6-7-1
  4. ’08 Arizona: 6-8

In the AFC, Kansas City owns the tiebreaker for the #5 seed over Jacksonville based on their win over the Jaguars last week…don’t pay any attention to Tennessee and San Diego’s “seeds” right now, they’ll decide home-field advantage in the AFC this week…in the NFC, Chicago currently owns the tiebreaker over Green Bay thanks to their Week 5 win at Lambeau; they play a de facto NFC North Championship this week in Chicago…Green Bay owns the wild-card tiebreaker over Washington by virtue of their Week 1 head-to-head victory…Carolina beat Tampa Bay head-to-head, so that’s why the Panthers currently are NFC South leaders (the two teams play in Charlotte next week)…and Dallas owns the home-field advantage tiebreaker over St. Louis thanks to their superior conference record…

With the preamble out of the way, let’s get to the start of Week 16:

1964 Cleveland Browns (2-13) 30, 1989 San Francisco 49ers (6-8-1) 13

Jim Brown gained 122 on 23 carries, scoring on runs from 54 and 12 yards and the Browns scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to win only their second game of the season. Ernie Green added 97 yards and a touchdown on ten carries. Roger Craig rushed for 118 yards for the 49ers, but Joe Montana threw two damaging interceptions.

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6) 23, 1992 Dallas Cowboys (11-4) 10

Brad Johnson went 21-of-28 for 246 yards and a touchdown and the Buccaneers snapped the Cowboys’ long winning streak and kept themselves right in the thick of the playoff chase. Keyshawn Johnson had 92 receiving yards and the only receiving touchdown of the game – a 32-yard catch from Brad Johnson in the second quarter. The Bucs’ Cover-2 also limited Troy Aikman to one of his worst games of the season – 7-of-20 for 116 yards. Emmitt Smith rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Cowboys from momentarily ceding control of the NFC home-field advantage race.

1991 Washington Redskins (10-5) 43, 2009 New Orleans Saints (6-9) 24

Mark Rypien went 19-of-25 for 273 yards and three touchdowns and the Redskins gained 537 yards of offense to fuel a rout of the Saints at the Superdome. Rypien’s touchdowns went to Art Monk (who had a total of 95 receiving yards), Ricky Ervins and Earnest Byner (who also rushed for 164 yards on the ground). Gary Clark didn’t catch a touchdown from Rypien but was the Redskins’ leading receiver with 100 yards. Pierre Thomas rushed for two touchdowns for the Saints and Drew Brees threw for 240 yards on 24 attempts but also threw two interceptions.

1986 New York Giants (7-8) 20, 1990 Buffalo Bills (7-8) 7

Joe Morris rushed for 133 yards on 25 carries and Maurice Carthon added a game-clinching 30-yard run in the fourth quarter as the Giants all but ended the Bills’ playoff chances with a 13-point victory in Buffalo. New York took the lead in the third quarter on a 13-yard pass from Stacy Robinson to Phil Simms and never relinquished it from there. Thurman Thomas got the scoring started in the first quarter with a 32-yard touchdown run but the Bills couldn’t score from then on.

1973 Minnesota Vikings (5-10) 27, 1960 Philadelphia Eagles (1-14) 20

Chuck Foreman rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 18 attempts as the Vikings built a 27-3 halftime advantage and weathered a second-half comeback from the Eagles to earn their fifth victory of the season. Fran Tarkenton added 239 passing yards and a touchdown to Stu Voigt in 25 attempts. Norm Van Brocklin threw touchdown passes to Pete Retzlaff and Bobby Walston in the second half to get the Eagles back into the game, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Eagles from falling to sole possession of the league’s worst record.

1998 Denver Broncos (8-7) 17, 1952 Detroit Lions (3-12) 10

John Elway threw touchdown passes to Ed McCaffrey and Shannon Sharpe and the Broncos stayed alive in the AFC wild-card race with a tight win over the Lions at Tiger Stadium. Elway threw for a total of 212 yards on only 22 attempts but also threw two interceptions to Jim David to keep the Lions in the game. With just under five minutes remaining in the game, Detroit had four chances to tie the game from inside the Broncos’ two-yard line but were shut down on three runs and an incomplete pass.

1958 Baltimore Colts (7-8) 27, 1981 Cincinnati Bengals (7-8) 24 (OT)

Alan Ameche rushed for three touchdowns for the Colts and Steve Myhra kicked a 24-yard field goal less than six minutes into overtime to give the Colts a home win and put the Bengals’ playoff hopes on life support. The Bengals had driven 69 yards in 14 plays to tie the game with 11 seconds remaining on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Ken Anderson to Dan Ross and subsequent two-point conversion toss from Anderson to Pete Johnson. But on the second play of overtime, Ameche gained 35 yards on a draw play to put the Colts at the Bengals’ 25-yard line and the Colts were able to get into better position for the unreliable Myrha from there. In total, the Colts gained 248 yards on the ground on 48 carries.

1985 Chicago Bears (10-5) 19, 1962 Green Bay Packers (9-6) 18

Kevin Butler’s 29-yard field goal with 1:19 remaining gave the Bears a one-point lead and after forcing four straight incompletions from Bart Starr, the Bears hung on for a season sweep of the Packers and the NFC North title. Green Bay scored two touchdowns within the first five minutes of the game – an 18-yard pass from Bart Starr to Boyd Dowler and then, after a Willie Wood interception of Jim McMahon, a 4-yard Jim Taylor run. But Jerry Kramer missed the extra point after the second touchdown and would later miss a 49-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. So despite netting a safety after a sack of McMahon in the end zone in the third quarter, the Packers only led 18-16 with less than five minutes to play. The Bears then went on a 49-yard, 10-play drive to set Butler up for his fourth field goal of the game. The Packers now may have to take care of the 3-12 Lions at home next week in order to make the playoffs.

Tomorrow: The ’72 Dolphins, ’99 Jaguars and ’69 Chiefs all try to net important wins in the AFC wild-card picture; the ’75 Steelers and ’99 Rams battle in what conceivably could be a Super Bowl preview; and the 13-1 ’79 Chargers and 13-1 ’00 Titans battle head-to-head in Nashville to decide who gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in the AFC.

Here’s a Video of That One Game Where Joe Montana Played Against Steve Young

The pending Peyton Mannning Reunion Special game in Indy this upcoming season got me thinking about other great quarterbacks taking on their former teams in high-profile games. One of the most quintessential examples of this was Joe Montana leading the Chiefs against Steve Young and the 49ers in 1994. The entire game can be found (for now!) on YouTube – besides seeing two of the ten best (five best?) quarterbacks ever square off, how great is it to hear Summerall and Madden in their prime again? I’m telling you, this YouTube thing could be big someday.

Today’s Statistic Out of Context: Josh Miller Is The Greatest Quarterback of All Time

You’ve all heard me talk about the importance of Yards per Pass Attempt in the past and how it’s probably the most important single statistic in determining who wins and loses football games. With that in mind, I decided it might be a good idea to look at the NFL’s career leaders in Yards per Attempt. After all, whichever player has the highest all-time yards per attempt in league history probably did the most to help his team win in league history, right? So here’s your career top 20 for Yards per Attempt in NFL history. Who comes out #1? Peyton Manning? Tom Brady? Joe Montana?

How about none of the above?

Rk Player From To Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Y/A
1 Josh Miller 1996 2007 1 1 100.00% 81 1 158.3 81.00
2 Mohamed Sanu 2012 2012 1 1 100.00% 73 1 158.3 73.00
3 Mike Lind 1963 1966 1 1 100.00% 69 1 158.3 69.00
4 Curtis Dickey 1980 1986 1 1 100.00% 63 1 158.3 63.00
5 Jack Losch 1956 1956 1 1 100.00% 63 1 158.3 63.00
6 Lance Rentzel 1965 1974 1 1 100.00% 58 1 158.3 58.00
7 Tom Watkins 1961 1968 1 1 100.00% 58 1 158.3 58.00
8 Arthur Marshall 1992 1996 2 2 100.00% 111 2 158.3 55.50
9 Bobby Luna 1955 1959 1 1 100.00% 55 0 118.7 55.00
10 Mike Kabealo 1944 1944 1 1 100.00% 54 1 158.3 54.00
11 Cotton Speyrer 1972 1975 1 1 100.00% 54 1 158.3 54.00
12 Darnay Scott 1994 2002 1 1 100.00% 53 0 118.7 53.00
13 Ron Widby 1968 1973 2 2 100.00% 102 1 158.3 51.00
14 Brandon Banks 2010 2012 1 1 100.00% 49 1 158.3 49.00
15 Carlos Carson 1980 1989 1 1 100.00% 48 1 158.3 48.00
16 Reggie Roby 1983 1998 1 1 100.00% 48 0 118.7 48.00
17 Charley Sarratt 1948 1948 1 1 100.00% 48 0 118.7 48.00
18 Alvin Harper 1991 1999 1 1 100.00% 46 0 118.7 46.00
19 Russ Francis 1975 1988 1 1 100.00% 45 0 118.7 45.00
20 Preston Ridlehuber 1966 1969 1 1 100.00% 45 1 158.3 45.00

That’s right – the NFL’s career leader in yards per attempt is Josh Miller, the punter pictured above. No doubt, his passing performance in his career has elevated him above everyone else in league history. Does this mean that NFL teams should start giving punters more pass attempts during critical regular season moments and pay them the hundreds of millions of dollars we usually see reserved for franchise quarterbacks? It’s tough for me to say after just looking at this one table. But yes. Yes, they should.

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 15 (Part 2)

If you missed yesterday’s results, click here. That post also has pre-Week 15 standings and an explanation of some of the different tiebreakers that may come into play down the stretch. Fun times! Here’s the back half of Week 15’s action:

1968 New York Jets (6-8) 13, 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4) 10

Joe Namath shook off four interceptions to throw a game-tying 27-yard touchdown pass to Don Maynard with 1:39 remaining and Jim Turner won the game with a 47-yard field goal with two seconds remaining as the Jets kept their pencil-thin playoff hopes alive for another week. Mel Blount and Glen Edwards each picked off Namath twice, but Namath led the Jets on a nine-play, 51-yard drive that culminated with that touchdown throw to Maynard. Joe Gilliam, playing in relief of Terry Bradshaw, led the Steelers to the edge of Roy Gerela’s field goal range, but Gerela’s 50-yard field goal attempt went wide right with 32 seconds to play. Then Namath completed three quick passes to George Sauer, Bill Mathis and Pete Lammons to set up Turner for the game-winner. The loss likely cements the Steelers in the #4 slot in the playoffs; they’re now a game behind the Patriots for the #3 slot and New England owns the tiebreaker due to their Week 2 win.

1999 St. Louis Rams (11-3) 39, 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) 7

Marshall Faulk rushed for 140 yards on 14 attempts, including a 60-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and the Rams routed their greatest nemesis from the Greatest Show on Turf days, clinching a first-round bye in the process. Kurt Warner was efficient, going 10-of-14 for 177 yards and a 59-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl (one can only assume that the entire Bucs secondary died on the play). Jeff Wilkins added six field goals for the Rams. Tampa Bay could only gain 76 rushing yards on 32 attempts and missed an opportunity to jump back into first place in the NFC South.

2000 Tennessee Titans (13-1) 27, 1964 Cleveland Browns (1-13) 7

As was expected in a battle of teams tied for the league’s best and worst records, respectively, the Titans rolled into Cleveland Stadium and took care of business, getting one step closer to clinching a first-round bye in the AFC. Steve McNair went 15-of-20 for 211 yards and a touchdown pass to Yancey Thigpen; Eddie George and Rodney Thomas added rushing touchdowns for Tennessee, as well. Jim Brown played well in defeat, rushing for 157 yards on 23 attempts; his quarterback, Frank Ryan, was miserable as usual, however, going 17-of-28 for 89 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

1979 San Diego Chargers (13-1) 25, 1991 Houston Oilers (6-8) 24

Meanwhile in San Diego, 16 unanswered fourth quarter points culminating in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Dan Fouts to Charlie Joiner with seven seconds left also sent the Chargers to 13-1, setting up a winner-take-all showdown with Tennessee next week for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. When Ernest Givins caught an eight-yard score from Warren Moon to give Houston a 24-9 lead late in the third quarter, however, things weren’t looking bright for San Diego. Fouts, though, led the Chargers back with a 5-yard touchdown throw to Joiner early in the fourth quarter. Then, after a Rolf Benirschke field goal moved the score to 24-19, Fouts led the Chargers 44 yards in ten plays to win the game with his second touchdown pass to Joiner. San Diego failed to pick up the two-point conversion, but Houston was unable to run a play from scrimmage after the resulting kickoff. The loss all but ends the Oilers’ fading playoff dreams.

1992 Dallas Cowboys (11-3) 23, 1991 Washington Redskins (9-5) 6

The Cowboys clinched a season sweep of the Redskins, the NFC East title and a first-round bye in the NFC through stingy defense, 132 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Emmitt Smith and a 14-of-16 performance from Troy Aikman. Dallas kept Washington out of the end zone until the fourth quarter – by then, they had already built a 16-point advantage on three Lin Elliott field goals and Smith’s 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. After Mark Rypien’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark cut the lead to 16-6, Smith put the game away with a 9-yard run with 1:46 remaining. Aikman finished with 147 yards on those 16 attempts; Rypien only threw for 174 yards on 25 attempts for the Redskins, who can now only make the playoffs through the wild card.

1952 Detroit Lions (3-11) 17, 1976 Oakland Raiders (3-11) 14

Jug Girard caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Bobby Layne with 14 seconds remaining to give the Lions the road victory. Girard also rushed for 85 yards on just seven attempts and Layne threw for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 20 attempts. Ken Stabler went 13-of-16 for 168 yards and a score for Oakland.

1986 New York Giants (6-8) 45, 1960 Philadelphia Eagles (1-13) 10

Joe Morris took his turn swinging at the Eagles’ run defense pinata, rushing for 224 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries as the Giants routed the Eagles at Giants Stadium. Morris scored on runs of 12, 20, 41, and 2 yards. Phil Simms added 198 passing yards and two touchdowns on 29 attempts.

1985 Chicago Bears (9-5) 20, 1973 Minnesota Vikings (4-10) 10

Backed by touchdown runs greater than 20 yards from Walter Payton and Matt Suhey, the Bears scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to clinch a season sweep of the Vikings and move into first place in the NFC North, due to their Week 5 win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field. The Bears could clinch the division by beating the Packers next week at Soldier Field. Payton finished with 121 yards on 18 attempts and Suhey added 77 on 11 carries. Fran Tarkenton was decent, going 18-of-30 for 192 yards and a touchdown, but the Vikings only gained 61 yards on the ground on 35 attempts.

Next week: The NFC North likely gets decided when the ’62 Packers travel to face the ’85 Bears; the ’92 Cowboys and ’99 Rams try to keep up with each other in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC when they take on the ’02 Buccaneers and ’75 Steelers, respectively; and the ’79 Chargers and ’00 Titans decide who will be the #1 seed in the AFC when they meet in Nashville.

AFC East

  1. ’07 New England: 11-3 (3)
  2. ’72 Miami: 7-7
  3. ’90 Buffalo: 7-7
  4. ’68 NY Jets: 6-8

AFC North

  1. ’75 Pittsburgh: 10-4 (4)
  2. ’81 Cincinnati: 7-7
  3. ’58 Baltimore: 6-8
  4. ’64 Cleveland: 1-13

AFC South

  1. ’00 Tennessee: 13-1 (1)
  2. ’99 Jacksonville: 8-6 (6)
  3. ’91 Houston: 6-8
  4. ’06 Indianapolis: 3-11

AFC West

  1. ’79 San Diego: 13-1 (2)
  2. ’69 Kansas City: 8-6 (5)
  3. ’98 Denver: 7-7
  4. ’76 Oakland: 3-11

NFC East

  1. ’92 Dallas: 11-3 (1)
  2. ’91 Washington: 9-5 (5)
  3. ’86 NY Giants: 6-8
  4. ’60 Philadelphia: 1-13

NFC North

  1. ’85 Chicago: 9-5 (3)
  2. ’62 Green Bay: 9-5 (5)
  3. ’73 Minnesota: 4-10
  4. ’52 Detroit: 3-11

NFC South

  1. ’05 Carolina: 8-6 (4)
  2. ’02 Tampa Bay: 8-6
  3. ’09 New Orleans: 6-8
  4. ’12 Atlanta: 5-9

NFC West

  1. ’99 St. Louis: 11-3 (2)
  2. ’05 Seattle: 6-7-1
  3. ’89 San Francisco: 6-7-1
  4. ’08 Arizona: 6-8