Jags choke, Colts close in on another AFC South crown

Here are five quick-hit observations on the AFC South following the Jaguars’ 20-17 overtime loss to the Redskins and the Colts’ 31-26 win over the Raiders on Sunday.

1. How the South can be won.
If the Colts beat the Titans next Sunday, they’ll have 10 wins on the season. If the Jaguars beat the Texans next Sunday, they’ll have nine wins. Quick math tells me that the Colts would therefore have more victories than the Jaguars and they would win the AFC South. So the mission is simple for the Colts next week: Just win baby. If the Colts lose to the Titans and the Jaguars beat the Texans, they they’d both finish at 9-7 and Jacksonville would win the South because they would have the better division record (4-2). But none of this matters because Peyton Manning isn’t losing at home next week to a team that has nothing to play for. Sorry Jacksonville, but you screwed the pooch last week when you could have won the division then.

2. What a horrendous effort by the Jaguars against the Redskins.
I know Maurice Jones-Drew is Jacksonville’s best player and essentially their entire offense, but seriously? That’s the best you got, Jaguars? Your season is on the line and you can’t muster a win at home against the Redskins? Unreal. Washington went four-of-15 on third down and still won. Jacksonville committed seven penalties for 66 yards, had punts bounce off their own players and turned the ball over twice. The second interception couldn’t have come at a worse time, as David Garrard was picked off on the Jags’ first offensive possession in overtime. The interception put the Skins in field goal position and they eventually won when Graham Gano hit a 31-yarder. The Jags were able to rack up 336 yards on Washington’s miserable defense, but they reached the red zone just twice and failed to score once. Just a bad, bad day all the way around for the men in teal.

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The Chiefs continue to prove doubters wrong

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought the Chiefs would have collapsed by now and the Chargers would have overtaken the top spot in the AFC West. Kansas City has been in control of the division for most of the year but I’ve patiently waited for disaster to strike.

But it hasn’t. Perhaps I should have considered that their win over the Chargers in Week 1 wasn’t a fluke and this team is for real. But I didn’t. And they are.

Matt Cassel was brilliant in the Chiefs’ 34-14 win over the Titans on Sunday. He completed 24-of-34 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns, all while showing no ill effects from the appendectomy surgery he had three weeks ago. It’s amazing to think that at the start of the year, many people believed KC would have to search for a new quarterback in 2011 and now it appears that the Chiefs will only go as far as he takes them. Understandably, it took a while for him to get comfortable in Charlie Weis’ system but now that he is, the skies the limit for both him and KC. (It also doesn’t hurt that he has a couple of great weapons around him in Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe).

Granted, things could still turn sour for KC next week and seeing as how I have deemed them “for real,” the jinx has probably been set.

But as of this writing, the Chargers are losing at halftime to the Bengals, so it looks like the Chiefs are in good shape. If Cincinnati holds on, KC would win the AFC West for the first time since 2003. If San Diego mounts a comeback and wins, then the Chiefs would have to beat the Raiders next week or have San Diego lose at Denver.

Let’s assume for a second that the Chiefs do win the division and wrap up the No. 3 seed in the AFC. How far could this team go? Well, given how bad the Jets’ (who will have the No. 6 seed) defense has looked in recent weeks, it’s not a stretch to think that KC would move to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. And then, who knows? Nobody outside of the Patriots looks indestructible in the AFC so there’s a chance that this pesky Chiefs team could be the dark horse of the conference.

But first things first: they need to get in and then they can worry about seeding and opponents. Either way, the Chiefs continue to make noise.

Are the Bears and Jets’ defenses overrated?

Here are five quick-hit thoughts on the Bears’ wild 38-34 win over the Jets in Week 16.

1. Are the Bears and Jets’ defenses overrated?
Not to take anything away from Jay Cutler (who has played well for most of the season) or Mark Sanchez (who has played well for most of his last two games), but what happened to the defenses for these two teams? The Bears came into this game with the 30th-ranked offense and Sanchez was playing with torn cartilage in his shoulder. Yet you would have sworn that this was an Arena League game with the way both teams went up and down the field. In the Jets’ embarrassing loss to the Patriots on Monday night a few weeks ago, their pass rush was non-existent. It was the same case on Sunday, as their front seven failed to lay a hand on Cutler in most situations. New York’s vaunted secondary was brutal in coverage as well, and the entire defense had a poor day tackling. In the past two games, the Jets have allowed 700 total yards, which is a concern to say the least (especially now that they’ve managed to back into the playoffs again). The Bears defense was no better, as it allowed Sanchez to complete 24-for-37 pass attempts for 269 yards and a touchdown. Granted, Chris Harris came up with a huge interception to seal the game for the Bears late in the fourth quarter, but Lovie Smith can’t be too pleased that his defense gave up 393 total yards of offense. With the way both teams played on Sunday, it makes you wonder whether these defenses are living off past reputations.

2. Teams still haven’t learned not to kick to Hester.
It’s amazing how teams foolishly believe week after week that they’ll be the ones to negate what Devin Hester can do in the return game. And I blame the kickers, because no coach that wants to retain his job is ordering his team to kick to the former Miami product. Jets coach Rex Ryan said earlier in the week that the Jets wouldn’t punt to Hester, but Steve Weatherford did it anyway. After successfully playing keep-away in the first half, Weatherford booted a line drive right to Hester in the third quarter, who returned the gift 32 yards to New York’s 32-yard-line. He caught a 25-yard touchdown three plays later to give the Bears a 31-24 lead. Later in the third quarter, he returned a kickoff 40 yards to set up a Cutler touchdown pass to Johnny Knox. The impact that Hester is having this year is eerily similar to the one he had when they went to the Super Bowl in 2006. Given how much more explosive the Bears are offensively than they were back then, teams that could play Chicago in the postseason better figure out a way to keep it out of his hands.

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Colts hand away perfect season, lose to Jets

The Indianapolis Colts just answered the question of whether or not an undefeated season is more important than resting their starters: It’s not.

By benching Peyton Manning early in the second half on Sunday, the Colts surrendered their chance at a perfect season and subsequently lost to the Jets, 29-15. It was Indy’s first loss since October 27 of 2008.

After the game, head coach Jim Caldwell noted that a perfect season was never the Colts’ ultimate goal – a Super Bowl is. Some may argue that the Colts have an obligation to the fans (and to the Ravens, Broncos, Steelers, etc.) to leave Manning and the starters in, but what would have happened if Manning snapped his ACL in a meaningless (meaningless for Indy) game late in the season? What’s the point of going 16-0 or 15-1 and watching Curtis Painter lose in the Divisional Round of the playoffs?

I felt bad watching Manning on the sidelines, I really did. He’s a warrior and a competitor and the guy wants to be in every game. That’s why he wins and that’s why the Colts have had so much success over the past couple years.

That said, he can be mad on the sidelines all he wants because at least he’ll be healthy in three weeks when Indianapolis is playing for a chance at a Super Bowl. An undefeated season would have been great, but in one week nobody (not even Colts fans) are going to give a crap. This might be a story for the media, but it’s not to the Colts franchise. Again, in a week, nobody will care about this so hopefully the mainstream media doesn’t make an issue of it over the next week.

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The race for the AFC West is a filthy mess of a situation

Mike ShanahanThat sound you just heard was the Denver Broncos’ season flushing down the toilet.

Following their embarrassing 30-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills at home on Sunday, the Broncos are now one loss away from losing their grip on the AFC West and sending the San Diego Chargers to the playoffs.

All the Broncos had to do was beat a struggling Bills team at home and they would win the AFC West. All they had to do was beat a quarterback in Trent Edwards that hadn’t played in three weeks and score more points on a team that was ready to get the season over weeks ago. And yet the Broncos couldn’t do it.

I guess a win for the Chargers next week would be justice served. The Ed Hochuli game sent San Diego into a massive tailspin and gave Denver momentum for what should have been a season in which they won the AFC West. But a win for the Chargers would be sweet revenge and with the way things have gone this year in the NFL, would anyone be surprised if San Diego beat Denver and went to the playoffs with an 8-8 record? It would be pathetic but so what? Maybe if Hochuli gets the call right in the first meeting between these two teams, the Chargers wouldn’t have collapsed.

The Chargers have all the momentum now, will be playing at home and have a bad taste in their mouths from their loss to Denver in Week 2. Personally, I think San Diego is a lock to win next week.

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