You stay classy Chad Pennington

Chad PenningtonMiami Dolphins’ quarterback Chad Pennington has to be one of the classiest guys in the NFL.

Here’s a guy that was dropkicked out of New York about a millisecond after the Jets acquired Brett Favre. He then goes to the Dolphins and not only helps lead one of the best turnarounds in NFL history, but also schools Favre on his home field in a must-win situation for both teams.

Following the Fins’ 24-17 victory Sunday over the Jets, Pennington was asked (in so many words) after the game by a sideline reporter about whether or not the win was sweet revenge on a team that booted him in the offseason. Instead of taking the opportunity to take a shot at his former team, Pennington thanked the Jets for allowing him to become a free agent and start somewhere else. The comments were more than just a player taking the high road to avoid controversy – he was truly sincere.

And granted, it’s not like Pennington lit the world on fire when he was in New York, but he always played hard for the Jets, and often played hurt. Pennington’s story is one of the season’s best.

The Dolphins turnaround from 1-15 to AFC East Division champs is unbelievable. The job Bill Parcells and first-year head coach Tony Sparano did this season was impressive and you get the feeling that Miami isn’t done, although they certainly have a tough first-round matchup with the Baltimore Ravens.

On a semi-related topic – is Brett Favre done? His comments in his post game press conference made it appear that he won’t be coming back next year, but this isn’t the first time he’s hinted at hanging it up at the end of the regular season game in which his team failed to reach the postseason.

Either way, he played like absolute crap on Sunday. His receivers didn’t help him out in some cases, but his three interceptions were brutal and probably cost the Jets the game. When you look how inspired Pennington played compared to Favre, one has to wonder if this is officially the end of Brett’s legendary career.

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NFL Week 17 Primer Late Games

Here are snapshot previews of the late games with playoff implications on Sunday.

Chad Pennington
Dolphins (10-5) at Jets (9-6), 4:15PM ET CBS
Things got hairy last week for the Dolphins in Kansas City, but their win over the Chiefs put them in position to make the playoffs (not to mention win the AFC East) with a win over the Jets. The problem is that they haven’t had much success in the Meadowlands this decade and the conditions are going to be cold and nasty. Still, they’re playing a Jets team that has lacked fire over the past couple of weeks, while quarterback Brett Favre has recently admitted that he’s at less than perfect health. A win would be the ultimate revenge for Chad Pennington, who has a bad taste in his mouth from the way the team pitched him in the dumpster right after they traded for Favre. Pennington felt that he gave a lot to a Jets’ fan base and organization that didn’t return the favor. So expect a very motivated Chad to show up in Jersey on Sunday and one with revenge on his mind. Miami’s offense got back on track last week in Kansas City, but their defense took a step back after allowing the Chiefs to rack up 31 points. Before last week, the Dolphins had limited their three previous opponents to 9, 3 and 12 points, respectively. Hurt or not, Favre is going to come out fired up considering this might be his final game. This should be a great battle.

Broncos (8-7) at Chargers (7-8), 8:15PM ET NBC
The Broncos have completely crapped the bed the past two weeks, losing to both Carolina and Buffalo to set up a must-win situation in San Diego to win the AFC West. The problem is that the Chargers have won three in a row to put themselves in position to win the division with a victory. San Diego’s offense is seemingly back on track, racking up 41, 22 and 34 points respectively in their last three games. Phillip Rivers is having an MVP-like season and should have no problem moving the ball against a Denver defense that has been shredded for most of the season. But the Chargers need LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles to be effective in order to keep the offense balanced. The defense, which has played dramatically better since Ron Rivera took over at coordinator, also needs to step up against a Broncos’ offense that is averaging almost 280 passing yards per game. Winner takes all in this matchup, although it appears that Denver has already blown its chance. A Charger win would be sweet justice after they lost to the Broncos earlier this season thanks in part to Ed Hochuli’s blown call.

Wade Phillips
Cowboys (9-6) at Eagles (8-6-1), 4:15PM ET FOX
There’s a bit of a stink surrendering this game because by kickoff, the Eagles will already know whether or not they’re playing for a playoff spot. Philly needs Tampa Bay, Chicago and Minnesota all to lose in order to have a shot at the postseason. Since it’s unlikely that all three teams lose, the Eagles will have to settle for the role of spoiler in this game. The Cowboys control their own destiny. If they win, they’ll clinch the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC. If they lose, they’re done. According to Jerry Jones, Wade Phillips’ job is not on the line this Sunday. But things could change if the Cowboys are embarrassed by a division rival with the postseason on the line. Despite what Jones says, Phillips better come up with a way to slow down Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook they way Washington did last Sunday, or else he could be heading to the unemployment line.

Jaguars (5-10) at Ravens (10-5), 4:15PM ET CBS
The Ravens need just one more victory to put a cap on an amazing year. They should get that victory, too, because they’re playing a Jacksonville Jaguars team that has lost four of their last five games. Although they showed spunk in almost beating the Colts last Thursday night, they won’t be able to move the ball on a motivated Baltimore defense. As long as rookie quarterback Joe Flacco doesn’t succumb to the pressures of facing a must-win situation, the Ravens should be fine. The Jaguars can’t run the ball behind a depleted offensive line and if Baltimore can beat the Cowboys on the road and in the final game at Texas Stadium, they should have no issues with a hapless Jacksonville squad.

Parcells, Dolphins control their own destiny

Chad PenningtonIt’s amazing how just one offseason can turn around the fortunes of an entire franchise. This time last year, the Miami Dolphins had just one win to its name. One season later, they now control their own destiny in the AFC East after beating the Kansas City Chiefs 38-31 in dramatic fashion.

For all the Raiders, Lions, Rams and Chiefs fans out there – it can happen. Your team can turn things around in just one offseason. But they’ll have to use the Dolphins as a blueprint. They hired someone with a football background in Bill Parcells, who had turned losing teams into winners before. Then they allowed him to do what he does best – put the best people in place to succeed.

He hired a no name in Tony Sparano, who didn’t have a great resume or wasn’t a big name, but Parcells knew he was a football coach through in through. Then the Big Tuna had a solid draft, which focused on rebuilding the offensive line after Miami selected Jake Long with their first overall pick. Then Parcells parted ways with players that no longer fit the long-term plans in Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. Then he found a veteran quarterback that knew the offensive system and could succeed right away.

Now the Dolphins are 10-5 and after everything mentioned in the above paragraph, can we really be that surprised? Well okay, sure we can. The players still had to execute and Parcells’ master plan still had to come together. But regardless, we shouldn’t be too surprised that Parcells changed the fortunes of a franchise as quickly as it does for him to leave it in the lurch a couple years later – because he’s a born winner.

What was most impressive about Miami’s victory on Sunday was that they won after they received push back. Kansas City challenged them for four quarters and the Dolphins survived. Considering the Chiefs’ dud season and Miami’s desire to be a playoff team, the Dolphins should have cruised to victory. But winning isn’t easy in the NFL and Miami won a game they were supposed to. Case closed.

The Dolphins have just one more victory to earn if they want to put the icing on the cake. A win over the Jets next week in the Meadowlands would allow them to clinch the AFC East crown, which is amazing considering they were the doormats of the division just one season ago. Their magical ride isn’t over, but they’ve certainly put themselves in position to succeed – just like Parcells did in the offseason.

Matt Cassel has Patriots’ offense rolling

Matt CasselFor the second week in a row, Patriots’ quarterback Matt Cassel threw for over 400 yards, only this time his effort wasn’t wasted as he led New England to a 48-28 victory over AFC East foe Miami.

It’s safe to say that New England has its offense back on track and Cassel is obviously a huge reason for that. It appears that Bill Belichick has taken the training wheels off of his quarterback, who has definitely earned the right to attempt more downfield passes.

The emergence of Cassel has made the Pats a dangerous team again, although their defense has been suspect the past two weeks against the Jets and Dolphins. Nothing against Chad Pennington because he’s been great this year for the Dolphins, but there’s no way a playoff caliber defense allows him to throw for 341 passes and three touchdowns. Although hey, at least Belichick figured out a way to defend the “Wildcat” formation after Ronnie Brown tore the Pats’ defense a new one in these team’s first meeting.

Has it just been two bad weeks for the Pats’ defense or have the Jets and Dolphins exposed a weakness?

Four ways to turn an NFL team around in one offseason

John HarbaughEach year the NFL provides examples of how teams can rise from the basement to the penthouse in just one offseason. 2008 is no different, as the Ravens, Falcons, Dolphins and Jets have all won as many games this year as they did all of last season.

Here are four ways NFL teams can turn around their misfortune in just one offseason along examples from the 2008 season.

1. Get a strong, football-minded front office person to construct the team.
2008 Example: Miami Dolphins
It’s safe to say at this point that Bill Parcells knows what he’s doing. He’s won everywhere he’s gone and it would have been naïve to think he wouldn’t turn around the Dolphins at some point. But the fact that he’s done it this quickly is remarkable and speaks volumes for how necessary it is for teams to have good front office people in place to run the day-to-day operations. Parcells is a football-minded guy and he can judge talent. He parted ways with long-time veterans Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor because he knew they weren’t going to play key roles in Miami’s future. Sure the Dolphins lost veteran talent, but they also were focused on moving forward. Parcells also went out and found a competent quarterback in Chad Pennington and drafted a franchise left tackle in Jake Long. Now the Fish can compete on a weekly basis, unlike last season when they were dead in the water (no pun intended) before games even started. Teams can’t win if their front office makes huge draft mistakes and can’t fit individual pieces into one big puzzle. Credit the Dolphins for spending big on a proven winner in Parcells. They might not make the playoffs this year, but they’re competing again and soon enough, the postseason will become a reality.

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