Well folks, it’s that time of year again, time to sort through the rubble of what was a truly uninspiring season of NFL football, and discuss who just missed the Wildcard Weekend cut.
This year, there were only two teams eliminated on Week 17. Generally the number is somewhere between 4-8, but this year saw the NFC lock down their 6 playoff teams in week 16, leaving the American Football Conference the arduous task of producing this season’s pair of Also-Rans.
And what a pair they are.
Before we take a look at this year’s dynamic duo of week 17 futility let’s take a look at last year’s Also-Rans and how they fared this year.
LAST YEAR’S ALSO-RANS
Last season the Texans, Chiefs, Chargers, and Falcons were all eliminated on week 17. Houston and KC caught fire at the end of this season and will both be playing on Wildcard Weekend. The Falcons got off to a fast start before crashing and burning (sound familiar?) and the Chargers, my God, the Chargers. The Bolts went from sneaking in to the playoffs two seasons ago, to being an Also-Ran last year, to this year finishing with 4 wins and a top 3 draft pick.
Lightning crashes indeed.
But we’re not here to talk about the past, we’re here to discuss the two teams that had a chance in week 17 to get into the playoffs but had their dreams dashed.
If you’re a Patriots fan, the two teams on this list will surely delight you. Two of the three driving forces behind the year-long witchhunt known as Deflategate were tossed into the abyss of an early offseason (while the third team, Baltimore, is down in the draft lottery with the Chargers). Yes, if you’re both a Pats fan and a believer in karma then it’s hard not to smile when seeing who the final two names on the postseason chopping block ended up being this year. Let’s take a look.
THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS : ONE-TRICK PONY
The Colts began the 2015-16 campaign as the sexy Super Bowl pick by an alarming number of NFL scribes and it didn’t take long for said scribes to realize that they made a pretty huge mistake.
Colts fans will point to the fact that Andrew Luck played in just 7 games as the reason for their sputtering this year, but a closer look reveals that the Colts went 2-5 in those 7 games and that Luck threw 2 or more interceptions in 5 of them. That’s not to say this season was all Luck’s fault. With limited options at the skill positions and an O-line made of paper, Luck was not exactly placed in a position to succeed this year, more on that in a second.
Despite the QB carousel that placed has-beens like Matt Hasselbeck and never-weres like Josh Freeman under center, the Colts had a shot in week 17. It was a slim one, but it was possible. But if we’re talking about where it all went wrong for Indy this year you need to look no further than weeks 13 and 14. Going into week 13 the Colts were 6-5 and neck and neck with the Texans. In the following two weeks the Colts would get outscored 96-26 by the Jaguars (45-10) and Steelers (51-16) before falling at home to the Texans in the game that would essentially punch Houston’s ticket two weeks later.
DID THEY DESERVE BETTER?
Helllllllllllllllllllllll no. No way. Forget for a second that this team lit the match that started the Delfategate wildfire with their accusatory whining, even without that the Colts deserve every BIT of this failure. After getting smashed by the Patriots in the playoffs again last year the Colts front office (specifically GM Ryan Grigson) went into the offseason with perhaps one of the worst rebuilding plans we’ve seen since the merger.
The Colts had major holes in their secondary and front seven, not to mention their offensive line was in complete shambles. So what does Grigson do? He signs the rotting corpses of Frank Gore and Andre Johnson (Gore finished the year averaging just over 60 yds per game, Johnson hauled in 41 catches/2.5 per game en route to 503 yards and 4 TDs on the season) while using his first round pick on yet another wide receiver. The result was a season of Luck getting his teeth kicked in for 7 weeks (to the point where his lacerated kidney was the SECOND worst injury he was suffering from) before they had to turn to their 40 year old backup, and then eventually the guys who couldn’t beat out the 40 year old backup. Considering the wealth of O-linemen available in the draft and in free agency this was a monumental whiff by Grigson.
Add to that the fact that Vince Wilfork, Darrelle Revis, and Devin McCourty were all free agents this offseason and the Colts (who could’ve desperately used any one of them let alone all 3) had over 40 million dollars to spend then yeah, no way did these jamokes deserve any better than a week 17 exit. The only thing that could make the situation in Indy worse is if Irsay resigned both Grigson AND lame duck head coach Chuck Pagano to longterm extensions……….wait a minute……
HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR
Biggest no-brainer ever?
When Griff Whalen snapped that ball time froze for all of us. We were all Colt Anderson for about a fraction of a second. Standing there, holding a football that you were explicitly told would not be snapped to you, wondering why your teammate would betray you in such an unforgiving way. Anyone who has ever been left by his/her friends to pay a big bar tab knows that feeling. ‘I don’t deserve this, my friends should be here, they should be helping me. WHY AM I ALWAYS THE ONE?!?!?!?!’
So yeah, spoiler alert: the fake punt didn’t work. Those Patriots, man, they prep for everything.
THE NEW YORK JETS : BROKEN WINGS
I should start this entry by pointing out that I thought the Jets were going to suck a whole lot worse than they did this year. I thought they were heading to 6-7-8 win territory with all the nonsense they endured in the preseason. However, in a situation that can only be described as the Jets-iest thing ever, the sucker-punching of their starting quarterback in mini-camp ended up being the best thing that could’ve happened to them. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s steady yet unspectacular hand took the Gang Green right up to the brink before turning back into a pumpkin and once again sending their long-suffering fans home from the ball in tattered rags.
And what a send-off it was. Rex Ryan, of all people, ended up playing the role of Grand Marshall in the Jets elimination parade. Rexy’s injury depleted Buffalo team (a team that currently holds the NFL’s longest postseason drought) made sure that this would not be Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brandon Marshall’s first postseason appearance, but instead another early exit. Just one week after an incredibly satisfying OT win over the Patriots, the 10 win Jets found themselves dead and buried, with Rex Ryan dancing on their grave.
DID THEY DESERVE BETTER?
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but yes. The Jets actually did deserve better this year. They spent the entire season looking up at the Patriots and there was never any doubt that they would finish at best second in the AFC East. There best hope was the Wildcard and 10 wins should have probably been enough to do it this year considering the overall suckiness of the AFC.
On offense names like Marshall, Decker, Ivory, and Ferguson did all they could to mask the warts of Fitzpatrick. The defense, despite injuries and down years from just about every member of the secondary, finished in the top 10 in points against. Todd Bowles proved himself a capable head coach in his first year and they won most of the games they were supposed to win this year.
The only thing that makes me think they didn’t deserve better is their god-awful schedule. Outside of the Patriots the only two teams the Jets played that finished over .500 were the Redskins and Texans. That being said, if you ask me which team deserves to be playing on Saturday, Jets or Texans? I’d say the Jets all day long.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR:
In a season full of what-ifs – (What if IK Enemkpali never punched Geno Smith? What if Todd Bowles had been able to outcoach Rex Ryan head-to-head once?) it’s hard not to wonder what might’ve happened if Marshall had just gone to the ground there. The Jets were down 17-0 in the second quarter at the time, and the Eagles scored on the ensuing drive to take a 24-0 lead. They would hold on to win 24-17.
Now, of course I realize the Jets might not have scored on that drive, and even if they had, it may not have mattered, but when you get eliminated on week 17 sometimes you have to take a look back at the second worst* play of the year (* for the #1 worst, see Colts, fake punt) and wonder what if Brandon Marshall hadn’t completely lost his mind? What if the Jets scored on that drive and ended up beating the Eagles and getting a crack at the postseason in a wide open AFC that doesn’t seem to have a clear favorite? These are the types of burning questions that haunt the Jets and their fans on a yearly basis, however this year they decided to make it sting a little worse.
And there you have it, the 2015-16 NFL Also-Rans is an exclusive club this year. Both AFC teams, both considered principle rivals of the reigning champion Patriots, and both primary antagonists in the Deflategate saga. The Patriots may not have ended their season with much gusto, but the fact that 2/3rds of the Deflategate Axis of Evil were sent packing on week 17 will keep me warm through the cold and bitter bye week known outside of New England as Wildcard Weekend.
Until next year……..