What else is there to say about Tablet Magazine’s New England Patriots? Playing arguably the toughest schedule, they went a League-best 14-2, securing homefield advantage until February. They extended their home regular season win streak to a record 27. They committed ten turnovers during the entire season, a record. Quarterback Tom Brady had, maybe, a career year: 36 touchdowns versus four interceptions, a genuinely absurd ratio of 9.0 that absolutely smashed the previous record of 6.25 (held by himself). As of now, he has thrown 335 consecutive passes without an interception, which will probably remain the record many years from now.
Yesterday the Pats sat several key starters and, as a result, were only barely able to escape with a win over the 7-9 Miami Dolphins, 38-7 (yes I was joking). Not-Jewish-but-Jewish-sounding back-up receiver Julian Edelman had a career day, catching three passes for 72 yards, and throwing in a 94-yard punt return for six points. It would almost be an understatement to call the Pats the prohibitive favorite to win the Super Bowl. The last time a team was so favored, it was 2007, and the Pats had just gone 16-0; in many ways, this regular season was more impressive. Of course, in early 2008, the Pats were upset in the Super Bowl by the New York Giants. They won’t have to worry about the Giants this year, though. And it is pretty clear who Tablet Magazine’s playoff team is.
Tablet Magazine’s Washington Redskins will beat Tablet Magazine’s Giants one of these years. The two franchises each have played the other the most, but it is a rivalry the Giants have by and large owned: They are 92-62-4 overall and have won eight of the previous nine meetings (even during the Skins’ Glory Years—remember those?—the Jints had the Skins’ number). Yesterday, the Giants defeated the Redskins, 17-14, in Washington. It was far from a convincing win—the Redskins missed an early, short field goal and committed four turnovers to boot, and still had the ball with a chance to tie or win in the final minutes (well, before quarterback Rex Grossman threw a game-icing interception to go with his two lost fumbles). Most importantly, due to the Giants’ collapse in the prior five quarters (when they gave a game away to the Philadelphia Eagles and then got pummeled by the Green Bay Packers) and the Packers’ gritty win over the Chicago Bears yesterday, the Giants failed to make the playoffs for the second straight year.
What does each team have to take away into the offseason? The Giants’ Achilles heel was their offensive turnovers. Given their stellar, takeaway-happy defense, had you eliminated most of the Ahmad Bradshaw fumbles and a good chunk of Eli Manning’s career-high 25 interceptions, then you are probably talking about a 12-4 or 13-3 division champion (and had you given them an average defense, you’re talking about a below-.500 team). As it was, the Giants finished 10-6—but with nine of their wins coming from teams without winning records, and with going 2-4 against playoff-bound teams (and that includes their win over the 7-9, but NFC West-winning, Seattle Seahawks). This was a team that played exactly to its level. The trick next year will be to stay healthy (injuries to receivers Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks clearly hurt them down the stretch), work on the turnovers, and hope the veteran offensive and defensive lines still have some spice in them (you’d worry especially about the defense, which seemed to lag in late-season second halves—a good sign of aging). If those things click, the Giants, who are wisely keeping Coach Tom Coughlin on, are in for a great year in 2011. But those are a couple precarious ifs.
And the Skins? Hoo boy. Second straight year at the bottom of the NFC East (the hated Dallas Cowboys also went 6-10 and 1-1 head-to-head, but went 3-3 in-division to the Skins’ 2-4 to secure the tiebreaker). And it seems quite clear that the Donovan McNabb era in Washington will be over barely after it began—the question now is how much the Skins can get for him (they gave up second- and fourth-round draft picks; my guess is he goes to the Cardinals, who need a QB and are based in Arizona, where McNabb makes his offseason home). Yesterday, Rex Grossman was what you expect out of Rex Grossman: Occasionally making fantastic throws, the type that a Super Bowl QB (which Grossman, factually speaking, is) can; and giving the ball up three times, including two on strip-sacks, the type that have made Rex Grossman the most mocked and lowly rated Super Bowl QB of the past ten years (second place: Donovan McNabb). But the running game got going. And the defense really wasn’t that bad: Holding the Giants, which were one of the League’s top offenses, to 17 points really isn’t criminal. The most important thing for the Skins to do in the offseason is build a defense, personnel-wise, that is better suited to the 3-4 than the current squad. That means keeping clear 3-4 players like safety LaRon Landry (who had a career year), rising star Brian Orakpo, and Pro Bowl-er DeAngelo Hall, and it means re-assessing everyone else. Oh, and buying an elite pass-catcher on the free agent market. If those things happen, and the 2011 season is an 8-8 affair because Grossman is the placeholder QB, then Skins fans should be able to live with that. I will, anyway.
Final record: 30-18.
Earlier: Week 14: Let It Snow, Let It Snow
Week 13: Top of the Pack
Week 12: Second Bye Week
Week 11: The Playoff Hunt Heats Up
Week 10: Melting Steel
Week 9: Enter Sage, and the Giants
Week 8: Bye Week
Week Seven: Three for the Road
Week Six: Just Win, Baby
Week Five: True to Form
Week Four: Winning Ugly
Week Three: A Whole Lot of Crap
Week Two: Three Up, Three Down
Week One: Check The Scoreboard!