As many expected the best opening playoff game was the Saturday night showdown between the Colts and the Chargers a repeat of a great game from last year’s playoffs. It could be an end of an era in Indianapolis as there have been allusions to the possible retirement of Coach Dungy even after a bitter end to the season. Peyton Manning did win the MVP last week however, the third time Manning has won the award. Manning certainly had a fine season but he had his lowest passer ratting and fewest touchdowns since his 2002 season. Eight times in his career has Manning passed for more yards and although he was incredibly valuable to his team this season as the Colts defense and running game struggled much of the season, there may have been better candidates. The Colts did not even win their own division this season and much of Manning’s totals were posted against a fairly weak schedule.
Voters seemed hesitant to give the award to a non-elite team as other candidates such as Kurt Warner, Michael Turner, and Adrian Peterson were deserving of more votes but many seemed skeptical of their team’s success. Turner and Peterson are going home the same time as Manning is, while Warner will play on this weekend. Another QB that had a great year beat Manning last week as Philip Rivers posted the NFL’s best passer rating and had more touchdown, more yards, and fewer interceptions than Manning. Rivers did not even make the pro bowl this season, Brett Favre did. Rivers is likely content to still be playing football this week as the Chargers will play for a spot in the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh this week.
It is absurd that San Diego made the playoffs at 8-8 while New England missed out at 11-5 but perhaps it worked out for the right reasons. Although the AFC West was very weak this year division games are always tougher and the Chargers lost all eight games by nine points or less with seven of those game by seven or less. San Diego lost two games on questionable late officiating calls and also lost on a miracle last second TD against Carolina to open the season. San Diego also had to make a taxing trip to London this year. The Dolphins proved that the AFC East was perhaps just as weak as the AFC West in the big picture despite the strong records as the AFC East played some of the easiest schedules in the league.
The Patriots are not in the playoffs but still made news this week with a shrewd announcement to put the franchise tag on QB Matt Cassel. It is rare for a team to use that on a QB as they are generally the highest paid players but it makes sense as Cassel would stand to make big money in a multi-year deal on the free-agent market. With rumblings about Tom Brady’s injury still being problematic New England is better off giving Cassel a huge raise for a year to see what happens rather than assuming Brady is fine or trying to start over with another QB. Cassel made $520,000 this year, he will likely make around 14 million next year so he can not be too upset to be making Tom Brady type of money even if he loses out on a bigger, long-term contract for another year. Not too bad for a guy that didn’t even start in college. Although Manning lost last week, and Joe Flacco made fewer mistakes then Chad Pennington, the advantage of having a proven veteran QB was obvious in both NFC playoffs games.