That Aaron Rodgers calf injury only confirms what we already knew: The most dangerous threat to Seattle in the NFC playoffs isn’t Green Bay. It’s Dallas. The Cowboys have momentum, an unbeaten road record and accomplished something no one but the Seahawks did this season — win in Seattle. Plus, they’re weather-proof. They can beat you with the pass or the run.
2. Stick a fork in Detroit. With Sunday’s loss, the Lions hit the road for the playoffs … and that’s not only trouble; it’s curtains. Reason: You can’t trust their quarterback. Matt Stafford is 0-16 on the road vs. teams that wind up with winning records, and, last time I checked, Dallas had a winning record.
3. Good news, Dallas: The Cowboys are the sixth team in league history to go 8-0 on the road since the 16-game schedule was implemented in 1978 … and four of the previous five went to the Super Bowl.
4. Good night, Cincinnati. Bad enough the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. Now, they go to Indianapolis for next weekend’s opener, and remember what happened there this season? I do. They stunk in a 27-0 loss that was every bit as lopsided as the score. They didn’t have star receiver A.J. Green then, and they might have him now … not after that hit to his head Sunday night.
5. I know Romo was the leading passer in the NFL, but how can you push him for league MVP when you’re pushing DeMarco Murray at the same time? You can’t … not if you can’t make up your mind who’s the team MVP. But one is, and it’s Murray. He’s the guy responsible for taking the heat off Romo and putting Cowboys in this position.
6. Aaron Rodgers = Willis Reed.
7. Pittsburgh got lucky if those reports on Le’Veon Bell are accurate. They called his injury a hyperextended knee, but it looked a lot worse. Without Bell, the Steelers have no chance in the playoffs. No wonder winning coach Mike Tomlin lectured safety Reggie Nelson afterward. He’s the guy who took out Bell’s legs, and, yeah, OK, so it was a legal hit. But I’d be angry, too, if I were Tomlin. Bell is irreplaceable.
8. Adios, Mike Smith. Look, I don’t blame the Falcons for firing Smith. But I do blame them for leaking a story about hiring a search team to find his replacement … before Sunday’s game. Smith deserved better.
9. If you watched what happened on the 49ers’ sidelines at the end of San Francisco’s victory, you’ll understand. Jim Harbaugh didn’t lose that locker room; he lost management.
10. Somehow, I don’t think Jay Gruden’s pre-game vote of confidence saves Jim Haslett, not after that miserable finish.
11. It will only get better, Vikings’ fans, and here’s why: Teddy Bridgewater. Over his last five games, he completed 72 percent of his passes — and four of those games were vs. Top-10 defenses.
12. The biggest winner Sunday was the biggest loser: Tampa Bay. By dropping their 14th game, the Bucs locked down the first pick of the draft … which meant they locked down Marcus Mariota. Tampa already has elite receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. What they need is an elite quarterback, and they may have just found him. Tampa Bay, you’re on the clock.
13. Don’t underestimate Baltimore. The Ravens win at least once in every playoff year under John Harbaugh; have a Super Bowl MVP in Joe Flacco; have elite pass rushers off the edge and get defensive tackle Haloti Ngata back for the postseason. Plus, they have something to prove next weekend. Last time they were in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger shredded them for 6 TDs.
14. Three things I like about Rex Ryan’s last act: 1) His team’s energy; 2) His quarterback and 3) his hat. Rex wore an NYPD baseball cap.
15. Question for Geno Smith: Where did that come from?
16. If I’m in the NFC East, I draft a cornerback to cover Odell Beckham Jr. Otherwise, I’m toast. If Beckham played all 16 games (he missed the first four), his numbers would’ve projected to 122 catches, 1739 yards and 16 TDs.
17. My guess: Miami owner Stephen Ross wishes he waited a week before commenting on Joe Philbin’s future … or before another horrible season-ending fizzle.
18. Peyton Manning went 51 straight games with a scoring pass. But now he has no touchdown tosses in two of his last four starts and five TDs in his last five. Draw your own conclusions. Me? I think there’s something wrong with the guy.
19. Imagine where Baltimore would be without running back Justin Forsett. He was the life preserver the Ravens latched on to after the Ray Rice fiasco, and he responded with such a big season (1,266 yards and a franchise-record 17 runs of 20 or more yards) the Ravens were 7-0 in games where he ran for 70 or more yards.
20. Congratulations. You had as many touchdown catches this year as Kansas City’s wide receivers.
21. You also had as many fourth-quarter touchdown passes as Colin Kaepernick in 16 games. When you wonder what went wrong with the 49ers start there.
22. From the Hard-to-Believe Department: Kansas City’s Justin Houston led the league in sacks with 22 and broke Derrick Thomas’ franchise sack record for one season, yet has no chance for Defensive Player of the Year. J.J. Watt is the slam dunk there.
23. The most powerful man in Chicago isn’t Rahm Emanuel. It’s Jay Cutler. In one morning he brought down Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery. Emery hired Trestman to turn Cutler into the quarterback the Bears hoped he could be; then he paid him megabucks prior to this season. Both moves backfired, and Trestman and Emery suffered the consequences.
24. Carolina went two months without winning, yet winds up hosting a playoff game … with a losing record. That should make the Panthers a pushover, right? Careful. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they win next weekend. Reason: They’re hot, and Arizona is not. The Cards are 3-4 without Carson Palmer and lost their last two, with third-stringer Ryan Lindley throwing four interceptions.
25. Johnny Manziel shouldn’t be fined; he should be spanked.
FIVE HALL-OF-FAME SIZZLES
1. N. Y. Jets WR Eric Decker. He took the big money to become the big star in New York. Only he failed … until Sunday. Decker did more Sunday than he has all season, with 10 catches for a career-high 221 yards and a 74-yard TD. All I can say is … it’s about time.
2. Buffalo. The Bills not only finish with their first winning season since 2004; they score their first victory ever at Gillette Stadium and the first defeat of New England by a division opponent in Foxboro in 36 games.
3. Carolina coach Ron Rivera. That makes him 15-3 in December. It also makes him a division winner for the second straight year.
4. Chicago RB Matt Forte. He not only eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the third straight year and the fifth time in his last seven seasons; he set a league record for most catches (102) by a running back in a single season.
5. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. After seven straight quarters of mediocre football, he finally was no Ordinary Joe — hitting 8 of 9 passes for 163 yards, two TDs and a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the fourth quarter of the Ravens’ come-from-behind defeat of Cleveland, a win that put them into the playoffs for the sixth time in John Harbaugh’s seven seasons there.
FIVE HALL-OF-SHAME FIZZLES
1. San Diego Chargers. All they had to do was split their last four games to reach the playoffs. But they failed, losing to New England, Denver and Kansas City, with Philip Rivers dropping his first season finale in nine tries and the offense scoring one touchdown in three of its last four games. Sad. Mike McCoy, please sit down.
2. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. Everyone here stunk. Ryan. The defense. The head coach. Everyone. Once upon a time the Falcons were virtually unbeatable at the Georgia Dome. Not anymore. That was their fourth defeat in the last five games there and their fourth loss to Carolina … period … in their last five tries.
3. Cleveland quarterbacks. They had two … count ’em, two … touchdown passes and 12 interceptions the last eight games. Pathetic. Arizona can win without a quarterback. So can Houston. How come these guys can’t?
4. New York Giants. That marks the team’s first 10-loss season since 2004, or the first year of Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning. It also marks the third straight year the Giants missed the playoffs.
5. Chicago coach Marc Trestman. He was fired after only two seasons, but for a good reason: The Bears not only were one of the league’s worst teams down the stretch; they were so lifeless and listless they turned fans away. Not only didn’t they win one of their last five starts; they failed to score a touchdown in their season finale. Marc Trestman was hired to pump oxygen into this offense, but the Bears didn’t score more than 17 points in four of their last five games, and Jay Cutler became the poster boy for everything wrong with the club.
FIVE GUYS ON THE HALL-OF_FAME RADAR
1. Kansas City LB Justin Houston. He had four of the Chiefs’ seven sacks, set a franchise record (22) for a single season and bounced San Diego from the playoff picture — all in the same afternoon. Good news, San Diego; he can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
2. N.Y. Giants WR Odell Beckham, Jr. Make that his ninth straight game with 90 or more yards in catches, tying Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin for the most ever. And he did it on an afternoon when he said he felt nauseated.
3. Houston DE J.J. Watt. He’s not only a legit MVP candidate; he’s the first player in league history to produce back-to-back 20-sack seasons.
4. Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown. First, he puts Pittsburgh on top with a 71-yard punt return. Then, he clinches the victory with a 63-yard TD catch with just over three minutes left. He led the league in catches, led the Steelers in TDs and was the right guy at the right time Sunday night. No surprise there. Brown has three punt returns for touchdowns in his career, and all have come against Cincinnati.
5. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. He returns from a painful calf injury to resuscitate a Packers’ team that had blown a 14-point lead and leads it to a critical victory to guarantee the Packers a first-round bye. Oh, yeah, and he goes another game at home without an interception. He now has a streak of 36 TDs and no picks in his last 12 home games (minimum 10 attempts. Plus, he becomes the first quarterback in league history to have six straight seasons with passer ratings of 100 or better.
THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME NOMINEE
N.Y. Jets QB Geno Smith. I guess this was one of those “Pro Bowl flashes.” I don’t know how else to explain what happened to him Sunday. He had the game of his career, posting the league’s only perfect passer rating (158.3) this season. But it was too late to save his head coach and probably too late to save the GM who drafted him.
THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE
“We’re not going to tolerate people who are irresponsible, mo matter what round they’re drafted in.” — Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam.
0-4 — San Diego vs. Denver and Kansas City
0-8 — Oakland’s road record
1 -5 — Matthew Stafford’s record when game-time temperature is under 40 degrees
3 — Blocked punts returned for TDs by Philadelphia
3 — Micah Hyde career punt returns for touchdowns
6 — Games with at least two J.J. Watt sacks
7 — Straight games with at least seven Antonio Brown receptions
9 – Quarterbacks this season with 30 or more TD passes
12 — 100-yard DeMarco Murray games this season
16 — Dez Bryant TD catches, a single-season Dallas record
10-22 — Falcons over their last 32 games