Heading into Week 15, there were a lot of articles mocking the NFL's NFC West, and deriding the fact that one of the division's mediocre teams will make the playoffs.
Those teams responded by being outscored by a combined 114-50 in four losses.
Normally terrific announcer Bob Papa seemed downright loony at the end of San Francisco's blowout loss Thursday in San Diego when he insisted the 49ers still could take the division honours.
Always trust your Papa. Co-division leaders St. Louis and Seattle both went on to lose in fairly one-sided fashion on Sunday, while Arizona couldn't top the 1-12 Carolina Panthers.
So San Francisco is still alive, improbably.
The day's events guaranteed that the post-season entrant from the West won't finish with a winning record. Strictly .500 is the best it will get, if that.
The Rams host San Francisco and then visit Seattle to close, with the 49ers finishing at home against Arizona. The Seahawks travel to Tampa Bay in Week 15.
It's not looking great for the Green Bay Packers, but it could have been a lot worse. It looked pretty grim for the team when it was announced Matt Flynn would have to go under centre for injured star Aaron Rodgers against the Patriots, unbeatable in New England.
Tampa Bay had the road-deficient Detroit Lions and the New York Giants roared out to a huge lead against Philadelphia. The Lions came back for their first road win since 2007, and the Giants … well, we almost saw Tom Coughlin go Frank Kush/Woody Hayes on punter Matt Dodge.
The Packers came up short in New England, but play the Giants on Boxing Day. They then face Chicago, with the Bears taking on the Vikings and New York Jets in between.
It might seem like we can write off Jacksonville and Tampa Bay after their losses on Sunday, but they have home dates in Week 15 against opposition that isn't ferocious. The Jags host Washington, while the Bucs get a visit from Seattle.
- 1. New England
- 2. Pittsburgh
- 3. Kansas City
- 4. Indianapolis
- Wild Card: Baltimore, N.Y. Jets
- 1. Atlanta
- 2. Philadelphia*
- 3. Chicago
- 4. St. Louis/Seattle
- Wild Card: New Orleans, N.Y. Giants
*The Bears play Minnesota on Monday night and have beaten Philadelphia this season.
Coaching carousel time?Tom Coughlin's expression went from frustrated to despairing after New York's collapse on Sunday. Was it the beginning of the end for the Giants coach? (Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)
There were just three teams that changed coaches between the beginning of 2009 and this season. Even with uncertainty over the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, there figure to be plenty more in the upcoming off-season.
Maybe not quite the 11 seen between 2008 and 2009, but not that far off.
Remember, you have to count the three teams that have already changed coaches (Denver, Dallas, Minnesota), though not twice if any of them decides to not continue with the interim leaders.
You would have to figure that time is up for Gary Kubiak, John Fox and Marvin Lewis. Cleveland appeared to be turning a corner, but Eric Mangini — who was not a Mike Holmgren hire — may have booked his ticket into this group with Sunday's loss to the Bengals.
Add Mike Singletary to that group unless the Niners can pull it out in the woeful West.
Then there's a whole other batch where a playoff berth at the least might be needed to save their jobs. New York's epic collapse is the kind that helps cost jobs, even if the coach wasn't the wearisome Tom Coughlin.
Did the teams of Tom Cable and Jack Del Rio do enough if they don't make the post-season to save their coaches? Do the likes of Ken Whisenhunt and Tony Sparano get one more crack at it?
Add to that Jeff Fisher's contract situation, the tasty rumour that Holmgren would return to his Bay Area roots in San Francisco if given control of operations, and it figures to be a fascinating game of musical chairs.
Considering that it's the penultimate week of the season, there's a relatively small number of matchups critical to both teams.
San Francisco (5-9) at St. Louis (6-8): St. Louis was leading the first meeting late but let the Niners convert an improbable fourth down play, and but lost in overtime. The 49ers are just 1-6 on the road.
Indianapolis (8-6) at Oakland (7-7): The Raiders are 5-2 at home, but those losses were to Houston and Miami. Not exactly inspiring with the Colts coming to town.
Giants at Green Bay (8-5): Aaron Rodgers — should he play — has never faced the Giants. Eli Manning, of course, has memorably faced the Packers.
Jets (9-4) at Chicago (9-4): This game will have a bit more oomph if the Bears lose to the Vikings at a neutral site on Monday, but regardless, it will pit Mike Martz against Rex Ryan.
New Orleans (10-4) at Atlanta (12-2): The Saints did themselves no favours in Baltimore, with the result now that the Falcons can clinch home-field advantage in the NFC at their dome, where they are 6-0.
Corrections and Clarifications
- The original version incorrectly reversed the teams in the first San Francisco-St. Louis meeting. It was the Rams blowing the late lead, with the 49ers winning in overtime. Dec. 21 l 9:55 PM ET