NFL: East is the beast, West is wretched in NFL
AP Pro Football Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Head West, young man, and leave behind any notions of finding good football.
Only one of the 11 NFL teams west of the Mississippi owns a winning record heading into the final four weeks of this oddball season – not counting New Orleans, which straddles the river that serves as the league’s very own continental divide.
Yet, in this wild and wretched West, the only team that’s already been eliminated from the playoff race is the Denver Broncos (3-9), who were vexed by an embarrassing videotape violation and a bad personnel moves that led to too many losses and cost coach Josh McDaniels his job this week.
Even the region’s lone winners, the Kansas City Chiefs (8-4), have dealt with a fair amount of drama, from coach Todd Haley’s handshake snub of McDaniels last month to quarterback Matt Cassel’s emergency appendectomy on Wednesday.
The Chiefs might have to make their playoff push with quarterback Brodie Croyle, who is 0-9 as an NFL starter, beginning Sunday at San Diego, where the Chargers (6-6) are no longer December’s darlings.
The Chargers’ loss last week to Oakland damaged the playoff hopes for the four-time defending AFC West champions and snapped their streak of 18 straight December victories.
The Cardinals know the feeling; they’ve lost seven straight games after going 10-6 last year.
“I love the game, but it does wear on you,” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “You get tired of losing.”
Some teams actually view the mediocrity as progress.
The Raiders, Seahawks and Rams – all 6-6 – have already surpassed last year’s win total.
The Rams’ six wins matches the number of games they won the previous three years combined and they own the tiebreaker over the Seahawks atop the NFC West.
This is the Raiders’ best year since 2002, but they’ve had their torments, too, like Sebastian Janikowski missing a 32-yard field goal at the end of a 24-23 loss at Arizona and Richard Seymour’s ejection for slapping Ben Roethlisberger.
Seattle is playing .500 ball even though it ranks 28th in the NFL in total offense, 30th in rush offense, 30th in total defense and 30th in pass defense.
“Some games our numbers are horrible and some games are numbers are pretty darn good,” coach Pete Carroll said. “That inconsistency has left us so that statistics aren’t very important this year.”
All that matters is the rest of the West isn’t all that good, either.
The Texans (5-7), Vikings (5-7), Cowboys (4-8), 49ers (4-8) and even the Cardinals (3-9) are still mathematically, if not realistically, alive in the playoff hunt.
Like the Broncos, the Vikings and Cowboys made coaching changes in the last month. The Cowboys fired Wade Phillips on Nov. 8 and promoted Jason Garrett to interim coach, and two weeks later, the Vikings fired Brad Childress and promoted Leslie Frazier to replace him.
The two new coaches have a combined 5-1 record since taking over, and the Broncos are hoping Eric Studesville, who was promoted from running backs coach, can inject some life into the team to close out this lost season.
Besting the Broncos in the drama department is the mess in Minnesota, where the Vikings briefly got back together with Randy Moss after begging Brett Favre to come back only to realize he brought more baggage than luggage.
Favre’s season has been filled with injuries, interceptions and insults over a sordid tale of alleged inappropriate photos and phone messages he allegedly sent in 2008 to Jenn Sterger, the former New York Jets game hostess who wants the league to discipline the three-time MVP before his career ends.
Favre has said this season will be his last. The Vikings host the New York Giants this weekend, with Favre’s status uncertain because of a sprained throwing shoulder. He has started 297 straight regular season games, an all-time record.
“It’s just a whirlwind. We’ve had highs. We’ve had lows. We’ve had crazy news. We’ve had regular news,” Vikings receiver Greg Camarillo said. “Even when there’s no news there always seems to be something to make the news.”
Don’t the Cowboys know that.
With Jerry Jones hosting the Super Bowl at his palace near Dallas, the Cowboys owner spoke openly about becoming the first team to play for the Lombardi Trophy in its own backyard. And it seemed realistic. The Cowboys were coming off a division title and their first playoff win since 1996.
It quickly unraveled with a 1-4 start and then quarterback Tony Romo went down with a broken collarbone. The losses become more lopsided and Jones was forced to fire Wade.
Dallas is 3-1 since Garrett took over with the only loss a narrow one to the reigning champion Saints (9-3), whose practice headquarters and Superdome home are on the east bank of the Mississippi River, making them one of the East’s beasts.
San Diego’s formula of slow starts and fast finishes hit a speed bump this year.
The Chargers’ big problems have been spectacular special teams breakdowns – they’ve had five punts blocked – and two dozen turnovers, seven more than all of last season.
The 49ers have been beset by injuries, most notably Frank Gore’s season-ending hip ailment, and an array of departures.
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was fired after Week 3 following problems getting plays into quarterback Alex Smith on time. Before the year began with big hopes of winning the NFC West, second-year running back Glen Coffee retired and defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer was a no-show before the Niners traded him. This week, assistant head coach Johnnie Lynn resigned for personal reasons.
Alex Smith separated his non-throwing left shoulder in October and sat out a total of five games – some once he was healthy again – while Troy Smith got a shot. Coach Mike Singletary is going back to Alex Smith against Seattle on Sunday.
The Texans came into the season boldly talking about challenging Indianapolis for supremacy in the AFC South. But Houston coach Gary Kubiak’s gamble to start rookie Kareem Jackson and second-year pro Glover Quin at the cornerback spots has backfired in a big way.
Quin made the biggest gaffe of all against Jacksonville on Nov. 14, batting a 50-yard desperation pass on the final play right into the hands of Mike Thomas, who stepped across the goal line for the winning score in the Jaguars’ stunning 31-24 victory.
It’s been that kind of year in the wretched West.
Contributing to this report were AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell, Chris Duncan, Doug Tucker, Janie McCauley, Josh Dubow, Bernie Wilson, Jaime Aron, Tim Booth, R.B. Fallstrom and Bob Baum.