Authored by Matthew Gordon - 4th January, 2010 - 10:07 am
The NFL season is long. It's full of story lines and action. It's complicated. (If you don't agree, you should've read Denver's playoff scenarios heading into Week 17)
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But, what if it wasn't?
In thirty-two sentences, one per team, the 2009/2010 NFL season can be summarized. Let's hope.
Buffalo Bills (6-10)
The Bills won six games despite not having many ways to score points and a coaching change midseason ?- this team will need to find a concrete direction next season, preferably one that involves putting more than a field goal on the board against the Browns.
Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Having had the league's toughest schedule (as rated at the start of the season) wasn't kind to the Dolphins, who settled back down to a more reasonable record after last year's outburst, although the Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams tandem has never looked better and they should both be healthy for next season.
New England Patriots (10-6)
Lacking the defensive stars that were so crucial to all those great seasons and Superbowl victories earlier in the decade has clearly hurt the team, but the subsiding of the Dolphins has allowed New England to reign over the AFC East once again.
New York Jets (9-7)
Sliding from 3-0 to 4-5 wasn't as devastating as was originally envisioned, with the team rallying for a second straight date with Cincinnati -? one that could well result in a second-round appearance, the exact kind of season everyone imagined when the team was 3-0.
Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
They'll have a tough playoff game in New England while hoping for a tougher one in Indianapolis, but the Ravens have shown flashes of what's made them a difficult team to score on all decade -? the key for them is to stop making mental mistakes and play the kind of smart fundamental football that won them the Superbowl in 2001.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
What a sour ending to a great season, with first-ever simultaneous sweeps of the Steelers and Ravens marred by Chris Henry's tragic death and a 1-3 tumble ... all leading up to a second game against the Jets in which they'll have to be far more effective against Thomas Jones and Co. than they were this week.
Cleveland Browns (5-11)
A 1-11 start, a general manager stepping down, public cries for Eric Mangini's job and then a 4-0 finish, including impressive wins over the Steelers and Jaguars, not to mention Joshua Cribbs' Ripley's Believe It Or Not plays, all just in time for new GM Mike Holmgren to tear the place apart?
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
Winning five in a row doesn't mean nearly as much if five losses come afterward, with the team having a strangely tide-like season that certainly isn't becoming of a defending Superbowl champion -? if they beat the Chiefs and the Browns, they win the division despite a 1-3 record against the Bengals and Ravens.
Houston Texans (9-7)
Perspective reigns here -? 9-7 is abysmal for the Steelers, but for the Texans, it means a lot of determination and toughness in winning their last four games, including a showstopper against New England ... next season's task will be to avoid the four-game tailspin that got them into that hole in the first place.
Indianapolis Colts (14-2)
It's important to see how a team that goes undefeated for so long reacts to its first loss, and Indy has never been particularly gifted at that ... in a league in which so many contenders stake claims on their last few games of the season (Cowboys, anyone?), 0-2 going into the playoffs doesn't look impressive even if Krusty the Clown's behind center.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9)
A team that so many thought was unlikely to be 7-5 proved exactly why the detractors thought that way ?- Jeff Risdon's constant criticism of the team's virtually non-existent pass rush seems awfully apt at a time when the rest of the league, even the better non-playoff teams, are extra eager to put opposing quarterback's helmets into the grass.
Tennessee Titans (8-8)
Tons of respect for organization for sticking out the season after the 0-6 start, to Jeff Fisher for keeping his players ready, to Vince Young for coming back from various problems with renewed enthusiasm for the game, and to Chris Johnson for 2,006 yards of fun.
Denver Broncos (8-8)
The transformation of the first six games (6-0), which shocked everyone, turned into the putrid squalor of the last ten (2-8), which was below even the most modest preseason expectations for the team ... anyone else think Brian Dawkins would look really good in an Eagles uniform right now?
Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)
The Chiefs are one of those teams that don't seem to have a great outlook for the near future, but one position that shouldn't be a problem is running back, at least if next season's schedule has a little more Cleveland and Denver.
Oakland Raiders (5-11)
So much talent, so many holes, so many bewildered fans wondering who on Earth would construct a team around a punter, a kicker, a 30-year old defensive end and a quarterback who completes less than half of his passes... can it be 2002 again?
San Diego Chargers (13-3)
For the first quarter of the season, there wasn't much of a tangible difference between the Chargers and the Raiders, but now San Diego's the darling of the league, with a balanced team that looks like it will be really tough to beat in January, especially because it'll be warm weather (or at least a dome, if the team goes into Indy) right up until a possible Superbowl appearance.
Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
Shaking the flimsily-applied December curse, these Cowboys have spent their last three games beating the previously-undefeated Saints and then shutting out two divisional opponents, including the 11-5 Eagles -? Wade Phillips's defense is among the scariest in the league right now, even if nervous Cowboys fans are waiting for Tony Romo to have a signature bad day against Philadelphia next week.
New York Giants (8-8)
This was a team that had a deceivingly stellar 5-0 start before some very real problems took hold, culminating in blowout losses to teams (Carolina, Minnesota) that the Giants had to have at least competed with if they wanted to contend.
Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
There's still some life left in the Eagles, but Donovan McNabb has looked less mobile after his many injuries and the formerly vaunted pass coverage isn't what it used to be ?- still, this season should be a monolith to a well-managed, well-coached team that almost always finds a way to produce a winning season no matter who's on the field.
Washington Redskins (4-12)
I dubbed this Redskins squad the worst 2-2 team ever, and when a team at .500 is playing above its abilities against poor teams, the rest of the season isn't usually a mystery, or even worth watching outside of a fun Week 17 game against the Chargers.
Chicago Bears (7-9)
All things considered, and by "all things" I mean an offensive line with absolutely no regard to protecting its quarterback, no plan as to how to acquire young talent aside from a questionable trade for a Tampa Bay bust, problems in the backfield, and still no replacement for Mike Brown in the secondary, 7-9 is just peachy.
Detroit Lions (2-14)
Consistently overmatched, with rumors hurtling around there will be plenty of new faces on that team next season, but with an inspiring coach in Jim Schwartz and a promising young quarterback in Matthew Stafford, along with a cornucopia of high draft picks, this is a team that's learning that ascent in the NFL requires patience.
Green Bay Packers (11-5)
Flogging the Cardinals, setting up a return visit, capping a 7-1 finish to the regular season while Charles Woodson flaunts his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy and Aaron Rodgers outdoes Brett Favre's highest single-season passing yardage mark ... talk about dangerous and fun, nothing like the mediocre team that allowed 38 points to Tampa eight games ago.
Minnesota Vikings (12-4)
Favre connecting with his young receivers, Adrian Peterson mowing down defenders, Jared Allen causing chaos in the opposing backfield and everyone buying into a set role on a winning system is good for a first-round bye, even if 2-3 in their last five isn't the most impressive mark in the world.
Atlanta Falcons (9-7)
Congratulations to the Falcons for their first back-to-back winning seasons and what this must mean to Mike Smith, who's made the team exciting and has utilized talented young players well, not least among them second-year quarterback Matt Ryan, who's learning that not even a season that will sit in the franchise annals guarantees anything.
Carolina Panthers (8-8)
After a pathetic 0-3 start marked by some of Jake Delhomme's worst play and by the absence of Chris Harris, it was all too easy for the team to be eliminated at 5-8 (including a shameful loss to the Bills), but the role of Grim Reaper suits the black and cyan well ? they tore apart their last three opponents, two of which will have first-round byes, by a combined 90-26.
New Orleans Saints (13-3)
The Saints' brilliant start to the season gave way to a couple mistake-riddled skin-of-teeth over lousy opponents (Rams, Redskins), which in turn crumbled in the face of having to play against good teams -? Dallas and Carolina ?- that weren't so willing to fold ... in three short games (and the Carolina one was very short), the Saints have gone from the league's most-feared team to one that will have to play much better than it has lately if it wants to win a playoff game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)
Hey, at least there's Josh Freeman and Carnell Williams spearheading an offense that showed some life against Green Bay and New Orleans ?- now the team has to draft wisely, put together some pieces during the offseason and show that it can get back to that 9-7 level that looked so ugly at the end of last season, but is suddenly a gleaming apparition in the distance.
Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
Inundated with Superbowl loser curses and various mentions involving the team still being the Cardinals, Arizona did something entirely unremarkable, neither collapsing into oblivion nor rising toward the pinnacle of NFL regular-season play, just adding a prong to the rushing attack in Chris Wells and continuing to play solid, but usually unspectacular, air-based football.
San Francisco 49ers (8-8)
This is a team that's made marked improvements since last year (albeit only winning one more game), but is still a year away from discovering its identity -? something that appeared in spurts, but that will become clearer as Alex Smith grows into being the system quarterback the 49ers need and Vernon Davis realizes that he really doesn't play the right position to be getting so many false starts.
Seattle Seahawks (5-11)
Seattle is the boxer who takes every punch while the opponent exhausts himself to the point of falling onto the ring's plywood floor ... the Lions and 49ers donated those games, two of the Seahawks' other three wins came over the Rams, and there will be no shortage of head-scratching concerning a team that hasn't looked particularly good since appearing in the Superbowl in 2007.
St. Louis Rams (1-15)
Steven Jackson probably comprises half of the team's total talent and that the #1 pick could not be going to a place that's more desperate for it than St. Louis -? this team is miserable, and there's plenty of game tape to be watched by anyone who wants to contest that point.
Matthew Gordon can be reached at email@example.com