by Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
Dolphins were poached under the foot of Rex
Ravens wings clipped in a hangover hex
Arizona locked out despite 10-6 stand
Bears declawed on Randall Cobb's snag
Succop's miss made Pittsburgh gag
Dallas stomach-punched inside JerryLand
Six more teams were denied seats on the playoff bus, left to perish in unforgiving frigid. It's a heavy haul for the final week of the regular season, yet it's most challenging: how did six teams with realistic playoff hopes fall just short?
That's up to me to find out. One more win for each team would have prevented any of these Week 17 jitters, thus figuring out what caused the most losses for each is paramount. My work continues....
MIAMI TIME OF DEATH: 4:01 PM EST, Sunday, December 29, 2013 (by loss to Jets)
The already-eliminated Jets seemed more keyed to win Sunday's game than the Dolphins, who merely had to outpunch the NFL's laughingstock to gain playoff entry. Judging by the Jets' raucous moshing of Rex Ryan in the locker room, you'd think *they* claimed the final Wild Card slot. The Dolphins lost their last two games of the season, a roller coaster of a year thanks to the Richie Incognito scandal, and coughed up a chance at vying for the title.
MOST MORTAL FLAW: Pass Protection and Security
No quarterback was sacked as often as Ryan Tannehill, who was dragged into the grass 58 times in 16 games. That's ten more sacks than second place on the list (48 for Joe Flacco). Losing former top pick Jake Long to St. Louis, and then dealing with the Incognito/Jonathan Martin mess, was bound to hurt line continuity, but to this painful degree?
The Dolphins own the second-worst Negative Pass Play percentage in the league, an 11.81% fail rate. There were nine different games in which Tannehill was sacked four or more times, though amazingly, the Dolphins only lost four of them. In three of the losses, however, Tannehill ate dirt six or more times, including seven times in the crucial Week 16 shutout loss to the one-note Bills.
BALTIMORE TIME OF DEATH: 4:08 PM EST, Sunday, December 29, 2013 (by loss to Bengals)
It should be said that the 2005 Patriots were the last defending Super Bowl Champion to win a playoff game. That's eight straight years where the hangover prevented a deep push, and the Ravens are the fourth team since to miss the postseason entirely ('06 and '09 Steelers, '12 Giants).
The DNA of the team changed considerably, with departures like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Matt Birk, and others. Needless to say, the menace wasn't there.
MOST MORTAL FLAW: Unbalanced Offense
Many fantasy owners snarled and seethed this season (presiding coroner included) as given-first round pick Ray Rice proceeded to have the worst season of his usually reliable career, at least as full-time starter. Rice's 660 yards in 15 games (3.08 YPA) drops off big from a man hovering around five yards a carry for several years. Bernard Pierce was worse, mustering only 2.87 YPA.
Baltimore as a team combined for 3.14 YPA, the worst average in the league. Joe Flacco being sacked 48 times indicates that changes are absolutely needed for the Birk-less offensive line. The Ravens were 6-6 in games where they averaged less than 3.50 YPA, and four losses were by six points or less. If they tighten up the line, this is still a team that can contend.
ARIZONA TIME OF DEATH: 7:31 PM EST, Sunday, December 29, 2013 (by Buccaneers losing to Saints)
How cruel. The 8-7-1 Packers and 9-7 Chargers get to enjoy playoff spoils this Sunday, while the 10-6 Cardinals must rue the fact that they play in a division were competence comes first. One can't cry over spilled milk, however; the Cardnals just have to tighten their belts and fight harder next season, in order to prevent this sort of heartbreak. Then again, you can also say beating New Orleans in Week 3 would have gotten Arizona in. Alas.
MOST MORTAL FLAW: Turnovers
With a sharper quarterback, it's possible that Arizona could be a 13-3 team. At least, some believe that, citing Carson Palmer's 22 interceptions as proof of the team's downfall. In spite of the fact that eight of those picks came in the final eight games (a big drop from 14 in the first half), it's not a bad assessment. Had Palmer played cleaner earlier in the year, this would be a playoff team.
In four of the six losses, Palmer threw two picks. Two of the losses were by 12 points (two possessions) and a loss to the Eagles was by a field goal. Another way of looking at it is the level of competition; five of their six losses came to playoff teams (49ers twice, Seahawks, Saints, and Eagles). They've beaten three playoff teams (Seattle, Indianapolis, and Carolina pre-surge), so while the schedule was daunting, they had chances to beat good teams and couldn't.
CHICAGO TIME OF DEATH: 7:32 PM EST, Sunday, December 29, 2013 (by loss to Packers)
2013's Chris Conte was 2012's Rahim Moore. Another way of saying it is that he's Bill Buckner '86 reborn, and that's a better assessment than most realize. Buckner got the blame for the grounder clearing the leg-wickets, but a thousand things had to go wrong for Buckner to end up in that spot (see Calvin Schiraldi). Don't blame Conte; he may have lagged behind Randall Cobb, but Chicago's
division hopes shouldn't have been so heavily pinned on the one play.
MOST MORTAL FLAW: The Run Defense
Apparently in the Chicago Bears/Brian Urlacher divorce, the future Hall of Famer got custody of the run D. After all, Rod Marinelli sure as hell didn't take it to Dallas with him. The second-highest scoring offense in the league (27.8 PPG) was undone by the third worst scoring defense (29.9 PPG), and therein lies Chicago's stunted growth throughout 2013.
The Bears gave up 5.35 YPA rushing, by far the worst average in the league. The Bears are 3-6 when they allowed 150 or more rushing yards in a game, and 0-4 when giving up more than 200. The fact that Chicago averaged 27.6 PPG in the nine games of allowing 150 speaks volumes to how much their run defense screwed them this season. The Jay Cutler/Josh McCown debate is utterly moot.
PITTSBURGH TIME OF DEATH: 7:41 PM EST, Sunday, December 29, 2013 (by Chiefs overtime loss to Chargers)
I still maintain that Ryan Succop's missed field goal (unbalanced Chargers line or not) was a subliminal middle-finger to Todd Haley, the oft-maligned ex-Chiefs coach-turned-Steelers offensive coordinator. Had Succop connected, the Steelers' winding and twisted road for the sixth seed would have been improbably culminated. Then again, perhaps the team with the sideline-crowding coach, and the punter-murdering special teamer, got their just desserts.
MOST MORTAL FLAW: Incomplete Pass Defense
Credit where credit is due, the Steelers own the league's 12th best Defensive Passer Rating, sitting at a respectable 82.71. A big part of that number is that Pittsburgh allows just under 58% of passes to be completed, the sixth best percentage in the NFL. That's where the good news for the pass defense ends, as a lack of Negative Pass Plays kept the "Steel Curtain" from looming as large as expectations sit.
The Steelers' 7.30% Negative Pass Play creation is second worst, only behind the lowly Jaguars. That's because the Steelers only accumulated 34 sacks (tied for sixth least) and 10 interceptions (tied for third least). The Steelers had six games in which they failed to force a turnover, including the first four games of the year. Overall, they're 1-5 in those games, and the slow start made for a bankrupt finish.
DALLAS TIME OF DEATH: 11:23 PM EST, Sunday, December 29, 2013 (by loss to Eagles)
To borrow a joke from a KissingSuzyKolber.com commenter, "There was no Robobyl, but there was a Three Kyle Island." Kyle Orton played a hell of a game in the finale before throwing the nausea-inducing interception to Brandon Boykin in the waning moments Sunday night. That Dallas even had a chance to win the NFC East is amazing; that they blew it on the national stage for the third straight
year leads a Cowboys fan to wonder who applied this ungodly hex.
MOST MORTAL FLAW: Complete Defensive Failure
No team that gave up more points than Dallas' seventh worst 432 (27 a game) made the playoffs, so giving up so many was critical. No team that gave up more than Dallas' 6645 yards made the playoffs, but that's because nobody was worse than the Cowboys in that category. That's over 415 yards a game, 128.5 of which were rushing yards. They gave up 4.70 yards a carry, second only to Chicago.
Only four opponents all year were held under 100 yards rushing, and go figure, Dallas is 4-0 in those games. That means they're 4-8 when a foe tops the century mark. Oddly enough, they're 2-1 when they give up 200 rushing yards, but the issues go beyond. Their defensive 3rd down percentage is fourth worst (43.33% convert), and Dallas is also fourth worst in Negative Pass Play percentage (7.46%). In six of Dallas' eight losses, they managed two or less sacks.