The AFC Wild Card Race As I See It

I’ve hand-researched all the tiebreakers and, so far as I can tell, here is what each team needs to have happen to get in, simplified to be as easy to understand as possible, with some possible errors. This does not reflect seeding, though teams at 8-7 are ranked in rough seed order. The Jaguars would be the 5, while the Dolphins can’t be anything but the six seed.

  • Jets: Win OR BAL, DEN, HOU, MIA, and JAX loss.
  • Ravens: Win and you’re in, lose and you’re out.
  • Broncos: Win and PIT and (NYJ or BAL) loss OR Win and (NYJ or BAL) loss and HOU win OR PIT and any three of NYJ, BAL, HOU, or JAX loss.
  • Texans: Win and any two of NYJ, BAL, or DEN loss.
  • Steelers: Win and HOU and (NYJ or BAL) loss OR Win and NYJ, DEN, and BAL loss.
  • Dolphins: Win and NYJ, BAL, HOU, and JAX loss.
  • Jaguars: Win and any three of NYJ, BAL, HOU, or PIT loss.

Revisiting Da Blog’s 2009 Predictions

One year ago, I gave you my predictions for the year ahead, and for years to come. How did I do? Let’s take a look:

  • The year in sports is a massive disappointment. Not really. I predicted a Dolphins-Vikings Super Bowl, and we did get one team that wasn’t exactly a “name” team, and the Steelers kinda sorta pulled the same trick they did three years before, though not quite as surprising. But who would have guessed that the Vikings would have actually been a name team by the end of the year? Or that we’d get a Super Bowl that people were hailing as the best ever one year after Patriots-Giants? The national championship game in college basketball did go back to being a laugher, but while North Carolina didn’t go undefeated, far from losing in the Final Four, they won the whole thing. Neither the Cavs nor Spurs made the NBA Finals, and LeBron to the Knicks is still a very real possibility, but the new hot idea is teaming LeBron and Dwayne Wade somewhere. The Stanley Cup Finals turned out to be Red Wings-Pens again, and America tuned in as much as they ever do for hockey, but if it’s Red Wings-Pens a third time I think we will start to tune out. Philadelphia made the World Series again, and the Red Sox lost in the first round, but far from not making the ALCS, the Yankees won the whole thing.
  • Tiger Woods did indeed fail to win a major, though he didn’t miss much time, but no one could have predicted what happened to him by year’s end. Jimmie Johnson did indeed win another Sprint Cup in a laugher – NASCAR really needs to review the Chase idea to see if there’s something about the structure of the Chase that Jimmie is exploiting. But far from not making a major final, Roger Federer made every major final, and won twice. There were five undefeated college football teams at season’s end, not three after Week 4, but I picked two of them – but I sure as hell didn’t pick what happened to USC this season, and while it was a down year for mid-majors in general, we got two BCS busters and the closest any mid-major team has yet gotten to making the national championship game. The Arena League, who I may have had in mind when I predicted one league would completely cancel a season, folded entirely, but MLS seems strong as ever, and the IRL isn’t cutting back at all, even adding a title sponsor. But NASCAR may well pass it backwards anyway… and the UFC certainly attracted a lot of attention for UFC 100. These are stories to watch for the next decade.
  • We don’t know what’s happening with the Olympics or NHL contracts, but we do know they won’t be in Chicago. Rio won’t be all bad for American television, but still.
  • “The Saints challenge for the NFC South” indeed! “The Lions are at least respectable”… not so much, though I will say right now that the Browns or Raiders will make the playoffs in the 2010 season. Brett Favre did retire, but then he unretired again, but the Jets hold their own playoff destiny in their own hands. Matt Cassel joined the Chiefs and Super Bowl contenders they are not, but it’s still too early to say he (and thus, Tom Brady) was entirely a creation of Bill Belichick. (Wasn’t he injury-rattled this year?) The Pats are back in the AFC East driver’s seat, the Cowboys are in the playoffs, have shook off the December blues, and could take the division, and Vince Young is officially Tennessee’s quarterback of the future.
  • I actually made three different predictions for the year in politics. Sadly, the first one seems to be the closest to coming to pass. Troops aren’t even entirely out of Iraq yet, though we have stopped paying attention to it. Most of Obama’s stimulus plans are gimmicky (Cash for Clunkers, anyone?) and don’t provide enough PR boost. The politics of the last eight years don’t change and in fact get worse, because they involve cultural factors bigger than any politician, and can only be changed by the people taking part in it – us. (In retrospect, Obamamania is a symptom of a persistent problem the Left has these days, of assuming that if we just elect enough right-thinking politicians, everything will be hunky-dory. It blinds the Left to politics’ limitations and to other avenues to change, which led the Right to beat them at what used to be their own game this year with the tea parties and town halls, as well as the reasons why electing the right politicians can be so hard.) The Left still loves Obama, though some people don’t find him leftist enough, and the tea partiers don’t find many in their own party rightist enough, which scares me in terms of what the politics of the next decade will be like. I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions per se, but mine is to try to do something to change the state of politics in this country before it’s too late. Interestingly, the tea partiers and people like Glenn Beck make Ron Paul’s views more mainstream, while the GOP base still defends what Bush did as president, so my “fascist-anarchist” GOP prediction isn’t far off.
  • The Internet’s metamorphosis this year basically amounts to the rise of Twitter; it doesn’t seem to be benefiting from the recession as much as I thought, though the rest of my prediction may yet come to pass this year.
  • Because of that, webcomics haven’t exploded yet, though we may yet see a new golden age in this coming decade. Sandsday won’t be part of it though, and I still intend to revisit my State of Webcomics Address.
  • The people who read my webcomics criticism, including what amounts to semi-big names in webcomics, like it, but there aren’t enough of them. I didn’t really do much to attract new audiences to politics other than the Sandsday global warming series. I’m effectively repeating this point for the coming year.

2009 Golden Bowl Tournament Quarterfinals

#8 Miami (FL) v. #1 Alabama
Mark Ingram showed everyone why he won the Heisman four minutes into the game when he broke out a 71-yard touchdown run. But that seemed to be the exception and not the rule. Jacory Harris was six-for-six on the ensuing drive and got the Hurricanes close enough for a 41-yard field goal, which was made. The Canes defense held Bama to a three-and-out, and on the ensuing drive, the Tide was called for unnecessary roughness, which helped set up a touchdown to take the lead entering the second quarter. It would be the last time Miami scored. The Tide defense buckled down and not only forced a three-and-out on Miami’s next drive, they returned the ensuing punt into Canes territory, setting up a Trent Richardson touchdown – although the extra point was shanked.

Miami picked up two first downs the rest of the half and another big punt return set up a Tide field goal to give Alabama a 16-10 halftime lead, still not insurmountable, and indeed Brad Smelley coughs up the football on Alabama’s first drive of the second half. But the defense forces yet another three-and-out, Bama gets another big punt return (though Leigh Tiffin can’t convert from 50 this time), and on Bama’s next drive a big completion to Darius Hanks and a 16-yard Richardson run helps set up a successful try from 28 yards. Then Bama forces another three-and-out and blocks the punt outright, setting up an Ingram touchdown and sending people filing for the exits, even with Miami only down two scores. Miami finally picks up a first down late in the quarter but can’t do anything with it, and their only serious comeback attempt starts with 4:22 left on the clock, after Bama has added another touchdown. Harris drives the Canes to the Tide 24, but gets picked off on fourth down. Ingram is the player of the game again with 205 yards on 27 carries, including two of over 20 yards, and two touchdowns.
Final score: Miami (FL) 10, Alabama 33

#7 Iowa v. #2 Cincinnati
So apparently if Cincinnati were playing for the national championship Brian Kelly would have continued coaching the Bearcats and made Notre Dame wait. One more example of how the Golden Bowl changes college football history, and Exhibit A for how the BCS keeps smaller schools down. And good thing, because like Cincinnati’s quarterfinal game last year, the Bearcats would need everything they could get.

Iowa returns the opening kickoff to the 37 and picks up a first down and moves into Bearcat territory. But the drive is stuffed, Iowa punts, and Tony Pike goes 4-for-5 on the ensuing 71-yard field goal drive. Iowa is pinned at the 19, called for holding, and forced to punt, which the Bearcats return to the 43, setting up a 41-yard field goal attempt. The kick is no good, but Ricky Stanzi gets picked off and the Bearcats end the quarter with first-and-ten on the Hawkeye 16 and about to win this one going away. But Pike can’t complete three straight passes and the Bearcats are forced to settle for a field goal. No problem: the defense has the Hawkeyes bottled up… except they don’t. Stanzi goes 4-for-4 with two passes of over 20 yards as he leads the Hawkeyes on a 79-yard touchdown drive. Iowa 7: Cincinnati 6.

Pike gets a big completion to Mardy Gilyard for the first down, but once again fails to complete three straight passes and is forced to punt. Iowa responds by driving all the way to the Bearcat 17, where Daniel Murray shanks a 34-yard field goal wide left. Suddenly the Hawkeyes seem to have all the momentum in the quarter. Pike leads the Bearcats on a long drive, going 6 for his first 7 passes en route to the Hawkeye 15, but gets picked off and, despite another missed Murray field goal to end the half (this one from 58 yards), Iowa leads Cincinnati heading into the break.

Another shock awaits to start the second half: Zach Collaros taking over at quarterback. All the stories of how Kelly’s tough love saved Pike’s career, and it’s looking to have a disappointing ending. After the kickoff is returned inside the Bearcat 40, Collaros goes 4 for 5 and completes the Bearcats’ first touchdown, retaking a 13-7 lead. Iowa responds on their next drive: pinned on their own 10 by a holding penalty on the kickoff, Adam Robinson immediately breaks off a 49-yard run, helping set up a 31-yard field goal that makes it through the uprights this time. After the ensuing kickoff is returned inside the 40 again, Kelly puts Pike back in, and he promptly completes long passes to Gilyard and Ben Guidugli to put the ball at the 27. The next three plays, though, are an incompletion, a scramble, and an incompletion, and to add insult to injury the 42-yard field goal attempt bounces off the upright.

Iowa strikes right back with long runs by Robinson and Brandon Wegher, but for the last four minutes of the quarter the quarterbacks catch interception fever. Stanzi gets picked when the Hawkeyes have made it to the Bearcat 11, and a long completion to Armon Binns and unnecessary roughness penalty against the Hawkeyes basically put the Bearcats inside Iowa territory again, but Pike throws a pick of his own… only for Stanzi to get picked again on the very next play. Pike starts the next quarter with a 14-yard completion to Gilyard to set up first and goal, but once again misses both of his pass attempts, forcing a field goal. Cincinnati still leads 16-10, but how tempted must Kelly be to put Collaros back in?

Stanzi completes three out of three passes on the ensuing drive and Paki O’Meara gets a huge 14 yard run to the 30, but after that the drive stalls and the 39-yard field goal attempt doesn’t make it. Pike’s job now is simply to run as much time off the clock as he can, which he and the running game do admirably. It’s a surprisingly pass-heavy drive, but Pike’s receivers are smart enough to stay inbounds, it’s hard to blame the stall of the drive on Pike, and once the 46-yard field goal splits the uprights to increase the lead to nine, there’s only 5:43 left to make up a two-score deficit. But Iowa’s ensuing drive starts beautifully: Stanzi to Marvin McNutt, 12 yards, first down. Wegher picks up 15 yards on a draw, first down. Iowa runs the same play and gets stopped for two yards, but the defense gets flagged for unnecessary roughness: 15 yards, automatic first down. Just like that, Iowa has the ball on the 20 with 4:38 left. Stanzi throws his first two passes not caught by a member of either team  since 8:11 remained in the third quarter, but completes it on third down to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who just stretches across the first-down marker. One Robinson run later, and Iowa is within two.

With four minutes left, Kirk Ferentz shows a tremendous amount of trust in his defense – despite the fact that they have typically only stopped Pike when they got close to the end zone – by kicking the ball away. This will be one of the most important drives of the game. Jacob Ramsey starts the clock-milking with a 7-yard draw, and Pike picks up the first down with an 11-yard completion to Robinson – already a minute has gone off the clock. Pike throws an incompletion, but then hits Marcus Barnett to midfield two yards short of the marker, and Isaiah Pead picks up another 13 yards for the first down. With less than two minutes left, Iowa calls one of its two remaining timeouts after Ramsey picks up another six yards, setting up 2nd and 4. Pike steps back to pass, hands the ball off to Pead…

…who promptly breaks through the defense for 13 yards.

There will be many stories told about the game: Gilyard’s 130 yards on just seven catches, the Hawkeye defense nearly justifying Big Ten love and big East hate, questions as to whether Collaros will get more playing time in the next round, Ferentz’s gamble that didn’t pay off. But the bottom line is, Cincinnati is in the next round, and Iowa is not… and like a lot of things about the Hawkeyes’ season, it doesn’t matter how they got there.
Final score: Iowa 17, Cincinnati 19

#6 TCU v. #3 Florida
The big breaking news story the day of the game is Urban Meyer’s decision to leave Florida once the Gators are done playing. Meyer would soften his position the next day to a “leave of absence”, but people don’t know that yet, and as far as anyone knows this isn’t just Tim Tebow’s last game in the Swamp, but Meyer’s as well, and the Gators owe it to everyone in attendance to give them a great game.

They don’t get it.

Oh, for most of the way it’s close. But the tone was really set on the opening drive when Andy Dalton hit Bart Johnson for 35 yards, followed by Matthew Tucker opening up a 37-yard touchdown run. After that it becomes a defensive battle, with neither team doing much of anything until three minutes into the second period, when Chris Rainey broke open a 42-yard touchdown run to tie the game. But TCU gets the ball near the 40 on the ensuing kickoff and Joseph Turner breaks open a 55-yard run to the 7, seemingly setting up an easy touchdown, but Matthew Tucker gets nailed behind the line on third and goal from the 4 to force a field goal to re-take the lead. Another 55-yard run, this time by Tucker, sets up another field goal to increase the lead to six, and the main reason TCU doesn’t get another on the next drive is because the punt that set it up pinned them at the two. TCU misses another field goal attempt before the half, but the momentum is clearly in the Horned Frogs’ favor.

On TCU’s first drive of the half, helped by big runs from Turner and Ed Wesley, the Frogs tack on another field goal. Tebow calls his own number on a draw play on the Gators’ first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, picking up 23 yards, but it starts nothing. The teams trade three-and-outs for most of the rest of the quarter, before a TCU drive picks up some first downs but stalls at midfield. But they return Florida’s punt back to midfield, and a 23-yard completion from Dalton to Wesley helps set up a touchdown that puts the Horned Frogs up 16 and effectively puts the game away. After the teams trade three-and-outs, Tebow attempts to run for the first down on 4th and 5, but gets nowhere, setting up a field goal. Turner tacks on a 27-yard touchdown run late to add more insult to injury – appropriate that the man who ran 18 times for 155 yards would add a touchdown as well. The Gators finally get a drive going, but it’s 33-7 with 2:31 left, and Tebow is shown crying on the sidelines as Dalton takes the final knees, justifying the presence of the little guys once and for all.
Final score: TCU 33, Florida 7

#13 Boise State v. #5 Texas
Three undefeateds had already moved on, and an undefeated team was going to be the national champion. But the loser of this game wasn’t going to lose their undefeated status easily.

On the second play from scrimmage, Tre Newton broke open a 56-yard run to the Bronco 14, but the Longhorns could do nothing with it and settled for a field goal. They were better the next drive after returning a punt to their own  44, resulting in Newton pounding the rock for a 14-yard touchdown run. Boise struck back when Kellen Moore connected with Kirby Moore for 32 yards, setting up a field goal of their own, but a long pass from Colt McCoy to Malcolm Williams that was only brought down on the 4 set up another touchdown, giving Texas a 17-3 lead. But anyone thinking the Broncos would take this lying down were in for a rude awakening when Doug Masrtin broke off a 64-yard touchdown run of his own. That was just the first quarter; anyone expecting an offensive shootout seemed vindicated when McCoy connected with Vondrell McGee for 34 yards early in the second, allowing McCoy to go the remaining 9 yards himself, only to see Boise start the next drive on the 39, and Kellen Moore connect with Kyle Efaw for another big gain, setting up another field goal. No worries: McCoy connects with Jordan Shipley for 35 yards en route to a field goal of their own. Texas leads 27-13 and there’s still five minutes left in the first half.

But neither team scores before halftime, and the game becomes downright defensive in the third quarter. Neither team collects a first down until McCoy connects with James Kirkendoll over four minutes in; a later 25-yard pass to Shipley helps set up a field goal, the only score of the quarter for either side. After another Boise three-and-out, McCoy leads Texas on another long drive that puts the Longhorns on the Bronco 9 to end the quarter, seemingly about to put an already 17-point game away for good. But something about the quarter break awakens the Broncos, and on the first play of the new quarter, McCoy gets picked off and Kyle Wilson makes it all the way to his own 22 before being tackled. Jeremy Avery proceeds to break off a 40-yard touchdown run. McCoy is intercepted again, and Avery breaks off another 40-yard touchdown run. Boise State 27: Texas 30.

Thus begins the most crucial drive of the game, with McCoy needing to bleed as much of the 11 minutes left on the clock as he can without losing the football. McGee gets stuffed on first down, so McCoy connects with Shipley for gains of ten and nine yards. Newton picks up the first down, then McCoy returns to the air, connecting with Cody Johnson for seven yards, then McCoy is forced out of the pocket and collects a yard himself. Johnson picks up the first down, then McGee collects another four yards and McCoy connects with Dan Buckner for ten and Shipley for twelve. Two plays later, McGee finishes off the remaining ten yards, putting the lead back at ten with 5:26 left. The Broncos can’t let Texas get the ball again.

The drive doesn’t start off well, but Titus Young has an 18-yard catch on fourth down that keeps it alive, followed by another 12-yard catch by Austin Pettis on second. But on the next second down, Kellen Moore is picked off. A few first downs later, and Texas escapes Austin with a game that, depending on your point of view, was closer than the final score indicated or not as close as the final score. Shipley had 147 yards on 10 catches, but Avery had two big touchdown runs – both were stars on this night, even as the quarterbacks shined brightly.
Final score: Boise State 27, Texas 37 (This is why I’m not quite agreeing with the simulation’s pick of Avery as the player of the game, because when it comes to mishandling knees, this one takes the cake. So McCoy takes a first-down snap with 2:01 left and gets four on a pass to Kirkendoll, no doubt taking several seconds off the clock. I can buy that. Then on second down, McCoy takes a knee… with 90, not 80, seconds left. Then, even though his idiocy means he can no longer run out the clock, he takes another knee on third down, leaving Texas to kick a field goal. Then Avery manages to break off a 50-yard run to set up a touchdown in the remaining time. Thankfully Texas recovers the ensuing onside kick to end this madness, but this is the closest WhatIfSports has gotten to giving me a Miracle in the Meadowlands situation, and one of these days it’s going to give me one for real. I mean, c’mon man! I don’t know how hard it is to program the simulator to handle knees right, but surely it can’t be that hard to make it figure out that under no circumstances should a knee be taken on second down with more than 80 seconds left on the clock!)

Semifinal matchups:

Rose Bowl: #5 Texas v. #1 Alabama
Procrastination saves the day! Off to the Capitol One and Holiday bowls with Ohio State and Oregon, because I still won’t be simulating this even though the real game is a week later. Two top defenses (even though Boise State cracked it) and two Heisman contenders.

Sugar Bowl: #6 TCU v. #2 Cincinnati
The game everyone would rather have happened for real rather than Florida-Cincinnati or TCU-Boise State. Two top-notch offenses square off, but TCU has the defense to back it up, a defense that held the mighty Tim Tebow to seven points. This could be an epic Golden Bowl from a posting perspective, because it’ll be the two biggest real-life claimants to a national title left (assuming Boise doesn’t score a real-life upset).

Non-semifinal BCS bowls:
Cotton Bowl: Iowa v. Boise State
Orange Bowl: Miami (FL) v. Florida