A Weekend of Letdowns

Parity in the National Football League has never been more evident than right now, as we've seen franchises that were complete messes like last season's Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins with double-digit victories in 2008, and perceived Super Bowl contenders such as Jacksonville and San Diego take major steps backwards.

Last year's regular season perfect 16-0 New England Patriots look destined to be one-upped by this season's completely imperfect 0-15, soon to be 0-16 Detroit Lions.

During Week 16 of the NFL season, many teams had opportunities to clinch playoff spots, or put themselves in position for January success, but for whatever reason did not get the jobs done.

The Jacksonville Jaguars haven't had anything to really play for in over a month, but they did have an opportunity to sweep their hated division rival Indianapolis Colts for the first time with a victory Thursday night. After taking a 10-point lead into halftime, the Jags quarterback and defense imploded yet again, as they were outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter and their dreams of a sweep over Indy must wait until next year.

The Dallas Cowboys closed Texas Stadium Saturday night and they had a fantastic opportunity to take a stranglehold on an NFC wildcard spot. Although their opponent was the stingy Baltimore Ravens who are certainly no pushovers, the ‘Boys were still decided favorites in the ballgame. Tony Romo did his best A-Rod crunch-time impression, and the ‘Boys closed their stadium with a loss, almost fittingly.

With one final home game for the Detroit Lions to get their first victory of the season, they gave the fans everything they expected, which was a 42-7 beatdown at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Next year can't get any worse, can it Lions fans?

The Arizona Cardinals had nothing to play for Sunday, and it showed. The Cards were pasted by New England in the cold weather, 47-7, in a game which was not as close as the final score indicated. Arizona is making a mockery of the current playoff format.

Speaking of playoff mockeries, the AFC West Champion will finish with no better than a 9-7 record, and will more than likely be 8-8. Denver had a chance to lock up the division with a game against the slumping Buffalo Bills at home, and what did they do? They got out to an early lead before Jay Cutler threw two interceptions en route to a 30-23 loss. The game was a microcosm for the Broncos season.

While Denver was busy choking away the playoffs, San Diego traveled all the way across the country to take on Tampa Bay in a 1:00 kickoff. The Bucs had an opportunity to play themselves into the playoffs, but were blasted by the underachieving Chargers, 41-24. Tampa has turned a 9-3 start into 9-6, and now need help to get into the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had an opportunity to wrestle away the top seed in the AFC from the Tennessee Titans Sunday, without having to face Titans stud defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. Pittsburgh couldn't take advantage of the Tennessee injuries and will now have to fly back to Tennessee if they're going to make another trip to the Super Bowl.

The New York Jets had the playoffs in their sights as they traveled out west to snowy Seattle to take on the then 3-11 Seahawks. The Jets dynamic offense, led by future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, put up all of three points and now "Mean Green" needs a lot of help to be playing in January.

The Minnesota Vikings magic number for winning the NFC North was one, and it remains at one as they dropped a home game to the Atlanta Falcons, 24-17. The Vikings managed to fumble seven times and lose four of them, in a seven-point defeat.

The Houston Texans finally fought their way back to .500 as they won four consecutive games, including one over the top-seeded Tennessee Titans. A trip to Oakland to face the 31st ranked offense in the league would surely be a breeze, right? Wrong. Houston ruined their chance at the first-ever winning season in franchise history as they dropped a game to the lowly Raiders, 27-16.

Finally, the Carolina Panthers had a chance to make the road through the NFC playoffs go through Charlotte, as the Panthers led early and late against the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. Carolina blew an eight-point lead late in the game, and when John Kasey missed a 50-yard field goal near the end of regulation, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Carolina would lose the game in overtime. The physical Panthers defense gave up 301 yards on the ground in what was a personal highlight day for Giants running back Derrick Ward, as he ran for a career high 215 yards.

For the first time in league history, all 16 games will be played on Sunday and there are still many playoff spots up for grabs. Will we see potential contenders laying eggs left and right like we did last week? Stay tuned.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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