Shanoff's Wake-Up Call: Pats-Boys Woes Super

Today's Calls: Patriots vs. Cowboys, Giants vs. Eagles, Titans vs. Colts, Detroit Lions vs. History, Peyton Manning vs. DeAngelo Williams, Tom Brady vs. Matt Cassel, Broncos vs. Bucs, Pat White vs. Chase Daniel, Celtics vs. Cavs, Georgetown vs. UConn and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: Eagles over Titans in the Super Bowl, but we'll get to that in a minute. ↵

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↵Unlike most (perhaps all) other years, this season was as much about who didn’t make the NFL playoffs as who did. Namely: ↵

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↵The Pats. ↵

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↵The Cowboys. ↵

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↵If, like me, you enjoy schadenfreude as much as you enjoy success, Sunday offered a year's worth in one day. ↵

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↵The Pats became only the second team since the NFL merger to reach 11 wins and miss the playoffs. Adding insult to irony, if they had made the playoffs, you just know they would have been the sexy pick to win the Super Bowl. Between Eli Manning-to-David Tyree, Tom Brady's knee injury and now the 11-win playoff-free season, has any team taken more karmic punishment in 2008 than the Pats? ↵

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↵Meanwhile, all the Cowboys had to do was win — they controlled their own destiny. Instead, they totally choked; they were routed in one of the worst losses the franchise has ever suffered — and that doesn't even begin to consider the win-and-they're-in magnitude of the game. (Adding insult to their irony, the team that stomped them took their playoff spot in the process. Oh, and the loss even made Tony Romo collapse.) ↵

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↵These are the two most marquee franchises in pro football, both on the sidelines for the playoffs. Maybe they should play each other in an exhibition the week before the Super Bowl. It would be the highest-rated game of the playoff season. ↵

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↵That said: For all my schadenfreude, the playoffs are less compelling — less interesting — for their absence. What they do to re-tool will be as compelling as anything that actually happens on the field over the next month. ↵

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↵Now: Let's talk playoffs. I'll take Pats over the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. (Oh? What? HAHAHAHAHAHA. That simply isn't too old, yet.) ↵

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↵After the jump: A less sarcastic Super Bowl pick; everything you need to know about the final week of the NFL regular season; at least one way that Northwestern is superior to Alamo Bowl opponent Missouri; a candidate for college hoops conference game of the year; and more. ↵

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↵The beating the Eagles gave the Cowboys and the bank-shot way they qualified for the playoffs gives me the same vibe about this team that we all realized, in hindsight, we should have felt about the Giants a year ago. New York set the template: You don't need home-field anything to win the Super Bowl. ↵

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↵In the AFC, despite how hot the Colts are right now, I'll take my chances with that tough Titans defense in a playoff rematch; meanwhile, Big Ben's concussion yesterday puts the Steelers' playoff run in jeopardy. It has been the Titans' season, even if everyone doesn't want to admit it. ↵

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↵The Eagles finish off their playoff run — and I'd qualify yesterday's contest as a de facto playoff game — by making it truly a year to remember for Philly sports fans: The Eagles will beat the Titans for a Super Bowl title. ↵

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↵Notes from the final week of the NFL regular season — the entire season for many teams: ↵

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↵— What a fitting ending to Brett Favre's "comeback" and, hopefully, his career: A ridiculously stupid pick to seal the loss for the Jets, with the Fins' margin of victory equal to a classic Favre pick-6 that he threw earlier in the game. (Yeah, sure: Keep blaming Favre's shoulder.) ↵

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↵— 0-16: The Lions did it! Ignominy? Hardly. It is relevance. It's a place in NFL history. It is rare to see a "first" of any kind in this day and age, particularly for something as epic as a winless season. I say: Fans in Detroit should embrace it. (Now, if they go oh-fer NEXT year? Another story.) ↵

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↵— With reports that Tom Brady's rehab is behind schedule — and no certainty that he will return to All-Pro form — I think the Pats have no choice but to franchise Matt Cassel, then decide whether to cut Brady if things aren't working out. If not, don't you think the Jets will pursue Cassel? ↵

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↵— The Broncos don't quite measure up on the schadenfreude scale in the way that the Pats and Cowboys do, but their four straight losses to end the season and KO their playoff chances — including last night's "play-in" whupping from the Chargers — is more humiliating than the Lions' winless season. ↵

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↵— NFL MVP? You can keep Peyton Manning; I'll take Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams, who is not only the hottest player in the league and the reason the Panthers have a strong chance of winning the NFC, but might carry that over to next season as the consensus No. 1 overall pick for fantasy leagues. ↵

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↵(Chad Pennington won't win NFL MVP, but he should get his fair share of votes that put him in the Top 5 — let's hope that puts him ahead of Favre. Is it fair to call Pennington the NFL's Comeback Player of the Decade? I guess there's still time to see what happens with — ugh — Brady.) ↵

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↵— Milestone Watch: Speaking of Manning, Peyton's streak of 4,000-yard passing-yard seasonsnow at an astounding nine — will never be broken. It eclipses Drew Brees falling short of Dan Marino's all-time single-season passing-yards record. (Hmm, not quite: Brees was an out-pattern away from setting a new mark.) ↵

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↵— I tagged the Broncos last week as all-time chokers; add the Bucs to that short list. Meanwhile, teams who finished with progress to build on include the Texans (oh, for a full year from Matt Schaub); the Bengals (from an 0-8 start to a 4-3-1 finish); and the 49ers (congrats to coach Mike Singletary). ↵

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↵— Yeah, yeah: Larry Johnson wants out of Kansas City. Does anyone actually want HIM? ↵

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↵— Coach of the Year is as competitive as it has ever been: How can you pick against Atlanta's Mike Smith? Then again, how can you pick against Miami's Tony Sparano? What's the bigger worst-to-first turnaround: From the team embroiled in the Vick/Petrino scandals? Or the 1-15 team? (My pick: Sparano.) ↵

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↵(I'm comfortable with the Matt Ryan for ROY bandwagon; you have to consider not just his record as a rookie starter, but the context of the loaded situation he came into. But can we please nod to the superb job that Baltimore's Joe Flacco did as a rookie QB leading the Ravens to the playoffs?) ↵

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↵— With Phil Savage out as Browns GM, coach Romeo Crennel has got to be next. I think the Browns will pursue — and land — the Pats' Scott Pioli, who will poach Pats O.C. Josh McDaniels (Bill Cowher? Pfft. Meanwhile, I'm desperate to avoid suggesting Pioli would hire Ohio native Urban Meyer.) ↵

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↵(Related: How much would/should/could another NFL owner pay for Bill Parcells, if Tuna was to become a "free agent" after this season? How much of the Dolphins' success was his doing directly? Could he find another Sparano? Could he find another Pennington? Could he find another Wildcat gimmick?) ↵

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↵CFB Bowling: If there was an MVP of all of the bowls between now and last Tuesday, it would be West Virginia QB Pat White, who not only put on a career-best 332-yard passing day vs. UNC, but he led WVU to his fourth bowl win as a starting QB, a record widely considered unprecedented in college football history. I think it is only WVU's choke at home against Pitt last year — keeping them out of the national-title game — that keeps White from being considered one of the Top 10 QBs of the past 25 years in college football. ↵

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↵Bowling tonight: Missouri-Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl. NU has a habit of letting their bowl opponent produce prolific offensive numbers; it's not like Mizzou needs much of a nudge, particularly in a farewell game for Chase Daniel (and perhaps Jeremy Maclin?) Ah well: At least Northwestern can claim the vastly superior journalism program. ↵

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↵Also: N.C. State vs. Rutgers in the Papajohns.com Bowl. Greg Schiano already salvaged a lost season by becoming bowl eligible. Think he wishes he went to Michigan? He should hold out for Penn State in a year or two. ↵

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↵NBA Instant History: Celtics ... down? Heading into the Xmas Day feast, the Celtics were unstoppable; now, not only are the Celtics beatable, but I'm not even sure they are the best team in the East anymore — the Cavs are nearly their equal and the Magic are the new hottest team in the NBA. Meanwhile, if the Lakers proved anything on Christmas Day, it is that they are up to the challenge of dethroning the defending champs in June. ↵

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↵Last night: Nothing cures what was temporarily muffling the Celtics like a 45-point beat-down of the Kings. ... Don't think the Lakers weren't extra motivated to beat the Warriors after watching Golden State beat Boston on Friday; even after beating the Celtics head-to-head, the Lakers can't possibly mind a little extra help via the Transitive Property. ... The Cavs are STILL unbeaten at home, dispatching Dwyane Wade's Heat in a Christmas-quality pairing. What a duel between LeBron (33 pts, 9 ast) and D-Wade (29 pts, 8 ast) ↵

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↵CBB Mania: There are a handful of games that might qualify for "Conference Game of the Year," and the Big East enjoys a plurality of them, starting with Georgetown at UConn tonight, in a matchup of two teams ranked in the Top 10 nationally in some polls. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, Texas gets a boost: Florida PG Jai Lucas will transfer to Austin. Think of him as "D.J. Augustin-Lite." ↵

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↵The Last Word: With a few days to think about it, count me in the camp that thinks that it is in the best interests of baseball that the Yankees spent themselves into contention. Their overall budget won't be much higher than last season, but they deliver a lot more star power — and a better chance at returning to the postseason. It increases the overall interest in the sport when the Yankees do well. As a certified Yankee-hater, I don't like it any more than you do, but that's the reality. If you love baseball, you have to love the Yankees' recession-proof spending strategy. ↵

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↵By the way: The Pats missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002 is as big — perhaps even bigger — than the Yankees missing the MLB postseason for the first time in 2008 since the mid-90s. But unlike the Yankees and baseball's cap-free payroll system, the Pats can't simply spend their way back to the playoffs. It will make the Pats' return to the playoffs in '09 that much more impressive that they had to do it under the constrictions of a salary cap. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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