Great defense means that they are in a good position to make another playoff run next year, and Dan Snyder made one of the best moves of his ownership tenure (yeah, that's not saying much) by locking up DC Gregg Williams for three years (and probably to succeed Joe Gibbs). But they're not winning anything until they ratchet up their offensive firepower. Their challenge during the draft and free agency is to augment their running game, give their passing game more weapons and possibly upgrading their QB spot. Mark Brunell has played well this year, but he's almost as old as I am, and my 30s are rapidly evaporating. With an offensive upgrade, I would put Washington at the top of the NFC East next season.
New England Patriots
Well, why should I offer them any advice at all? Everyone knows they'll be back in the thick of things, and to be perfectly honest, if they didn't turn the ball over five times—almost unthinkable from this team, especially in the playoffs—then they're hosting the AFC title game in Foxboro instead of watching it on CBS with the rest of us. I don't really know how to explain it other than no other team has ever won three Superbowls in a row, so there you go.
I've got to switch to bullet points for this just to keep it all straight...
• Tony Dungy, please say hello to Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Marty Schottenheimer, Daryl Sutter, Dusty Baker, Don Nelson and Art Howe. Welcome to the "Great regular season coaches with minimal postseason success who consistently tighten up and choke in the big game when it really counts." Here's your jacket, there's the buffet, we'll be happy to validate your parking.
• Peyton Manning: When you said your role model was Dan Marino, did you really mean Hall of Fame regular season statistics combined with an entire career of playoff futility and zero championships? Because that's who you are. I like you and I want you to win, but you are so not money, baby. You're not clutch. You are a choker. That's who you are. Don't be too discouraged—so was John Elway until they found him Terrell Davis. But you will never win a championship when it's upon your shoulders, because that is not who you are. When the pressure is at its highest, you are always at your worst. Sorry, but that's who you are.
• All teams must take note of this: You cannot stop playing for any amount of time in the NFL. You can't bench your starters and "rest" them. This causes rust, not rest. The Colts were unstoppable until they thought the games "didn't count." They would have crushed San Diego if that game had meant clinching home field, but since it didn't, they let up and let their season slip away. It was over way back then. In the NFL, you have to play every single game as if the entire season depends on it. Look at Pittsburgh and Carolina. Every one of their games for the past two months have been real must-wins, and they are tough, salty, mean, hungry and battle tested. They are also going to play each other in the Superbowl. Teams that have rested for a month, like Indy and Chicago, are also sitting next to me on the couch in the basement. End of lesson.
• To the Indy OC: You might want to figure out a way to stop the 3-4 pressure blitz defense, since every team you face next season is going to try to beat you this way. They will try it because it has worked for New England, San Diego and Pittsburgh. Until you can beat this defense effectively, you will continue to lose in the playoffs.
• A final word to Tony Dungy: God bless you, sir; I don't think I could have even gotten myself out of bed if I had gone through the personal tragedy that you have. No one should be too hard on Tony with this loss, but I sure wish his players had played better for him.
For God's sake, man, get an offensive coordinator with a little more imagination. Rex Grossman could actually be a decent QB with a little coaching (hello, Mike Martz?) and a game plan more creative than a) run up middle; b) run up middle; c) incomplete short pass; d) punt. Your defensive secondary also got exposed yesterday. You have to play better coverage than that when you can't get pressure on the QB. It might not kill you to blitz a little more, too, especially when your front line is getting handled. Don't take it too hard, though. It was a great, unexpected season that you can learn and grow from, and Carolina's going to win the NFC title this year, and you weren't going to be able to stop that; neither is Seattle.
Next time: Comments for divisional winners