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NFL Week 17

   by Larry Ness - 01/01/2010

While the college football season featured five bowl games on three consecutive days (Thursday-Saturday), including two of this year's five BCS Bowls (Rose and Sugar on January 1), the NFL prepares for its final Sunday of the 2009 season on January 3. With John Lennon on bass guitar and Paul McCartney on piano (as well as lead vocal), "The Long And Winding Road" (written by McCartney) was recorded at Apple Studios, London, England on January 31, 1969.

It's truly been a "long and winding road" this NFL season, one which began back on August 9 with the Hall of Fame Game from Canton, Ohio when the Titans beat the Bills, 21-18. The regular season opened on a Thursday night in Pittsburgh (September 10), when the Steelers (defending Super Bowl champs) edged the Titans, 13-10 in overtime. The regular season concludes on Sunday with 16 games, the last being NBC's Sunday night game with the Bengals playing at the Jets at 8:25 ET.

The Colts owned the longest active postseason streak with seven straight playoff appearances entering 2009. Indy easily extended that streak to eight years in a row, winning their first 14 games, while also breaking an NFL record by winning 23 consecutive regular season games. I'd recap what happened last Sunday vs the Jets, but I'm guessing you may already know. The Giants entered the '09 season having qualified for five straight postseasons (2nd-longest active streak) but after a 5-0 start, totally collapsed. Last Sunday's 41-9 home loss to the Panthers, ended New York's playoff hopes for this season.

Think that's a bad collapse? If the Broncos fail to find a way in the AFC playoff field on Sunday, they'll miss the 2009 postseason after a 6-0 start. The Chargers clinched the AFC West crown a few weeks ago, capturing their fourth straight division title. That's the longest active streak of any of the NFL's eight divisions and San Diego's four-year postseason streak is now the second-longest active one behind the Colts.

Along with San Diego, only Arizona (NFC West) and Minnesota (NFC North) repeated as division winners from 2008 and heading into Week 17, only five of last year's 12 playoff teams have qualified for the 2009 postseason. Baltimore, Miami and Pittsburgh (all 2008 playoff teams) are all still 'alive' heading into Sunday but although it's possible that two of those three teams could earn wild card spots this weekend, it's more likely that only one of those three teams will get in, meaning there will be just six "playoff repeaters" (at most seven) in 2009.

History tells us that is not much of a surprise since the NFL expanded its playoff field to include 12 teams beginning in the 1990 season. Heading into this season, there have been 110 teams from 1991 through 2008 to follow a playoff appearance with another one the very next season. That's an average of 6.1 per season. Back in 1995, eight of 12 teams returned to the postseason from 1994, the most-ever from one year to the next. The fewest "repeaters" in any one season has been four, which happened just once (in 2003).

At the other end of the spectrum, the Cardinals ended a nine-year postseason drought in 2008, on their way to making the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl appearance. Heading into the 2009 season, the Lions (fresh of the NFL's first-ever 0-16 regular season) and the Bills, both own nine-year postseason droughts. However, while the Bills have averaged 7.8 wins per season these last nine years, the Lions have averaged a measly 4.4 wins per year during the same span. Both teams extended their postseason futility to 10 straight years, as the Lions enter Week 17 at 2-13 and the Bills at 5-10.

I'll be back on Monday with an updated bowl journal.

Good luck, Larry

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