For two teams this week 17 marked the end of the road for two teams with very different futures. For the 6-10 Carolina Panthers their road forward is secure, stay the course; with Cam Newton locked into his role, and the coaching staff finding their footing they'll look to build on this foundation in 2012. Meanwhile for the Buccaneers their future is a little less clear. After regressing from a 10-6 season a year ago to 4-12 in 2011 there are more questions than answers for this team moving forward.
Meanwhile both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons played their way in, and congratulations to both teams. The NFC South continues to be the much forgotten division in football that consistently puts two teams into the playoffs, yet always gets looked over as the red headed stepchild (no offense Andy Dalton) while the NFC East get the limelight.
The Awesome- Michael Turner
Sure, it would be easy to give this to the New Orleans Saints who went about setting/extending records, but for my money it was Michael Turner who was the most impressive player this weekend. For much of the season he's been a maligned player as some have wondered whether he still has 'it'. When he finished Sunday's game with 172 rushing yards on just 17 carries that probably shut a few people up.
The Buccaneers run defense is far from stellar, but for a player to average over 10 yards per carry they're doing something pretty special. Having both Turner and Ryan firing heading into the playoffs sets up a scenario where the Falcons are the most dangerous playoff team nobody is talking about.
The Abysmal- The Carolina Panthers' defense
Let's get it out of the way now: The Panthers D was battered on Sunday. They were missing 5 starters, and overall have an NFL high 17 players on IR, 9 of which were on defense. However, that doesn't excuse giving up over 600 yards of offense to any team, even the Saints.
While some (me included) will deride the Saints' desire to pad stats in recent weeks, the Carolina Panthers simply couldn't stop Drew Brees and company from dominating the Panthers in the superdome. It was a sobering experience for a team coming into New Orleans with 4 wins in 5 games.
The Asinine- Bill Belichick's one-upsmanship
Okay, so I found it a little funny to see Belichick and Sean Payton get into their proverbial pissing matches, but on Sunday their desire to get records was taken to a new level. Payton and the Saints chose to leave their starters in for the better part of four quarters on Sunday, despite having the Panthers well in hand. Brees had extended his passing record, and Jimmy Graham had just broken the all time TE receiving record.
And then Belichick got wind of it.
Despite calling off his dogs, the Pats chose to put TE Rob Gronkowski back on the field to best Graham's mark. It was a ludicrous way to end the early games, and something I never really thought I'd see in the NFL.