Bengals have no reason for shame

I did the Detroit at Green Bay game and conventional thinking would have dictated that Green Bay would do everything it could to speed the game up and get out as healthy as possible.

They took the guaranteed No. 1 seed, first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and used it to rest Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson. By starting backup QB Matt Flynn, it was a perfect opportunity to run the ball, soak the clock for every second and get out of the game as healthy as possible. Mike McCarthy even used one of his 14 yearly padded practices last week to make his team’s preparation as physical as possible. With the first-round bye this would ensure that his team would stay sharp, even though many of his starters would see limited action. I even predicted that the Packers would break their season-high rushing attempts of 31.

So what happens? The Packers come out winging it and the game becomes a track meet between Matthew Stafford and Matt Flynn. Green Bay did not even attempt a run until the second series of the game and started out with a 14:4 pass to run imbalance. In spite of a windy day and cold temperature, the Lions took the same approach. The fans were treated to an explosion of passing proficiency that broke the all-time record for total passing yards in a game and was the first time in league history that both quarterbacks threw for 400-plus yards and at least five touchdowns in the same game. Stafford went 36-for-59 for 520 yards and five touchdowns, while Flynn kept pace with a career high 31-for-44 for 480 yards and six touchdowns.

Detroit had everything to play for, because with a win they would have secured the fifth seed and would have faced the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs. Instead they have to travel to New Orleans and play the Saints, quite possibly the most feared team in this year’s playoff pool.

Stafford was brilliant. Eli Manning has had a great year, but there is no way he should have been selected over Stafford for the Pro Bowl. His numbers rival those of Brady, Brees and Rodgers. He is on a team that relies almost exclusively on his arm (the Lions were 31st in the NFL in rushing attempts), and he was leading a culture change on a team that was 0-16 the year before he arrived in 2008. Stafford is poised to move up from the ranks of “next” tier QBs to among the elite QBs in the league.

As for Flynn, all he did was guarantee a big payday come March when he will be an unrestricted free agent. How’s this for irony? Flynn was the backup to JaMarcus Russell at LSU for three years. When Russell was drafted No. 1 overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2007, Flynn took over the starting job for the LSU Tigers and had a solid, if undistinguished, individual season that ended in a national championship. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Packers and has been Aaron Rodgers’ backup since. The Packers have made a killing with drafting well in the late rounds to find quarterback talent. Players like Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck and Mark Brunell all started in Green Bay. The Packers were able to get value in trades for these quarterbacks, but unfortunately won’t get anything for Flynn due to his free-agent status.

In summary, Sunday’s all-time passing duel took place between the first overall pick for the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford, and a quarterback who was selected 209th overall in 2008, Flynn. During his collegiate career, Flynn backed up the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, an abject failure who is not even in the league any longer.

Talk About Ironies

All you need to know to reaffirm that this is a QB and offense-driven league right now is to see that the No. 1 seeds in the NFC (Green Bay) and the AFC (New England) currently rank last and next to last in the NFL in total defense. Vince Lombardi is turning over in his grave.

Walking Tall

Some people have labeled the Bengals entry into the playoffs as “backing in” because of their losing to the Ravens, yet still qualifying for the tournament. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my opinion, the Bengals can go in “walking tall.” The expectation for Cincinnati was minimal given its youth on offense, starting a second-round rookie quarterback and going through the culture change from a me-first mentality to a team-first mindset in 2011. Most predicted a sub-.500 season for the Bengals, and rightfully so. For my money, Marvin Lewis is a heavy consideration for coach of the year. Not only are they  deserving of the playoff spot, but I believe they will beat the No. 3 seeded Houston Texans in Houston during the wild-card round. Bravo.

What a Tangled Web

Storyline 1 and 1-A of this offseason has to be the future of Tim Tebow in Denver and Peyton Manning/Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. No matter what the teams say, we will not know the true intentions of either team until the first day of free agency in March (when Manning is due a $28 million roster bonus) and then again in late April at the NFL Draft. Until then, it will be a high stakes game of liar’s poker from both teams. For the fans of both the Broncos and Colts, I recommend the old adage of “believe nothing of what you read and only half of what you see.”