The Oakland Raiders were perhaps the feel-good story of the season and they’re on track for one of the most anticlimactic finishes. They earned the privilege to sit out the first week of the playoffs this past weekend, but they also lost starting quarterback Derek Carr to a broken fibula, handing Matt McGloin the reins of an otherwise Super Bowl-caliber team.
I feel safe saying that the Raiders fans are going to get a Stephen King ending to what’s still a storybook season (and please don’t be mad, I seriously hope I’m wrong). If anyone actually needs to ask what suddenly went wrong for the Raiders, just make them click this. Losing a dark horse MVP quarterback is about the worst thing that could happen to a team at this point of the season.
Which illustrates what is easily the dumbest thing about this dumb sport — that winning requires a combination of hard work, smart work, pure will, and a thousand instances of good fortune irreplicable for all but a couple teams on an annual basis, and losing requires just one big, solid thunking tragedy falling on your head.
There’s often a moment where everything goes wrong, especially in a year when, for once, so many of last year’s playoff teams will not be returning to the postseason, including both of Super Bowl 50’s participants.
Sometimes it goes wrong from the get-go.
A one-point season opener loss is understandable for a Super Bowl runner-up taking on a Super Bowl champ. How the Panthers lost defined their season, however. They played an inspired first half to take a 17-7 lead, then deflated. Cam Newton took several brutal hits, the secondary relented to a first-time starting quarterback, and the offense gained just 103 total yards after halftime.
In a little more than five minutes, the Broncos scored on a 78-yard touchdown drive, intercepted Cam Newton, then scored another touchdown on a 23-yard drive to turn that 17-7 deficit into a 21-17 lead.
Newton recently said that the Panthers need to take a sabbatical. That was obvious from the get-go, when Carolina couldn’t sustain the energy needed to take a winnable game from Denver.
Sometimes you fly too close to the sun.
A confident 7-3 squad hosted the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 27 and made two enormous mistakes borne out of that confidence. The most notable was head coach Gary Kubiak’s decision to attempt a potential game-winning 62-yard field goal in overtime. The kick missed, giving the Chiefs excellent field position to drive into easy field goal range with under a minute left and win.
The Broncos lost three of their next four games, falling out of the playoffs when they, again, faced the Chiefs, and were blown out at Arrowhead, looking like a shell of themselves. The Broncos were not nearly as good as they were last season despite the fact that Trevor Siemian has mostly been an improvement at quarterback over late-stage Peyton Manning.
But until that overtime loss, they seemed to be doing just fine winning with residual magic from the 2015 season. The Chiefs exhausted that magic.
Sometimes you just quit.
The Vikings entered training camp with as much positivity surrounding them as any team in the NFL. They were coming off their first division title in six years, which they accomplished under a second-year head coach who had the ability act like a real, actual human being in addition to doing his job well.
That positivity eroded little by little, first on offense. Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season. Then Adrian Peterson went down, and the offensive line withered to dust and bandages. The Vikings began losing a lot after starting 5-0.
The defense was everything. It, too, suffered several dings, but remained one of the NFL’s best units. Until the Colts game in Week 15, it ranked second in the league in points allowed and yards allowed, and third in opponent passer rating. Then Andrew Luck broke its will, passing for 250 yards while completing 75 percent of his passes to post a 125.6 passer rating that was easily the highest it allowed all season. The Vikings lost 34-6, leaving just perfunctory playoff hopes heading into their second meeting with the Green Bay Packers.
The secondary went rogue in Week 16 and got torched even worse.
And sometimes there isn’t a moment.
Sometimes the gears never line up right to begin with. The Cardinals won a franchise-record 13 games last season. The defense could give up 343 total yards rushing in back-to-back weeks to the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets, but also 24 yards to the Panthers, 58 yards to the Atlanta Falcons, and 88 yards to Washington and the Buffalo Bills.
Carson Palmer was good and bad and good and bad, and mostly much more like the turnover-prone version from late in the 2015 season. Whenever everything synced up, they could beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by 33. De-synced, they’d lose by 22 to the New Orleans Saints. And that was just sort of how it went.
Sometimes you just suck.
“Suck” is the best way to describe the Bengals this year. Yes, there was an exodus, but Andre Smith leaving shouldn’t have led to Andy Dalton taking twice as many sacks. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap powered an excellent pass rush lass season and middling one this season. Those facts don’t make much sense.
But there’s foolish hope, at least. They’re 3-5-1 in their last nine games, but plus-29 in point differential over that span. After getting blown out, repeatedly, to start the season — a 12-point loss to the Broncos, 14-point loss to the Dallas Cowboys, 18-point loss to the New England Patriots — they closed out the season with a string of tight, tight losses — one point to the New York Giants, five points to the Baltimore Ravens, four points to the Pittsburgh Steelers — and poundings of the Browns and Eagles.
There’s no good reason why the Bengals were a bad team this season if you assume they weren’t a fluke before. Which means they could be so much better next season, because mitigating tragedy is one of the best abilities any team can have.
Source: SB Nation