The beauty of football is that every game is so important. Win and it seems like the happy days will never end. Lose, and it seems like the world has come crashing down upon your team. The 162-game baseball season just doesn't create the same passions week to week.
Of course, with each game so important, the heroes and goats, the winners and losers, seem magnified each week: an older guy who plays poorly suddenly looks like he's on the downside of his career; a young stud who plays well looks like the Next Big Thing.
So given that knowledge, here's our over-magnified, jump-the-gun conclusions on six big winners and six big losers from Week 12.
Winner: New York football
The last time New York was the center of the football world was back in the 1940s, when Fordham (with Vince Lombardi on the line
) was a major national power, and Yankee Stadium hosted epic battles between mega-wattage programs like Army and Notre Dame.
It might feel like the old days once again in this gridiron Gotham. The Giants are 10-1, the defending champs and easily the best team in football, now that the previously undefeated Titans lost to – that's right – the Jets, who are 8-3 and have established themselves as the team to beat in the AFC.
The Jets and Giants have never won 11 games or more each in the same season (the closest they came was in 1986, when the Jets went 10-6 and the Giants went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl).
Barring a catastrophic collapse, we're looking at a historic season for pro football in the Big Apple.
Loser: Ohio football
Ohio is one of the dominant football states in the union, the center of the Gridiron Breadbasket
, and the home of pro football itself. The Buckeye State remains dominant at the high school and college levels, and still sends more than its share of residents to the NFL.
But the state's two pro football franchises continue to embarrass, and Week 12 was no exception. The Browns lost a very winnable game against Houston, 16-6, as Ohio homeboy Brady Quinn was benched following an 8 of 18 performance with 94 yards and 2 picks. His replacement Derek Anderson was no better: 5 of 14 for 51 yards with 1 pick.
Winner: Matt Cassel
Wow! Another 400-yard performance Sunday as the Patriots pasted the Dolphins, 48-28, to stay in the thick of the playoff race.
Maybe Pete Carroll started the wrong guys at USC. Both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart won the Heisman with Cassel holding a clipboard on the sidelines. But both those guys have disappointed at this point in their respective pro careers. Cassel, meanwhile, is blowing all expectations out of the water
Loser: Donovan McNabb
If the Eagles quarterback lost his dog, you could have turned his week into a country song. First he suffers an embarrassing tie against the Bengals last Sunday, then the whole world learns that he didn't know the NFL's overtime rule. To cap it off this Sunday, he plays like ass and gets benched as his team suffers 36-7 loss against Baltimore and is all-but-officially eliminated from the playoff race.
Sounds like George Strait's next hit.
Winner: Michael Turner
The Atlanta running back scored a career-high four TDs to pace the Falcons to a huge 45-28 win over the NFC South leading Panthers.
Turner is third in the NFL with 1,088 rushing yards and leads the league with 13 TDs. Before 2008, his best numbers were 502 rushing yards (2006) and 3 TDs (2005) with San Diego. He's a big reason the Falcons are 7-4 and a legitimate playoff contender just a year after one of the worst and most embarrassing seasons in franchise history.
Not bad for a guy who started just one game during his first four years in the NFL.
Loser: LaDainian Tomlinson
Let its put it this way: the Chargers should have kept Turner and released Tomlinson.
The former MVP (2006) carried 21 times for 84 yards as the Chargers lost to the Colts, 23-20, Sunday night. With 770 yards, 5 TDs and 3.8 YPA, Tomlinson is on pace for career lows in virtually every major rushing (and receiving) category.
His Chargers, meanwhile, are a very disappointing 4-7 just 10 months removed from playing in the AFC title game.
Winner: AFC East
Buffalo hung 54 on the Chiefs, the Jets knocked off the previously undefeated Titans, and the division's only loss of the week was Miami defeat to divisional foe New England.
The AFC now boasts 12 Quality Wins as of this week, more than any other division in football, including the mighty NFC East (11).
Loser: NFC West
Week 12 couldn't have gone any worse: the St. Louis was embarrassed again, losing 27-3 to Chicago; Seattle lost a home game, 20-17, to Washington; the 49ers were overmatched, 35-22, in Dallas; and even the league's marquee team this season, Arizona, proved no match for the mighty Giants, losing at home, 37-29.
That's an 0-4 week for those of you keeping score at home.
While the AFC East is 12-12 vs. Quality Tams, the NFC West is a dismal 5-21. The AFC East also leads the inter-conference battle against the NFC West, 7-2.
Winner: Adam Vinatieri
The legendary kicker booted a 51-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Colts to a 23-20 win in San Diego, against a team that has plagued Indy in recent years (the Chargers had won three straight over the Colts, including a playoff win last year in Indy).
Vinatieri has been criticized for losing both his leg strength and his mojo in recent years. But of the unbelievable 22 game-winning field goals he's kicked in his career at the end of regulation or in overtime, Sunday's 51-yarder was his longest.
Loser: Olindo Mare
Seattle's kicker missed a 53-yarder in the third quarter. It was just his second miss of the season (16 of 18 on FGs, 21 of 21 on XPs), while the Seahawks lost to the Redskins, 20-17.
Winner: The Lions
They held a 17-0 lead before finally losing to Tampa, 38-20. In a city that can't compete economically or on the football field, that spells progress. So we charitably declare the 0-11 Lions a winner for the first time this season.
The big lead and stunning crash Sunday is also a metaphor for the decline and fall of the Detroit auto industry. But we'll have to work on that one a bit more and get back to you.
The NFL does everything in its power to make it possible for each team to fight for a playoff spot each season.
But there's a good chance that the Patriots (7-4), Steelers (8-3), Colts (7-4) and Broncos (6-5) will represent the AFC in the playoffs once again here in 2008, and there's a chance that they could win three of four AFC divisions.
Since 2001, these four teams have filled 11 of 14 available spots in the AFC title game and represented the conference in five of six Super Bowls.
If by "parity" the NFL means "the same teams winning in the AFC year after year for an entire decade," then, yes, they have achieved parity.