Pursuit of Perfection

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Resting Starters, Stiffing Fans: NFL Competition Concerns 2003-2009

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For some time now, the official stance of the National Football League brass when it comes to teams resting starters at the end of the season has been that those teams earned the right to rest players by clinching playoff berths before the end of the season.  Such an explanation makes sense in theory, as the NFL schedule features 16 grueling games and some teams don’t get any time off between Week 17 of the regular season and Wild Card Weekend.  However, there are certainly voices of opposition: one need not look any further than Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley and his comments heading into Week 17 of the 2009 NFL season: “Cincinnati is probably going to go into New York and lay down for the Jets and not play them hard just because they don’t want to see Pittsburgh in it, because they know if we get into the playoffs, we’re a dangerous team… All of them will lay down.  No one wants to see Pittsburgh in it.  That’s just how it is.”

On the other side of the coin, teams such as the Indianapolis Colts have frequently rested starters at the end of the season due to strong regular season records; they even did it in 2009, despite the chance to be the second team with a 16-0 regular season record and much to the chagrin of their paying fans.  That the Colts essentially gave up a game to the New York Jets, a playoff “bubble” team, didn’t sit right with anyone either and appeared to spark an investigation by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (which is the last anyone has really heard of it).  I can understand to some extent, with all of that potential labor trouble lurking.

As an NFL fan and statistics nut, however, I found myself wondering just how often teams had been resting their starters.  Of course, it can be difficult to quantify exactly what it means to “rest” starters, seeing as even teams who rest starters frequently leave them in to play parts of games.  The challenge, then, was to create a set of criteria which could be used in conjunction with game statistics to evauate when teams have had “rest” games over the past few years; games where the goal may have been to rest starters first, and compete for the victory second.

Here are the criteria I decided upon:

Narrowing the Field

  • The game occurred in Weeks 15-17 of the NFL season (as teams do not seem to rest starters before that point, to stay fresh for the postseason).
  • The game featured a backup quarterback taking at least 30% of the teams passing attempts for the game for reasons other than injury or because a game’s outcome had been decided in a blowout (with a backup QB taking “clean-up snaps”).
  • Only the years 2003-2009 are represented because I could find no games matching the first two criteria in 2002 and prior to 2002 at least one team had a “bye” week each week of the season, skewing any results.

The criteria seem simple, and I suppose they are.  The idea of focusing on the quarterback position comes from the ease in handling QB-related statistics; it’s much easier to look at passing attempts and figure out if a team was resting their starters than to look at blocks or tackles, or even WR/TE/RB statistics.  The NFL has become a very QB-centric league–some may argue that it has been for a while–and when a team decides not to play their starting QB, it makes it difficult for them to compete in a given contest.

For the sake of being brief–something I’m not particularly good at–I will provide my statistical findings first and go into detail later on for anyone who is interested in the specifics of this research.  For people with less time on their hands, here’s a quick guide to my results:

A Breakdown of the Statistics

  • Number of “rest” games between 2003-2009: 30
  • Number of “rest” games in Week 17: 26
  • Number of “rest” games in Week 16: 4
  • Number of “rest” games in Week 15: 0

Week 15 was on the outside of my criteria, so I wasn’t too surprised to see no results; teams don’t want their starters missing that much time, and many teams don’t clinch the playoffs that early.  The 26 “rest” games in Week 17 represented 23.21% of all Week 17 games played between 2003 and 2009, which means that nearly a quarter of such games fit my criteria.

  • Number of “rest” games in 2009: 7
  • Number of “rest” games in 2008: 2
  • Number of “rest” games in 2007: 5
  • Number of “rest” games in 2006: 2
  • Number of “rest” games in 2005: 7
  • Number of “rest” games in 2004: 5
  • Number of “rest” games in 2003: 2

Going by year, it’s difficult to see a consistent pattern of “rest” games (aside from the freaky recurrence of 2, 5, and 7 in the numbers); there seems to be an ebb-and-flow to the occurrences.  Interesting to note, however, that the peak number of 7 is equivalent to nearly half the docket of a Week 17 game slate.  Oftentimes, however, high number results for a year represent years where teams “rested” in Week 16 as well.

  • Number of games won by the “resting” team: 7 (0.241 Win %)
  • Number of games lost by the “resting” team: 22 (0.759 Win %)

These numbers surprised me somewhat, as the “resting” team won 7 out of the 29 “rest” games from the statistics I observed.  This goes to show, I suppose, that even backup players can win games if the timing is right.  Note that the numbers don’t add up to 30 because one of the “rest” games had both the Titans and Colts resting starters (2008 Week 17), which effectively cancels out that particular result.

  • Number of teams who have “rested” from 2003-2009: 16 (50% of league’s teams)
  • Number of times a team who “rested” won the Super Bowl in the same season: 1 (Saints in 2009)
  • Number of times a team who “rested” made the Super Bowl in the same season: 4 (Saints and Colts in 2009, Seahawks in 2005, Eagles in 2004)
  • Number of times a team who “rested” made the Conference Championship Game in the same season: 8 (Saints/Colts in 2009, Packers in 2007, Saints in 2006, Seahawks/Broncos in 2005, Falcons/Eagles in 2004)

I found it interesting that despite the argument made by teams who rest their players that they want to be prepared to win the Super Bowl, only one team that “rested” from 2003-2009 achieved that goal and only four of those teams made it to the game.  It would appear that there is not a direct correllation between “resting” in late season games and seeing ultimate playoff success.  Sure, 8 teams parlayed that “rest” into at least a Conference Championship appearance, but only one Super Bowl win (and only this past season) is particularly telling.

Next is a ranking of which teams have “rested” the most games from 2003-2009:

  1. Indianapolis Colts — 7 occurrences
  2. Philadelphia Eagles — 3 occurrences
  3. New EnglandPatriots — 2 occurrences
  4. New Orleans Saints — 2 occurrences
  5. Cincinnati Bengals — 2 occurrences
  6. Seattle Seahawks — 2 occurrences
  7. Green Bay Packers — 2 occurrences
  8. Denver Broncos — 2 occurrences
  9. Tennessee Titans — 2 occurrences
  10. Arizona Cardinals — 1 occurrence
  11. San Diego Chargers — 1 occurrence
  12. New York Giants — 1 occurrence
  13. Dallas Cowboys — 1 occurrence
  14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 1 occurrence
  15. Chicago Bears — 1 occurrence
  16. Atlanta Falcons — 1 occurrence

No surprise to me here, since the Colts have always made a big show of performing strong so that they can rest their starters before the playoffs.  Some of the other teams were interesting to note–I had no idea that the Eagles “rested” for games–but the Colts had more than twice as many “rest” games as any other franchise from the 7 seasons of the sample size.  Connecting to my research on Best Team of the 2000s in the NFL, it is interesting to note that just 4 more regular season victories would’ve allowed the Colts to leapfrog Pittsburgh and settle in 2nd Place, even with one fewer Super Bowl; thanks to these 7 “rest” games (and a 2-5 record in them), the Colts came in 3rd.

  • Teams with multiple “rest” games in a season: 2009 Colts (2), 2005 Colts (2), 2004 Eagles (2)
  • Teams playing “rest” games against another playoff team: 12 occurrences (40% of rest games)
  • Teams playing “rest” game when it was a home game: 10 occurrences (34.48% of rest games)

Not much surprise there; just 40% of “rest” games were against another playoff team.  It is a bit surprising that of the 29 “rest” games (Colts-Titans excluded again), 10 occurrences had the “rest” team essentially giving up the game at home in front of their local fans.

  • Teams playing “rest” games against a team that would miss the playoffs without a win in that game: 6

I think it’s probably pretty obvious why I’ve concluded on that particular statistic; this means that on 6 separate occasions over the 2003-2009 sample, a team was “resting” starters in a game that had legitimate playoff implications for the team they were playing against.  Since these occasions involved teams that needed to win to stay alive, other teams who were in the playoff race were negatively affected by the decision to “rest” players–just like the 2009 Steelers and 2009 Texans, who won their Week 17 match-ups and still missed the playoffs because the Bengals “rested” against the Jets, who were only in the playoff hunt because the Colts “rested” against them in Week 16.  While the other 24 occasions are less sinister than these 6 that had playoff ramifications, the fact that fans pay full-price for less than a full product remains.

What the Numbers Reveal

Even without considering the specific circumstances surrounding these 30 “rest” games over the past 7 seasons, at least two things should be clear: 1) half of the NFL’s teams have “rested” starters in favor of fielding a competitive team and 2) some of these “rest” games have affected the playoff race.  Even more important than that, however, is the effect on the fans who go to these games.  Attending an NFL game in person is not a cheap expense, and fans expect to see a high-quality product when they put the funds together to watch a game.  These fans put money into the NFL through merchandise, ticket sales, TV viewership, and in return they expect to see players putting their best effort into their performance; especially when even backup players make far more than the average fan.  There are numerous things to consider when the NFL looks at the level of “competition” late in the season–and it’s very subjective to analyze whether or not a team is trying to be competitve–but it would seem that the topic is one the NFL should look into with a legitimate effort and analysis.

Speaking personally as someone who is a fan of the Patriots, I was actually quite disappointed when the Colts decided to pull their starters in their 2009 Week 16 game against the Jets.  I knew that the Colts had a legitimate chance at tying the 16-0 accomplishment, and while I was hoping that they would be beaten to preserve the status of the 2007 New England team, I only wanted them to lose if it was a legitimately-competed showing.  I was honestly sick to my stomach as I got news of Curtis Painter entering the game for Peyton Manning, and that only got worse as the Colts fumbled away the lead and their chance at a perfect season.  It is clear, based on the reaction of Colts fans at the game and around the country after the fact, that Colts fans felt just as sick as I did.

What Should Be Done in Reaction

Of course, if I don’t propose a solution then all I’m doing is complaining about the problem.  One potential solution I would put forward is that if a team is suspected to have “rested’ starters in a game at the end of the season and the league wants to be serious about making sure that the end of the regular season stays competitive, perhaps the starting players on that team should be docked their game check or a portion of the game check equivalent to the amount of time they actually played in the game.  Players might make a stronger push to play if they were going to lose money for not doing so, and it would avoid the shallow “reward” of offering teams draft picks for playing starters (as suggested in the earlier link about Commissioner Goodell’s thoughts on the situation)–a situation that Saints coach Sean Payton has already shrugged off as inconsequential.  If a fan is paying full-price to attend one of these games and the players aren’t putting in a full day, then the players shouldn’t get paid full-price for that day; it’s like leaving work after lunch and expecting to be paid for the afternoon hours that you spent at home.

I understand the argument behind “resting” starters, and the past two seasons we’ve seen players get hurt in “meaningless” Week 17 games: Wes Welker in the Patriots-Texans 2009 game and Ben Roethlisberger in a rout of the Browns in 2008.  But a player could just as likely be hurt in Week 1 (see Tom Brady, 2008) as in Week 17, and fans are paying similar amounts of money to attend in each instance.  A paying fan should not be punished for buying a late-season game ticket.

Now that my overall findings are clear, continue reading on for a breakdown of the 31 games that met these “rest” criteria from 2003-2009.  I have arranged these games in order from most recent to furthest in the past.  If a game had a significant measurable effect on the playoff race for that season, that information will be presented in bolded red text.

Detailed Breakdown of “Rest” Games

1. New Orleans Saints 10 @ Carolina Panthers 23

  • 2009 Regular Season Week 17
  • Saints Record Before Game: 13-2; Saints had clinched NFC South and ended with #1 seed in NFC
  • Panthers Record Before Game: 7-8; Panthers had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Saints Backup QB Mark Brunell played 29 of 29 passing attempts in game (100%).
  • Saints Playoff Result: Won Super Bowl XLIV

Comment: A minor example here; both the Saints and Panthers were locked into their finishing places.  Bet Panthers fans might have wanted to see the soon-to-be Super Bowl MVP make at least a token appearance, however.

2. Indianapolis Colts 7 @ Buffalo Bills 30

  • 2009 Regular Season Week 17
  • Colts Record Before Game: 14-1; Colts had clinched AFC South and #1 seed in AFC
  • Bills Record Before Game: 5-10; Bills had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Colts Backup QB Curtis Painter played 17 of 25 passing attempts in game (68%).
  • Colts Playoff Result: Lost Super Bowl XLIV

Comment: The lesser of two evils in the Colts “rest” games for 2009; the weather sucked, so it was understandable for Painter to get the majority of passing attempts.  What didn’t make any sense was even starting Manning in the game, after yanking him in the 3rd quarter the week prior.

 3. Green Bay Packers 33 @ Arizona Cardinals 7

  • 2009 Regular Season Week 17
  • Packers Record Before Game: 10-5; Packers had clinched Wild Card Berth
  • Cardinals Record Before Game: 10-5; Cardinals had clinched NFC West
  • Cardinals Backup QB Matt Leinart played 21 of 31 passing attempts in game (67.74%).
  • Cardinals Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: The Packers and Cardinals were destined to meet again by the time this game happened, so you couldn’t really blame the teams for not showing too much in the regular season finale.  It should be noted that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers played the majority of his team’s passing attempts, even in the blowout.

 4. Washington Redskins 20 @ San Diego Chargers 23

  • 2009 Regular Season Week 17
  • Redskins Record Before Game: 4-11; Redskins had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Chargers Record Before Game: 13-2; Chargers had clinched AFC West and #2 seed in AFC
  • Chargers Backup QB Billy Volek played 30 of 45 passing attempts in game (66.67%).
  • Chargers Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: Another head-scratcher; before the game it was revealed that Volek would get the majority of the playing time.  Why even start Philip Rivers then?  Thankfully for Chargers fans, the opponent was a hapless Redskins team.

 5. Cincinnati Bengals 0 @ New York Jets 37

  • 2009 Regular Season Week 17
  • Bengals Record Before Game: 10-5; Bengals had clinched AFC North and #4 seed in AFC
  • Jets Record Before Game: 8-7; Jets clinched AFC Wild Card Berth and #5 seed in AFC with win
  • Bengals Backup QB J.T. O’Sullivan played 8 of 19 passing attempts in game (42.11%).
  • Bengals Playoff Result: Lost Wild Card Game

Comment: The Bengals laid a real egg here, and it didn’t even pan out for them as they lost big again to the Jets in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs just a week later.  Maybe Cincinnati wasn’t so much resting as much as showing that they weren’t on the same level as New York.  Important result here, as the Jets needed the victory or else the Texans would’ve made their first playoff appearance.

 6. New England Patriots 27 @ Houston Texans 34

  • 2009 Regular Season Week 17
  • Patriots Record Before Game: 10-5; Patriots had clinched AFC East
  • Texans Record Before Game: 8-7; Texans were eliminated from playoff contention when Jets beat Bengals in Week 17
  • Patriots Backup QB Brian Hoyer played 12 of 38 passing attempts in game (31.58%).
  • Patriots Playoff Result: Lost Wild Card Game

Comment: The Patriots were coy about how much time starters would play leading into the game, but the early injury to Wes Welker sure threw a wrench into things.  Though Hoyer barely played enough passing attempts for this game to meet the criteria, one could imagine that he would’ve played many more if Welker had stayed healthy and Tom Brady didn’t have to practice with Julian Edelman in this game situation.

 7. New York Jets 29 @ Indianapolis Colts 15

  • 2009 Regular Season Week 16
  • Jets Record Before Game: 7-7; Jets needed to win in Week 16 and Week 17 to be in playoff hunt
  • Colts Record Before Game: 14-0; Colts had clinched AFC South and #1 seed in AFC
  • Colts Backup QB Curtis Painter played 11 of 32 passing attempts in game (34.38%).
  • Colts Playoff Result: Lost Super Bowl XLIV

Comment: The game that sparked this whole discussion: the Colts held a 3rd-quarter lead on the Jets when Peyton Manning was pulled for Curtis Painter.  Despite the chance for 16-0, the Colts essentially forfeited the game by playing their backup QB and letting the Jets into the playoffs.  Especially notable since Jets coach Rex Ryan had only one week prior stated that the Jets were out of the playoff race after a loss to the Falcons that put them on the brink of elimination.

 8. Tennessee Titans 0 @ Indianapolis Colts 23

  • 2008 Regular Season Week 17
  • Titans Record Before Game: 13-2; Titans had clinched AFC South and #1 seed in the AFC
  • Colts Record Before Game: 11-4; Colts had clinched playoff spot and were locked into #5 seed in the AFC
  • Titans Backup QB Vince Young played 13 of 17 passing attempts in game (76.47%).
  • Colts Backup QB Jim Sorgi played 30 of 37 passing attempts in game (81.08%).
  • Titans Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game
  • Colts Playoff Result: Lost Wild Card Game

Comment: The rare “double-resting” game; both teams had clinched playoff spots and were locked in seeding.  Neither team won a playoff game that season.

 9. New York Giants 19 @ Minnesota Vikings 20

  • 2008 Regular Season Week 17
  • Giants Record Before Game: 12-3; Giants had clinched NFC East and #1 seed in the NFC
  • Vikings Record Before Game: 9-6; Vikings clinched NFC North with win
  • Giants Backup QB David Carr played 11 of 30 passing attempts in game (36.67%).
  • Giants Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: Hard to complain so much here because of the close nature of the game, which was won by a Ryan Longwell field goal.  However, if the Giants had played all starters and beaten the Vikings, the Bears-Texans game later in the day would’ve put the NFC North up for grabs with a Chicago win.  Even with the #1 seed, New York lost its first playoff game.

 10. Tennessee Titans 16 @ Indianapolis Colts 10

  • 2007 Regular Season Week 17
  • Titans Record Before Game: 9-6; Titans clinched Wild Card Berth with win
  • Colts Record Before Game: 13-2; Colts had clinched AFC South and #2 seed in the AFC
  • Colts Backup QB Jim Sorgi played 24 of 40 passing attempts in game (60%).
  • Colts Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: Another Titans-Colts game on the list, but this time only the Colts “rested”; the Titans needed the win to beat out Cleveland and clinch a Wild Card Berth (the final #6 seed).  Disappointing decision to rest Manning here, at least from the Lake Erie crowd; Nashville didn’t mind so much.

 11. Detroit Lions 14 @ Green Bay Packers 34

  • 2007 Regular Season Week 17
  • Lions Record Before Game: 7-8; Lions had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Packers Record Before Game: 12-3; Packers had clinched NFC North and #2 seed in the NFC
  • Packers Backup QB Craig Nall played 15 of 26 passing attempts in game (57.69%).
  • Packers Playoff Result: Lost Conference Championship

Comment: The Lions were out of contention (and outclassed even by Green Bay’s backup QB) so this example isn’t too egregious.  At least the Lambeau crowd got 42% of Brett Favre for his last regular season game as a Packer, right?

 12. Seattle Seahawks 41 @ Atlanta Falcons 44

  • 2007 Regular Season Week 17
  • Seahawks Record Before Game: 10-5; Seahawks had clinched NFC West and #3 seed in the NFC
  • Falcons Record Before Game: 3-12; Falcons had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Seahawks Backup QB Seneca Wallace played 22 of 47 passing attempts in game (46.81%).
  • Seahawks Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: Not a huge deal in this “Battle of the Birds” here, especially since it was such a close, high-scoring game.  At least there was entertainment for the crowd despite Seattle’s decision to rest att Hasselbeck.

 13. Dallas Cowboys 6 @ Washington Redskins 27

  • 2007 Regular Season Week 17
  • Cowboys Record Before Game: 12-3; Cowboys had clinched NFC East and #1 seed in the NFC
  • Redskins Record Before Game: 8-7; Redskins had clinched Wild Card Berth with earlier results
  • Cowboys Backup QB Brad Johnson played 11 of 27 passing attempts in game (40.74%).
  • Cowboys Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: Dallas had everything cinched up, so they were content to “rest” starters, even though it was a divisional rivalry game and the Redskins were going into the playoffs thanks to earlier results that day.  If the Redskins had needed to win to make it, however, this would’ve been much more grating of a decision.

 14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 @ San Francisco 49ers 21

  • 2007 Regular Season Week 16
  • Buccaneers Record Before Game: 9-5; Buccaneers had clinched NFC South and #4 seed in the NFC
  • 49ers Record Before Game: 4-10; 49ers had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Buccaneers Backup QB Luke McCown played 32 of 52 passing attempts in game (61.54%).
  • Buccaneers Playoff Result: Lost Wild Card Game

Comment: The Buccaneers were division winners and couldn’t finish better than 4th, while the 49ers were just hoping for win #4 on the season.  Close game, so it’s not as bad as some of these results, but the Bucs decision to rest starters certainly didn’t translate into postseason success.

 15. Atlanta Falcons 17 @ Philadelphia Eagles 24

  • 2006 Regular Season Week 17
  • Falcons Record Before Game: 7-8; Falcons had been eliminated from playoff contention the day prior with a Giants win
  • Eagles Record Before Game: 9-6; Eagles had clinched playoff spot and clinched NFC East minutes into this game with a Cowboys loss
  • Eagles Backup QB A.J. Feeley played 33 of 36 passing attempts in game (91.67%).
  • Eagles Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: With Atlanta eliminated from the playoffs and the Eagles clinching their division minutes into play, it’s not hard to see why the Eagles rested Donovan McNabb.  No serious playoff implications here.

 16. Carolina Panthers 31 @ New Orleans Saints 21

  • 2006 Regular Season Week 17
  • Panthers Record Before Game: 7-8; Panthers had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Saints Record Before Game: 10-5; Saints had clinched NFC South and #2 seed in the NFC
  • Saints Backup QB Jamie Martin played 24 of 29 passing attempts in game (82.76%).
  • Saints Playoff Result: Lost NFC Conference Championship

Comment: In arguably the greatest Saints season (before 2009), New Orleans was content to rest Drew Brees and make the game a celebration of the season instead of the individual event.  With the Saints locked in their playoff position and the Panthers out of contention, nothing overly sinister here.

 17. Arizona Cardinals 13 @ Indianapolis Colts 17

  • 2005 Regular Season Week 17
  • Cardinals Record Before Game: 5-10; Cardinals had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Colts Record Before Game: 13-2; Colts had clinched AFC South and #1 seed in the AFC
  • Colts Backup QB Jim Sorgi played 30 of 33 passing attempts in game (90.91%).
  • Colts Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: The Colts and Cardinals equally had nothing to play for, though clearly for different reasons.  Interesting that Manning would take even 3 passing attempts on the game, however.

 18. Cincinnati Bengals 3 @ Kansas City Chiefs 37

  • 2005 Regular Season Week 17
  • Bengals Record Before Game: 11-4; Bengals had clinched AFC North and #3 seed in the AFC
  • Chiefs Record Before Game: 9-6; Chiefs missed playoffs with Steelers win in Week 17
  • Bengals Backup QB Jon Kitna played 24 of 32 passing attempts in game (75%).
  • Bengals Playoff Result: Lost Wild Card Game

Comment: Intriguing that the other example of the Bengals “resting” starters also ended in a blowout where the opposition put up 37 points.  The Bengals were locked into the #3 seed, but the Chiefs needed to win to keep their slim playoff chances alive.  Had the Steelers lost their Week 17 game, Kansas City would’ve made the playoffs–and had a rematch with Cincinnati.

 19. Miami Dolphins 28 @ New England Patriots 26

  • 2005 Regular Season Week 17
  • Dolphins Record Before Game: 8-7; Dolphins had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Patriots Record Before Game: 10-5; Patriots had clinched AFC East and #4 seed in the AFC
  • Patriots Backup QB Matt Cassel played 20 of 28 passing attempts in game (71.43%).
  • Patriots Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: Not a memorable game for the score–or the amount of time Tom Brady played–but this is the game where Doug Flutie converted the drop-kick field goal attempt for New England.  At least that was entertaining for the home crowd watching the Patriots surrender the game to a division rival.

 20. Seattle Seahawks 17 @ Green Bay Packers 28

  • 2005 Regular Season Week 17
  • Seahawks Record Before Game: 13-2; Seahawks had clinched NFC West and #1 seed in the NFC
  • Packers Record Before Game: 3-12; Packers had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Seahawks Backup QB Seneca Wallace played 17 of 25 passing attempts in game (68%).
  • Seahawks Playoff Result: Lost Super Bowl XL

Comment: The Seahawks had wrapped everything up in the NFC, while the Packers were looking for their 4th win of the season.  Almost paid off for Seattle too, except for the loss in Super Bowl XL.

 21. Chicago Bears 10 @ Minnesota Vikings 34

  • 2005 Regular Season Week 17
  • Bears Record Before Game: 11-4; Bears had clinched NFC North and #2 seed in the NFC
  • Vikings Record Before Game: 8-7; Vikings had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Bears Backup QB Kyle Orton played 14 of 23 passing attempts in game (60.87%).
  • Bears Backup QB Jeff Blake played 8 of 23 passing attempts in game (34.78%).
  • Bears Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: It’s still hard to think back to the Chicago Bears and their Rex Grossman era.  Rex was kept on the sidelines while Kyle Orton floundered and was replaced by Jeff Blake in a bad loss to the Vikings.  No playoff win for the Bears either.

 22. Denver Broncos 23 @ San Diego Chargers 7

  • 2005 Regular Season Week 17
  • Broncos Record Before Game: 12-3; Broncos had clinched AFC West and #2 seed in the AFC
  • Chargers Record Before Game: 9-6; Chargers had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Broncos Backup QB Bradlee Van Pelt played 8 of 22 passing attempts in game (36.36%).
  • Broncos Playoff Result: Lost Conference Championship

Comment: Well, at least now you can answer the trivia question of who backed up Jake Plummer in Denver in 2005: Bradlee Van Pelt.  Fortunately for the Broncos, this was a relative down year for San Diego.

 23. Indianapolis Colts 13 @ Seattle Seahawks 28

  • 2005 Regular Season Week 16
  • Colts Record Before Game: 13-1; Colts had clinched AFC South and #1 seed in the AFC
  • Seahawks Record Before Game: 12-2; Seahawks had clinched NFC West and clinched #1 seed in the NFC with win
  • Colts Backup QB Jim Sorgi played 31 of 43 passing attempts in game (72.09%).
  • Colts Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: Both teams were at the top of their conferences, though Seattle needed to win to clinch home-field advantage.  Annoying, then, that this showdown of #1 teams wasn’t played out more honestly.  The Colts did not get to 13-1 behind Jim Sorgi, but the Seahawks joined them at 13-2 thanks to that substitution.

 24. Indianapolis Colts 14 @ Denver Broncos 33

  • 2004 Regular Season Week 17
  • Colts Record Before Game: 12-3; Colts had clinched AFC South and were locked in #3 seed in AFC
  • Broncos Record Before Game: 9-6; Broncos win in this game allowed them to earn Wild Card Spot, #6 seed in AFC
  • Colts Backup QB Jim Sorgi played 25 of 27 passing attempts in game (92.59%).
  • Colts Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: Perhaps we should be giving credit to the Colts when they get other teams into the playoffs as well as themselves.  The Broncos needed a win in this game to get the last playoff spot and Jim Sorgi complied, taking all but 2 passing attempts for Indianapolis in the blowout loss.

 25. Atlanta Falcons 26 @ Seattle Seahawks 28

  • 2004 Regular Season Week 17
  • Falcons Record Before Game: 11-4; Falcons had clinched NFC South and #2 seed in the NFC
  • Seahawks Record Before Game: 8-7; Seahawks clinched NFC West with win
  • Falcons Backup QB Matt Schaub played 22 of 29 passing attempts in game (75.86%).
  • Falcons Playoff Result: Lost Conference Championship

Comment: Again, an exciting game between these teams, but the Falcons were done their postseason seed movement and yielded to a Seattle team who needed the win to clinch their division.  Interesting glimpse of a younger, backup Matt Schaub here.

 26. Cincinnati Bengals 38 @ Philadelphia Eagles 10

  • 2004 Regular Season Week 17
  • Bengals Record Before Game: 7-8; Bengals had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Eagles Record Before Game: 13-2; Eagles had clinched NFC East and #1 seed in NFC
  • Eagles Backup QB Koy Detmer played 31 of 54 passing attempts in game (57.41%).
  • Eagles Backup QB Jeff Blake played 23 of 54 passing attempts in game (42.59%).
  • Eagles Playoff Result: Lost Super Bowl XXXIX

Comment: Amazing stats here; 54 passing attempts split between 2 Eagles backup QB’s.  The Bengals were out of contention, the Eagles were locked in #1, and Koy Detmer and Jeff Blake combined for 54 passes, 1 passing TD, and 3 INT’s.

 27. Green Bay Packers 31 @ Chicago Bears 14

  • 2004 Regular Season Week 17
  • Packers Record Before Game: 9-6; Packers had clinched NFC North and #3 seed in NFC
  • Bears Record Before Game: 5-10; Bears had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Packers Backup QB Craig Nall played 13 of 26 passing attempts in game (50%).
  • Packers Playoff Result: Lost Wild Card Game

Comment: Brett Favre and Craig Nall going 50/50, and the Packers still blew out a bad Chicago team on the road.  No playoff win for Green Bay that year, however, despite hosting a Wild Card game.

 28. Philadelphia Eagles 7 @ St. Louis Rams 20

  • 2004 Regular Season Week 16
  • Eagles Record Before Game: 13-1; Eagles had clinched NFC East and #1 seed in NFC
  • Rams Record Before Game: 6-8; Rams needed to win to be in playoff contention; finished with Wild Card Berth in #5 seed
  • Eagles Backup QB Jeff Blake played 14 of 23 passing attempts in game (60.87%).
  • Eagles Playoff Result: Lost Super Bowl XXXIX

Comment: Let’s not blame all of the playoff issues on the Colts, however; here the Eagles show that they can do it just as well.  The Eagles had clinched the #1 seed by Week 16, and rested their starters against a 6-8 Rams team that needed to win out to make the playoffs.  Thanks to the 7-point Philadelphia effort, the Rams stayed alive and made the playoffs as a #5 seed.

 29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 @ Tennessee Titans 33

  • 2003 Regular Season Week 17
  • Buccaneers Record Before Game: 7-8; Buccaneers had been eliminated from playoff contention
  • Titans Record Before Game: 11-4; Titans had a chance at AFC South Title but earned AFC Wild Card Berth after Colts won Week 17 Game
  • Titans Backup QB Neil O’Donnell played 27 of 27 passing attempts in game (100%).
  • Titans Playoff Result: Lost Divisional Round Game

Comment: More obscure QB names; Neil O’Donnell took every snap of this game and still sent the Titans to the playoffs with a win against a weak Tampa Bay team with a Super Bowl hangover.  Had the Colts lost their Week 17 game, Tennessee would’ve won the AFC South with this victory.

 30. Denver Broncos 3 @ Green Bay Packers 31

  • 2003 Regular Season Week 17
  • Broncos Record Before Game: 10-5; Broncos had clinched an AFC Wild Card Berth for #6 seed in AFC
  • Packers Record Before Game: 9-6; Packers won NFC North with win and Vikings loss for #4 seed in NFC
  • Broncos Backup QB Danny Kanell played 18 of 27 passing attempts in game (66.67%).
  • Broncos Backup QB Jarious Jackson played 9 of 27 passing attempts in game (33.33%).
  • Broncos Playoff Result: Lost Wild Card Game

Comment: This poor showing by the Broncos “B” team is probably less memorable than the Vikings late-game meltdown against Arizona that allowed Green Bay to make the playoffs; had the Broncos been playing starters and beaten the Packers, the Vikings would’ve won the NFC North and made the playoffs instead, even with the loss to the Cardinals.

I’m certainly interested in hearing what people think about the nature of these “rest” games and the level of competition present in the NFL as the regular season draws to a close.  Does the league have any right to impose upon teams and how they choose to play games that may be meaningless for them?   Do coaches and players have an obligation to put forward their best team for the paying fans and viewers on TV?  Weigh in by commenting below.

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Written by Brian Parker

March 4, 2010 at 5:18 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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