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NFL Updates: Matt Cassel and Chiefs Playoff Bound

<em>Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs are AFC West Champions.</em>
Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs are AFC West Champions.

With no bowl game for USC these holidays, many of us have turned our attention to Sunday football action, and from my perspective, that's more than just acceptable. Thus far, only one bowl game has featured a matchup of two top-25 teams, and to put in bluntly, the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl doesn't do much to get the blood boiling.

But flipping the channel to FOX and CBS these Sunday afternoons have certainly served as an adequate, appetizing filler for the absence of USC football or a relevant college football postseason. Granted, I'm not exactly a diehard of any particular NFL team, but nonetheless, the stretch run has been interesting to watch, especially from a USC perspective.

This afternoon, former Matt Leinart backup, Matt Cassel, officially punched the Kansas City Chiefs' ticket to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 with a 34-14 home victory over the Tennessee Titans coupled with the Bengals' 34-20 win over the Chargers. In the route, Cassel looked like a sure-fire Pro Bowl quarterback, completing 24-of-34 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. From

Not only did Cassel show no ill effects from the appendectomy, he also played perhaps his finest game of the season. He marched the offense down the field on the first two drives, capping off each with touchdowns to Jamaal Charles. On a third and long play in the second quarter, he found Dwayne Bowe on an in route for a 75-yard catch and run. With the Chiefs cruising, Cassel was pulled for Brodie Croyle at the end of the third quarter.

In case you didn't know, Cassel's offensive coordinator in Kansas City is none other than former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. Whether you intend on giving Weis any credit or not, the results are undeniable: Cassel has improved dramatically in his second season with the Chiefs.

A year ago, with KC going just 4-12 on the year, Cassel posted a completion percentage of just 55% and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 1:1 (16 TDs, 16 INTs). In 2010, he's thrown for 3,001 yards and 27 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions. His passer rating of 98.8 is 5th best in the league.

Credit Weis, Cassel, head coach Todd Haley or the ball boy, but the improvement has been plainly evident. To make matters even sweeter, the Chiefs are AFC West champions and will host a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time in six years. Per Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star:

Arrowhead Stadium will have its first playoff game since January 2004 - back when Larry Johnson was an unproven rookie and Lindsay Lohan was an innocent actress.

The Chiefs will have a chance at their first playoff win since January 1994 - back when Joe Montana was still quarterbacking and Kid ‘N Play still put out House Party movies.

So, yes, you deserve this, because for the last few years. Kansas City sports has been about the Chiefs being directionless and the Royals being hopeless and the Big 12 nearly falling apart.

But Cassel wasn't the only former USC signal caller punching his team's ticket to the postseason Sunday. Despite a 38-34 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets clinched a playoff berth, a wild card spot, after the Jaguars fell to the Redskins at home in overtime 20-17. Sanchez, despite playing with a right-shoulder injury performed admirably on the road in freezing temperatures. Per Greg Bishop of the New York Times:

Still, Sanchez's performance said something to his teammates. They watched as he marched through last week with torn cartilage in his throwing shoulder, as he rehabbed and rested and promised he would play. He looked sharp against Chicago's (11-4) formidable defense, completing 24 of 37 passes for 269 yards, with one touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes and one interception that came on the Jets' final possession.

"You see the pretty boy, the surfer image," receiver Braylon Edwards said. "He's tougher than that. Slowly but surely, he's turning into the guy this organization needs."

In just his second season in the league, Sanchez certainly hasn't put up gaudy numbers ala Cassel, but much like his Trojan counterpart, his team is in the playoffs and depending on week 17 results, both teams could face each other in the opening round of the playoffs.

Perhaps, however, most relevant to the Trojan family is the performance of Pete Carroll in year one with the Seattle Seahawks. After all, he was leaving for greener pastures, right? An opportunity he couldn't pass up. Many of us wish him the best, but with a 6-9 record thus far, the results have been underwhelming for Carroll in the Emerald City.

Next Sunday, however, Carroll and the Seahawks will host the 7-8 St. Louis Rams in a matchup that will determine the winner of the NFC West. The victor will be the division champs and be eligible to host a first-round playoff matchup. You can complain about the seeding rules later. Despite the opportunity to reach the postseason, however, the mood up north is in fact rather somber. Per John Morgan of SB Nation's Field Gulls:

...remember "oh yeah, because Seattle is one of the five worst teams in the NFL," and remember too that next week is for the playoffs, because why not?

This team is bad and crumbling. This team is bad and a long, long way from being good.

Ouch. Just ouch. Win Forever, eh?

Anyways, best of luck to many of the former Trojans playing on Sundays and looking to play deep into January. As always...