Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Sizing up Week 17's playoff implications
From USA Today:
The NFL playoff picture became a lot clearer over the weekend.
All that remains now is to see whether Pittsburgh, Washington, Carolina and Tampa Bay can close the deal.
All four teams can lock up their postseason berths by winning their final regular-season games this week. It's must-win time for Dallas and Kansas City, too, but without a stumble by one of the teams in front of them, they'll simply be playing for the chance to make their record look nicer in the final standings.
Also on the line this week — the NFC South and East Division titles, not to mention the final seedings and playoff matchups.
Let's take a look at how the race in each division stacks up.
The New England Patriots (9-5) are in an interesting spot. With a win over the New York Jets Monday night and a win at home against Miami on Sunday, they have a chance to jump into the No. 3 seed if Cincinnati (11-4) loses at Kansas City.
However, that would mean the Patriots likely would have to face a suddenly hot Pittsburgh team in the first round. If New England remains the fourth seed, the Patriots would get a Jacksonville team that has struggled against lowly San Francisco and Houston the past two weeks.
Last week's loss to Buffalo didn't damage the Cincinnati Bengals' playoff hopes, but it kept them from having any shot at the No. 2 seed and first-round bye. And to think what Chad Johnson would have come up with had he been given two weeks to choreograph a touchdown dance.
Pittsburgh (10-5), meanwhile, would need a major collapse at home against Detroit (5-10) to miss out on claiming the final AFC playoff spot.
It's not the two consecutive losses the Indianapolis Colts (13-2) have to worry about. Following the death of coach Tony Dungy's son, James, can the Colts get back their focus? As the No. 1 seed, they'll have an extra week to work on it.
Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich has started running and could play as early as this weekend against Tennessee. Even if he doesn't, it appears Jacksonville (11-4)
could have its starter back in time for the playoffs.
Mike Shanahan deserves a few Coach of the Year votes for turning Jake Plummer into a quarterback who understands how to take care of the ball. Denver (12-3) will be tough to beat at home in the Divisional round.
While the Chiefs (9-6) shouldn't hold out much hope of making the playoffs even if they beat Cincinnati, they should be highly motivated to finish strong. A number of
reports have said if Kansas City doesn't make it, coach Dick Vermeil will retire.
When Baltimore beat the Minnesota Vikings last week, it clinched a playoff spot for the New York Giants (10-5). However, the Giants need to beat the Oakland Raiders to claim the division title — and the No. 4 seed's guaranteed home game. If it's one thing New York has struggled with this season, it's playing on the road.
Washington (9-6) has won four in a row and will get in with a victory against Philadelphia. The Redskins even could win the division if the Giants lose. However, an Eagles win could knock the Redskins out all together.
Dallas (9-6) will know what it's playing for when it takes the field Sunday night against St. Louis. There are reports Cowboys coach Bill Parcells could be considering retirement as well.
Chicago (11-4) has locked up the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. What should scare the rest of the NFL, though, is that with Rex Grossman at quarterback, the Bears
seem to be developing an offense good enough to match with the league's scariest defense for a long playoff run.
All that stands between Tampa Bay (10-5) and the division title are the New Orleans Saints. A win at Raymond James Stadium not only would represent a remarkable turnaround for a Buccaneers team that was 5-11 last season, it also would give Tampa Bay the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and a likely date with Washington.
However, a loss could put the Buccaneers all the way out of the playoffs if they end up in a three-way tie with Washington and Dallas because of strength of victory. Tampa would win a head-to-head tie with the Redskins because of an earlier win but would lose out in a straight-up tie with Dallas, again because of strength of victory.
Carolina (10-5) has the toughest task of all the potential playoff teams. The Panthers play an Atlanta team that has given them trouble in the past and can't be happy about missing out on the postseason itself. If the Falcons win, Carolina would be out if it's in a two-way tie with Dallas because it lost to the Cowboys last week.
Seattle (13-2) has clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and will go in as the odds-on favorite to reach the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
Maybe then, management will decide to give running back Shawn Alexander a long-term contract.