This is the final weekend of the regular season coming up, with a lot on the line for playoffs, records, etc., so I've decided to try to summarize a lot of important info in this column. Pay attention, now here we go...
Let's start with the AFC playoff picture. New England gets home field throughout with a win or with a KC loss. The Chiefs only get the #1 seed with a win over Chicago and a Pats loss to Buffalo. Indianapolis clinches the AFC South with a win at Houston, which would make them the #3 seed. Tennessee clinched a playoff spot last week with an exciting win at those same Texans, and the Titans can still win the South if the Colts lose and they win this weekend. Baltimore clinches the AFC North with a win Sunday night hosting Pittsburgh or a Cincinnati loss. The Bengals win the division only with a win and
a Ravens loss. Denver has clinched a playoff spot but can't win the West. Hence I'm predicting the following AFC playoff seeding: 1) New England, 2) Kansas City, 3) Indianapolis, 4) Baltimore, 5) Tennessee, 6) Denver.
In the NFC, St. Louis clinches home field throughout with a win or a Philly loss. The Eagles win the NFC East with a win or a Dallas loss. They can still get home field if they win and the Rams lose. Dallas needs a win and a Philly loss to win the NFC East, which is highly unlikely, but still being alive at all for the division in the final week is a remarkable achievement for Parcells. Carolina has won the NFC South already but can't get a first-round bye either. Minnesota and Green Bay, both 9-6, are fighting for the NFC North title, which the Vikings win with either a victory at Arizona Sunday or
a Packers loss to Denver. The Seattle Seahawks are 9-6 as well, and they are battling the NFC North runner-up for the last wild-card slot, a race that gets overly complex (the Cowboys' strength of victory actually may come into play, don't ask how). What is simple is that if the Seahawks lose to San Francisco tomorrow, their season is over. When all the dust settles, here's how I expect to see the NFC seeds: 1) St. Louis, 2) Philadelphia, 3) Carolina, 4) Minnesota, 5) Dallas, 6) Green Bay.
. I've omitted all of the possibilities if games end up tied because that just confuses things unnecessarily. How many ties have there been in the NFL this season? Zero. Sticking with just wins and losses makes the thing at least somewhat comprehensible.
Just a quick note that I plan on keeping going through the playoffs. That means next week, if my predictions pan out, I'll be analyzing Packers-Panthers, Cowboys-Vikings, Colts-Broncos and Titans-Ravens. I'm pumped for playoff football, even if we will have to watch those Don Cheadle spots a billion times.
The following picks are, as always, for recreational purposes only.
Denver at Green Bay
This is the featured 4:15 Sunday CBS game that most of the country, including Boston, will get. Since the Broncos will be on the road for a wild-card game regardless of the outcome, they have decided to rest their beat up players, including Clinton Portis. If I were Minnesota or Seattle, this would annoy me. Still, Denver showed last week at Indy that they continue to have a running game that functions beautifully whomever may be toting the ball at a given time (which makes me reconsider LaDainian Tomlinson's Pro Bowl snub). A shout out to Brett Favre too, who put on an amazing passing exhibition Monday night after the death of his father the day before. Too bad ABC had to use the personal strategy to promote the game, even running a news story on World News Tonight Monday about the situation, followed immediately by the program reminder.
Seattle at San Francisco
The Seahawks went a perfect 8-0 at home. Unfortunately they are 1-6 on the road, but the 49ers entered last week with an 0-7 away mark and they broke the 10-game Eagles win streak, so that goes to show anything can happen. If Seattle loses this Saturday 5:00 contest broadcast nationally by Fox, it will make Sunday less dramatic with Green Bay and Minnesota assured of playoff spots. John Clayton
has more good stuff: "Dennis Erickson lost his Seahawks job because he couldn't make the playoffs in his fourth year. Mike Holmgren replaced him and using most of Erickson's players, put together a 9-7 playoff season in 1999. Now, Erickson, head coach of the 49ers, stands in between the Seahawks and the playoffs. The Seahawks' inability to win on the road leaves them a tie-breaker or so shy of making the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year." Also expect discussion of whether Terrell Owens, out now with a broken collarbone from last week, has played his last game for the Niners (he's a free agent-to-be).
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
The Steelers beat the Ravens in week one, and these teams have a healthy dislike for one another, so expect a good one. Depending on the Bengals result earlier in the day, Baltimore may have the division clinched already by the time the 8:30 Sunday night ESPN game begins. I'm hoping Cincinnati wins so that Baltimore plays the regulars a lot because Jamal Lewis, just 48 yards shy of 2,000 rushing on the season, has a legit shot at the sll-time single-season mark set by Eric Dickerson in 1984. He needs 153 on the ground to tie. Lots of the NFL gurus are touting McNair or Manning for MVP, but I think Lewis is the best choice. Just look at the anemic Ravens passing attack and then the fact that the guy has nearly broken the rushing record and the choice becomes simple (another Lewis, lineback Ray, would make a fine MVP choice too on the defensive side of the ball).
Chicago at Kansas City
The Bears are 6-3 in their last nine games, including back-to-back wins behind rookie QB Rex Grossman that may have saved Dick Jauron's job. I'll be interested to have a look at Grossman, who will be on Boston TV in the 1:00 Sunday CBS slot. The game could become a lot less meaningful for the Chiefs if New England wins on Saturday, but even so I think KC needs to right the ship somewhat after last week's blowout loss in Minnesota and before they head into their playoff bye week.
Indianapolis at Houston
This is not
a shoo-in for the Colts. I've now seen both New England and Tennessee be taken to the wire at Reliant Stadium this season by the spry Texans. Well actually, I didn't see the Titans win last week live
due to the asenine NFL TV contract, which forced CBS to cut away at 4:15. Fortunately the CBS people showed the final drive play-by-play on a short delay, all the while bad-mouthing the league rules. This leads me into my other criticism of the league for the week: Houston's David Carr and Steve McKinney have been fined by the NFL for spoofing Joe Horn
in a TD celebration last week. They didn't use an actual cell phone, just pretended to be looking for one under the field goal padding. NFL, they were making a negative statement
about a guy you fined just a week ago
. Perhaps the rules committee should look into a 15-yard penalty for excessive use of personality, which, God forbid, may actually excite fans and add some enjoyment to the game.
Buffalo at New England
Does anyone else find it odd that Bill Belichick this week will try to defeat a team named the "Bills." Fine, I'm just crazy. Around Boston, the buzz lately has been over the potential negative karma of new Sox pitcher Curt Schilling buying Drew Bledsoe's local manse. It's safe to say this rematch is definitive proof that the first game of the season doesn't mean a hell of a lot.
Other Games (and what to look for)
Philadelphia over Washington (ESPN Saturday 8:30, Spurrier death watch), Tennessee over Tampa Bay (Titans playoff position, Sapp's Tampa finale), Miami over NY Jets (Wannstedt death watch), Dallas over New Orleans (Saints hangover from last week, Cowboys playoff position), Atlanta over Jacksonville (Vick, if anything), Cincinnati over Cleveland (Bengals playoff hopes), St. Louis over Detroit (Rams home field, Lions front-office firings), Carolina over NY Giants (Fassel's farewell), Minnesota over Arizona (Vikings playoff hopes), San Diego over Oakland (Raider retirements--Lincoln Kennedy is gone already
Last Week: 10-6
Season Record: 152-88