Taking a few days off from politics, since not much political goes on at the holiday. Besides, the NFL regular season is coming to a close and there’s two big questions yet to be answered. One is will the Patriots match the 1972 Miami Dolphins with a perfect season, and the other is will the Detroit Lions be the first team to lose 10 games after opening the season 6-2? Look for more of these signs if you’re unfortunate enough to be subjected to the Kansas City at Detroit game on your TV.
There are a number of relevant games this weekend though, with one played Thursday night as Pittsburgh beat up on St. Louis. That puts the pressure on Cleveland as you’ll see below – but first we’ll start with tonight’s game.
Dallas (12-2) at Carolina (6-8), 8:15 p.m. (NFL Network)
What’s at stake: A Dallas win puts them one step closer to home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, which certainly beats a trip to frigid Green Bay in mid-January. Carolina needs to win its last two games and have Minnesota swoon to have any playoff hope, but realistically they’re playing for pride at this point.
Key questions: Will Tony Romo’s thumb be an issue as it was last week against Philadelphia? Speaking of quarterbacks, has Carolina had too good of a season to have a high enough draft pick to get a good one who’s not injury-prone?
Also, who’s the genius who allowed the NFL Network to have two Dallas games this season along with quite possibly New England’s capper on a 16-0 season next week? Maybe the better question is why Comcast made it a pay service after it wasn’t last year?
Anyway, continuing in the NFC…
Green Bay (12-2) at Chicago (5-9), Sunday 1 p.m. (FOX)
What’s at stake: The Packers will know if they’re in a must-win situation to have a shot at home field through the NFC playoffs by the time they take the field in Chicago. Should Carolina upset Dallas, Green Bay can win their last two and become the #1 seed. Meanwhile, Chicago is only playing to sweep Green Bay this season since they were bounced out of the playoff picture against Minnesota Monday night.
Key questions: Can the Packers avoid injuries in what should be a bruising, nasty NFC North contest? And can they contain Bears return specialist Devin Hester?
Now for the game we’ll have locally on channel 21…
New York Giants (9-5) at Buffalo (7-7), 1 p.m. (FOX)
What’s at stake: Eli Manning and crew can earn themselves a playoff trip to either Tampa Bay or Seattle with a win at snowy, sloppy Buffalo. After last week’s game in Cleveland that eliminated them from playoff contention, the Bills have probably had enough of snow but play they must in their 2007 season home finale.
Key questions: Will Manning and the Giants continue their trend of playing well on the road? They’re just 3-4 at the Meadowlands but 6-1 in away games, so perhaps they won’t mind being a wild card. For Buffalo, will a December home game become a rarity? There’s been efforts made to schedule one of Buffalo’s home games in Toronto next season and beyond. They would likely be late-season contests since Toronto’s Canadian Football League season generally ends in mid-November.
I was surprised Fox didn’t give us this game…
Philadelphia (6-8) at New Orleans (7-7), 1 p.m. (FOX)
What’s at stake: Because of Minnesota’s Monday night win, the Eagles are out of the playoff picture despite knocking off Dallas on Sunday. But New Orleans still has a legitimate chance at the last wild card since two of their closest foes play each other on Sunday night. So a win for the Saints keeps them in the mix.
Key questions: Can the Eagles avenge a tough playoff loss last year in the Superdome, or will the Saints prevail again? Which Saints team will show up anyway? They’ve been up and down all season and need some momentum to have a shot. What’s sort of funny to me is that the people who came up with the NFL schedule this season probably thought they’d made such a great move having New Orleans finish with their two 2006 playoff foes, Philadelphia and Chicago. Guess which two participants from last year’s NFC playoffs are already eliminated?
Turning to the early AFC games…
Cleveland (9-5) at Cincinnati (5-9), 1 p.m. (CBS)
What’s at stake: A win by Cleveland and they’re in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Cincinnati would love to derail their in-state rivals for at least a week. Cleveland also has an outside chance at the AFC North title if they win at Cincinnati but ironically needs the team that once called Cleveland home to beat Pittsburgh next week.
Key questions: Did anyone think that before the first time these two teams met this year in Week 2 that one team would be 9-5 at the second meeting and the other 5-9? Perhaps, but something tells me if you asked 100 average football fans that day, 98 would’ve said the Bengals would be the 9-5 team. Guess again. So can Cleveland win 10 games for the first time since they returned to the league in 1999? WBOC hasn’t yet put up which game they’ll have this week, but I’m thinking since it’s an AFC North contest this may be the one.
Or we may get this game…
Oakland (4-10) at Jacksonville (10-4), 1 p.m. (CBS)
What’s at stake: The Jaguars lock up a wild card with a win (or a loss by either Cleveland or Tennessee). Possible playoff destinations for Jacksonville are San Diego (who they beat), Pittsburgh (ditto), or maybe Cleveland (who they didn’t play.) Oakland would like to just win, baby.
Key questions: Will Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor vote online 1,000 times for himself to get in the Pro Bowl next season? Apparently 10 times wasn’t enough.
Now to the late games…
Tampa Bay (9-5) at San Francisco (4-10), 4:05 p.m. (FOX)
What’s at stake: Tampa Bay is playing for playoff position since they’ve already won the NFC South. San Francisco is playing to enjoy sunny California before they go to Cleveland next weekend.
Key questions: Will Tampa Bay really be interested in winning? After all, would you really want to be the NFC’s #3 seed and likely go to frigid Green Bay in a second-round game or be the #4 seed and probably play at Dallas? Yeah, there’s the matter of who you play in the first round but the tradeoff looms. Because Seattle beat the Bucs in Week 1 they have the tiebreaker to determine seeding; thus a loss for Tampa and a Seattle win sets their positions.
Miami (1-13) at New England (14-0), 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
What’s at stake: New England’s quest for perfection. They’ve already set themselves up for home field throughout the AFC playoffs.
Key questions: Will this set a NFL record for betting point spread? The opening line was 23 points. One more and they tie the record of 24 points first set in a 1993 game between San Francisco and Cincinnati. The Patriots had a record opening line last week, 27 over the Jets but that soon fell to 24 points and tied the 1993 mark.
But you’ll get to watch this game instead…
Baltimore (4-10) at Seattle (9-5), 4:15 p.m. (CBS locally)
What’s at stake: Similarly to Tampa Bay, the Seahawks are playing to get as weak of a first-round opponent as possible and breaking out the long johns for the trip to Green Bay. As for Baltimore, perhaps what’s at stake is Brian Billick’s job.
Key questions: How long do the Ravens stay with Kyle Boller at quarterback? Certainly Troy Smith didn’t lose the game at Miami last week. Otherwise, will the Ravens win again this year? At least they get a fourth-place schedule next season.
This one might be a better game too…
New York Jets (3-11) at Tennessee (8-6), 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
What’s at stake: Tennessee needs to win or they’re eliminated from playoff contention. Of course, if Cleveland and Jacksonville are victorious beforehand this game becomes meaningless.
Key questions: The obvious – will this game still have playoff implications when it begins? They should know the Jacksonville and Cleveland results by then.
Now the Sunday night game…
Washington (7-7) at Minnesota (8-6), 8:15 p.m. (NBC locally)
What’s at stake: Washington needs to win to have any chance at a playoff berth. Minnesota could seal a spot if they win and Philadelphia defeated New Orleans earlier.
Key questions: Can the Redskins’ Todd Collins play well without a howling wind? Will the Washington D be able to contain Adrian Peterson? NBC picked well for it’s Sunday night game this week, but what will the Redskins do when they play a day game again? This will be three prime time games (Chicago, New York, Minnesota) in a row.
Monday night’s game…
Denver (6-8) at San Diego (9-5)
What’s at stake: San Diego can stay in the #3 seed position with a win. With a victory, they hold the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh based on conference record (8-3 vs. 7-4). Denver’s out of the running but they’d like a little payback for the 41-3 tattooing they received at home against the Chargers back in Week 5.
Key questions: Have the Chargers finally hit their stride? Remember, they were only 5-5 coming into the Baltimore game in Week 12. Since then they’ve won 4 straight but only against mediocre opposition.
Next week I’ll do this again, likely with fewer important games. It’s possible all 12 playoff teams may be set and it’s also possible 8 of 12 teams will be positioned so only a few games will have meaning. We’ll see.