NFL playoff picture set

With San Francisco’s game-winning field goal moments ago, it solidified the NFL playoff setup.

Saturday will have two games, both on NBC (cable channel 11 locally).

At 4:30 #6 seed Kansas City (9-7), a winner over Jacksonville today, takes on AFC foe and #3 seed Indianapolis (12-4) and tangles with Peyton Manning and company after the Colts knocked off Miami to finish an 8-0 home season. The two teams did not meet this season, their last go-round was a 45-35 victory for the Chiefs in 2004. They also met in the 2003 playoffs when Indianapolis upset the favored Chiefs 38-31 – both these games were in Kansas City. A Kansas City win would send them out to San Diego to face the Chargers, but if Indianapolis takes the contest they’ll travel to their onetime home in Baltimore.

After that’s over, the 8:00 game begins the NFC playoffs as #5 seed Dallas (9-7) goes up to the Pacific Northwest to face the fourth seed Seattle (9-7). The Cowboys limp into the playoffs after losing two straight at home to eventual NFC East champion Philadelphia last week and the 2-13 Detroit Lions today. (Now why couldn’t the Lions play this well the WHOLE SEASON? Of course, now they don’t get the #1 draft pick. Oh well.) Seattle got into the postseason on a winning note by dusting off Tampa Bay down in Florida. Last season in Week 7 these two teams met in Seattle with the Seahawks winning 13-10. The winner will either face Chicago or New Orleans depending on Sunday’s result.

On Sunday the playoffs shift to the conference’s “home” networks with the early (1:00) game locally on WBOC 16. This game features a divisional rematch between AFC East foes as the #5 seeded New York Jets (10-6) make the short trip up I-95 to square off with #4 seed New England (11-5). These teams met twice this year and both won on enemy turf – last meeting was week 10 at Foxboro and the Jets prevailed 17-14. Most interesting about this game is the fact Jets coach Eric Mangini was a longtime assistant to Patriots coach Bill Belichick until New York hired him away for this season, Mangini’s first stint as an NFL head coach.

Lastly at 4:30, Fox 21 will have another game between East Coast rivals as ancient NFC East foes collide. The #6 seeded New York Giants (8-8) renew hostilities with the third seeded Philadelphia Eagles (10-6). Once again, these rivals spilt the two regular season games and both won on opponent’s home fields – most recently just two weeks ago as the Eagles throttled Eli Manning’s team 36-22. After being left for dead at 5-6 this season, Philadelphia’s won five straight including a three game run where they won consecutively against all three NFC East rivals (Washington, New York, and Dallas) on their turf. Mostly backups played as Philadelphia won over Atlanta today, while the retiring Tiki Barber extended his career by carrying the Giants to a win at Washington last night. If the Giants do win in Philadelphia, they face the Chicago Bears next week, but a Philadelphia win sends them down to the Superdome to play New Orleans.

The other thing that was set up today was next season’s opponent schedule as the final two opponents for each team were made official based on this season’s standings.

Locally, Baltimore will get home games against their three AFC North rivals (Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh); two teams from the AFC East (New England and New York Jets), two teams from the NFC West (Arizona and St. Louis), and the first-place AFC South team (Indianapolis). They’ll travel to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, and San Diego (AFC West first place team.)

Meanwhile, the Redskins will host their three NFC East rivals (Dallas, New York, Philadelphia); two teams from the NFC North (Chicago and Detroit), two teams from the AFC East (Buffalo and Miami), and the fourth place team from the NFC West (Arizona). Their road games will be at Dallas, New York (for both the Giants and the Jets), Philadelphia, Green Bay, Minnesota, New England, and Tampa Bay (4th place in the NFC South.)

Being a Lions fan, one trivia note is that they’ll get to try again next season to win at Washington, which they never have. The other oddity is that this has to be the longest streak of playing an opponent outside your division – for the seventh season in a row they’ll play Arizona because both teams finished 4th in their division. There’s only been two times (including this season) where the entire divisions played (i.e. the entire NFC North played the entire NFC West), the other five were based on both teams finishing in the same divisional slot (usually last.)

All right, now I can get back to politics and other stuff since I don’t have a horse in the NFL playoff race. In these cases I generally root for teams who have never been to the Super Bowl – that will apply only to New Orleans in this case. I suppose Indianapolis would be the other team since that city hasn’t been there (although the Colts franchise has.) However, Kansas City has waited 36 years for a repeat appearance and the Jets 37 so they’ve been starved for a long while as well.

NFL playoff update: week 17

Well, the Giants won tonight so I can hit the old delete feature on a couple games which are now only for pride.

The dominoes will start to fall tonight as the NFL season comes to an exciting close. With 20 teams either secured a playoff spot or still alive for the postseason, it’s amazing that currently 14 of the 16 games have a bearing on the playoff picture – the only exceptions being Cleveland at Houston (both teams are eliminated) and Seattle at Tampa Bay (Seattle is set as #4 seed in the NFC because they have a worse conference record than Philadelphia even if both finish 9-7 – 7-5 vs. 8-4 for the Eagles. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay was eliminated weeks ago.)

Tomorrow night’s matchup begins the weekend and has the potential to make many of the other games meaningless if the result is correct. Because it’s on the (cable-only) NFL Network, I’m not sure if there will also be a free TV outlet in the area. We live within the “home area” for the Redskins and the game’s a sellout. So this time I’m going in game order rather than seeding order.

New York Giants (7-8) at Washington (5-10), 8 p.m. Saturday (NFL Network).

Eli Manning brings the Giants into Washington needing to win to grab the final remaining NFC playoff spot and give the NFC East a sweep of the wildcards. They’ll be hoping to repeat their success of Week 5 where New York throttled the Redskins 19-3 in the Meadowlands. That game started a 5 game winning streak where the Giants looked like world-beaters and put them 6-2 at the midway mark.

But the Redskins will have many more fans than the ones packed into FedEx Field. The playoff fates of Green Bay, St. Louis, Carolina, and Atlanta also hang in the balance. A Giant win officially knocks out the final three teams in that group and leaves the Packers needing to win and getting help from 8 different teams to advance.

Now we’ll move on to the Sunday games.

Carolina (7-8) at New Orleans (10-5), 1 p.m.

Carolina is third in the NFC wildcard pecking order behind the Giants and Green Bay based on their current 5-6 conference record, division record vs. Atlanta, and victory over St. Louis. So they need the Giants and Packers to both lose while they win. Meanwhile, New Orleans wraps up a dream regular season where they’ve already assured themselves a week off and a home game against either Dallas, Philadelphia, or Seattle in the second round. Carolina seeks a repeat of their Week 5 win over the Saints (21-18 at Carolina.)

Detroit (2-13) at Dallas (9-6), 1 p.m. (locally on Fox 21)

If only because of the vagaries of the NFL’s schedulemaker, Detroit finds itself in the playoff mix. Not only would a Detroit win assure Philadephia the NFC East title, it’s also one of the eight games Green Bay needs to fall its way if the Giants win. So Dallas will just seek a repeat of its 20-7 victory last season over the Lions in Dallas. And I can watch to see if a Detroit fan can sneak a “Fire Millen” sign into Texas Stadium.

Jacksonville (8-7) at Kansas City (8-7), 1 p.m.

The loser in this one is definitely out, and there’s actually a pretty good chance the winner will be too when all is said and done. Both of these teams are well down the tiebreaker scenarios. Each team needs Cincinnati and Tennessee to lose, while Jacksonville needs a Jets loss and Kansas City has to see Denver go down. But play they must and will. The last time they did so was 2004, where Jacksonville won at home 22-16.

New England (10-5) at Tennessee (8-7), 1 p.m.

While the Patriots aren’t locked into the #4 seed in the AFC, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll end up there. Only if they win and Indianapolis loses would they slide up to #3 and in either case they host a playoff game next week. But Tennessee has a chance to make history should they get some help from losses by Cincinnati and Denver plus a Kansas City win…no team’s ever started 0-5 and made the playoffs. I’m sure at that point New England was thinking about the nice cake game it had at the end of the schedule, but no more. This may be a shootout like the teams’ last meeting, a 38-30 win for the Patriots back in 2003.

Oakland (2-13) at New York Jets (9-6), 1 p.m.

Like the Lions, Raider Nation has a role in the playoff hunt despite its woeful record. The question is whether they have any shot at playing spoiler against the Jets, who simply need to win to assure themselves a spot in the playoffs. If the Raiders win, it provides additional hope for teams underneath the Jets in the order. Last season these two played with the Jets winning 26-10 at home.

Pittsburgh (7-8) at Cincinnati (8-7), 1 p.m.

Pittsburgh was knocked out of the postseason sweepstakes by their loss to the Ravens last week, but can extend the same discourtesy to the Bengals with a win while avenging a 28-20 loss to Cincinnati back in Week 3. Even with a win, the Bengals will need help from either Oakland beating the Jets or a combo pack of a Denver loss and Kansas City win to make the playoffs for a second straight season.

St. Louis (7-8) at Minnesota (6-9), 1 p.m.

This game might be the next meaningless one. St. Louis is pretty much the bottom of the barrel as far as playoff hopes go, and a Giants win Saturday night snuffs out the Rams’ faint hopes. Even if they survive that, they still need losses from the Panthers and Falcons to make it (they defeated Green Bay earlier so they hold the tiebreaker over the Packers.) Last December they lost to the Vikings in the same building 27-13 so a repeat performance kills their hopes.

Meanwhile, we have an interesting anamoly in the broadcasting world. For the first time I can recall, both CBS and FOX were allowed to have doubleheader broadcasts. I couldn’t find out whether the CBS early game telecast locally would be Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (which would be my guess) but I know FOX has the Detroit-Dallas matchup starting at 1:00. Our late games are noted below with the 4:15 starts.

Arizona (5-10) at San Diego (13-2), 4:15 p.m.

Yeah, it’s pretty much a mismatch. But San Diego needs to win this to assure that they need not leave sunny California for a playoff game until they win the AFC title. This is one of those games that you’re happy that the teams only face off once every 4 years. By the way, the Chargers won in Arizona that 2002 day, 23-15.

Atlanta (7-8) at Philadelphia (9-6), 4:15 p.m. (locally on Fox 21)

While Atlanta may be out of the playoff running well before this game starts (since they need both the Giants and Carolina to lose earlier contests), the Eagles will likely know by then whether they need to win to assure themselves a NFC East crown and #3 seed. There is a scenario where these two teams could meet again next week in the same place but it also involves Dallas losing to the lowly Lions and that’s not likely. In 2005 these two opened the season against each other with Atlanta winning in the Georgia Dome 14-10. While the game’s outdoors this time, weather shouldn’t be a factor.

Buffalo (7-8) at Baltimore (12-3), 4:15 p.m. (locally on WBOC 16)

Buffalo’s loss to Tennessee last week ended their playoff hopes and Baltimore’s already locked in. The only question is how much scoreboard watching Brian Billick’s crew will do since they need San Diego to lose to Arizona to have a shot at homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Meanwhile, if things go badly for the Ravens they’ll be watching for Miami to win at Indianapolis and keep the Ravens’ possible first-round bye intact. Two seasons ago these teams met in Baltimore with the Ravens winning 20-6.

Miami (6-9) at Indianapolis (11-4), 4:15 p.m.

This game has a big stake in the AFC playoff picture. At 9-0, it looked like there was no doubt Indianapolis was looking at “home dome” advantage through the AFC playoffs. But 4 straight road losses dropped the Colts from world-beaters to just hoping for a first-round bye. Part of that is beating their onetime division rivals while the other part is hoping another former division foe (Buffalo) takes care of business in the franchise’s onetime home city. The Colts and Dolphins haven’t squared off since 2003, when the Colts won at Miami 23-17.

San Francisco (6-9) at Denver (9-6), 4:15 p.m.

Oh, this oughta be interesting. Denver’s slammed with their second straight weekend of snow and a warm-weather team comes to town. You just hope we don’t see the Super Bowl XXIV result in reverse with a huge Denver win, nor do fans of Cincinnati, Kansas City, Jacksonville, or Tennessee. Way back in the second week of 2002, these teams met under much less adverse conditions by the Bay with Denver winning 24-14. A Denver win and it’s off to a likely date with the Patriots (or possibly a Denver at Indianapolis playoff rematch for the third straight season) next weekend.

Green Bay (7-8) at Chicago (13-2), 8:15 p.m. (locally on NBC)

The draw to this is that it’s quite possibly Brett Favre’s final NFL game. But wait…there’s still a viable scenario that #4 may play another day. (Besides the fact he’s officially announced nothing about his future.) We will already know by this time whether it’s possible for Green Bay to make it with a win, but here’s the scenarios:

If the Giants win, Green Bay also has to win along with Arizona, Detroit, Miami, Minnesota, San Francisco, New Orleans, Cleveland, and Seattle. (So I guess technically all 16 games have playoff implications, don’t they?)

If the Giants lose, then Green Bay needs to win and have a St. Louis loss or a win by either Carolina or Atlanta to make it.

Theoretically the two teams (Giants and Packers) could get all the way to the “strength of schedule” tiebreaker where the Giants currently hold the edge (but playing 13-2 Chicago helps the Packers.) Crazier things have happened, but the first order of business is for Green Bay to avenge its season-opening 26-0 loss to “da Bears.”

I know where I’ll be this weekend as I’m checking off results and figuring out who’s playing where next week.

NFL playoff update: week 16

Back at it. I’m amazed that we only lost ONE team last week in the playoff sweepstakes as the NFL continues on its apparent goal of 32 mediocre 8-8 teams. Well, ok, maybe 26 mediocre 8-8 teams, 5 others that are 9-7, and the Detroit Lions finishing their usual 3-13 while Matt Millen gets another contract extension. Anyway…

There was one team that set its playoff destiny last week and thus made it two “meaningless” games this weekend. Chicago is assured of the #1 seed in the NFC and Soldier Field will host their playoff games until either the Bears are eliminated or they advance to Super Bowl XLI. Thus, their contest with the aforementioned Lions in Detroit has no bearing on the playoff race as Chicago’s in and Detroit’s out. It’ll be a nice warm venue for the Bears fans to cheer in.

The other meaningless game is Tampa Bay at Cleveland, both the Bucs and Browns long since knocked out of contention.

In like flint:

Chicago (see above).

Jockeying for position:

San Diego (12-2 overall, 5-1 division, 10-2 conference).

Opponent: at Seattle (8-6), 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: Seattle took a 31-28 decision against their onetime AFC West foe in the 2002 season finale.

What’s at stake: A win by San Diego plus a loss by Baltimore gives the Chargers homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They still get the first round bye with the win or an Indianapolis loss, but the loss to Baltimore in Week 4 could give the Ravens the home turf if the Chargers stumble in their one of their final two games.

Indianapolis (11-3 overall, 3-2 division, 8-2 conference)

Opponent: at Houston (4-10), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: Indianapolis rolled over the Texans 43-24 in Week 2 back home in Indiana.

What’s at stake: The Colts have to win to stay ahead of the Ravens in the battle for the first round bye. Despite having the same overall and conference record as Baltimore, Indianapolis owns the tiebreaker based on a better record against their common opponents (3-1 against Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Denver vs. Baltimore’s 2-2 against the same teams. Indianapolis also defeated future Ravens opponent Buffalo this season.) A loss puts the Colts in a position to have to play a first-round game then travel outside the RCA Dome for a second-round matchup…the Colts are just 4-3 on the road this season.

Baltimore (11-3 overall, 3-2 division, 8-2 conference)

Opponent: at Pittsburgh (7-7), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: Ben Roethlisberger was on his back for much of this game as the Ravens bruised and cruised 27-0 just 4 weeks ago at home.

What’s at stake: Besides the joy of all but dooming the Pittsburgh playoff hopes with a win, the Ravens can keep pace with the two teams above them as they go for a first-round bye or even home field throughout the AFC playoffs. The win over San Diego could loom large.

New Orleans (9-5 overall, 4-1 division, 8-2 conference)

Opponent: at New York Giants (7-7), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: The nomadic 2005 Saints played their first “home” game against the Giants in New Jersey and lost 27-10.

What’s at stake: While the Saints are out of the running for the #1 seed in the NFC, they can secure a first round pass by winning this game and watching Dallas lose to Philadelphia on Christmas Day.

Dallas (9-5 overall, 2-3 division, 6-4 conference)

Opponent: vs. Philadelphia (8-6), 5 p.m. Monday.

Last meeting: Week 5 saw Dallas lose at Philadelphia 38-24.

What’s at stake: Dallas is already assured at least a wild-card berth, but can win the NFC East outright with a win in front of the home folks. A loss would give Philadelphia the leg up in the division race and could set up a Dallas-Philadelphia rematch in the playoffs if the Eagles win next week.

Win and they’re in:

New England (10-4 overall, 4-2 division, 6-4 conference)

Opponent: at Jacksonville (8-6), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: New England won last year’s playoff opener 28-3 at home.

What’s at stake: A win by the Patriots wraps up the AFC East, they’d be two games up on the Jets with one to play. It also maintains their slim chances at a first-round bye but for that they need some major help.

Seattle (8-6 overall, 3-3 division, 6-5 conference)

Opponent: vs. San Diego (12-2), 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See San Diego above.

What’s at stake: If the Seahawks can beat the Chargers (or San Francisco loses) they win the NFC West (two games up with one to play). It’s not likely they would get a first-round playoff bye but their chances would improve with a Philadelphia win over Dallas.

Philadelphia (8-6 overall, 4-1 division, 7-3 conference)

Opponent: at Dallas (9-5), 5 p.m. Monday.

Last meeting: See Dallas above.

What’s at stake: It’s sort of hard to believe given the McNabb injury, but if Philadelphia beats Dallas they clinch a playoff berth (based on a better possible conference record than Atlanta and better possible division record than the Giants) and move into the driver’s seat for an NFC East title. A loss would place them into the “must-win” category next week for a shot at the playoffs.

A little help from their friends:

Denver (8-6 overall, 3-3 division, 7-4 conference)

Opponent: vs. Cincinnati (8-6), 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: In 2004, Denver lost to the Bengals 23-10 at Cincinnati.

What’s at stake: This is what I like to call a “sub-playoff” game, as these are the two teams sitting with the #5 and #6 seeds in the AFC. If Denver wins and gets help from Oakland beating Kansas City or either the New York Jets or Jacksonville losing, they get a spot in the postseason.

Cincinnati (8-6 overall, 4-1 division, 6-4 conference)

Opponent: at Denver (8-6), 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See Denver above.

What’s at stake: On the flip side, if Cincinnati takes this road contest they need the hand from Tennessee beating Buffalo with either the Jets or Jaguars going down.

New York Giants (7-7 overall, 3-2 division, 6-4 conference)

Opponent: vs. New Orleans (9-5), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See New Orleans above.

What’s at stake: The Giants need to win to stay in the hunt, and it’s at least theoretical a win gets them into the postseason – with either of these two scenarios also occurring:

Minnesota and Atlanta lose while Philadelphia and Seattle win, or Minnesota, Atlanta, and San Francisco lose while Philadelphia wins. Either way, they need to beat New Orleans or they’re pretty much out of it.

Fading fast:

One team could survive with a loss but it would severely diminish their playoff hopes.

Jacksonville (8-6 overall, 2-4 division, 5-5 conference)

Opponent: vs. New England (10-4), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See New England above. A repeat of that debacle could be critical to the Jaguars postseason plans, but they can’t be knocked out because of the Denver-Cincinnati matchup.

On life support:

A loss does these teams in for all intents and purposes.

New York Jets (8-6 overall, 3-2 division, 5-5 conference)

Opponent: at Miami (4-10), 8:30 p.m. Monday.

Last meeting: In Week 6 Miami lost to the Jets 20-17 at the Meadowlands. If the Jets lose this time, they’re out if Jacksonville wins since they were blown out early on by the Jags.

Buffalo (7-7 overall, 3-3 division, 5-5 conference)

Opponent: vs. Tennessee (7-7), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: In 2003 Buffalo lost at Tennessee 28-26. Like last week’s game against the Dolphins, loser walks.

Pittsburgh (7-7 overall, 2-2 division, 4-6 conference)

Opponent: vs. Baltimore (11-3), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See Baltimore above. Could this be Bill Cowher’s last home game as the Steelers coach? That question adds a little more intrigue to an already heated matchup.

Tennessee (7-7 overall, 4-2 division, 4-6 conference)

Opponent: vs. Buffalo (7-7), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See Buffalo above. A good “sub-playoff” matchup but I don’t think it’ll stand up to the “Music City Miracle” of a few years back.

Kansas City (7-7 overall, 3-2 division, 3-7 conference)

Opponent: at Oakland (2-12), 8 p.m. Saturday.

Last meeting: In Week 11 the Chiefs prevailed 17-13 at home. Luckily they drew a weak opponent for a must-win game.

Atlanta (7-7 overall, 3-2 division, 5-5 conference)

Opponent: vs. Carolina (7-7), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: Atlanta won the season opener 20-6 at Carolina. What puts them on the bubble with a 7-7 record is their losses to two NFC East teams (New York and Dallas) still in contention and a worse conference record than Philadelphia (5-5 vs. 7-3).

Green Bay (6-8 overall, 3-1 division, 5-5 conference)

Opponent: vs. Minnesota (6-8), 8 p.m. Thursday.

Last meeting: In Week 10 the Packers beat the Vikings 23-17 under the Metrodome. This could be the last opportunity for Brett Favre to play at Lambeau and in front of a national audience, which is likely why the NFL Network picked this game.

San Francisco (6-8 overall, 3-2 division, 5-6 conference)

Opponent: vs. Arizona (4-10), 4:05 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: The Niners lost the opener in Arizona 34-27. They may actually have a better shot at the division than a wildcard, but they need to beat the Cardinals either way.

Carolina (6-8 overall, 3-1 division, 4-6 conference)

Opponent: at Atlanta (7-7), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See Atlanta above. This could put disappointed Carolina fans out of their misery.

Minnesota (6-8 overall, 2-3 division, 6-4 conference)

Opponent: at Green Bay (6-8), 8:00 p.m. Thursday.

Last meeting: See Green Bay above. I’m sure the Viking fans would love to spoil the Lambeau party since the loser’s done in the playoff race.

St. Louis (6-8 overall, 2-4 division, 4-6 conference)

Opponent: vs. Washington (5-9), 1 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: The Rams lost in the same locale last season to the Redskins, 24-9. They are the absolute bottom of the playoff heap and very well could get axed even if they win. But that’s what happens when you lose 4 home games.

Now, next week’s promises to be shorter because we will lose a bunch of teams.

Saturday football returns

Much as I did during the tail end of the baseball season, I enjoy the run up to the NFL playoffs. To me, the week that the Saturday games return is the beginning of the final push although this season is different than seasons past where there were 2 or 3 Saturday games. Now they’re spread out farther during the weekend and start Thursday night.

What I’ll do is cover the playoff contenders and the possible outcomes after this weekend’s games.

Jockeying for position:

San Diego (11-2 overall, 4-1 division, 9-2 conference).

Opponent: home to Kansas City (7-6), 8:15 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: Kansas City won 30-27 at Arrowhead in week 7 this season.

What’s at stake: A win by San Diego plus a loss by Indianapolis assures the team who’s already clinched the AFC West a first-round bye and a home game in round 2. A loss to the Chiefs would allow either Indianapolis or Baltimore to leapfrog the Chargers into the #1 seed in the AFC. Because this is San Diego’s final AFC game (their last two games are against NFC foes Seattle and Arizona) a loss would set their conference record at 9-3. Indianapolis can win out and win the tiebreaker over San Diego (10-2 conference record vs. SD’s 9-3) while Baltimore automatically wins a tiebreaker over the Chargers because of their win over San Diego in Week 4.

Chicago (11-2 overall, 4-0 division, 9-0 conference).

Opponent: home to Tampa Bay (3-10), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: Last season “da Bears” won in Florida by a 13-10 count. This is the first time since Tampa Bay was split out of the old NFC Central (after the 2001 season) that the Buccaneers play in Chicago.

What’s at stake: It’s pretty simple. If the Bears can handle lowly Tampa Bay and New Orleans loses to Washington, the Bears will have home field throughout the NFC playoffs. The Bears already have the first round bye and second round home game in hand.

Win and they’re in:

Indianapolis (10-3 overall, 3-2 division, 7-2 conference).

Opponent: home to Cincinnati (8-5), 8:30 p.m. Monday.

Last meeting: In 2005, Indianapolis won a 45-37 shootout with the Bengals in Cincinnati.

What’s at stake: Indianapolis has stumbled after their 9-0 start but can still secure a playoff berth by beating the Bengals. Their 11th win would be enough as only 6 teams in the AFC have fewer than 6 losses. It’s possible that by the time this game is played Monday night the Colts would be in the playoffs anyway if one of the following two scenarios happen:

Jacksonville loses to Tennessee. It would assure the Colts no worse than a tie for the top of the AFC South with Jacksonville (both with 10-6 records.) Indianapolis split the two games with Jacksonville but the Colts would have a 3-3 division record vs. the Jaguars’ 2-4 division mark.

Denver loses at Arizona. It eliminates the possibility of Indianapolis losing a 3-way tie with Denver and some other team which would have a better conference record than Indianapolis.

Baltimore (10-3 overall, 3-1 division, 7-2 conference).

Opponent: home to Cleveland (4-9), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: In week 3, the Ravens barely beat Cleveland in front of the Dawg Pound 15-14.

What’s at stake: A win puts the Ravens in the playoffs with at least a wild card. If Cincinnati falls at Indianapolis then Baltimore wins the AFC North outright. A loss to the Browns would not only help make my day, it would put the Ravens in a slightly more precarious position to possibly miss the playoffs if other teams behind them win.

New Orleans (9-4 overall, 4-1 division, 8-1 conference).

Opponent: home to Washington (4-9), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: The Saints marched into Washington and won 24-20 back in 2003.

What’s at stake: Probably the feel-good story of the NFL season, New Orleans can secure an NFC South title by beating the Redskins. This is because they swept second-place Atlanta in the season series and could do no worse than tying with 10-6 records. It’s also possible the Saints can get a first-round bye with losses from the other division leaders (Dallas and Seattle) and the New York Giants…but first things first.

Seattle (8-5 overall, 3-2 division, 6-4 conference).

Opponent: home to San Francisco (5-8), 8:00 p.m. Thursday.

Last meeting: In week 11, Seattle was surprised in San Francisco 20-14. That was the 49’ers last victory.

What’s at stake: It’s because of that loss in San Francisco that the NFC West is even in question. Had the Seahawks won that game they would’ve been in the playoffs already when Green Bay won last Sunday. But a win for the Seahawks at home puts them in and snaps a string of five straight Super Bowl losers not making the playoffs the next season.

A little help from their friends:

New England (9-4 overall, 4-2 division, 5-4 conference).

Opponent: home to Houston (4-9), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: New England and Houston have met just once, a 23-20 OT win for New England at Houston in 2003. This is Houston’s first trip to New England since rejoining the NFL.

What’s at stake: A Patriot victory coupled with a New York Jets loss in Minnesota gives the Patriots another AFC East crown, their fourth straight (yawn.) However, they are currently the lowest seed among the four division leaders so it’s likely they’ll get just one home playoff game.

Dallas (8-5 overall, 2-3 division, 5-4 conference).

Opponent: at Atlanta (7-6), 8:00 p.m. Saturday.

Last meeting: The Falcons spanked the Cowboys in Texas Stadium, 27-13, during the 2003 season.

What’s at stake: This is actually the lone Saturday game on the schedule. Dallas needs a win plus losses by Minnesota against the New York Jets and either New Orleans or Carolina in their games on Sunday to assure themselves a postseason spot this week.

Muddling along:

There are several teams in the playoff hunt who cannot clinch a position nor can they be eliminated this week. These teams are:

Cincinnati (8-5 overall, 4-1 division, 6-3 conference).

Opponent: at Indianapolis (10-3), 8:30 p.m. Monday.

Last meeting: See Indianapolis above.

Jacksonville (8-5 overall, 2-3 division, 5-4 conference).

Opponent: at Tennessee (6-7), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: In week 9, Jacksonville routed Tennessee at home 37-7.

New York Giants (7-6 overall, 3-1 division, 6-3 conference).

Opponent: home to Philadelphia (7-6), 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: Back in Week 2, the Giants took a stunner at Philly in OT 30-24.

Philadelphia (7-6 overall, 3-1 division, 6-3 conference).

Opponent: at New York Giants (7-6), 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See New York Giants above.

Atlanta (7-6 overall, 3-2 division, 5-4 conference).

Opponent: home to Dallas (8-5), 8:00 p.m. Saturday.

Last meeting: See Dallas above.

Fading fast:

These teams are one game back of the lowest playoff teams in each conference. A loss may not eliminate them but they would be on the brink. In the AFC, wins by Cincinnati and Jacksonville would all but doom the teams below them on the ladder, while the NFC also-rans would be hurt badly by an Atlanta win. Since the Giants and Philadelphia play each other, someone will (almost certainly) get an 8th win.

New York Jets (7-6 overall, 3-2 division, 5-5 conference).

Opponent: at Minnesota (6-7), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: Back in 2002, the Jets won at home 20-7. Teams in opposite conferences only meet every four seasons during the regular season under the NFL’s scheduling formula.

What’s at stake: This is a game between two teams in the “fading fast” category so it’s sort of a sub-playoff matchup.

Kansas City (7-6 overall, 3-1 division, 3-6 conference).

Opponent: at San Diego (11-2), 8:15 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See San Diego (way) above.

What’s at stake: A loss by the Chiefs eliminates them in all but the most complex mathematics.

Denver (7-6 overall, 3-3 division, 7-4 conference).

Opponent: at Arizona (4-9), 4:05 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: The 2002 season finale saw Denver blow out the hapless Cards 37-7.

What’s at stake: Denver has an advantage over many others in this group as they’ve won all seven of their victories over AFC foes. Since conference record is a key tiebreaker, it’s to the Broncos’ benefit. A loss to Arizona doesn’t hurt their conference mark.

Minnesota (6-7 overall, 2-3 division, 6-4 conference).

Opponent: home to New York Jets (7-6), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See New York Jets above.

What’s at stake: Like Denver above, Minnesota has picked its victories well and holds an advantage in conference record over other close teams. Again, a loss doesn’t hurt their conference record but would put them two games in back of either the Giants or Philadelphia.

Carolina (6-7 overall, 3-1 division, 4-6 conference).

Opponent: home to Pittsburgh (6-7), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: In 2002, the Steelers manhandled Carolina 30-14 in Pittsburgh.

What’s at stake: This is Carolina’s final home game and the last two are no bargain (at Atlanta, at New Orleans.) So here is a must-win for the Panthers.

On life support:

Teams in this category – if they lose, stick a fork in them because their playoff hopes are done. They’re 2 games back with 3 to play.

Buffalo (6-7 overall, 2-3 division, 4-5 conference).

Opponent: home to Miami (6-7), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: In week 2, Buffalo knocked off the Dolphins in southern Florida 16-6. Loser walks.

Pittsburgh (6-7 overall, 2-2 division, 4-6 conference).

Opponent: at Carolina (6-7), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See Carolina above. This looked like a great late-season matchup in August, didn’t it?

Tennessee (6-7 overall, 3-2 division, 3-6 conference).

Opponent: home to Jacksonville (8-5), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See Jacksonville above. If they had half-winners on the NFL schedule, Tennessee would be a second-half playoff team…6-2 after an 0-5 start.

Miami (6-7 overall, 1-3 division, 3-6 conference).

Opponent: at Buffalo (6-7), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: See Buffalo above. Another rotten start by the Dolphins did them in this year.

St. Louis (5-8 overall, 2-4 division, 4-6 conference).

Opponent: at Oakland (2-11), 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: 2002 saw the Rams win a battle between the defending NFC champs and the soon-to-be AFC champs 28-13. My, how times change in the NFL.

Green Bay (5-8 overall, 2-1 division, 4-5 conference).

Opponent: home to Detroit (2-11), 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

Last meeting: In week 3, Green Bay won at Ford Field 31-24. Brett Favre is 15-0 against the Lions at Lambeau. It would be nice to make that 15-1. Now if that somehow happens, Lambeau might just sound like a Lions home game.

San Francisco (5-8 overall, 2-2 division, 4-6 conference).

Opponent: at Seattle (8-5), 8:00 p.m. Thursday.

Last meeting: See Seattle above. At least the Niners got this far in the playoff picture, better than last season.

Long past overdue

This is a repeat of a picture I posted about the same time last year on monoblogue. Same old same old.

Photo from a 2005 Detroit Lions loss. The story still applies in 2006. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

In 2000, the Detroit Lions were a 54-yard field goal made by Chicago’s Paul Edinger with 2 seconds left in the season finale away from reaching the playoffs for a second season in a row. In early 2001 the Lions hired Matt Millen to be their new GM after the tough ending to a 9-7 campaign.

In Matt Millen’s first season, the Lions were 2-14 and began a league-record streak of 25 road losses in a row.

While almost every other team has had at least one postseason appearance since 2000, the Lions continue to suffer humiliating defeat after defeat under Millen’s direction. On Sunday they lost to Arizona, who ended an 8 game losing skid with the 17-10 victory.

There are 3 other teams who have roughly the same length of playoff futility as the Lions do. They are the aforementioned Arizona Cardinals (last playoff appearance in 1998), Buffalo Bills (last playoff appearance was in 1999), and the Houston Texans (no playoff appearances since their 2002 debut.) In the stretch since Millen has assumed his GM role, Arizona has an overall record of 29-61, Buffalo 35-55 (with a 8-8 season in 2002 and 9-7 in 2004 so they’ve been playoff contenders), and Houston’s all-time record stands at 21-53. Given the fact that Houston started its franchise from zero, it’s a sad commentary that Detroit’s record in the same span is the exact same 21-53 with Millen at the helm. For the full period Millen’s now 23-67.

And if you look at the six #1 draft picks that Millen’s had, only 3 are still active with the Lions. His first pick was OL Jeff Backus, who’s been a solid starter throughout his career. But the next year’s pick, QB Joey Harrington, had three so-so years with the Lions and now starts for the Miami Dolphins. WR Charles Rogers was cut after two unproductive seasons in Detroit, WR Roy Williams is a good but not regularly gamebreaking receiver (153 receptions and 20 TD in 2+ seasons), and last year’s first pick, WR Mike Williams, has been left off the active roster as a healthy scratch in all but 2 games this year, with just 29 receptions and 1 TD to his credit in his brief career (all in 2005). This year’s pick was LB Ernie Sims, who’s been a starter and done a reasonable job, so maybe Millen drafts better on defense.

However, if a boss at any level had this sort of dismal performance, someone would likely show him the door. But somehow the woebegone Lions continue to keep this guy around.

So, on Thanksgiving Day, once again America will get to watch the Lions most likely be routed again like they have the last couple Thanksgiving Days – by its former quarterback no less. (But then again, maybe the Lions do have a shot with #3 at the helm for Miami.) And on Friday, the football writers will howl about how rotten it is that the lousy Detroit Lions always get a Thanksgiving game and why don’t they spread the games around? (They don’t complain about Dallas having the same tradition though.)

I say the first turkey sacrificed in the Detroit area needs to be Matt Millen. With the Tigers winning the A.L. pennant in 2006 and the Pistons and Red Wings recent champs in their respective sports, there’s only one losing team left in Detroit and now’s the time to work on changing it to four-for-four.

The final week

Well, once again I’ll be glued to the TV next weekend. It’s really nice to have Monday off 2 weeks in a row because the Sunday night games are relevant to the playoff picture.

It all starts next Saturday night with the late game:

New York Giants (10-5) at Oakland Raiders (4-11), 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)

The Giants can win the NFC East with a win, but they did get some help from the Ravens tonight. By beating Minnesota, Baltimore knocked the Vikings out of the playoff picture and allowed the Giants to back into a spot despite losing to Washington yesterday.

At the moment, the Giants are the #4 seed in the NFC. They could finish anywhere from #3 to #6 depending on results of theirs and other games.

To be a #3 seed, the Giants must win and Tampa Bay must lose to New Orleans. If that happens and Carolina wins their finale over Atlanta, the Giants must hope that enough of their beaten opponents win to carry the “strength of victory” tiebreaker. Currently the Giants’ defeated opponents have 3 more victories between them than Carolina’s defeated opponents do.

If the Giants simply defeat Oakland, or if Philadelphia beats Washington, New York is assured no worse than a #4 seed and a home game next week.

If the Giants lose to Oakland and do not win the NFC East, their seeding is determined by the NFC South contests. If both Carolina and Tampa Bay win, the Giants would finish as the #6 seed. If one wins and the other loses (or both lose), the Giants most likely finish #5. That would depend on how Tampa Bay’s defeated opponents do, since both teams would stand with both their conference record and common opponent record in a tie.

Carolina Panthers (10-5) at Atlanta Falcons (8-7), 1 p.m. Sunday (FOX)

Carolina needs to win and hope Tampa Bay loses to win the NFC South title. They currently could get the #3 seed if they win and both Tampa Bay and the Giants lose. Even if they don’t win the NFC South title, a win would give them a playoff berth as the #5 seed.

If Carolina loses they could miss the playoffs entirely if both the Dallas Cowboys and Washington emerge with wins.

Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-6), 1 p.m. Sunday (CBS)

Cincinnati needs to win to hold on to the #3 seed in the AFC, or else they need New England to lose to either the New York Jets tomorrow night or Miami Dolphins next Sunday.

Kansas City may hold the largest contingent of Detroit Lions fans outside the state of Michigan next week since the Chiefs must win and the Lions must beat the Pittsburgh Steelers for Kansas City to sneak into the playoffs as the #6 seed – possibly setting up a rematch in Cincinnati. If I were running the FOX station in KC, I’d be putting the Detroit-Pittsburgh game on.

Late edit: According to, a win by San Diego against Denver on Saturday would also eliminate the Chiefs.

Detroit Lions (5-10) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5), 1 p.m. Sunday (FOX)

For Pittsburgh, it’s very simple. Win and they’re in as the #6 seed in the AFC. Lose and they need help from the Cincinnati Bengals. But it’s possible this game becomes irrelevant if San Diego wins Saturday afternoon. (see above.)

Miami Dolphins (8-7) at New England Patriots (most likely 10-5 after tomorrow night’s game), 1 p.m. Sunday (CBS)

If New England chokes against the hapless 3-11 Jets, they deserve the #4 seed. This only becomes relevant as a game if they beat the Jets, otherwise New England is locked in as the #4 seed. Either way, I’m sure CBS is drooling over the possible matchups for the Patriots against either the Steelers in the first round or the Colts in the second round. The Steelers matchup only occurs if the Patriots win out and Kansas City wins over Cincinnati, while the Steelers knock off Detroit.

New Orleans Saints (3-12) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5), 1 p.m. Sunday (FOX)

If Tampa Bay wins, they are set as the #3 seed in the NFC race, as they will be NFC South champions and win the tiebreaker over the Giants on the basis of conference record.

A loss could possibly eliminate them, but it would be highly unlikely as they defeated Washington earlier this season and Dallas would have to win on strength of victory where they are 4 wins behind Tampa Bay. Basically all three NFC East leaders and Tampa Bay would have to finish 10-6.

Washington Redskins (9-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-9), 4:15 p.m. Sunday (FOX)

If the Redskins win, they’re in. If they win and the Giants lose, they’ll win the NFC East. But because Tampa Bay beat the Redskins earlier this year, there’s no way Washington could be higher than a #4 seed.

If the Redskins lose, they’ll become huge St. Louis Rams fans because they’ll need the Rams to beat Dallas later that night in order to make the playoffs.

St. Louis Rams (5-10) at Dallas Cowboys (9-6), 8:30 p.m. Sunday (ESPN)

The final game of the regular season is only meaningful if Philadelphia wins earlier over Washington – otherwise they are both playing for pride.

So there’s 7 teams in each conference vying for 6 playoff spots. At the moment, their order is:


1. Indianapolis Colts (have won AFC South with a 13-2 record)
2. Denver Broncos (have won AFC West with a 12-3 record)

Both of those teams will get a bye through the opening round.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (have won AFC North with a 11-4 record)
4. New England Patriots (have won AFC East with a current 9-5 10-5 record)
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (have locked up a wild card with a 11-4 record, 2nd in the AFC South)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (currently have a 10-5 record, 2nd in the AFC North)

On the outside but still alive:

7. Kansas City Chiefs (currently have a 9-6 record, 2nd in the AFC West)

If the playoffs were held by the current standings, Indianapolis and Denver would get byes, Jacksonville would play at New England, and Pittsburgh would play at Cincinnati. I think this is the way things will shake out anyway after next week.


1. Seattle Seahawks (have won NFC West with a 13-2 record)
2. Chicago Bears (have won NFC North with a 11-4 record)

Both of those teams will get a bye through the opening round.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (lead NFC Sourth with a 10-5 record)
4. New York Giants (lead NFC East with a 10-5 record)
5. Carolina Panthers (currently have a 10-5 record, 2nd in the NFC South)
6. Washington Redskins (currently have a 9-6 record, 2nd in the NFC East)

On the outside but still alive:

7. Dallas Cowboys (currently have a 9-6 record, 3rd in the NFC East)

If the playoffs were held by the current standings, Seattle and Chicago would get byes, Carolina would travel to New Jersey to play the Giants, and Washington would be at Tampa Bay. Again, I think this is the way things will work out next week. But the team with the toughest game to me is Carolina, so it could be 3 NFC East teams in the playoffs.

Another interesting guessing game to me is who plays at what time and which day. The TV networks split the first-round coverage three ways. ABC gets the two Saturday games and FOX and CBS take care of Sunday’s. I’m not sure who picks the games covered, but I think FOX and CBS get their preferred games.

So let’s say the matchups above are the ones that occur. Here’s my prediction of the TV schedule.

Saturday (January 7th):
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 4:30 p.m. (ABC)
Washington at Tampa Bay, 8:00 p.m. (ABC)

Sunday (January 8th):
Carolina at New York Giants, 4:30 p.m. (FOX)
Jacksonville at New England, 8:00 p.m. (CBS)

I’d like that schedule if it panned out. I especially hope that they do play the late Sunday games, so I can watch bowling beforehand!

There was another thing that happened today on account of the games played. Those results almost locked up the 2006 schedules for my two favorite teams, the Lions and the Browns. There’s only one question left for each schedule.

Lions 2006 opponents will be:

Home: Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, San Francisco, Seattle, Buffalo, Miami, and Atlanta.
Away: Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, Arizona, St. Louis, New England, New York Jets, and the 3rd place NFC East team (currently Dallas but possibly Washington).

I predict right now that the Thanksgiving game will be Miami at Detroit. The other turkey day game will be Washington at Dallas.

Browns 2006 opponents will be:

Home: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Denver, Kansas City, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and most likely the New York Jets (unless the Jets win both their remaining games, then the Browns would host Buffalo in 2006.)
Away: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Oakland, San Diego, Atlanta, Carolina, and Houston.

The great thing about Baltimore winning tonight is that it knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs (since I hate the Viqueens) and it assured Cleveland of getting the “easier” fourth place schedule even if they kick the shit out of the Ravens next week (which I hope they do.)

Of course, Green Bay losing earlier tonight did the opposite for the Lions – instead of easier games against New Orleans and Philadelphia, the Lions will get two teams who will finish at .500 or better this year in Atlanta and the NFC East team.

But right now the combined record of Detroit’s opponents for next season is 113-127. The teams of the NFC North get a big advantage playing full slates against two weak divisions (NFC West and AFC East) next season.

Cleveland’s opponents combined are 124-116. This is mainly because the AFC North draws two tough divisions for most of its games (AFC West and NFC South.) So all four teams are in the same boat, but it may hurt them if the Browns are in the playoff hunt next season.

It will be interesting to see what happens next week. Hopefully things will work out best for teams I want to get into the playoffs.

I’ll update this tonight as needed if New England runs into trouble with the Jets.

Premonition or coincidence?

On September 29, the Chicago White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 4-2 on Detroit’s home field of Comerica Park to wrap up the AL Central title. Less than a month later, they celebrated a World Series championship.

Earlier today, the Cincinnati Bengals routed the Detroit Lions 41-17 to clinch the AFC North title at Detroit’s Ford Field. Will there be a repeat performance? I’m not sure I could stand that.

It’s truly odd how a city with four professional sports teams could have two that are so good (Red Wings and Pistons, who have 6 championships between them in the last 16 years) and two that are so wretchedly horrible. And of course, the bad ones are in the sports I like (baseball and football.)

I guess there’s no way I could be called a fair-weather fan, can I?

Saturday football is back!

I’m a huge baseball fan, so that whole season is my favorite time of year. But second comes the final few weeks of the NFL season, and when the Saturday games start, that’s the time when they’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. Today is the first batch of Saturday games, and all three of them have some sort of playoff implication (unlike the remaining Monday night games.) For all the things the NFL is, they are the worst prognosticators of what teams will be in the hunt at the end of the season, so it seems like in the last several years they’ve had some real stinkers for MNF at season’s end.

And there’s something that really fascinates me about the math and gymnastics the NFL does to break ties in the standings. They set the schedule in a rigid fashion so each team plays the same number of division games, conference games, and a set number of common opponents for each team in a particular division. It’s rare that they have to go beyond the third stage of tiebreakers to determine playoff teams and scheduling position for the next season. The only time the tiebreakers get to the esoteric stage (like coin flip) is for things like draft order (which is based on standings in reverse order, except the Super Bowl teams draft last regardless of standing.)

But today is the first batch of Saturday games and they’re really all pretty good. So I’ll be sitting slack-jawed looking at the TV most of the day. First up:

Tampa Bay (9-4, 1st in NFC South) at New England (8-5, 1st in AFC East) (1:30 p.m., FOX)

What this game means:

For Tampa Bay, they can maintain their NFC South lead with a win regardless of what the Carolina Panthers do against New Orleans. If both teams win out, Tampa Bay would win the NFC South based on division record (5-1 vs. Carolina’s 4-2.) The loss to Atlanta last week hurt the Panthers badly, while the loss to Tampa Bay 2 weeks ago enabled the Buccaneers to split the season series.

For New England, a win and they’re in the playoffs as the AFC East champions. Despite it being possible to match New England’s overall record, Miami could not beat the Patriots in the next tiebreaker (division record, New England’s worst possible 4-2 vs. Miami’s best possible 3-3.) The Patriots would also maintain what is basically only a mathematical chance of getting a bye through the first week of the playoffs with a win, while a loss would end that possibility. (The top two teams in each conference get to skip to the second round of the playoffs.)

Other teams rooting for Tampa Bay:

Miami, because a win by Tampa Bay helps keep their flickering hopes of winning the AFC East alive for at least another day (the Dolphins host the 3-10 New York Jets tomorrow.)

Denver and Cincinnati, because a loss by New England helps their playoff chances by improving their seeding. Assuming they win their divisions, they can be no worse than a #3 seed, while the AFC East champion (with a New England loss) would be #4.

Other teams rooting for New England:

Carolina, because of the tiebreaker noted above.

Kansas City (8-5, 2nd in AFC West) at New York Giants (9-4, 1st in NFC East) (5 p.m., CBS)

What this game means:

For Kansas City, they can stay in the hunt for the AFC West title with a win, while a loss and a Denver win tonight would end their title hopes. It also puts pressure on San Diego (who plays at 13-0 Indianapolis tomorrow) and Pittsburgh (who plays at 8-5 Minnesota tomorrow,) both of whom share Kansas City’s 8-5 record as they fight for one of the two wild card berths.

For New York, a win keeps them on pace to win the NFC East title, as one of their closest two pursuers would be eliminated tomorrow (Dallas plays at Wahington, the loser would be out of the title hunt if New York wins.)

Other teams rooting for Kansas City:

Dallas and Washington, because a loss by the Giants helps their chances at the NFC East title. In fact, Washington needs the Giants to lose to either Kansas City or Oakland (in the season finale) to have a chance for the title. With a win, Dallas moves back into a tie for the division lead at 9-5.

Seattle, because a loss by the Giants brings them one step closer to a first-round bye – they could be no worse than a #3 seed and with more help this weekend they can be #2 or #1 seed.

Minnesota, because a loss by the Giants and beating Pittsburgh tomorrow puts them ahead of the Giants in any tiebreaker (they beat the Giants earlier this season.)

Other teams rooting for New York:

San Diego and Pittsburgh: both are in the 8-5 group with Kansas City fighting for an AFC wildcard.

Denver: (see below)

Denver (10-3, 1st in AFC West) at Buffalo (4-9, 3rd in AFC East) (8:30 p.m., ESPN)

What this game means:

Denver can clinch the AFC West title with a win in this game, coupled with an earlier win by the New York Giants over Kansas City and an Indianapolis win over San Diego tomorrow. But simply winning assures them a playoff berth, as that would eliminate Pittsburgh in a tiebreaker (at worst an 8-4 conference record compared to Pittsburgh’s best possible 7-5.) San Diego and Kansas City play next week, thus one of them could finish with no more than 10 wins and be eliminated from a possible tie with Denver.

Buffalo is playing for pride, they’ve been eliminated from the playoff race.

Other teams rooting for Denver:

Miami and the New York Jets: Miami would finish no worse than second in the division, and the Jets would have more of a chance to get out of last place in the AFC East. It’s down to pride now for them.

Other teams rooting for Buffalo:

San Diego, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh: all need a Denver loss to improve their division title or playoff chances.

Cincinnati: a loss by Denver would enable the Bengals to pass Denver for the #2 seed and first-round bye. Both have a 10-3 record but Denver currently holds the tiebreaker for conference record (best possible 10-2 for Denver vs. best possible 9-3 for Cincinnati.)

Rooting for to be right:

Me, because it’s fun to watch games played in the snow and the prediction for Buffalo is 1-3″ today with more snow showers tonight up to 1″. Too bad Buffalo plays on artificial turf, it’s even better when snow games are played on natural grass.