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Plenty still at stake as NFL season concludes

Plenty still at stake as NFL season concludes

Even though 10 teams have made the NFL playoffs and only two berths are still open, a truckload of games in this weekend's last round of the regular season could affect the postseason lineup.
All six playoff participants in the NFC have been already decided but the the conference is pretty spicy, with the East crown about to be decided in Dallas, the Minnesota Vikings capable of being seeded second, third or fourth in the playoffs, and the top-ranked New Orleans Saints suddenly struggling.
The AFC already has all four division winners and has concentrated its frenzy on the wild-card race, which has seven teams still in the scramble. The Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets are in control, but if either slips, the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins remain possibilities. Denver has 10 scenarios by which it can get a wild card, half of those not even requiring the Broncos to win on Sunday against Kansas City.
Most intriguing are the Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, and the Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals.
Dallas won 20-16 at Philadelphia on Nov. 8, seemingly taking charge of the division. But the Cowboys went 4-3 after that, while Philadelphia went 6-1 to take the NFC East lead. Sunday's winner gets the division title and perhaps a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
"It's a perfect picture right now," Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins said. "I think it was set up real great. We're in a good situation to go in and show everybody what we're made of. Doing it (against the Eagles) is even better. We're in a great situation."
Of course, they were in the same situation a year ago in the wild-card race, went into Philadelphia and were smashed 44-6.
An Eagles victory earns them that bye. Dallas needs a win and losses by Minnesota and Arizona to get the week off.
Most people, including Jets coach Rex Ryan, thought the Jets would have the postseason off after a loss to Atlanta two weeks ago. Then everything New York required to remain viable for the playoffs happened last weekend _ including the Indianapolis Colts waving an unbeaten season goodbye by sitting nearly every starter in the third quarter of a close game. The Jets rallied to hand Indianapolis its first loss, and with a victory on Sunday over the AFC North champion Bengals, who also might rest their regulars, New York gets in.
"We had a lot of tough games this year, a lot of tough losses, games that we thought we would win and we ended up coming up short," running back Thomas Jones said. "For us to have an opportunity to even get in the playoffs at this point in the season says a lot about our coaching staff, says a lot about Rex and the commitment that they have to us. It says a lot about the character of our team and guys not giving up."
It also says a lot about having a favorable schedule at the end of the season.
How badly will the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers be kicking themselves if they beat Miami, finish with a 9-7 record and get left out of the playoffs parade? A five-game slump, including losses to doormats Kansas City and Oakland, will become the identity marker for 2009 _ at least for those who have short memories and overlook what happened back in early February.
Miami won the AFC East a year ago by riding the wildcat and protecting the ball. The wildcat pretty much has disappeared and the Dolphins have suffered from turnovers.
If Pittsburgh is lamenting what might have been, what about Denver, which once was 6-0? The Broncos have stumbled so badly that San Diego surged into control of the AFC West by early December. That stingy Denver defense has crumbled down the stretch.
They head to the Kansas City Chiefs, for whom first-season coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli have been concentrating on building a foundation at the expense of 12 defeats against only three wins, so far.
New England, with another AFC East title, might rest key players against Houston, because does coach Bill Belichick care all that much about being a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the playoffs? The Patriots must play in the wild-card round regardless, and they aren't likely to fear any potential opponent.
Houston never has been to the playoffs and hasn't had a winning season since entering the NFL in 2002. With the right results, the Texans could sneak in and face the Patriots again next weekend. They've won three in a row.
In other games on Sunday, it's Baltimore at Oakland, Indianapolis at Buffalo, New Orleans at Carolina, Jacksonville at Cleveland, the New York Giants at Minnesota, Washington at San Diego, Green Bay at Arizona, Chicago at Detroit, San Francisco at St. Louis, Atlanta at Tampa Bay, and Tennessee at Seattle.


Updated : 2020-12-03 13:06 GMT+08:00