Although this game means more for the Steelers than it does for the Patriots in terms of jockying for playoff position, the Pats have not wrapped up home-field advatage throughout the playoffs, and are certainly not going to let up in their approach until they're guaranteed not to have to visit the RCA Dome in the 2007 playoffs.
Despite the game's implications for seeding, there are a number of other games that will determine whether or not some teams will get into the playoffs alltogether, let alone where they will be seeded. Let's take a look:
- Panthers at Jaguars:
A loss eliminates Carolina, and frankly, it's just a matter of time before they're done in. As for the Jaguars? Well, the AFC South is probably out of reach after last week's loss to the Colts, but the Jags still have the inside track at the #4 spot, and perhaps the #3 seed if they can win this week, plus next week at Heinz Field. David Garrard threw his first INT of the season last week - hard to believe I know - and he'll have to get back on track and get this offense on a roll if they're going to avoid their usual fate: a 1st round loss in the playoffs. I'll be tuning in to this one to see what we'll be going up against next week.
- San Diego at Tennessee:
Huge game for both of these squads. San Diego is only 2-4 on the road, but can all but wrap up the AFC West with a victory in Nashville. The Chargers have flown under the radar since their 1-3 start, having won 6 of their past 8. LT is finally getting the rock with the kind of regularity needed for this offense to succeed, and Phillip Rivers, despite his disappointing sopohmore campaign (as a starter that is), has been a bit better as of late. This week isn't a must win game for Tennessee, but they would probably have to win their final three and get help from a few other teams if they were to drop this crucial matchup at home. Vince Young leads all NFL QBs in yards from scrimmage since November 11th, but he'll have to protect the ball better than he has while continuing to make strides throwing the ball from the pocket. Key factor? The health of Albert Haynesworth, whose absence has really affected the play of the once-stout Titans defense. I think he's schedule to play, and even if he's not 100%, his presence in the middle will command a double-team, freeing up Titans defenders to chase down LT.
- Cardinals at Seahawks:
Not much significance for AFC fans, but here's the deal. If Arizona wins this one on the road against a Seahawks team that has won 4 straight, they'd not only be in great shape in the NFC Wild Card chase, they'd signal to the league that their transformation under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt was in full swing. The Cards won a tough game last week against the Browns despite not having Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for the entire game.
- Browns at Jets:
Seems like an easy win for the Browns right? Well, at least one person doesn't think so, and that one person would be me. In one of my rare predictions, I have the Jets winning this one at home against the Brownies, who I don't feel are quite ready to close things out and secure a playoff berth this year. The deck is stacked in their favor, with a game they should win this week, plus a home tilt against one of their competitors, the Bills, the following week. Turnovers, porous defense, and bone-headed penalties cost them last week, and frankly convinced me that this team will lose one, if not two, games they should win this final month.
One month to go football fans. We've got the marquee matchup this week, but with no college football for a number of weeks, plus a loooooooong offseason looming on the horizon, take advantage and enjoy the final month of regular season NFL action as we rapidly approach the Playoffs. Unless you live in the Bread Basket, you should be getting the Patriots-Steelers game on CBS in your area.