Note: All times Eastern.
Ten Playoff Thoughts
Score: 21-17, Redskins
It saddens me that this game features two teams fighting for a playoff spot, considering they have fewer wins between them than the Carolina Panthers have on their own. If the Redskins win, they lock up the NFC East and one of the least-deserving playoff spots ever. Yeah, the ‘Skins are play alright at the moment, but they have yet to do anything well on a consistent basis. If the Eagles win, it evens the season series and we have to resort to other tie breakers. Either way, the NFL loses. What’s even more sad is that there isn’t even another team in another division that could potentially be more deserving than the NFC East winner. It is legitimately possible, when the dust settles, that the winner of this weak division is literally the sixth-best team in the NFC.
Score: 38-16, Steelers
On paper, this should be a cakewalk. The Steelers are anywhere from 9.5- to 11.5-point favorites -- in Baltimore. But there shouldn’t be a Steelers fan alive who isn’t uneasy about this game, simply because of the history of these two teams. Baltimore is on its third quarterback, it’s 19th cornerback and is auditioning random fans through local radio stations to find another wide recevier or two. Or so I’ve heard. And despite all that, there is something about this game that should scare any Steelers fan who is being honest with him- or herself. Pittsburgh has had a tendency to play down to inferior competition, but they are also undefeated in their last 10 December games. Something has to give. From all indications, it looks like it will be the Ravens’ defense -- but we will have to wait for Sunday to see if that’s true.
Panthers @ Falcons (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Score: 27-17, Panthers
If you are Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, what do you do? The Cardinals could still steal the top seed, but they just lost a key defensive player for the season and they close out against decent competition. But you are also guaranteed the second seed at worst thanks to a week-nine victory over the Packers. Do you back down at all now -- maybe rest your starters a week early so they can still play the finale and not spend three weeks away from playing at game speed? Do you wait until next week and fight for the win this week? Do you shoot for an undefeated regular season and not take your foot off the gas? Decisions, decisions.
Score: 17-13, Colts
The Colts are hanging on by a thread right now, as they have to win out and hope the Texans lose their two remaining games. Of course, Indy has been playing for their lives for several weeks now, and hasn’t managed to look the part. But if you lose to the Dolphins at this point, you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs anyway.
Score: 31-27, Patriots
Of all the teams still in realistic contention in the AFC, chances are the Jets have the hardest route there. While they can still get the sixth seed despite a loss to the Patriots, the help they would need isn’t likely. They need the Steelers to lose to the Ravens and the Browns, both near the bottom of the NFL’s barrel. This, after beating the Bengals and Broncos in consecutive week, and winning five of their last six. With Pittsburgh on a roll, all the Jets can do is hope for an unlikely Steelers loss -- or that the Broncos lose their remaining games, which is actually possible. More on that in a moment.
Texans @ Titans (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Score: 24-13, Texans
Tennessee has little to play for, but you can bet backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be giving it his all, hoping to land a starting gig in 2016. The Titans have shown the occasional sign of life, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that they could beat what may end up being the worst playoff team in the field this year. The Texans simply need to win one of their remaining two games to beat out rival Indianapolis, or pray the Colts lose one of their remaining games. Given how they have played as of late, that’s a distinct possibility.
Browns @ Chiefs (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Score: 30-16, Chiefs
The Chiefs have the NFL’s second-longest winning streak right now behind the undefeated Panthers, and don’[t have the most difficult schedule remaining. That said, they could still end up losing to the Chargers next week. This week shouldn’t be a huge issue unless Johnny Manziel learns to walk on water and perform other miracles between now and Sunday. The Chiefs, however, can still win the AFC West with a little help, or they could end up missing the playoffs entirely if they step on their own toes. Expect them to bring their A-game the final two weeks, just as they have for most of the last nine games.
Packers @ Cardinals (Sunday, 4:25 p.m.)
Score: 27-21, Cardinals
Green Bay has, essentially, a one-and-a-half game lead over rival Minnesota. The Packers need only win one of their remaining games to clinch the NFC North title. Minnesota, meanwhile, needs to win their remaining games and hope the Packers lose this week, which is not exactly an unlikely scenario, as the Cardinals are one of the top three teams in football right now. If Green Bay loses this week, and Minnesota beats the Giants at home, it sets up a week-17, head-to-head showdown between the Packers and the Vikings for the division crown.
Giants @ Vikings (Sunday, 8:30 p.m.)
Score: 24-21, Vikings
Speaking of the Vikings, they face a team that has lost five games in the final ten seconds or overtime this season. It seems the key to beating the Giants is to stay within one score or less, and have the ball last. That seems to make victory over the G-Men a foregone conclusion. The Vikings could easily do exactly that, with a strong defense and a solid-enough offense that include Adrian Peterson. Their efforts to overtake the Packers will be for naught, though, if Green Bay beats the Cardinals on Sunday. Should that happen, though, the VIkings are still nearly a lock for the post-season, with their only remaining challenge coming from the Falcons -- who are 2-7 in their last nine games.
Bengals @ Broncos (Monday, 8:30 p.m.)
Score: 26-23, Broncos
Game. Of. The. Week. Talk about enormous: this could decide the number-two seed and, should the Patriots inexplicably lose both of their remaining game, could even decide the number-one seed. Denver could still be as high as number-two when everything shakes out, or they could miss the playoffs entirely. That’s how important this game is. Cincinnati even has a lot riding on it, as they hold a one-game lead and a tie-breaker over the red-hot Steelers. If the Bengals lose their final two games and the Steelers win out, Pittsburgh would have what may be the most improbable come-from-behind division title in NFL history, having once trailed by three games with five to go. But right now, we still have little to go on regarding quarterback A.J. McCarron, who is filling in for injured Andy Dalton. He did well enough last week, but was buoyed by four turnovers from the defense. How he does against a strong defense and a capable offense remains to be seen.