|GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Not much room left in the postseason|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 03 December 2007 07:39|
That became clear after Sunday's games, specifically the New York Giants' rally to beat Chicago and Seattle's win over Philadelphia, plus San Diego's win in Kansas City combined with Oakland's victory over Denver.
Those results went a long way toward assuring the Chargers and Seahawks will win their divisions and that the Giants will be one of the NFC's two wild-card teams.
First, pencil in each of the division leaders. None leads by less than two games with four to go.
Then add the Giants (8-4) as an NFC wild card. Even in the highly unlikely event they lose all four remaining games, they would probably still make it in a conference where only five of the 16 teams are better than .500.
Jacksonville (8-4) is a likely AFC wild card.
The Jaguars are a game ahead of Cleveland and Tennessee with Buffalo two games behind at 6-6. Beyond that, they simply are stronger.
``They're a very hard team to beat,'' Tony Dungy said after his Colts hung on to beat the Jags 28-25, Sunday, in Indianapolis, just about locking up the AFC South. ``I don't see them losing much the rest of the way.''
New England already has clinched the East, and Pittsburgh (9-3) is two games up on Cleveland in the North with an extra game for a tiebreaker after beating the Browns twice.
Same for the Colts (10-2), who are two games and a tiebreaker ahead of Jacksonville in the South.
That makes the Steelers' primary task trying to catch the Colts for a first-round bye, not an easy chore considering the schedules: Pittsburgh is at New England next week and has the Jaguars at home the following week. Indianapolis has just one team left on its schedule with a winning record: Tennessee in the final game.
San Diego (7-5) should win the weak West despite already having three more losses than all of last season.
The Chargers finally turned LaDainian Tomlinson loose Sunday in Kansas City and he had 177 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the Chiefs. That's something Norv Turner should have done all season and it might make San Diego dangerous in the playoffs.
Success in the playoffs would be an interesting turnaround considering that after going 14-2 last season, the Chargers went one-and-out under Marty Schottenheimer.
``I think we have improved as a football team all the way through,'' Turner said. ``I know there were some weeks that it didn't show up.''
It would take a major collapse for the Jaguars not to get a wild-card spot.
If anything, they enhanced their status against the Colts, coming back from two 14-point deficits to come within three points. David Garrard threw his first interception of the season but otherwise was impressive and a running game which got 168 yards made this year's Colts look like last year's Colts - defenseless against the rush.
That probably leaves Cleveland and Tennessee (both 7-5) to contest the other wild-card berth.
The Titans were 0-3 with Albert Haynesworth out with a hamstring pull, losing 35-6 to Cincinnati last week, but they stiffened with him and got two TD passes from Vince Young in a 28-20 win over Houston. This after not holding a lead in a month.
The Browns did their usual against Arizona, a shootout that came down to the last play, when Kellen Winslow was just out of bounds on what would have been the winning touchdown pass. Cleveland, which has allowed the most points in the NFL (338) has the more favorable schedule: at the Jets and Bengals; the Bills and 49ers at home.
Dallas (11-1) and Green Bay (10-2) have just about clinched their divisions and the Cowboys' win over the Packers last Thursday should guarantee them home-field advantage in the playoffs. Those two teams also should get the first-round byes unless the Packers collapse, unlikely against a remaining schedule that doesn't have a winning team on it.
Arizona (6-6) might have a shot at winning the West if it beats Seattle (8-4) next week. The Cardinals won the first meeting, but the Seahawks have won four straight and are 5-1 at home, making them an unlikely upset victim.
Tampa Bay's win in New Orleans just about guarantees the title in the South. At 8-4, they are three games ahead of the Saints with a tiebreaker.
That leaves the wild cards.
The Giants (8-4) seemingly wrapped up one when Eli Manning drove them to two touchdowns in the final seven minutes to beat the Bears, 21-16. Yes, the maligned Eli, who had three turnovers earlier in the game.
``He put the bad plays behind him and he realized the game was still to be won on the field,'' coach Tom Coughlin said. ``The way in which he won and the way in which he played down the stretch makes a strong statement about him and his ability.''
Indeed it does.
This marked the fourth time in four seasons that E. Manning has won or tied a game in the closing two minutes: against Dallas as a rookie in 2004; against Denver in 2005; against Philadelphia last season and now in Chicago. Maybe being mistake-prone is one trait he shares with his brother - Peyton, who had six interceptions in San Diego earlier this season, and had a bad interception against Jacksonville that cost the Colts what could have been an important field goal.
Behind New York are three 6-6 teams: the Cardinals, fading Detroit and surging Minnesota.
The Lions seem dead, both in level of play - four straight losses - and in attitude.
``Our boat's not very full, I know that. We don't have a lot of people left in our boat right now,'' Jon Kitna said after their 42-10 loss in Minneapolis. ``We are not heading in the same direction right now, as a football team.''
The Vikings are.
More important than the return of Adrian Peterson, important as that may be, is the play of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who in his last three games has looked like one of the NFL's better young QBs. (Yes, as Eli can attest, QB bashing starts early these days.)
Minnesota has won three games and the schedule isn't too hard: at San Francisco and Denver; Chicago and Washington at home.
For most of those teams, a playoff berth is probably window dressing anyway.
Maybe Indy gives New England a run and maybe Green Bay challenges Dallas. But probably not.
So not only are the playoffs decided early, so is the Super Bowl.