GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: To play or not to play? Print
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Monday, 24 December 2007 12:12
NFL Headline News

 Tony Dungy was more candid Monday than the other coaches whose teams have clinched all they can clinch. No matter if Sunday night's game is critical to Tennessee's playoff chances, Dungy's Colts will play to prepare for the playoffs and little else.
``We have to look at what is best for us, and that's how we're going to approach it,'' Dungy said, noting that how much Peyton Manning plays depends on whether star receiver Marvin Harrison, who has missed most of the season with a bad knee, is ready.
``I know Jim Sorgi will play at least a half. I don't know if he'll come in in the first quarter. I think a lot of it depends on Marvin. If Marvin goes, we'll want to get him some time with Peyton, so he may play a little longer.''
That's absolutely appropriate even though the Titans (9-6) make the playoffs and the Browns (also 9-6) are out if Tennessee beats Indy (13-2), which has locked up the second seed in the AFC. Cleveland had its chance and blew it, losing in Cincinnati on Sunday. The Browns, who are home to San Francisco, lose a tiebreaker to the Titans based on Tennessee's better record against common opponents if both finish 10-6.
There are two other games of import this week that leave coaches pondering whether to rest starters for the playoffs.
One is Dallas (13-2) at Washington (8-7), with the Redskins' needing a win to make the playoffs and the Cowboys already having clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Washington's win in Minnesota (8-7) gave it the first tiebreaker: head-to-head. So if the Redskins beat the Cowboys, they're in no matter what the Vikings do in Denver. In the unlikely event both Minnesota and Washington lose, New Orleans (7-8) can make it with a win in Chicago, where the Saints lost last season's NFC title game.
But look for the Redskins to give the NFC East three playoff teams, as it had last year, and just as a Tennessee win would make it three from the AFC South. With Green Bay losing Sunday in Chicago to give Dallas NFC home-field advantage, Wade Phillips has no obligation to play anyone. Terrell Owens is out anyway and there are other guys who could use the week off.
The third game of interest is the weekend's headliner: New England, aiming for an unprecedented 16-0 regular season and major individual records for Tom Brady and Randy Moss, at the New York Giants (10-5), who know they will go to Tampa for the wild-card playoff round. Even if they play everyone in the Saturday night contest, the Giants are unlikely to beat the Patriots, so with a playoff game ahead, why risk older or injured players?
Tom Coughlin, like Bill Belichick in New England, was evasive Monday when was asked who he will play in a game the NFL Network is hyping so mightily it announced it will have 65 1/2 hours of pregame programming. The Giants coach did seem to indicate some guys may sit - or at least play only a part of the game. It is hard to imagine, for example, that he would play his leading receiver, Plaxico Burress, whose bad ankle has kept him from practicing all season.
``We are in the playoffs and our seed doesn't change, and from that standpoint we have to do what is best for our team. But I also want our team to be as sharp as we possibly can be,'' said Coughlin, who in a meandering conference call also noted it would be a huge accomplishment to beat a 15-0 team.
Dallas' Phillips was equally obtuse, saying on the one hand the Cowboys owe it ``to the integrity of the game'' to go all out against the Redskins, but adding he has to determine who might need a rest because of injuries or fatigue.
``We will see who's healthy and who's ready to go and then, like I said, we're going to approach it and try to win the game,'' Phillips said. ``That's what you do to play football.''
Playing backups doesn't necessarily mean a team is conceding.
In 2004, for example, Pittsburgh went to Buffalo the final week with the first overall seed in the AFC locked up and the Bills needing a win to make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh rested starters but won 29-24 as Willie Parker, an undrafted free agent, rushed for 102 yards and linebacker James Harrison, another rookie, returned a fumble for the clinching touchdown.
``I still don't know who that is. Who is this Willie Parker?'' the Bills' Terrence McGee asked after the game.
Turns out it's the same Willie Parker who was leading the league in rushing until he broke a leg in St. Louis last Thursday night. And the same James Harrison who, like Parker, has been voted to the Pro Bowl.
Maybe the next Willie Parker is Ahmad Bradshaw, who is likely to get a lot of carries for the Giants against New England in place of Brandon Jacobs, who has been playing with hamstring and ankle injuries.
Jacobs rushed for 145 yards Sunday in the 38-21 win in Buffalo that clinched a playoff spot, and Bradshaw, a seventh-round pick last April, had 151 yards on 17 carries, including an 88-yard TD run. That made them the first running back tandem on the same team to each rush for more than 140 yards in a game since Marshall Faulk and Trung Canidate did it for St. Louis in 2001.
As for the playoff races and who to play and who to sit, the Redskins and Titans would seem to benefit from the fact the Cowboys and Colts have nothing to win or lose. The Vikings and Browns had their fate in their hands and they blew it on Sunday.
So hold the sympathy if the Dallas and Indy play less than their best.
``The overriding feeling there is you know that somewhere down the line in the past weeks if you just won one more game it wouldn't be an issue,'' Tennessee's Jeff Fisher said Monday.
``We control our own destiny. Cleveland would be sitting pretty good had they been able to win the game yesterday. They can't place any kind of blame or any hope on their future based on what an opponent is going to do or not do.''
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AP Sports Writers Michael Marot in Indianapolis, Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Jaime Aron in Dallas and John Wawrow in Buffalo contributed to this report.
 

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