|Washington and Tennessee can clinch playoffs by beating division winners|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 27 December 2007 09:40|
Instead, the Redskins and Titans seem in good shape to clinch the final playoff spots in their conferences Sunday against playoff-bound teams that have nothing to gain or lose and are likely to be resting starters.
``You play for your team, you coach for your team and you can't worry about anyone else,.'' says Tony Dungy, whose defending Super Bowl champions (13-2) have clinched the second seed in the AFC playoffs and can't go up or down.
So when the Colts host Tennessee (9-6) on Sunday night in the final regular-season game, Jim Sorgi is likely to be at quarterback instead of Peyton Manning for much of the night, and other subs will play a lot, too. That will make it easier for the Titans, who need a win to earn a spot in the postseason.
Wade Phillips of Dallas will be without Terrell Owens, who sprained his ankle against Carolina last week. He hasn't been as forthcoming as Dungy about plans for other starters on his 13-2 team, which has clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. But it would be a surprise if he plays a lot of people for the entire game with the archrival Redskins (8-7), who have won their last two to get within a win of the playoffs.
Washington moved into this spot by breaking Minnesota's five-game winning streak last Sunday night. So while the Redskins and Vikings have the same record, Washington's 32-21 road win gives it the first tiebreaker, head-to-head play.
Tennessee moved to the brink by beating the New York Jets 10-6 after Cleveland was upset by Cincinnati. That gives the Titans the tiebreaker over the Browns because they have a better record against common opponents.
But if Tennessee loses, Cleveland gets in regardless of whether it wins or loses at home against San Francisco. The 49ers are an NFC team and the Browns (9-6) already have finished 7-5 against AFC opponents. If Tennessee loses, it would be 6-6 in the AFC and that tiebreaker takes priority.
``You can talk about it and all that, but it is what it is,'' Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. ``We lost a golden opportunity.''
Titans coach Jeff Fisher agrees, suggesting Dungy's decision to rest Manning and others is the way the last week has often been played.
``Cleveland would be sitting pretty good had they been able to win the game,'' he said. ``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.''
The weekend's biggest game is Saturday night, when New England seeks to complete a 16-0 regular season at the New York Giants. In an unprecedented move, it will be simulcast by CBS and NBC because the NFL Network, on which the game was scheduled to be shown, is available nationally in only 40 percent of homes with TVs.
In other Sunday games, Seattle is at Atlanta; Detroit at Green Bay; Cincinnati at Miami; New Orleans at Chicago; Jacksonville at Houston; Buffalo at Philadelphia; Carolina at Tampa Bay; Pittsburgh at Baltimore; San Diego at Oakland; Minnesota at Denver; St. Louis at Arizona; and Kansas City at the New York Jets.
New England (15-0) at New York Giants (10-5) (Saturday)
This might have been one of the better challenges for New England had it been played earlier in the season.
But the Giants can't go up or down - win or lose, they will play at Tampa Bay next weekend - so they have no real incentive other than the status of keeping the Patriots from an unbeaten season. Tom Coughlin seems tempted to go for the win, even if it's a long shot, but if the game gets out of hand quickly, he'll surely rest banged-up starters Plaxico Burress, Brandon Jacobs and Gibril Wilson.
``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,'' Coughlin says, meandering his way around the subject.
New England has personal records at stake. Tom Brady has 48 touchdown passes, one short of Peyton Manning's NFL record. Randy Moss, with 21 TD receptions, is one short of Jerry Rice's single-season mark. They probably will stay in long enough to get the records and give New England a big enough lead. Then they'll depart.
Brady would just as soon that all the Giants' pass rushers sit out - the Giants lead the league with 52 sacks.
``They can rush. They have some very experienced cover guys back there. It's a very veteran defense,'' he says. ``I'll be lobbying for that. Coach Coughlin, if you're listening, definitely rest those guys.''
Minnesota (8-7) at Denver (6-9)
New Orleans (7-8) at Chicago (6-9)
The Vikings can still get in as an NFC wild card if Washington loses to Dallas and they beat the Broncos.
This is not a good matchup for Denver, which is 30th in the league against the run and must face Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson. Defenses are loading up to stop Peterson, who has been held to an average of just 36 yards in his last three games, including 27 on nine carries against the Redskins.
If both Minnesota and Washington lose, the Saints would be the NFC's final wild-card team if they win. Their game is a rematch of last season's NFC championship, won by the Bears, 39-14.
Jacksonville (11-4) at Houston (7-8)
Pittsburgh (10-5) at Baltimore (4-11)
San Diego (10-5) at Oakland (4-11)
Jacksonville is the reason the Steelers and Chargers will play to win. Neither wants to face the Jaguars, who have won six of seven and could easily have won the other, a 28-25 loss in Indianapolis.
Right now, it would be the Steelers who get Jacksonville, who beat them at Heinz Field 29-22 two weeks ago. The Chargers have the tiebreaker, an 8-3 conference record to 7-4 for the Steelers. So if things stay the same, Pittsburgh would be the fourth seed and play the fifth-seeded Jaguars, while San Diego, at No. 3, would get either Tennessee or Cleveland.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who last week lost running back Willie Parker with a broken leg, claims that's not on his mind, although he will try to win against a Baltimore team that was 13-3 a year ago, but has lost nine straight games.
``In pursuit of the goals we aspire to, we've got to beat them all,'' Tomlin said. ``So I don't care who we play.''
JaMarcus Russell, the first overall pick in last April's draft, makes his first start for the Raiders. Russell, who missed training camp while holding out, is 13-of-35 for 149 yards in limited action. Asked what Russell needs to improve, coach Lane Kiffin replied:
``Where do you start? Ball-handling in the run game. Footwork in the passing game. Decision-making, timing, accuracy. You name it, it was out there on film ... so he's got a long ways to go.''
Detroit (7-8) at Green Bay (12-3)
Seattle (10-5) at Atlanta (3-12)
Carolina (6-9) at Tampa Bay (9-6)
The Packers' loss in Chicago last week cost them any shot at home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, so they are liable to rest regulars against the Lions, who broke a six-game losing streak last week and are hoping for .500. It would be their first non-losing season since they went 9-7 in 2000, the year before Matt Millen took over as team president.
The Seahawks are locked into the No. 3 seed in the NFC and will be home to Washington, Minnesota or New Orleans next weekend. The Bucs, who will rest folks, are No. 4 and will be host to the Giants.
Atlanta, which took Arizona into overtime last week, just wants an awful season to end.
``I can't do this no more,'' says cornerback DeAngelo Hall, one of the Falcons' top players. ``I won't do this no more, let me say that. I will not be a part of a losing team another year, no matter what I got to do, no matter who hates me, whatever. I won't be a part of a losing team again, not if I can help it. ``
Buffalo (7-8) at Philadelphia (7-8)
St. Louis (3-12) at Arizona (7-8)
The winner of the Bills-Eagles game gets to .500, better than Buffalo expected entering the season, a lot worse for Philadelphia, which was considered one of the favorites in the NFC East. At least the Eagles could finish with momentum: a three-game winning streak after upsetting Dallas and New Orleans on the road the past two weeks.
If Arizona gets to .500, it would be only the third non-losing season for the franchise since 1984, when it was in St. Louis. ``I heard a number of our players say that they'd never won this many games in a season,'' says first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt, who was used to winning a lot more as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. ``If we can win another one, it will hopefully lay the groundwork for a good season next year.''
Cincinnati (6-9) at Miami (1-14)
Kansas City (4-11) at New York Jets (3-12)
Four teams that reflect the vagaries of the NFL. The Chiefs and Jets were both playoff teams last season and the Bengals were expected to be a contender this year. New York, which used to be coached by Kansas City's Herman Edwards, has been competitive recently, even against good teams, losing two weeks ago in New England 20-10 and 10-6 in Tennessee last week.
The Dolphins are obviously in for major changes when Bill Parcells takes over as the head of football operations. The Tuna already has been scouting his new team via television.