5 NFL playoff berths at stake

Dec 23, 2008 5:10 PM

Pigskin Picks by Andy Iskoe |

last week

The long grind that began in triple-digit temperatures in mid-summer training camps comes to an end this Sunday for 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams. The remaining dozen will go on to playoffs starting next week.

Heading into Week 17, only seven teams have already qualified for the playoffs.

Tennessee claimed the No. 1 seed in the AFC defeating Pittsburgh, which will be seeded second. Indianapolis clinched a Wild Card and will be seeded fifth. The winner of the Denver at San Diego game will win the AFC West and earn the number four seed.

Baltimore can claim the second AFC Wild Card with a home win over Jacksonville. The AFC East race remains a three-team affair with Miami holding a one-game lead over both New England and the New York Jets. Miami wins the Division with a victory against the Jets. New England takes the division with a win at Buffalo and a Jets win. New York takes the division with a win and Patriots loss.

In the NFC race, the New York Giants have earned the top seed, while Arizona has clinched the West and will be seeded either third or fourth. NFC South members Atlanta and Carolina have each clinched playoff berths with the division winner earning the No. 2 seed and an opening round bye.

Chicago headed into Monday night’s home game against Green Bay with a chance to tie Minnesota for the NFC North lead. A loss by the Bears would have given the Vikings the title, but a Chicago win would mean the division will be decided on Sunday when the Bears are at Houston while Minnesota hosts the New York Giants.

Dallas will clinch the other NFC Wild Card with a win at Philadelphia, while an Eagles win puts Philly in if Tampa Bay loses at home to Oakland and Chicago drops one of its last two games.

Handicapping the final game of the season can be very hazardous because many have little or no meaning. There will be games between two teams that have already been eliminated or locked up their playoff seedings.

With just two interconference games remaining a look at the season to date results shows that the AFC has again won the regular season battle against the NFC with its 32-29-1 straight up record. However, NFC is 33-28-1 against the spread.

Here’s a look at Sunday’s games:

Raiders +13 at Bucs (38½): The Bucs have not played well down the stretch, dropping three in a row. Oakland is making a meaningless trip east after winning decisively against hard-trying Houston. Still, the Raiders have six losses by over two touchdowns, including three on the road. BUCS.

Lions +10½ at Packers (NT): The Lions showed little interest in avoiding imperfection last week. Nothing suggests they will be especially motivated at Lambeau, where they have not won in more than a decade. The Packers are the more talented team and are accustomed to playing in the likely frigid conditions. PACKERS.

Cowboys +1 at Eagles (42½): Dallas got a reprieve with Sunday’s results and a win here earns a Wild Card. Philly needs some unlikely help, but it starts with winning here. The teams are fairly even in talent and have equal motivation so the edge goes to the home team. EAGLES.

Giants +6½ at Vikings (41): The Giants may rest some banged up starters after clinching the top NFC seed with Sunday night’s overtime win against Carolina. The Vikes have played well down the stretch, winning 4 of 5 and 6 of 8. Their outstanding rushing game on both sides of the ball is the key. VIKINGS.

Bears +3 at Texans (NT): Houston has been the better team on offense, while Chicago’s edge on defense is less than 15 yards per game. The Texans figure to give a strong effort to take some positives in the offseason, while the Bears may be in a "must win" situation because they failed earlier. TEXANS.

Panthers -3 at Saints (53½): New Orleans QB Drew Brees will be looking to surpass Dan Marino’s record for most passing yards in a season (he needs 402). The Panthers figure to play hard because backing in to a division title with an Atlanta loss to St. Louis is unlikely. Should be a wide open, high scoring game. OVER.

Rams +14½ at Falcons (44): The Falcons can win the division and gain a first round bye with a victory plus a Carolina loss at New Orleans. The Rams’ last three road games have been losses by 24, 19 and 44 points. And they’ve been at home for four of the last five weeks. FALCONS.

Chiefs +3 at Bengals (37½): These teams have long been out of contention with their combined 5-24-1 record, but have been competitive of late. KC did play well offensively last week in a wild game against Miami, but the offense has struggled much of the season. Cincy also has had problems generating points. UNDER.

Jags +11½ at Ravens (35½): The Ravens, who need a win to clinch a playoff berth, have held 10 of 15 foes to 13 points or less including all seven at home! Behind rookie QB Joe Flacco, Baltimore has scored 24 or more points in eight of their last 10 games. The Jags should just be going through the motions. RAVENS.

Titans -3 at Colts (38): Both teams are in the playoffs. Tennessee is still banged up with several key defenders out with injuries. Plus, teams have generally struggled the week after playing Pittsburgh. The Titans could also be in for a bit of letdown after their top seed clinching win over the Steelers. COLTS.

Browns +10½ at Steelers (31½): Cleveland could be down to fourth-string QB (Brad Gradkowski) with Ken Dorsey banged up in likely Romeo Crennel’s last game as coach. The Steelers will likely rest many starters, milk the clock and limit the number of plays. Cleveland will have trouble against the outstanding Steelers defense. UNDER.

Dolphins +3 at Jets (42): QB Chad Pennington has been solid, displaying great leadership and rarely turning the ball over since coming over from the Jets. Prior to last week’s shootout in Kansas City, Miami’s defense had not allowed a TD for three straight game. The Jets are 9-2 in games not played on the West Coast. JETS.

Patriots -6 at Bills (42): A season that started 4-0 has turned sour for Buffalo as the Bills have gone 3-8 since. Even in last week’s win at Denver the Bills were outgained 532-275! Bill Belichick may have done his best coaching job of all in getting the Pats to 10-5. Only one of those 10 wins has been by less than a TD. PATRIOTS.

Seahawks +4½ at Cards (45): Arizona has lost its last two games by a combined 61 points. This is coach Mike Holmgren’s last game on the Seahawks sidelines, but his team got him a highly-desired win last week at home. Arizona is likely to be much more motivated for a confidence building effort. CARDINALS.

Redskins +3 at 49ers (37): The San Francisco defense has shown marked improvement over the second half of the season with each of its last four foes held to 16 points or less. Washington has tallied 13 points or less in each of the last four games. The Skins figure to have little motivation making the cross country trip. 49ERS.

Broncos +9 at Chargers (50): Recall that an official’s error cost San Diego a win at Denver back in Week 2 so perhaps poetic justice calls for the Chargers to win. Both teams have potent passing attacks (rank 3 and 7) and weak pass defense (rank 27 and 31). This suggests the bigger plays will be made by the offenses. OVER.