With the last games of the 2011-2012 NFL season coming this Sunday, there are a number of teams that will be fighting for their playoff lives. As such, there are a number of teams already eliminated from postseason contention that have the chance to finish their season right by spoiling someone else's dreams.
In the NFC, the only playoff spot left up for grabs will be decided by the game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. But in the AFC, the Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets are all in competition for the last two spots.
Here are the four already-eliminated teams that are most likely to play the part of the spoiler against those AFC teams still battling to make the 2012 NFL Playoffs.
The Miami Dolphins ruined their season early on with their inability to close out games, but they are a talented team, and have been playing very well in the second half of the season.
The Dolphins have won five of their last eight games, with the only losses coming against the Dallas Cowboys (on a last-second field goal on Thanksgiving Day), the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots by just a field goal last weekend. The Dolphins have only lost one home game since October.
The Kansas City Chiefs are likely disappointed after their overtime loss to the Oakland Raiders cost them a shot at the NFL Playoffs themselves. But the players still want to play well for interim coach Romeo Crennel, and they will vent their frustration on the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos have fallen apart the last few weeks as they have faced superior competition. Tim Tebow has gone from looking like Superman to looking like Lois Lane. His five turnovers the last two weeks were a big reason why Denver lost consecutive games to the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots by a combined 44 points.
The Chiefs may have lost last week, but they lost in overtime to an 8-7 team. They are just two weeks removed from their huge win over the Green Bay Packers. The Chiefs have some momentum, and they have definitely have talent. They can upset the Broncos, and subsequently upset the millions of fans that wanted to see Tebow in the 2012 NFL Playoffs (if the Oakland Raiders win).
The perennially underachieving San Diego Chargers were eliminated from playoff contention last week. However, with their coach and general manager's heads on the block, the Chargers still have something to play for against the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders have to win and hope for the Denver Broncos to lose to win the AFC West or the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals to lose for them to get an AFC wild-card spot.
The Chargers, who started off the 2011 season 4-1, are replete with talent. Moreover, they've been hot, having won three of their last four. They have a good shot at knocking off the Raiders, who have lost three of their last four and are limping towards the finish line.
The Houston Texans ostensibly have nothing to play for this week. They have already clinched the No. 3 seed in the AFC, which will not change no matter what happens Sunday.
However, the Tennessee Titans are still very much alive. If they win and the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals both lose (which seems possible with the Bengals facing the Baltimore Ravens), the Titans will get a wild-card spot in the 2012 NFL Playoffs.
However, the Texans will likely find some motivation in keeping their division rivals out of the playoffs. The Titans have lost two of their last three, so it certainly seems possible that they could lose to Houston even if the Texans aren't giving it their all.