In the NFL regular season, it's not about how you start—it's about how you finish.
A number of teams that played well enough early in the season to be included in the playoff picture now face the reality of the situation: to achieve their goals, these teams must pull out all of the stops in Week 17 to ensure a win.
Even accomplishing that small step won't land some teams in the promised land of playoff football as they might need help from elsewhere to be playing meaningful games in January.
Let's take a look at three teams that aren't going to have a chance at clinching the playoff spot that they desire.
The Texans are already in the playoffs and have won the AFC South, but home-field advantage and a first-round bye is on the line when the team faces off against the upstart Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.
Houston may have beaten the Colts once already this season in a 29-17 victory two weeks ago, but that was a different Texans team than what we saw in Week 16.
Matt Schaub and the Texans explosive offense managed only 186 yards and a pair of Shayne Graham field goals in its 23-6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings last week.
On the other side of the field, Indianapolis rookie QB Andrew Luck continued to rewrite the record books, breaking the NFL's rookie passing record and engineering more fourth-quarter comebacks than any QB since 1970 as Indy won its eighth game of the last 10.
The Colts have momentum, the crowd on its side and this, courtesy of the official Twitter account of ESPN's SportsCenter:
"Circumstances, they don't make you. They reveal you …" -Chuck Pagano, returning to coach @nflcolts after battling leukemia.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 24, 2012
There's little doubt that Indy is going to win this one—and with Denver and New England both winning in Week 17, Houston will find itself a division champion without a first-round bye.
New York Giants
My, how the mighty have fallen.
Over the last month, the defending Super Bowl champions have dropped three of its four games, not only surrendering the lead in the NFC East, but control over its playoff fate as well.
For the Giants to have a chance to defend their Super Bowl championship, the team must not only beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17, but both the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings must lose and the Dallas Cowboys must lose or, at best, tie.
Eli Manning, on his conference call, pointed out that the Giants' playoff scenario is not completely unrealistic ... #NYG— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) December 24, 2012
It really doesn't matter what Eli thinks, however, thanks to this piece of news from ESPN's Adam Schefter (via Twitter):
While Vick hasn't played in quite awhile, the veteran signal-caller is playing for a contract in 2013—and he has a history of success against Big Blue.
Vick has a 6-2 record in eight career starts against New York, completing 61 percent of his passes for 1,218 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions.
Sure, the Eagles offensive line is awful—but the Giants' vaunted pass rush hasn't been that vaunted, recording only 32 sacks on the season—and only one in the past two games.
Vick and Andy Reid will both leave Philadelphia on a high note, knocking their hated rivals out of the playoffs and into what figures to be a very long offseason.
Dallas has already fallen to the Washington Redskins once this season, dropping a 38-31 Week 12 contest at home to its division rivals.
While Tony Romo is playing some of the best football of his career under center for the Cowboys—and going up against a terrible pass defense—the Cowboys defense has been hit hard by injuries and faces a Redskins offense that found great success against the unit once already this season.
A heavy dose of Alfred Morris and dynamic dual-threat QB Robert Griffin III will prove to be too much for the Cowboys to handle and head coach Jason Garrett will once again make some questionable decisions on the sideline, forcing Romo to try and engineer another fourth-quarter comeback.
The end result will find the Cowboys walking off of the field with their heads down as RGIII celebrates the first Redskins' division title since 1999—when he was nine years old.
NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
|No. 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons (13-2) Clinched NFC South & Home-Field Advantage|
|No. 2 Seed Green Bay Packers (11-4) Clinched NFC North|
|No. 3 Seed San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) Lead NFC West; Clinched Playoff Berth|
|No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (9-6) Lead NFC East|
|WILD CARD LEADERS|
|No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (10-5); Clinched Playoff Berth|
|No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (9-6)|
|IN THE HUNT|
|Chicago Bears (9-6)|
|Dallas Cowboys (8-7)|
|New York Giants (8-7)|
AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
|No. 1 Seed Houston Texans (12-3) Clinched AFC South|
|No. 2 Seed Denver Broncos (12-3) Clinched AFC West|
|No. 3 Seed New England Patriots (11-4) Clinched AFC East|
| No. 4 Seed Baltimore Ravens (10-5) Clinched AFC North|
|WILD CARD LEADERS|
|No. 5 Seed Indianapolis Colts (10-5); Clinched Playoff Berth|
| No. 6 Seed Cincinnati Bengals (9-6); Clinched Playoff Berth|
Rick Weiner is a member of B/R's Breaking News Team.