What a mess.
With a convincing win over the previously hopeful but now realistically hopeless Tennessee Titans on Sunday night, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts served notice that they are ready to get to the postseason and make a run for the Super Bowl.
Other than that, however, it is beginning to look like no one else cares to be there.
The next closest team to the Colts is, Lord help us, the 9-3 Cincinnati Bengals, who didn't exactly have a major challenge this week against the beat-up Detroit Lions. But the Bengals can't back down; not only are they in a fight with San Diego for a first round bye in the playoffs, but they have to at least manage a tie in their division to take the title.
Yes, they swept everyone in their division this year, but with Minnesota, San Diego, and the potentially dangerous Jets remaining on their schedule, the Bengals have to make sure they take care of Kansas City in case they slip up, lose one or two, and cost themselves a bye.
Yes, the Redskins. THAT Washington.
Of the four games the Broncos have remaining, they not only have to take on the red-hot Colts, but also Oakland, who stole one from the Steelers this week, as well as a rematch against the Chiefs in the final game of the season.
Can anyone say spoiler?
No one really knows what the heck is up in New England. Tom Brady has not, to the dismay of his legions of fans everywhere, returned to form after a season-ending knee injury last year, and Bill Belichick seems to have lost his mojo.
Some of the play-calling this year has been highly suspect, and the old excuse that "he's always done it that way," is beginning to wear thin.
Key to this turn of events is the Patriots loss to the Dolphins in a game that had serious division standings implications; Miami is now only one game back of the Pats, and with two road games left, New England runs the risk of dropping out of the race late.
San Diego can't rest easy either; Denver is breathing down their necks for the division title. If San Diego drops back to the pack, then all bets are off.
Tennessee had an outside chance to slip in unnoticed. Unfortunately, they had to face the Colts in Indianapolis, and Manning quickly let the air out of the sails they had set for an extended season.
And can someone please tell me what in the world is going on in Pittsburgh? If it's not one thing, it's another.
Polamalu is in, then he's out. Then in again, then out again. The defense has been, accordingly, smothering, lackluster, dominant, and run-of-the-mill. The defense has also been responsible in large part for the Steelers' late-game losses, allowing teams to score at the last possible moment by giving up big plays, or worse, stupid penalties.
Ben Roethlisberger either has a concussion, or doesn't have a concussion, but his play has not been what we have come to expect fom him late in football games. The "Comeback Kid" needs to come back and start playing again.
I've sold insurance in my life, so I understand how hard it can be to close sometimes. What is happening in Steel Town, however, is ridiculous. Have they forgotten that a football game is four 15-minute quarters?
And will someone please tell Hines Ward to keep the dirty laundry in the laundry room, please? We all know you are the toughest guy in football, Hines; no need to call anyone else out because you were dumb enough to lie about a concussion and risk permanent brain damage.
Um, wait a minute...
Anyway, here's what it all boils down to: We have one team in the AFC that has separated itself from the pack and earned a playoff spot.
We have two teams that appear to be separating, but are within a game or two of losing their spot.
We have supposed top-notch teams not only losing, but losing late to teams that they have no business losing to at this point in the season.
In other words, the AFC playoff picture is as clear as mud soup.
All of the "if the season ended today" talk is pointless, not only because it is a moot point (the season isn't ending today, it ends on Jan. 3, so enough of that, please), but because every week, every seed except the top seed stands a chance of changing hands.
Not counting the division champions, who automatically get a playoff berth and one of the top four seeds, there are eight teams—count 'em, eight —fighting for two spots.
There are five weeks left in the season, four games for some and five for others, and the schedule plays out so that even the 5-7 Titans and the 5-7 Texans stand a chance of making the playoff race.
Division leaders and so-called "elite" teams, listen up: If you wanna play in January, you'd better start playing now . Because there are teams behind you that want your spot, and teams with no shot at all that would like nothing more than to be the ones who sent you home.
If ever there was a time to be ready for some football, it is now.
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