Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.
San Francisco @ St. Louis (+7)
With a win in St. Louis, the 49ers would finish 8-8, with a winning percentage just slightly lower than Alex Smith's completion percentage, but much higher than the typical percentage fee charged by bail bondsmen, or, as known to Michael Crabtree, "agent responsible for negotiating my financial security."
"Hey, I've learned a lot this year," says Crabtree. "Most importantly, the fact that in contract negotiations, it's best if your agent doesn't carry a sidearm. I've heard of signing contracts with a ballpoint, but never at gunpoint.
"And speaking of 'warning shots,' a win over the Rams would give us a 5-1 division record, best in the West, and would signal to our division rivals that there'll be a new sheriff in town come 2010.
"And said sheriff's gun won't be just for show. With the Christmas season past us, sightings of flying reindeer will become just as rare as sightings of 'winning' Rams. In St. Louis, we'll prove that men are men, and sheep are nervous."
Frank Gore rushes for 102 yards and a touchdown, and the 49ers ground out a 24-20 win.
NY Giants @ Minnesota (-9)
With reasons for motivation in abundance, the Giants played with a total lack of it in a 41-9 destruction at the hands of the Panthers last week.
Sunday's game was the last at Giants Stadium, and New York was desperate for a win to strengthen hope for a playoff berth, but the G-Men laid an egg anyway, turning the ball over four times and surrendering 247 yards on the ground.
"One would think," says Eli Manning, "that with Lawrence Taylor in attendance, we would have gone out there and played like a bunch of crazed dogs. But the presence of a 'slimmed down' Taylor doesn't quite pack the motivational punch of a 'coked up' Taylor. In a time of year when many make vows to be better, we showed very little 'New York resolution.'"
The Giants will face the Vikings, who lost for the third time in their last four game with a 36-30 overtime loss at Chicago on Monday night. Minnesota would clinch the number two seed with a win and a Philadelphia loss, while a loss would drop them to either the number three or four seed.
"That's right," says Brad Childress. "It's a case of an NFC power struggle. Oh no, I'm not talking about the Vikings, Eagles, and Cardinals. I'm talking about Brett Favre and myself battling over who's making decisions on this team.
"You would think Favre would acquiesce at least once in his life, but when have we known Favre to 'walk away' from anything in his career? Does he think just because he's one of the NFL's all-time greats he can do as he please?
"Maybe he should star in a movie called There's Something About Legend-ary . You know, Joe Montana had no trouble at all walking away from the game. And nothing could drag him back, not even an exorbitant appearance fee to show up at Super Bowl XL in celebration of the games' MVPs."
Vikings win, 31-24.
Jacksonville @ Cleveland (-3)
Just four weeks ago, the Jaguars were 7-5 and first in line for one of the AFC's two wild card berths. Since then, they've lost three straight, and although they're still in contention, they'd need a series of unlikely events to clinch a playoff spot.
"This is Florida," says Jack Del Rio. "Stranger things have happened. Hopefully, we'll remain motivated, and maybe a 'spirited practice' or two will change the course of history.
"We just need to handle our business and beat the Browns, which won't be easy in Cleveland Stadium. We're 2-5 on the road, which is awful, so we need to treat this as if it's a home game. That will be easy, because there will be about 126 Jag fans in the crowd.
"As for those reports that have the Jags drafting Tim Tebow, as well as Urban Meyer replacing me as coach, well, those Jesus freaks may be able to put people in the pews , but not in the stands . This team doesn't need to be closer to God; we need to be closer to the Colts."
The Browns walloped the Raiders 23-9, improving to 4-11 and now riding the wave of a three-game winning streak. Eric Mangini has remained collected in the face of recent front office changes, and that calm demeanor has been the catalyst for the Browns recent run.
"Coach Mangini has a lot of support," says Joshua Cribbs, "mostly in his girdle. But the attitude in the locker room is a far cry from what it was early in the season. Earlier this year, the team was standing firmly behind him, but that was when asked if we'd take a bullet for him.
"Now, he has our full support, and he's kept this team together. We're cool. He's cool. So cool, in fact, that we no longer call him the 'Ice Man(gini).' Now, he goes by the moniker 'Funky Cold Mangini.'"
Jags finally play like it means something and wins, 23-16 . In the end, though, it doesn't mean anything.
Pittsburgh @ Miami (+3)
The Steelers are 9-7 after a big win against the Ravens, and while their playoff hopes are slim, there's still a chance Pittsburgh could slip in.
The Steelers need to win in Miami, and would benefit from losses by the Ravens, Jets, Broncos, and Texans.
"Five-game losing streaks tend to loosen your grip on destiny," says Ben Roethlisberger. "And make your teammates start questioning your toughness. And cause your coach to make unwise decisions, like onside kicking with a lead .
"And make you start doubting whether Head And Shoulders shampoo does, in fact, provide seven benefits to healthy hair, or is there something in it that is keeping your star safety from playing. If there's one thing this defense is lacking, it's mettle, 'hair' mettle."
Despite losing to the Texans last week to fall to 7-8, the Dolphins still have a chance to make the playoffs, but the explanation of such a scenario would be a difficult concept to comprehend even for Jets coach Rex Ryan, much less the average football fan.
In fact, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is himself surprised that the 'Fins have a chance.
"Just when I think I'm out," says Sparano, "they pull me back in. That's what my great-grandfather Vito Sparano said back in '35 when he tried to get out of the family olive oil business to pursue a career in the circus. And it applies to our playoff chances this year.
"Now, from what I understand, we need to win, and the Jets, Ravens, Broncos, Texans, and Jaguars all need to lose. Sure, the odds are long, but nobody wants to see me throw in the towel, lest not on the season, and especially not in the sauna."
Steelers win, 27-20 .
New England @ Houston (-7)
Since his low point against the Panthers, when his heart was questioned, Moss has caught four TD passes, and the Pats again look like a team to be reckoned with.
"There was never any doubt in my mind that Randy would be ready for the postseason," says Brady. "When has he ever been caught 'with his pants down' in the playoffs? Despite Joe Buck's overreaction to that incident, Randy did not, in fact, pull his pants down. It was a 'simulated' mooning, just as Randy's effort is often 'simulated.'"
While the Patriots are in, the Texans are still fighting for a playoff spot, and need a win, plus two losses among the Jets, Broncos, and Ravens.
Houston features the NFL's yardage leaders in passing and receiving in Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, respectively.
"Andre is Moss without the drama," says Schaub, "and the hillbilly homeboy accent."
"Win or lose, though, you'd have to say we've had a successful season. If just a few balls would have gone our way, particularly, two over the crossbar against the Colts, then we'd be facing a vastly different situation right now. That's why we call our kicker, Kris Brown, by his wife's name, 'Miss' Brown."
Bill Belichick has said that "whoever plays, plays" in regards to how much his starters will play against the Texans.
Quick, somebody chisel that into a stone tablet so, 1,000 years from now, some genius can translate so everyone will know what the hell those words mean.
Schaub throws for 315 yards and three scores, two to Johnson, and the Texans win, 31-17.
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay (-1)
The Bucs stunning overtime defeat of the Saints left many observers doing a double-take, including Saints owner Tom Benson, who unwittingly celebrated a Saints win although New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley missed the game-winning field goal.
But those double-takes pale in comparison to the "spit-takes" unleashed in reaction to rumors that Bill Cowher may be the new head coach of the Buccaneers.
"Hey, you know what they say about rumors," says Cadillac Williams. "'Loose lips sink ships.' Well, if Cowher is, in fact, headed to Tampa, that saying should be revised to 'Loose lips rebuild ships.' But let's not jump too far ahead on this matter.
"The ink's not even dry on the contract, nor is the spittle. Raheem Morris is still the coach, but in the world of the impatient Glazer brothers, owners of the Bucs, a coach can be gone in a heartbeat. If you listen closely, you can hear music coming from the pirate ship in the end zone. It's Nancy Sinatra's 'This Plank Was Made For Walking.'"
Atlanta wins, 23-21.
New Orleans @ Carolina (-7)
It's not often a 13-2 team can be classified as "reeling," but the Saints, who just weeks ago looked like the favorite as NFC champions, have now lost two in a row.
After being bullied by the Cowboys on Dec. 19, the Saints blew a 17-0 lead to the Bucs and lost 20-17 in overtime.
On Sunday, they face a rejuvenated Panthers team that would like nothing more than to knock the Saints down another notch.
"Obviously, we've lost our 'meaux jeaux,'" says Drew Brees. "Maybe it's lost somewhere in our rush defense, and I'm sure the Panthers, decent people that they are, will offer us ample opportunity to find it.
"But thanks to the Vikings loss on Monday, we've clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. And we've got to thank the Bears for that. Heck, they owed us. The last time a Bear showed that much generosity, Mike Ditka gave away our entire draft for Ricky Williams."
The Panthers pasted the Giants 41-9 for their second straight impressive victory after Week 15's 26-7 win over the Vikings.
Matt Moore threw for 3 touchdowns in the win over the Giants, and has made a strong case to keep the starting job in 2010. Moore is 3-1 in his four starts this year.
"Jake's stock has sunk like a rock in the swamps of his native state of Louisiana," says John Fox. "Since he broke his finger and Matt's started, this team's done a complete 'Bayou'-turn. Not only that, but Julius Peppers has lately been playing like a man possessed. And that's as it should be. At a price of $1 million per game, you'd think we'd need an exorcist to manage Peppers' 'possession.'"
Panthers win, 30-20.
Philadelphia @ Dallas (-3)
The NFC East title will be on the line when the 10-4 Cowboys host the 11-5 Eagles.
Dallas locked up a playoff spot with a 17-0 win in Washington on Sunday night. If you watched that broadcast on NBC, you saw the video of Jerry Jones saying he didn't feel the need for a coaching change, although he would like that feeling "ratified" by a playoff win.
The Cowboys' last postseason success came in 1996.
"I regularly have my feelings 'ratified' by beautiful blonde starlets," says Tony Romo. "But you know Jerry, he's the only owner who can offer a vote of confidence and and then a backhanded retraction in the same sentence ."
The Eagles, winners of their last six, appear primed for a postseason run much like last year's, which culminated in a loss in Arizona in the NFC Championship Game.
"We're certainly the hottest team in the NFC right now," says Donovan McNabb. "Most of the credit for our success in that span goes to DeSean Jackson, who can break down defenses in a number of ways. He's carried us. I haven't seen this many people relying on a 'Jackson' since Michael Jackson passed away. His kin give parasites a bad name.
"Anyway, the Cowboys have as much to gain with a win as we do. And just as much to lose. This is truly a 'loser leaves town' match. The loser likely goes on the road for the first-round of the playoffs."
Romo out-duels McNabb, and throws for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns, and the Cowboys win, 34-28.
Indianapolis @ Buffalo (-7)
Hey, the Colts used to be members of the AFC East, and a feeling of overwhelming nostalgia must have been responsible for Indianapolis's seasonal kindness towards their former East rivals.
Jim Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning and several starters in the third quarter, thus enabling the Jets to storm back from a 15-10 deficit to a 29-15 win, a victory which kept their playoff hopes alive.
"And that had to thrill the members of the 1972 Dolphins team," says Peyton Manning. "With our many undefeated starts, we've made it a habit to please those old timers quite often when we lose. You could say we're like their colostomy bags—we're the reason they can 'relieve' themselves."
"As you could tell by my agitated state on the sideline, I was not very happy with Jim Caldwell's decision to pull the starters. But let's give him credit—it's the first decision he's made all year. And who am I to argue with a decision a coach makes? Wait a minute. I change nearly every play called in the huddle."
The Colts will face a 5-10 Bills team eager for a win, no matter how tainted.
"Hey, if the Colts want to play their second- and third-string," says Terrell Owens, "it's fine by us. It might be the first evenly-matched game we've played this year. And I think it's wrong for Colts fans to be upset with Caldwell's decision. Don't call the man names. Well, if you must call him a name. why not call him the 'Skeet Shooter,' because where his starters are concerned, he's always saying 'Pull!'"
Indianapolis wins, 24-21.
Chicago @ Detroit (+3)
In the Bears' 36-30 overtime win over the Vikings on Monday night, Jay Cutler threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning score in overtime.
"That's the kind of performance we expected out of Cutler when we traded for him in the offseason," says Lovie Smith. "Maybe the expectations were just too much for Jay to live up to. God knows Rex Grossman set the bar high.
"In hindsight, the trade wasn't a good idea. If I had it to do over, I probably would have ordered Cutler and Josh McDaniels to seek couples counseling. It would have done us good had they stayed together. I think we celebrated a little too much here when Cutler arrived. He was feted. Since then, for the most part, he's been fetid ."
Lions win, 27-24.
Washington @ San Diego (-6½)
The Chargers clinched a first-round bye with a 42-17 win on Christmas over the Titans. With the longest current winning streak in the league right now, at 10, many feel that San Diego will be the most dangerous team in the playoffs.
"Do you know what rhymes with 'first-round bye?'" says Philip Rivers. "'Evil eye.' And that's exactly what we're giving the Colts. People say lightning doesn't strike twice. It already has where Indy is concerned. I don't want to say we're certain to beat the Colts should we meet. I'm just saying their chances to beat us are far from a 'lock'; they're a 'dead bolt.'"
In Washington, the talk of Mike Shanahan's hiring has become louder, and Jim Zorn's firing has become imminent. The 'Skins suffered their first shutout of the year, falling 17-0 to Dallas last week.
"There's a lot of unhappy people in Washington," says Albert Haynesworth. "And I'm one of them, which proves the age-old adage that money, not even $100 million, can buy happiness. It does, however, pay off quite a few fines.
"I would love to have a coach like Mike Shanahan in Washington. Right now, there's nothing of his caliber in Washington, except for maybe the contents of Gilbert Arenas' locker."
San Diego wins, 27-13.
Baltimore @ Oakland (+10)
Despite losing to the Steelers last week, the Ravens still have a firm grasp on their playoff destiny, needing a win to qualify.
They have to do that in Oakland against the unpredictable Raiders, a team that has beaten the Steelers and Bengals this year, yet lost to the Browns last week. Ray Lewis and his fellow Ravens know that there is a job to do.
"'Black Hole' chore," quoth the Raven. "'Black Hole' chore."
"Of course, it's never easy playing in Oakland, especially for the home team. I can't imagine the pressure of having to please the likes of Darth Vader, Skeletor, and the hordes of other characters that occupy the Black Hole.
"And I'm sure the Grim Reaper is somewhere amidst the crowd. At least he is when he's not busy tapping Al Davis on the shoulder. But, like the Raiders, those creatures are nothing to fear. The Raiders are mediocre; those beasts are 'medi-ogres .'"
The lone bright spot in the Raiders' 23-9 loss in Cleveland last week was kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who booted three field goals, including a 61-yarder, a Raiders record.
"This is something that I'll remember forever," says Janikowski. "I've had many 'dates' in my life, but none of them could ever say that. But 'records' don't really mean much to me, because I already have one. I like my goal posts 'upright,' but not my dates."
Joe Flacco throws for two scores, including the game-winner to Ray Rice, and Baltimore wins, 20-13.
Kansas City @ Denver (-11)
It seems that in the AFC, "destiny" is much like a hot potato: no one wants to hold it in their hands.
The Broncos are no exception. In the course of a season, Denver has gone from "sure-fire" AFC West champions (after a 6-0 start) to a "sure-fire" wild card team (8-4 after Week 13) to a team on the bubble.
That's where they stand now.
After three consecutive losses, the Broncos are 8-7 and win or lose, need lots of help to make the playoffs.
"We've made our bed," says Brandon Marshall, "and now we have to sleep in it. Unfortunately, it's a bed of nails, which is a might more uncomfortable than former Bronco running back and procreator Travis Henry's bed of 'nails.' I'm not sure what number is higher—my re ceptions, or Henry's con ceptions."
"Anyway, I don't think Josh McDaniels will allow us to lose sight of our goal. He has a special way of motivation us, and can always find just the right word to move us in the right direction. That word starts with 'f' and ends with '-ers.'"
Marshall has ten catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, and the Broncos win, 24-7 .
Green Bay @ Arizona (-3)
With a wild card berth already sealed, all that remains for the Packers is determining their travel plans for the playoffs.
With several NFC seeding scenarios yet to be solidified, Green Bay could very well be making a return trip to Arizona for a wild card playoff game.
"It doesn't compare to the Lambeau Field 'mystique,'" says Aaron Rodgers, "but University of Phoenix Stadium has a certain 'aura' of its own. I believe it's called a 'roof.' At Lambeau, you can soak up the lore of NFL championships past. You can't do that at the U of P Stadium, although you can get an online degree."
Due to Minnesota's loss last week, the Cardinals have a shot at acquiring the number two seed and a first-round bye.
A win over the Packers, in conjunction with Vikings and Eagles losses, would give Arizona that distinction.
"We'd love to capture that two seed and take a week off," says Larry Fitzgerald. "And I like our odds. Usually, when you 'go number two,' you 'take a seat.'"
Arizona wins, 31-27.
Tennessee @ Seattle (+5)
With both the Titans and the Seahawks eliminated from the playoff picture, all of the attention in Sunday's game in Seattle will be on Chris Johnson's pursuit of the NFL rushing yards and yards from scrimmage records.
Johnson needs 233 yards to tie Eric Dickerson's NFL record of 2,105 set in 1984, and needs only 74 yards to reach Marshall Faulk's record of 2,429 yards from scrimmage set in 1999.
"It was very kind of the Seahawks to rename their venue Qwest Field on my behalf," says Johnson. "What's that? It's always been called that? That's too bad.
"Anyway, I'll be the only brush with greatness the Seahawks have seen this year. Dickerson's record may be out of reach, but Faulk's is sure to fall—hard. With apologies to LenDale White, 'Smash and Dash' will be a solo project in Seattle."
Johnson easily surpasses Faulk, racking up 168 yards from scrimmage, but falls short of Dickerson's mark. However, Johnson rushes for 139 yards, bringing his season total to 2,011, which all but guarantees he'll grace the cover of EA Sports Madden 2011 game.
Titans win, 24-17.
Cincinnati @ NY Jets (-9)
Cincinnati officially clinched the AFC North with a sloppy 17-10 win over the Chiefs, and will enter the playoffs as either the number three or four seed.
That seeding depends on the outcome of the Bengals Sunday night game in the Meadowlands against the Jets, as well as the New England/Houston tilt earlier in the day.
"So, by all accounts," says Carson Palmer, "we'll know our position before the game even starts. Let's assume the Patriots win, which will leave us nothing to play for. In turn, our starters won't play a full game, thus giving the Jets a likely, and needed, win.
"Apparently, there's a consensus among playoff teams that they all want the Jets in the playoffs . So, in essence, if the Jets playoff hopes are a hot dog, then their final two games this year are 'all the fixins,' because with teams laying down in front of them, they Jets can go 'all the way' to the playoffs."
With a win, the Jets will clinch a playoff spot regardless of what the AFC's other six wild card contenders do.
"I resent the allegations that the Colts 'let' us win," says Rex Ryan. "And I think it's ludicrous to surmise that the Bengals will do the same because it's advantageous for them to face us in the playoffs.
"What do we look like? The gift that keeps on giving? It is, however, ironic that the famous words of Herman Edwards, 'You play to win the game,' won't be heeded by our opponents. So, once again, no one's listening to Herman."
Jets wins, 27-10