Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.
NY Jets @ Cincinnati (-2½)
The Jets and Bengals kickoff the first of three Week 17 rematches in Cincinnati, where the Bengals will try to rebound from a humiliating 37-0 loss to those very Jets. Cincy rested several starters, while others played sparingly, and New York easily locked up the No. 5 seed.
"After such a lopsided win over the Bengals," says Rex Ryan, "we could very well see Mark Sanchez on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine, again. Not that Mark deserves all of the credit, or any of it for that matter, but he was an efficient 8-of-16 for 63 yards passing, was flawless on handoffs, and surreptitiously devoured a hot dog on the sidelines. I can spot a winner a mile away; Mark can do the same of a wiener. Maybe the 'Sanchise' is a nickname he can't live up to, but 'Fran(k) -chise' is one I can certainly get behind.
"Obviously, there are those who think we don't deserve to be in the playoffs after having two wins fall into our laps. We can't concern ourselves with those people. You can't question our effort. We wanted this more than any other team, except for the Colts and Bengals, apparently. We may be overrated right now, but we're here because we were underrated at the time. Sure, making the playoffs looks easy when the two teams standing in your way end up sitting. There's a fine line between effortless and effort-less ."
The Bengals certainly can't be confident about entering the postseason with a 37-0 loss, and they definitely aren't counting any "Most Likely to Succeed" votes for the playoffs, but at least Saturday's game is at home, where Cincy was a healthy 6-2 this year.
"'The Jungle has been kind to us," says Carson Palmer. "I know our crowd will be behind us. They're a lot like Chad Ochocinco—they never shut up. Plus, they've got just as many catches against Darrelle Revis as Chad does. I seriously doubt Chad will change his name back to Johnson like he said he would just because Revis shut him out, but he should, and quickly. That way, when Revis shuts him out again on Saturday, Chad can change it back to Ochocinco.
"Despite last week's debacle, we're still favored, and that's how it should be. I know Ryan's using that as a motivational tool to fire up his team. Call him the Round Mound of Sound (Bite). I hear Rex is telling his team he's got a gut feeling they'll win. From Rex, I guess that would be called an upset stomach .
"I'm confident we can put this loss behind us. We've spent the better part of this entire year putting things behind us—like our three AFC North rivals. Personally, my 1-of-11, 0-yard, 1-interception stat line is one I'd like to erase from my memory. I'm amazed that such a line even warrants a 1.7 passer rating. It's one that Jake Delhomme could likely outdo...blindfolded. After a performance like that, I'm not sure I'm even qualified to play drums for Def Leppard."
Indeed. Palmer's right arm has become about as useless as his left. And his performance last Sunday was so awful it begs the question: was he sandbagging? Is Palmer involved in a secret fraternity of USC quarterbacks, and was it Palmer's turn to make a fellow Trojan look good? If that's the case, then even Todd Marinovich got a boost of self esteem.
Saturday afternoon will be different, though. The Bengals will have Cedric Benson back, and in what is sure to be a low-scoring affair, Palmer will be charged with nothing more than delivering the ball to Benson. And that's good, because Revis will be on Ochocinco like blanco on arroz .
Benson rushes for 94 yards and a touchdown, and the Bengals force two Sanchez turnovers.
Cincinnati wins, 19-14.
Philadelphia @ Dallas (-4)
With the NFC East title on the line, the Cowboys overwhelmed the Eagles, blanking Philadelphia 24-0 and setting up a return match on Saturday night in Dallas. Dallas hasn't won a playoff game since 1996, and recent failures in the postseason haunt a franchise that prides itself on playoff glory.
"Lately," says Tony Romo. "playoff prestige has eluded us. I guess you could say there's a glory hole where that's concerned. And speaking of glory holes, unless you make seven figures and/or are intimately involved with Jerry Jones, then that's the only way you'll be able to see this game. And even that will cost you $250.
"But right now, we're riding a wave of momentum not seen from the Cowboys since the Bills were AFC champions. But really, I don't see anything stopping us from my first playoff win except, let's see, history, and maybe a botched field goal attempt. Heck, even if I get the hold down flawlessly, there's no guarantee our kicker will make the kick."
Just a week ago, the Eagles were viewed as a legitimate threat in the NFC, but all that changed after Sunday's lethargic performance in Dallas.
"We know we disappointed a lot of people last Sunday in Dallas," says Donovan McNabb. "Not only legions of Eagles fans, but football purists, as well. We were the last hope to put a kink in what is now the NFC's all indoor playoffs. As it is, the NFC playoffs will see more roofies than a Sebastian Janikowski date.
"We understand the difficulty of beating a team that's already whipped us twice already. We'll have to play better than we did on Sunday. Frankly, our play last week sickened me. Mind you, I didn't blow chunks, but I felt like it. It's one thing to upstage the Dallas star, as Terrell Owens did as an Eagle, but it's another thing to upchuck on the Dallas star. The Cowboy image has seen enough tarnish over the years, what with drug issues, recent playoff failures, Leon Lett, and Emmitt Smith playing a gray-bearded invalid on a Just For Men hair-coloring commercial."
In a bizarre series of events in the first quarter, the Cowboys will have a promising opening drive stalled by a penalty on Flozell Adams, who will be flagged 15 yards for stomping on the face of teammate Andre Gurrode. It's the first penalty in NFL history in which a player is charged with fouling his own team. Wade Phillips unsuccessfully argues that the penalty should be offsetting, but fails to convince the officials. DeSean Jackson returns the ensuing punt 57 yards to set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to Brent Celek.
The impatient Dallas contingent, sensing another playoff disaster, serenades the team with a chorus of boos, but Jerry Jones is ready and has the public address system pipe in the audio of Jones ambiguously rambling about the future of Wade Phillips. Jones' double-talking jive has a calming effect on the 'Boys, and they storm back, driving for the tying score on their next possession.
Romo throws for 220 yards and 2 scores, and the Cowboys win, 27-21.
Baltimore @ New England (-3½)
Despite a 34-27 loss to the Texans in Week 17, the Patriots clinched the AFC's No. 3 seed when the Bengals lost 37-0 to the Jets on Sunday night. Many, including Pittsburgh's Lamar Woodley, had suggested the Bengals and Patriots would "lay down" just to spite the Steelers and keep them out of the playoffs.
"When have I ever done anything for spite?" says Bill Belichick. "Sure, Woodley's right about the Bengals—they did lay down. We, however, held a 27-13 lead over the Texans. Would that be considered a lay down? No. But soon after assuming that lead, we sat our starters. I believe you'd call that a de-lay down. Sorry, Lamar. This year's playoffs won't be sporting Wood.
"Truthfully, it's hard to comprehend the downfall of the Steelers, going from Super Bowl champions to mere onlookers. That's going from one extreme to another, much like Omar Epps going from the role of a street thug in the movie Juice to the role of a doctor in television's House . And let's face it, Epps is a dead ringer for Mike Tomlin. I'm sure if Tomlin would have called for an onside kick with a lead on Dr. House's watch, House would have taken two Vicodin and called him an idiot until morning."
The Ravens played the Patriots tough in a 27-21 loss at Gillette Stadium in October. This time, though, the Ravens defenders won't have to concern themselves with covering pesky wideout Wes Welker, who was lost for the year after injuring his knee against the Texans.
"You always have to know where Welker is on the field," says Ray Lewis. "Usually, it's 4 yards or less from the line of scrimmage. Welker's absence will allow us to devote more coverage to Randy Moss. Welker's the short to Moss' long, not only in length of receptions, but stature as well. Welker represents the Lollipop Guild, and if we can get physical with Moss, it's likely he'll be representing the Lolly-gag Guild.
"All this just means Moss will be carrying more of the load, and as someone who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, he should be used to it. Ironically, the 'weight of the world' weighs approximately the same as a case of Olde English malt liquor. Now, I disagree with the Carolina Panthers defensive backs who doubted Moss' effort. Heck, I've heard about Randy's struggles growing up. So I don't question Moss' hustle.
"Of course, in Welker's absence, the Pats will have to find someone else to work the underneath routes. I guess Tom Brady will have to find another safety valve. Tom's a resilient fellow. He'll have as little trouble finding a valve as he does finding 'hose.'"
In their 27-21 loss to New England in Week 4, the Ravens got decent pressure on Brady, sacking him three times. And with reports that Brady's been playing with three broken ribs and a broken index finger, Baltimore's desire to attack the Patriot signal-caller will be even more ravenous. Bill Belichick may be an asshole, but he's no fool. Priority number one will be to protect Brady. Luckily for the Pats, that's also priority number one for the officiating crew.
New England wins, 21-20.
Green Bay @ Arizona (-2½)
With a Minnesota win earlier in the day sealing their playoff seeding, the Cardinals rested several starters, while others played sparingly, in a 33-7 loss to Green Bay. A Vikings' loss would have given Arizona the opportunity for the No. 2 or 3 seed, but now, the Cards, as the No. 4 seed, will welcome the Packers back to Glendale for anticipated revenge.
"I've been waiting for the second coming," says Kurt Warner. "And here it is.
"A win would have been a worthless endeavor. You've heard the saying no gain, no vain. Win or lose, we knew we'd be playing again at University of Phoenix Stadium, the glorious home of the Cardinals. Still, losing 33-7 there under any circumstances is akin to laying a nest egg. Who knew sitting Cardinals would so easily become sitting ducks?
"But, I can only do what the coach tells me. Ironically, when God says to rest on Sundays, I don't, but when Ken Whisenhunt does, I do. When I say I answer to only one higher being, I'm of course referring to Ken.
"As for the Packers, we surely have our work cut out for us. Hopefully, Coach Whisenhunt will create only one game plan for this contest."
The Packers appear to be the only wild card team with the balance, health, and momentum to mount a serious Super Bowl run. Green Bay has won seven of their last eight, and boasts the NFL's second-ranked defense.
"I'm not sure anyone has noticed," says Aaron Rodgers, "but almost every team that Brett Favre has ever played for made the playoffs, including two from which he's retired. I'm not sure any other player in history can say that. Kudos to Brett, though. Even when he's not a member of a team, it's still all about Brett.
"I expect crowd noise to be a factor in Sunday's game. Of course, it will be a pro-Cardinals contingent, but I expect there to be throngs of Favre fans there, as well. After all, the area has a huge retirement community.
"Of course, we don't expect the Cardinals to hand a win to us like they did last Sunday. We know we didn't see their best last week. Matt Leinart looks more intimidating under a hot-tubbing co-ed than he does under center. I believe that's the earliest Leinart's seen mop-up duty."
Aaron Rodgers throws for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns, and the Packers survive a late Arizona run to win, 31-27