Once again, credit the schedule makers for a pair of big games on the Week 16 NFL schedule.
On Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) take their 6-1 road record into Tennessee (12-2) for a showdown for the AFC's No. 1 seed. After starting the season 10-0, the Titans have now split their last four, and now are in danger of losing the conference's top seed to the red-hot Steelers.
Pittsburgh, winners of five straight, clinched its second straight AFC North title with a 13-9 come-from-behind win in Baltimore. The win over the Ravens marked the second straight week the Steelers rallied late in the fourth quarter to pull one out, as this time Santonio Holmes caught a four-yard TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger with only 43 ticks remaining.
A week earlier, the Steelers had stunned the visiting Dallas Cowboys with 17 points in the fourth quarter for a 20-13 triumph.
Meanwhile, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher will be second-guessed for his decision in the fourth quarter of Tennessee's 13-12 defeat in Houston. Down by the same score with two minutes remaining, Fisher opted to go for it on 4th-and-3 at the Houston 32-yard line instead of trying for a go-ahead field goal. QB Kerry Collins' thrown down the field went just out of Justin McCareins' reach.
So this sets up a classic Steelers-Titans tilt at LP Field in Nashville on Sunday, where things get interesting. Tennessee will clinch the top seed in the conference with a win. Should the Titans lose, though, they'll need help in the season's final week to get home-field advantage for the playoffs. And if that were to happen, then Fisher's decision in Houston will come back to haunt him.
Think about it: Should both teams make it to the AFC title game, do the Titans really want to play at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in frigid conditions in January?
Over in the NFC, the Cowboys (9-5) upset the suddenly reeling New York Giants, 20-8, in the Sunday night game. Giants QB Eli Manning was sacked eight times and also threw two picks, and New York (11-3) has gone 0-2 ever since receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself. The G-Men were held without a TD for the first time in over four years.
In Carolina, the Panthers (11-3) won for the seventh time in eight contests, blowing out the Denver Broncos 30-10. Jake Delhomme passed for 253 yards and Steve Smith caught nine passes for 165 yards and a TD, as the Panthers scored 23 unanswered points and shut out the Broncos in the final three quarters.
It was also Carolina's third straight win, and the last two have been impressive, including a 38-23 win over Tampa Bay on Monday night.
The big tests come in the Panthers' last two contests, first in New York against the Giants and then the season finale at New Orleans.
This Sunday though, the Panthers-Giants clash on Sunday Night Football is the biggest game in the NFC, as the two teams battle it out for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The winner on Sunday controls its own destiny, but two weeks ago when New York was 11-1, who would have thunk that Carolina would even be part of the discussion?
Also to watch this weekend:
* A pair of 9-5 teams hook up in Dallas on Saturday, as the Ravens take on the Cowboys in the final regular-season game at Texas Stadium. Baltimore, which lost at home to Pittsburgh for the first time since 2002 in Week 15, missed out on the AFC North title but is still in the hunt for an AFC wild card spot.
Meanwhile, if the Cowboys win out, they'll be in the playoffs for the third straight season. Not bad for a team that many had written off weeks ago when the Cowboys got blown out at Giants Stadium in early November.