This final week of regular season football should give the fans plenty to tune into, and will surely provide more than enough fodder to fuel water cooler conversations well into the post season. With five playoff spots still not guaranteed, and the second bye still up for grabs in the NFC, the action on the field is sure to be intense.
Two NFL records are within sight of being broken; one for fame, one for infamy. Not one, but two teams with 8-8 records could make the playoffs, BOTH as division champs. A team could go 11-5 and still sit the post season out.
The scenarios are seemingly endless, and are sure to provide us with a wild final weekend.
In no particular order, here are the games to watch this weekend, and why you should have them on your screen:
Games of Consequence
What makes this game a looker is the fact that San Diego can slip into a comfy fourth seed and get to host a playoff game while holding an 8-8 record, gaining Phillip Rivers some measure of revenge for being snubbed in the Pro Bowl balloting. Look for Denver to pull out all stops to ensure a playoff berth with a respectable, though by no means stellar, 9-7 record. With only a two ppg difference between these two, this promises to be a close one.
pick: Denver 24, San Diego 21
A Miami win in this game could accomplish more than just sending the Dolphins to the playoffs; it could be the final nail in the coffin of Brett Favre's stellar but flagging career, and it will be a significant factor in whether or not the Patriots make the post season.
This game will be played in new York, so weather will most assuredly be a factor. But Chad Pennington is facing the team that dumped him for the grizzled and under-performing Favre, and the winner takes home the division title if New England were to end up falling to Buffalo. In other words, Pennington and the Dolphins have fought hard to get this team where they are, and they aren't about to ease up and let this one slip through their fingers.
With Favre more likely to throw picks than touchdowns in recent weeks, expect the Dolphins to be after him all day.
pick: Miami 17, New York Jets 10
The Ravens are likely still steamed about the one they think was stolen from them against Pittsburgh. Instead of being in control of the AFC North, they find themselves only able to gain the sixth and final seed in the AFC provided they can overcome the hapless Jaguars. Jacksonville has won only one of their last six, a 20-16 victory over the equally hapless Packers. A win guarantees Baltimore the bid and freezes out New England.
The Ravens have one of the top defenses in the league, and Joe Flacco is developing into a better-than-average quarterback late in the season. Baltimore may beat the over on this one all by themselves.
pick: Baltimore 38, Jacksonville 20
New England-Buffalo, 1 pm
New England cannot do it alone; they have to put the Bills to bed, then hit the locker room and become cheerleaders for either the Jets or the Jaguars. If the Jets win, the Patriots are AFC East champs. If Miami wins and the Ravens lose, they are the last seed. If Miami and Baltimore BOTH win, Matt Cassel's outstanding performance in Tom Brady's absence goes unrewarded—he didn't even get a Pro Bowl nod—and New England goes home.
Defeating Buffalo shouldn't be an issue; having to cheer for the Jets is certain to cause heartburn throughout the organization.
Pick: New England 35, Buffalo 10
This game means nothing to the Raiders and everything to the Bucs. At 4-11 Oakland has been out of the playoff race for some time now, and has bigger issues to deal with in their organization than whether or not they win the final game of the season. Al Davis needs to be committed, they need to replace recently resigned offensive line coach James Cregg, and their wide receivers have few catches this year than a 12-year-old rec league team.
On the other hand, this is a must-win game for Tampa. If they win, they are guaranteed a playoff spot. Playing at the same time as two other 9-6 teams looking for a playoff berth, the Bucs need to win this game to control their playoff hopes. If they lose this one, they have to hope for two of three teams to falter in their match ups to have a chance.
Not that this should be an issue; Oakland is dismal. But teams with nothing to lose can sometimes be the most dangerous.
pick: Tampa 35, Oakland 14
With yet another division title up for grabs, the Vikings have to feel good about facing the Giants, who have locked up the No. 1 seed and will likely rest their starters early. A win locks Minnesota into the third seed, while a loss could put them out of the picture.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, New York's second team is nearly as good as Minnesota's first team, so this win is not as easy as it may seem on the surface. It will take a full out effort for 60 minutes if the Vikings are to secure the No. 3 seed.
pick: NY Giants 24, Minnesota 21
Dallas is in the unfortunate position of knowing their playoff position before the kickoff. A win by Tampa Bay ends their hopes at post season glory; the only thing left would be to end the season on a high note by defeating the hated Eagles.
With Jerry Jones insisting over and over that he has no plans to change the coaching staff regardless of how the Cowboys season ends, Wade Phillips isn't under as much pressure as he could be. But losing the last game to ever be played in fabled Texas Stadium has to sting, so watch for the Boys to play for the win regardless of their post season chances.
pick: Dallas 28, Philadelphia 17
Chicago comes into this contest on a three-game winning streak; the only game they have dropped in their last five has been to Minnesota, who they are battling for the NFC North title. They only get in with a win AND a Minnesota loss, so they need help.
Also, Houston is not as bad as their 7-8 record might indicate. The game against Oakland notwithstanding, Matt Schaub is showing he may develop into a top-notch quarterback. Rookie sensation Steve Slaton is tearing up the field, and Andre Johnson is closing in on 1500 receiving yards for the year.
The Bears need to bring their "A" game, or they risk losing this one by a touchdown.
pick: Chicago 20, Houston 17
Just for Fun
The Panthers are playing for the second seed in the NFC; a lose relegates them to next to last in the lineup provided Atlanta can overcome the Rams. With both the Panthers and Falcons playing the early games, each has to put it all on the line and hope the other slips first.
On the other hand, Drew Brees is within range of Dan Marino's single season passing record, one of the few he still owns. It will take a huge game to do it—Brees needs over 400 yards to pass Hall of Famer Marino—but with the Saints playing for little else, expect them to air it out early and often.
Carolina won't make it easy for him though; the Panthers pass defense has given up only 15 touchdown passes on the year, along with 35 sacks. Thier latest victim was Eli Manning, who they held to 187 yards and one touchdown while delivering three sacks.
pick: New Orleans 35, Carolina 34
Atlanta-St. Louis, 1 pm
Again, Atlanta is playing to determine if they have a shot to host a playoff game. A win over the St. Louis Rams and a loss by Minnesota AND Chicago moves them from fifth to third in the seeding. Having already guaranteed a spot, a loss wouldn't affect their position, but a win and a third seed would put an exclamation point on a season that no one expected.
pick: Atlanta 28, St. Louis 17
Detroit-Green Bay, 1 pm
The ONLY reasons to watch this game are A) You are a cheesehead, and have nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon in Wisconsin; or B) You want to see first-hand if the Lions will actually be the first team to lose 16 games in one season.
There has never been a team this bad. Surprisingly, though, they came close twice this year against Minnesota, losing both games by a combined 6 points. But close doesn't cut it except in horseshoes and hand grenades, and it is unlikely either will be available come game time on Sunday. Look for the Lions to go down in infamy.
pick: Green Bay 24, Detroit 10
Pittsburgh-Cleveland, 1 pm
Because it's Steelers football, that's why. Not enough? Okay, because it's Steelers football against the Browns, and it's guaranteed to showcase some hard hits and personal fouls. These two teams have hated each other for as long as I can remember.
Plus, the fat guy in the dog mask is sure to get some air time; who wouldn't want to see that? Especially for anyone wanting to have the opportunity to say, "At least I'm not like THAT guy!"
pick: Pittsburgh 30, Cleveland 17
And there you have it folks. When all is said and done, the playoff picture looks like this:
AFC: Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Miami, Denver, Indy, Baltimore.
NFC: NY Giants, Atlanta, Chicago, Arizona, Carolina, Tampa.
Here's to a wild weekend!!