By: Shawn Davis
I would like to talk about two things I didn’t expect this year before I get to the rest of the column: the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants watching the playoff party start while they watch from outside. The Giants can still get into the playoffs but in order to qualify they have to defeat Philadelphia – AND have losses by Dallas, Minnesota and Chicago. The formula is possible but I don’t see the Lions being able to stop the Bears from coming into their dome and beating them all over the venue.
In Pittsburgh, I look at it as a case of having a great number of injuries and relying too heavily on their “name” players upon their return from various bumps and bruises. It’s not a city-is-burning type of atmosphere either – it’s just an average year and their mandate in April’s NFL job fair –commonly known as the NFL Draft – should be to build some young, cheap and reliable depth. Once that’s addressed I see the Steelers back among the league’s elite franchises.
Back on the road:
The AFC slots are all filled with division winners Houston, Denver, Baltimore, New England, Indianapolis and Cincinnati already receiving their tickets to the January bash. The NFC is where the NFC West winner (and fifth seeded participant) will be determined in the regular season’s final week. While the sixth seed in the conference is still up for the taking between the Vikings and Bears. With losses by the aforementioned, the Giants and Redskins can grab the final ticket.
These teams are fighting for the final two posts in the NFC bracket.
Washington (9-6), Dallas (8-7), Minnesota (9-6), Chicago (9-6), New York Giants (8-7)
The Dallas vs. Washington game on Sunday night is as simple as it gets: Win and qualify for the postseason by winning the division (and taking the fourth seed overall). There is nothing a team wants to do than to control its own destiny and this is where it applies. Win the game and get in. The Vikings visit Green Bay and if they emerge victorious they move on through to the wild card round because they do not need help of any kind.
As I said above, the Giants will need help – provided they beat the Eagles – and so will the Bears if they prevail against the Lions. There isn’t much on the line in Week 17 but for these teams here – this is their whole year.
If not eliminated early these teams can break some playoff hearts – and are looking to do just that.
Cincinnati (9-6), Indianapolis (10-5)
The combination of Any Dalton and A.J. Green has led the Bengals to consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in 30 years so an opposing team will want to vanquish these guys early. What else can be said about the Colts? They were the worst team in the league last year at 2-14, which led to the pick of Andrew Luck, and he led them to the postseason. This is really happening!
Playing For The Trophy
Atlanta (13-2), Houston (12-3), Seattle (10-5), San Francisco (10-4-1), New England (11-4), Denver (12-3), Green Bay (11-4)
Seattle has outscored opponents 150-30 in their last three games so they get here just for such an impressive run of living in the end zone. The Broncos are riding a 10-game winning streak and are looking like the terrors of the league but they’re defense has to play better in the postseason if they intend to win it all.
New England is going to have to defend better as well if they wish to get another crack at the title because Tom Brady and the offense has been efficient and explosive. I like that the Packers are getting their elite defenders back on the field just as they’ve been running the ball with a little more commitment just to give their offense some balance.
Houston and San Francisco seemed elated just to appear in the playoffs last year, and while both won a game, they definitely want to play for a few more weeks this time around. I would not be surprised if they both did (but I’m staying with the Broncos to win it all).
We all know what the narrative is as Atlanta piles up win after win to their record: “let’s see them when the games really count.” The road to the NFC title goes directly through the Georgia Dome…as long as the Falcons continue to win. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?
I’m doubling up again for Week 17 so here are the picks for the regular season finale:
TB 17 @ ATL 27: The Falcons can afford to give this one away but I don’t see that happening as they will strive to go into the postseason with a positive showing in their regular season finale.
NYJ 14 @ BUF 31: Watch the Jets come out and win this game; damn you, Bills!
BAL 21 @ CIN 28: I’m going to take the Bengals, here, as they vanquished the Steelers last week and I’m sure they don’t feel the Ravens are as intimidating as they once were.
CHI 27 @ DET 20: Calvin Johnson gets to pad his receiving yardage record…in another Lions loss.
JAC 13 @ TEN 24: I’ll take the home team.
HOU 24 @ IND 21: The Texans get a win, in Indianapolis, for a change. I think.
CAR 28 @ NO 38: The Panthers play well but don’t get enough points to hang with the Saints.
PHI 20 @ NYG 21: Michael Vick gets his resume tape prepared and plays exceptionally but adds a costly fumble, late, which puts the ball in the hands of Eli Manning for the game-winning drive.
CLE 13 @ PIT 20: I can see the Browns winning this game but the Steelers will want to close this season in the win column.
OAK 10 @ SD 35: I guess Matt Leinart gets a chance to show everyone he really wasn’t the prospect many – myself included – thought he was going to be.
ARI 10 @ SF 24: 49ers.
STL 13 @ SEA 38: Seahawks.
GB 31 @ MINN 24: Adrian Peterson needs 208 yards to own the single-season rushing record – and I hope he gets it. Aside from that I think the Packers win this game.
MIA 13 @ NE 35: Patriots.
KC 17 @ DEN 34: Broncos.
DAL 20 @ WSH 27: I just do not trust the Cowboys on the defensive side of the ball.
Last Week: 12-4