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Sunday, January 02, 2005 

Games of the Day

Every team is in action today, with 16 games ranging from crucial to meaningless. There are plenty of playoff scenarios, but seven of the eight top playoff spots are locked up:


1. Pittsburgh 1. Philadelphia
2. New England 2. Atlanta
3. Indianapolis 3. Green Bay
4. San Diego

None of these teams can move up or down, which is quite unusual heading into the last week of the season. Since none of them play each other this week, 7 of the 16 games today feature a team that will be inclined to rest their regulars to get ready for the playoffs. Here are a few thoughts on each of the games that matter today:

Early Games

New York Jets at St. Louis
This is the best game of the day. The Jets need a win or a loss/tie by the Bills or Broncos. Since both of those teams are playing against teams who are locked into the playoffs (Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, respectively), the Jets have to assume that they need a win to get in. By the way, if the Jets make the playoffs they will almost certainly be the 5th seed; they drop to 6th only if they lose and the Colts and Bills both win.

Unlike the Jets, the Rams do not control their own destiny. They need a win plus a loss by either Seattle or Minnesota; if Seattle loses, St. Louis wins the NFC West, if Minnesota loses, St. Louis takes one of the wild-card spots.

The bottom line is that the Jets should beat the Rams. St. Louis can't stop anyone, so even New York's meager offense should be enough. Plus, the Jets should be fired up from their disappointing performance last week against the Pats.

New Orleans at Carolina
It will not be exciting, but this is a key battle in the NFC wild card race. Both teams need a win and (reasonable) help to get in. Carolina gets an edge for being at home, and because they handled New Orleans easily a month ago. The Panthers took a 26-0 lead in that game and held on for a 32-21 win.

Minnesota at Washington
Mike Tice got a contract extension, but I still wonder if he'll get fired if the Vikings lose this game. Minnesota gets in with a win, but can also get in if the Panthers or Rams lose.

Miami at Baltimore
Folks, the Ravens are toast. Not only do they need to win, but they need help from three teams: losses by Buffalo, Denver, and Jacksonvile (or a tie in the Jaguars case). Baltimore will win this game, but I have a hard time believing that both Buffalo and Denver will lose against unmotivated opponents. The one bright spot is that a Buffalo loss eliminates Jacksonville, so that may elimiate the Jags motivation too.

Pittsburgh at Buffalo
Drew Bledsoe gets a shot at redemption. Tommy Maddox starts at QB for the Steelers, and it's likely that neither Duce Staley nor Jerome Bettis will play. The Bills are red-hot, and they have a fairly straight-forward way to get in: Win and hope for the Jets or Broncos to lose.

Late Games

The trick here is that the early games may decide some of the races and change the picture.

Atlanta at Seattle
Seattle is already in, and needs a win to clinch the NFC West only if St. Louis beats the Jets. Therefore, the Seahawks should know by kickoff if they still need a win. The only nightmare scenario that can drop Seattle to the 6th seed (and a first round game at Lambeau against Green Bay) is if they lose and both Minnesota and St. Louis win their early games.

Jacksonvile at Oakland
Indianapolis at Denver
I'll cover these together since we've already been over this ground. Jacksonville will already be eliminated if Buffalo has won; the Jags need a win and losses by both Buffalo and Denver. On the other hand, Denver controls its own destiny and can clinch with a win. The Colts mind-set could be interesting. They are locked into the 3rd seed and will play the Jets if New York or Pittsburgh wins. But if both of those teams have already lost, then the Colts control who they will play - Colts win, they play Buffalo; Colts lose, they play Denver again.

Predictions Summary

The Jets will beat the Rams and claim the 5th seed in the AFC. Buffalo also wins, but misses the playoffs as Denver defeats an uninspired Indy for the last spot.

A Rams loss greatly simplifies the NFC picture. Seattle gets the NFC West before playing a down, and will host Carolina. Minnesota stumbles again, but backs in because St. Louis lost. As a result, both NFC wild-card teams are 8-8, while the 10-6 Bills and 9-7 Ravens and Jaguars are out of luck in the AFC.

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