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Friday, December 30, 2005 

Quick Slants - Week 17

We've reached the final weekend of the regular season, and the playoff picture is much clearer this year than in past years. 6 of the divisions are settled, and Jacksonville has already clinched one of the wild cards. But there's still a lot of possibilities, and plenty of mis-information out there. Here's my best shot at clarifying the remaining scenarios.

Denver (12-3) at San Diego (9-6), 4:30pm ET, CBS
NY Giants (10-5) at Oakland (4-11), 8pm ET, ESPN

The Denver-San Diego matchup is intriguing, since I suspect more people from Pittsburgh and Kansas City will be watching this game than the hometown fans. Neither the Broncos or Chargers have anything to play for - Denver is locked into the second seed, while San Diego has been eliminated. But a Chargers win puts Pittsburgh into the playoffs and eliminates Kansas City regardless of how Sunday's games turn out. That's because if San Diego finishes 10-6, the worst case for the Steelers is a three-way tie with the Chargers and Chiefs. Following the NFL's 3-way tie-breaker rules, you break ties within a division first. San Diego would knock out Kansas City based on common opponents record, then Pittsburgh would trump San Diego since they beat the Chargers earlier this season.

In the New Year's Eve nightcap, the Giants need a win to wrap up the NFC East to avoid the possiblity of relying on the Redskins to lose on Sunday. After last week's debacle, I'd expect Tom Coughlin to have his troops pretty fired up.

Detroit (5-10) at Pittsburgh (10-5), 1pm ET, CBS
Cincinnati (11-4) at Kansas City (9-6), 1pm ET, CBS

These games may be meaningless if San Diego wins Saturday, but for the sake of argument, let's assume the Chargers lose.

Cincinnati had a bad loss last week at Buffalo, as Palmer forced a pass in the final minute with his team trailing 30-27 and was intercepted by Terrance McGee who returned it 46 yards for the capping touchdown. But all they have to play for is momentum and seeding - concepts that usually don't translate well. Kansas City is far more desperate and will have the home crowd behind them. (That said, if San Diego wins Saturday, the Bengals will win this one easily.) The only problem for the Chiefs is that the Lions have basically packed it in, last week's win against the lowly Saints excepted. Pittsburgh should have no trouble running up the score in their game, which will put them back in the playoffs.

New Orleans (3-12) at Tampa Bay (10-5), 1pm ET, FOX
Carolina (10-5) at Atlanta (8-7), 1pm ET, FOX

Tampa Bay should win the NFC South by defeating New Orleans, but note that they may have already clinched a playoff spot if the Giants win on Saturday. Tampa has the tie-breaker against Carolina, so the Panthers need to finish with a better record to win the division. Carolina's playoff chances were hurt by defeating Dallas last week, since if they lose they need either the Cowboys or Redskins to lose in order for them to get in. Those teams play later in the day, so the Panthers need to take care of business themselves to avoid some unneeded suspense.

Washington (9-6) at Philadelphia (6-9), 4:15pm ET, FOX

The playoff implications for this game are simple - if the Redskins win, they clinch a playoff spot; if the Giants lost the night before, a win also gives the Redskins the NFC East title.

Sunday Night
St. Louis (5-10) at Dallas (9-6), 8:30pm, ESPN

By the time this game kicks off, Dallas will know whether they still have a chance. Unlike the other teams in the NFC playoff race, the Cowboys need a win plus some help. In short, if the Redskins, Panthers, and either the Bucs or the Giants have already won, the Cowboys are out, and this game is meaningless. I'll spare you the details involving tie games and "strength of victory" tiebreakers for now, except for this scenario - if the Redskins lose, then the Cowboys need only to tie the Rams to make the playoffs.

Happy New Year!

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