Week 16 was shaping up to be fairly simple. In the NFC, the Giants and Vikings both could have locked up wild-card spots with victories; the Giants did their part, but Minnesota did not. In the AFC, Cleveland and Jacksonville were in the same boat -â win and they're in. The Jaguars did their part, but Cleveland did not.
So now there are five teams still alive for the final two playoff positions. And before you say, "Yeah, but it's just the sixth seed, it's not as if these teams are going anywhere," you can look no further than two years ago to see why it's still quite meaningful.
|Rick Stewart / Getty Images|
|Giants running back Brandon Jacobs helped the Giants clinch a playoff berth in the rain and snow at Buffalo.|
As hot as the Steelers were down the stretch in 2005, they still went into their regular-season finale, at home against Detroit, needing a win to secure that sixth and final AFC playoff spot. They did that and went on to win Super Bowl XL. It's a similar situation with the five teams coming down to the wire this season.
Everyone knows that weather is a big part of the game this time of year, and it certainly played a major role in games that had playoff implications Sunday. Of course, it's important to be able to run the ball when rain and wind and snow make the passing game treacherous. The weather was really bad in Buffalo, Chicago and Cincinnati. Impressively, those three games produced five 100-yard rushers. The Giants had two -- Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw -- in their playoff-clinching win. The Bengals got 130 yards from Kenny Watson in an upset of the Browns, and the Bears got 102 yards from Adrian Peterson in their upset of the Packers. Ryan Grant had 100 yards for Green Bay, but it wasn't enough to overcome turnovers and special-teams miscues.
Green Bay already had clinched the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, but a win in Chicago could have kept them alive for a shot at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That would have set up a Dallas-Washington game with major implications for both of those traditional rivals. It's still a big game for the Redskins, but Dallas will not be in must-win mode.
Who's No. 6?
In the NFC, the Vikings and Saints are now at the mercy of Washington. I would think the Redskins have a good chance to be the sixth seed in the postseason, because the Cowboys will be without Terrell Owens, and they don't need to play Tony Romo and the rest of their starters now that they've clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Washington returns home to FedEx Field after back-to-back must-win road games, so that's a big factor, as well. I don't think any Dallas team ever wants to lose to its bitter rival in Washington, though, so it's not as if the Redskins don't have to earn something.
Should Washington falter, Minnesota would make the playoffs with a win at Denver. That's not a bad predicament, with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor facing a porous Denver run defense. Of course, the least likely scenario would be New Orleans squeaking in if Washington and Minnesota both lose -- the Saints still would have to do their part and win a tough game at Chicago.
In the AFC, Cleveland finds itself in an awkward position. It's hard to say a team is in the best position when it doesn't control its own destiny, but the Browns' situation is unique in that it doesn't really matter what they do Sunday against the 49ers. There's no pressure on them, because the AFC's sixth seed comes down to what Tennessee does Sunday night at Indianapolis. If the Titans win, they're in; if they lose, the Browns make it, regardless of the outcome of their own game.
So the big question is: What will the Colts, who have the No. 2 seed locked up, do here? Colts head coach Tony Dungy has had a history of resting his starters in this situation, so the Titans may see a healthy dose of Kenton Keith and Jim Sorgi.
Imagine if we made this statement before the season: Derek Anderson will start a playoff game if Jim Sorgi can beat Vince Young.
Strange but true!
Green Bay had gone 929 punts without having one blocked, but the Packers had two blocked in their loss to the Bears. ... Also in that game, Bears LB Brian Urlacher scored a touchdown on an interception return for the first time in his career. He had two previous touchdowns, one on a fumble return (90 yards vs. Atlanta in 2001) and one on a pass reception (27 yards vs. Washington, also in 2001). ... In the Saints' loss, Drew Brees failed to throw a TD pass, ending his streak of games with at least one TD pass at 10. Brees had the longest active streak (Tom Brady and Tony Romo both had longer streaks snapped a week ago). ... Meanwhile, Brees has nearly 600 attempts this season and has been sacks just 13 times -- yet no Saints offensive linemen made the Pro Bowl. ... Speaking of Pro Bowl oddities, only one player from the three Florida teams was voted to the game; playoff-bound Tampa Bay and Jacksonville were shut out (though Fred Taylor is expected to be added to replace the injured Willie Parker), while the 1-14 Dolphins had Jason Taylor selected. ... The Cowboys have 11 Pro Bowl players and four first alternates. ... Colts QB Peyton Manning now has 29 TD passes in 12 career games against Houston. ... Two teams -- Minnesota and San Francisco -- have not had a 100-yard receiving performance this season. New England has had 14. ... With their loss Sunday, the Buccaneers are now 1-11 overall in San Francisco -â the only win was a one-point victory in 1980. ... The Bears' Adrian Peterson outrushed the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, 102 yards to 27. ... Although he didn't have a great day in Chicago, Brett Favre topped 4,000 yards for the season -â the fifth time in his career he's done that.