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 -– 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.
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.