Major questions abound. Good news: I have answers. (I think.)
As we shift from the penultimate week of the 2014 regular season to the finale, allow me to solve the league's remaining puzzles.
1) Who will get the No. 1 seed in the NFC?
After bludgeoning the Cardinals on Sunday night, the Seahawks can win the NFC West and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by simply beating Shaun Hill and the Rams in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. The rest of the NFC should take notice, as these Seahawks look like the group that won the Super Bowl in February.
The "Legion of Boom" is back. Also, linebacker Bobby Wagner's return has restored a nastiness on the second level of the defense.
Did you see how the offense smacked around that outstanding Cardinals defense? Russell Wilson shredded Arizona to the tune of 339 passing yards and two touchdowns, posting a sparkling 122.9 QB rating. And he broke off another majestic run for good measure. Marshawn Lynch was in full "Beast Mode," racking up 113 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries. The highlight: an absurd 79-yard scoring scamper.
I picked the Packers to go to the Super Bowl in the preseason. And yes, I still believe in Aaron Rodgers. ... But I have to account for how incredible Seattle is playing and how much home-field advantage can mean in the playoffs, especially considering the Seahawks will be in front of those amazing (and ear-shattering) 12's in the Pacific Northwest.
2) Will the AFC go through New England?
Do not be concerned that the Pats barely snuck by the Jets. It was a rivalry game -- Rex Ryan routinely gets his guys up for this contest -- and New England was on hostile ground, something the team won't experience for the rest of this season. If the Broncos lose to the Bengalson "Monday Night Football," New England clinches the No. 1 seed. Otherwise, the Patriots can earn home-field advantage throughout January with a home win over the Kyle Orton-led Billsin Week 17. This will obviously happen.
3) Will Detroit host a playoff game for the first time since Jan. 8, 1994?
No. I like the Packers to beat Detroit in Sunday's de facto NFC North title game at Lambeau Field. While Lions fans can point back to Week 3, when Detroit completely shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, it's fair to say Green Bay is a different team three months later. Remember, it was after that Lions loss that Rodgers implored everyone to "R-E-L-A-X." Since then, the Packers have rolled off 10 wins in 12 outings and Rodgers has taken his game to an MVP level.
Having said that, the Lions haven't displayed the kind of all-around dominance to make you truly trust them. Matthew Stafford has been up and down, failing to consistently perform at an explosive level. The last two wins -- over Minnesota and Chicago -- were way to close for comfort. October's comeback wins over New Orleans and Atlanta might have said more about the losing teams' ineptitude than Detroit's resiliency.
Green Bay represents a step up in class from Detroit, as we'll see on Sunday.
4) Is Case Keenum going to lead the Texans into the playoffs?
The scenario that gets the Texans into the playoffs isn't necessarily crazy. Houston needs a win over Jacksonville, a Baltimore loss to Cleveland and a San Diego defeat to Kansas City. Unfortunately for the Texans, I think the Chargers, fresh off an epic comeback win over the 49erson Saturday night, will beat the Chiefs and make the playoffs.
But wow. What a story in Houston. Case Keenum goes from the scrap heap to the starting lineup, helping the Texans inexplicably deal a serious blow to Baltimore's playoff chances with a 25-13 win. Houston's effort on Sunday was remarkable -- as it has been all season long. Bill O'Brien has done wonders with this team, getting to 8-7 with no quarterback. J.J. Watt continues to enjoy a legendary season that will make him a runaway Defensive Player of the Year.
5) Which team is taking the AFC North?
6) Who wins the NFC South?
The untrustworthy New Orleans Saints are out, and they deserve this plight. Bad defense, inconsistent play, quarterback struggles, a stunning inability to execute at home -- this highly disappointing season in the Big Easy was no fluke.
So the spotlight's on Carolina at Atlanta in Week 17, winner-take-all in the worst division in NFL history. Let's be honest: Neither team is any good. But in this matchup, I trust Matt Ryan (with Julio Jones) more than I trust Cam Newton. I like the Falcons. They should win. They are the better team.
7) Will Stephen Ross regret announcing Joe Philbin is staying on?
Either way, status quo is not the answer in Miami.
8) Is Mark Sanchez a starting quarterback in the NFL?
He gets one more chance to dupe someone somewhere, but the answer remains no, as I have reiterated for years.
No, I'm not putting Saturday's damning loss to the Redskins completely on Sanchez. (He doesn't kick field goals or play cornerback.) But his interception with 1:30 left was absolutely crushing. The guy just makes too many mistakes in big spots to ever truly be trusted. He's too erratic and misses too many open receivers. This has been the case over his entire career.
9) Will the critics stop ripping Tony Romo?
Brandt: Tony Romo for MVP
Heck if I know. I'm not one of them. I have long argued that Romo is a great, top-10 quarterback who just needs balance and stability around him. Well, he's got it this season, and as a result, he's playing brilliant, dominant, clean, mistake-free football, allowing the Cowboys to clinch the NFC East title with one week left in the season.
Instead, Christmas comes early for Cowboys fans, with the franchise's first division title since 2009.