The final week of the NFL regular season is here. For football fans, huzzah! We finally get to see how this crazy playoff picture unfolds. For non-football fans, huzzah! The football season is over, and the next time a major sport starts up, it will be baseball. (Pitcher and catchers report in 47 days, exhibition games begin in 58 days, and the Yankees start their season on the road against the Astros in 92 days. Just saying.)
Here's the schedule for today:
(Updated after early afternoon games)
Jets (7-8) at Dolphins (8-7), CBS, 1pm
(Jets won, 20-7, Dolphins eliminated)
Texans (2-13) at Titans (6-9), CBS, 1pm
(Titans won, 16-10, Texans clinch #1 pick in 2014 draft)
Panthers (11-4) at Falcons (4-11), FOX, 1pm
(Panthers won, 31-10, clinch NFC South, #2 seed, first-round bye)
Browns (4-11) at Steelers (7-8), CBS, 1pm
(Steelers won, 20-7, but miss playoffs)
Redskins (3-12) at Giants (6-9), FOX, 1pm
(Giants won, 20-6, vomitous season ends)
Jaguars (4-11) at Colts (10-5), CBS, 1pm
(Colts won, 30-10, #4 seed in AFC)
Lions (7-8) at Vikings (4-10-1), FOX, 1pm
(Vikings won, 14-13, zzzzzzzz)
Ravens (8-7) at Bengals (10-5), CBS, 1pm
(Bengals won, 34-17, Ravens eliminated, Bengals clinch #3 seed in AFC)
49ers (11-4) at Cardinals (10-5), FOX, 4:25pm
(49ers won 23-20, clinch #5 seed in NFC, Cardinals eliminated)
Chiefs (11-4) at Chargers (8-7), CBS, 4:25pm
(Chargers won, 27-24 in OT, Chiefs & Chargers are AFC #5 & #6 seeds)
Rams (7-8) at Seahawks (12-3), FOX, 4:25pm
(Seahawks won, 27-9, clinch NFC West, #1 seed, and first-round bye)
Bills (6-9) at Patriots (11-4), CBS, 4:25pm
(Patriots won, 34-20, clinch #2 seed in AFC, first-round bye)
Packers (7-7-1) at Bears (8-7), FOX, 4:25pm
(Packers won, 33-28, clinch NFC North, #4 seed, Bears eliminated)
Broncos (12-3) at Raiders (4-11), CBS, 4:25pm
(Broncos won, 34-14, clinch #1 seed in AFC, first-round bye)
Bucs (4-11) at Saints (10-5), FOX, 4:25pm
(Saints won, 42-17, clinch #6 seed in NFC)
Eagles (9-6) at Cowboys (8-7), NBC, 8:30pm
(Victor wins NFC Eas, #3 seed)
The Patriots, Bengals, Colts, and Broncos have all clinched division titles, while the Chiefs, Panthers, Seahawks, and 49ers have are all assured of playoff spots as well. The seeding's not really important to discuss right now since it will likely be quite different by tomorrow morning.
The bottom line is that there are still three NFC playoff spots and one AFC playoff spot still up for grabs. Two of those NFC playoff spots are simple enough--the NFC East and North division titles. The winners of the Eagles/Cowboys and Packers/Bears games clinch the crown and move on to the playoffs while the losers go home.
For the final NFC playoff spot, the Saints control their own destiny--if they can beat the hapless Bucs at home in the Superdome (which seems likely), then they will go the playoffs. If the Schiano Men stun the Saints though, N'awleans is going to need help from the 49ers, who already have a playoff spot in hand. If the 49ers beat the Cardinals, then the Saints will make the playoffs anyway, but if the Cardinals win while the Saints lose, then Arizona gets the final seed in the NFC. Otherwise, they could become just the third NFL team to win 11 games and miss the playoffs.
While that might seem like a lot to process, the final AFC playoff spot is a hot mess in comparison. Of the four teams in contention (Dolphins/Ravens/Chargers/Steelers) no one controls their own destiny. Pittsburgh's the longest shot, as they would need to beat the Browns and have the remaining three teams all lose their games in order to make the playoffs. Frankly, it's hilarious that Pittsburgh's even still mathematically alive. Hey, at least they have the Pirates. (What a world we live in where that sentence makes a lick of sense.) Somewhat similarly, the Chargers need multiple teams to lose for them to reach the playoffs. They're a game ahead of the Steelers anyway, so they just need a win over the already-clinched Chiefs and both the Dolphins and Ravens to lose. If either Pittsburgh or San Diego loses, their playoff aspirations are finished.
The Ravens are on the outside looking in right now, but they have one ever-so-slight advantage in that if all four teams lose, they are the team that would move on. Aside from that, they can clinch a playoff spot by beating the AFC North champion Bengals, and either a Dolphins or Chargers loss. If every team wins, then the Dolphins would make the playoffs by virtue of their current status as the AFC's #6 seed. If the Dolphins beat the Jets and either the Ravens lose or the Chargers win, then they will be the final playoff team.
Let the games begin, and see you soon, baseball.