As if we needed another reason to celebrate between Christmas and New Year’s (besides the final Doctor Who with Matt Smith), we have some excellent, meaningful football games to watch this Sunday. And not just meaningful as in playoffs, but also meaningful as to whether some coaches and/or players will be retained by their respective teams for next season.
Let’s start with the playoffs, first. Green Bay will visit Chicago with the NFC North on the line, while Philadelphia goes to Dallas for the NFC East title. In these two games, it’s win-and-you’re-in. Lose, and no playoffs this year. Also, you have the New Orleans Saints up against Tampa Bay at home. If the Saints win, they’re in as a wild-card, and the get the NFC South if the Panthers somehow fall to the Falcons. Meanwhile, Arizona could make it by winning against San Francisco but only if the Saints lose.
The AFC’s a bit easier to manage, with New England, Indy, Denver and Seattle winning their divisions and Kansas City taking the first wild-card. Miami, Baltimore and San Diego are all sitting at 8-7, and the permutations of how it’ll all work out are kind of tough to explain here. As reflected by my picks below, I’m calling Ravens on this one.
Then there’s the coaching hot seats. If the media reports are to be believed, Washington owner Dan Synder is already setting up Mike Shanahan’s Red Wedding. The coaches of Tennessee, the Jets, Detroit, Minnesota, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Dallas are allegedly in danger of being laid off, to varying degrees. (So is Giants coach Tom Coughlin, so they say, but with the injuries Big Blue had this year, letting a two-time Super Bowl winner go like that is just bad form.)
In addition to the usual round of picks below, complete with snarky/geeky comments, I’m making the games with a (P) for playoffs and (C) for coach-under-fire. Hope that helps you manage your NFL Sunday Ticket choices well! (Winning picks are in italics.)
Carolina at Atlanta (P): The kitties are still in the running for the division and a possible first-round bye. Atlanta is in the running for recriminations, though the coach likely gets a year’s respite to set the ship aright.
Baltimore at Cincinnati (P): Angry Birds get angrier with playoffs on the line. Will the Bengals sit starters, or try to stick it to their division rivals?
Houston at Tennessee (C): The interim coach of the Texans is auditioning for the permanent gig, while the Titans coach is hoping to keep his.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis (P): Indy could grab a first-round bye with a win and a loss by someone else, but the Jags won’t make it easy for them. Playing for pride, as it happens, is a thing.
N.Y. Jets at Miami (P-C): Miami wants to go to the big show, and the Jets are wondering if they can withstand another season under the big top.
Detroit at Minnesota (C): How did the Lannisters not make the playoffs this year? Heads could roll whether the Lions win or not. Tywin will not be pleased. (The Vikes’ coach may already be heading to Valhalla.)
Washington at N.Y. Giants (C): Seriously, don’t fire Coughlin. The man was practically soliciting fans in the stands for help along the offensive line…and at running back…in the secondary….on the defensive line…it was a rough year.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (P): Technically, this is a playoff-potential game. If Miami, Baltimore and San Diego all lose, the Steelers can grab the final wild-card. How crazy is that?
Green Bay at Chicago (P): Aaron Rodgers will claw his way onto the field with one good arm if he has a shot at the playoffs. And he does.
Denver at Oakland: You know…there’s really no reason to watch this one, except to see if Manning can beat or pad out all the season QB records.
Buffalo at New England (P): Technically, New England could lose the second seed with a loss, and the Bills could make it tough on a depleted Pats team. But…yeah.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans (P-C): Oh, Saints. You went marching in and, lately, came stumbling out. At least the league served you up a Jack Sparrow special this week. Win and you’re in.
San Francisco at Arizona (P): It took a miracle play or two for the Niners to put away the Falcons on Monday. The Cards are a tougher out, and they’re fighting for their playoff lives.
Kansas City at San Diego (P): There’s no real reason for KC to make their starters work hard here, and every reason for the Chargers to play their best…and hope Miami and Baltimore lose.
St. Louis at Seattle: Another kind of ho-hum game, except for the fact that both teams are pretty darn tough and can make it a good one. So unless your DVR is backed up with episodes of Sleepy Hollow, give this one a go.
Philadelphia at Dallas (P-C): Win and you’re in again, with the added bonus that if Dallas wins, the Cowboys coach won’t be dropped into a tank of sharks with frickin’ lasers on their heads. I hope he swims fast.
Last week’s record: 9-7
Season record: 152-87 (still doing better than all but three of these guys)