by Tom Weppel
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
This is the last weekend of the regular season. There is a storyline for every team out there, in one shape or form, to essentially characterize what has gone on so far this season, and also what will happen after these last games are played. Twelve teams are going into the playoffs, while the other twenty are packing up and shutting down.
To recap, we’ve got four teams that have clinched playoff berths in the AFC (NE, BAL, PIT, HOU), and five teams have done so in the NFC (GB,SF,NO, DET, ATL). Baltimore and Pittsburgh are battling for the AFC North Division title, with the Ravens going to Cincinnati, while the Steelers travel to Cleveland.
Then you have the battle for the AFC West Division, where either the Broncos or the Raiders will claim the title. Denver will play host to the Chiefs, while Oakland is at home against the Chargers. If Denver wins, they are in, no matter what Oakland does. The Raiders can only get in if they win and the Broncos lose, which could be quite possible, depending on how the Chiefs perform.
There is one AFC wild card slot available. Right now, the Bengals (9-6) have the advantage, but they must beat the Ravens. Cincinnati really doesn’t carry that much of a home field advantage, as a majority of their home games this season have been blacked-out. If they lose, then it is possible either the Jets or Titans (both at 8-7) could sneak in to the playoffs. The scenarios for any one of those teams to get in are quite conditional.
The one slot available in the NFC playoffs comes down to the game between Dallas and the New York Giants, to be played in the Meadowlands, where the Giants this season carry a 3-4 record. The Cowboys’ QB, Tony Romo, has an injured wrist, so we’ll see how he performs. Obviously, he is much-needed. A few weeks ago, the Giants beat the Cowboys in Dallas, 37-34, so it’ll be interesting watching how this one plays out. It should be drama-filled, on Sunday night.
For the teams that have been eliminated, there isn’t much to play for. Players obviously know this and are feeling it as they go along, especially if they are nursing injuries of any level. That said, games like Chicago at Minnesota, Seattle at the Cardinals, or the Eagles hosting the Redskins, can carry only a slight degree of bragging rights. The main topic of conversation will focus on who can and will claim the right to the #1 pick in the upcoming draft. Two teams have a shot mainly at doing so, with the Colts and Rams both playing with two victories currently on their record. So, in reality, it would be best for each team to try and LOSE on Sunday!
So, again, we shall see how the storylines play out, in this last weekend of the regular season, on New Years Day…
The Bowl season cranks up into high gear starting on Saturday, when five games will be played. Then, after having New Years Day off, you’ll see six more played on Monday. Seems like a really quirky way to go, but the colleges had to skip Sunday, since the NFL was making sure they had their last Sunday of games staged and ready to go!
Five more games will be played between the 3rd and the 8th (if anyone cares!), before the BCS title game is pulled off on Monday night between LSU and Alabama.
While the pageantry and interest will be cranking up with a few of the more traditional Bowls, such as the Rose, Sugar, Cotton, and Orange, it also seems as if the plethora of games staged, especially in the coming days, has seemed to water-down any strong feeling of significance, especially with the BCS game essentially guaranteeing the claim for being #1 for the year.
Nonetheless, you will get to see some of the more prominent teams battling, including Oklahoma State and Stanford (both 11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl. You will also get to see some players that will most likely be drafted in April by NFL teams, which could make some of these games entertaining.
In my view, though, by January 9th, it will seem as if the Bowl season has simply dragged on too long…we’ll see.