Sixteen weeks down, one to go. “This has been one of the best years, especially at the end of the season, for teams having to fight for a playoff spot,” says New York Jets running back THOMAS JONES. “It’s do-or-die every game.”
With one week to play, there are still 17 teams in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida, tied for the fifth-most teams in contention entering the final week since the NFL instituted the 16-game schedule in 1978.
“If we can get in, anything can happen in the playoffs,” says Jets safety JIM LEONHARD. “We just need to take care of this game.”
The Jets (8-7) and Baltimore Ravens (8-7) control their own destiny for the final two playoff spots in the AFC, but five other teams – the Denver Broncos (8-7), Houston Texans (8-7), Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7), Miami Dolphins (7-8) and Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8) – are still alive for a postseason berth. Both the Jets and Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with a win on Sunday.
In the NFC, the six playoff teams are set, but the seeding for the No. 2 through 6 slots is to be determined. The New Orleans Saints (13-2) have clinched homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. However, four teams still have a shot at the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye – the Philadelphia Eagles (11-4), Minnesota Vikings (11-4), Arizona Cardinals (10-5) and Dallas Cowboys (10-5). The Eagles, who face the Cowboys with the NFC East title on the line, can clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a victory. In Week 17, 12 games feature teams still in Super Bowl contention (teams listed in bold/italics):
||HOME TEAM||NETWORK AND GAME TIME|
|Indianapolis||Buffalo||CBS, 1:00 PM ET|
|New Orleans||Carolina||FOX, 1:00 PM ET|
|Jacksonville||Cleveland||CBS, 1:00 PM ET|
|New England||Houston||CBS, 1:00 PM ET|
|Pittsburgh||Miami||CBS, 1:00 PM ET|
|New York Giants||Minnesota||FOX, 1:00 PM ET|
|Green Bay||Arizona||FOX, 4:15 PM ET|
|Philadelphia||Dallas||FOX, 4:15 PM ET|
|Kansas City||Denver||CBS, 4:15 PM ET|
|Baltimore||Oakland||CBS, 4:15 PM ET|
|Washington||San Diego||FOX, 4:15 PM ET|
|Cincinnati||New York Jets||NBC, 8:20 PM ET|
Two headline games in Week 17:
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (11-4) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (10-5) (Sunday, FOX, 4:15 PM ET)
The NFC East title will be on the line when the Eagles and Cowboys meet on Sunday afternoon.
“Playing for the division title is what’s going to make this a great game,” says Philadelphia head coach ANDY REID. “Both teams have something at stake. That’s why we do this thing, as coaches and players, for opportunities like this. Everybody will be fired up for it.”
With a victory, the Eagles will not only clinch the division, but also secure a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Philadelphia has won six games in a row, the longest current streak in the conference (San Diego has won an NFL-best 10 in a row). Last week, the Eagles got past the Denver Broncos 30-27 on a DAVID AKERS field goal with four seconds remaining, his second game-winning field goal in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter in the past five weeks.
“Every win is a big win in the National Football League,” says Reid. “That was a good win. We won the football game and that’s the most important thing.”
The Cowboys have won two in a row in December, including last week’s 17-0 shutout victory at Washington.
“I think we’ve shown that the December jinx is not here,” says Dallas wide receiver ROY WILLIAMS, who caught a touchdown pass against the Redskins.
With a win and losses by Minnesota and Arizona, the Cowboys can clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
“I look at the Philadelphia contest as a playoff game,” says Dallas owner JERRY JONES. “It’s so meaningful to us.”
The game will feature two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks – Philadelphia’s DONOVAN MC NABB and Dallas’ TONY ROMO – and two of the league’s most dynamic wide receivers – the Eagles’ DE SEAN JACKSON and the Cowboys’ MILES AUSTIN.
“One of these two teams will go to the Super Bowl,” says NFL Network analyst DEION SANDERS.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-5) AT NEW YORK JETS (8-7) (Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)
Win and you’re in. That’s the scenario facing the New York Jets in Week 17.
“We have a great opportunity in front of us,” says Jets running back THOMAS JONES, who has rushed for 1,324 yards this season to lead the NFL’s top rushing team (166.6 yards per game). “It’s so funny how things can change in a week in this league.”
Jones is right. A week ago, after a 10-7 defeat to Atlanta at home, New York’s playoff hopes looked bleak. But the Jets got help from other teams in Week 16 and then took care of business themselves, ending the Indianapolis Colts’ run at perfection with a 29-15 win at Lucas Oil Stadium. It marked the second consecutive season the Jets knocked off a team with record of 10-0 or better on the road (New York defeated 10-0 Tennessee last year).
“I think we’re built to be a team that can win in December and January,” says Jets head coach REX RYAN. “I think we would be a very dangerous team if we make the playoffs.”
Against the Colts, New York rushed for 202 yards and did not turn the ball over. In the past six seasons, teams with at least 200 rushing yards and no turnovers have combined for a 66-2 (.971) record.
Standing in the way of the Jets’ playoff dreams are the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals will be either the No. 3 or 4 seed in the AFC playoffs and could potentially play the Jets again in the Wild Card round.
“Any time you’re on a national stage, you want to go out there and play well,” says Cincinnati cornerback LEON HALL.
Last week, the Bengals defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 17-10 behind 133 rushing yards from CEDRIC BENSON. It marked Benson’s sixth 100-yard game of the season, the most in franchise history. It was also the eighth 100-yard rushing game by a Bengal this year, also a team record.
“That’s a neat deal,” says Benson about the record. “Most of the credit goes to the offensive line. They made it happen. This is the best season I’ve had in my career. This has been a wonderful year.”