Sunday Playbook by Milt Northrop: Most playoff spots could be decided by end of Monday night - The Buffalo News

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Sunday Playbook by Milt Northrop: Most playoff spots could be decided by end of Monday night

If all the NFL planets align and there is no government shutdown, nine of the 12 berths in the playoffs will be decided by the end of Week 15 on Monday night. Three races – the NFC East, the NFC North and the second AFC wild-card races figure to go down to the last week of the regular season.

The Chiefs, Patriots and Bengals in the AFC and Saints, Panthers and 49ers in the NFC can clinch playoff spots this week.

Unlike a week ago when Panthers versus Saints and Seahawks versus 49ers were on the schedule, there is no marquee games. That doesn’t mean there aren’t vitally important matchups.

Of the most interest here is the New England at Miami AFC-East encounter. They are two of the three remaining opponents on the Bills schedule. New England can clinch the division with a win. A Miami win will push off the Patriots’ clincher another week.

Three games involving middle-of-the-road teams that have playoff hopes still are on the schedule. That’s the Jets at Panthers, Packers at Cowboys and Ravens at Lions.

A thumbnail look at the Week 15 games:

Game of the day

Patriots (10-3) at Dolphins (7-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-1)

The scoop: Pats are first team in NFL history to trail at half by 10 or more in three games in a row and come back to win. … Losing Rob Gronkowski for the year a setback to New England offense, but Belichick and Brady will find a way. … Unlike a certain team (ahem), Dolphins giving fans hope by improving not getting worse as season goes on. … Ryan Tannehill needs 185 passing yards to become first Dolphin to go for 3,000 in first two years of career. That includes Marino.

Outlook: Dolphins keep themselves in playoff chase for another week. Miami, 27-24.

Top attractions

Packers (6-6-1) at Cowboys (7-6)

TV: Ch. 29, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-6½)

The scoop: Loser will have playoff hopes seriously damaged. … The way Bills dismissed Matt Flynn so quickly doesn’t look like a smart move given his effectiveness in comeback win last week over Falcons. … Giving up 45 points to Bears in frigid Chicago on Monday Night makes Jerry Jones’ switch from Rob Ryan to Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator look like another of his blunders.

Outlook: Tony Romo should have fun versus Pack secondary. Dallas, 35-27.

Ravens (7-6) at Lions (7-6)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Lions (-5½)

The scoop: Each side needs win badly – Ravens to stay alive in AFC North race and keep wild-card edge, and Lions to fend off Chicago and Grean Bay in NFC North. … In a year of disappointing QB performances (RG III, Ryan, Eli, Schaub), doesn’t Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco top the list? … Ray Rice of Ravens averaging only 3.0 per carry. Has he hit the career wall? … Ravens are 1-5 on road while Lions are 4-2 at home.

Outlook: Ravens must win this and next week over Patriots to make finale against Bengals meaningful, but Lions, 31-20.

Jets (6-7) at Panthers (9-4)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-11)

The scoop: New York going for 4-0 sweep against NFC South after previous wins over Bucs, Falcons and Saints. Who says mighty NFC is stronger conference? … Like EJ Manuel, Jets QB Geno Smith has road woes.

Outlook: If Panthers didn’t like Rob Ryans’s New Orleans defense, they won’t like Rex Ryan’s New York version. Panthers, 21-17.

Best of the rest

Eagles (8-5) at Vikings (3-9-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-5½)

The scoop: With big-play stars, Eagles were fun to watch even before Chip Kelly got there. They should have a romp indoors on carpet in Minneapolis. … Philadelphia has won last six and is quietly becoming the story in NFC. RB LeSean McCoy leads league in scrimmage yards. WR DeSean Jackson is averaging 17.3 yards per reception over last five seasons. … Condition of Vikes’ RB Adrian Peterson a question.

Outlook: Only Redskins (407) have given up more points than the Vikings (395). Eagles, 42-27.

Chiefs (10-3) at Raiders (4-9)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-4½)

The scoop: Somebody should investigate how Oakland could give up 37 points to Jets of all teams? … Chiefs are surprising 5-1 on road this season and have won 8 of last 10 in Oakland. … Raiders WR Rod Streater (undrafted out of Temple in 2012) needs 213 yards to become first Raider with 1,000 receiving yards since Randy Moss in 2005. Don’t the Bills scout East Coast colleges like Temple, Rutgers and Syracuse?

Outlook: Paper says K.C. wins easily, but this is bitter old rivalry from AFL days and its still so even though Al Davis is gone. Chiefs, 24-23.

Bengals (9-4) at Steelers (5-8)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-2)

The scoop: Cincinnati can wrap up AFC North with a win and Ravens loss at Detroit so Steelers can do their Baltimore friends a huge favor by winning. Problem is: Pittsburgh has lost last two, including home game to Dolphins last week. … Bengals not afraid of playing at Heinz Field. They’ve won five of their last 10 visits.

Outlook: Still have faith in toughness of Steelers, though it’s beginning to wain. Steelers, 28-24.

Seahawks (11-2) at Giants (5-8)

TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-7)

The scoop: Seattle looked like just another NFL team, not Super Bowl favorite, in loss at San Francisco on Monday night. Seahawks failed character test in that one. … Giants looking at first losing season since 2004 (6-10). Last week’s abysmal showing in 37-14 loss at Chargers worst since 34-0 at Falcons and 33-14 at Ravens last December. … Giants WR Victor Cruz has only four TD catches after 10 last season.

Outlook: Giants don’t run for the bus, they run for the Metroliner but they hang in against Seahawks who are looking forward to being home for Christmas. Seattle, 30-27.

Saints (10-3) at Rams (5-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Saints (-6)

The scoop: Drew Brees has passed for 37,678 yards since 2006. That’s 12,297 more than all Bills QBs combined over the same span. … Rams seem to be wearing down after routing Colts and Bears last month. … Saints can clinch playoff spot, but not NFC South with a win.

Outlook: Saints not good on road, but this one is in Jones Dome. New Orleans, 31-17.

49ers (9-4) at Bucs (4-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: 49ers (-5)

The scoop: Niners can clinch playoff spot with win but only if Arizona and Dallas or Philadelphia also lose. It looks like it’s just a formality. … Road doesn’t seem to bother SF, where they are 4-2 with losses only at Seahawks and Saints. No shame. … Bucs improved but were not impressive in 27-6 win over Bills. Rookie QB Mike Glennon had horrid game and Bucs got lots of help from Bills penalties.

Outlook: Pretty routine. Niners, 27-10.

Cardinals (8-5) at Titans (5-8)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Cardinals (-2½)

The scoop: Arizona could be sleeper team in NFC if somehow they can sneak into playoffs but they have to maintain their one-game advantage over Cowboys, Lions and Bears and game and a half over Packers to do that. … Ryan Fitzpatrick is having a typical Fitz season for Tennessee: 61.6 completion percentage, 9 TDs, 8 INTs, 81.4 rating. First home game for Titans in a month and they lost to Jaguars and Colts there before hitting road.

Outlook: Like the Titans as spoilers, especially when they are not playing the Colts, who they almost always lose to. Tennessee, 27-24.

Texans (2-11) at Colts (8-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Colts (-5½)

The scoop: Another interim coaching stint for Wade Phillips, who at 66 probably has no chance at becoming permanent Houston coach. … Indy already has clinched weak AFC South against rivals who are a combined 7-20 outside division. … Texans (0-11) have never won in Indy.

Outlook: Colts needed to rally from 18 down to defeat Texans last time. Indy, 28-20.

Bears (7-6) at Browns (4-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bears (-1)

The scoop: Paul Brown versus George Halas? Can’t recall much drama or history in rivalry between these long-time NFL franchises except that Browns were 5-1 against Chicago before AFL-NFL merger. … What was Josh McCown (109.8 rating, 13 TDs, 1 INT) doing sitting on the Chicago bench all those games in last 2½ seasons? … Bears have two 1,000-yard receivers already with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

Outlook: Bears will find Browns a tougher nut to crack than soft Cowboys defense, but Chicago, 27-21.

Bills (4-9) at Jaguars (4-9)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Bills (-2)

The scoop: Buffalo outscored 85-33 in last three road games. Bills can’t find a way to utilize big play potential in Spiller and Goodwin. In embarrassing loss to Bucs they went three-and-punt in five of 13 possessions and netted minus 15 yards in those five series combined. On a week when NFL set a record for touchdowns, Bills had none. … Jordan Todman may get start at RB if Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring) is unable to go for Jags, who have won last two and three of last four.

Outlook: No team takes more penalties at worst time than the Bills. Cost in yards and points this season is incalculable. Remember when it was the Jaguars who were the joke of the league? Jacksonville, 24-9.

Dog of the day

Redskins (3-10) at Falcons (3-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Falcons (-6)

The scoop: Washington has become NFL’s worst. When’s last time a team benched its franchise QB for last three games when he’s not injured? Bet season ticket customers love that. Kirk Cousins will start in place of Robert Griffin III, who will be inactive. … One victim of Redskins’ collapse has to be defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, whose unit ranks 22nd. Washington is last in league in points allowed and has allowed most TDs (51) although seven were on returns.

Outlook: Win over Bills was just a minor blip for Falcons, who went back on their merry way, blowing 21-10 lead at Green Bay last week. … Atlanta is 2-4 at home, 0-6 on road and 1-0 at neutral site (Toronto). Falcons, 30-21.

Last week: 7-8 outright, 3-12 versus spread. Season’s record: 108-83-1 outright, 91-94-7 versus spread.


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