Milt Northrop’s Sunday Playbook: Tucker’s field goal changed focus of playoff picture - The Buffalo News

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Milt Northrop’s Sunday Playbook: Tucker’s field goal changed focus of playoff picture

Justin Tucker’s game-winning 61-yard field goal for the Baltimore Ravens against the Detroit Lions last Monday night broke a lot of hearts in the National Football League. Not only did it cost the Lions a much-needed win, and endanger their chances of winning the NFC North, it was bad news in San Diego, Miami and even Cincinnati.

The Ravens victory lessened the chances that the Chargers and Dolphins have of gaining the second of the two AFC wild-card playoff berths and it, perhaps, delayed the Bengals’ clinching of the AFC North championship. Officially, it killed any dreams the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers might have had at getting to the postseason.

The win put Baltimore in control of the final wild-card spot. Win out and the Ravens are in. That won’t be easy with New England at home today and a road game at Cincinnati next week.

It’s been a wacky NFL season and the drama isn’t over yet. Only one division championship has been clinched (Indianapolis in the AFC South). There are first-place ties in the AFC West and NFC South.

A thumbnail look at the Week 16 games:

Game of the day

Saints (10-4) at Panthers (10-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Carolina (-3)

The scoop: The Saints clinch the division by winning. Carolina needs this and a win next week at Atlanta to take the title. … Saints won previous encounter two weeks ago in New Orleans, 31-13, with Drew Brees throwing two touchdown passes to Marques Colston, ending the Panthers’ eight-game win streak.

Outlook: Saints are ordinary team (3-4) on road. Carolina, 27-20.

Top attractions

Patriots (10-4) at Ravens (8-6)

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

The line: Ravens (-2½)

The scoop: Neither team has clinched a playoff spot yet, although both seem in good shape. Patriots clinch division with a win but Ravens would need a win and a little bit of help to get into the playoffs. Baltimore still has a mathematical shot at AFC North title. … Each side has lots of experience in close games. Five of the Ravens’ wins and four of their losses have been by three points or less. New England is 6-3 in games decided by four points or less and most Patriots games go down to the last play. … Baltimore is 3-8 all-time against the Patriots, but two of the wins were last season, including a 28-13 win in Foxborough in the AFC championship game.

Outlook: Birds rank 29th in league in offense. Only Jets and Bengals have kept Pats under 20. New England, 23-20.

Colts (9-5) at Chiefs (11-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-7)

The scoop: Kansas City leads the league with a plus-21 turnover ratio. One reason is that QB Alex Smith has thrown only six interceptions. Also K.C. leads league with 11 return touchdowns. … Chiefs have averaged 41.1 points in their last four games including 101 in last two weeks in wins over Washington and Oakland on the road. … Colts haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since 30-23 triumph over Broncos two months ago.

Outlook: Kansas City is hot team and getting all the scheduling and injury breaks. Indy played over its head for half the season and appears locked into No. 3 or 4 playoff position. Chiefs, 31-20.

Cardinals (9-5) at Seahawks (12-2)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-10½)

The scoop: Cardinals still have playoff hopes but need to win this one and next week at home against tough Niners and still get help. Arizona blew a lead at Tennessee last week, but survived in overtime, 37-34, cashing in after a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception. … Seattle already is in the playoffs but needs a win or a San Francisco loss to wrap up NFC West and home field throughout the playoffs. … Seahawks won first meeting between division rivals, 34-22, on Oct. 17 and embarrassed the Cardinals, 58-0, when they last visited Seattle last December.

Outlook: Cardinals need to win out to make playoffs but motivation won’t be enough to silence Seahawks and their crowd. Seattle, 34-20.

Steelers (6-8) at Packers (7-6-1)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Packers (-2½)

The scoop: Pittsburgh is out of playoff contention but the Steelers like spoiler role. Like the Bears, the Packers can win NFC North if they win their two remaining games. Chicago and Green Bay meet at Soldier Field next Sunday. … Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) practiced some but was not cleared to play today so Matt Flynn will start again at QB for Packers after he led comeback win at Dallas last Sunday.

Outlook: Steelers are tough but not a good enough road team (2-5) to win at Lambeau in December. Green Bay, 27-17.

Bears (8-6) at Eagles (8-6)

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

The line: Eagles (-3)

The scoop: If Bears lose they let Lions back into the NFC North driver’s seat and push Eagles closer to NFC East title. A win would mean next week’s Philadelphia at Dallas game would decide NFC East. Amazingly, these old-line NFL teams have met only 38 times in regular season since first game in 1933.

Outlook: After long home losing streak, Eagles have won last three at The Linc. Philly, 38-31.

Best of the rest

Dolphins (8-6) at Bills (5-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Dolphins (-2½)

The scoop: A Miami win plus losses by Ravens and Bengals clinches at least an AFC wild-card berth for Dolphins. That would be remarkable considering Miami was 5-6 and seemed in disarray over “bullying” situation just a month ago. … Bills won first meeting, 23-21, in South Florida with Thad Lewis at QB and would love to play the spoiler role against Miami. … Dolphins are 3-7 in December and January games at Ralph Wilson Stadium with the wins on Dec. 3, 2000 (33-6), Dec. 21, 2003 (20-3) and Dec. 18, 2011 (30-23).

Outlook: Dolphins believe they are playoff team. Miami, 24-10.

Cowboys (7-7) at Washington (3-11)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-3)

The scoop: This is the Angst Bowl. Dallas Morning News running a poll this week asking readers to vote for most stomach-wrenching Cowboys meltdowns in Jason Garrett coaching era. There were seven choices including last Sunday’s 37-36 loss to Green Bay in game Dallas led 26-3. … Of course, the Shanahan-RGIII saga goes on and on as the Redskins’ losing streak has reached six.

Outlook: With all the turmoil, hard to see Redskins winning anything. Dallas, 33-19.

Giants (5-9) at Lions (7-7)

TV: Ch. 29, 4 p.m.

The line: Lions (-9½)

The scoop: Texans? Falcons? Giants? Which team is the biggest disappointment this season? Hard to believe the Giants – like the Buffalo Sabres – got so bad so fast. Big Blue has been outscored, 60-14, in last two games. QB Eli Manning’s passer rating is down to 69.7. That’s nearing Geno Smith territory (62.9).

Outlook: One of few games Lions have against with an opponent with losing record. Detroit, 28-17.

Raiders (4-10) at Chargers (7-7)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Chargers (-10)

The scoop: San Diego is not eliminated yet from wild-card playoff picture but 4-6 conference record works against ‘Bolts as does head-to-head loss to Miami. … Raiders have lost five of last six. … Undrafted rookie Matt McGloin will start at QB again for Oakland. He had 5-2 TD-INT numbers for three road starts.

Outlook: Even bad Oakland teams could be counted on to play well against division rivals but not any more. Raiders are 1-3 vs. AFC West. San Diego, 30-17.

Vikings (4-9-1) at Bengals (9-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-8)

The scoop: Down-trodden Vikings were without RB Adrian Peterson last week and still surprised visiting Eagles, 48-30. Where did that come from? Journeyman Matt Asiata scored three TDs in victory. Where did he come from? Answer: Signed as undrafted free agent from University of Utah in 2011. … Cincy is 6-0 at home this season and finishes there next week against Ravens in game that could decide AFC North.

Outlook: Vikings are unpredictable but not enough to win against Bengals at the Brown. Cincinnati, 42-27.

Broncos (11-3) at Texans (2-12)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-10)

The scoop: Denver suffered first home loss and risked losing shot at home field in playoffs when it fell to San Diego, 27-20, on Dec. 12. … Texans have lost last 12 and are playing out the string under interim coach Wade Phillips, who used to coach the Broncos. He replaced Gary Kubiak, who used to be Denver’s offensive coordinator and backup QB to John Elway. Former starter Matt Schaub will replace injured Case Keenum at QB for Houston.

Outlook: Denver has playoff spot locked up but there still is incentive to clinch division and get No. 1 seed. Texans looking to offseason and upcoming roster, staff shakeup. Broncos, 34-17.

Browns (4-10) at Jets (6-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Jets (-1½)

The scoop: All of a sudden the Browns can score, but they can’t win. Cleveland has lost five in a row, despite averaging 28 points in last three. … After being shut out from the field for two games, the Jets have scored 57 points in last two. These are two of the teams that have beaten the Bills.

Outlook: This could be real dog of day. Browns, 20-17.

Buccaneers (4-10) at Rams (6-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Rams (-4)

The scoop: The Bucs were giving the Niners a struggle last week on road until rookie Eric Page fumbled a kickoff and handed SF a 2-yard return TD for some breathing room. … Rams rookie RB Zac Stacy (Vanderbilt) is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and has 854 for season.

Outlook: The Rams’ pass rush overwhelmed Drew Brees last week and figures to do the same to Bucs rookie Mike Glennon. St. Louis, 28-13.

Falcons (4-10) at 49ers (10-4)

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

The line: 49ers (-13)

The scoop: Atlanta is 2-2 in last four with losses by only four to Saints and one to Packers. … Niners have won four in a row since loss at New Orleans, 23-20, on Nov. 17. … A win or an Arizona loss puts San Francisco in the playoffs. Mathematically, at least, the 49ers have chance at NFC West title, trailing Seattle by two with two games to go.

Outlook: Niners finishing up strong while Falcons are finished. San Francisco, 28-14.

Dog of the day

Titans (5-9) at Jaguars (4-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Titans (-5)

The scoop: Last week Ryan Fitzpatrick became only third QB in Oilers/Titans history to throw for more than 400 yards and four TDs in a game. George Blanda and Billy Volek are the others. It was first 400-yard passing game of his career. Still he had one pick returned for a touchdown and another in overtime gave Arizona chance for winning field goal last Sunday. … Playing without leading rusher (Maurice Jones-Drew) and No. 1 receiver (Cecil Shorts), Jaguars nearly beat Bills last week.

Outlook: How Gus Bradley coaxed four wins out of Jacksonville roster is worthy of a medal. Jaguars, 27-24.

Last week: 9-5 outright, 6-9 versus spread; Season’s record: 107-89-1 outright, 97-103-7 versus spread.


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