Milt Northrop’s Sunday Playbook: Nearly all games have playoff or seeding meaning - The Buffalo News
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Milt Northrop’s Sunday Playbook: Nearly all games have playoff or seeding meaning

The NFL got the drama it bargained for when it decided a few years ago to make the final week of the regular season all divisional matchups.

All 16 games on today’s schedule are between division rivals, two of them are winner-take-all matchups – Philadelphia at Dallas and Green Bay at Chicago – for division titles in the NFC.

In all, 13 games could have bearing on who makes the playoffs or where teams are seeded. After 16 weeks, the only thing definite is that New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver have won division titles in the AFC and Kansas City is a wild-card. In the NFC, no division champion is assured although Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina and the winner of the two showdown games all will be in the postseason.

Usually there’s a lot of attention paid to the record book on the final Sunday of the season. Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos needs 266 yards to top the record of 5,476 passing yards for a season set by Drew Brees of New Orleans in 2011. The Broncos seem destined to break the league record for points in a season.

A thumbnail look at today’s final regular season games of the season:

Game of the day

Eagles (9-6) at Cowboys (8-7)

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

The line: Eagles (-7)

The scoop: Back injury to Tony Romo skews the outlook for this win-or-go home showdown for NFC East title. Kyle Orton will start. Veteran ex-Bear and Bronco has thrown only four passes this season with two completions for 40 yards. ... Eagles QB Nick Foles is perhaps biggest success story of 2013 season with 118.8 passer rating and 25 TD passes and 2 INTs since taking over as starter. Having NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy (1,476 yards, 5.1 average) in the backfield with him helps. ... Dallas’ best hopes are for big games from WR Dez Bryant (85 catches, 1,134 yards, 12 TDs) and TE Jason Witten. ... Dallas, which is 5-0 in the division, shut down Eagles 17-3 in Philadelphia first time around. That was defensive high point of season for sieve-like Dallas defense.

Outlook: Think Orton will be OK, but can’t match high-powered Eagles’ coming off 54-11 rout of Bears. Philadelphia, 35-24.

Top attractions

Packers (7-7-1) at Bears (8-7)

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

The line: Packers (-3)

The scoop: Same scenario as NFC East. Winner gets division title but no chance for first-round bye. Loser goes home. ... Aaron Rodgers will be back to quarterback the Packers and could make a difference in the game. He is 3-0 against Bears as starter in Chicago. ... Bears won first game, 27-20, at Lambeau on Nov. 4, the last time Rodgers (collarbone) played.

Outlook: When in doubt go with home team in what may be the NFL’s fiercest rivalry going back to the Bronko Nagurski days. Chicago, 30-27.

Jets (7-8) at Dolphins (8-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m., Ch. 4

The line: Dolphins (-5½)

The scoop: Hard to believe that sorry-looking Miami outfit that lost to the Bills last week has a reasonable playoff shot with a win and a Ravens loss on the road at tough Cincinnati. ... Miami won first meeting, 23-3, at MetLife on Dec. 1. ... Geno Smith can set a Jets rookie record for passing yards. What happened to Joe Namath?

Outlook: Dolphins have pass rush to bother Geno, especially on the road. Miami, 23-15.

Ravens (8-7) at Bengals (10-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-6½)

The scoop: A win and a loss by the Patriots gives Cincinnati a first-round bye. Bengals already have clinched AFC North title and third straight playoff berth. Baltimore needs a win and a loss by either Miami or San Diego to clinch a wild-card. ... Cincy is 7-0 at home. Bengals, Saints and Patriots are only NFL teams with perfect home records so far. ... Bengals QB Andy Dalton needs 117 passing yards and two TD passes to set franchise single season records, erasing Carson Palmer’s marks.

Outlook: Baltimore still smarting from 41-7 humiliation by Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium last week while playing for seeding in postseason usually is not always a huge motivator. Ravens, 30-27.

Chiefs (11-4) at Chargers (8-7)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Chargers (-10)

The scoop: San Diego must win and get help in form of losses by Dolphins and Ravens to make the playoffs for first time since 2009. Chiefs are already in as No. 5 seed wild card. ... Jamaal Charles of Chiefs leads league with 12 rushing TDs and has 1,287 yards. ... Philip Rivers of Chargers having huge season with 4,249 passing yards, 29 TD passes and only 10 interceptions with 105.8 rating. ... Chargers upset Chiefs in K.C. last month, 41-38. .... K.C. is 2-4 after starting 9-0.

Outlook: Chargers will know if they have playoff shot by time late game kicks off. The news may be deflating. Chiefs, 28-24.

Panthers (11-4) at Falcons (4-11)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-6)

The scoop: Panthers already are in the NFC playoffs but can clinch NFC South title and first round bye with win. A loss opens the door for Saints to win division and first-round bye. ... Carolina won the first meeting, 34-10, in Charlotte capitalizing on four Atlanta turnovers. ... Falcons WR Roddy White coming off huge night (12 receptions, 141 yards) in loss at San Francisco on Monday. Atlanta has won two of last nine, one by a point over Redskins, the other OT gift from the Bills.

Outlook: Unless Falcons left it all in San Francisco where they gave up fluky interception return while on way to possible winning score, see them giving Panthers more than they want to handle. Atlanta, 24-21.

Bills (6-9) at Patriots (11-4)

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

The line: Patriots (-7½)

The scoop: New England clinches a first-round bye with a win or a Cincinnati loss and can get home field throughout AFC playoffs with win and a Denver loss. ... Patriots have won 19 of last 20 over Bills, including last 12 in Foxborough and all 11 that have been played since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.

Outlook: Can’t believe Bill Belichick won’t have a scheme cooked up to befuddle Thad Lewis. Patriots, 34-10.

Rams (7-8) at Seahawks (12-3)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-11½)

The scoop: Despite all its success, Seattle still needs a win or San Francisco loss to clinch NFC West and home field advantage throughout playoffs.. ... Loss to Cardinals, 17-13, in last home game was low point of season for Seahawks. Seattle QB Russell Wilson has 25-9 TD-INT numbers and 101.1 passer rating but is coming off an ineffective performance against Arizona. .... Rams have won only twice on road but one was surprising 38-8 romp at Indianapolis.

Outlook: Seahawks motivated to finish up season strong. Seattle, 31-17.

49ers (11-4) at Cardinals (10-5)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: 49ers (-1)

The scoop: Vegas handicappers must be impressed with Cards to set this line. ... Niners have won last five to stay in division race. They need a win and Seattle loss to clinch NFC West title and first-round bye. If that happens and Carolina loses, too, SF would have home-field throughout NFC playoffs. Arizona needs a win and a loss or tie by Saints to make playoffs as wild card. ... 49ers defeated Cards, 32-20, at Candlestick on Oct. 13.

Outlook: Even if Arizona wins and goes 11-5 they are not assured of playoff berth. Doesn’t seem fair. Niners, 23-10.

Buccaneers (4-11) at Saints (10-5)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Saints (-12)

The scoop: Saints still need a win to make playoffs and help to get division title and first-round bye. ... Saints tight end Jimmy Graham leads league with 15 TD catches. He has 81 receptions for 14.1 average.

Outlook: Between pass rush and leaky Bucs’ secondary it looks like another home rout for Saints, 45-17.

Best of the rest

Browns (4-11) at Steelers (7-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-6½).

The scoop: Cleveland teams used to torment Steelers, but that was long ago before Chuck Noll came to town. Cleveland has lost 18 of last 20 to Pittsburgh. ... If Steelers win and Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers all lose Pittsburgh is in playoffs. That would be an accomplishment after 0-4 start. ... Antonio Brown of Steelers has 101 catches. He needs 12 to top Hines Ward’s franchise record. ... Josh Gordon of Browns leads league in receiving yards with 1,564.

Outlook: Hard-luck Browns have lost last six, but they throw a scare into Pitt. Steelers, 24-21.

Broncos (12-3) at Raiders (4-11)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-11).

The scoop: Denver clinches home field in AFC playoffs with a win or New England loss. ... Broncos won first meeting 37-21 in Denver. Broncos need 18 points to break the NFL single-season scoring record of 589 set by the Patriots in 2007.

Outlook: Should be routine Broncos win led by Peyton Manning, who already has 51 TD passes. Denver, 34-17.

Jaguars (4-11) at Colts (10-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Colts (-10½).

The scoop: With a win and lots of help (losses by Patriots and Bengals) Indy can gain first-round bye.. ... Jacksonville has won last four road games and has won last two in Indianapolis, where they’re 4-8 all-time. ... Colts started season 6-2, went through shaky period but seemed to have regained their equilibrium with routine wins over Texans and Chiefs last two weeks. Indy won first meeting, 37-3, in Jacksonville on Sept. 29.

Outlook: Don’t see Chad Henne leading Jags to road win in Indy, even in meaningless game. Indy, 31-13.

Lions (7-8) at Vikings (4-10-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Vikings (-3).

The scoop: Is this it for Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, after his team blew playoff shot by losing five of last six including two at home? ... Lions won first meeting, 34-24, at Ford Field on Kickoff Weekend in what looked like the start of a big year. ... Each team is on minus side in turnovers – Lions (14), Vikes (10). Despite problems, Calvin Johnson of Lions having another huge season with 84 receptions for 17.1-yard average and 12 TDs.

Outlook: Lions should have big offense day indoors in Minny. Detroit, 41-28.

Redskins (3-12) at Giants (6-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Giants (-3½).

The scoop: NHL’s Brendan Shanahan having much better year than Mike Shanahan of Redskins. Will the drama end and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder finally pull the plug on the Shanahans? As disappointing as the Redskins have been, Giants have been nearly as dismal but all the attention the Jets and Rex Ryan are getting in Gotham obscures some of the Big Blue problems.

Outlook: Giants repeat 24-17 win in Landover from Dec. 1. New York, 24-20.

Dog of the day

Texans (2-13) at Titans (6-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Titans (-7½).

The scoop: Houston had to overcome eight-point deficit in last two minutes to defeat Tennessee, 30-24, in overtime on Sept. 15. That was last time the Texans won. ... Titans’ last two wins were over 4-11 Raiders and 4-11 Jaguars.

Outlook: Looking for Houston to finally break through and give interim coach Wade Phillips a going-away present, 24-17.

Last week: 8-7 outright, 7-8 versus spread.

Season’s record: 115-96-1 outright, 104-111-7 versus spread.


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