Share this article

print logo

Milt Northrop’s Sunday Playbook: Four AFC teams vying for two playoff spots

A lot of the drama of Week 17 in the National Football League season will occur right here at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Weeks ago, it appeared that the outcome of the Jets-Bills game might determine which team makes the postseason. Instead it’s come down to this:

The Bills are out, but the Jets will make the field of six in the AFC with a win. In a juicy scenario, the Bills could knock their long-time division rivals out, spoiling things for their former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, their former head coach Chan Gailey and former special teams coordinator Bobby April Sr.

Oh, yes. Rex Ryan of the Bills is the deposed Jets coach.

Sunday is the only day all season when all 32 NFL teams will be in action. A lot has been decided but there is still much at stake. The six NFC playoff contestants are set, only the seeding is left to be decided. The AFC is a different story, however. New England, Denver, Cincinnati and Kansas City are in. The Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are still alive.

Pittsburgh must win at Cleveland to stay alive for the one available AFC wild-card berth, but there’s no need for the Jets to watch the out-of-town scoreboard. New York controls its own fate.

Game of the day

Jets (10-5) at Bills (7-8)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Jets (-3).

The scoop: Game matches No. 1 rushing offense (Bills, 116.4) against No. 1 rushing defense (Jets, 81.5). … Jets trying to reach the playoffs for first time since 2010. Buffalo won first meeting at MetLife, 22-17, but eight Bills starters from that game, including RB LeSean McCoy, may not be available today. … Jets have five-game win streak going since loss at Houston.

Outlook: Depleted Bills secondary won’t be able to handle Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, who have 24 TD catches between them. Jets, 20-13.

Top attractions

Vikings (10-5) at Packers (10-5)

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

The line: Packers (-3).

The scoop: Both are in playoffs. Head-to-head meeting will decide NFC North and give the winner the No. 3 seed and a home game in the first round of playoffs. … Packers handled Vikings easily, 30-13, in first meeting. The last time Vikings visited Lambeau they were routed, 42-10. QB Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay has won 10 of last 11 starts against Minnesota with 28 TDs, 3 INTs. … Adrian Peterson of Vikings will be trying to wrap up his third NFL rushing title but first since 2012. He goes into game with 1,418 yards and a 64-yard lead over Doug Martin of Buccaneers.

Outlook: Vikings are hot team but Packers have Rodgers and Lambeau Luck going for them. Green Bay, 27-17.

Steelers (9-6) at Browns (3-12)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-11).

The scoop: Pittsburgh needs win over bitter old rival and help from the Bills to make the playoffs. Otherwise Steelers will be the most dangerous team not in the playoffs instead of the team nobody wants to face in the playoffs. … Johnny Manziel was under concussion protocol – he ought to have his head examined – during the week and is questionable. That means Austin Davis could get another start. … Steelers won first meeting, 30-9, in Cleveland.

Outlook: Ben Roethlisberger rebounds from one of his worst performances in loss at Ravens last week. Antonio Brown repeats 10-catch, 139-yard, 2-TD performance. Pittsburgh, 24-16.

Jaguars (5-10) at Texans (8-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Texans (-6½).

The scoop: Win would climax Houston’s closing run and lock up its first AFC South title since 2012. If Houston loses it can still win division and make playoffs with a Titans win at Colts. … Brian Hoyer back as starter for Texans after sitting out two games (concussion) while TJ Yates and Brandon Weeden directed team to vital wins. … Allen Robinson of the Jags is tied for league lead with 14 touchdown receptions. Teammate Allen Hurns has 10 TD catches, too.

Outlook: Texans’ defense, ranked third in league at 316.5, has to come through against Jax receivers. Houston, 28-20.

Titans (3-12) at Colts (7-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: No line

The scoop: Must win for Colts, but if that happens they still will need a loss by Texans to recapture the division title and make playoffs. Question is: Who will quarterback Colts? Indy has five on roster but starter will be one of two newcomers, Josh Freeman or Ryan Lindley. Third choice is Stephen Morris, who has never started an NFL game. … Zach Mettenberg will start at QB for Titans.

Outlook: Colts will have to lean heavily on ground game, but see Titans pulling upset before looking ahead to new coach (Chip Kelly?) and favorable draft position. Tennessee, 17-16.

Chargers (4-11) at Broncos (11-4)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-9).

The scoop: Denver could blow division title if it loses and Chiefs win their game but they have won seven of last eight against Bolts. … Philip Rivers of Chargers is second in league with 4,564 passing yards, but Broncos lead league with 49 sacks, one more than Patriots.

Outlook: San Diego line won’t block Broncos’ rush. Denver, 35-17.

Raiders (7-8) at Chiefs (10-5)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-7).

The scoop: Kansas City is still alive in division race, but needs a win and Denver loss at home to Chargers. … Chiefs may have to sacrifice game to preserve their injured players for playoff run. … K.C. rookie Marcus Peters shares league lead with eight INTs. … Quarterback Derek Carr of Raiders would equal Daryle Lamonica’s club season record (34) with three touchdown passes. … It’s final game of Hall-of-Fame level career for Charles Woodson of Raiders. … Oakland’s Khalil Mack has league lead with 15 sacks.

Outlook: Jack Del Rio had 10 days to get Raiders ready for division rival. Oakland, 23-20.

Best of the rest

Patriots (12-3) at Dolphins (5-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-9½).

The scoop: A win guarantees New England home field throughout AFC playoffs. A loss, though, and Denver could steal No. 1 seed by winning its game. New England will have first-round playoff bye for the sixth year in a row. … Tom Brady of the Pats leads league with 4,636 passing yards and 36 TD throws. … Failing to get winning touchdown on first-and-goal play from Indy with 40 seconds to go and one timeout left last week epitomizes Dolphins’ sad season.

Outlook: Just going through the motions, Pats win, 17-6.

Ravens (5-10) at Bengals (11-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-9½).

The scoop: Cincinnati has clinched AFC South title, but needs a win and a Denver loss and a Kansas City win to claim first-round bye. … Ryan Mallett gets second start for Baltimore after leading upset of Steelers last week. … AJ McCarron of Bengals performed well as fill-in for Andy Dalton with four TDs, two INTS, 694 yards and 95.1 rating despite 1-1 record. … Bengals have won five of last six against Ravens, including 28-24 win on Sept. 27.

Outlook: Despite records, teams are virtually even in offensive and defensive stats. However, Bengals, 27-14

Seahawks (9-6) at Cardinals (13-2)

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

The line: Cardinals (-6).

The scoop: Arizona could gain No. 1 seed in NFC and home field throughout playoffs with a win and a Carolina loss. No. 1 and No. 2 rated QBs, Russell Wilson 109.3 and Carson Palmer 106.8, go at it in this one. … Cardinals won first meeting, 39-32, in November. It was a surprise shootout between the Nos. 1 and 3 defenses in NFC.

Outlook: Neither team will have much to shoot for in this one. Like Seahawks to keep it close in loosely played affair, 27-24.

Buccaneers (6-9) at Panthers (14-1)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-11½).

The scoop: Carolina controls own destiny. Panthers win guarantees No. 1 seed and home field throughout NFC playoffs. Bucs haven’t defeated the Panthers since sweep in 2012. … Jameis Winston of Bucs needs 283 passing yards to become first rookie in league history to pass for 4,000. … Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart out of lineup again.

Outlook: How much and for how long will Ron Rivera play his first-liners? Carolina, 28-13.

Saints (6-9) at Falcons (8-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Falcons (-5).

The scoop: This might be final game of Sean Payton era, which brought a Super Bowl title and Bounty Gate scandal to New Orleans. Is he headed for Miami or maybe the Meadowlands? … Drew Brees of Saints finishing off his 10th season in a row with 4,000 passing yards. He has 4,547 with 31 TDs. … Falcons got some consolation for disappointing season with 20-13 upset of Panthers. … Julio Jones of Falcons leads league with 127 catches and 1,722 receiving yards. RB Devonta Freeman has league-leading 11 TDs.

Outlook: Another Brees passing show. Saints, 31-28.

Lions (6-9) at Bears (6-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Lions (-1).

The scoop: Final game for Jim Caldwell as Detroit’s head coach? Lions front office already has undergone shakeup and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was canned at midseason. … Bears ended three-game losing streak with win at Tampa Bay last week while Lions were handling 49ers. … Lions QB Matthew Stafford has 5-0 career mark against Bears, but Jay Cutler is 4-1 in career starts versus Lions.

Outlook: Bears only 1-6 at home. Detroit, 20-17.

Redskins (8-7) at Cowboys (4-11)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-3½).

The scoop: Dallas QB Kellen Moore’s play against Bills was panned by media, but he did complete 7 of 13 on third down, successfully moving sticks six times, and averaged 15.3 yards per third-down completion. Still Cowboys produced no TDs in loss to Bills.

Outlook: Cowboys are losers, but no pushovers. Dallas, 17-13.

Eagles (6-9) at Giants (6-9)

TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Giants (-5).

The scoop: With Chip Kelly gone, Pat Shurmur takes over as Eagles’ interim head coach for final game. Is this it for Giants coach Tom Coughlin? Missing playoffs four straight years after 2011 Super Bowl win not sitting well with Big Blue faithful. Loser drops to cellar of weak NFC East.

Outlook: Giants can’t lose if it’s Coughlin’s finale. New York, 35-28.

Dog of the day

Rams (7-8) at 49ers (4-11)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Rams (-3½).

The scoop: Will this become a California rivalry again? Rams’ future in St. Louis up in the air. … Niners wrapping up worst season since 5-11 in 2007. Just think: 49ers were 36-11-1 from 2011-13 before the crash. Game matches Case Keenum of Rams against Blaine Gabbert of Niners at QB. Who could have forecast that?

Outlook: Niners aren’t half bad at home. San Francisco, 20-17.

Last week’s results: 8-6 straight up, 8-6 versus spread.

Season’s record: 137-82 straight up; 116-98-5 versus spread.