The Miami Dolphins (RB Ricky Williams pictured) are one of six AFC (7-7) teams still hoping for the playoffs
You know somewhere former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell is smiling as the phrase he coined, “Any Given Sunday” is very true in the NFL this season. Though the Saints, Colts, Eagles, Chargers, Vikings and Cardinals are already in the playoffs, there are 13 teams who are competing for the 6 playoff spots still up for grabs with two weeks left in the 2009 NFL Season. Competition this time of the year is a good thing as I always like watching meaningful games in Weeks 16 and 17 rather than having to be stuck with “glorified” exhibition games because teams already in the playoffs choose to rest players.
One trend that I will be watching as the playoffs draw near is the number of new teams making the playoffs after missing them the prior year. In 2008, for the 13th consecutive NFL season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before (Arizona, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minnesota, Miami and Carolina). This year the Saints (already-in), Bengals, Cowboys, Patriots, Packers, Broncos, Jets, Texans and Jaguars are all contenders to make the playoffs after missing out on them in 2008.
NFC East – The Philadelphia Eagles (10-4) lead the Dallas Cowboys (9-5) by 1-game in the division race. The Eagles by virtue of their 27-14 win over the Niners are assured of a playoff berth, but they still have a chance to catch the Vikings for the NFC’s 2nd seed, win the NFC East title and achieve a first-round bye. The Cowboys are hoping to still be one game back of the Eagles going into the Week 17 match-up, so with a win Dallas would hold the only tiebreaker needed over Philadelphia (head-to-head wins) and claim the NFC East crown. The Giants (8-6) also have a chance, but need to win out and hope that either the Packers or Cowboys stumble. A strong possibility is the Eagles and Cowboys playing in Week 17 and then turning right back around to play again in the opening round of the playoffs. The Eagles’ remaining games are DEN and @DAL); The Cowboys’ remaining games are (@WAS and PHI); The Giants’ remaining are (CAR and @MIN)
NFC West — The Arizona Cardinals (9-5) with their Week 15 win over the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers (6-8) loss to the Eagles, clinched their second straight NFC West crown. However expect the Cardinals to continue fighting as they still have a slim chance of winning the NFC’s 2nd Seed, if the Vikings lose their last two games and they win out. The Cardinals’ remaining games are (@STL and GB)
NFC South — The New Orleans Saints (13-1) lost for the first time this season to the Dallas Cowboys, which threw their 16-0 dreams down the drain. But there is still something left for them to play for. Though they have already clinched the NFC South title, New Orleans needs one more win in their next two games (TB and @CAR) to claim NFC home field advantage. An interest note from the NFC South (created in 2002) is that in 6 out of 7 NFL seasons including 2009 with the Saints, the division winner was a worst to first team (only exception was the Falcons going from worst to 2nd place in ’08).
NFC North – The Minnesota Vikings (11-3) clinched the NFC North crown with the Green Bay Packers (9-5) loss to the Steelers. However the Vikings still need to keep winning to hold off the Eagles for the NFC’s #2 spot and continue their outside shot at the NFC’s #1 spot. If at the end of the season, both the Vikings and Eagles are tied at 12 wins, Philly wins the tiebreaker. The Vikes’ remaining games are (@CHI and NYG)
AFC East – The New England Patriots (9-5) after two straight wins can clinch the AFC East title with a win in one of their last two games. The Miami Dolphins and NY Jets (both are 7-7) can only hope that the Patriots stumble (losing both games) and they win out. Even so the Dolphins and Jets need help just to get a wildcard berth. With New England’s remaining schedule (teams with a combined record of 14-14), I would think the Pats will hang-on for their first division crown since 2007. The Patriots’ remaining games are (JAC and @HOU)
AFC West — The San Diego Chargers (11-3), one of the hottest teams in the NFL, wrapped up the AFC West crown with their win over the Bengals and the Broncos loss to the Raiders. Right now it looks pretty secure that the Chargers will be the AFC’s #2 seed and you know the Colts do not want to face them in the playoffs – eliminated Indy the last 2 years. San Diego’s remaining games are (@TEN and WAS); The Denver Broncos (8-6) could be in trouble again this season as their end-of-season losses are mounting and there are a slew of AFC (7-7) teams breathing down their neck.
AFC South – The Indianapolis Colts (14-0) are the NFL’s last unbeaten and it will be interesting to see if they continue striving for perfection or shut it down by resting players for the playoffs — have won an NFL-record 23 consecutive regular season games. The Colts have already clinched the AFC South division crown and AFC home field advantage. The Colts’ remaining games are (NYJ and @BUF)
AFC North — The Cincinnati Bengals (9-5) have definitely hit a mini-skid as they have lost two games in a row and to make matters worse they are dealing with the tragic death of WR Chris Henry. The Bengals former 3-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens (8-6) has slipped to 1-game, so the last two weeks will be interesting. Cincy only needs one win in their last two games to win their 2nd division title under head coach Marvin Lewis (other in 2005). Remember, the Bengals are also a perfect 6-0 in the AFC North this season, so they don’t want to worry about the division record tiebreaker. The Bengals’ remaining games are (KC and @NYJ)
Other playoff contending teams remaining schedules
GB (9-5) SEA @ARI
BAL (8-6) @PIT @OAK
DEN (8-6) @PHI KC
NYG (8-6) CAR @MIN
JAC (7-7) @NE @CLE
MIA (7-7) HOU PIT
NYJ (7-7) @IND CIN
PIT (7-7) BAL @MIA
TEN (7-7) SD @SEA
HOU (7-7) @MIA NE
A great tool for sorting out all of the “What If” scenarios surrounding the 2009 NFL Playoff match-ups can be found on the Yahoo Sports website.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)