Heading into the final weekend of the regular season there are still two playoff spots up for grabs and a few milestones up for grabs as well. Both the NFC East title and the last Wild Card spot in the NFC will be determined Sunday night. Meanwhile Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson are each trying to hit the 2,000 yard mark in their respective positions. On top of that Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt is only two sacks away from tying Michael Strahan’s single season record of 22.5.
All of those records are nice, but all that really matters in the NFL is making the playoffs. There isn’t a player in the league who wouldn’t trade his personal stats for a chance to take a run at the Super Bowl. With that in mind we will focus on the games that have direct bearing on the playoffs and playoff seedings.
The Cowboys and the Redskins at FedEx Field (Otherwise known as the "Brawl for it All")
Do you think the executives at NBC Sports are doing a happy dance over this match-up? Whoever wins the 106th edition of this bitter rivalry between the Cowboys and the Redskins will win NFC East. Even if the Redskins lose they can still get in as a Wild Card if both the Bears and the Vikings lose. The Cowboys can only get into the post-season by winning this game. The Redskins are not interested in getting into the playoffs through the back door, they want to win and send the Cowboys packing.
Riding a six-game winning streak the Redskins are led by the most exciting player to grace the Beltway in a long time; quarterback Robert Griffin III. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan told reporters this week that in his opinion, RG3 is a truly special player. "He’s got a unique skill set; his ability to throw, drop back, play action. Put a threat on a defence with his running ability. He will just get better and better, he’s just scratching the surface. And the reason why I say that is that he works at it." RG3 is much more than just an athletic quarterback, he has a quarterback rating of 104.1 and a completion percentage of 66.4%. On top of that RG3 has only thrown five interceptions; or one for every 75 pass attempts. As a comparison Andrew Luck has thrown 18 interceptions this year, or one for every 33 attempts. Griffin’s exceptional speed just makes him that more dangerous when he decides to run.
RG3 is a rookie and the kind of player that most people feel will have many more opportunities at the post-season. Tony Romo is 32 and has been the starting quarterback for "America’s Team" for seven seasons. In that time he’s led the Cowboys to the playoffs only three times and has exactly one win in the post-season. Despite all of that, Romo tried to downplay the pressure surrounding this game when speaking to reporters this week. "When you play for the Division title it’s an exciting game, its fun, it’s a playoff game in essence. I think for us, we understand that everything isn’t going to go perfect. You just have to keep staying in the ball game and keep grinding away and go out there do what it takes to find a way to win." Considering what is at stake and the hostile environment the Cowboys will be walking into a win would go a long way to rebuilding Romo’s tarnished resume as a "money" quarterback.
RG3 and Alfred Morris spearhead the Redskins league-leading running game and has been the engine that drives their offence. Trying to keep RG3 and the Redskins offence in check will be a monumental challenge for the Cowboys defence. RG3 tossed four touchdowns and Morris ran for over 100 yards as the Redskins hung 38 points on the Cowboys back in week 12. Speaking to reporters this week Rob Ryan was very wary of the threat RG3 poses to the Cowboys’ defence. "The kid’s obviously a great athlete, a tremendously talented guy. To combine that with Mike Shanahan’s offence; that’s about as serious as it gets as a defensive coordinator trying to stop people like that." Ryan’s job would be a lot easier if DeMarcus Ware was 100 per cent healthy and he didn’t have so many injuries throughout his front seven.
As of Saturday morning the cheapest ticket available on StubHub for this game will set you back $235 dollars for the standing room only section in the 14th row of the top upper deck at FedEx Field.
The Packers and the Vikings in Minnesota
Mall of America Field might be getting up there in years but it will be louder than a squadron of F-18’s on takeoff when Adrian Peterson and the Vikings run out of the tunnel. If Peterson and the Vikings can find a way to beat the Packers they will make the playoffs; pretty amazing considering they won a total of three games in 2011. Peterson is 102 yards away from the mythical 2,000 yard barrier and 208 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season record. Can he do it? Well considering the fact that in week 10 Peterson burned the Packers for 210 yards at Lambeau Field he has a chance. The Packers defence knows that stopping Peterson is easier said than done. When speaking to reporters this defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said that Peterson is a special athlete. "His vision is second to none. He just sees the hole and explodes. It’s hard to tackle him with one guy, he’s so strong." According to the Vikings, Peterson has tied Barry Sanders for the most runs of 50 yards or longer (seven) in a single season in the history of the NFL. If the Vikings are going to win the game and make it to the post-season they need to find a way to stop Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers were able to over-come Peterson’s 210 yard performance in week 10 because Rodgers completed more passes than Christian Ponder even attempted. The Packers are 9-1 in their last 10 games and Rodgers has thrown 25 touchdowns and only four interceptions in that stretch. Rogers likely won’t win the MVP award this year but there isn’t a defence in the league that doesn’t consider him the best quarterback right now in the NFC.
The Bears and the Lions at Ford Field
If the Packers end up beating the Vikings then the door is wide open for the Bears to make the playoffs. A Vikings loss and a Bears win would put Chicago into the dance. The opportunistic Bears defence scored two touchdowns in last week’s win over the Cardinals and they will need to do more of the same against the Lions. More than anything Lovie Smith needs Jay Cutler to snap out of his late season funk and come up with the kind of game he’s capable of playing. Cutler only has one multi-touchdown game in the last six weeks and has a pedestrian quarterback rating of 71.5 in that stretch. All eyes in Detroit will be on Calvin Johnson as he attempts to make NFL history. Megatron is 108 yards away from 2,000 this year and he’s about the only good thing to come out of the Lions’ season in 2012.
The Eagles and the Giants at MetLife Stadium
As bad as they’ve played the past two games the Giants still have a shot at making the playoffs. For that to happen the Giants would need to win and the Bears, Vikings and Cowboys would all need to lose. The Giants have nobody to blame but themselves for the dilemma they’re facing and they have not looked like a playoff team at all in losing their last two games by a combined score of 67-14. This game will mark the end of Andy Reid’s 14 year career as the Head Coach of the Eagles. Michael Vick is starting his first game since he was injured in week 10 and like Reid, could be making his final appearance as a member of the Eagles.
The Chiefs and the Broncos in Denver
A win by the Broncos and they will clinch a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Peyton Manning and the Broncos are riding a 10-game winning streak and they’re not about to let the Chiefs stand in their way of making it 11 in a row. Led by Manning and linebacker Von Miller the Broncos are playing as well as any team in the NFL right now and would be more than a worthy representative of the AFC in Super Bowl 47. Like a lot of teams around the league the Chiefs are facing for a major house cleaning at the end of the season with Head Coach Romeo Crennel and G.M. Scott Pioli both expected to be relieved of their duties.
The Texans and the Colts in Indianapolis
This was a different week for the Colts for a number of reasons. Playing a Division rival like the Texans is always a little different and this week marked the official return of Chuck Pagano to his regular coaching duties after winning his battle with Leukemia. The true MVP of the Colts this year is offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Arians found a way to keep the Colts together during Pagano’s illness while spending countless hours tutoring his bright young protégé, Andrew Luck. The Texans franchise has never won a game in Indianapolis and Gary Kubiak would love nothing more than to snap that streak of futility while locking up the number one seed in the AFC playoffs. The Texans got a scare last week when running back Arian Foster had to leave the game with an irregular heartbeat. Fortunately for the Texans Foster was back at practice this week and is good to go for Sunday’s game.
The Cardinals and the 49ers in San Francisco
Forget about the "Wrath of Khan", the Cardinals are about to experience the "Wrath of Harbaugh". After getting pounded by the Seahawks in primetime Harbaugh and the 49ers won’t be in a charitable mood when they host the Cardinals. Besides, with a win over the Cardinals the 49ers will clinch the NFC West title. At the very least Colin Kaepernick won’t have to deal with the constant din of CenturyLink Field this week and that alone should make for a much more efficient 49ers offence. Harbaugh and the 49ers coaching staff have to be more than a little worried about the health of their outstanding defensive lineman Justin Smith. Smith has a partially torn triceps and is not expected to be in the line-up against the Cardinals. To get that much needed bye week the 49ers need to beat the Cardinals and hope that the Vikings can beat the Packers.
The Rams and the Seahawks in Seattle
Pete Carroll’s biggest Christmas gift arrived on the 27th when cornerback Richard Sherman won the appeal of his pending four game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. With Sherman in the line-up and Brandon Browner due to return after week 17 the Seahawks defence should be at full strength in time for the playoffs. This is also a Seahawks team that has outscored their last three opponents (Cardinals, Bills and 49ers) by a combined score of 150-30. The seeds to this offensive onslaught and the "Tipping Point" in the Seahawks season took place in week 13 in Chicago. It was late in the fourth quarter in Chicago and the Seahawks were losing to the Bears when they took over on their own three-yard line. With ice water running through his veins, Russell Wilson engineered a 97-yard drive that culminated in a Seahawks touchdown. From the beginning of the fourth quarter in Chicago until now the Seahawks have outscored their opponents 163-33. The Rams have enjoyed a nice renaissance under Jeff Fisher but expecting them to be the first road team to win a game in Seattle this season is unrealistic.
For those hardy souls who are going to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday to watch the Bills host the Jets the forecast is calling for cold temperatures, flurries and a nasty wind.