Playoff Scenerios Bought and Sold

It’s still a Norv Turner team, make no mistake, but in spite of that, the AFC West championship now lies in San Diego’s hands. Or Denver’s, depending on your point of view. If the Chargers best Denver on Sunday, then a record of 8-8 is good enough for home-field advantage in the first round of playoffs. A San Diego win means you could say the Chargers had a good year, and that means somewhere in this great land Marty Schottenheimer is kicking his dog.

Eli Manning had a good 2008. He was transformed from kid brother and second-tier quarterback to Super Bowl Big Guy. He led the Giants to the 2007 playoffs as a wild card, then won three games in a row (on the road), then beat the heretofore undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42. This made a great many people — good people, productive people, sports-minded people — very happy.

And he might do it again. Sunday’s 34-28 win over Carolina gives the Giants a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

While we’re here, we might as well look around.

Tennessee (13-2) has won the AFC South and a first-round bye. The Titans earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after a 31-14 thumping of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh (11-4) took the beating, liked it, and won the AFC North plus a first-round bye.

Indianapolis (11-4) has a wild-card ticket and a number-five seed. Nothing new there.

The AFC East goes down to the last week. The Jets blew a big one when they lost to Seattle on Sunday. Puts them at 9-6. New England and Miami are 10-5. The Jets can still win their division if they prevail over Miami on Sunday and Buffalo stops New England. This happens and Bret Favre is beloved geezer. More likely, it doesn’t happen and Favre is just another guy who stayed too long at the feeding trough.

New England wins the AFC East if they beat Buffalo and Miami loses. Not great odds, but better than the Jets. If Miami beats the Jets, it’s an away game for them, then they win the division and reaffirm life’s cardinal rule: arrogant bastards finish first.

Who else could I be talking about but Bill Parcells? He retired from football for the third time in January 2007. Was back in the saddle by December. Parcells makes Favre look like a virgin bride. After toying with Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, publicly humiliating the former Handy Dan Hardware regional manager, Parcells accepted the I’m-the-Big-Dog job in Miami and proceeded to turn that team — a team that won one game in 2007 — into the AFC East leader going into the last week of play. Bill Parcells is nothing if not a disloyal employee, but the man knows how to rehab a football team.

If Baltimore (10-5) beats Jacksonville, the club is in the postseason as a wild card. No one west of Maryland cares.

Arizona (8-7) is champion of the NFC West and has a shot at going into the playoffs with an 8-8 record if they can pull off a defeat against Seattle. Here’s hoping.

The Carolina Panthers (11-4) are in the postseason, would enter as NFC South victor holding a first-round bye if they win at New Orleans or Atlanta beats St. Louis, which is probable. Atlanta will be playing for real; they’ll get a first-round bye if they beat the Rams. As it stands now, the Falcons (10-5) have a wild-card ticket.

The NFC North is complicated by the fact that Green Bay plays Chicago on Monday night and I am writing this at 4:00 a.m. Monday morning and you will read this by teatime on Thursday. If Chicago loses the Monday-night game, Minnesota wins the NFC North. Or, if Minnesota beats the Giants next Sunday, they’ll win the division.

But, Chicago still has a shot, thanks to the improbable Week 16 trifecta. To wit: Atlanta, San Diego, and Washington won. The Bears need to beat Green Bay and Houston, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. If Minnesota loses to the Giants on Sunday, Chicago will be NFC North division champs.

Now, then, you can forget pretty much everything I’ve written…in fact, forget everything the sportswriting industry has spit out since Sunday. The last weekend of the NFL season is a nightmare for bettors. Those teams that have clinched their postseason slots will be pulling their starters by the end of the first quarter. Games will be played by backups, making it impossible to set a decent line or predict who will win what. Buyer beware.

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