Donnerstag, Dezember 25, 2008

NFL: Preview Week 17


“Playoffs? I think we’re there,” says a kidding Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback MATT RYAN.

He’s right. The Falcons are indeed in the 2008 playoffs, as are six other teams. But the quest is so challenging that it’s easy to see why players might want to check one more time to make sure that they are, indeed, in the NFL postseason.

For those fighting for a spot in that exclusive category, this is “last-chance” Sunday. You either do it now in Week 17 or start planning for 2009.

“You win, you keep playing,” says defensive end ALEX BROWN of the Chicago Bears, one of 11 teams scrambling for the final five playoff berths.

Sunday is packed with suspense. Even before the games kick off, there are some unique pairings:

· Denver visits San Diego in the AFC West. It’s either the division title -- or nothing. There’s no in-between in this one. The winner wins the division. The loser goes home, missing the playoffs.

· Two games – Miami at the New York Jets and Dallas at Philadelphiafeature four teams at fever pitch scratching for the playoffs.

· And there’s the AFC East. Three teams – Miami, New England and the New York Jets – are in position to win the division. The Dolphins and Jets play each other, and the Patriots play the fourth division team, the Bills.

Plus, there are other pivotal games. “Everything you are fighting for and want is right there,” says Dallas Cowboys head coach WADE PHILLIPS. “All you have to do is go get it.”

Some of the Week 17 “go-get-it” games:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-5) at BUFFALO BILLS (7-8) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)

Pats hope Buffalo doesn’t keep playing the spoiler.

New England has defeated the Bills 10 times in a row. They come into Buffalo wary, though, after seeing what the Bills pulled last week in Denver. Buffalo came back from an early 13-point deficit and scored on five consecutive possessions to delay any divisional clinching by the Broncos. “We might not be a playoff team,” said Buffalo wide receiver FRED JACKSON, “but we played like one.”

And if it’s snowing in Buffalo? No problem, apparently, for the Pats. They performed like it was a steaming September afternoon last week in the middle of a Foxboro snowstorm, posting 514 yards in a 47-7 victory over Arizona.

New England has to win with other scenarios to clinch the division or a playoff berth.



THIS SUNDAY, the final day of the NFL regular season, will mark to the day the 50th anniversary of the “Greatest Game Ever Played,” the 1958 NFL Championship sudden-death overtime between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants.

The Baltimore Ravens will conduct special halftime ceremonies at their game against Jacksonville to salute the players who brought Baltimore its 1958 NFL championship.

“None of us on the Colts had really played on a championship team,” says one of those Colts who will be honored Sunday, Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver RAYMOND BERRY. “It was a tremendous experience just winning our Western Conference championship and being able to play the Giants at Yankee Stadium for the world championship. We were so thrilled about that, that we really had no idea about the significance of what was going to happen.”



We’ve got one more game to get!”

So says Ravens All-Star LB TERRELL SUGGS. Baltimore could join Atlanta (MIKE SMITH/QB MATT RYAN) as the teams to make the 2008 playoffs with rookie head coaches and rookie quarterbacks – the Ravens’ JOHN HARBAUGH and QB JOE FLACCO.

With a win or other scenarios, Baltimore clinches a playoff spot. They can be in the postseason even before they take the field if New England loses to Buffalo in their 1:00 PM game. But that won’t stop the Ravens from going full bore, as they always do. No less an authority than LB RAY LEWIS attests to that. “The only thing we can think about is a 60-minute game against Jacksonville,” says the All-Star. “When we finish that one, then we can think about the playoffs.”

MIAMI DOLPHINS (10-5) at NEW YORK JETS (9-6) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)

Somehow, back in August, you knew it would come to this.

When the Jets traded for QB BRETT FAVRE last summer and their anticipated starter CHAD PENNINGTON went to Miami, people wondered if the teams’ final regular-season game against each other would be important. Well, it’s not important, it’s critical.

The Dolphins or Jets could be division champs…could make it as Wild Cards…or could be out of the playoffs completely. Funny how it all turned out, right?

“This is the only way fate would have it,” says Pennington. “I just don’t think it would happen any other way. There wouldn’t be any other scenario. This is how sports works.”

The Jets have topped the Dolphins five times in a row, including in the first week of the season, 20-14, when eventual All-Star CB DARRELLE REVIS intercepted Pennington in the end zone with five seconds left.


Another division royale between old foes fighting for their playoff lives.

On top of that, if the game is anything like the explosion that erupted the last time the teams met, on a Monday night in Week 2, it could well be a donnybrook. There were 54 first-half points (a MNF record)…seven lead changes…and the most total points (78 in Dallas’ 41-37 victory) in the 98-game series between the teams.

But that was then. This is inescapably now. Both clubs come off disheartening losses after big victories and, in the Eagles’ case, a three-game winning streak. But both have the guys at quarterback who can ignite their teams when it counts. Their QBs rank No. 1 (DallasTONY ROMO) and No. 7 (Philadelphia’s DONOVAN MC NABB) in fourth-quarter passer rating. Between them, they have thrown only one interception (Romo) in the quarter.

The teams will be ready. “There is still light at the end of the tunnel,” says Eagles head coach ANDY REID. “Obviously, everybody wants to get to the playoffs, and we still have that opportunity.”

DENVER BRONCOS (8-7) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (7-8) (Sunday night, NBC, 8:15 PM ET)

What a way to end it all!

And it’s just that – all or nothing. The winner captures the AFC West. The loser goes home. There’s no in-between.

“If you told us at the beginning of the year that it was a one-game series with us down in San Diego to go to the playoffs, we probably would have taken it,” says Broncos All-Star QB JAY CUTLER. “We’ve got to keep our heads up.”

Denver will confront a hot team. The Chargers have won three in a row after traveling cross-country last week to hand Tampa Bay its first home loss, 41-24.

If it comes down to a Sunday night aerial show, the QBs can hold their own. Cutler ranks third in the league in yards (4,210) and San Diego’s PHILIP RIVERS (the top-rated passer in the league, 104.6) sits fifth with 3,802 yards.

How’d he know?: Here’s Rivers after the Chargers lost to Denver 39-38 in Week 2: “We’ll get another shot at them later in the year. Hopefully, it’ll be for all the marbles.” Well you got that right, Philip!

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