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NFL enters the playoff preseason

December 27, 2012
By STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

Depending on how playoff spots are clinched, the last one, two or three weeks of the regular season usually look like playoff exhibition games. You really have to look at the motivation of teams to see how well they're going to play.

Just like in the August preseason, some teams really want to win - the bottom feeders or ones with new coaches and new systems - and others really don't care too much.

This year is better than average in the don't-care department, with a majority of positions still up for grabs heading into this final weekend of the regular season.

The only spots wrapped up are the No. 1 spot in the NFC (Atlanta) and bottom three spots in the AFC, with No. 4 to be Baltimore as a division winner and Nos. 5 and 6 taken by Indianapolis and Cincinnati as wild cards.

Don't expect a lot out of those teams on Sunday.

The all-important No. 1 position (home field for all playoff games), No. 2 (first-round bye, second round at home) and No. 3 (having to play the next week, then go on the road) are up for grabs in the AFC, with Houston owning the inside track, followed by Denver and New England.

In the NFC, any of three teams - Green Bay, San Francisco or Seattle - could finish No. 2 and get next weekend off. Whereas the Packers can only slip to No. 3 if they falter, either the 49ers and Seahawks will fall down to a wild card spot since both are still trying to win the West.

Sunday night's Dallas-Washington game will determine the winner of the NFC East with a real possibility that the loser's season is over. The Redskins - but not the Cowboys - are also vying for the last wild-card spot along with Minnesota, Chicago and the New York Giants.

With all that said, it's been amazing that in the past decade or so, some of the best football played in Week 17 is by teams with no hope of getting to the postseason.

It has to be some combination of players playing looser with nothing to lose and coaches being more willing to take smart, calculated risks they normally wouldn't take.

On the flip side, everyone involved with these previously mentioned playoff contenders knows a lot could be riding on one or two pivotal plays on Sunday. If that doesn't make you tight and feeling a chokehold around your neck, then you're ready for a run to the Super Bowl.

So here's the last of the regular season picks:

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Chicago at Detroit - Da Bears gotta feel they control their own destiny, since they only need this win and a Minnesota loss to Green Bay to get a wild card spot. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a choke, particularly by the Chicago offense. Lions, 27-16.

Jacksonville at Tennessee - The Jags made their season playing well against New England last week. Titans, 20-10.

Carolina at New Orleans - If you look at the last six to eight weeks, these two teams deserve wild card spots more than Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota or the Giants. Panthers, 34-31.

N.Y. Jets at Buffalo - Couldn't these teams just stay home and pick players from other teams for a fantasy league game in Week 17? It would be more entertaining. Bills, 13-6.

Baltimore at Cincinnati - These teams might meet again in Baltimore next week, so no one's going to show any of their cards now. Bengals, 19-13.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh - Can the Steelers recover in time after throwing their season away last week? Browns, 17-14.

Houston at Indianapolis - Houston could fall from the No. 1 to No. 3 seed if it loses. Indy, well, nothing like that's on the line. Texans, 33-23.

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants - To get in the playoffs, the Giants need a win and Dallas, Minnesota and Chicago all to lose. I'm predicting all but one of those things to happen. Giants, 28-20.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta - A horrible mismatch, since the Falcons have nothing to play for. Buccaneers, 29-17.

Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

Green Bay at Minnesota - Minnesota wants to win so it can play next week. Green Bay wants to win so it doesn't have to play next week. Vacation seems like a better motivator, plus the Vikings' Adrian Peterson is hurting. Packers, 28-27.

Oakland at San Diego - The Raiders were bad with Carson Palmer at quarterback. Now they're worse without him. Chargers, 24-3.

Arizona at San Francisco - I asked this a couple weeks ago and didn't get an answer, so I'll ask again: Couldn't the Cardinals devise an offense without using a quarterback? Nah, I still don't think so. 49ers, 24-9.

St. Louis at Seattle - When you see the white foam coming from their mouths, you know Seattle really has rabid fans. Seahawks, 33-13.

Kansas City at Denver - OK, maybe Peyton Manning doesn't have his best game ever. So? Broncos, 22-6.

Miami at New England - New England won't score in the second half after realizing Denver's win means it can't move up from the No. 3 spot. But it won't matter. Patriots, 28-23.

Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

Dallas at Washington - The Cowboys get incredibly lucky, since Minnesota and Chicago losses earlier in the day will have already insured the Redskins a playoff spot. But Dallas must win to get in, so Cowboys, 27-23.

Last week - 12-4, 75 percent. Season - 152-87-1, 64 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.



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