December 17, 2006

The Wild Card Picture

WHY YES, THE PITTSBURGH Steelers DID beat the lowly Carolina Panthers 37-3 today, in a performance that can be fairly described as complete and utter domination. More importantly, though, the victory moves the Steelers from the unfortunate category of "not yet mathematically eliminated" to the designation of "on the bubble," which I believe all can agree is a HUGE boost in the Steelers' fortunes.

Of course, I know there are some readers who might suggest such a description is akin to saying that mauve is a distinct color from lavender or lilac or red-violet. All are different shades of purple, yes, but purple nonetheless. As such, these teams are not, to use the technical term, "yet in the playoffs by any means." But that's not any fun. Besides, Pittsburgh plays Baltimore next week, so I may only have a week to indulge in this line of thinking.

As of now the Kansas City Chiefs are getting their schottenheimers kicked by the San Diego Chargers, so I'll assume Kansas City continues to stink up the joint and loses. Thus, after tonight, we'll have FOUR AFC teams at 7-7 after tonight, three more teams at 8-6, and an eighth team -- the Cincinnati Bengals -- that could go either 9-5 as of Monday or 8-6, depending if they beat or lose to the Indianapolis Colts. (God save me, I'm going to have to root for Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football.) Let's further assume the Bungles revert to their old form and play badly the whole night; that would also bring them to 8-6. With two weeks to go, that would make the AFC Wild Card picture look like this:

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CINCINNATI*, DENVER*, JACKSONVILLE, N.Y. JETS: 8-6
KANSAS CITY, BUFFALO, TENNESSEE, PITTSBURGH: 7-7
MIAMI: 6-8^

* temporarily holds Wild Card spot
^ completely screwed

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Now, let us review the possibilities. Miami, as noted, won't make it. This is because the Dolphins stink. Also, they can't play in cold weather, have a schmuck for a coach and have a snowball's chance of beating the Colts and the Jets over the next two weeks.

Of course, it WOULD be great if the Dolphins could beat the Jets next week. That loss could well derail the Jets' hopes, given the intra-division tiebreaker. Also, if Oakland could pull off a miracle win to end the season, that would be great too. I mean, really now -- the Jets? In the playoffs? The mind staggers under the possibility. Nobody's taken these guys seriously since Namath, and I haven't seen any cause for change in that regard.

Now, as for Buffalo. That ain't gonna happen either. They've got to play Baltimore on New Year's Eve, a game they will lose. They also have to play Tennessee the week before, and they'll undoubtedly lose that one too. It is true that Tennessee has been on fire lately, but it's also worth noting that during the last week of the season, the Titans must play the New England Patriots. The Patriots don't like losing.

Right now, San Diego has an 11 point lead over Kansas City, so I'm going to guess they're not going to blow it. But the Chefs aren't out of the mix yet -- they get to play Oakland next week. I can't believe I'm going to have to root for Oakland. (Get thee behind me, Satan). Then, the Chiefs play Jacksonville.

Oh, yeah, Jacksonville. Say, the Patriots play Jacksonville next week. Sweet. (Wait a minute. Oh, no. Not the Patriots. I can't -- sigh -- oh boy. Um. Woo. Go Patriots. Temporarily). Well, it's pretty easy to conclude New England will do OK against Jacksonville, hopefully. So if they lost to New England and beat Kansas City, that would be the perfect scenario.

Denver, at 8-6, is also in a tough spot. They have to beat the evil Cincinnati Bengals and they must beat the San Francisco 49ers to be assured of a playoff spot. But they could just beat one of the two and they have an iffy divisional record. Cincinnati, at 8-6, has to play evil Denver and then, at the very end of the season, must play ... the Pittsburgh Steelers. One hopes the Steelers will, this time around, introduce Mr Zero Mucho -- or whatever his tagline is -- to how we do things downtown.

Anyway, based on my analysis, it seems clear Pittsburgh can still make it into the playoff picture, provided the following events take place:

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1. Pittsburgh beats Baltimore and then Cincinnati. (putting PIT at 9-7)
2. Cincinnati loses to Pittsburgh, Denver and Indianapolis. (putting CIN at 8-8)
3. Tennessee loses to New England. (putting TEN at 8-8)
4. Denver loses to San Francisco. (putting DEN at 9-7)
5. New York loses to either Oakland or Miami. (putting NYJ at 9-7)
6. Kansas City loses to Oakland. (putting KC at 8-8)
7. Jacksonville loses to New England and Kansas City. (putting JAX at 8-8).
8. Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall vows, then takes, revenge against Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens for Owens' inexcusable behavior in the teams' recent meeting. Or the NFL fines Mr Owens again, whichever comes first.

(UPDATE, 12/20: Oops! The initial version of this had Tennessee losing to Baltimore instead of New England, which would've been fine except the teams don't play. Also, this had Kansas City losing to Jacksonville, as opposed to winning. Sorry. This goes to show the playoff system remains completely cloudy and impossible to predict, although the Bungles should have a rough time of things. Also, my initial version somehow left out the clear Item No. 9, which is that the Detroit Lions fire Matt Millen. The Rant regrets the errors. )

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Oops! Did Terrell Owens somehow make his way into the AFC playoff report? Well, it was clearly only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, did that, so I figured I'd do it and get it out of the way. Besides, think of it as priming for all the crap television broadcasts in which "T.O.'s" antics are discussed. They're coming. We all know they're coming.

But I digress. Anyway, should this scenario take place, it would leave three teams tied at 9-7. Pittsburgh, through virtue of its superior intradivisional record, would thus knock out Denver, and earn either the fifth or sixth seed in the AFC playoffs. It is possible and, heck, it may even be probable in a week or so -- although it could also fall apart in a matter of hours. Hell, it probably WILL fall apart in a matter of hours. But if that's the case, then the Colts lose and that can't be so bad.

Also, it has come to my attention that the teams in that other football conference are also vying for playoff spots, although I haven't been paying as much attention to the NFC's struggles. After all, the idea that the NFC team could actually win the Super Bowl is so outlandish that there's no real point in discussing the matter. Particularly given the way the Chargers are playing right now. Holy Christ, that's a good squad.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at December 17, 2006 10:08 PM | TrackBack
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