And, yes, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Cincinnati and the New York Giants at 5-8.
All are alive for the postseason.
Even Atlanta, at 4-9, if you can imagine, isn’t eliminated.
Just what the league loves heading toward Christmas: charity for nearly all.
So let first-year Titans coach Mike Vrabel play the Grinch, trying to ignore any playoff chatter as his team heads to the Meadowlands to face the Giants.
“We haven’t talked much. We try to eliminate all the scenarios,” he says. “The only scenario that we try to focus on is our preparation right now as we head into a road game against the Giants.
“You could talk about scenarios all day. There’s scenarios where the Dolphins give up two punt blocks and score on a 70-yard hook-and-ladder; a scenario where a player jumps offside on a third-and-1 in a four-minute situation; a situation where a team executes a 50-yard hook-and-ladder and then the kicker slips. Those are all the scenarios that are crazy that happen in this league every week, so the one we’re going to try to focus on is our preparation versus the Giants.”
Fair enough, because all of the playoff-qualifying scenarios for this week are enough to spark a migraine.
The questions that should be raised are:
—Is all of this competitive balance or simply mediocrity? Oasis or swamp?
—Is it good for the NFL that such spiraling messes as the Falcons and Bengals remain in the running?
—Do people really want to see a .500 (or worse) team playing in January, perhaps against a 14-2 opponent?
LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE
Nearly all the teams in the middle of the standings belong there. It’s fair to point out that the Redskins, Bengals and Falcons have been severely damaged by injuries — hey, Cincinnati was once 4-1 and Washington held the top spot in the NFC East until its current four-game slide.
Still, there’s a flawed bunch of “contenders” for the playoffs. They are profiting because they are keeping company with equally blemished clubs.
All of them have had impressive stretches and pretty much unwatchable ones, though Seattle and Dallas probably don’t deserve to be lumped with the stragglers because they seem to be legitimate threats to do something in January.
What’s missing with the others is the consistency that the top teams possess. Look at the Colts, who went from 1-1 to 1-5, then won five in a row, only to get blanked at lowly Jacksonville before going to Houston, the league’s hottest team, and winning.
Do fans in Atlanta and Cincinnati and Washington envision any sort of turnaround in the final three games that would lift those teams into the postseason? Do those clubs’ front offices?
They shouldn’t, even as the NFL boasts that 26 teams still have a shot at the Super Bowl.
One likely good thing about such deficient teams being in the running in mid-December is that it should cool talk of expanding the playoff field — something that virtually would guarantee impostors getting in.
Once in a while, a team scrapes into the postseason and catches fire. Wild-carders have won the Super Bowl often enough to keep that dream alive once you get in.
But should, say, a 7-8-1 Packers or 8-8 Lions sneak in, does that make for must-watch TV in the playoffs? Is a game with 8-8 Miami at 12-4 Houston enticing?
What is nice about the chase in December is the intrigue of seedings. The general feeling in the AFC is that avoiding a trip to Foxborough in January is necessary. So, the other division winners not only want and likely need to win their games, they’re hoping the Patriots, currently seeded second, don’t win out. Kansas City tops the conference right now, but barely.
The NFC is a two-team race for the top spot between the Saints and Rams, who met in a high-scoring affair won by host New Orleans in early November. Both are 11-2, making their final three weeks critical in that race.
And then they have the prospect of sitting out wild-card weekend while a team or two emerging from the quagmire stokes up its fan base before probably getting routed.
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