On Football: Playoff picture clears up -- and muddles, too
By BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer
If they’re singing anything in Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Seattle, it could be “I Can See Clearly Now.” All three took some big steps Sunday.
As for the appropriate song in the AFC South and NFC East, try “Purple Haze.” Or “Land Of Confusion.”
The postseason picture came into focus in some places and got more muddled elsewhere. The folks at NFL headquarters must love having such big-time quarterbacks as Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees already in the field. And they must be thrilled that at least 10 Week 17 matchups will have some playoff significance.
“Cherish these moments,” linebacker K.J. Wright, the longest-tenured Seahawks player, told teammates in the locker room after a 20-9 victory over the Rams. “It’s been a while since we’ve been NFC West champs. And this team, especially our brotherhood, our togetherness, brought us to this moment.”
At this moment, here’s how things stand — and what might be ahead on the first Sunday of 2021.
Buffalo (11-3), which takes on struggling New England on Monday night, owns the division crown and will get the No. 2 seed behind Kansas City by winning out.
Miami (10-5), with one of the most impressive two-season turnarounds in recent memory, gets a wild-card berth by winning at the Bills next weekend — a huge challenge. But the Dolphins have met lots of challenges this year.
“I think we have a special team,” Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said after engineering a last-minute drive to beat Las Vegas on Saturday night. “I think this team all year long has fought.”
Pittsburgh (12-3) broke a three-game slide with a monstrous second half to beat Indianapolis. That gave the Steelers the division title.
“It’s a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes and sometimes it was very subtle,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
The grapes are tasting pretty sweet for Baltimore and rancid for Cleveland.
The Ravens (10-5) won a fourth consecutive game, beating the Giants, and will head to the postseason with a victory over Cincinnati. The Browns, trying to end the NFL’s longest playoff absence — last appearance 2002 — were severely short-handed by COVID-19 issues and fell to the Jets. They’ll need to defeat the archrival Steelers, and wouldn’t Pittsburgh enjoy keeping that drought going?
Indianapolis’ collapse at Pittsburgh spiraled the Colts (10-5) out of a playoff spot. To get back in as a wild card, they must take care of inept Jacksonville (1-14, whose win was opening day against Indy) and have either Baltimore, Cleveland or Miami lose. Or if Tennessee (10-5 after a loss at Green Bay) loses at woeful Houston next Sunday and the Colts win, they get the division crown and the Titans likely will be out. Or not.
All Kansas City (14-1), despite a tight win over weak Atlanta on Sunday. The reigning league champions own the AFC’s only postseason bye.
“If you look at the history of that bye week, usually it’s a good thing for the teams trying to make a championship run,” Mahomes said. “But at the end of the day, we got to find a way to win a football game whenever we get there.”
All Seattle’s, and the Seahawks (11-4) have a shot at the conference bye.
With their loss at Seattle, the Rams (9-6) need a home victory against Arizona (8-7) to ensure a wild card. A loss would lift the Cardinals in and, if Chicago beats Green Bay, give the Bears a berth, too, sending LA packing.
All Green Bay’s, as will be the NFC bye with a win at Soldier Field next Sunday. The Packers (12-3) need to avoid a three-way tie with Seattle and New Orleans at 12-4, which would give the bye to the Saints.
Chicago has gone from 5-1 to 5-7 to 8-7. A victory and the Bears are playoffs-bound.
All settled, with New Orleans (11-4) on top and Tampa Bay, with that 43-year-old newcomer quarterback — a guy named Brady — guaranteed a wild card at 10-5.
All unsettled — except for Philadelphia (4-10-1), which saw its chances disappear by losing at Dallas (6-9). Pay attention for this one:
A Washington victory at Philly on Sunday night gives Ron Rivera’s team the division at 7-9 no matter what the Cowboys do at the Giants (5-10) in the afternoon. Washington swept Dallas this season.
However, an Eagles win then means whoever emerges from the Cowboys-Giants matchup at the Meadowlands — barring a tie — heads to the playoffs.
Yes, a team with a losing record will join the Super Bowl chase, and will host a playoff game on the second weekend of January.
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