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Week 17 playoff scenarios

Chargers' Rivers passes under pressure from Chiefs' Houston during their NFL football game in San Diego Reuters

The road to the playoffs in the AFC will go through New England. That’s one thing we know for sure.

But other than the Patriots, who have clinched home-field advantage, and the Colts, who have clinched the No. 4 seed in the AFC, all of the other teams in the playoff race have something to play for on Sunday. Here’s the full playoff scenario announcement put out by the NFL today:

AFC

CLINCHED:
New England – AFC East and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs
Denver – AFC West
Indianapolis – AFC South
Cincinnati – playoff berth
Pittsburgh – playoff berth

DENVER BRONCOS (vs. Oakland)

Denver clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DEN win OR

2) DEN tie + CIN loss or tie OR

3) CIN loss OR

4) CIN tie + IND win

CINCINNATI BENGALS (at Pittsburgh)

Cincinnati clinches AFC North with:

1) CIN win or tie

Cincinnati clinches a first-round bye with:

1) CIN win + DEN loss OR

2) CIN tie + DEN loss + IND loss or tie

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (vs. Cincinnati)

Pittsburgh clinches AFC North with:

1) PIT win

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (at Kansas City)

San Diego clinches a playoff spot with:

1) SD win OR

2) SD tie + BAL loss or tie

BALTIMORE RAVENS (vs. Cleveland)

Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:

1) BAL win + SD loss or tie OR

2) BAL tie + SD loss

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (vs. San Diego)

Kansas City clinches a playoff spot with:

1) KC win + BAL loss + HOU loss or tie

HOUSTON TEXANS (vs. Jacksonville)

Houston clinches a playoff spot with:

1) HOU win + BAL loss + SD loss

NFC

CLINCHED:
Arizona Cardinals – playoff berth
Seattle Seahawks – playoff berth
Detroit Lions – playoff berth
Green Bay Packers – playoff berth
Dallas Cowboys – NFC East

DALLAS COWBOYS (at Washington)

Dallas clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) DAL win + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB tie

Dallas clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DAL win + SEA loss or tie + ARI loss or tie OR

2) DAL win + DET/GB tie OR

3) SEA loss + ARI loss OR

4) DAL tie + SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB does not end in a tie

DETROIT LIONS (at Green Bay)

Detroit clinches NFC North with:

1) DET win or tie

Detroit clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) DET win + SEA loss or tie + ARI loss or tie OR

2) DET tie + SEA loss + ARI loss + DAL loss or tie

Detroit clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DET win OR

2) DET tie + DAL loss or tie OR
3) DET tie + SEA loss + ARI loss

GREEN BAY PACKERS (vs. Detroit)

Green Bay clinches NFC North and a first-round bye with:

1) GB win

Green Bay clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) GB win + SEA loss or tie

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (vs. St. Louis)

Seattle clinches NFC West with:

1) SEA win OR

2) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie OR

3) ARI loss

Seattle clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) SEA win + DET/GB game does not end in a tie OR

2) SEA win + DAL loss or tie OR

3) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DAL loss or tie + GB/DET tie

Seattle clinches a first-round bye with:

1) SEA win OR

2) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DAL loss OR

3) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + GB/DET tie

ARIZONA CARDINALS (at San Francisco)

Arizona clinches NFC West with:

1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie OR

2) ARI tie + SEA loss

Arizona clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie + GB loss or tie OR

2) ARI tie + SEA loss + DAL loss or tie + GB/DET tie

Arizona clinches a first-round bye with:

1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie OR

2) ARI tie + SEA loss + DAL loss or tie OR

3) ARI tie + SEA loss + GB/DET tie

CAROLINA PANTHERS (at Atlanta)

Carolina clinches NFC South with:

1) CAR win or tie

ATLANTA FALCONS (vs. Carolina)

Atlanta clinches NFC South with:

1) ATL win

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Week 17 schedule moves Panthers-Falcons to 4:25 on CBS

Cam Newton, Tyson Jackson AP

Two NFC division title games will air simultaneously on Sunday, one on FOX and one on CBS.

The NFL has released the final Week 17 schedule, and it includes moving Lions-Packers to 4:25 p.m. ET on FOX and moving Panthers-Falcons to 4:25 on CBS. That means fans in most markets will be able to watch both the NFC North title game and the NFC South title game on their local affiliates.

As previously announced, the Bengals-Steelers AFC North championship game will be on to NBC Sunday Night Football. The NFL has also moved the Jaguars-Texans game to FOX at 1 p.m.

Here’s the full Week 17 schedule, all times Eastern:

CLEVELAND AT BALTIMORE: 1 p.m. CBS

SAN DIEGO AT KANSAS CITY: 1 p.m. CBS

N.Y. JETS AT MIAMI: 1 p.m. CBS

CHICAGO AT MINNESOTA: 1 p.m. FOX

PHILADELPHIA AT N.Y. GIANTS: 1 p.m. FOX

NEW ORLEANS AT TAMPA BAY: 1 p.m. FOX

INDIANAPOLIS AT TENNESSEE: 1 p.m. CBS

DALLAS AT WASHINGTON: 1 p.m. FOX

JACKSONVILLE AT HOUSTON: 1 p.m. FOX

BUFFALO AT NEW ENGLAND: 1 p.m. CBS

CAROLINA AT ATLANTA: 4:25 CBS

DETROIT AT GREEN BAY: 4:25 FOX

OAKLAND AT DENVER: 4:25 p.m. CBS

ARIZONA AT SAN FRANCISCO: 4:25 p.m. FOX

ST. LOUIS AT SEATTLE: 4:25 PM FOX

CINCINNATI AT PITTSBURGH: 8:30 PM NBC

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AFC playoff picture: Just one January ticket left

Andy Dalton AP

Five down, one to go.

With a 37-28 victory over Denver on Monday night, the Bengals secured their fourth consecutive AFC postseason berth. They are the fifth team to clinch a spot in the AFC playoffs, joining the Patriots, Broncos, Colts and Steelers.

This leaves the Chargers, Ravens, Texans and Chiefs playing for one wild-card spot on Sunday as the regular season draws to a close. The Chargers and Chiefs are each aiming to make the playoffs for the second straight season, while the Ravens and Texans last made the postseason in 2012.

Here’s how the playoff seeding shapes up through Week 16. The NFL’s standings, playoff scenarios and tiebreaking rules were cited:

THE BIG SIX

1. New England Patriots (12-3, .800). AFC East winner. Has clinched No. 1 seed and first-round bye. Will have homefield advantage throughout conference playoffs.

2. Denver Broncos (11-4, .733). AFC West winner. Will clinch No. 2 seed and first-round bye with win vs. Oakland. Will also clinch first-round bye with Cincinnati loss or an Indianapolis win at Tennessee and a Cincinnati tie.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1, .700). AFC North leader. Has clinched playoff spot. Will win AFC North with victory/tie at Pittsburgh (8:30 p.m. Eastern, NBC). Can clinch first-round bye with win over Pittsburgh and a Denver loss to Oakland. Would also clinch first-round bye with a tie, a Denver loss and an Indianapolis loss/tie.

4. Indianapolis Colts (10-5, .667). AFC South winner.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5, .667). Wild card No. 1. Has clinched playoff spot. Will win AFC North with victory vs. Cincinnati.

6. San Diego Chargers (9-6, .600). Wild card No. 2. Will clinch playoff spot with win over Kansas City. Can also clinch playoff spot with tie and Baltimore loss/tie.

STILL IN THE MIX

7. Baltimore Ravens (9-6, .600). Will clinch wild-card spot with win vs. Cleveland and San Diego loss. Can also clinch playoff spot with tie and San Diego loss.

8. Houston Texans (8-7, .533). Will clinch wild-card spot with win vs. Jacksonville and losses by San Diego and Baltimore.

9. Kansas City Chiefs (8-7, .533). Will clinch wild-card spot with win vs. San Diego, a loss by Baltimore and a loss/tie by Houston.

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Week 17 playoff scenarios

Cam Newton, Paul Worrilow AP

The Patriots, Broncos, Colts and Cowboys have all clinched their divisions. The Steelers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Lions and Packers have all clinched playoff berths. That’s what we know now.

What we don’t know is who the other three playoff teams will be. And we don’t know any team’s playoff seed. Here are the NFL’s official playoff scenarios for the remaining 17 games of this season:

AFC

CLINCHED:
New England – AFC East and a first-round bye
Denver – AFC West
Indianapolis – AFC South
Pittsburgh – playoff berth

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (vs. Buffalo)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

1) NE win OR

2) NE tie + DEN loss or tie OR

3) DEN loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs

DENVER BRONCOS (at Cincinnati; vs. Oakland)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

Denver clinches a first-round bye

Denver clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

1) DEN win + NE loss or tie OR

2) DEN tie + NE loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

Denver clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DEN win or tie OR

2) CIN loss OR

3) CIN tie + IND win

CINCINNATI BENGALS (vs. Denver; at Pittsburgh)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

Cincinnati clinches AFC North with:

1) CIN win

Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with:

1) CIN tie OR

2) BAL loss or tie OR

3) SD loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot

Cincinnati clinches AFC North with:

1) CIN win or tie

Cincinnati clinches a first-round bye with:

1) CIN win + DEN loss or tie OR

2) CIN tie + DEN loss + IND loss or tie

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (vs. Cincinnati)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

Pittsburgh clinches AFC North with:

1) PIT win or tie

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

Pittsburgh clinches AFC North with:

1) PIT win

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (at Kansas City)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

San Diego clinches a playoff spot with:

1) SD win OR

2) SD tie + CIN loss OR

3) SD tie + BAL loss or tie

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

San Diego clinches a playoff spot with:

1) SD win OR

2) SD tie + BAL loss or tie

BALTIMORE RAVENS (vs. Cleveland)

IF DENVER DEFEATS CINCINNATI

Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:

1) BAL win + CIN loss OR

2) BAL win + SD loss or tie OR

3) BAL tie + SD loss

IF CINCINNATI DEFEATS DENVER

Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:

1) BAL win + SD loss or tie OR

2) BAL tie + SD loss

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (vs. San Diego)

Kansas City clinches a playoff spot with:

1) KC win + BAL loss + HOU loss or tie

HOUSTON TEXANS (vs. Jacksonville)

Houston clinches a playoff spot with:

1) HOU win + BAL loss + SD loss

NFC

CLINCHED:
Arizona Cardinals – playoff berth
Seattle Seahawks – playoff berth
Detroit Lions – playoff berth
Green Bay Packers – playoff berth
Dallas Cowboys – NFC East

DALLAS COWBOYS (at Washington)

Dallas clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) DAL win + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB tie

Dallas clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DAL win + SEA loss or tie + ARI loss or tie OR

2) DAL win + DET/GB tie OR

3) DAL tie + SEA loss + ARI loss OR

4) DAL tie + SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DET/GB does not end in a tie

DETROIT LIONS (at Green Bay)

Detroit clinches NFC North with:

1) DET win or tie

Detroit clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) DET win + SEA loss or tie + ARI loss or tie OR

2) DET tie + SEA loss + ARI loss + DAL loss or tie

Detroit clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DET win OR

2) DET tie + DAL loss or tie OR

3) DET tie + SEA loss + ARI loss

GREEN BAY PACKERS (vs. Detroit)

Green Bay clinches NFC North and a first-round bye with:

1) GB win

Green Bay clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) GB win + SEA loss or tie

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (vs. St. Louis)

Seattle clinches NFC West with:

1) SEA win OR

2) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie OR

3) ARI loss

Seattle clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) SEA win + DET/GB game does not end in a tie OR

2) SEA win + DAL loss or tie OR

3) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DAL loss or tie + GB/DET tie

Seattle clinches a first-round bye with:

1) SEA win OR

2) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + DAL loss OR

3) SEA tie + ARI loss or tie + GB/DET tie

ARIZONA CARDINALS (at San Francisco)

Arizona clinches NFC West with:

1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie OR

2) ARI tie + SEA loss

Arizona clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie + GB loss or tie OR

2) ARI tie + SEA loss + DAL loss or tie + GB/DET tie

Arizona clinches a first-round bye with:

1) ARI win + SEA loss or tie OR

2) ARI tie + SEA loss + DAL loss or tie OR

3) ARI tie + SEA loss + GB/DET tie

CAROLINA PANTHERS (at Atlanta)

Carolina clinches NFC South with:

1) CAR win or tie

ATLANTA FALCONS (vs. Carolina)

Atlanta clinches NFC South with:

1) ATL win

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NFC playoff picture: Seahawks take control

ricardolockette AP

Five of the six NFC playoff teams have been determined, as the Seahawks, Cardinals, Lions, Packers and Cowboys have all clinched playoff berths. And the sixth will be determined on Sunday, when the Panthers visit the Falcons.

And the defending champions are now the favorites to get back to the Super Bowl: Seattle’s win on Sunday night means the Seahawks are currently the No. 1 team in the conference and the favorite to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Here’s how the NFC playoff picture looks with one week to go:

1. Seattle Seahawks (11-4) The Seahawks will be the No. 1 seed if they beat the Rams on Sunday, unless the Lions and Packers tie and the Cowboys win.

2. Detroit Lions (11-4) The Lions currently own the tiebreaker over the Packers, but they’ll have to win or tie at Green Bay on Sunday to win the NFC North. If the Packers win, the Lions will be a wild card.

3. Dallas Cowboys (11-4) The Cowboys have won the NFC East. They can get a first-round bye if both the Seahawks and Cardinals lose on Sunday.

4. Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) The Panthers will be the 4 seed if they win or tie in Week 17. If the Panthers lose to the Falcons, the Falcons will be the 4 seed.

5. Green Bay Packers (11-4) The Packers would be a wild card if the playoffs started today, but they’re favored to win the NFC North and get a first-round bye with a win over the Lions on Sunday.

6. Arizona Cardinals (11-4) The Cardinals can still win the NFC West if they beat the 49ers on Sunday and the Seahawks lose to the Rams. Otherwise, the Cardinals will be a wild card.

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NFL morning after: Playing hard, with nothing to play for

marcelreece AP

I admire the upset pulled off by Washington this weekend. I respect the way the Bears and Jets played in hard-fought losses. And I’m amazed by what the Texans did to the Ravens.

But the most surprising result might have been that the Raiders — considered the worst team in the league for most of the season — pulled off a big upset and ended the Bills’ playoff hopes. That game was a fitting end for Sunday afternoon in the NFL, as this was a weekend that reminded us that even when we, the fans, say there’s “nothing to play for,” football players have a funny way of deciding for themselves that they have something to play for.

It happens every year, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m always impressed by the teams that seemingly have every reason to pack it in and give up on their seasons, and instead put forth a spirited effort.

Washington has looked like a disaster for most of this season, but on Saturday, in a game the Eagles desperately needed to win, it was Washington that won a hard-fought, back-and-forth battle. And Houston seemed like it was even more of a disaster, down to fourth-string quarterback Case Keenum. But the Texans, whose playoff hopes are slim, put their quarterback issues aside and dominated the Ravens, who are right in the thick of the battle for a playoff berth.

And even the teams that came up short showed a lot of heart. Everyone thought the Bears had quit on this season, and yet Jimmy Clausen, starting after Jay Cutler’s benching, looked pretty good as Chicago gave Detroit a tough four quarters of play. Then there were the Jets, whose coach, Rex Ryan, is sure to be fired a week from now. They did everything they could to give Ryan a win over the rival Patriots before coming up just short.

By Week 16, when the playoffs are within reach, we have a tendency to write off those teams who have been eliminated from playoff contention. But we shouldn’t. There are a whole lot of players still playing hard, even if we don’t think they have anything to play for. The Jimmy Clausens and the Case Keenums of the world don’t get a lot of credit, but they were some of my favorite players on the field on Sunday.

Here are my other thoughts on this weekend’s action:

J.J. Watt for B.F.P. J.J. Watt won’t win the Most Valuable Player award, mostly because when people think about what constitutes “valuable” they almost always think of a quarterback, or maybe a running back — and they almost always think of a player on a playoff team. But I propose another award, the Best Football Player award, or BFP. If we gave an award for the best player in football, is there any doubt that Watt would win it? In Sunday’s win over the Ravens, Watt had seven solo tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits. There’s no better football player than J.J. Watt.

A surprising vote of confidence for Joe Philbin. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said after Sunday’s game that Philbin will remain his head coach, despite the Dolphins being eliminated from the playoffs. That’s surprising. I’m not at all convinced that Philbin, who still hasn’t made the playoffs after three seasons at the helm, deserves to keep his job. Miami has not improved during his time at the helm.

Chip Kelly’s blunder. I like Chip Kelly. I said when he was at Oregon that I thought his system could work in the NFL, and I still think it can. But Kelly made a huge mistake when he cut receiver DeSean Jackson, and it probably cost the Eagles a playoff berth. Jackson burned Philadelphia’s secondary for 126 receiving yards when the Eagles lost at Washington on Sunday, and the Eagles, who averaged 6.8 yards a pass, could have used a big play threat. Sometimes a player is talented enough that a coach has to put up with him, even if the coach doesn’t much like him. Kelly should have sucked it up and put up with Jackson. Cutting Jackson was a mistake.

Robert Griffin III didn’t look good. There’s a tendency to praise any quarterback who wins, but let’s be honest: Even though Washington pulled off an upset over Philadelphia on Saturday, RG3 didn’t play very well. He managed only 220 passing yards and no touchdowns, didn’t do anything impressive running the ball, and threw an ugly interception on an underthrown pass to DeSean Jackson. If Jay Gruden wasn’t convinced before Saturday’s game that RG3 is his quarterback of the future, he isn’t convinced now, either.

Joe Flacco was terrible. Flacco’s halftime stats: 3-for-18, 27 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, one sack, one fumble and a 0.0 passer rating. Flacco was a little better in the second half (he couldn’t really be any worse), but this was still an abysmal performance by Flacco. The Ravens are paying Flacco a fortune because he came through in a big way when they won the Super Bowl two years ago. But Flacco was nothing short of terrible in a big loss to the Texans on Sunday.

A future Hall of Famer joins an exclusive club. Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson got his 60th interception on Sunday, making him just the 11th player in NFL history to pick off 60 passes. Woodson is the career leader in interceptions among active players and is still playing surprisingly well at age 38. Woodson isn’t getting much attention because he’s on a terrible team in Oakland, but he’s still playing well at an age when few defensive backs are still playing at all.

Panthers-Falcons: Great game or terrible game? There’s no Week 17 game with more at stake than Panthers-Falcons, which is essentially a playoff game because the winner wins the NFC South and the loser goes home. And yet it’s also a matchup of a 6-8-1 team and a 6-9 team. The NFC South is awful, but I confess that I’m looking forward to seeing which seven-win team wins the division. I feel pretty confident saying that those two losing teams will still be playing hard until the end.

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AFC playoff picture: Chargers turn up the pressure on wild-card foes

Sean Lissemore AP

Yes, the Chargers surrendered 355 yards rushing to the 49ers on Saturday night. And yes, the Chargers have a few too many injuries for comfort.

Nevertheless, the Chargers’ 38-35 overtime victory at San Francisco keeps them in the thick of the wild-card race. At the moment, they are the No. 7 seed in the AFC, a half-game back of Baltimore and Pittsburgh and a half-game ahead of Kansas City and Buffalo.

Now, the Chargers wait. They are in the clubhouse, visor on table, an iced tea at their fingertips, shirt untucked. They were in some real rough against the Niners, down 21 points on two occasions, but they got it going on the back nine, and they’ve carded a good score.

Yes, their swing isn’t textbook perfect, but these Chargers know how to get up-and-down. Let’s see what the other wild-card contenders do if they get in the deep stuff.

Here’s how the AFC playoff seeding looks after Saturday night. The NFL’s standings and tiebreaking rules were cited. Also, the Week 16 playoff scenarios are herein.

THE BIG SIX

1. New England Patriots (11-3, .786). Has clinched playoff spot. AFC East winner. Seeded ahead of Denver on basis of head-to-head win.

2. Denver Broncos (11-3, .786). Has clinched playoff spot. AFC West winner.

3. Indianapolis Colts (10-4, .714). Has clinched playoff spot. AFC South winner.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1, .679). AFC North leader.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5, .643). Wild card No. 1. Seeded ahead of Baltimore on basis of superior AFC North record (3-2 vs. 2-3).

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-5, .643). Wild card No. 2.

JUST MISSING

7. San Diego Chargers (9-6, .600).

8. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6, .571). Seeded ahead of Bills on basis of head-to-head win.

9. Buffalo Bills (8-6, .571).

10. Houston Texans (7-7, .500). Seeded ahead of Dolphins on basis of better AFC record (6-4 vs. 6-5).

11. Miami Dolphins (7-7, .500).

Note: According to NFL.com, the Browns (7-7) have been officially knocked out of playoff contention with San Diego’s win.

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PFT’s Week 16 picks

Cardinals Getty Images

All MDS wanted was a chance.  Maybe he should have been more careful about what he wished for.

Down five games with 32 games left and his ability to close the gap hinging on the existence of enough disagreements between the two of us, we disagree on five games this week.

So, in theory, he can pull off a five-game sweep and pull even for the Week 17 push to the finish line.

Last week, he nailed 12 of 16 picks.  But his decision to predict an Eagles sweep coupled with my decision to trust the Cowboys put me at 13-3.

For the season, I’ve moved to 150-74 (66.9%).  MDS is 145-79 (64.7%).

Titans at Jaguars

MDS’s take: In one of the worst games the NFL has ever put on prime-time television, I think the Jaguars will show that they’re still playing hard late in the season, while the Titans have given up.

MDS’s pick: Jaguars 20, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  The Jaguars are favored for the first time in more than 40 games.  And for good reason.  The Titans stink.

Florio’s pick:  Jaguars 17, Titans 13.

Eagles at Washington

MDS’s take: The Eagles are in a precarious position in the NFC playoff race, and I don’t think they’re going to make it. But I also don’t think they’ll lose to a reeling Washington team.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 20, Washington 10.

Florio’s take:  Philly has a very real chance at winning the division, since the Cowboys have a very real chance at losing to the Colts and opening the door for a Week 17 win-and-in for the Eagles.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Washington 17.

Chargers at 49ers

MDS’s take: The 49ers are done, while the Chargers still have slim playoff hopes. That’s enough to make me think the Chargers will come out motivated and the 49ers will not, so I’m taking San Diego.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 27, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  The 49ers are playing for pride.  The Chargers are playing for a postseason berth they ultimately won’t be able to earn, given the broken collarbone suffered by Keenan Allen.  As players begin to realize that an era is ending, they’ll find a way to win at least one of the final two for the coach who nearly took the team to three straight Super Bowls.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Chargers 20.

Browns at Panthers

MDS’s take: Johnny Manziel can’t possibly be any worse against the Panthers than he was against the Bengals, but I don’t think he’ll be a whole lot better, either. The Browns’ once-promising season will take another hit, while the Panthers will stay in contention in the NFC South.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 24, Browns 10.

Florio’s take:  Johnny Manziel will be better this week; he can’t be any worse.  But that won’t be enough to turn around a team that has gone into a characteristic free fall.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 23, Browns 10.

Lions at Bears

MDS’s take: The Bears have quit on the season, which means the Lions will get an easy win to clinch a playoff spot.

MDS’s pick: Lions 30, Bears 13.

Florio’s take:  And the Bears still haven’t had a true franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman.  The Lions continue to move toward the postseason.  The Bears continue to move toward seismic changes.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 31, Bears 13.

Ravens at Texans

MDS’s take: The Ravens haven’t clinched anything yet, but I think they’re going to make the playoffs and be a dangerous team when they get there. I like Baltimore to win easily on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 34, Texans 10.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens have run out of cornerbacks.  The Texans have run out of quarterbacks.  Advantage, team with no cornerbacks.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 24, Texans 14.

Vikings at Dolphins

MDS’s take: The Dolphins collapsed in their biggest game of the season last week, while the Vikings have played hard despite being long since eliminated from playoff contention. I’m tempted to pick Minnesota in an upset, but I just don’t think Teddy Bridgewater is quite ready to have a mistake-free game against a good defense, and so I’ll take Miami in a close one.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 17, Vikings 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s unclear whether coach Joe Philbin will return to the Dolphins next year, but it won’t hurt to finish strong.  Enter the Vikings, who have shown plenty of fight in a lost season but who don’t have the talent to overcome a Miami team that still has a little something to play for.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 24, Vikings 17.

Falcons at Saints

MDS’s take: Someone has to win the NFC South, and I still think the best bet is the Saints, who are not a very good team but should be able to put up good numbers on offense against a lousy Atlanta defense.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, Falcons 28.

Florio’s take:  With or without Julio Jones lining up for Atlanta, the Saints reverse a bizarre trend that has seen them lose four straight games at home.  Maybe, just maybe, a 7-9 Saints team will host an 11-5 Seahawks franchise, four years after the roles were reversed.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 31, Falcons 20.

Patriots at Jets

MDS’s take: It wouldn’t shock me to see the Jets come out fired-up in Rex Ryan’s last game against the rival Patriots. The Jets could very well take an early lead. But over four quarters they just don’t have the firepower to keep up with New England.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 20, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  When hired by the Jets, Rex Ryan said he wasn’t going to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.  In what likely will be their last meeting, Belichick will be kicking Rex’s ass one last time, for old time’s sake.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 41, Jets 13.

Chiefs at Steelers

MDS’s take: This is an intriguing game in the AFC playoff race, where the winner is likely to make it and the loser is likely to be home for the holidays. I think the Chiefs are going to go on the road and pull off an upset.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 24, Steelers 21.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers have lost at home to the Buccaneers and Saints.  Which makes the fact that the Steelers will be playing their last two games at home not necessarily a good thing.  But they’ve come this far and the division title is two victories away.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 27, Chiefs 17.

Packers at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Bills showed that a good defense can rattle Aaron Rodgers. The Buccaneers’ defense is not as good as Buffalo’s. The Packers will win to set up a Week 17 NFC North showdown with the Lions.

MDS’s pick: Packers 30, Buccaneers 13.

Florio’s take:  The Packers looked horrible in Buffalo.  They’ll have to look a lot more horrible to lose in Tampa, especially with a loss moving Green Bay toward missing the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Buccaneers 20.

Giants at Rams

MDS’s take: If the Rams were in any division other than the NFC West, they’d have a real shot at being a playoff team. St. Louis can’t get to the postseason, but it can get to 8-8 with two more wins, and one of those wins will come on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Rams 21, Giants 17.

Florio’s take:  Both teams hope to finish the season strongly.  The Rams are currently stronger than the Giants, despite a pair of victories by Eli and company.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 24, Giants 20.

Colts at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Colts don’t have much to play for after wrapping up the AFC South last week, while the Cowboys have plenty to play for as they could still finish anywhere from first seed in the NFC to out of the playoffs entirely. And yet I have a funny feeling that Andrew Luck is going to exploit the holes in the Cowboys’ defense and put up big numbers in a Colts win.

MDS’s pick: Colts 30, Cowboys 20.

Florio’s take:  The Cowboys realize the stakes of this one; a win moves them closer to a division title and a loss could ultimately knock them out of the playoffs, again.  DeMarco Murray will play, Tony Romo will deliver, and the Cowboys will continue one of their most surprising seasons ever.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Colts 23.

Bills at Raiders

MDS’s take: The Bills probably won’t make the playoffs even if they win out, but beating the Raiders will clinch Buffalo’s first winning record since 2004. This Bills team is making progress.

MDS’s pick: Bills 17, Raiders 10.

Florio’s take:  By beating the Packers, Doug Marrone may have saved his job for at least a year.  He could secure it for the rest of the decade by securing the team’s first playoff berth since 1999.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Raiders 14.

Seahawks at Cardinals

MDS’s take: I admire the way the Cardinals have continued to find ways to win despite injuries taking a huge toll on the roster. But a Ryan Lindley-quarterbacked team just can’t beat a Seattle team that is playing at a Super Bowl level.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 6.

Florio’s take:  Common sense points to Seattle, a seven-point favorite facing a third-string quarterback who was on San Diego’s practice squad a little more than a month ago.  But I can already hear Bruce Arians telling reporters after the game how the players fed off the combined incentive of proving everyone wrong and seizing the brass ring that is home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for an underdog.  Maybe I’m stupid.  Maybe I’m a little tipsy.  Regardless, I’d rather be wrong by picking the Cardinals than wrong by making the obvious pick.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 23, Seahawks 20.

Broncos at Bengals

MDS’s take: The good news for the Broncos is they’re showing they can win with defense and a good running game on offense. The bad news is that Peyton Manning’s numbers are way down, and the Bengals’ secondary is solid. Look for the Bengals to frustrate Manning and pull off a home upset.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Broncos 20.

Florio’s takeAndy Dalton has a putrid record of 2-9 in prime-time and postseason games.  Make it 2-10.  The only good news is that he’ll possibly not have a chance to lose another playoff game.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 30, Bengals 20.

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2014-15 NFL Calendar

2014 NFL Draft Getty Images

The following are key dates on the NFL calendar spanning the end of the 2014 regular season through the 2015 offseason. All information was furnished by the league:

2014

December 29: Clubs may begin signing free agent players for the 2015 season.

December 29: Clubs may renegotiate or extend the rookie contract of a drafted rookie who was selected in the 2012 NFL Draft. Any permissible renegotiated or extended player contract will not be considered a rookie contract, and will not be subject to the rules that limit rookie contracts.

December 29: Option exercise period begins for fifth-year option for first-round selections from the 2012 NFL Draft. To exercise the option, the club must give written notice to the player on or after December 29, 2014 but prior to May 3, 2015.

2015

January 3-4: Wild Card Playoff Games.

January 4: Assistant coaches under contract to playoff clubs that have byes in Wild Card weekend may be interviewed for head coaching positions through the conclusion of the Wild Card games.

January 10-11: Divisional Playoff Games.

January 11: Assistant coaches under contract to playoff clubs that won their Wild Card games may be interviewed for head coaching positions through the conclusion of Divisional Playoff games.

January 17: East-West Shrine Game, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida.

January 18: AFC and NFC Championship Games.

January 24: Senior Bowl, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama.

January 25: Pro Bowl, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona.

January 25: An assistant coach whose team is participating in the Super Bowl, who has previously interviewed for another club’s head coaching job, may have a second interview with such club no later than the Sunday preceding the Super Bowl.

February 1: Super Bowl XLIX, University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona.

February 2: Waiver system begins for 2015.

February 7: NFL Regional Combine, Doctors Hospital Training Facility, Davie, Florida.

February 10: Beginning at 12 noon, New York time, NFL clubs may begin to sign players whose 2014 CFL contracts have expired. Players under contract to a CFL club for the 2015 season or who have an option for the 2015 season are not eligible to be signed.

February 14: NFL Regional Combine, Methodist Training Center, Houston, Texas.

February 16: First day for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

February 17-23: NFL Scouting Combine, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana.

February 21: NFL Regional Combine, Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre, Dove Valley, Colorado.

February 28: NFL Regional Combine, Under Armour Performance Center, Owings Mills, Maryland.

March 2: Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

March 7: NFL Regional Combine, Halas Hall, Lake Forest, Illinois.

March 7-10: Clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2014 contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 10. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 10.

March 10: Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must exercise options for 2015 on all players who have option clauses in their 2014 contracts.

March 10: Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.

March 10: Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2014 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.

March 10: Top-51 Begins. All clubs must be under the 2015 salary cap prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time.

March 10: All 2014 player contracts expire at 4:00 p.m., New York time.

March 10: The 2015 league year and free agency period begin at 4:00 p.m., New York time. The first day of the 2015 league year will end at 11:59:59 p.m., New York time, on March 10. Clubs will receive a personnel notice that will include all transactions submitted to the league office during the period between 4:00 p.m., New York time, and 11:59:59 p.m., New York time, on March 10.

March 10: Trading period for 2015 begins at 4:00 p.m., New York time, after expiration of all 2014 contracts.

March 19-21: NFL Career Development Symposium, Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix, Arizona.

March 21-22: Super Regional Combine, Arizona Cardinals Training Facility, Phoenix, Arizona.

March 22-25: Annual Meeting, Phoenix, Arizona.

April 6: Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2014 regular season may begin offseason workout programs.

April 20: Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs.

April 24: Deadline for Restricted Free Agents to sign offer sheets.

April 29: Deadline for prior club to exercise Right of First Refusal to Restricted Free Agents.

April 30-May 2: 2014 NFL Draft, Chicago, Illinois.

May 8-11: First weekend after the NFL Draft: clubs may elect to hold their three-day post-draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday.

May 11: Rookie Football Development Program begins.

May 15-18: Second weekend after the NFL Draft: clubs may elect to hold their three- day post-draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday.

May 18-20: NFL Spring League Meeting, San Francisco, California.

June 1: For any player removed from the club’s roster or whose contract is assigned via waivers or trade on or after June 1, any unamortized signing bonus amounts for future years will be included fully in team salary at the start of the 2016 League Year.

June 1: Deadline for prior club to send “June 1 Tender” to its unsigned Unrestricted Free Agents. If the player has not signed a contract with a club by July 22 or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later, he may negotiate or sign a contract from that date until the Tuesday following the 10th weekend of the regular season, at 4:00 p.m., New York time, only with his prior club.

June 1: Deadline for prior club to send “June 1 Tender” to its unsigned Restricted Free Agents who received a qualifying offer for a Right of First Refusal Only in order for such player to be subject to the CBA’s “June 15 Tender” provision.

June 15: Deadline for club to withdraw qualifying offer to Restricted Free Agents and still retain exclusive negotiating rights by substituting “June 15 Tender” of one-year contract at 110 percent of the player’s prior-year Paragraph 5 Salary (with all other terms of his prior-year contract carried forward unchanged).

June 21-27: Rookie Symposium, Aurora, Ohio.

July 15: At 4:00 p.m., New York time, deadline for any club that designated a Franchise Player to sign such player to a multi-year contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his prior club for the 2015 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular season game.

Mid-July: Clubs are permitted to open preseason training camp for rookies and first-year players beginning seven days prior to the club’s earliest permissible mandatory reporting date for veteran players.

Mid-July: Veteran players (defined as a player with at least one pension- credited season) other than quarterbacks or “injured players” (as defined in CBA Article 21, Section 6) may report to a club’s preseason training camp no earlier than 15 days prior to the club’s first scheduled preseason game or July 15, whichever is later.

Mid-July: Veteran quarterbacks and injured players may be required to report to the club’s preseason training camp no earlier than five days immediately prior to the mandatory reporting date for all other veteran players, provided the club has already opened (or simultaneously opens) its official preseason training camp for all rookies and first-year players.

Mid-July: A three-day acclimation period will apply to players who are on a club’s roster up to and including the mandatory veteran reporting date. Players who join the roster after that date may practice (including wearing pads) and play immediately after passing a physical.

July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later): Signing Period ends for unrestricted Free Agents to whom a “June 1 Tender” was made by prior club. After this date and until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the Tuesday following the 10th weekend of the regular season, prior club has exclusive negotiating rights.

July 22: Signing period ends for Transition Players with outstanding tenders. After this date and until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the Tuesday following the 10th weekend of the regular season, prior club has exclusive negotiating rights.

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Week 15 power rankings

TomBrady Getty Images

1. New England Patriots (last week No. 2; 11-3):  Tom Brady wants to play “forever,” which roughly equates to the amount of time it takes him to complete a 17-yard run.

2. Seattle Seahawks (No. 3; 10-4):  J.J. Watt may be the MVP, and Bobby Wagner may be the defensive player of the year.

3. Denver Broncos (No. 4; 11-3):  Peyton Manning throwing a block is roughly as hard to watch as Peyton Manning throwing up.

4. Arizona Cardinals (No. 5; 11-3):  As the saying goes, when you have two quarterbacks, you have none; for the Cardinals, when you have no quarterbacks, you have two.

5. Green Bay Packers (No. 1; 10-4):  Aaron Rodgers was a little too relaxed in Buffalo.

6. Dallas Cowboys (No. 7; 10-4):  They could be the No. 1 seed and they could miss the playoffs.  If DeMarco Murray misses Sunday’s game, take the under.

7. Indianapolis Colts (No. 8; 10-4):  Squarely on the second tier behind Denver and New England, the Colts won’t be viewed as a real contender until they can beat one of those two teams in the postseason.

8. Detroit Lions (No. 9; 10-4):  Everyone keeps waiting for the old Lions to show up.  Maybe they won’t.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 10; 9-5):  Good news, the final two games are at home, where they beat the Ravens and Colts.  Bad news, the final two games are at home, where they lost to the Bucs and the Saints.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 6; 9-5):  Demoralized after a pair of home losses, the Eagles are still only a pair of road wins and a Cowboys stumble away from winning the division.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 11; 9-4-1):  Maybe Marvin Lewis should make offensive comments about the upcoming opponent’s quarterback more often.

12. Baltimore Ravens (No. 12; 9-5):  Like 2012, they’re finding the gas pedal in December.

13. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 15; 8-6):  Great turnaround against Oakland, but it could be too late.

14. Buffalo Bills (No. 17; 8-6):  They may not make the playoffs, but that signature win over the Packers could save Doug Marrone’s job.

15. San Diego Chargers (No. 13; 8-6):  0-2 at home against the Patriots and Broncos shows that the Chargers simply can’t compete with the big boys.

16. New Orleans Saints (No. 23; 6-8):  The team that can’t win at home suddenly can’t be beaten away from it.

17. Houston Texans (No. 14; 7-7):  Maybe J.J. Watt should play quarterback; he can’t be much worse than Thad Lewis or Case Keenum.

18. St. Louis Rams (No. 16; 6-8):  Bruce Arians has shown Jeff Fisher how to properly throw shade.

19. Carolina Panthers (No. 22; 5-8-1):  When the Panthers host the Browns, the guy who was in a car wreck will be facing the guy who is in a train wreck.

20. Miami Dolphins (No. 18; 7-7):  Joe Philbin is on to Minnesota.  And folks in Miami are saying, “Don’t come back.”

21. San Francisco 49ers (No. 20; 7-7):  After having the last three seasons fall apart in the key moments of a critical postseason game, having it end in December could be a welcome relief.

22. Minnesota Vikings (No. 19; 6-8):  The team’s 2014 experience can be summarized by the experience birds will be having at the team’s new glass-walled stadium.

23. Cleveland Browns (No. 21; 7-7):  Johnny Goose Egg?

24. New York Giants (No. 25; 5-9):  It looks like Tom Coughlin may get a chance to miss the playoffs in six of seven seasons.

25. Atlanta Falcons (No. 24; 5-9):  The only good news for the Falcons is that the looming coaching vacancy could be the most attractive job in the upcoming hiring cycle.

26. Chicago Bears (No. 26; 5-9):  Thirty years after this team was on the brink of its best season ever, it feels like the Bears could be just one year away from its worst.

27. New York Jets (No. 32; 3-11):  Percy Harvin won’t take a pay cut to return.  He should want a pay raise to stay in the middle of this mess.

28. Oakland Raiders (No. 27; 2-12):  Maybe Derek Carr’s potential will balance out the general dysfunction and crappy stadium in the coaching search.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 28; 2-12):  There’s reason for hope in 2015.  Especially if this year’s hopelessness results in the first overall pick in the draft.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 29; 2-12):  They remain competitive.  At some point, they need to win games.

31. Washington (No. 31; 3-11):  Coach Jay Gruden actually seemed to be relieved that they lost by only 11 to the Giants.

32. Tennessee Titans (No. 30; 2-12):  The Titans have become the Jaguars without the swimming pools.

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Week 16 playoff scenarios

Marshawn Lynch AP

Four teams have already clinched playoff berths, and in Week 16 eight more teams have the ability to clinch. Here’s how the playoff scenarios look for Week 16:

AFC

CLINCHED: New England – AFC East, Denver – AFC West, Indianapolis – AFC South

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (at New York Jets)

New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with a win and a Denver loss.

New England clinches a first-round bye with a win or losses by the Colts, Bengals, Steelers and Ravens.

DENVER BRONCOS (at Cincinnati)

Denver clinches a first-round bye with a win.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (vs. Denver)

Cincinnati clinches the AFC North with a win, a Pittsburgh loss and a Baltimore loss.

Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with a win or losses by the Chiefs, Chargers and Bills.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (vs. Kansas City)

Pittsburgh clinches a playoff spot with a win.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (at Houston)

Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with a win and losses by the Steelers and Bengals, or losses by the Chiefs and Chargers.

NFC

CLINCHED: Arizona – playoff spot

ARIZONA CARDINALS (vs. Seattle)

Arizona clinches NFC West and home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with a win.

DETROIT LIONS (at Chicago)

Detroit clinches NFC North with a win and a Packers loss.

Detroit clinches a first-round bye with a win, a Packers loss and a Cowboys loss.

Detroit clinches a playoff spot with a win or an Eagles loss.

DALLAS COWBOYS (vs. Indianapolis)

Dallas clinches NFC East with a win and an Eagles loss.

Dallas clinches a playoff spot with a win and losses by the Packers and Lions.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (at Arizona)

Seattle clinches a playoff spot with a win and a loss by either the Eagles, the Lions or the Packers. Seattle also clinches a playoff spot if the Eagles lose and the Cowboys win.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (at Tampa Bay)

Green Bay clinches a playoff spot with a win and either an Eagles loss or a Cowboys win. If the Eagles lose and the Cowboys win, Green Bay clinches a playoff spot even with a loss.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (vs. Atlanta)

New Orleans clinches the NFC South with a win and a Panthers loss.

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NFC playoff picture: Can Saints finish the deal?

Drew Brees AP

By knocking off the listless Bears in Chicago on Monday night, the Saints regained control of the NFC South.

In fact, the South race could be over Sunday afternoon. If the Saints defeat the Falcons in New Orleans, and if the Panthers lose to the Browns in Charlotte, the Saints will win the division.

On the other hand, a Saints loss Sunday, coupled with a Panthers victory, would eliminate New Orleans, leaving the Week 17 Carolina-Atlanta winner the South champion. (In this case, a Falcons-Panthers tie would give Carolina the South title, per the NFL’s playoff scenario database.)

Here is the NFC’s playoff seeding through Week 15. (For a longer look at how the No. 1 seed can be won, check out Mike Florio’s feature on the matter.) League standings and tiebreakers were referenced:

THE BIG SIX

1. Arizona Cardinals (11-3, .786). NFC West leader. Has clinched playoff spot. Would clinch NFC West and No. 1 overall seed with victory Sunday vs. Seattle.

2. Detroit Lions (10-4, .714). NFC North leader. Holds tiebreaker over Green Bay on basis of head-to-head win. Seeded ahead of Dallas on basis of better NFC record (8-2 vs. 7-4). Can win NFC North with victory at Green Bay in Week 17.

3. Dallas Cowboys (10-4, .714). NFC East leader. Can win NFC East with victory vs. Indianapolis on Sunday and a Philadelphia loss at Washington on Saturday.

4. New Orleans Saints (6-8, .429). NFC South leader.

5. Seattle Seahawks (10-4, .714). Wild card No. 1. Seeded ahead of Green Bay on basis of head-to-head win. Can earn head-to-head tiebreaker over Cardinals with victory Sunday in Arizona.

6. Green Bay Packers (10-4, .714). Wild card No. 2.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Philadelphia Eagles (9-5, .643). Can win NFC East by winning last two games and by Cowboys losing one of their final two.

OTHER NFC SOUTH CONTENDERS

Carolina Panthers (5-8-1, .393).

Atlanta Falcons (5-9, .357).

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NFL morning after: Bucs should quit the quest for a quarterback

joshmccown AP

With Sunday’s loss, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dropped to 2-12 and remained in the lead for the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. If the Bucs lose the next two games, we’ll spend months speculating about whether they’ll choose quarterback Marcus Mariota or quarterback Jameis Winston.

Here’s my advice to the Buccaneers: Draft neither.

Instead, the Bucs should try something truly radical to turn their franchise around: Give up on the whole idea of a franchise quarterback altogether. While the 31 other teams value quarterbacks above all else, Tampa Bay should do something completely different and make quarterback their last priority, while building a great defense and a good running game.

First, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith should make a firm commitment to building a team with a great defense (something he’s done before in Chicago) and making the offense revolve around the running game, not the passing game. Smith should hire an offensive coordinator from a college with a run-heavy offense like Georgia Tech, which is the No. 12 team in the country this year using an offense in which the quarterback runs more often than he passes. The Bucs should aim to run the ball 50 or so times a game.

That hasn’t often happened in the NFL, but the Jets tried that strategy on a Monday night this season against the Dolphins, and it actually worked fairly well — by the Jets’ standards. They ran 49 times for 277 yards and would have beaten the Dolphins had Nick Folk not missed two field goals. If a terrible team like the Jets can find some success employing a run-heavy offense only after realizing that their quarterback situation is a disaster, think what some smarter team could do if it built a roster specifically tailored to that approach.

Such a commitment to running the ball would liberate the Bucs from having to go through the growing pains of a rookie quarterback, or having to spend a fortune on a starter in free agency. Instead, the Bucs should sign run-first quarterbacks like Terrelle Pryor, Vince Young or Tim Tebow, all of whom can be had for the league minimum salary. The Bucs have two good wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, but they should be traded for draft picks who can help build the defense. The wide receivers who remain in Tampa Bay should be good downfield blockers who can be had for the league minimum. Even at running back the Buccaneers shouldn’t spend a lot of money because they’ll be running these guys into the ground. Go for depth at running back instead of one expensive star.

The only spot on offense where the Buccaneers should spend a lot of money is on the line, but even there they shouldn’t spend a fortune. They don’t have to out-bid other teams for great pass-blocking left tackles, they just need five above-average run blockers.

With all the savings on offense, the Buccaneers would have more cap space available for defense than any other team in the league. That means they can sign good free agents who fit in Smith’s system to add to an already talented defense that includes Gerald McCoy, Jacquies Smith, Lavonte David and Alterraun Verner. The Bucs could also add a bounty of picks by trading the first overall pick next year to a team that wants Mariota or Winston, as well as trading Evans and Jackson. They could use all of those picks on bolstering the defense. They should be able to build the best defense in the NFL because they’re devoting more resources to defense than any other team in the NFL.

Do this right and the Buccaneers will have the No. 1 defense in the NFL, to go with an offense that has an unconventional approach that NFL defenses aren’t accustomed to playing against, and aren’t built to stop. This could work.

Maybe you think the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and a team is doomed to failure if it writes off the quarterback position. But I say there are a limited number of great quarterbacks, and the teams that are really doomed to failure are the teams that devote the draft picks or cap space to a quarterback they hope will be great who turns out to be something less than great.

I hesitate to use the term “Moneyball” in the NFL because revenue sharing and a salary cap makes football fundamentally different from baseball. But there’s something to be said for looking at what everyone else values (building a great passing game) and trying to do the opposite. That’s what the Buccaneers should do. Smith is the right coach to lead a team to a Super Bowl with a great defense and a mediocre offense. He’s done it before in Chicago. But when Smith was the coach in Chicago, the Bears were trying to build a conventional NFL offense, they just didn’t do a very good job of it. In Tampa Bay, the Bucs should make a specific point of saving resources by building an unconventional NFL offense, and reaping the benefits on defense.

Would it work? Maybe, maybe not. But the Bucs have tried and failed to build a team the conventional way with quarterbacks like Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Josh McCown. It’s time to try something different.

Here are my other thoughts:

The best play of the day didn’t count. Colts receiver Donte Moncrief had a sensational touchdown catch on Sunday against the Texans, diving to snare a deflected ball out of the air on a pass on which he wasn’t even the intended receiver. It was a phenomenal play by Moncrief. Unfortunately, Colts offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo was holding Texans defensive end J.J. Watt on the play, so the whole thing got called back on a penalty. Still a great play by Moncrief.

Watt is the NFL’s best player. Speaking of Watt, he remains the best player in the NFL. Although the Texans lost to the Colts on Sunday, Watt was the best player on the field. He had five solo tackles, two sacks, one pass defensed, two quarterback hits and forced that holding penalty that negated a Colts touchdown. There’s no way a defensive lineman on a .500 team will win the MVP award, but he’s the best player in football.

Aaron Rodgers is human after all. Rodgers had an ugly stat line against a good Bills Defense on Sunday, completing just 17 of 42 passes for 185 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, for a passer rating of 34.3 — the lowest passer rating for any game in his career. Rodgers may still win the league MVP, and the Packers remain the favorites to win the NFC North, but Sunday’s loss makes it tougher for the Packers to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, and gives hopes to other teams that Rodgers can be stopped.

Johnny Football was terrible. The Browns gave Johnny Manziel his first career start on Sunday, and he did not rise to the occasion. Manziel completed 10 of 18 passes for 80 yards, with no touchdowns, two interceptions, three sacks for a loss of 26 yards, and a passer rating of 27.3. I think the Browns did the right thing by giving Manziel the start over Brian Hoyer, but that loss showed that Manziel has a long way to go, and the Browns have a long way to go.

Tom Brady can run! Who knew that Brady still has wheels? Well, he’s not exactly Russell Wilson, but he showed on Sunday that he can still move on occasion. On a third-and-11, Brady dropped back, didn’t see anyone open and decided to take off running. He picked up 17 yards and was feeling so exhilarated that instead of sliding he lowered his shoulder, took a hit and got up yelling and screaming. That was Brady’s longest run since 2007, the year before he suffered a torn ACL.

When you’ve got a quarterback like Brady, you don’t want him running very often. But there aren’t many quarterbacks like Brady. The teams that don’t have a quarterback like Brady would be better trying something different. C’mon, Tampa Bay. Do it.

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AFC playoff picture: Patriots, Broncos, Colts all clinch divisions

bradybelichick AP

Three of the four AFC divisions were clinched on Sunday afternoon, as the Patriots, Broncos and Colts all defeated their closest rivals and wrapped up the East, West and South.

But there’s still plenty to be sorted out as those three teams play for playoff seeding and the rest of the conference plays for playoff berths over the last two weeks of the season.

Here’s how the AFC playoff picture looks with two games to go:

1. New England Patriots (11-3)
Clinched the AFC East and will clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with two more wins.

2. Denver Broncos (11-3)
Clinched the AFC West and will clinch a first-round bye with one more win.

3. Indianapolis Colts (10-4)
Clinched the AFC South. Probably won’t earn a first-round bye as the Patriots and Broncos both own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Colts.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1)
The Bengals lead the AFC North but close with a tough schedule, against the Broncos next Monday and then at Pittsburgh in Week 17.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)
Own the tiebreaker over the Ravens based on a better record in the AFC North.

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
Will make the playoffs with two more wins, against the Texans and Browns.

Outside looking in:
7. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)
Own the head-to-head tiebreakers over both the Chargers and the Bills.

8. San Diego Chargers (8-6)
Own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bills.

9. Buffalo Bills (8-6)
The Bills have taken a step forward this season but will probably fall short of the playoffs.

10. Houston Texans (7-7)
Own the conference record tiebreaker over the Dolphins and Browns

11. Miami Dolphins (7-7)
Own the conference record tiebreaker over the Browns.

12. Cleveland Browns (7-7)
Seven wins represents an improvement in Cleveland, but not enough to get to the playoffs.

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NFC playoff picture: Arizona remains in top spot

Bruce Arians, Ryan Lindley AP

By holding off St. Louis Thursday night, the Cardinals held on to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They also moved onto the doorstep of a playoff berth, which could be clinched Sunday.

Here’s how the NFC’s playoff contenders stack up entering the rest of the Week 15 card. Clinching scenarios are included, and the NFL’s standings and tiebreaking rules were referenced:

THE BIG SIX

1. Arizona Cardinals (11-3, .786). NFC West leader.

Can clinch a playoff berth if:

a) Cowboys-Eagles does not end in a tie . . .

OR

b) the Lions lose to the Vikings and the Cardinals notch the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Packers . . .

OR

c) the Lions lose to the Vikings and the Packers defeat or tie the Bills.

2. Green Bay Packers (10-3, .769). NFC North leader.

Can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Bills and a Cowboys loss to the Eagles and the Packers notching the strength of victory tiebreaker over Dallas. 

3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-4, .692). NFC East leader. 

4. Atlanta Falcons (5-8, .385). NFC South leader. NFC South’s top-seeded team on basis of head-to-head win vs. New Orleans.

5. Seattle Seahawks (9-4, .692). Wild card No. 1. Seeded ahead of Detroit on basis of better record in common games.

6. Detroit Lions (9-4, .692). Wild card No. 2. Seeded ahead of Dallas on basis of better NFC record (7-2 vs. 6-4).

JUST MISSING

7. Dallas Cowboys (9-4, .692).

8. San Francisco 49ers (7-6, .538).

OTHER NFC SOUTH CONTENDERS

11. New Orleans Saints (5-8, .385).

13. Carolina Panthers (4-8-1, .346).

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