Amid the scramble for NFL playoff spots and postseason position tomorrow, the Jets and Ravens know just what they have to do: win and they’re in.
The final week of the regular season is simple for them, but not so simple for five other teams chasing two AFC wild card berths — including reigning Super Bowl champions Pittsburgh.
The Steelers, along with Denver, Houston, Miami and Jacksonville would need a little — or in some cases a lot — of help from their rivals to keep their campaigns going.
Meanwhile in the NFC, all the playoff tickets have been booked, but teams are still battling for division bragging rights and, for one team, a coveted first-round bye.
Dallas host Philadelphia in a battle to decide the NFC East division title and perhaps a bye.
The teams met on the final day last year, too, when Philadelphia triumphed 44-6 to claim a playoff berth and Dallas ended their season.
If the Eagles win, they clinch the second seed behind New Orleans in the NFC and get a week to rest before beginning the postseason.
The Cowboys’ shot at the bye will be gone if the Vikings win earlier in the day, but if Minnesota lose to the New York Giants, the Cowboys can get the bye with a win and loss by Arizona to Green Bay.
If neither Philly nor Dallas claim the second seed, the teams could meet in the first-round.
The Jets, helmed by rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and first-year coach Rex Ryan, have a chance to clinch a playoff berth when they host playoff-bound Cincinnati in the the final regular-season game at Giants Stadium.
After a discouraging 10-7 home loss to Atlanta on Dec. 20, Ryan thought the Jets were “obviously” out of the postseason running.
But the Jets took charge of their playoff destiny with 29-15 victory over previously unbeaten Indianapolis last week.
“Every team wants to be in the situation where you control your own destiny. But to have the opportunity to actually play the last game of the season, the last regular-season game, with everything riding on it in front of your fans, I think most teams would take that, sign up for that opportunity,” Ryan said. “If we win the game, we’re the fifth seed. If we don’t, we’re out. That’s the math that I can figure out.”
There’s no algebra needed for Baltimore, who can secure a playoff berth with a victory over the Raiders in Oakland but will be eliminated with a loss.
“We’ve got an opportunity to get in the tournament,” coach John Harbaugh said. “To me, that’s motivation enough. I’m sure our guys will be ready.”
Pittsburgh, who won a record sixth Super Bowl title last season, could see any shot at defending that crown end tomorrow when they close the regular season at Miami.
After a shocking five-game skid, the Steelers have revived with back-to-back victories, but their chances depend not only on a victory but also on the results for Baltimore, Houston, the Jets and Denver.
“This is our bed. We’re going to lay in it,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re not going to cry over spilled milk. If there’s any level of disappointment in terms of how this thing unfolds, it’s going to be on us.”
Miami has a miniscule chance to advance, needing to win and have Jacksonville, Baltimore, Houston and the Jets lose.
Houston take on playoff-bound New England, who could rest key players including quarterback Tom Brady part of the game to avoid injuries. Jacksonville, losers of three straight, try to keep their slim hopes alive when they visit Cleveland.
Like the Jaguars, Denver once appeared playoff bound. But since a 6-0 start they have lost seven of nine and need a win over Kansas City as well as plenty of help to get through.
The Colts, who created a furor when they pulled their stars last week and saw their chance at an unbeaten season end, will likely rest quarterback Peyton Manning and others again when they finish up the season in Buffalo.
New Orleans, who started the season with 13 straight wins, now find themselves trying to avoid a third straight defeat and gain momentum going into the playoffs when they visit Carolina.
In other games, Tampa Bay host Atlanta, Detroit host Chicago, St Louis host San Francisco, Seattle host Tennessee and playoff-bound San Diego host lowly Washington.
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