Sat, Jan 01, 2011 - Page 20 News List

NFL: Playoff places up for grabs in NFL

AFP, WASHINGTON

Seattle would become the first playoff team in National Football League history with a losing record by defeating St Louis tomorrow in a season-ending showdown for a much-derided division title.

Green Bay and Indianapolis hold the inside track to claiming the other two NFL post-season berths on offer on the final day of the regular season, but the Rams’ trip to Seattle commands special attention for two struggling squads.

The Rams were an NFL-worst 6-42 over the prior three seasons but at 7-8 are atop the NFC West division, a crown that confers not only a playoff berth but a home-field edge, over a foe with more wins, in the opening round as well.

Division rivals Seattle, already assured a third losing season in a row at 6-9, would claim the NFC West crown on a tie-breaker of superior record within divisional play if both clubs finish at 7-9.

The Seahawks have not surrendered a home game to St Louis in six years but Seattle coach Pete Carroll said starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck might be out with a lower back strain, calling his return “against the odds.”

That would leave Charlie Whitehurst to make his second NFL career start as the Seahawks bid for a fifth division crown in seven years and the Rams try to take their first since 2003.

Green Bay and Indianapolis, both 9-6, can also clinch playoff spots with victories as well, the Colts hosting Tennessee while Green Bay will entertain a Chicago team that has already clinched a playoff spot and first-round bye.

In the National Conference, Chicago and Philadelphia have secured division titles while the Atlanta Falcons and regining Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints have booked playoff spots.

The Falcons, 12-3, can claim their first division crown since 2004 and claim a home-field edge throughout the NFC playoffs by defeating league doormat Carolina, 2-13, at home.

A loss opens the door for the Saints, who play host to Tampa Bay, to claim the division crown and a first-round bye. At worst, New Orleans will own a wild-card berth and a first-round visit to the Rams-Seahawks winner.

Should Green Bay lose, Tampa Bay or the New York Giants could swipe a wild-card playoff berth with a triumph. The Giants, 9-6, visit Washington, 6-9.

The American Conference picture is clearer with New England owning an NFL-best 13-2 mark. The Patriots have already clinched a first-round bye and home-field playoff edge throughout the AFC playoffs.

Four other playoff spots are settled with Kansas City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets already through.

Indianapolis, 9-6, will take the last by beating Tennessee, 6-9, or if Jacksonville, 8-7, falls at Houston, 5-10.

An Indy loss and Jacksonville victory would send the Jaguars into the playoffs and drop out Indianapolis, denying the Colts a record-tying ninth post-season appearance in a row.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, both 11-4, will settle which of them goes into the playoffs as an AFC North division champion and which as a wild-card squad.

The Steelers own a tie-breaker edge on the Ravens and would clinch the division crown with a victory at Cleveland, 5-10. A loss opens the door for the Ravens, who play host to Cincinnati, 4-11.

Other games on the final day of the season find Oakland at Kansas City, Miami at New England, Minnesota at Detroit, Buffalo at the Jets, Arizona at San Francisco, San Diego at Denver and Dallas at Philadelphia.

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