NEW YORK: Some teams surge toward the NFL playoffs. Look at the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers.
Others struggle to stay in the mix: Try the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants and Chicago Bears.
This penultimate weekend of the regular schedule could propel a few of them and eliminate others.
Chief among the clubs that could go either way: Defending champion New York, who have lost their last three road games and conceded 82 to fall to an 8-6 win-loss record. Not even coach Tom Coughlin is sure what he has as they head to the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow.
“It would be easy for me to say I do, but the reality of it is we haven’t been able to play to substantiate what I would say is the personality of this team,” said Coughlin, whose club gets a wild card, for sure, by winning its last two games. “So I’m definitely counting on the veterans to go ahead and prove this and do it with consistency.
“Last year we did it over a six-game run and, exactly, we’re in that situation again.” Even though the Ravens have already sewed up a playoff spot, it’s a critical game for Baltimore (9-5) to get back on track after three straight defeats — two at home and one a bit down the road in Washington.
“We dug this hole we’re in,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “We can’t blame anybody but ourselves. We don’t like losing three straight games. Nobody does. It’s at the point right now where we have to get back at it, man. We dug the hole, now we’ve got to find a way to get out of it.” The action begins on Saturday, when Atlanta could clinch home-field advantage through the NFC with a win at slumping Detroit. There are no more Monday night games this season.
Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh in what amounts to an AFC playoff elimination game.
The Steelers (7-7) need two wins to play into January while the Bengals (8-6) need at least one more victory to assure themselves of a rare second straight playoff berth.
Cincinnati hasn’t made consecutive postseason appearances since 1981-82, or before all but five players on the current squad were even born.
Reeling and injury-ravaged, Chicago heads to Arizona having dropped three straight games and five of its last six. There’s some discord in the locker room, coach Lovie Smith’s job security has become shakier, and they no longer can win the NFC North division.
Still, a wild-card spot is available if Chicago wins its last two games, and even though the Cardinals routed Detroit last week, it was Arizona’s first win in 10 games.
The last game of the round, between Seattle and San Francisco, is the spotlight matchup, even though it won’t decide the NFC West. San Francisco can take the division for the second successive season by beating Arizona in its finale even if it falls at what will be a rocking CenturyLink Field. The 49ers earned at least a wild card with their 41-34 victory at New England last weekend.
“Given my first four years, around this time, we probably wouldn’t be playing for much, maybe a chance to win a game and maybe get in or waiting on three other teams to lose,” star linebacker Patrick Willis said. “It feels good to know that you’re playing for something. We have a playoff berth, but we want the division. And we also want to have that first-week bye, and we know we have to win this week first.” The Seahawks are 6-0 at home, have won five of their last six overall, and scored 58 and 50 points the last two weeks. They aren’t likely to come close to that against the NFL’s stingiest defense; The Niners have allowed 218 points, one fewer than Seattle.
Also tomorrow, it’s Washington at Philadelphia; New Orleans at Dallas; Minnesota at Houston; Indianapolis at Kansas City; Cleveland at Denver; Tennessee at Green Bay; New England at Jacksonville; St. Louis at Tampa Bay; Buffalo at Miami; San Diego at New York Jets; and Oakland at Carolina.