The quotes in this article are fictional.
St. Louis @ Atlanta (-15)
The Falcons clinched a playoff spot last week, shocking the Vikings in Minnesota 24-17. Memories of Michael Vick in a jump suit and Bobby Petrino slinking like a coward out of town have been replaced by thoughts of playoff glory. Atlanta can still win the NFC South with a win and a Carolina loss at New Orleans.
"It's comforting to know that we have a spot in the playoffs clinched," says Matt Ryan. "Nothing can be more distressing than realizing your destiny lies in the hands of another team, or a twelve-person jury."
The Rams held a late 16-3 lead to the 49ers before giving up 14 fourth quarter points to lose 17-16. Adding to that embarrassment was the fate of St. Louis running back Kenneth Darby, who was knocked down by umpire Garth DeFelice with a forearm shiver as Darby rushed up the middle of the field.
"Hey, that just goes to show that it's not only the coaches that can ‘bring down' a Ram," says Jim Haslett. "But don't knock Darby. He's still tougher to tackle than Steven Jackson, who was knocked out of the game by a first-down marker."
At season's end, the Rams will begin the search for a head coach, which will include Haslett. NFL Network personality and former Rams Marshall Faulk has expressed interest in the job, which has left many saying the same thing they say when they hear some of Faulk's football analysis: "Are you serious?"
Atlanta wins 38-10.
Jacksonville @ Baltimore (-11 ½)
With a big 33-24 win in Dallas, the Ravens kept their playoff hopes in their hands, and now need only to beat the Jaguars in Baltimore to lock up the #6 playoff seed and a first-round date with the AFC East champion.
"Hey, we hated to ruin the final game at Texas Stadium," says Ray Lewis. "But don't blame us. Somebody had to leave that place with fond memories. But Dallas fans can watch the demolition of Texas Stadium with pride, and hopefully memories of Tony Romo bouncing off the Stadium turf will be erased by the sight of rubble from the demolition doing the same."
"And what better way to say goodbye to the old home of the ‘Ring Of Honor' than with the news that the nephew of one of its members, Tony Dorsett, had to say goodbye to a ring of his own, a cocaine ring, when the feds broke up the operation headed by Anthony Dorsett in Pennsylvania. In related news, former Cowboy Michael Irvin, known for his ability to get separation from opposing corners, is having loads of trouble reaching ‘six degrees' of separation from Anthony Dorsett."
Is there any doubt that the Ravens will win this game? The Ravens will take control early, and by game's end, another member or two of the Jaguars' organization will have announced his retirement.
Baltimore wins 30-9.
New England @ Buffalo (+6)
It could be an all or nothing situation for the Patriots. The Patriots need a win in Buffalo and a Miami loss to the Jets to win the AFC East crown. A win itself, coupled with a Baltimore win over Jacksonville, would get New England nothing, except the honor of being only the second 11-5 team to miss the playoffs.
"It's incredibly rare for an 11-5 team to miss the playoffs," says Randy Moss, "just as it is extremely rare for an 11-5 team in the AFC or NFC West to make the playoffs."
"But we fully intend to take care of business in Buffalo, and we expect the Jets to handle their end and beat the Dolphins. What's the greater danger in Buffalo? Losing to the Bills, or suffering the effects of exposure to bone-chilling cold? And speaking of ‘exposure,' if things go our way, I'm gonna celebrate in our locker room like old-school Patriot Zeke Mowatt and whip out the Patriot ‘mistletoe.'"
New England wins 23-14, then Bill Bellichick settles in to watch live something he's accustomed to watching on tape---a Jets' game.
Kansas City @ Cincinnati (-3)
Little will be decided in Sunday's Chiefs-Bengals clash in Cincinnati, save for positioning in next year's NFL draft. The Chiefs are 2-13 and last in the AFC West, while the 3-11-1 Bengals bring up the rear in the AFC North.
"Hey, it's almost an every day occurrence when someone brings up the ‘rear,'" says Herman Edwards. "And that usually involves talk of my ‘****' being fired. But, using a statement that's quickly becoming as common as ‘You play to win the game,' I'm going to reiterate that ‘I expect to be here next year.' If not in person, then in spirit."
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is much in the same boat as Edwards, unsure about his future with the team. Like Edwards, Lewis has had to endure injuries at quarterback; Carson Palmer has missed most of the season with an elbow injury, and the Bengals passing attack has suffered. In last week's 14-0 win over Cleveland, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for only 55 yards.
"It's been a long time since Cincinnati won with defense," says Lewis, "on the field or in the courtroom. And we have way too much talent at wide receiver to only have 55 yards passing. But our rushing game is clicking. I met with our wide receivers corps and told them to be ready for the ‘end-around' play. Ironically, ownership met with me and informed me to expect an ‘end-around' play of my own. That is, my job will ‘end around' sometime in early January."
Chiefs win 20-17.
Detroit @ Green Bay (-8)
Temperatures will likely be in the single digits when the Packers host the 0-15 Lions, who hope to avoid becoming the first team to go 0-16. The Lions last bid at home for a win ended with a 42-7 loss to the Saints. Now, the task is tougher, as Detroit takes to Lambeau Field historic turf, where the 5-10 Packers hope to close the season with a win.
"Hey, we've been dying for single digits all year," says Rod Marinelli. "In the win column. It would really put a positive end of a dark season if we could leave Green Bay with a victory. Our season highlights DVD is nearly finished; all it needs is a win, and a soundtrack. We've narrowed the soundtrack music down to two options: the ‘Tequila" song, also known as Pee Wee Herman's theme music, and the Three Stooges theme.
As for Detroit journalist Rob Parker's insinuation that I hired defensive coordinator Joe Barry because he's married to my daughter, well, it's all been a little overblown. Is it that uncommon to have a ‘defensive coordinator-in-law,' or have I been around football a little too long? Lions' management would quickly answer yes to the last half of that statement. Anyway, Marinelli family tradition requires that the woman in a marriage offer her soon-to-be husband a dowry. Joe's just happened to be the coordinator's job. He also got three head of cow, a sheep, and three chickens."
Packers win 30-10.
Chicago @ Houston (+1 1/2)
The Bears remained alive in the playoff race with a dramatic 20-17 overtime win over Green Bay last Monday. Robbie Gould kicked the game-winner after Chicago blocked Mason Crosby's 38-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in regulation. The Bears can win the NFC North with a win and a Minnesota loss, or they could snatch a wildcard berth with a win and losses by both the Cowboys and Buccaneers.
"What price does Lawrence Taylor command on the motivational speaking circuit?" says Lovie Smith. "And in what currency does he require payment---dollars or grams? Because we need L.T. to give the Giants his ‘crazed dogs' speech to spur them to play for the win."
What do the Texans have to play for, besides the unmitigated glory that comes with knocking the Bears out of the playoff hunt?
"Hey, we don't get any satisfaction from knocking another team out of the playoffs," says Gary Kubiak. "But it will be a new experience to win and eliminate another team from the playoffs, as opposed to winning and eliminating ourselves from the playoffs, as was the case in week 14 when we beat the Packers 24-21. That's what happens when you start the year 0-4."
"We're just looking to finish the year at 8-8. They've got a name for that here in Houston-it's called ‘plateauing.'"
Texans win 24-20.
Tennessee @ Indianapolis (+3)
Last week, the Titans locked up the AFC's top seed, while the Colts clinched the first wildcard spot, so Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Stadium has little to offer in the area of "implications." But the two AFC South rivals do have something to play for. With a win, the Titans would secure the NFL's best record and a season sweep of the Colts. Should the Colts emerge victorious, they would have a nine-game winning streak entering the playoffs, and their 12-4 finish would match their record from their 2006 Super Bowl-winning year.
"We've got a ‘Y' by our name in the standings," says Peyton Manning, "and a ‘U' on our helmets. I just hope we can find a ‘D' by the time the playoffs start."
"As for Sunday's game, it means nothing to either team. And, since we'll face the Titans in the divisional round should we win our first-round playoff game, I think both teams will be reluctant to ‘tip their hands' before necessary. I imagine we, as well as the Titans, will rest quite a few starters. Heck, our offensive coordinator Tom Moore might even give his reading glasses the day off. So, in the end, you could have Jim Sorgi battling Vince Young. It's been a while since our defense has seen a quarterback with Young's mobility. He's got uncanny running ability, as well as surprising ‘running-away' skills."
The Titans went all out last week in manhandling the Steelers and cleaning their cleats with Terrible Towels. They deserve a rest. So, fans in Indy's Lucas Oil Stadium, where the sign outside reads ‘Season's Greasings,' expecting to see a full effort by the AFC's top team, will be disappointed. That means that Tennessee's dynamic rushing duo of LenDale White and Chris Johnson, a.k.a. ‘Fatboy Slim,' will see at most probably a half of action.
Tennessee wins 23-17.
NY Giants @ Minnesota (-6 1/2)
The Giants outdueled the Panthers 34-28 in overtime last week to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and in doing so, silenced those who believed New York's grasp as the NFC favorite was slipping. The Giants rushed for 301 yards against the Panthers, with Brandon Jacobs two-yard run in the extra period winning it.
"It's ‘reigning' G-Men," says Tom Coughlin. "Hallelujah! It's reigning G-Men! However, for Plaxico Burress, ‘it's wrecking Benz.' The idiot wrecked his Mercedes-Benz in May, three days after his insurance lapsed. Apparently, Plaxico rear-ended a woman after accidentally ‘gunning' the engine."
The Vikings lost at home to Atlanta, making Sunday's game in the Metrodome a must-win situation. With a win, the Vikes take the NFC North crown; a loss, and a Bears win, and Chicago wins the North, leaving Minnesota home for the playoffs.
"The last thing this team needs," says Brad Childress, "is a most-extreme elimination. The Vikes have written the book on week 17 collapses that have cost them a trip to the playoffs. And that book is not nearly as good a read as Kevin Williams' diary from the 2005 sex boat cruise. Not surprisingly, his diary is segmented into ‘acts,' and there are quite a few, too many, and too explicit, to mention."
Vikings win 27-24.
Carolina @ New Orleans (+3)
The 11-4 Panthers lead the NFC South by one game, but have yet to clinch the division crown. To do that, they'll need a win or New Orleans, or an Atlanta loss to the Rams. With a loss and a Falcons win, Carolina would fall to the #5 seed, and would have to travel to Arizona for a first-round game. So, the stakes are high for Sunday's game.
"It was just a few years ago that the Saints beat us in week 17 to knock us from the playoffs," says Steve Smith. "And we haven't forgotten what those ‘mo feaux's' did to us."
"We really want the bye, but if the worst-case scenario is a first-round game in Arizona, then who can really complain?"
Although the Saints are out of the playoff hunt, they would like nothing more than to spoil the Panthers' hopes of a divisional title, strictly for selfish reasons. And, strictly for selfish reasons, Drew Brees would like to break Dan Marino's record of 5,084 passing yards in a season. Brees needs 402 yards to pass Marino.
"I like my chances," says Brees, "about as much as I like our chances to fall behind by two quick touchdowns, which will, in turn, necessitate the need to pass on every down. That way, I can try my darndest to break Marino's record, while making it look like I'm not trying to break it. It's too bad Brett Favre doesn't play defensive back for the Panthers."
Carolina wins 30-24.
Miami @ NY Jets (-2 1/2)
Had the Jets won in Seattle last week, Sunday's Dolphins-Jets contest would have been for the AFC East championship. However, with the Jets 13-3 loss to the Seahawks, New York needs a win as well as a New England loss in Buffalo to claim the crown. Miami wins the East with a win over the Jets, regardless of the outcome of the Patriots-Bills game.
"This will be a historic game," says Brett Favre. "Playoff implications aside, this could be my last game, or it could be my sixteenth to last game. Obviously, we've lost some of the magic that powered us to our 34-13 win over the Titans earlier this year. Since then, we've lost three of four games. This last loss was hard to stomach, and was particularly frustrating for Shaun Ellis, who decided to retaliate when he was pelted with snowballs by Seattle fans. That's not a smart thing to do, and it only enhances Shaun's status as the ‘second-worst decision-maker' on this team. As you may know, he was charged with marijuana possession earlier this year. And, just recently, he was caught with something much worse than marijuana in his car---a James Blunt CD."
For Favre's Miami counterpart Chad Pennington, a Miami win would give him a measure of revenge against the Jets, who released him upon signing Favre.
"Hey, the Jets were just doing what they though they needed to do to win," says Pennington. "They just tried a little too hard, which is exactly what Favre does. But I'm not one to seek revenge, or badmouth a former team, or taunt an opponent. That's why we have Joey Porter. I'm the quiet, soft-spoken leader on this team. So, together, you could call Joey and I ‘Woofer And Tweeter.'"
The idea of momentum would certainly lend itself to a Miami win, but one would think the Jets, in such a time of need, could find the motivation to play like they did when they dominated the Titans. But who knows? Tony Sparano may have a few surprises up his sleeve, as could Eric Mangini. Let's just hope the action stays on the field, and neither Sparano nor Mangini wakes up beside a horse's head. The best surprise the Jets could hope for is a Buffalo win over New England in one of the early games.
New York wins 24-23.
Dallas @ Philadelphia (-1)
With losses last week, both the Cowboys and Eagles damaged their playoff hopes, losing games they were favored to win. Now, Dallas must win in Philly to secure a playoff berth, while the Eagles need a win and lots of help.
"The playoffs are like the end zone against the Redskins last week," says Donovan McNabb. "We can't get in. But that's not to say we won't try. I'm not even sure what needs to happen for us to qualify for the playoffs, but the league has assured me they have documentation that it is indeed possible."
As this year has shown, the Cowboys' season has been laden with drama, usually involving the actions of Terrell Owens, Tony Romo, and Jason Witten, or the loose tongue of owner Jerry Jones, or the ongoing discussion regarding Wade Phillips' future/dismissal as head coach. It's been tiresome, but for the latest bit of drama, let's thank the Cowboys. Without their constant choking, the NFC playoff slate would already be set. Thanks to the Cowboys, the drama of finalizing the playoff seeds will continue to well after 7:00 P.M. this Sunday.
"Hey, we're always happy to oblige," says Romo. "That's what I always tell Terrell Owens when he complains about not getting enough action, although I throw more balls his way than all my other receivers combined. When I acquiesce to T.O.'s demands, I liken it to our route of reaching the playoffs---the coward's way."
Philadelphia wins 27-24.
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-14)
Due to last Sunday's 31-14 loss in Tennessee, the Steelers lost their chance for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, Pittsburgh has a first-round bye, and, should playoffs seeding hold form, will again travel to Nashville in late January, with the AFC championship on the line.
"If that happens," says Mike Tomlin, "let's hope Ben Roethlisberger leaves his six turnovers at home this time. You just can't hand the opposition that many turnovers. And I mean that literally. Ben was actually giving the Titans the ball. I do believe I saw a ‘Please take one' sign affixed to his jersey. As our win in Baltimore and our loss in Tennessee have shown, we're going to live or die with Ben's scrambling ability."
"As for LenDale White and Keith Bullock stomping on a ‘Terrible Towel,' I can't fault them for doing so. It certainly wasn't because they were unpleased with the Towel's absorption ability that day, because it sucked. But mark my words. That incident will be bulletin board material if and when we face the Titans again. But, do we really need extra motivation after a 31-14 spanking?"
In Cleveland, a horrible season for the Browns continues to get worse. The Browns were shut out 14-0 last week by the Bengals, and now have gone five games without an offensive touchdown. Romeo Crenel's future is an ongoing subject, and now the team has been rocked by rumors that defensive end Shaun Smith punched injured quarterback Brady Quinn in a weight room incident.
"What's the deal with guys named ‘Smith' punching teammates this year?" says Crenel. "Anyway, outsiders have been questioning the manhood of our quarterbacks all year; now, teammates are doing it. And Brady gets pretty defensive about it, probably more ‘defensive' than our defense gets about anything. But simple visual inspections, as well as laboratory testing, have proven that our quarterbacks are indeed men. But I guess Smith took it a little too far when he called Brady a ‘Notre Dame.'"
Pittsburgh wins 27-0.
Oakland @ Tampa Bay (-13 ½)
The Buccaneers lost their third straight game last Sunday, dropping a 41-24 decision to the Chargers, and in doing so, lost control of their own destiny, which is really a mess to clean up. To squeeze into the playoffs as the NFC's #6 seed, the Bucs need a win over the Raiders and a Dallas loss to Philadelphia.
"It's simple for us," says Jon Gruden. "This team needs to get ‘Buc-wild. Of course, nothing would be more heartbreaking than to win, and see the Cowboys win, as well. That would leave us ‘Buc-wild ‘n Out.'"
"We really need our defense to step up and play a game like they're capable of, and not play a game like their defensive coordinator is leaving at year's end. Shoot, I didn't realize when Monte Kiffin agreed to join his son in Tennessee that he'd stop coaching. He needs to show me some defense or my foot's gonna agree to join his rear end."
"Anyway, I know the Raiders' offense like the back of my hand, which, incidentally, is the space on which you'd need to write all the plays JaMarcus Russell has memorized."
Tampa wins 24-9.
Seattle @ Arizona (-3 1/2)
The Cardinals lost on the East Coast again, offering little resistance in a 47-7 loss in snowy Foxboro. This season, Arizona is 0-5 in games on the East Coast, and while their home date is set for the playoffs, the Cards have little momentum and may even be a home underdog when the playoffs start on January 3rd.
"It will be good to go back home," says Kurt Warner. "Or will it? We've lost two of our last three there. But, it will be nice to play Glendale. Luckily, there's no snow in the forecast for the retractable turf in University Of Phoenix Stadium. And, luckily for us, unlike the turf, playoff bids aren't retractable."
Seattle beat Brett Favre and the Jets in Mike Holmgren's last game in Seattle. Now, the ‘Hawks will try to close their season with their third-straight win, a win which would leave the Cardinals at 8-8.
"Hey, we've already done our share to sully the reputation of the NFC West," says Holmgren. "Why not do more? If we beat Arizona, the NFL could likely have two division winners with 8-8 records. I always knew the West was three hours behind; it looks like the West divisions are at least three games behind, as well."
Cardinals win 23-21.
Washington @ San Francisco (-3)
After a stormy week in Washington, in which coach Jim Zorn called himself the "worst coach ever," the Redskins rallied at home to shock the Eagles 10-3, handing Philadelphia a loss that likely will keep them out of the playoffs. On Sunday, the 8-7 Redskins will look to beat the 49ers and head coach Mike Singletary, thus guaranteeing a winning season record.
"It's not often you see a coach throw himself under the bus," says Clinton Portis. "Although I've seen Bill Cowher do it many times."
With a win and an Arizona loss, the 49ers will finish one game behind the Cardinals. I'm not sure if that's something to brag about, or cry about, but it does say something about the resiliency of the 49ers. San Fran will close out its season in throwback uniforms, and many of the 49ers are growing mustaches, inspired by the facial hair of former greats whose photos hang in the team's headquarters.
"These guys have really taken to the throwback mentality," says Singletary. "The facial hair deal was just the tip of the iceberg. But you know how I love to start a fire under my players. Why stop at facial hair? Why not honor Joe Montana by charging exorbitant amounts for personal appearances, or be like Bill Romanowski and spit in someone's face, or recognize Ronnie Lott by excising the tip of a pinkie finger? I actually think I scared some of my guys with that talk. Vernon Davis actually volunteered to leave."
Redskins win 22-17.
Denver @ San Diego (-9)
The Chargers finally get their chance to avenge week 2's loss in Denver, a loss made possible by a horribly erroneous call by referee Ed Hochuli that gave Denver the win. San Diego has rallied from a 4-8 record to win three straight, while the Broncos have dropped their last two to make Sunday's "all or nothing" showdown possible. The winner goes home with the AFC West title, while the loser goes home with nothing.
"There's only one thing I hate more than getting shafted out of a win or getting shafted out of a Pro Bowl spot," says Philip Rivers. "And that's Jay Cutler. You think my quarterback rating is high? You should see my quarterback hating where Cutler's concerned."
A season sweep of the Chargers will be necessary if the Broncos are to claim the playoff position reserved for the AFC West champion.
"The quest for the West is such a tight race," says Mike Shanahan. "You hate for there to be losers in such a situation, but sadly, there will be. That would be the two teams from the AFC East that are likely to get left out of the playoffs, despite better records than the winner and loser of our game."
San Diego's three-game win streak is their longest of the year, and their offense is clicking. If they make it, they could be a dangerous team in the playoffs, or an immediate flop. It's hard to tell with the Chargers. But the revenge factor, coupled with the playoff spot hanging in the balance, should be plenty of motivation. This might be the game that LaDainian Tomlinson finally cuts loose.
San Diego wins 34-31.