Week Fourteen
December 8, 2004
By Scott A. Benson

Well, our playoff wish list fell sort of flat last week. The Patriots’ chief AFC rivals, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, San Diego and the New York Jets, all won their games.

The Jacksonville Jaguars nearly did the Pats a solid on Sunday night when they – after an extended five minute drive – took a 16-14 lead over the Steelers with less than two minutes to play. The Pats were thisclose to grabbing the current lead for home field throughout the playoffs.

But maddeningly, Jacksonville allowed Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger to drive straight back up the field to kick the winning field goal. Pisser. Let’s face it – a playoff race is a tough town.

Baltimore was the only current playoff seed to lose (at home, to Cincinnati), which enabled Denver (losers to the Chargers) to stay just behind them for the sixth playoff spot. The Bengals win brought them to 6-6 and put them just behind the Jaguars (and just ahead of the Buffalo…..what?….Bills) as sixth seed hopefuls.

They’re all fighting for the right to visit the third seed in the wild card round of the playoffs, and while we’d very much like to see the Chargers hold on to third (frustrating the dandy-fied Colts and leaving them to draw, say, the plucky Jets, albeit at home), that’s not the egg on the front of our griddle at the moment. It’s all about the Men of Cowher for the foreseeable future.

If the Playoffs Started Today

1. The Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) won the kind of game that number one seeds usually win on Sunday night. Then there’s that little matter of a complete ass-whuppin’ put on the Patriots earlier this season. We may be stuck with these guys as top dog. Their home game with the Jets this weekend may be their toughest remaining test.

2. It’s those awful, rub-your-nose-it, star-placating New England Patriots (11-1). They’re so smug.

3. The San Diego Chargers (9-3) have won six in a row, and the last three were over division rivals. They’ve all but mathematically won the West and now look to host the sixth seed on wild card weekend. The big one in that respect will be a trip to Indy on the day after Christmas.

4. The Indianapolis Colts (9-3). Bah, humbug. Look, I’m rooting for the Colts to miss the playoffs completely, so anything less than that I’ll consider a direct attack against me, my family, and everything we believe in. The Colts actually have a comparatively tough row to hoe here, with three potential playoff teams (the Ravens, Chargers and Broncos) left on their schedule, as well as this week’s grudge match with the Texans.

5. The New York Jets (9-3) have won three in a row (albeit against a very Patriots-like schedule) since their latest dish of Shelved-Pennington had croaked their fast start by early November. Things get pretty tough for them (at Pittsburgh this week, home v. New England on December 26th) from here, though there are temporary respites along the way (home with Seattle, and the season finale in St. Louis).

6. Well, the NFL Defensive Player of the Century Ray Lewis-led Baltimore Ravens (7-5) lost a divisional home game down the stretch and now we’ve got all these .500 teams thinking they can make the playoffs. Thanks a million, Ravens. This isn’t the NFC, you know. Go stand in a corner or something. I don’t suppose you’re going to be any help when you face Indy (12/19) and Pittsburgh (12/26) on the road.

On the outside looking in:

7. The Denver Broncos (7-5) have lost four of their last six and (after a dalliance with Miami) still have to go to KC, and Tennessee, as well as face the Colts at home to close things out. They currently lose the tie with Baltimore because of a 4-4 conference record.

8. Lost in all the Peter King puffery lately is the fact that the Jacksonville Jaguars (6-6) have lost three straight. They have Chicago (home) and Green Bay (away) the next two weeks, before finishing with Houston and Oakland.

9. Here’s a team on an upswing, finally. The Cincinnati Bengals (6-6) have won five of six, though their divisional and conference records are abysmal. They have the Pats on the road this week, then home games with the Bills and Giants before finishing with the Eagles in Philly. Ewww.

10. I’m not surprised the Buffalo Bills (6-6) are making a little noise, but I’m flabbergasted they’re doing it with Drew Bledsoe. The Bills only shot is for the sixth spot obviously, and right now, their conference record is 3-6. They also lose the head to head tiebreaker to Jacksonville. They’ll get shots at the Bengals (the 19th, on the road) and the Steelers (the 26th at home) before they’re done. They need a miracle, and it looks as though they’re already had one.

Who We’re Rooting for This Week

The A Game: Sunday afternoon, 4:15 PM, New York Jets at Pittsburgh. Providing Pennington doesn’t break his jaw on a Fig Newton or something, maybe there’s some hope in this match up of current seeds. They have a decent defense, but the Jets have beat only cupcakes (including pre-playoff run San Diego) on the road this season. I guess I won’t go crazy with the anticipation.

The B Game: Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, Indianapolis at Houston (5-7). The last time the Colts played the Texans, they pulled their typical BCS BS, and a few Houston players apparently took note. This will probably mean zero, but an upset would hang both division and conference losses on the Colts, as well as some December doubts, and that sounds like a very nice Sunday to me.

The C Game: Sunday afternoon, 4:15 PM, (5-7) Tampa Bay at San Diego. Right now, I’m pulling for the Chargers out of deep hatred for the Colts (who’d dearly love to have that third slot, so as to ensure they’d get to put a pounding to the lowest playoff seed), so we’d just as soon see them win out. If the Pats lose this week, though, I’ll be seeing San Diego through a different set of eyes entirely.

The D Game: There is no D game.

The F Game (TIED): We got plenty of F’s. But they involve the Miami Dolphins (at Denver), the New York Giants (at Baltimore), the Chicago Bears (at Jacksonville) and the Cleveland Browns (at Buffalo). Next!

Who Can Clinch This Week, and How

The Steelers can clinch the AFC North with a win, or a Ravens loss or tie. Even if they lose to the Jets, they can clinch a playoff spot with a Denver loss.

The Colts can clinch the AFC South with a win over Houston, or even if somehow they wind up in a tie with the Texans (the Giants have a better chance of beating the Ravens), they can still win the title with a Jags loss or tie.

Just to be difficult, the Jets can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Pittsburgh and losses by Buffalo and Denver, along with wins or ties by either the Chargers or Ravens. Yeah, whatever.

I’m hearing they’re still going through with the NFC playoffs, though I’m not sure why. I’ll keep digging. Anyway, the Eagles have already clinched the East, and can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Redskins. The Falcons can clinch the West with a win, but weren’t we just saying the same thing a week ago?

What about the Pats?

Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, Cincinnati at New England. The last time we saw the Bengals, they were making mince-meat out of the Patriots. I don’t care if it was August or not. Something has to be done about it. The Patriots can clinch the division title with a win over the Bengals, combined with a Jets loss to Pittsburgh. They can clinch a playoff berth with a win, or losses by either the Ravens or Broncos.