Sorting Out the NFL Playoff Mess
by Greg Melikov - 12/24/2008
Winter's latest blast of freezing temperatures prompts this question concerning past late-season NFL games staged in less than ideal conditions: Can warm-weather squads overcome the 12th man on teams in cold country: Old Man Winter?
Division winners in both conferences that secured first-round byes are located in states that have seen snow as well as freezing temperatures this year.
NFC East champ New York, 7-1 at home, and NFC South winner Carolina, 8-0 at home, hold a distinct advantage when they host the wild-card survivors on the second weekend in January. That also goes for AFC South champ Tennessee, 7-1 at home, and AFC North winner Pittsburgh, 5-2 at home.
According to Bodog, the NFC No. 1 seed Giants are even money to take the conference title while No. 2 Carolina is 9-4. Surprisingly, AFC top dog Tennessee is 9-4 to capture the conference championship behind the Steelers at 2-1 despite recently defeating Pittsburgh.
Several other divisions will be decided this weekend.
The AFC East title game that pits the visiting Miami Dolphins against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands on Sunday was moved back four hours to 4:15 p.m. (EST) under the league's "flex scheduling" system. That provides leeway to put more attractive games in TV prime time.
That should benefit Miami, not exactly a cold-weather team despite edging Kansas City last week in near-zero temperatures. The later kickoff time for the Denver-San Diego game to decide the AFC West won't benefit the on-the-way-down Broncos since the never-say-die Chargers are hosting.
The Miami-New York game could decide the AFC East. If the Dolphins triumph, they entertain one of the wild-card games. In Miami's favor, the Dolphins whipped the Broncos and Chargers earlier in the year.
If New York prevails and New England beats Buffalo, the Patriots take the division. New England lost to San Diego, but crushed the Broncos. Meanwhile, the Jets lost to both AFC West teams.
In order to represent the AFC East, New York must beat Miami and Buffalo has to whip the Patriots.
Indianapolis has clinched a wild-card slot while Baltimore can secure the other berth if the Ravens knock off the fading Jacksonville Jaguars.
If the Dolphins win their division, they most likely would host Baltimore, which defeated them in October. Since that game, Miami has won eight of nine.
The Baltimore-Jacksonville game also was switched to a 4:15 kickoff as well as the NFL East contest between hosting Philadelphia and Dallas, which needs a victory to make the playoffs as a wild card. The Cowboys won three months back.
The Eagles could make the playoffs if they win and the Buccaneers lose at home to the awful Raiders.
In the NFC North, Chicago needs some help despite two overtime victories in a row unless the Bears whip the Vikings for the '08 sweep. A Minnesota victory seals a playoff appearance.
Chicago closes out at Houston, which took five of seven games at home. The Bears, however, haven't fared that well away from Soldiers Field, going 3-4.