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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sports Sunday Thread #1 For 1/3/10: The Final Week Of The NFL Season, Week 17 Preview

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The only time where all 32 teams in the National Football League play on the same today is the final day of the regular season. And with that said, the drama of Week 17 is about to unfold in front of all the fans throughout the nation and abroad.

25 teams already know that their season will either continue or end regardless of what transpires at the end of their 16th game. The other seven, however, will get the answer to their postseason status or not today.

All seven of those teams of course are all from the AFC, but only two control their own destiny. Here is the easy scenario that everyone knows.

-The Ravens and the Jets just have to win, and they are in the playoffs. A full preview of who has the potentially easier time will come.

In the midst of both the Ravens and the Jets not winning, then all hell breaks lose, leading to the Broncos, Steelers, Texans, Jaguars, and Dolphins having hope. Now pay close attention, because it is about to get rocky.

-The Broncos can make it to the playoffs in 10 ways. The best way is to hope that after they win, the Ravens and the Jets lose/tie, or the Jets lose/tie and the Steelers lose/tie, or a Jets lost/tie and a Texans win, or a Ravens loss/tie and a Steelers lost/tie. The other six scenarios are even more of a big ask if the Broncos lose. Case in point, if they don't at least win, their chances are kaput.

-For the Steelers, it is much more simple, with only three scenarios. If they win on Sunday against the Dolphins, all the defending champions need is a Jets lost/tie and a Texans lost/tie, or a Ravens lost/tie and a Texans lost/tie, or a Jets lost/tie, Ravens lost/tie and a Broncos lost/tie. But if they don't win, their chances are kaput.

-The Texans almost basically need the same thing that the Steelers need. If they win on Sunday, they would need a Jets lost/tie with a Ravens lost/tie, or a Jets lost/tie with a Broncos lost/tie, or a Ravens lost/tie with a Broncos lost/tie. Not too bad of a scenario for a team that must people are highly disappointed in.

-For the Jaguars, oh dear. Basically, the Jaguars need at least four of the five teams ahead of them to lose after securing a must win victory over the Browns if they get it. And with how the Browns have been playing late, that is not a guarantee.

-And for the Dolphins, it is just one simple scenario. If they beat the Steelers in Miami, then all they will need is the Jets,Ravens, and Broncos to lose while having the Jaguars lose or tie.

And that right there is your entire Week 17 "in or out playoff" scenario.

Now, here are the quick previews for the games that matter:

Ravens-Raiders: For Baltimore, an up and down season is still one win away from granting the team a return to the postseason. Just like the Falcons' Matt Ryan, the second year in the NFL has not been too kind to Joe Flacco. Though his numbers aren't too shabby at all, the former Delaware standout has made some poor decisions at time's this year. Thankfully for him and the rest of the squad, Ray Rice's Pro Bowl season has played a big part in the Ravens still being in an auspicious position.

Nevertheless, despite controlling their destiny against a Charlie Frye quarterbacked team in the Raiders, Tom Cable's side have shown through the latter half of the year that they are by no means a pushover. Still, outside of a rare moment of quality QB play from JaMarcus Russell in their come from behind win over the Broncos, the Raiders' effort this year has only been commendable thanks to the spark Bruce Gradkowski has given them. And with him being out because of his MCL tear suffered in that same Denver game, the spark has fizzled out.

And with that, the Ravens showed be in the playoffs.

Bengals-Jets: For how many close games that they should have won this season, maybe Rex Ryan and the Jets have earned to be in such a fortuitous situation. After the Colts laid down their starters at the perfect time last week and a Bengals team guaranteed home field in the Wild Card Round next week, the Jets truly control their own destiny and then some to return to the postseason. Funny enough, this could also benefit the Bengals since they may play the Jets again next week if they lose to them today and the Patriots beat the Texans.

The matchup that has been hyped all week in this game is obviously Darrell Revis and Chad Ochocinco. Revis, the league's best corner, has shut down receivers better than Ochocinco all season long. But the most important element of the game though is clearly Mark Sanchez, the main reason why the Jets are in their position instead of being firmly in the postseason already. No mistakes just like last week is the message drilled into Sanchez all week, and in the final game at Giants Stadium ever, expect the rookie to do just that.

Especially considering that the Bengals may not play their starters more than a half of the game (and probably even a quarter at most), expect the Jets to join the Ravens in enduring the playoff hopes of the other five AFC teams still alive.

Now to the NFC games of importance for playoff seedings #2 to #5:

Eagles-Cowboys: It would be fitting for the Cowboys of this year to reverse the ugliness of last year's Week 17 debacle in Philadelphia with a division clinching win over the same team this week. Thankfully no more talk of the ridiculous December struggles of Tony Romo and Wade Phillips, which was a little silly season Romo and his team did have a decent December two years ago. What people should have obviously said was whether Romo could perform in the big games, and that question will still linger to the postseason regardless of this result.

The stakes are high in this game besides the pride of this rivalry, with the Cowboys trying to sweep the Andy Reid's side for the season. If the Eagles win, they will have passed the Vikings for the #2 seed, getting the much needed bye that all teams covet (especially Minnesota). If the Cowboys win though, they will have a shot for that Bye if things work out in the Giants-Vikings and Packers-Cardinals games, and at least a home game next week.

These two teams have the most momentum in the league right now, and I will get the slight edge to the Cowboys with how they are playing, coupled with last season's Week 17 disaster still on their minds.

Vikings-Giants: It has been a forgettable week for Tom Coughlin's side, as some players will play their final game as a Big Blue representative today. For the Vikings, the week hasn't been much better thanks to their overtime Monday lost to the Bears. Both teams have truly been sputtering lately, and it isn't easy to call this game at first glance. But then again, with how demoralized the Giants were after that embarrassment last week against the Panthers, I just don't see them preventing Brad Childress' outfit from going to the postseason with some momentum.

Packers-Cardinals: The two teams still tragically going under the radar in the NFC are these two playoff sides with quarterbacks that deserve just some MVP talk. Just another 4,000 yard season for Aaron Rodgers, so hopefully everyone can give Ted Thompson credit for picking Rodgers over Favre. And in the midst of Favre getting the old quarterback love, Kurt Warner continued success has been terrific to see.

Much credit must be given to Ken Whisenhunt and the job that he has done. Considering that this team is one of the few Super Bowl runner-ups in the last few years to make the playoffs is a testament to how underrated a coach he is, as well as this team still. And that is especially the case with their defense, featuring pass rushing talents Darnell Dockett and arguably the best secondary in the league.

Hard game to call because of the quality for both teams not being too different from each other, but I give the Cardinals the nod here to at least be home next weekend.

Those are the five games that truly matter, but enjoy the day everyone.
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