Playoffs Largely Undecided

The Vikings have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but the real possibility of a team entering the NFC playoffs with a 7-9 record remains alive. In fact, with the exception of the Bears, none of the playoff teams and playoff hopefuls have guaranteed themselves a locked-down seeding in either conference with seven days to play in the 2006 season.

The Vikings' season is just one week away from completion, but the same can't be said for a lot of teams currently locked up in a log-jam of teams fighting for the available remaining spots. The Cowboys can lock down the NFC East title today when they host the Eagles, but that doesn't mean the Eagles are in trouble of being eliminated. Far from it.

If the Eagles win today, both they and Dallas would be at 9-6 and would assure that New Orleans is the other NFC team to receive a first-round bye along with the Bears. By virtue of a 38-24 win over the Cowboys earlier this year, the Eagles could control their own destiny as a division champ heading into the final week, but that's just half the problem with NFL tie-breakers. Consider the following:

Even with a loss, the Eagles would still be the fifth-seeded team in the NFC at 8-7 and, with a loss in Week 17, would still have a better-than-average shot of making the playoffs – even as high as the fifth seed.

Five teams come into Week 17 tied with 7-8 records – the Giants, Packers, Panthers, Falcons and Rams. Their current ranking is in that order. The Giants hold a better record vs. common opponents (an uninspiring 1-4 against an anemic 0-4). The Packers have a better conference record (6-5) than the Panthers, Falcons and Rams (all at 5-6). The Panthers have a better division record (4-1) than the Falcons (3-3) and, if in a one-on-one scenario with the Rams, beat St. Louis head to head. Finally, the Falcons have a better strength of victory record (.379) over the Rams (.333).

Confused? Join the club. All that has really been determined at this point in the NFC is that Chicago is the No. 1 seed and if the Saints win next week, they will be the No. 2 seed. Other than that, it's a jumbled mess.

In the AFC, there are even more questions. As it currently stands, the Broncos are in control of their own fate as a playoff team with a 9-6 record. The Jets could move to 9-6 with a win tonight over Miami, but that isn't guaranteed. If the Jets should lose, they would fall into another log-jam of teams at 8-7 that includes the Bengals, Chiefs, Jaguars and surprising Titans. With the Jags and Chiefs playing each other, barring a tie, there will be at least two teams in the AFC with at least nine wins for the wild card representatives, and, if the Jets win out their final two games and Denver beats the 49ers at home, all six AFC teams could have 10 wins or more heading into the playoffs.

Where the situation in the AFC get dicey is when it comes to home field. The Chargers currently sit atop the AFC at 12-2 and control their own fate of being the home team as long as they play. However, one of their two losses is to the Ravens. If Baltimore beats Buffalo at home in the early games next Sunday, the Chargers will still have to beat the Cardinals or else Baltimore can move past them for the first seed in the playoffs. Thanks to an upset loss against the Texans, the Colts and Patriots are both 11-4 and neither has a gimme next week – the Colts host the Dolphins and the Pats travel to red-hot Tennessee to face the Titans. If they finish tied, the Colts get the No. 3 seed by virtue of winning head-to-head earlier this year.

From the fans' perspective, this makes a lot of the games next weekend interesting, but from the Vikings' perspective one thing matters – doing their part to take the final glimmer of hope away from the Rams and send them outside of the playoff house looking in.

* The Marcus Robinson saga has been rumored for weeks, but the way it came down was chillingly similar to the way other firings have taken place in the organization. Robinson, who spoke out about the lack of communication between Brad Childress and the players in a newspaper story that ran Sunday morning, was at his home in Chicago when he got a call informing him that he was released. The call didn't come from Childress. It came from Rick Spielman. Robinson said he didn't see it coming and didn't want to be released.
* Robinson missed five games with injuries and what most believe were two scratches when he was healthy enough to play. In the games he played, the Vikings were 6-4. In the games he missed, the Vikings were 0-5.
* There may be interest in teams picking up M-Rob's contract, which only calls for him to be paid $117,000 for the last regular-season game of this season and a $2 million cap number for next year. Those who might be willing to make a waiver pick-up today include the Cowboys, Chargers, Ravens and Colts.
* Only 11 teams have been officially eliminated from playoff contention – the Vikings, Cardinals, Lions, Buccaneers, 49ers and Redskins in the NFC and the Browns, Texans, Dolphins, Bills, Steelers and Raiders in the AFC. Against teams that haven't already been eliminated from playoff contention, the Vikings are 1-6.
* As poorly as the Vikings played Thursday night, it could have been worse. Just ask the Giants. The G-Men didn't run a single play in Saints territory Sunday, tying a record for the last 15 years that was matched by the Browns and Bears in 2000 – when both were shut out and didn't cross midfield with their offense. The only time the Vikings ran plays in Packer territory Thursday was when a punt was shanked and went out of bounds on the Green Bay 48-yard line.
* Gary Anderson's name keeps dropping out of the record books. Last week, Falcons kicker Morten Andersen outsted Anderson as the game's all-time leading scorer, breaking the old record of 2,434 points Anderson held. Sunday, he passed Anderson for most career field goals when he hit a field goal – the only Falcons points of the game – to re-take the all-time field goal lead.

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