RECORDS & AWARDS
PLAYOFF RACES HEAT UP AS 24 TEAMS IN CONTENTION
December 15, 2012Richmond High School
With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the suspense continues to build as teams make their final playoff push. So far, four spots have been clinched – Atlanta (NFC South), Denver (AFC West), New England (AFC East) and Houston (playoff spot).
“We still need to get better,” says Broncos head coach JOHN FOX. “Our players and our staff have that mindset. We’ll see where it takes us.”
That leaves eight spots available and there are still 24 teams in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
“This is a highly, highly competitive league,” says head coach TOM COUGHLIN of the 8-5 New York Giants, who have a one-game lead in the NFC East over Dallas and Washington. “The parity is incredible. Week in and week out, look at what you face. The level of talent is incredible.”
If the final three weeks are anything like the first 14, get ready for close games, exciting finishes and comeback victories. In Week 14, four games were decided with the winning points scored in the final two minutes or overtime. There have been 47 such games this season, tied for the most through the first 14 weeks of a season since the 1970 merger (2003).
“All around as a team, we just never quit,” says Philadelphia wide receiver JEREMY MACLIN, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass with no time remaining in the Eagles’ 23-21 come-from-behind win at Tampa Bay.
The Week 15 schedule starts with a primetime game on NFL Network as the Eagles host the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night (8:20 PM ET). At 7-6, Cincinnati is right in the thick of the AFC playoff chase. The week concludes on Monday night (ESPN, 8:30 PM ET) when the New York Jets visit the Tennessee Titans. New York (6-7) has won two in a row to climb back into the AFC playoff picture, one game behind Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Also in Week 15, the Buffalo Bills will play their fifth regular-season game at Toronto’s Rogers Centre when they host the Seattle Seahawks (FOX, 4:05 PM ET). Some of the key games this week:
NEW YORK GIANTS (8-5) at ATLANTA FALCONS (11-2) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
The Giants and Falcons will meet as both teams eye a trip to the postseason. The clubs met in the Wild Card round last year with New York defeating Atlanta 24-2 on its way to winning Super Bowl XLVI. This season, the Falcons have already clinched the NFC South and are closing in on a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
“This game is very important,” says Falcons head coach MIKE SMITH. “There are a lot of things that are going to happen over the next few weeks and that’s what makes it fun. We’ve got to go out and play our best football of the year now.”
The Giants lead the NFC East by one game and can win the division by winning their final three games.
“Our concern right now and for these next three weeks is about the New York Giants and what we need to do,” says Giants quarterback ELI MANNING. “That’s all we can focus on. We have to keep winning football games.”
DENVER BRONCOS (10-3) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-4) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)
Two of the top teams in the AFC will meet on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore. The Broncos have already clinched the AFC West and the Ravens can secure the AFC North with a win. Both teams are vying for a first-round bye in the postseason.
“We need to concentrate on what we need to do to get better,” says Denver cornerback CHAMP BAILEY. “We just need to keep plugging along and the rest will take care of itself.”
Denver has won eight consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NFL. Baltimore has a 5-1 record at home, tied for the second-best mark in the AFC this season.
“I’m focused on the Baltimore Ravens and I’m not going to sit back and watch our playoff fate be based on other teams,” says Ravens running back RAY RICE. “We pride ourselves on beating people and going into the playoffs strong. We’ve got to get ourselves back.”
GREEN BAY PACKERS (9-4) AT CHICAGO BEARS (8-5) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
NFC North rivals will face one another at Soldier Field when the Bears host the Packers. Green Bay enters Week 15 with a one-game lead over Chicago in the division. With a victory on Sunday, the Packers will win the NFC North for the second consecutive season.
“We’re 9-4 right now and we’re in first place in the division by a game,” says Green Bay quarterback AARON RODGERS. “We’ve put ourselves in good position, not only for the division, but potentially a first-round bye. The division is the first goal. We can wrap things up next week, but it’s a tough opponent and a tough place to play. There’s a lot on the line.”
Chicago, at 8-5, is just one game out of first place in the division and currently holds one of the two NFC Wild Card spots.
“It’s now about a three-game season and this next game,” says Bears head coach LOVIE SMITH. “That’s going to dictate what happens with us. We’re still in position to accomplish all of our goals that we set out early on.”
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (9-4) AT HOUSTON TEXANS (11-2) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)
Houston owns the AFC’s best record but Indianapolis sits just two games behind the Texans in the AFC South. With a win on Sunday, Houston can clinch the division. But a Colts win would close the gap to just one game with two to play.
“We’re 11-2 and there’s a lot to do this season,” says Texans linebacker CONNOR BARWIN. “There’s a lot of football left. We have to move forward.”
With three games to go, Houston (11-2) has a one-game lead over Denver (10-3) and New England (10-3) for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Colts can clinch a playoff berth with a win on Sunday. In Week 14, Indianapolis overcame a 13-point deficit to defeat Tennessee and improve to 9-4. The Colts, who finished the 2011 season with a 2-14 record, have already won seven more games than last year with three more still to play.
“It feels good,” says Indianapolis safety ANTOINE BETHEA. “For us to come in here this year and do the things that we’ve done so far, it feels good. As everybody knows, last year was a long year for us. We’ve proven the critics wrong but we still have three games left.”
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (9-3-1) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-3) (Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)
The 49ers can secure a playoff berth with a win on Sunday. With a victory at New England coupled with a Seattle loss to Buffalo, San Francisco will clinch the NFC West for the second consecutive year.
“We’re just locked in on this one here with New England,” says 49ers head coach JIM HARBAUGH. “I really believe it’s about this next game. We don’t take anything for granted. Nothing is secured until it’s secured.”
New England has won seven in a row, including last week’s 42-14 win over Houston. The Patriots have already clinched the AFC East and are in a race for a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
“It’s always good to win these games,” says New England quarterback TOM BRADY, who recorded his 14th career game with at least four touchdown passes and no interceptions, the most in NFL history. “We’ve played a lot of big games here. We’ve got a great football team coming in on a short week for us, so we’ve got to put everything into this one next week.”