RECORDS & AWARDS
NFL TEAMS PREPARE FOR FINAL STRETCH
December 19, 2012Richmond High School
Time is running out. With two weeks to go in the NFL regular season, it’s time for teams to make their final playoff push.
“Momentum is very important,” says head coach MIKE SMITH of the NFC-leading Atlanta Falcons. “Sometimes it’s difficult to measure and quantify it. When you use the word momentum, you use the word passion. You use the word purpose. It’s important that you’re playing efficiently and effectively in December and January. That’s what every team is striving for. Over the last two seasons, the teams that were playing well in December and January and really rolling were the teams that had the most success. Momentum is very important.”
While seven postseason berths have been clinched – Atlanta (NFC South), Baltimore, Denver (AFC West), Green Bay (NFC North), Houston (AFC South), New England (AFC East) and San Francisco – there are still 19 teams overall in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
Three divisions – AFC North, NFC East, NFC West – are going down to the wire.
“These are the circumstances you want to be in,” says New York Giants quarterback ELI MANNING. “You want to be fighting to make it in the playoffs. That’s just football and you understand it’s tough to make the playoffs. You’ve got to work. You’ve got to win games. You’ve got to win important games. Our mindset is that the playoffs have started.”
In the AFC, Baltimore controls the AFC North and can clinch the division title with a win. Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are each in control for at least a playoff berth. Houston and Denver are in control for a first-round bye with the Texans being in control for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
In the NFC, Washington and Dallas, who meet in Week 17, are each in control of the division in the NFC East. San Francisco, who has already secured a playoff berth, is in control in the NFC West. Seattle, Washington, Dallas and the New York Giants are each in control for at least a playoff berth. Atlanta and San Francisco are in control for a first-round bye with the Falcons being in control for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Week 16 kicks off on Saturday night when the NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons travel to Detroit to face the Lions (ESPN, 8:30 PM ET). The action continues with 15 games on Sunday, capped off by a primetime matchup featuring the top two teams in the NFC West – San Francisco and Seattle (NBC, 8:20 PM ET). Some of the headline games:
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-6) at HOUSTON TEXANS (12-2) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
The Vikings find themselves in the middle of the NFC playoff race with an 8-6 record. The Texans, who have already clinched the AFC South, can secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win.
Minnesota is led by running back ADRIAN PETERSON, who tops the NFL with 1,812 rushing yards. Peterson, who has rushed for 100 yards in a franchise-record eight consecutive games, has 1,313 yards during that span, the most by a player in NFL history over any eight-game stretch in a single season. Last week, he rushed for 212 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings’ 36-22 win at St. Louis. With two games to go, Peterson needs 294 yards to break Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON’s single-season rushing record (2,105 in 1984).
“The record would be great, but the most important thing is to get a win in Houston,” says Vikings head coach LESLIE FRAZIER. “The fact that Adrian feels that way will permeate through the rest of the team. He wants to really concentrate on winning this game more so than the record. Our players are pulling for him without question, but I think every one of our guys knows the importance of winning this game.”
The Texans have won seven of their past eight games, including last week’s 29-17 win over Indianapolis to clinch the AFC South. Defensive end J.J. WATT had three sacks in the victory over the Colts and is tied for the NFL lead with San Francisco’s ALDON SMITH with 19.5, just three shy of MICHAEL STRAHAN’s single-season record (22.5 in 2001).
“It’s awesome,” says Watt about winning the division. “We’re very happy that we did it in front of our home fans. I love this city. We love playing for these people. They come out and support us unconditionally and we appreciate that so much. It’s nice to be able to give back. There’s a lot more fun ahead so I hope everybody is not celebrating too early.”
CINCINNATI BENGALS (8-6) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (7-7) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)
AFC North rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will meet in a key game on Sunday. Both clubs are vying for a playoff spot and are also still alive in the division race behind 9-5 Baltimore. The Bengals and Steelers are each in control for a postseason berth and 8-6 Cincinnati can secure a playoff spot in Week 16 with a win.
“We have a lot of leadership and a lot of veteran guys who have been in this situation before,” says Pittsburgh wide receiver MIKE WALLACE. “I know we’ll be fine. I know we have the guys to do it. I know exactly how guys are going to come to prepare this week. My teammates, I know these guys. We’ve been through a lot. It’s just going to make it even sweeter when we make this run.”
The Bengals defeated Philadelphia last week 34-13 and have won five of their past six games.
“We had an OK November, so now let’s have a better December,” says Cincinnati head coach MARVIN LEWIS. “That’s the key. We need to have a better December than we had in November. That’ll give us a chance for a great January. We’re not in great position, but we’re in OK position. And we’ve got to improve upon it each and every week.”
NEW YORK GIANTS (8-6) AT BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-5) (Sunday, FOX, 4:25 PM ET)
The Ravens are already in. The Giants hope to join them. Baltimore, which has clinched a playoff berth, can win the AFC North with a victory. The defending Super Bowl champions will assure themselves at least a postseason spot with wins in their final two games.
“If we win two games, we’re going to be in the playoffs,” says Giants head coach TOM COUGHLIN. “That’s what we have to focus on. Our team knows the circumstances very well. It is a playoff situation for us. We now have to win to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs. We’ve responded to that in the past. We’re going to have to respond to that again.”
Baltimore has lost three in a row after a 9-2 start, but the Ravens clinched a playoff spot last week.
“We’ve got work to do,” says Baltimore head coach JOHN HARBAUGH. “We’re going to fight like crazy to become the team we’re capable of becoming. We’re not that team yet. It’s a long season, but all of our goals are in front of us.”
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (10-3-1) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-5) (Sunday, NBC & Telemundo, 8:20 PM ET)
The top two teams in the NFC West will be in the spotlight on Sunday night when the Seahawks host the 49ers to close out Week 16. San Francisco has already clinched a playoff berth and can secure the division for the second consecutive season with a win. Seattle, who has not lost at home this season, enters with a 9-5 record. The Seahawks are in control for a playoff berth and can still win the NFC West.
Last week, the 49ers won at New England 41-34, ending the Patriots’ 13-game December winning streak. Quarterback COLIN KAEPERNICK threw a career-high four TD passes, including two to wide receiver MICHAEL CRABTREE.
“We’ve got a huge goal, and that’s to win the Super Bowl” says San Francisco linebacker NA VORRO BOWMAN, who leads the team in tackles. “This win was good, but we’ve got to keep going.”
The Seahawks are 6-0 at home, led by rookie quarterback RUSSELL WILSON who has 12 touchdowns, one interception and a 118.4 passer rating in those six games. Last week in the team’s win over Buffalo in Toronto, Wilson became the first player in NFL history to rush for three touchdowns and pass for one in the first half.
Seattle has scored 108 points in the past two weeks and is the first team since the 1950 New York Giants to score at least 50 points in consecutive games in a single season. The Seahawks have outscored opponents by 91 points (108-17) in those two contests, the largest margin of victory in a two-game span since Chicago in 1941 (95 points).
“The sky’s the limit for this team,” says Wilson. “You have to play one game at a time. We’re doing that right now and guys are making tremendous plays out there. I’m blessed to be a Seahawk so it’s a pretty great situation for me.”