The NFL playoff picture seems to be sorting itself out. At least a little bit.
The Seahawks’ 34-7 decimation of the Saints on Monday enabled Seattle to be the first team to clinch a playoff berth. The Seahawks (11-1) seemed destined to win the NFC West.
The Seahawks’ win also dropped the Saints (9-3) into a first-place tie in the NFC South with the Panthers, who have won eight straight games. The Saints and Panthers will play twice during the next three weeks. The Saints host the Panthers on Sunday night (8:30 p.m.), and then they will play again in Carolina on Dec. 22.
It seems likely that the NFC South runner-up will earn one of the wild cards. The 49ers (8-4) have the inside track on a wild card berth, although the Falcons (7-5) and the NFC East runner-up could steal that spot if the 49ers falter.
The NFC East and NFC North will likely only send their division winners to the playoffs. The Eagles (7-5) and Cowboys (7-5) appear headed for a Dec. 29 showdown for the NFC East title and a playoff berth. The Giants (5-7) are mathematically alive in the NFC East race, but it would take a miraculous finish against a schedule that includes the Chargers, Seahawks and Lions the next three weeks.
The NFC North is a three-team race. The Lions (7-5), who face the Eagles on Sunday (1 p.m.), are in first place, followed closely by the Bears (6-6) and Packers (5-6-1). The Bears will play a big role in the NFC playoff races. They have games remaining with the Cowboys, Eagles and Packers. The Packers’ fortunes depend on when quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns from a broken collarbone. Eagles fans are hoping Rodgers returns in time to face the Cowboys.
In the AFC, there are four teams you can write into the playoff bracket, and a fifth that is certainly close to joining the group as a near-lock to make the playoffs.
By virtue of their 35-28 victory over the Chiefs, the Broncos (10-2) take sole possession of first place in the NFC West and move into position to earn the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Because the Broncos have beaten them twice, the Chiefs (9-3) would have to finish ahead of the Broncos to win the AFC West.
It’s likely the Chiefs will have to settle for a wild card, but they won’t be complaining after last season’s 2-14 campaign. The Patriots (9-3) and Colts (8-4) are three games ahead in their respective divisions with four games to play. The Patriots want to keep winning in order to challenge the Broncos for the top playoff seed in the AFC.
The Bengals (8-4) appear to be in good position to win the AFC North, but the Ravens lurk just two games behind. If the Ravens (6-6) can’t catch the Bengals, they will be prime contenders for the second AFC wild card.
The final playoff team from the AFC will be a team currently not above .500. If not the Ravens (6-6) or Dolphins (6-6), there’s a chance a team currently 5-7 (Chargers, Steelers, Jets) could sneak in and snare the final playoff berth.
With four teams virtually certain to make the playoffs, and a fifth team coming very close to that status, the AFC playoff picture is a bit clearer than the NFC playoff picture.
This weekend’s games with major playoff implications include the Lions at the Eagles, the Panthers at the Saints, the Colts at the Bengals, Seahawks at 49ers, and Cowboys at Bears. These games could further clear up the playoff picture, or they could make the playoff picture even muddier.
MORE TO THE STORY? Peter Luukko’s resignation as president of Comcast-Spectacor and the Flyers happened a little too quickly for my taste. If Luukko had announced he was leaving at the end of the year, my journalistic antennas might not have been raised. By leaving immediately, however, Luukko’s Monday morning announcement triggered my “Spidey sense.”
I don’t have anything beyond speculation, and I don’t like printing speculation. But I suspect there is more to this story than Luukko simply wanting to spend more time with his family or pursue other business venture.
COUCHES OUT OF BOUNDS: There were two embarrassing incidents involving coaches this past week. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin seemed to try to impede Ravens returner Jacoby Jones on Thansgiving by standing right on the edge of the sideline before moving out of the way at the last minute. It appeared as if Jones may have slowed up when he first saw Tomlin, whose back was to him, standing by the edge of the sideline.
Nets head coach Jason Kidd went even further. Kidd is seen whispering “hit me” to one of the Nets, who bumps into Kidd and knocks a soda from his hand. During the cleanup, the Nets, who had not timeouts remaining, drew up a play for a last-second shot.
The Nets’ attempt to circumvent the rules was not successful, but it’s the thought that counts. That’s why the NBA fined Kidd $50,000.
WAIT A SECOND: I bet Alabama wishes it hadn’t got one second put back on the clock via replay at the end of its game with Auburn on Saturday.
The Tide’s 57-yard field goal attempt was barely short. Chris Davis returned the missed field goal 108 yards to boost Auburn to a 34-28 victory and knock Alabama out of the No. 1 spot in the BCS rankings. For those who somehow haven’t seen the play, it’s in the videobox on the front page of PhillyPhanatics.com.
PRIDE ON DISPLAY: Temple and Penn State both deserve credit for their efforts Saturday in the final games of their season. Temple, which entered its final game with just one win this season, pounded host Memphis, 41-21. Penn State power past No. 14 Wisconsin, 31-24, to finish with a winning record (7-5).
RAM TOUGH: West Chester avenged a regular-season defeat Saturday with a 40-38 triumph over host Bloomsburg in a second-round NCAA Division II Tournament game. The Rams (12-1) will visit top-seeded Shepherd on Saturday (noon).
DUCK STAYS HOME: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, considered likely to a high draft pick, has decided to remain at Oregon next season and will not be par tof the 2014 NFL Draft.
DREXEL’S GARDEN PARTY: Drexel supporters had the opportunity to spend a lot of time at Madison Square Garden during the past week. The men’s basketball team participated in the semifinals and third-place game of the high-profile NIT Tip-Off Tournament on Wednesday and Friday.
The Drexel wrestling team participate in the Grapple at the Garden on Sunday, defeating George Mason but losing to Princeton.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 25 years, just finished the last of the Thanksgiving stuffing.