- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2008

STORY OF THE WEEK

PLAYOFF PUSH

Roger Goodell has to love it.

With three weeks left in the season, only the defending champion Giants, Cardinals and Titans have clinched playoff spots - and those last two are clubs that almost no one figured would be playing in January.

The Cardinals won the NFC West with a 34-10 pasting of the Rams, a crown that has been a long time coming. The Cardinals last won a division title in 1975, when the franchise was located in St. Louis and the roster was populated by players like Jim Hart, Terry Metcalf, Mel Gray and Dan Dierdorf.



The rest of the playoff field is a jumble, particularly in the NFC. The Cowboys, Falcons and Redskins all lost. The Vikings, Bears and Eagles all won. So heading into Week 15, the Cowboys and either the Bucs or Panthers will lead the conference’s wild card race.

The AFC is more clear-cut. The Broncos are on the verge of winning the West. The Steelers and Ravens should reach the playoffs from the North, as should the South runners-up, the Colts.

That leaves just the East champion to be decided: The Jets, Patriots or Dolphins - with 8-5 records, the teams are tied atop the division - will fill the other playoff spot.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

The Eagles took the field on Thanksgiving night with a 5-5-1 record and in the midst of a 25-day victory drought. Talk radio called for the heads of coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb in the wake of an embarrassing tie with the Bengals and a one-sided loss to the Ravens.

But Reid and McNabb look a lot better after back-to-back victories over two division-leading teams, the Cardinals and Giants. The Eagles upset the Giants 20-14 on the road on Sunday, momentarily preventing the hosts from clinching the NFC East while keeping their own playoff hopes alive. With the lowly Browns coming to Philadelphia this week, the Eagles should head to Washington on Dec. 21 very much alive.

FIVE THINGS LEARNED IN WEEK 14

1. The NFL won’t have its first division champion with a losing record. The Broncos got by the Chiefs 24-17 to ensure themselves at least a .500 mark this season. And they should even finish with a winning record, considering the way the Bills, their Week 16 opponent, have tanked since September.

2. Aaron Rodgers won’t lead the Packers to the playoffs in his first season like Brett Favre did. The Packers’ loss to the Texans at home Sunday was their third straight and fifth in six weeks. Rodgers has put up good numbers, but measured against the standards of his legendary predecessor, his first year in charge has been a bust.

3. The Colts usually start hot and finish cold under coach Tony Dungy. This season has been the opposite. The Colts routed the Bengals 35-3 on Sunday for their sixth straight win. And the road gets better: They get the winless Lions and reeling Jaguars the next two weeks. Indianapolis could be this year’s wild card wonder.

4. Jacksonville officially is toast. The Jaguars lost to the Bears 23-10 on Sunday for their fifth defeat in six games. The Jaguars averaged just 14.4 points in those five losses, and their once-dominant defense allowed at least 21 points in each. So much for the mojo that former Redskins defensive boss Gregg Williams was bringing to Jacksonville.

5. The 49ers have a pulse under new coach Mike Singletary. The Niners upset the Jets, who entered the game leading the AFC East, to improve to 3-3 since Singletary replaced Mike Nolan. The Rams and Seahawks both are two-win disasters sure to change coaches in the offseason, meaning the 49ers will enter next season as the No. 2 team in the NFC West.

NEXT MAN UP

Big injuries from Week 14:

QB Gus Frerotte, Vikings: Frerotte exited in the second quarter with a lower back injury. Former starter Tarvaris Jackson took over and led Minnesota to a 20-16 victory over Detroit.

WR Kevin Curtis, Eagles: The wideout suffered a concussion against the Giants. Jason Avant, Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis played more snaps in Curtis’ absence.

RB Brandon Jacobs, Giants: Jacobs left the game against the Eagles in the third quarter with a knee injury. Derrick Ward replaced him.

RB Peyton Hillis, Broncos: Hillis strained a hamstring against the Chiefs in the second quarter. Hillis is the sixth Broncos running back to get hurt this season.

LB Tedy Bruschi, Patriots: The linebacker injured a knee in the second quarter against the Seahawks and was replaced by newly re-signed Junior Seau.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat about the Week 14 games:

12 Passes caught by league leader Wes Welker in the Patriots’ 24-21 survival game in Seattle. Welker is on the verge of becoming the 12th player to catch at least 100 balls in more than one season. But Welker has scored just one touchdown. Among the 40 players who caught at least 100 passes in a season, only Keyshawn Johnson (one touchdown for the Bucs in 2001) and Larry Centers (two for the Cardinals in 1995) scored fewer than four times.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 14 puts him in the spotlight for next week:

DICK JAURON

The Bills seemed a surefire pick to end their eight-year playoff drought following a 4-0 start. But a 16-3 loss to the AFC East rival Dolphins at “home” in Toronto on Sunday dropped the Bills to 6-7 and left them winless in the division. The offense hasn’t made much of an impact - the Bills averaged just 11.5 points in their AFC East games this season. Jauron holds a 20-25 record in three years in Buffalo, and without a strong finish he might be looking for a job come January.

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