Last week of the 2013 season. Green Bay at Chicago for the NFC North title. Philadelphia at Dallas for the NFC East title. Saints are win-and-in versus Tampa Bay. Carolina and Seattle could both win their divisions and get the top two seeds, or they could both end up in the wild card round. Four teams still in the mix for the last AFC wild card spot. Six NFC teams with a chance to get into the postseason.
Roger Goodell and the TV networks are quite pleased. Another slam-bang finish on a glorious all-day football fest to close out the season. Eight teams are in the playoffs and ten more still have a shot. Meaning football is still relevant to 18 out 32 NFL franchises on the last weekend of a sixteen game season.
Locally, the 49ers have already qualified for the playoffs, but their seeding could be one, two, five, or six. Most probably, a win at red-hot Arizona will give them the five seed, a loss will drop them to the sixth seed. They’ll be playing the following weekend at either Chicago, Green Bay, Philadelphia, or Dallas.
The Eagles look like the most dangerous team of this possible foursome. A win over the Kyle Orton Cowboys would give them the third seed. They’d be playing at home against the sixth seed. That could match up Jim Harbaugh vs Chip Kelly, just like it was a Stanford vs Oregon game from their college rivalry days. My guess is Kelly would rather face New Orleans than pit his star RB LeSean McCoy against Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman or the stout defense of Arizona.
It’s difficult to imagine Dallas or Chicago as serious post season competitors. Then again, without Tony Romo bringing his weird jinx mojo to the scene, maybe Orton will channel the 2011 Tim Tebow and shock the world. Green Bay is a bit scary, simply because they dicked around all year without Aaron Rodgers, but the other NFC North teams stumble-bummed so badly that the Packers are right there ready to take the title with an 8-7-1 record and Rodgers is back in the saddle to deliver it. That’s exactly the weird sort of lucky we-don’t-belong-but-we’re-here karma that the Ravens rode to the title last year.
In the AFC, everyone will be assuming a Denver vs New England championship shoot out, but the sleeper team is probably the Indianapolis Colts. They had a mid-season stumble, but have managed to beat Denver, SF, Seattle, and KC this year. They seem to play best against the best. It would not be a stunner to see them go all the way to the SB.
Arizona is pretty full of itself now, after taking down the Seahawks in Seattle. Their HC Bruce Arians has already said Seattle is a better team than the Niners because Russell Wilson is a better QB than Colin Kaepernick. Their DE Calais Campbell claims they’re the best team in the NFC. Their star CB Patrick Peterson says Michael Crabtree isn’t as good as he was before his Achilles injury, when, it might be noted, Crabtree routinely beat Peterson like a drum whenever the two teams played. One would guess the Cardinals are quite confident they will whip the Niners this Sunday. We shall see. But kudos to them for attempting to get the 49ers hyped up for what is more or less a meaningless game.
The Niners started the season with a win, then two losses, then five straight wins, then two losses, and another five straight wins. Poetically speaking, a loss Sunday would give them a symmetrical season. And might be better prep for the playoffs than a win. Or not. Who knows? Screw it. Go Niners!