Advertisement

Final week of NFL regular season

BOSTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Who could figure on Ricky Williams winning the NFL rushing title, but the Miami Dolphins missing the playoffs or reigning Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady leading the NFL in touchdown passes but failing to reach the postseason?

These are some of the many possibilities that could occur during this final weekend of the NFL season.

Advertisement

The Dolphins (9-6) have a chance to win the AFC East title for the second time in three years Sunday when they visit Brady and the New England Patriots (8-7), who are in danger of becoming the first Super Bowl champion to miss the playoffs since the 1999 Denver Broncos.

Those Broncos had to deal with the retirement of John Elway but the Patriots returned virtually all of their starters from last season.

"We can only focus on trying to beat a tough division rival on Sunday," Brady said. "Everything else is out of our control, so we can't worry about the other teams. We just have to win our game."

The AFC is a scramble with nine teams, including six at 8-7, competing for three playoff spots. The NFC is not as complex with three teams battling for two wild card berths.

Advertisement

The Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts (9-6) control their playoff destinies in the AFC. But the other six 8-7 teams - New England, the New York Jets, Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City and San Diego - and the Baltimore Ravens (7-8) must rely on various scenarios to make the postseason.

The Atlanta Falcons (9-5-1) and New York Giants (9-6) can dictate their own playoff fates in the NFC while the New Orleans Saints (8-7) hope for a second chance after losing control of their destiny last week with a loss at Cincinnati (2-13).

All of the division titles have been decided, except the AFC East, which can be won by Miami, New England or the Jets. All three also are in the running for a wild card berth.

Miami acquired Williams in the offseason for just this situation - a pivotal cold-weather December game in which the running game could make the difference. So far, Williams has delivered for Miami, rushing for a league-leading 1,668 yards,

The Patriots have relied too heavily on Brady, who is tied for the NFL lead with 27 touchdown passes.

While a win assures the Dolphins the division title, a victory by the Patriots will force them to play the waiting game. If the Jets beat the Green Bay Packers (12-3) in a 4:15 p.m. EST game Sunday, New York captures the division crown via a three-way tiebreaker, leaving the Pats only a wild card chance.

Advertisement

But the Jets must contend with three-time MVP Brett Favre, who loves the cold weather and is trying to secure a first-round bye or perhaps homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the Packers - if the Philadelphia Eagles (12-3) lose Saturday to the Giants.

However, if the Dolphins beat the Patriots, the Jets will be relegated to battling for a wild card berth. All of those scenarios for New York hinge on the Browns losing Sunday to the Atlanta Falcons in another key interconference matchup.

"This has been the most complicated it's ever been," Jets running back Curtis Martin said. "But I know if New England beats Miami, we win the division if we win. That's all I need to know. It's a wacky situation."

One of the many scenarios that will get the Browns into the playoffs for the first time in eight years is a win Sunday over Atlanta coupled with victories by Miami and Denver, which hosts Arizona (5-10).

But the Falcons may need to win to clinch a playoff berth if the Giants defeat Philadelphia. A loss by either the Giants or Falcons will open the door for the Saints, who host Carolina (6-9).

Advertisement

The Colts do not need any help to make the postseason in Tony Dungy's first year as coach. All they have to do is beat the Jacksonville Jaguars (6-9), who have lost four of their last five games.

But Denver, San Diego and Kansas City may as well post "Help Wanted" signs. The Broncos have a weak opponent in Arizona but need Cleveland to lose and either losses by New England and the Jets or a Miami loss and a Jets' win.

The Chargers host the Seattle Seahawks (6-9) and need a win along with five of the other 8-7 teams losing. The Chiefs meet the Oakland Raiders (10-5), who are trying to seal home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Even if the Chiefs upset Oakland, they still would need Denver to lose to Arizona as part of their combinations.

The Ravens are the only sub-.500 team with a postseason chance, albeit paper thin. Baltimore must beat AFC North champion Pittsburgh (9-5-1), then hope all the 8-7 teams lose.

The AFC South champion Tennessee Titans (10-5) visit their former home Sunday when they play the Houston Texans. The Titans will have a chance at clinching home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if the Raiders lose.

Advertisement

Sunday night, the NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) again will rest starting quarterback Brad Johnson, who is bothered by a sore lower back, when they meet the Chicago Bears (4-11). The Bucs could be playing for a first-round bye if the Packers lose to the Jets.

The final Monday night game of the season features the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers (10-5) and the injury-riddled St. Louis Rams (6-9).

Latest Headlines