x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The play-off picture begins to take shape

Dream is over for Bears and Eagles while it is the last chance for Giants and Cowboys.

The Green Bay Packers ended the Chicago BEars hopes on Sunday.
The Green Bay Packers ended the Chicago BEars hopes on Sunday.

The Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons are in; the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears are out. The Cincinnati Bengals are closing in on a play-offs berth, while the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders need some help.

All part of a wild closing act to the NFL regular season.

In the NFC, the North Division champions Green Bay, the West winners San Francisco, the South leaders New Orleans, and the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions are in the post-season parade.

Either the Dallas Cowboys or New York Giants will also get there; they meet on Sunday night at the Meadowlands in a winner-take-all match-up for the NFC East title.

The Falcons secured a play-offs spot on Sunday night when Green Bay beat Chicago 35-21 and eliminated the Bears in the process.

So if the Cowboys and Giants are battling for the NFC East title, where does that leave the Eagles, the most disappointing team in the league?

The supposed "dream team" that signed free-agent prizes such as the cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, the defensive end Jason Babin and the receiver Steve Smith need to beat Washington on Sunday to finish at .500.

"If we had gotten into the play-offs, we would have definitely done some damage," Michael Vick, the quarterback, said after the Eagles beat Dallas last weekend.

"It's unfortunate we didn't. That's the game of football. We made some mistakes early and got behind in the win-loss column. But we're just happy we're finishing strong."

Finishing strong and going to the play-offs: the New England Patriots, who have won seven in a row after rallying from a 17-0 deficit to beat Miami 27-24.

It was the 10th time this season a team has come back from at least 17 points to win, the most in an NFL season.

"We never gave up on one another and never said anything negative to one another," the lineman Vince Wilfork said. "Going down 17-0 is a big deficit, but once again this team showed its character."

The Patriots (12-3) can clinch the best record in the AFC - and home-field advantage for the playoffs - by beating Buffalo.

The Packers (14-1) grabbed the home-field edge in the NFC with their win over Chicago. Denver or Oakland will win the AFC West, and Pittsburgh and Baltimore will come out of the AFC North.

That is the simple stuff. The AFC wild-card race, however, can be a head-spinning experience.

The Cincinnati Bengals are in control. But if they lose to Baltimore on Sunday it brings three other teams into play for the final AFC berth: Tennessee, Oakland and the New York Jets.

The Jets, like Philadelphia, are one of the NFL's major flops this year.

For much of the stretch drive, the Jets were in charge of the chase for the second AFC wild card. But after an ugly loss to the Giants, they barely are relevant.

"We play this game to win the Super Bowl," the Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said.

"So even to be talking about that excites me, and I think it excites the team for us to go out there and try to win the Super Bowl. That's what it's about. It's not about nothing else."

But unless everyone in the AFC wild-card scramble loses, Revis and the Jets can forget the Super Bowl.