Bush-league mentality

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Whether angling for the right to draft Reggie Bush or resting Tom Brady to help get a softer playoff assignment, an NFL team is never going to admit it isn't playing to win.

The league won't hear of it and it's against the football mindset to merely suggest it.

But with games in the final week of the 2005 season ranging from nothing on the line, "to win and you're in," to desperation, the motivation will vary wildly from game to game.

Some teams are battling for the playoffs and three clubs -- Houston, San Francisco and New Orleans -- are tussling for the basement and a shot at USC star running back Bush.

"I am not sure how anybody treats a regular-season game like an exhibition game," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said.

"You have to put a product out on the field."

The strength of the product Shanahan fields for today's game against the San Diego Chargers, not to mention that comment, will be one that could be up for debate.

With the AFC West and a first-round bye wrapped up, there is nothing for the Broncos to play for. So Shanahan plans to sit running back Mike Anderson, linebacker Al Wilson and defensive end Courtney Brown against the Chargers, who have been eliminated.

Tomorrow, the New England Patriots have a different dilemma for their home game against the Miami Dolphins.

Though a win could get the two-time defending champs the third seed in the AFC, it has been argued that finishing fourth and getting a first-round date with Jacksonville would be advantageous.

Since they already are in, there also is the issue of keeping as many starters as healthy as possible.

A Patriots win combined with a Cincinnati loss would give New England the No. 3 slot and mean either Pittsburgh or Kansas City would be their wild-card weekend opponent.

Not that he would say otherwise, but Pats quarterback Brady said his team would never consider such jockeying.

"I don't understand that," Brady said of rolling over for the Jags. "It's a team that's 11-4, I don't know why Jacksonville gets no respect, but they've beaten some good teams this year.

"You play whomever's there. In order to win the Super Bowl, you've got to play some great football."

TEN AND OUT

Since the NFL moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, three teams have finished with a 10-6 record and not made the post-season. That number could be equalled this season alone depending on how things shake down this weekend.

"Most of the time, 10 wins gets you like the fourth seed, third seed," Cowboys receiver Keyshawn Johnson said.

BUCS NOT STOPPING

Ronde Barber heard the talk that his Tampa Bay Bucs weren't supposed to be playoff contenders. And like the rest of his teammates just laughed it off.

"The experts aren't experts unless they get it right at the end of the year," the Pro Bowl cornerback said.

Though they haven't wrapped up a spot yet, the Bucs have a relatively easy and straightforward task needing only to defeat the visiting New Orleans Saints (who are 13 1/2-point underdogs) to get in.

With a win, the Bucs (10-5) would play their first home playoff game since their Super Bowl run three seasons ago.


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