Playoffs still puzzling

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

NFL teams and their fans know better than to think this way, but the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars seem to have the easiest route to AFC wild-card spots.

So how's that for the kiss of death?

The Jags need to win just one of their games against lightweights Houston and Tennessee to qualify. The Steelers likely need to beat both the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.

However, rarely does the NFL follow the script that closely, which is sure to fuel the craziness over the next two weeks.

Assuming the Jaguars win today to clinch, they'll be in a position next week to compromise the Steelers chances.

Should the Jags lose their final game against the Titans, it opens the possibility for a three-way logjam at 11-5, bringing the San Diego Chargers into the picture.

In that scenario, the Steelers would be the team on the outside looking in. And if the Jags want to get cute about choosing their first-round opponent, who knows how ambitious they might be?

If everything goes according to form -- and the point spread -- the Chargers will be the victims, not that it will be easy to get in that position anyway.

To even get in that mix, the Chargers must win on the road this weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs and at home to the Denver Broncos.

Unless, of course, the Oakland Raiders knock off the Raiders this weekend, which could allow the Chargers to claim the AFC West.

In other words, we best expect the unexpected.

BOMBING OUT?

As successful as the New York Giants have been in recent weeks, the stout defence and the running game of Tiki Barber have masked the struggles of quarterback Eli Manning.

The second-year quarterback has had his ability to throw a deep ball questioned.

And if he thought it was tough getting sacked seven times last week by the Chiefs, he could be in for an even rougher ride today against the Washington Redskins.

"My arm feels fine," Manning said, heading into a game with massive NFC East playoff implications. "You still have to be aggressive, but if something's ugly and not there, you can't force it in."

BAD BOYS?

After losing three of their past four, talk of the Dallas Cowboys making the playoffs has lessened considerably.

Another of the games that have significant playoff implications for both teams, the Cowboys (8-6) are on the road against the Carolina Panthers (10-4) today.

No Dallas team ever has started 7-3, as this one did, and not made the playoffs.

Coach Bill Parcells said he isn't exactly brimming with confidence after last week's 35-7 loss to the Redskins, the biggest ever to their NFC East rival.

"Why would I be, after watching that?" Parcells said.

NOT SO SLICK, VICK

Atlanta Falcons fans may be getting weary of waiting for quarterback Mike Vick to live up to the considerable hype that has surrounded him since he was drafted.

Vick's 13 touchdown passes this year barely outnumbers his 12 interceptions and he is hitting just 54% of his attempts and struggling on third down.

Vick doesn't like hearing about it, either. While talking about the Falcons (8-6) must-win against the host Bucs (9-5), Vick slammed down the phone while on a conference call with Tampa media.

"You're still saying it's tough for me to handle that defence after what I did to them the last time?" said Vick, who threw for 306 yards against Tampa in a 30-27 loss Nov. 20.

"Is that what you're saying? Is that what you're asking me? You're asking for an explanation for that?"

Click.


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