Gambling with long odds

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Not much can top the final week of the NFL season for widespread irrelevance and suspect efforts.

In terms of yielding serious contenders, wild-card weekend isn't exactly a sign of big things to come, either.

Since the current playoff format was put in place in 1990, 25 of the 30 Super Bowl participants have been either No. 1 or 2 seeds in their conference.

Not only does such a finish guarantee one home game, it secures a first-round bye.

As compelling as the wildcard weekend can be with its two-games-Saturday, two- games-Sunday format, the divisional round tends to have much greater meaning.

That said, of the eight teams playing this weekend are there any that can make a run?

The logical choice would be the New England Patriots, who are steaming with popularity now that they are healthy and winning. Assuming they get by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night, the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts could be next up.

If they eliminate the Colts for the third season in a row, another road date in Denver against the Broncos could await.

But in their three Super Bowl wins, the Patriots always have had the first-round bye. As sharp as they've looked down the stretch, they're facing a tall order -- as is any team needing to win three games just to get to the championship.

Who else? A month ago, you might have said the Cincinnati Bengals would be worthy of challenging the Colts. But they'll be all out to deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday now that quarterback Carson Palmer is hurting and the defence is struggling.

The Steelers are looking more like a No. 3 seed than a No. 6, riding a four-game winning streak in which the average margin of victory has been three converted touchdowns.

But if you like the Steelers, Jacksonville, Washington Redskins or Carolina Panthers, good luck. A No. 5 or 6 seed never has made it to the Super Bowl.

OH CANADA

For most players on the Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams, the regular-season finale on Sunday was a meaningless night to forget.

For Windsor native O.J. Atogwe, however, it meant a great deal. The rookie Rams safety had an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery that could go a long way toward securing his future in the league.

"Whether it be the last game of the season or the first game, you are always auditioning for somebody," said Atogwe, whose interception late in the fourth quarter of the Rams' 20-10 win nearly was returned for a touchdown. "I took my opportunity and made the best of it."

BAD BILLS

As the axe has swung on a handful of head coaches and it appears Buffalo Bills president Tom Donahoe is tip-toeing uncomfortably, too.

Reports out of Buffalo after the Bills' season-ending loss to the New York Jets suggest Donahoe is done and that coach Mike Mularkey isn't necessarily safe, either.

The Bills haven't made the post-season since the 1999 season. How bad is that? Every team in the AFC other than the Houston Texans has been in since then.

JUST FOR KICKS

If it was Doug Flutie's final play in the NFL, the drop-kick extra point on Sunday was a nice way to go out. Flutie could go down as possibly the final player to use the outdated technique.

After the 28-26 loss to Miami, the Patriots backup explained that he perfected the dropkick when he was an Argonaut and he used to mess around with kicker Mike Vanderjagt prior to games.

"We had a little competition backing up from the 10 to about 40-45 yards," Flutie told the Boston Herald.


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