At the dawn of the final day of the 2009 NFL schedule, after 15 games, the playoff picture is as clear, or as murky, as you want to make it.
The only sure thing right now, especially in the AFC, is this: If you have a pulse, just win, baby.
In the NFC, all that is left is the jockeying for position between the teams that already have qualified. The six playoff teams are New Orleans, Minnesota, Arizona, Philadelphia, Green Bay and Dallas.
The teams with the most at stake today are the Vikings and the Eagles. With a late-season surge, Philadelphia is in prime position to overtake Minnesota for the second seed in the NFC, thus earning a first-round bye. All the Eagles have to do is win today against the Cowboys.
To hold on to their first-round bye, the Vikings must win and hope that Philadelphia ties or loses. If both the Vikes and Eagles lose today, Arizona can sneak up the rail with a win and claim the first-round bye. The only other permutation of consequence — a Dallas win plus Minnesota and Arizona losses — puts Dallas into the bye position.
The AFC is a mess.
There are still 11 teams out of 16 with a chance to make the playoffs. Division leaders Indianapolis, San Diego, New England and Cincinnati are locked into their positions as the top four seeds. Cleveland, Kansas City, Oakland, Buffalo and Tennessee are out.
That leaves seven teams remaining in the hunt for two wild-card berths. Of all those teams, only two — Baltimore and the Jets — control their own fate. If each wins, all the others can take a hike.
If Denver wins its game, it needs both Baltimore and the Jets to lose. All Denver’s other vague playoff hopes rest with multiple losses by other teams in the mix.
Pittsburgh needs to win and hope for either a Baltimore or Jets loss, plus a Houston loss.
Conversely, Houston, with a win, can emerge with various combinations of Baltimore, Jets and Denver losses.
Jacksonville and Miami each have about the same odds to make the playoffs as you or I have to win the lottery. They must win and almost everybody else must lose. Good luck with that.
It says a lot about just how fragile the detente between Denver head coach Josh McDaniels and star receiver Brandon Marshall had become, that the coach turned so quickly on him this week.
It says last summer’s childish insubordination by Marshall had created a bigger wound than we thought.
It also says: “Get lost Brandon, we don’t want you.”
Now, Denver’s chances to get to the playoffs are precarious at best and Marshall probably wasn’t going to play because he says his hamstring is too sore. But for McDaniels not to give him the benefit of any doubt and hang him out to dry basically says that Marshall no longer is a member of his team.
Marshall says he is hurt and McDaniels is saying (approximately) “bullfeathers.”
This storm blew up the same day Marshall was named to the Pro Bowl and McDaniels made a point of lauding his consistency and dedication in accumulating 101 receptions this year.
A day later, there is no doubt that Marshall’s time is up in Denver.
Taps turned off
Tonight is the last game at Giants Stadium. The Jets and Giants are moving across the parking lot to a new facility next year. The Jets are hosting the Bengals in a game crucial to New York’s playoff hopes. It’s expected to be an emotional event and the Jets are taking no chances. Because it is a night game, because of its playoff significance and because of the potential for things to get out of control with fans snatching the furniture, no alcohol will be sold in the stadium.