By Shannon Shelton Miller, former sports reporters for the Detroit Free Press
The Dec. 10 edition of Monday Night Football featured a matchup of two of the top teams in the American Football Conference. At least that’s how it was billed — the stalwart New England Patriots and the surprising Houston Texans, both division leaders, would face off on the NFL’s brightest stage in what many expected to be a competitive contest.
Instead, veteran quarterback Tom Brady showed why he remains one of the best in the game, and coolly led the Patriots to a 42-14 victory.
The Texans (11-2) are still tops in the AFC, and clinched a spot in the playoffs along with the Patriots (10-3) and Denver Broncos (10-3). But the Patriots’ win – their seventh in a row – again proved the value of a winning quarterback like Brady. The Broncos also are riding a veteran quarterback, Peyton Manning, to success this year – they’ve won eight straight games.
Three more playoff spots are up for grabs in the AFC. Watch the battle in the AFC North; where the Baltimore Ravens are 9-4, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-6 and the Cincinnati Bengals were 7-6 before their game on Thursday, Dec. 13. The Ravens could clinch a spot this weekend with a win, and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South are also 9-4 and one win away from the playoffs. Assuming Baltimore and Indianapolis capture expected playoff spots, which team will get the final bid?
In the National Football Conference (NFC), the Atlanta Falcons are playoff-bound with an 11-2 record and clinched the NFC South. All other spots and division titles are still in contention, but some should be settled this weekend. The San Francisco 49ers are 9-3, lead the NFC West, and could capture a playoff spot with a win against the Patriots this weekend. Logjams exist in the NFC East with the New York Giants (8-5), the Washington Redskins (7-6) and the Dallas Cowboys (7-6) all still in the race, and the Green Bay Packers (9-4), Chicago Bears (8-5) and Minnesota Vikings (7-6) all alive in the NFC North. The Packers could win the NFC North though and a playoff spot by beating Chicago this weekend.
Don’t rule out Seattle in the NFC West at 8-5 for a playoff spot – led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks are having a nice season.
Three more weeks remain in the regular season, and the playoffs begin Jan. 5 with wild card playoff games (more on those in a future article). Super Bowl XLVII takes place Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
Don’t have plans on Sunday? Head to your favorite sports bar to watch most of the games and talk playoff NFL scenarios with other fans – hopefully one of your teams is still alive!