Y’know, I’m a little superstitious when it comes to sports. See, I’ve got certain pre- and post-game meals that I eat when my team’s on a roll. And after every single team ahead of Seattle in the Wild Card chase lost in Week 13, I figured I should have the same thing for lunch yesterday as I did last Sunday: a foot-long pizza sub, toasted, on Italian bread from Subway. Here’s the thing, though. You know how you have certain toppings that you always get on your sandwich every time you eat at Subway? Well last week, they were out of pickles, one of my regular toppings. But they obviously got a pickle shipment in between last Sunday and yesterday, cuz when I ordered my Week 14 sub, I put pickles on it, without even thinking. So when Atlanta erased a 23-7 deficit to beat Carolina and Minnesota QB Joe Webb lost the ball with the team driving in for a game-winning score against Detroit, I knew exactly what went wrong. It was the fuckin’ pickles!
In all seriousness, having two teams at 8-5 in the NFC Wild Card race puts the Hawks between a rock and a hard place. Not only do they hafta win all their remaining games, starting with tonite against St. Louis, they need either Detroit or Atlanta to lose twice, and both the Bears and the Giants and/or Cowboys to lose at least once. There are also those pesky Arizona Cardinals at 6-7 who beat San Fran yesterday after shocking the ‘Boys the week before. But the Hawks travel to both Chicago and to ‘Zona in their last three games, so they can help their own cause, provided that Arizona hasn’t lost another game by Week 17. They also host the Niners on Christmas Eve, so it’s not an easy remaining slate. But even if Seattle was to pull off the somewhat-improbable, they still hafta count on a couple teams to lose.
The Falcons should probably finish with 10 wins, as they host Jacksonville this Thursday, and have another home date remaining against Tampa Bay. Granted, the Saints on the road is certainly no gimme, but the Birds can basically clinch a berth with a win in three days’ time. (Keep in mind that they barely beat Seattle in Week 4, which I presume would give ‘em the tiebreaker over the Hawks.) For Atlanta to lose two of its last three would require at least one major upset. That’s why I’ve already penciled them in for a playoff spot.
The Lions, on the other hand, don’t have it that easy at all. They travel to Oakland and Green Bay, while also hosting the not-dead-yet San Diego Chargers in Week 16. And this is a team that barely hung on to beat a 2-11 Vikings team quarterbacked by Joe Webb (who?) for most of the second half. Losing two of their remaining games, if not all three, is certainly not out of the question.
As for the two NFC East teams sitting at 7-6, neither has a clear path to the playoffs. The Giants don’t play another road game, per se, but they do face the neighbouring Jets in Week 16, followed by a rematch with the Cowboys on New Year’s Day. The Battle of New York should be a good one, with the J-E-T-S currently holding down the last Wild Card spot in the AFC. And I wouldn’t count out a Redskins team that pushed the Patriots to the brink last week, either. (And yes, they also beat the Seahawks…)
Dallas has a slightly easier route, as they travel to Tampa and host Philly before taking on the Giants in Week 17. Though I don’t particularly care who wins the division, I hope that both teams head into the final week at 8-7, meaning that the loser won’t win the Wild Card. Considering the Cowboys’ struggles in the clutch, I think that scenario is at least somewhat likely.
As for the Bears, well, the Hawks will hafta help themselves by beating Chicago at Soldier Field next week. This task becomes a lot easier considering that without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, the Bears have only scored 13 points in their last two games combined. The problem is that they haven’t given up more than 13 in either of those losses. While a couple touchdowns should do the trick, Seattle isn’t as strong defensively as KC or Denver–nor do they have Tim Tebow at quarterback. This is also a team that lost 6-3 at Cleveland–Cleveland!–in Week 7. I suspect this game will have a similar score; let’s just hope we kick more field goals.
But first, we gotta get past the Rams. Not such a tricky task, since we went into their building and beat ‘em 24-7 just three weeks ago. A decent showing should dismiss them again, but let’s not take ‘em too lightly, eh? Put it this way, if Seattle loses to St. Louis this evening, I shall never speak of the Seahawks again…
…at least, not until next season.