For NFL Teams, Postseason Offers Little Chance For Relaxation

Dec 27, 2013
Originally published on December 27, 2013 6:15 pm
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In the National Football League, it is the final week of the regular season and that's usually a time for teams to lick their wounds, rest their starters or just contemplate next year, but not this season. The playoff picture is in such upheaval that many teams are fighting for their postseason lives. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us to talk about what's at stake this week. And hiya, Mike.


SIEGEL: It may be easier to start with which playoff positions are known. Which teams can relax going into this weekend's games?

PESCA: Oh, not teams, team. Kansas City Chiefs are the fifth seed in the AFC and that is the only position that is settled. No, there's - the Bronco's for instance know they're going to get a by, but they don't know if they're one or two seed, same situation with Seattle. In fact, in the NFC, there's no division winner named. That's the latest this has ever happened.

And by the way, the NFL wanted it that way, that's why they scheduled all these division games for the last week of the season. It's kind of exciting.

SIEGEL: OK. So who's in the position to advance if they win on Sunday?

PESCA: Right. So there are two games that are really like playoff games themselves. Dallas is playing the Eagles and in that game we just found out that Tony Romo, the Dallas quarterback will be out, season-ending surgery. This game - how that effected the odds is now the Eagles are about a touchdown favorite. You know, before the Eagles even played last week, they were a little bit of an underdog.

Also Chicago plays Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers, the Packers quarterback is in for the first time in weeks. Again, that's a one team will play, one team will - both team will advance and the other team will go home.

SIEGEL: So those are both NFC games. How does the AFC look?

PESCA: Yes. Well, no one controls their own destiny so they're Calvinists over there in the AFC. So it's complicated. Miami, probably, is in the best position, but they still need - even if they win, even if the Dolphins win, they still need the Ravens to lose. The Ravens are in OK position, but they still need some other teams to lose. Even the Steelers could make it if there's a five-way tie.

The Ravens, for instance, the Ravens could win and be eliminated from the playoffs, but they could lose and get into the playoffs. And if they tie, they play Ball State in the Go Daddy Bowl.

SIEGEL: OK. Who at this point would appear to be the Super Bowl favorite?

PESCA: Well, it is very hard to say, to be honest. And I think that the Seattle Seahawks right now are putting it all together as the number one team in the NFC. But I have done a study. There is this excellent website called Football Outsiders and they give a breakdown of the odds like no other. And I trust them. They incorporate not just the team's record, but who they played and the record of every other team that every one of those teams play.

They do great odds and they're almost never right. So what this means is there is such chance and variation in the NFL and it's one of the things that makes the NFL, you know, so interesting, or the playoffs so interesting. I mean, remember, throughout the year, it looked like the Denver Broncos were rolling up these great scores and were on a way to blow away all opponents. But one or two losses and it looks like the Broncos are quite vulnerable.

Now, right now, everyone is saying that Seattle has no vulnerabilities, but, you know, of course they do. It's one of the great things about the NFL. There's only 16 games. Anything can happen as go into this last weekend, we're really seeing that.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you about something you said earlier. Romo, the Cowboys' quarterback, you said we learned today he's not going to play. Actually, ESPN reported several days ago that he'd had this injury and he wouldn't play and the Cowboys kept on talking about how they didn't know, maybe he'd be ready, maybe he wouldn't be ready. Was that all a gamesmanship or is it really been a few days - taken a few days to figure out kind of health he's in?

PESCA: I think people who looked at his injury, which was a herniated disc in the back and the severity that he felt it, were just saying, how could he possibly play. But with the Cowboys, you know, at least still maintaining the fiction or to look at them optimistically holding out hope, you're right, that forces the Eagles to prepare for a certain set of plays now that they'll be facing the Cowboys' backup, maybe the Eagles lost a little time.

But in reality, the Dallas Cowboys are just really, really unhappy not to have their number one starter in there.

SIEGEL: OK. You've got a tough job to do this weekend, but somebody's got to do it, Mike.

PESCA: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Watch all those games. Mike Pesca talking with us about the NFL from New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.