The Pittsburgh Steelers’ road to a first-round bye in the playoffs runs through Cleveland.  All they have to do is win today’s game against the rival Browns to win the division and get a week to heal before their first playoff game.  The Browns aren’t pushovers, even if they do have a 3-4 home record this season.  They’ll want to get the satisfaction of knocking the Steelers out of the division title and force them to start their playoffs next week on the road.  However, the Steelers have been tough to beat on the road (6-1), and no one expects them to have a letdown against Cleveland.  Steelers over Browns, 27-14.

As is the case every season, the final week is chock full of playoff implications.  Last week, I went 4-3 to take my season to 61-38, matching the number of correct predictions from last season.  Today I’ll focus on critical games for playoff considerations:

  • Buccaneers at Saints – Tampa Bay is 5-2 on the road, and New Orleans is 5-2 at home.  New Orleans needs to win and hope the Falcons lose in order to win the NFC South and get a first round bye, but they’re already in the playoffs.  The Bucs need a win and a whole lot of help to get in.  I think the Buccaneers will be watching the playoffs from home this year after a valiant effort; the Saints should be able to take care of business by beating Tampa Bay 31-21.
  • Bengals at Ravens – Cincinnati just broke a 10-game losing streak with two straight wins over Cleveland and San Diego at home, but they’re going on the road against Baltimore, who has to win to keep pressure on the Steelers for that division title.  I’d love to see the Ravens lose, but it ain’t likely.  Ravens over Bengals, 24-13.
  • Bears at Packers – Da Bears are already in the playoffs and already have a first-round bye.  They can clinch home-field advantage with a win at Green Bay and some help, but don’t expect the Pack to cooperate.  Green Bay can get into the playoffs on their own steam with a win today; otherwise, they need a lot of help.  Aaron Rodgers takes care of business at home; Pack over Bears, 27-20.
  • Giants at Redskins – Two weeks ago, this would have been considered a walkover.  Now New York needs help even if they manage to win, and after the last two weeks, it’s hard to imagine they will.  Fortunately, they’re about to meet the one team even more dysfunctional than they are.  However, Giants have lost two key players, Hakeem Nicks and center Shaun O’Hara for the game, and perhaps even Shanahan’s BasketCaseSkins might pull an upset.  If the Packers win, though, it will be moot either way.  Giants will find a way to win it ugly, 20-17.
  • Rams at Seahawks – The winner of this game will either be the first 8-8 playoff team in several years, or the first team with a losing record to ever make the playoffs in a non-strike year, respectively.  Seattle will play at home where they’ve done well (4-3), while the Rams play poorly on the road (2-5).  Seattle started off the season 4-2 and have gone 2-7 since; St. Louis has won three of their last five, including their previous two road games in Denver and Arizona.  Expect the Rams to rescue the NFL’s reputation and win this one to go 8-8 and win the NFC West, 24-21, perhaps by more if Matt Hasselbeck doesn’t play for Seattle.
  • Titans at Colts – It’s hard to believe that Peyton Manning has to take it to the last game of the season to get into the playoffs, but here we are.  Indy controls its destiny; a win here clinches the AFC South.  If Indy loses, Jacksonville still has to win their game against the Texans to win the division, but with Maurice Jones-Drew out for the Jags, that’s not terribly likely.  Indy should take care of business at home against the 6-9 Titans, who are 3-4 on the road.  Colts over Titans, 31-20.