Today, the NFL finishes up its 2013 season, and as usual, there’s plenty of room for teams to secure playoff spots. That’s even true for the 7-8 Pittsburgh Steelers, but they’re going to need a lot of help. First, though, they have to beat the Browns at home, and that shouldn’t be too difficult a task. The Steelers are only 4-3 at home, but the Browns are 1-6 on the road. Pittsburgh has turned their season around, winning five of the last seven and going 7-4 after an 0-4 start. Steelers win 31-20 … and then hope for help. Miami, Baltimore, and San Diego all have to lose for the Steelers to prevail based on division record.
Last week, I went 6-1 to improve my season record to 47-36-1. Can I run the table today? Let’s find out with these games with playoff implications:
- Packers at Bears (4:25 pm ET, Fox) – Da Bears got crushed last week in Philadelphia, and Green Bay gets Aaron Rodgers back today. Whoever wins becomes division champ; whoever loses sits out the post-season. With Rodgers back in action, I’m picking Green Bay, even on the road, 31-24.
- Panthers at Falcons (1 pm, Fox) – The Falcons are far out of the chase, but Carolina has to win to secure the NFC South championship. If they lose and the Saints win, New Orleans wins the title and the first-round bye, while Carolina has to play next week in the wild-card game. That means the first string will take the field … and the Falcons will depart with another loss. Panthers 27-20.
- Rams at Seahawks (4:25 pm, Fox) – After losing their first home game in two years to the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle has to win today to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as well as their division title. They could be either the #1 seed, the #2 seed, or a wild card depending on results from today. They should be able to take care of business against the competitive Rams, 34-17, assuming they’re not looking too far ahead.
- Eagles at Cowboys (8:30 pm, NBC) – Since there isn’t a Monday night game this week, this is the finale to the season — and it looked good until Tony Romo had to have back surgery this week. Kyle Orton will take over for Romo, and Jon Kitna will back him up, but the two veterans are running into a Philadelphia buzz saw that has won six of their last seven after promoting Nick Foles to the starting QB position. They trounced the Bears last week at home, and should beat the Cowboys this week on the road — in a closer game, but not that close. Eagles 35-20.
- 49ers at Cardinals (4:25 pm, Fox) – San Francisco already has a playoff spot clinched, but could win the NFC West if Seattle loses again and they beat the Cardinals. Arizona has to win to even have a shot at the playoffs, but they also need New Orleans to lose … to Tampa Bay … at home. The two games play concurrently, so the Cardinals will pull out the kitchen sink today. Both teams are hot at the moment, too, but I’ll pick the Cardinals to edge the 49ers at home, 27-24, maybe in OT. They may end up an 11-5 team that sits home for the playoffs.
What about the Steelers? Will they get the help they need? I’ll offer bonus picks for those games:
- Baltimore at Cincinnati (1 pm, CBS) – Baltimore isn’t a road team this year. Cincinnati wins this one.
- Jets at Dolphins (1 pm, CBS) – I’ll be rooting for the Jets, but they’re also not a road team. They need this to go .500 this year, and the Dolphins are a big rival, so let’s let hope prevail in picking the Jets.
- Chiefs at Chargers (4:25 pm, CBS) – Kansas City has nothing to prove today; they can’t improve their seeding, and they’ll have to play on the road next week no matter what as a wild card. They’ll be resting their key players at some point today, while San Diego has been hot. Obviously I’ll be rooting for KC, but San Diego should be able to win here, and get into the playoffs if Baltimore and Miami lose.
And here’s your feel-good NFL story of the week — the grace and sportsmanship of Wade Phillips:
Phillips said the NFL informed the Texans that Broncos receiver Eric Decker‘s second touchdown catch from Manning on Sunday shouldn’t have counted because Decker was juggling the ball.
Phillips acknowledged that the league’s mea culpa wouldn’t reverse Manning’s record, but he couldn’t help but get a dig in before he left.
“Poor Manning,” Phillips said. “He thought he broke the record.”
Come on, man.