Skip to main content

A logical guess at wild-card slate, plus 10 things to watch for Sunday


My Best Guess Dept.: So the big question in the past few days, with the least amount of playoff drama entering the last week of the regular season of all time (or so it seems), is about the schedule for the first weekend of the playoffs. Hey, you're bored, and you love the NFL, and you want to plan your wild-card weekend ... I guess.

This is how I see it, pending, of course, normal things happening like Atlanta beating Carolina and the Packers winning the NFC's sixth seed and the Steelers holding off Baltimore for the AFC's second seed:

Saturday, NBC. Early: New Orleans at NFC West winner. Saturday, NBC. Late: Baltimore at Indianapolis.Sunday, CBS. Early: New York Jets at Kansas City. Sunday, Fox. Late: Green Bay at Philadelphia.

Remember a couple of things. Last year, the NFL gave NBC what was on paper the best game, even though it turned out to be a dud -- Philadelphia against Dallas. Even though the Arizona-Green Bay wild-card game the next day turned out to be the game of the postseason, I don't think the NFL would force FOX to take the game involving the dud NFC West winner. Thus, NBC -- which has to take one AFC and one NFC game -- would get the game involving the NFC West team.

So in my scenario, FOX gets the best NFC game, which, of course, is the Packers versus Eagles. The other one? Just a guess, but my feeling is the NFL has to give NBC its preferred game on Saturday for the prime-timer. And NBC would want Ray Lewis versus Peyton Manning over the Jets against the upstart Chiefs.

Sunday night, you'll see if my guess is right.


This is the weekend we should all be screaming about playoff seeding. God knows if you've read me or listened to my screeds on it, I believe the NFL has to change playoff seeding. There is every reason to give the division winner an automatic berth, but no reason to give a bad division a home playoff game. On Sunday night, the Seahawks -- 6-9, losers of three straight by an average of 19 points a game -- have to win one home game against a 7-8 team to HOST a playoff game. I mean, when would we ever be able to make a better point about how messed up it is to guarantee a division winner a home playoff game.

To me, it makes no sense that a 12-4 wild-card team (the Saints, potentially) plays at a 7-9 division winner (Seattle, potentially). But that's what will happen if the Saints finish as the top wild-card team and the Seahawks win the NFC West and finish as the fourth-seeded team in the NFL.

But the more I think about it, the more I think the NFL's going to do nothing about it for the next three years at least. Here's why:

1. With the game in such a state of flux with the labor talks, I don't see a rules change with this gravitas being passed. I can hear the discussion now. The Competition Committee this offseason is going to talk about how there are bigger fish to fry than worry about the once-in-a-while injustice of a bad division winner hosting a very good wild-card team.

2. The specter of an 18-game season will give every owner pause before voting for a change to the playoff policy. Who knows about the uncertainty of the 18-game season, for instance, if it comes into play for 2012 and beyond? Will teams vote for a different set of rules for the playoffs? Seven playoff teams per conference? I've learned this covering the NFL: When there's uncertainty, there's inaction. And that's what I see happening here. Nothing. I mean, no change to the playoff picture until the establishment understands how the bigger schedule is going to impact everything.

3. Not enough teams/owners have been affected by it. The Colts are the only team to truly have been disadvantaged (I was going to use a stronger word) by the fact that division winners get an automatic home game. Two years ago, the 12-4 wild-card Colts had to travel to the 8-8 AFC West-winning Chargers in the first round of the playoffs. Although the Colts beat the Chargers in San Diego during the regular season, then had four more wins than San Diego during the season, the rules mandated Indy traveling west for the game. But the Colts never complained, nor did they utter a peep after the game after losing narrowly in overtime. Rules generally get changed when some team gets jobbed. The Colts did, but said nothing. And no one else has been jobbed badly by the system. So no one has raised much of a stink about the rule ... though they should.

So when you hear all weekend about the prospect of changing the rule, be aware that the rule is a bad one and should be fixed. But in this era's NFL, don't expect anything to change. I'd be stunned if it did, with the labor negotiations uber-occupying everyone's mind in the league.

Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis.

Kid, the franchise drafted you first overall to win play-in games for the playoffs. The Rams just didn't think it'd be in year one. Still, the Rams are the better team Sunday night, and it's because of the St. Louis offense. Bradford's a better bet to play well than the shaky Charlie Whitehurst of the Seahawks, and Steven Jackson's worlds better than a Seattle run game contending to be the worst in franchise history statistically. "Been an amazing year so far, but we've got more to do,'' Bradford said the other day. A turnover-less, 65-percent passing night by Bradford in the din of Qwest Field would be enough to get it done.

Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, St. Louis (number 86).

Say it three times fast. The Rams call him "Illinois Mike'' and there's little doubt Sam Bradford will look for him often Sunday night. He's become the best pass-catching receiver in the intermediate area for the Rams. He missed four games with a high left ankle sprain early in the season, and he's missed four more with a high right ankle sprain now. He's been practicing this week, and the Rams think he has a good shot to play Sunday night. If he goes, he'll be a key guy for Bradford.

Joe Webb, QB, Minnesota, at Detroit:

And all of a sudden, the Vikings scratch their heads and wonder if Webb might really compete for the starting job next summer.

1. John Fox's last (sort of) hurrah. "I'm not really in a reflective mood at this stage," Fox said this week. "But I'll be able to walk out with my head high and be able to look in the mirror." Good for him. He took a team that never had a franchise quarterback to a Super Bowl and the playoffs two other times, and played the game the right way, and coached with class.

2. How the Bears play in Green Bay. What are the chances Carolina beats Atlanta, in Atlanta? Five percent? Assume in the early time slot Atlanta wins. In the late slot Sunday afternoon, Chicago would have absolutely nothing to play for. The Bears would be locked in at number two in the NFC playoffs. And I don't care how passionately Lovie Smith or Lance Briggs might be about playing a game against Green Bay all-out. It makes no sense to think the Bears' motivation would top Green Bay's.

3. Tucker Carlson to be ridiculed on every pregame show. I think you can figure out why.

4. Barack Obama to be respected on every pregame show. People, all he was doing was telling the owner of a sports franchise he appreciated an ex-con getting a second chance, which benefits the hundreds of thousands of ex-cons in the United States. That's all.

5. Trent Baalke to be named the 49ers GM -- and to try to get Jim Harbaugh to be his coach. I think that's the best chance for the Niners ... even though it seems like after Harbaugh coaches Stanford in its bowl game Monday night, Michigan will come calling. Aggressively.

6. The Giants trying to recover from disasterville. New York's allowed 73 points in the last 63 minutes. There's only one way to go from there, other than on the way to get the coach fired.

7. The NFC West Championship. Quite looking forward to this one, actually. St. Louis-Seattle. I'm not even going to ridicule it ... unless Seattle wins.

8. Jim Tomsula coaching his only NFL game. Cool stuff. The guy who 15 years ago was selling carpet and 10 years ago was coaching in NFL Europe gets rewarded with his one (and probably only) shot ever to coach an NFL game, against the Cards on Sunday by the Bay.

9. Rex Grossman and Eli Manning duel in a big game for both. Grossman tries to show Mike Shanahan he doesn't have to go draft a big-name quarterback in April. Manning tries to show the Giants he's still the man who won the Super Bowl three years ago and not the interception machine he's been lately. Jobs hang in the balance.

10. The Colts try to win a division against Tennessee with half their roster in sick bay. It's a sign of the resiliency of the Colts and the badness of the other three division teams that Indy is on the verge of winning the South for the 91st straight year. They have to beat the Titans, or hope for a Jag loss to Houston, to win and lock up the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs.