By Arnie Leshin
Thanks to the Indianapolis Colts stumbling on the road again, this time at the dismal Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Big Ben gets to play another game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That’s correct, Indy was a shoo-in to make the American Football League playoffs as a wild card out of the South until it arrived in Jacksonville and was handed a humiliating 26-11 setback to the 3-14 Jags who just happen to get the No. 1 college draft pick for the second straight time.
So that scratched the Colts from the post-season and put Pitt (9-7) into the playoffs as the 7th seed, where it will play at 2nd-seeded Kansas City (12-5), the runner-up last year to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL championship game. Now the Bucs (13-4) are the 2nd-seed in the NFC and will play host to the 7th-seeded Philadelphia Eagles (9-8).
Despite Philly being dominated by the 3rd-seeded Dallas Cowboys (12-5) in a 51-26 rout Saturday, it still snuck in, while Dallas gets to be home against the 6th-seeded San Francisco 49ers (10-7). Then it’s the 4th-seeded Las Vegas Raiders (12-6) hosting the 5th-seeded Arizona Cardinals (11-6). In another Saturday game, it was the Chiefs getting past the Denver Broncos, 28-4.
The top seed in the NFC are the Green Bay Packers, who are 13-4 after being stunned 17-10 at the Detroit Lions Sunday, but the Pack held the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay, and thus get the first-round bye.
The surprising Tennessee Titans finished the regular season at 12-5 and as No. 1 with a bye in the AFC. Then there’s the 3rd-seeded Buffalo Bills (11-6) winning their second straight East title by hammering the visiting New York Jets and will be home to the East runner-up New England Patriots, 10-7 and the 6th-seed.
The Pats will be the first Bill Belichick-coached team in 17 years to enter the playoffs as a wild card after 17 seasons as the East champion. The other AFC tilt has the 5th-seeded Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) at the 4th-seeded Cincinnati Bengals, who are also 10-7.
Cincinnati and Vegas and Buffalo and New England play Saturday, the Bengals and Raiders in the afternoon and the Bills and Patriots at night. Sunday night will find Pittsburgh and KC taking the field.
In the NFC, it will be San Fran versus the Cowboys Sunday afternoon and the Eagles and Bucs playing Sunday night. On Monday night, Jan. 17, the Cardinals and Raiders will go at it.
And so it’s Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Dallas and the Rams as the top four in the NFC, and in the AFC the top four are Tennessee, Kansas City, Buffalo and Cincinnati. None of these regular-season finishes can count out the remaining teams who gained the post-season, for upsets have been known to occur.
The two New York franchises that play in the New Jersey meadow lands — the Giants and Jets — once again had hapless seasons, with both finishing at 4-13. And with Detroit turning back Green Bay, it cost it a first-round pick to Jacksonville, which also beat out the Jets for that spot last year.
Heading into the playoffs, it’s Dallas with the most points scored, 530, right behind is is conference rival Tampa Bay with 511, and in the AFC, Buffalo’s 483 has been the most points scored, three more than KC.
In points allowed in the NFC, it’s the Rams yielding 372, one more than the Bucs, and in the AFC, the Bengals have given up the most, 376, a dozen more than the Chiefs, and the most in the entire NFL.
All this was accomplished in the regular season and the playoffs usually bring other outcomes.