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Thursday, December 17, 2009
Mailbag: Various playoff scenarios

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Victor from Avondale, Ariz., writes: An interesting scenario could play out. If the season ended today, the Cards would host the Packers in the first round in Glendale. Their final regular-season opponnet is also the Packers, in Glendale.

What kind of impact would that have? Would the Packers stay in Glendale rather than travel back and forth? They would have the benefit of missing out on jet lag and have better weather for practicing. Assuming both teams have their seeds locked up, I see it being a glorified preseason game (by the way, we had one of those in August in -- you guessed it -- Glendale!).

Let's say the Packers need to fight for their playoff spot, but the Cards are locked up. Do they try to win the game without revealing too much early, hoping the Cards will be resting key players? Do they go all-out, risking using plays that could be used against them the following week? Do they go against their trends in order to set up a playoff victory the following week?

I guess the same questions could be applied to the Cardinals. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. Perhaps you can get your NFC North counterpart to chime in as well.

Mike Sando: Bravo to Victor for pointing this out in a mailbag item dated Dec. 8 (I have a hard time keeping up with the mailbag and would advise reaching out through more immediate means, such as the comments sections or via Facebook).

John Clayton and I have been discussing this potential scenario lately. It is pretty likely to happen, I think.

Both teams would probably play a glorified preseason game in Week 17 if playoff seeding were already set. I could see key starters playing limited snaps and players with nagging injuries not playing at all. This seems like the most plausible scenario. The Cardinals will clinch the division if they beat the Lions and Rams over the next two weeks. They could clinch earlier if they beat the Lions and the Eagles beat the 49ers.

Either way, Arizona will probably have nothing to gain from a seeding standpoint heading into Week 17 because Philadelphia appears likely to hold the No. 3 spot. The Eagles have better overall and conference records than the Cardinals.

I do not know how the Packers would approach back-to-back road games at Arizona. The Week 17 game is Jan. 3. The playoff game would be Jan. 9 or 10. Teams do not like to alter their routines without good reason.

I was thinking of another scenario, this one less likely. What if the Cardinals and 49ers met in the wild-card round? It's possible. That is one matchup Arizona might like to avoid. To make it happen, the 49ers would have to prevail as the fifth seed in a multi-team tiebreaker. It's possible for the 49ers to beat out the Packers and other teams for the fifth seed because conference record trumps a single head-to-head outcome -- Packers over 49ers, for instance -- in multi-team tiebreakers.


Joe from Brooklyn writes: How does Charles Woodson make the MVP Watch list and not Darrelle Revis? Revis is having, if not as good, a better season than Woodson. An MVP is most valuable to his team. Without Revis, the Jets cant' send the blitz packages that they do!

Mike Sando: Woodson's team is 9-4. Revis' team is 7-6. That is a primary difference. I really like Revis, though.


Scott from Maryville, Ill., writes: Hey, Sando, it's been a hard week for Cards fans but I was just wondering about the Unitas-Warner story last week. What kind of week did Unitas have after his four games of 120-plus passer ratings?

Mike Sando: Unitas completed 11 of 20 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and an 89.2 rating to end his four-game streak. Pro Football Reference has it right here in its 1965 game log for Unitas. Warner and Unitas remain the only NFL players to post four consecutive games with passer ratings of at least 120.


Daniel from Santa Clara, Calif., writes: Hey, Mike, I have a question about the tiebreaking procedures for the Wild Card berths. For the 49ers to get into the playoffs, in addition to winning out, I understand that they need the Cowboys to lose two of three and the Giants to lose at least one more game, but what about the Falcons?

If the Cowboys, Giants, Falcons, and 49ers all end up with a 9-7 record, would the 49ers get into the playoffs because they would have the best conference record? Or would the Falcons get in ahead of the 49ers because they won the head-head matchup? Thanks for your time Mike and I'm a big fan of the blog. Keep up the good work!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Daniel. The Giants and Cowboys are from the same division. The Giants' season sweep of the Cowboys would send them into a three-way tie with the Falcons and 49ers for one wild-card berth. The 49ers would then prevail based on a superior conference record. San Francisco would be 8-4 in the conference. The Giants would be 7-5 in the conference. The Falcons already have six conference defeats.


Nick from London writes: Hi Mike, love the blog! Where do you see the Seahawks going with their two first-round picks in the draft? Surely one of them will be used to find the heir-apparent to Walter Jones, but will the other also be for an offensive lineman, or are they more likely to use it on some pass-rushing? Thanks!

Mike Sando: Thanks. I could see the Seahawks going for one lineman on each side of the ball. It's tough to know this far out. The team has not hired a general manager. But it's clear the team needs to draft a tackle early. The other pick could go for pass-rush help or for a potentially dynamic player in the secondary. Any new GM would also have to consider a quarterback for the long term.


Seth from Newport News, Va., writes: Do you think Fisher ran up the score because he is still bitter about the Super Bowl loss? I know you have to play defense no matter what the situation, but fourth-and-goal and you're up by 30? Also, I know Chris Johnson is fast, but he made our defense look very slow. If you are the Rams, where do you go from here?

Mike Sando: I suspect Fisher didn't like the cheap shots from Richie Incognito or the Rams' fake punt for a 51-yard gain when the score was out of hand. He could have figured the Rams had it coming. The Super Bowl defeat was a long time ago. Very few Rams players remain from that team. The coaching staff is long gone. It's unlikely to me that Fisher would make any decisions based on that game.

As for the Rams, they need to dive back into the draft for help at receiver and in the defensive front-seven. They need to make a decision at quarterback. Drafting one early needs to be a consideration. There can be no magic fixes. Multiple years of strong drafts can turn around this team. Free agency is overrated.