Clear as mud, the NFL playoff picture oozes into Week 14.
Sure, Carolina punched its ticket Sunday with a division-clinching thriller in New Orleans, but last week raised more questions than it answered. Questions like ...
What the heck happened in New England?
Does anyone even want to win the NFC East?
How long is the list of teams that are going to regret letting Seattle back into this thing?
With four weeks to go, the playoff picture is as zany as ever. That’s why the Mora Scale -- named in memory of former Colts coach Jim Mora’s indelible, incredulous p-p-playoffs!!! news conference of yore -- is here to help direct your weekend viewing around the mid-December games that have the most to do with January.
FOUR MORAS – Games with major playoff implications for both teams.
Minnesota Vikings (8-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-2): Second straight week in this spot for the Vikings, but they sure didn’t look ready to hang with the big boys Sunday. Still shaking off Seattle’s beatdown, the Vikes have to turn it around quickly. A Thursday night date in the desert with an Arizona team trying to lock down a bye is a chance to show whether they’re really for real or whether we need to dock them a few Moras next week.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-2): Tune in for the latest edition of “Andy Dalton: Referendum.” A win clinches the AFC North and a fifth consecutive postseason berth for the Bengals, who made the playoffs a total of five times in the 29 years before they drafted Dalton. A loss ensures weeks of tortured, told-you-so proclamations that Dalton can’t win the games that matter. The Steelers are in it, too, but are they legit? Only the Colts, Giants and Saints have allowed more passing yards.
New England Patriots (10-2) at Houston Texans (6-6): I checked to find the last time the Patriots lost three in a row. It was 2002, and it was actually four in a row -- the fourth to the Broncos. What’s left of the game story on ESPN.com says this: “Clinton Portis ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns, Ed McCaffrey caught eight passes for 115 yards, and Brian Griese completed 18 of 23 passes for 229 yards and an 8-yard touchdown pass to Shannon Sharpe.” I know what you’re thinking. They really used the serial comma in game stories back then? Talk about the dark ages.
THREE MORAS – Both teams are still in the fight, but at least one could use some smelling salts or something.
Atlanta Falcons (6-6) at Carolina Panthers (12-0): These teams play twice in the next three weeks. There was a time in mid-October when everyone was wondering whether the Cubs could win the World Series and whether the Falcons and Panthers would both still be undefeated by the time they faced off. The answer was no. Sour old Mercury Morris is rooting for a team that’s lost five in a row and won’t get any Moras next week unless it swings the upset of the year.
Dallas Cowboys (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-4): I know, right??? Wasn’t long ago you were slipping into a tryptophan coma thinking, “Welp. That does it for the Cowboys.” But no! Dallas is like an old garbage can you keep putting on the curb and no one will take it away because they don’t take the cans. Monday Night’s gift from Washington moved the Pokes within one game of the heinous three-way tie atop the NFC East, and if the Packers’ bus gets lost on the way to Lambeau Field, who knows?
Buffalo Bills (6-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7): “I mean, you all know who’s next,” LeSean McCoy said after Buffalo’s game Sunday. Shady might not be able to motor the Bills into the playoffs, but you know he’s going to do everything he can to make sure Chip Kelly doesn’t get there either.
TWO MORAS – Some of these teams are still in it, but they don’t always look as if they want to be.
New York Giants (5-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-7): By the time this week’s Monday Night Football matchup kicks off, the Giants will know whether they need to win to keep pace in the NFC East race or whether they can lose and still remain tied for first at 5-8. I can’t believe I just wrote that. That is just so, so sad. I’m sorry. Let’s talk about something else.
Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8): This division’s not much better. If the Colts lose and the Texans lose to the Patriots … yeah, the math holds up … the Jags would be a game out of first place in the AFC South with three to play. BREAKING: There are going to be some bad teams in this year’s playoffs.
Tennessee Titans (3-9) at New York Jets (7-5): Did you know the Jets used to be called the Titans? And the Titans used to be called the Houston Oilers? Ryan Fitzpatrick used to play for the Houston Texans, who are one of the teams the Jets are fighting for a wild card spot. That’s like six degrees of Mora Scale. Or three, at least. Something.
Seattle Seahawks (7-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-8): Remember what we said above about the Cowboys being the old garbage can you can’t throw out? Well, the 2015 Seahawks are kind of like that. Except when you turn the can over, a rabid badger sneak-attacks you, scratches up your face and goes back to the Super Bowl for the third year in a row.
San Diego Chargers (3-9) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-5): The Chiefs were 1-5 after six games. The combined record of their four remaining opponents is 14-34. If you have friends who are Chiefs fans, you can go ahead and get them playoff tickets for Christmas.
New Orleans Saints (4-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6): A reach? Maybe. But the Bucs are only a game out of a spot, and this matchup portends the biggest passing game of Jameis Winston’s career so far.
ONE MORA – Games that matter for seeding only
Oakland Raiders (5-7) at Denver Broncos (10-2): That Week 15 game against the Bengals still looks like it’ll have first-round bye implications for the Broncos. This one is about Brock Osweiler not messing things up in the meantime.