Flem File: Cracking the playoff codes
The Philadelphia Eagles are going to the playoffs.
It's a done deal. At least, it is according to one interpretation of the NFL's infamous "playoff scenarios."
According to these easy-to-follow "Good Will Hunting" chalkboard-style hieroglyphics -- equal parts mad libs, binary code and tweet-speak -- all the Eagles have to do to ride off into the playoffs is beat the Dallas Cowboys this week, then the Washington Redskins in Week 17 (easy enough) and then, as far as I can tell, have the New York Giants lose to the New York Jets, Tim Tebow announce to the world that Santa Claus doesn't exist, the Cowboys lose to the Giants in the season finale, and two of the Kardashians qualify for Mensa membership.
You see? Simple.
You want to know why the NFL rules supreme over all other sports? Reason No. 1 is that with two weeks to play in the regular season 22 teams, including the Eagles, still have a legit shot at the Super Bowl. Reason No. 2 is that with so many teams still in it, the league finds it necessary to distribute these intricate, odd, linguistic playoff scenario equations that I can then improve upon (read: mess with) for your pre-holiday enjoyment.
AFCNew England Patriots
New England clinches a first-round bye with:
1. NE win + HOU loss or tie, OR
2. NE win + PIT loss or tie + BAL loss or tie, OR
3. NE tie + HOU loss, OR
4. NE tie + PIT loss + BAL loss, OR
5. Wes Welker doesn't get suspended or sent to the CFL by Belichick for joining Twitter, OR
6. This week Tom Brady snaps at Ron Gronkowski on the bench the way he did with the Pats' offensive coordinator and Gronk spikes the QB three feet into the frozen turf of Gillette Stadium, OR
7. With Andre Carter out, the NFL decides not to pass a minimum defensive competency requirement for the playoffs.
Cleveland clinches a playoff spot with:
1. A new all-inclusive 32-team playoff system, OR
2. An invite to join the UFL, OR
3. The benefit of being spotted seven wins, OR
4. Reaching the completion of their foolproof 20-year rebuilding plan.
Buffalo clinches a first-round bye in 2012 with:
1. Not much problem, actually -- you'll see, AND
2. Commish Roger Goodell responds to fans' demands and reinstates RB Fred Jackson to the 2011 Pro Bowl, catapulting Jackson to a 2,000-yard season in 2012.
Houston has clinched the AFC South. The Texans would clinch a first-round bye with:
1. HOU win against Indy + Tenn, AND
2. A NE loss or a BAL loss, AND
3. The entire team avoids being placed on IR before the playoffs begin, AND
4. T.J. Yates becomes the first young, untested QB not to fall apart under the postseason pressure cooker, AND
5. Jerry Jones doesn't file an injunction in federal court trying to prevent America's Team from becoming the second-best franchise in Texas.
Baltimore clinches AFC North division with:
1. BAL win + PIT loss.
Baltimore clinches a first-round bye with:
1. BAL win + PIT loss + HOU loss, AND
2. BAL doesn't have to play SEA or JAX again, AND
3. Turf toe doesn't do to Ray Lewis what it did to Hall of Famer Jack Lambert, AND
4. Joe Flacco and his awesomely bad, and some say mystical, Fu Manchu 'stache don't retire from the NFL to play bass guitar on the Kansas reunion tour.
Denver clinches AFC West division with:
1. DEN win + OAK loss or tie, OR
2. DEN tie + OAK loss + SD loss or tie, OR
3. All the film gets destroyed of the defensive adjustments made by the Patriots last week, AND
4. No one realizes you stop Tebow with a 3-4 alignment in which linebackers fill run lanes instead of defensive tackles.
San Diego Chargers
San Diego clinches AFC West division with:
1. SD win on the road in Week 16 + Week 17, AND
2. DEN loss in Week 16 + Week 17, AND
3. NFL moves playoffs to month of December when Philip Rivers is 22-2, AND
4. Norv Turner rethinks his bell curve coaching philosophy of: "Not showing off, not falling behind."
Pittsburgh has clinched a playoff spot. Pittsburgh can clinch a first-round bye with:
1. A PIT win in Week 16 + Week 17, AND
2. A NE loss + BAL loss + HOU loss, AND
3. Mike Tomlin exerting some control, in two very different ways, with Ben Roethlisberger + James Harrison, AND
4. Harrison doesn't retire to become NFL commish after, frankly, continuing to make more sense than anyone in the game regarding illegal hits and concussions.
New York Jets
Can clinch a playoff spot with:
1. A NY win in Week 16 OR Week 17, AND
2. A CIN loss + SD loss + OAK loss + TEN loss, AND
3. Rex Ryan + laryngitis, AND
4. Movie-style memory wipe of the loss to PHI, AND
5. The battle for New York not ending in a 0-0 tie, AND
6. Super models managing to keep their hands off Mark Sanchez for an entire week.
NFCGreen Bay Packers
Green Bay clinches their second consecutive Super Bowl win with:
1. Not that much difficulty, really, AND
2. Aaron Rodgers breaking the 5,000-yard barrier, AND
3. Tramon Williams becoming a household name, AND
4. Thanks to the Chiefs for eliminating the 19-0 pressure.
Chicago clinches a playoff berth with:
1. Even a semi-competent back-up QB -- a simple front-office decision that 31 other NFL teams were somehow able to manage.
Carolina clinches the NFC South and a first-round bye with:
1. A healthy defense + 365 days, AND
2. Cam Newton makes good on his promise to me to "make people respect the Panthers" and "win multiple Super Bowls," AND
3. For the 10th year in a row, in 2012 the NFL has a team that goes from worst to first, like the 2011 Texans.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco clinches a first-round bye with:
1. SF win + NO loss, AND
2. The rest of the NFL not bothering to understand the special thing that's building in SF until Alex Smith is holding the Lombardi Trophy over his head, AND
3. They manage to keep the lights on.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans clinches NFC South division with:
1. NO win or tie, AND
2. They recover successfully after watching the Betty White "holiday-themed" opener on "Monday Night Football" before playing ATL, AND
3. They can give up 500 yards passing to Matt Ryan and still find a way to win.
Dallas clinches NFC East division with:
1. DAL win + NYG loss or tie, OR
2. DAL tie + NYG loss, OR
4. Jerry "I'm Scared" Jones hasn't already talked them out of it, AND
5. They've secured all those dangerous run-away ghost football carts in Cowboys Stadium, AND
6. Tony Romo's ribs prove to be more heroic than Michael Vick's.
Minnesota clinches a playoff spot with:
1. A new offense + a new defense + new special teams + new coaching staff + new stadium, AND
2. GB + DET move to another division, AND
3. Hey, stop laughing + it could happen + seriously.
Atlanta clinches a playoff spot with:
1. ATL win or tie OR
2. DAL loss or tie + CHI loss or tie + ARI loss or tie, OR
3. NYG loss or tie + CHI loss or tie + ARI loss or tie, AND
4. John Abraham getting pressure on Drew Brees so the Falcons can use all their defenders in coverage instead of having to blitz, AND
5. Roddy White goes an entire game without a drop, AND
6. They can give up 500 yards passing to Drew Brees and still find a way to win.
Detroit clinches a playoff spot with:
1. DET win or tie OR
2. CHI loss or tie + ARI loss or tie + SEA loss or tie + DAL loss or tie, OR
3. CHI loss or tie + ARI loss or tie + SEA loss or tie + NYG loss or tie, OR
4. CHI loss or tie + ARI loss or tie + SEA loss or tie + ATL win or tie, AND
5. There is no truth to the rumor that the Mayan doomsday calendar includes a reference to the Lions making the playoffs, AND
6. No one tickles Ndamukong Suh under the pile, AND
7. Detroit's defense isn't asked to actually, you know, tackle a running back, AND
8. The Comeback Kitties play a team that's dumb enough to jump out to a 20-point lead, AND
9. There really, truly is a Santa Claus.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a columnist for ESPN.com. While covering the NFL for the past 16 years at Sports Illustrated and ESPN, he has written more than 30 cover stories and two books ("Noah's Rainbow" and "Breaker Boys"), and his work has been anthologized in "The Best American Sports Writing."