NFL Watch: As Playoffs Turn

It's the final day of the regular season, a day of many "ifs" because of all the playoff permutations.

If Team X wins and Teams Y and Z lose, then Team X will make the playoffs - that kind of day.

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Limping Lions. Detroit linebacker Ernie Sims sits with his knee wrapped during one of a record 15 losses. Could be 16, soon.

Here's a glance at the most meaningful games of Week 17:

High drama

Did the Jets do right by signing Brett Favre and discarding Chad Pennington?

The answer comes today when Pennington and the 10-5 Dolphins try to ruin the playoff hopes of the 9-6 Jets at the Meadowlands. Miami, 1-15 last season, can complete its stunning turnaround by winning and going to the playoffs.

Pennington should get some MVP votes. He ranks second in the NFL in passing with a 96.4 rating while Favre is at 84.0. More telling numbers are their passer ratings in December - Pennington's 112.4 to Favre's 56.9. Pennington was snubbed by the Pro Bowl in favor of Favre, so he has that incentive going for him. Favre has been in a lot of big games. This is another.

If the Jets win, they can still fall short of the playoffs if New England and Baltimore also win.

Off the hook

The winner of tonight's Chargers-Broncos game in San Diego takes the AFC West. The loser goes home. No one could be more pleased with that scenario than referee Ed Hochuli, whose blown call at the end of the game helped Denver defeat San Diego early in the season.

If Hochuli had made the correct call, the Chargers would be 8-7 and the Broncos 7-8 and the game wouldn't matter because San Diego would have won the division by tiebreaker.

The Chargers have won three straight and could go into the playoffs on a roll. Up to now, they've been the NFL's most underachieving team. They were a preseason choice by some to go to the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, the Broncos hope to avoid one of the greatest late-season collapses in recent memory. They will have to score a lot of points, because their defense is a mess.

Eagles fans for a day

If Tampa Bay does what's expected and defeats the lowly Raiders, the Bucs will gather around TVs to cheer on the Eagles against Dallas so they can move ahead of the Cowboys and grab a wild-card berth.

Before that happens, the Eagles will have their eyes on the Bucs game, pulling for Oakland. If Tampa Bay wins, the Eagles will take the field knowing it's their season finale.

The thought of cheering on the Eagles doesn't thrill Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks because the two teams have a history. But the Bucs got themselves into this predicament by losing their last three games.

"Dig yourselves a hole and you do a lot of things you've never done before," Brooks said in the Orlando Sentinel.

Pats need help

The Patriots haven't needed help on the final day of the season to get into the playoffs since 2002. They didn't get it and were denied the chance to defend their Super Bowl championship.

Well, they need help again even though they are 10-5, a record few thought possible when they lost Tom Brady for the season and had to hand the ball to Matt Cassel. But Cassel has become more than a quarterback who manages games. He wins them, and he stands to make a windfall if the Pats don't sign him for next season.

About that help - the Pats go to the playoffs if they beat Buffalo and either the Jets win or the Ravens lose.

Peyton's place

The Colts have won eight straight and are in the playoffs as a wild card. The Titans have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. So the meaning of today's game in Indianapolis will have more to do with gaining a psychological edge if they meet in the postseason.

It can be argued that no player in the NFL has meant more to his team than Peyton Manning. The Colts have had virtually no running game - they rank 31st in rushing - and have played much of the year without five starters on defense. Yet, Manning, who missed the preseason because of knee surgery, has guided them to seven wins with fourth-quarter drives.

The zero looms

Lions fans - I actually know one - will be denied a chance to see their team make history, and that's fine with them.

If Green Bay cares enough to complete a miserable season of its own, Detroit will become the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. The game is at Lambeau Field.

Think of how difficult it is to go winless in a league crowded with mediocre teams, and you can really appreciate the Lions' feat.


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.