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How difficult will it be to qualify?

Tennessee and Washington are in the playoffs if they win, but others needing help might not get it if opponents rest starters.

December 30, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Two will be sixth.

Three more will be deep-sixed.

Such is the drama on this, the final day of the NFL's regular season. Five teams are playing for two remaining playoff spots -- the No. 6 seedings in the NFC and AFC.

Tennessee and Washington control their own destinies. If they win, they're in.

Minnesota, New Orleans and Cleveland need various degrees of help to keep their seasons going.

The unknown: How hard will opponents who are already either in or out of the playoffs be trying to win. For instance, when second-seeded Indianapolis plays host to Tennessee, will the Colts keep Peyton Manning in the game and risk injury to their star quarterback, or replace him with seldom-seen backup Jim Sorgi?

The difference means the world to the Cleveland Browns, who need to have the Titans lose to make the playoffs.

"We certainly want to continue playing well," Colts Coach Tony Dungy told reporters who cover the Titans. "We want to win the ballgame. We'd like to finish 6-0 in the division. We'd like to finish 7-1 at home. But more than anything else, we'd like to keep improving."

Colts rookie receiver Anthony Gonzalez, who played at Ohio State, said he has been getting a lot of phone and text messages from folks in his old stomping ground urging him to play as hard as he possibly can tonight -- whatever it takes to help the Browns' cause.

"They all want me to play my heart out," Gonzalez told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "One of the things about being over here, you're pretty isolated from knowing what's going on in Cleveland. But, clearly, I know the mind-set over there, how fans want us to win. But for me, I'm a lot more concerned with doing my job and playing well.

"I'm certainly going to give it all I have, but no more so than any other game."

If the odds of making the playoffs are slim for the Browns, they're even thinner for the Saints. Not only does New Orleans need to win at Chicago in a rematch of last season's NFC title game, but it needs a Minnesota loss at Denver and Washington to fall to Dallas.

"It's difficult that you've got to count on other things to happen," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "We had an opportunity to put ourselves in position to be sitting here today and in control of it. But we weren't able to do that, so it's disappointing."

The Vikings have an ever-so-slightly easier path. They're in if they beat the Broncos and the Redskins lose. Minnesota and Washington both play afternoon games, so it's natural to think the Vikings will be watching the scoreboard.

Vikings Coach Brad Childress said he has no plans to ask the Broncos not to show the scores of other games.

"They certainly know what's at stake and the way it is today," Childress said of his players. "There is going to be a time where the scores are going to flash up there, and I'm sure somebody is going to whisper."

From a whisper to a scream? Not likely for the Vikings. Washington has won three in a row and everything points to the Cowboys resting some key players as they prepare for the postseason. Terrell Owens is out because of a high ankle sprain, center Andre Gurode probably won't play because of a bum knee, and quarterback Tony Romo has a sore thumb.

The Vikings are dubious the Redskins will see the best the Cowboys have to offer.

"You've already clinched home-field advantage," Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield said in an interview on KFAN radio. "What you're trying not to do is get any of your starters hurt. I think they'll probably take the same approach. Of course they'll try to win the game, but I don't think they'll have enough to beat Washington."

Then again, the Redskins have beaten the Cowboys only three times in their last 20 games, dating to mid-season 1997. There's little if any doubt in Washington's locker room, though, that this will be the fourth such victory.

"As long as you don't quit, anything can happen," receiver Santana Moss said. "And I don't think this team has any quit in us."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The in and outs

Playoff scenarios for Week 17:

*--* AFC *--*

CLINCHED: New England, East Division and home-field advantage; Indianapolis, South Division and a first-round bye; Pittsburgh, North Division; San Diego, West Division; Jacksonville, playoff berth.

ELIMINATED: Miami, N.Y. Jets, Kansas City, Oakland, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston, Buffalo, Denver.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

The Browns can clinch a playoff berth with:

1) A loss by Tennessee OR 2) A win or tie and a Tennessee tie.

TENNESSEE TITANS

The Titans can clinch a playoff berth with:

1) A win OR 2) A tie and a Cleveland loss.

*--* NFC *--*

CLINCHED: Dallas, East Division and home-field advantage; Green Bay, North Division and a first-round bye; Seattle, West Division; Tampa Bay, South Division; N.Y. Giants, playoff berth.

ELIMINATED: San Francisco, St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago, Arizona, Philadelphia, Detroit, Carolina.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

The Redskins can clinch a playoff berth with:

1) A win OR 2) A tie and a Minnesota loss or tie OR 3) A loss and a Minnesota loss and a New Orleans loss.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The Vikings can clinch a playoff berth with:

1) A win and a Washington loss or tie

OR

2) A tie and a Washington loss

NEW ORLEANS

The Saints can clinch a playoff berth with:

A win and a Washington loss and a Minnesota loss.

Associated Press

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