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NFL WEEK 16 STORY LINES

For the Patriots and Bengals, it's a basic concept

New England and Cincinnati each can clinch division titles with victories Sunday.

December 23, 2009|By Sam Farmer | On The NFL
  • Tom Brady, left, and the Patriots are in the same situation as Chad Ochocinco and the Bengals -- they can clinch a playoff spot with a win Sunday.
Tom Brady, left, and the Patriots are in the same situation as Chad Ochocinco… (Luc Leclerc / US Presswire;…)

With two weeks remaining in the NFL's regular season, there are still dozens of scenarios that will put teams in or out of the playoffs. But New England and Cincinnati can find comfort in those four little words:

Win and we're in.

The Patriots play host to Jacksonville on Sunday and can clinch the AFC East with a win or tie. The same goes for the Bengals, who play host to Kansas City with the AFC North within reach.

"We still have the opportunity to obtain our first and No. 1 goal, and that's to win this division," Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said.

Meanwhile, San Diego, which plays at Tennessee on Friday, won the AFC West last weekend and can secure a first-round bye with a victory.

New Orleans, coming off its first loss, plays host to Tampa Bay and can lock up home-field advantage by winning.

Perfect plan?

Indianapolis is 14-0 and first-year Coach Jim Caldwell is facing a big decision. Should he push for perfection or rest his players for the postseason? The Colts gave maximum effort at Jacksonville last week, even though they already had home-field advantage.

Sunday, they face the New York Jets, who still have wild-card aspirations and might try to blitz Peyton Manning until Caldwell takes him out.

Return man

Denver plays at Philadelphia in a game that has playoff implications for both teams and marks the return of Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, among the most popular Eagles in history.

Now a member of the Broncos, Dawkins could boost a defense that needs all the help it can get against the high-scoring Eagles, who are aiming for their sixth consecutive victory. Philadelphia has clinched a playoff berth and can lock up the NFC East with a win and a loss by Dallas (which plays Sunday night at Washington).

Things are a bit more complicated for the Broncos, who can secure a spot in the postseason with a win and losses (or ties) by Jacksonville, Miami, the Jets and Pittsburgh.

Tennessee two-step

The Titans, in a six-team cluster behind Denver and Baltimore for a wild-card berth, would need a miracle to make the playoffs. Much more realistic, though, is Chris Johnson's bid to make history. He has run for 100 yards in nine consecutive games and is one away from becoming the third player -- along with Barry Sanders and Marcus Allen -- to put together 10 such games. Johnson needs 376 yards in the last two games to beat Eric Dickerson's record for rushing yards in a season (2,105). The Chargers rank 21st against the run. Tennessee closes the regular season at Seattle, which ranks 13th against the run.

Johnson can see the big picture, though, and understands that individual records pale in comparison to team goals. He also knows that starting the season 0-6 presents quite a hurdle. Since, the Titans have won seven of eight games.

"Some things are falling our way," Johnson said. "But at the end of the day, you can only control what you can control."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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