Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles are still alive for a berth in the playoffs — if just barely — while other teams, including the 9-5 Falcons, control their own postseason destiny.
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles should ditch those pregame “Rocky” videos for another Sylvester Stallone movie that sums up their season.
Given up for dead just a few weeks ago along with several other teams, the underachieving Eagles are somehow still in the NFL playoff race. So instead of showing inspirational clips of Rocky Balboa fighting Apollo Creed, maybe it would be more fitting to have a video montage from the “Saturday Night Fever” sequel directed by Stallone, “Staying Alive.”
With two weeks left in the regular season, 15 teams are in the hunt for the five remaining playoff spots. There are seven teams battling for two openings in the AFC and eight teams in contention for three berths in the NFC.
Four division titles are still up for grabs. The wackiest races are in the AFC West and NFC East, where 8-8 might be enough to win either division.
Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans, New England, Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh have clinched playoff spots. Dallas (8-6), Atlanta (9-5), Detroit (9-5), Denver (8-6) and the New York Jets (8-6) and Giants (7-7) control their own destiny.
Philadelphia (6-8), Chicago (7-7), Arizona (7-7), Seattle (7-7), Tennessee (7-7), Cincinnati (7-7), Oakland (7-7), San Diego (7-7) and Kansas City (6-8) all need to win and get help to play beyond New Year’s Day.
The fact that the Eagles haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet is perhaps most surprising. A team that many picked to reach the Super Bowl started 1-4 and was 4-8 following consecutive lopsided losses to the Patriots and Seahawks.
But two straight wins over Miami and the Jets coupled with losses by Dallas and the Giants kept Philadelphia alive. Now it wouldn’t even take big upsets for the Eagles to win the NFC Least, er, East.
First, the Jets have to beat the Giants in the battle of North Jersey on Saturday. Then, later that afternoon, the Eagles must beat Dallas. The Jets are 3-point favorites over the Giants. The Eagles are just 3-point underdogs, and they whipped the Cowboys 34-7 on Oct. 30.
If that happens, the Eagles would win the division for the second straight year if they beat Washington at home on Jan. 1 and the Giants beat Dallas in the Meadowlands. The Giants already defeated the Cowboys on the road last week.
“You can’t control all that,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “The thing you can control is going out there (Tuesday) and practicing, and Wednesday practicing, and Thursday practicing, and Friday, and playing the game. Those are the things that you can control. So take care of that business. I tell myself the same thing, take care of that business, don’t worry about the other things. Take care of what you can control.”
Two other NFC teams that seemed to be going nowhere have revived their hopes in recent weeks. Though the 49ers (11-3) wrapped up the NFC West by midseason, the Cardinals and Seahawks never quit. Arizona has won six of seven and Seattle has won five of six to overcome awful first halves. Both teams are fighting for the two wild-card spots, but need the Falcons and Lions to lose.
“The guys stick together and they support each other,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “That’s a big step in becoming a good football team.”
Out in the AFC West, all four teams have a chance to claim first place. The Fighting Tebows, (aka Denver Broncos) have the inside track. But Oakland and San Diego are just one game behind, and Kansas City kept its faint hopes alive with a stunning upset over previously unbeaten Green Bay.
Led by Tim Tebow, the Broncos won seven of eight to overcome a 1-4 start before losing to New England. They are hoping to avoid another December nosedive and end a five-year playoff drought.
“I definitely feel like we’re all right,” Tebow said. “We’re excited about where we’re at, and we’re going to continue to be positive and stay motivated and just try to improve.”
The Chiefs were looking to next year when they fired coach Todd Haley a week ago. But interim coach Romeo Crennel put together a game plan that finally stopped Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who had won 19 in a row, including the Super Bowl.
Kansas City still needs to beat the Raiders on Saturday, have Denver lose to Buffalo and San Diego drop one of its last two games. If all that happens, the Chiefs will play for a spot in the playoffs at Denver in their regular-season finale.
“We were able to win and we feel good about getting the victory, but we know the season lies in the next game,” Crennel said. “We have to win this next one, and it’s a short week. We’re looking forward to that, trying to keep this thing moving. We’re in the race and we have a chance.”
The Titans missed an opportunity to grab control of the final wild-card spot in the AFC when they became the first team to lose to the lowly Indianapolis Colts (1-13). But Tennessee isn’t making vacation plans yet and continues to seek its first playoff berth since 2008.
“We don’t have control anymore,” rookie defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said after the loss to the Colts. “We’ll have to see how some other teams do, and we’ll see how it all plays out. We can’t go out there and just give up.”
As the old Bee Gees’ song from the “Staying Alive” prequel “Saturday Night Fever” goes:
Ah, ha, ha, ha,