Saints, Rams, Chiefs, Falcons seek playoff-clinching wins
New York (AFP)
Drew Brees leads the New Orleans Saints against Atlanta while the Los Angeles Rams travel to Tennessee in Sunday showdowns between playoff contenders on the penultimate week of the NFL season.
With only five of 12 post-season berths already allocated, five teams are seeking a victory that will put them into January's playoff chase for a spot in February's Super Bowl 52 at Minneapolis, Minnesota.
NFC South division rivals New Orleans (10-4) and visiting Atlanta (9-5) meet with the winner assured of a playoff spot and the loser in jeopardy, a feeling the Saints know well after missing out on the post-season parade the past three seasons with 7-9 records.
"Of course it's big," said Saints quarterback Brees, whose late interception cost his team a potential game-winning drive in a 20-17 loss at Atlanta on December 7.
"It's the end of the year, there's a lot at stake. We want to be playing our best football. It's all about the week of preparation and playing our best."
Adding to the tensions was the choke sign given Falcons rusher Devonta Freeman by Saints coach Sean Payton.
"This is a huge game, as far as what's on the line," Saints left tackle Terron Armstead said. "Don't let no one fool you. It's a little extra. It's a rivalry. It may be a little chippy."
"It doesn't need to be said what's at stake," Saints rusher Mark Ingram said. "It's going to be heated, it's going to be competitive, and if you're a football player and you're a competitor, this is what you thrive for."
The Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs can clinch playoff spots with victories as well. The Rams are at the Tennessee Titans on Sunday while Kansas City entertains Miami and the Panthers play host to Tampa Bay.
Tennessee can secure a playoff spot if they defeat the Rams and Buffalo and Baltimore lose their respective matches at New England (Sunday) and at home to Indianapolis (Saturday).
"They know where we are at," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said of his players. "They know we have a great opportunity sitting right in front of us that is very reachable."
The Chiefs also advance if the Los Angeles Chargers lose Sunday at the New York Jets.
"Our playoffs have begun," first-year Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "And there's no absolute that we're going to the playoffs even if we win the next two games. But, if we don't, we sure ain't going."
- Eagles seek overall home-field edge -
Pittsburgh, New England and Jacksonville have clinched American Conference playoff berths while Philadelphia and Minnesota have claimed National Conference playoff spots.
Philadelphia, which plays host to Oakland on Monday, can clinch a home-field edge throughout the playoffs with a victory as backup quarterback Nick Foles tries to replace injured starter Carson Wentz, who will miss the post-season run with a torn knee ligament.
Only one NFL team in the Super Bowl era, the 1990 New York Giants, switched passers so late in a season and went on to win the title.
"My focus is winning the game on Monday night," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "We control our destiny right now. So that's the focus for me."
In other games, Minnesota is at Green Bay on Saturday, Pittsburgh is at Houston on Monday and Sunday's lineup also has winless Cleveland at Chicago, Detroit at Cincinnati, Denver at Washington, Jacksonville at San Francisco, the New York Giants at Arizona and Seattle at Dallas.
© 2017 AFP