Kevin Kugler on this weekend’s playoff scenarios, Bears-Packers and 49ers-Patriots

12/14/2012

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Scenarios are sometimes tough. You’ve got to navigate through a lot of options to come up with a result. For example, when you are trying to decide sauces at Buffalo Wild Wings…do you go with the Parmesan Garlic, or is it a Mango Habanero night? If you choose Thai Curry, what gets eliminated from the menu? And does Chipotle BBQ seasoning have a chance to still sneak onto the table? That’s kind of what we are looking at as we start Week 15 of the NFL… who’s getting in and who’s going to be left out of the postseason? Here’s what we’re looking at this week for postseason scenarios…

In the AFC, New England and Denver have already locked up their respective divisions, while Houston has laid claim to a third playoff spot from the AFC. The Texans can clinch the AFC South with a win over the Colts on Sunday (in a game you’ll hear right here on Westwood One Sports). But if Indianapolis wins, THEY clinch a playoff spot, so this game has huge ramifications for the postseason. Baltimore is on the verge of clinching a spot and its division. The Ravens need to just beat the Broncos in Baltimore to clinch the AFC North. By the time this weekend is over, we could see 5 of the 6 AFC playoff spots already secured, leaving just one Wild Card remaining in the final two weeks.

Things are a little more wide open in the NFC heading into Week 15. Atlanta has already won the NFC South, but the Falcons can clinch a first-round bye this weekend by beating the Giants and seeing the Bears knock off the Packers. That bye can also be claimed if the Falcons win and the 49ers lose their matchup with the Patriots on Sunday night here on Westwood One Sports. If both the Packers and the 49ers lose and the Falcons win this weekend, Atlanta clinches home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

San Francisco locks up its playoff berth with a win over New England, and can lock up the division if they win and Seattle loses its game in Toronto against the Bills. And the Packers have a chance to wrap up the NFC North this weekend. All they need to do is beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and they clinch the division title.

That’s one of the real intriguing matchups of the weekend… the matchup of the Bears and the Packers. Chicago is reeling, having lost two straight games to go from a game ahead of the Packers to a game behind Green Bay in the standings. It’s a bad time to face the Packers, as the Bears have been decimated in recent weeks with injuries to key players. Brian Urlacher is still out. Kicker Robbie Gould was placed on IR this week, and veteran Olindo Mare will take his spot. Jay Cutler suffered a neck injury late in the game at Minnesota on Sunday, but he pledges to play this weekend, and corner Tim Jennings, the NFL leader with eight interceptions, is hoping to play after missing the Vikings game with a shoulder injury.

Green Bay will have no sympathy for the wounded Bears, as the Packers have struggled with injuries all season long. This weekend is no exception. Charles Woodson is out again, as he has been for the past six games, and Clay Matthews, who’s been out the past four contests, is trying to get back in time to play this weekend. Jordy Nelson may also return to try and provide a lift to the Packers passing game, which has averaged just under 230 yards a game the past four weeks, but Green Bay has still figured out a way to win seven of its last eight games, and is just one win over its rival from Chicago away from punching a playoff ticket once again.

Also this weekend is one of the marquee matchups of the Sunday Night Football schedule. The San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots meet on Westwood One this week in a game that has already been billed as a potential Super Bowl preview. Over the course of the last few weeks, if you believe reports from “sources,” each of these teams have been preparing on the sly for this matchup. Whether that’s true or just wild speculation, one thing we know for sure is that this is a great proving ground for these two teams.

Those were words that might have been used just last week, when the Patriots met up with the Texans on Monday night, and took apart a very solid Houston team. New England is playing great football right now, and as usual with the Pats, it all starts with Tom Brady. The veteran QB is playing some of the best football of his career during the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak, having thrown just one interception in the streak, and only four picks all year long. He’s going to be tested on Sunday night, though, in ways he’s not been tested yet this year, because the 49ers are the top defense in the league, and boast the NFL’s best pass rusher in Aldon Smith. Smith, who’s just three sacks away from the single-season record held by Michael Strahan, will try and solve an offensive line that allowed just one sack to the Houston Texans last week, and none to J.J. Watt.

Brady will also be tested, because his targets have been limited by injury of late. Julian Edelman and Donte Stallworth have both been placed on injured reserve, and the Patriots may try and lean on that strong running game on Sunday to help out Brady in the passing game. Easier said than done, though, considering the 49ers are one of the best in the league against the run, and can run the ball a little bit themselves, with Frank Gore leading the way for the second-best rushing attack in the league. Sunday night has all the makings of an epic December showdown.

Enjoy the wings, the beer and the football at Buffalo Wild Wings this weekend. And unlike those playoff scenarios earlier, there are no losers at Buffalo Wild Wings.

– Kevin Kugler

Westwood One NFL play-by-play announcer Kevin Kugler tackles subjects that are interesting to him each week in his blog. The Football Insider Report is brought to you by Buffalo Wild Wings. Protect the Football.

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