The Bengals and Steelers highlight the opening set of games on Sunday afternoon, as the winner will be in prime position to secure a playoff spot in the AFC. This key game for the Steelers falls on the fortieth anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, a game that provided the Pittsburgh organization with its first ever playoff win.
The Steelers have lost four of their last five, beginning with Ben Roethlisberger’s injury. The Bengals, meanwhile, have won four of the last five games to take a lead. Because Pittsburgh won in Cincinnati back in October, though, the Steelers can still grab the lead by pulling into a tie with 8 wins. If Cincinnati wins again today, Pittsburgh is eliminated. Pittsburgh comes into this one with injuries at cornerback, and will have to contain A.J. Green to stay in the AFC race.
A total of eleven games are on the early schedule today. Only two don’t have any impact on the playoffs. Here are the other key early games:
Minnesota at Houston: Minnesota may be listed 6th on the playoff charts, but they need help. None of that will matter if they lose at Houston. Then, there is the issue of Adrian Peterson’s chase of 2,000 yards, then on to Eric Dickerson. Houston can clinch the #1 seed, just like Atlanta did last night, with a win.
New Orleans at Dallas: New Orleans is technically alive but needs everything to go their way to force a giant logjam at 8-8. It begins with needing a win. Meanwhile, Dallas can guarantee they are playing for the NFC East title next week in Washington with a win.
Washington at Philadelphia: Washington is in the same position as Dallas. Win, and guarantee they are playing for the NFC East. The Giants may know that they cannot win the NFC East by kickoff pending these results.
Indianapolis at Kansas City: The Colts win and they are in. If you cannot beat the worst team in the league, well, it can keep you out. Just ask New Orleans. It’s important for another reason, as the Colts would much rather be the #5 than #6 seed.
Tennessee at Green Bay: The Packers can keep pressure on the 49ers and keep their hopes of a bye alive with a win.
New England at Jacksonville: Patriots need to win and hope for a Denver loss.
Buffalo at Miami: Miami needs to win and hope for a Pittsburgh win to stay alive.
St. Louis at Tampa Bay: The Rams have very slim hopes entering this game, Tampa Bay does not.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]