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PREVIOUS SPORTS
• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud
SPORTS

SIDELINE
Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale

For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
December 15, 2007

Even with the occasional football column to write, watching every game to make it to British screens requires some justification. On the face of it, Thursday's Broncos–Texans game was a case in point. Two teams with losing records, one of which is bottom of its division. Statistically, both teams entered the game still in the hunt, but realistically, the underlying concerns might be the value of Jay Cutler, Selvin Young and Javon Walker in next season's fantasy leagues. But come the unsociable hour, there was I upon the coach, and there was Mrs Football.

And at this point, I should clarify my wife's alias: she earns the title not for her dedication to the sport, but instead for the fact that, for the most part, she has surrendered to being married to it. As our second date was to Lincoln Financial Field, I like to think she was sufficiently forewarned. All the same, her presence on the couch has more to do with a disturbed sleep pattern (courtesy of the little Football due around draft time) than with the first match–up of Mike Shanahan and his former offensive coordinator.

Mrs Football usually feigns indifference to my obsession until the playoffs. Then, with the stakes raised, her attention peaks. As she puts it, 'You have the best teams and every game is the end for somebody'. Succinctly put, even if the NFC Wildcard teams sometimes fall a little short on the first qualifier. Still, that perspective got me thinking.

I've always resisted including game previews in the online version of Sideline, because that's just not what this column is about (incidentally, if anybody does discover what it's about, drop a line to the editor – he's been asking for months). It seems to me that week 15 is a good time to start talking playoffs, not least because for fantasy football fans, it does represent the start of the playoffs. For both realities, it is a time for the teams on the edge of qualification and disaster to decide who they want to be, to search their inner souls for the desire to win ...and either produce a marquee performance or fold and vanish from the playoff picture.

In other words, from week 15 to week 17, there will be some games that ARE playoff games. Win, and take a step closer, lose and perish. Now THOSE are stakes worth writing about. And perhaps even worth pressing the red button and settling down for.

I'll check with Mrs Football and let you know.



The Game: Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns
The Stakes: Win, and the Bills are in the thick of the wildcard hunt. Lose, and they're 2 games and a tie–breaker behind the Steelers, Browns and Jaguars. And that means out.
The Story: Both of these teams have outperformed expectations, Derek Anderson a revelation at QB for the Browns, and the Bills battling on despite a huge rash of injuries. This game could produce some monster numbers on the ground, considering these teams represent two of the top three worst–rated defenses in the NFL.
My Pick: Browns, confidently.
Fantasy Ponderings: Jamal Lewis could be rumbling again. Marshawn Lynch is harder to call: if he doesn't explode early, he could vanish late.

The Game: Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints
The Stakes: Nobody ever seems to get eliminated in the NFC, but 6–8 would be curtains for the Saints, as the Cards would then take their one game and their tie–breaker, and head into a final two games hosting the Falcons and Rams.
The Story: The Saints may ride third–string runner Aaron Stecker again, if they want to keep the Cardinals offense off the field. Then again, injuries at the receiver position might do that for them.
My Pick: Despite everything I said about this being akin to a playoff game, the Cardinals may still be alive after the Saints beat them... by 1.
Fantasy Ponderings: If Larry Fitzgerald can go, he will go. Warner could be a yardage stud again.

The Game: Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers
The Stakes: Momentum. It's time for the Chargers to prove they belong as divisional champs in a weak division. The Lions may have looked good against the Cowboys, but a loss is a loss and five game slide must be stopped now or this year is over.
The Story: Jon Kitna said the Lions should get 10 wins. He never actually guaranteed they would, and the best they can do now is 9. If they play the way they did against Dallas, Philip Rivers is no Tony Romo. But when it comes down to it, the Chargers have more weapons than the Lions defense can quiet.
My Pick: Chargers by 10, but not confidently.
Fantasy Ponderings: Anybody facing LaDainian Tomlinson can start wincing now.

The Game: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
The Stakes: I'm sure there's a scenario where the Bears are still in the hunt. This should end the math.
The Story: Adrian Peterson had a bad time last week, with 3 yards from 14 carries as he came back from injury (arguably too early), but the Vikings will still be favored to log their fifth win in a row. The Bears will start Kyle Orton at QB, as they did two years ago, when his season finished right there in Minnesota, 34–10.
My Pick: Vikings by a fieldgoal in a low–scorer.
Fantasy Ponderings: The meeting of two Adrian Petersons. The Vikes' rookie phenom ripped the Bears last time, but I'm not convinced he's fit. Don't be surprised if the Bears' version edges him for yards.

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