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Last roll of dice for playoff hopefuls

Updated: 2013-12-28 08:18
By Agence France-Presse in Washington ( China Daily)

The National Football League's last four playoff berths will be decided by Sunday's final regular-season games, two of them showdowns in which the winner advances and the loser is done.

Chicago entertains Green Bay and Philadelphia will visit Dallas with the winner in each capturing a division crown and first-round home playoff game and the loser seeing their season conclude.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who has a herniated disk in his back, is likely to be replaced by Kyle Orton when the Cowboys play host to the Philadelphia Eagles to decide the NFC East champion and a playoff spot.

"It's a health issue. We'll just see how he's feeling," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Romo, who had not practiced up until Thursday.

"Certainly you want your quarterback to practice during the week. Tony has played a lot of football for us so you would give him more leeway than most."

It's the third year in a row in which the Cowboys will either make or miss the playoffs based upon their final game of the season, having fallen to Washington and the New York Giants the past two years.

On Thursday, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was named as the Packers' starter at Chicago against the team that sidelined him in a road triumph last month.

"This is a playoff game for us," Rodgers said. "It's all out there."

A victory gives the Bears or Packers the NFC North crown and spells the season's end for the loser of the NFL's oldest rivalry, which will be contested for the 188th time.

Seattle, Carolina and San Francisco have secured National Conference playoff spots with the Chicago-Green Bay and Dallas-Philadelphia winners joining them.

The sixth and final NFC spot will go to either New Orleans or Arizona. New Orleans can clinch the berth by winning at home over Tampa Bay but anything less would allow the Cardinals to take the final wild-card berth by beating visiting San Francisco.

Seattle can seal a home-field edge throughout the path to the Super Bowl with a home win over St. Louis, but a loss opens the door for San Francisco to overtake the Seahawks for the NFC West title.

Carolina needs a victory at Atlanta to clinch a first-round bye and the NFC South division crown.

In the AFC, playoff spots have been clinched by division champions Denver, New England, Cincinnati and Indianapolis as well as wild-card qualifier Kansas City.

That leaves four teams -Miami, Baltimore and San Diego at 8-7 and Pittsburgh at 7-8 - vying for the last wild-card spot in a complicated mess where all of the clubs need help from results in other games to advance.

Miami needs a home victory over the New York Jets and either a loss by Baltimore at Cincinnati or a San Diego home victory over Kansas City to advance.

A win by reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore would still need Miami or San Diego losing to keep the Ravens in the running to defend their crown. San Diego must win and have Baltimore and Miami lose.

Pittsburgh needs a win and losses by the other three contenders to reach the playoffs. If all four teams lose, the Ravens reach the playoffs.

Denver has clinched a first-round playoff bye, but must win at Oakland or have New England fail to beat visiting Buffalo to ensure the Peyton Manning-led Broncos have a home-field edge all the way to the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati could deny New England a first-round bye with a victory if the Patriots falter against Buffalo and Indianapolis could take the bye by beating Jacksonville if the Patriots and Cincinnati both lose.

(China Daily 12/28/2013 page15)