Sorry, Steelers: Jags hold keys to AFC's wild cards

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#GoIrish #Aztecs #SDGulls #Raiders #THFC #RipCity
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA

OK, so now we know that Indianapolis can and probably will rest its starters down the stretch. Now the next question: What about Jacksonville?

Yes, Jacksonville.

Nobody asks what the Jags will do for their season finale with Tennessee, but maybe we should start. Because what Jacksonville does the next two weeks could determine if San Diego -- or Pittsburgh -- reaches the playoffs.

Here goes:

The Chargers and Steelers are tied at 9-5. Jacksonville is 10-4. So if the season were to end today, the Jaguars make the playoffs as the first wild-card entry, and Pittsburgh -- which beat San Diego earlier this year -- makes it as the second.

That's the easy part.

Now let's look ahead, and consider Indianapolis, Denver, Cincinnati and New England as the first four entries for the AFC playoffs. What happens after that?

Let's say San Diego wins its last two against Kansas City and Denver. It finishes at 11-5. Let's say Pittsburgh wins its last two with Cleveland and Detroit. It finishes 11-5, too.

Now imagine Jacksonville loses one of its last two against Houston and Tennessee to wind up as the third 11-5 finisher. That's a problem for Pittsburgh.

A three-way tie among San Diego, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville for wild-card spots means the Chargers and Jags reach the playoffs. The Steelers don't. They go no farther than the next fairway.

That's why I wonder what Jacksonville does down the stretch.

First of all, the Jags must deal with Houston this weekend, and the Texans always give these guys fits. They nearly beat them in Jacksonville on Nov. 6, and that was when Byron Leftwich was playing. They also won three of their past five against the Jags, including two straight at home.

But let's give Jacksonville the benefit of the doubt, and say it beats the Texans. Almost everyone else does, so the odds are with it. That means the Jags enter the last week of the season guaranteed to make the playoffs as a wild-card entry. The only question is: Are they the fifth or sixth seed in the AFC playoffs?

I don't know that it makes a difference to Jacksonville, but it could to San Diego and Pittsburgh.

As the fifth seed the Jaguars would almost surely face New England; as the sixth seed they probably will face Denver or Cincinnati. Let's say they care more about avoiding injuries than winning a season-ending game; that means they could rest starters which, in turn, means they're more vulnerable to losing -- especially against arch-rival Tennessee.

And if that happened? You might have to sedate Bill Cowher.

The Steelers better hope they avoid that sticky situation. No, they better hope they leave Jacksonville out of this equation altogether, which means they become huge Kansas City fans this weekend. The Chiefs make it a lot easier on Pittsburgh with a defeat of the Chargers, and when you consider that Kansas City is a) still alive for the playoffs, b) won seven of its past eight at home against San Diego and c) won its past 17 in December at Arrowhead, a Chiefs victory isn't all that unlikely.

But if the Chiefs fail, you have to wonder: What do the Jaguars do with their starters the next week? It's not too soon to start thinking about it.