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News » There's A Lot To Be Decided

There's A Lot To Be Decided

There's A Lot To Be Decided
Playoff races come down to wire, and Bucs are in the thick of it.



TAMPA - Some people look at the NFL's convoluted playoff possibilities and cringe.

Barrett Ruud smiles.

Tampa Bay's rangy middle linebacker says the league's postseason jumble offers further proof why pro Football rules as America's No. 1 sport.

"Even at the top of the league, there's not one team you look at and say they are definitely going to the Super Bowl," said the NFL's fourth-leading tackler. "It's wide open this year. That's what's great about our league."

Only seven teams in each conference have been eliminated from playoff consideration heading into Week 17, and only six of Sunday's 16 games lack postseason ramifications.

Half of the NFL's eight division titles remain undecided, and only seven clubs know for sure they will be playing in January.

In the NFC, the Giants, Panthers, Falcons and Cardinals have clinched playoff berths, leaving one wild-card spot and the North champion still to be determined.

The Cowboys control their postseason fate, and a victory in Philadelphia would eliminate the Bucs and Eagles.

But if Dallas stumbles, Tampa Bay can grab the final wild-card slot by beating Oakland at Raymond James Stadium. If the Bucs and Cowboys both lose, Philadelphia would still need a loss by either the Bears or Vikings to nail down the NFC's No. 6 seed.

Minnesota controls its destiny atop the North, but the Vikings or Bears also could qualify as a wild card, especially if Dallas and Tampa Bay lose.

The AFC picture isn't much sharper, with six teams battling for three spots. The Titans, Steelers and Colts already know their seasons won't end on Sunday.

The Dolphins can complete a remarkable renaissance from a 1-15 debacle by capturing the East title with a road victory against the Jets.

Resourceful New England needs help to avoid missing the playoffs a year after going 18-1. Like the Patriots, the Jets can either win the East, earn a wild-card spot or find their postseason hopes dashed by Sunday evening.

In the West, the winner of the Chargers-Broncos matchup at San Diego will take the division title and the loser will be out.

The Ravens can't catch Pittsburgh in the North, but Baltimore will pose a dangerous threat as a No. 6 seed with either a home win against Jacksonville or a New England loss at Buffalo.

Last week's victories by the Bills, Seahawks and Redskins again demonstrated the importance of the pride factor in shaping outcomes on any given Sunday.

"You hear about teams having nothing to play for, but when you step on the field, you're playing for yourself," Ruud said. "I don't buy this whole 'nothing to play for' theory. Look at Buffalo going to Denver and winning when the Broncos had a chance to clinch their division. The Jets really need a win, but they couldn't beat Seattle."

If the Bucs end a three-game slide by beating the Raiders on Sunday, they will spend the rest of the afternoon rooting for a Philadelphia team they had just eliminated.

Still, the Eagles loathe the Cowboys, and they've beaten Dallas in the past five December meetings.

"I'm a little down right now, but I'm a professional and I've got to handle my business," Bucs defensive end Greg "Stylez" White said. "We've got to play to win this week and let the chips fall where they may."

Reporter Ira Kaufman can be reached at (813) 259-7833.

Photo: Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said the fact that so many playoff spots are undecided is what makes the NFL great.

Copyright ? 2008, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail library@tampatrib.com

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 27, 2008

Montae Reagor Name: Montae Reagor
Position: DT
Age: 31
Experience: 10 years
College: Texas Tech
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