NFL: Which teams will end up as the four wild cards?
The NFL regular season is winding down to its final two weeks, but there is still plenty left to decide. Writers from around Tribune Co. discuss which teams will claim the two wild-card spots in each conference. Join the discussion with a comment of your own.
Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times
The stunner here is San Diego. I think the Chargers are going to sneak into the postseason -- despite their six-game losing streak earlier in the season -- by winning their final two games at Detroit and Oakland and relying on Miami to beat the Jets in Week 17. So I have the sixth-seeded Chargers playing at Houston in the first round, and Baltimore playing at Denver in the other AFC wild-card game.
In the NFC, I see Detroit and Atlanta being the wild-card teams. So that puts the Lions at San Francisco, and the Falcons at the New York Giants. If those turn out to be the match-ups, the four teams I see emerging from those games are San Diego, Baltimore, San Francisco and the Giants.
Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune
The four teams with the best chances of representing their conferences as wild cards are the Steelers, Jets, Falcons and Lions. The Steelers are the most dangerous of these teams as long as Ben Roethlisberger's ankle injury doesn't limit him too much down the stretch. The other wild-card spot in the AFC could come down to the Jets or Bengals, though there are five other teams with legitimate hopes.
In the NFC, the Falcons can clinch a wild-card spot with a victory over the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday (unlikely), or a victory over the Bucs in Atlanta one week later (likely). The Lions may have a hard time beating the Packers in Green Bay in the final week of the season, so they need to beat the Chargers at home on Sunday to get in.
With two weeks left in another wildly unpredictable NFL season, the playoff picture in the NFC is mostly developed. Meanwhile, the AFC still has seven teams vying for a pair of playoff spots.
Barring a crazy collapse, we can assume that the 9-5 Atlanta Falcons and the 9-5 Detroit Lions will be the two wild-card challengers in the NFC. They're not winning their respective divisions, and I can't see a quartet of 7-7 teams catching one for a wild card. Go ahead and lock them in.
It's wide open in the AFC, with the AFC West and the second wild-card spot up for grabs. The second-place team in the AFC North -- Pittsburgh has the edge over Baltimore as I write this -- will be the No. 5 seed. Look for the 8-6 New York Jets to ground and pound their way to the No. 6 seed and a favorable first-round playoff match-up against the hobbled Houston Texans.
Steve Svekis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
The Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, already at nine wins with no shot of winning their divisions, should hang on in the NFC. No other NFC second-place team has more than seven victories. The Lions will have their hands full with San Diego this week, but, even if they lose that game, the Packers will have the NFC home-field advantage sewn up in the regular-season finale against Detroit at Lambeau and play a lot of reserves. If the Lions do finish 9-7, look out for the Arizona Cardinals.
In the AFC, it's going to be tight. The pick here is that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the top wild card, while the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals collapse and the typically hard-charging San Diego Chargers come back from the dead, win their final five games and sneak in at 9-7.
Photo: San Diego Chargers running back Mike Tolbert runs the ball against Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed, center, and strong safety Bernard Pollard. Credit: Denis Poroy / Associated Press