By The Associated Press
Reduced to its simplest, the NFL playoff races come down to this: Cincinnati, Denver, Dallas and the New York Giants must win today, the final day of the regular season.
Only one playoff slot remains in the NFC. Because the Giants (8-7) host the Cowboys (8-7) in prime time, tonight’s loser is out.
That sets up an intriguing between Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo – two quarterbacks with at least as many detractors as fans.
“These are games you’re excited to play in,” Manning said. “These are great opportunities and everything is on the line. And hopefully we can come out and play our best football.”
The other bit of drama in the NFC concerns San Francisco (12-3), which can clinch a playoff bye with a win at lowly St. Louis (2-13). A 49ers loss would allow New Orleans (12-3), the NFC South champion, to get the bye by beating Carolina (6-9).
Five AFC teams head into the final day with a chance to earn a playoff berth.
Cincinnati (9-6) has feasted on bad teams this season but must beat a good team, Baltimore (11-4), to be assured of a playoff berth. The Bengals could back in, depending on other losses today.
In the AFC West, where Tim Tebow can lead Denver (8-7) to an unexpected playoff berth with a win at home against Kansas City (6-9). Oakland (8-7), meanwhile, will be pulling for the Ravens to beat the Bengals.
There are also playoff paths for the Tennessee Titans (8-7) and New York Jets (8-7), but both depend on those teams winning today, along with a combination of other losses.
With a victory over Buffalo (6-9), AFC East champ New England (12-3) will get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Baltimore or Pittsburgh, both 11-4, still have a shot at that if the Patriots fall.
Green Bay (14-1) has already locked up homefield advantage in the NFC.