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Playoff status on the line

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2002

Will the Raiders win the AFC West? Will the Packers get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs? Will the Eagles get a first-round bye?

It's too early to tell, but we could get a much better idea today. There are several key division games that will clarify the playoff picture. Or muddle it more.

"This league is as crazy as it gets," Fox Sports analyst Bill Maas said.

There's the Raiders (8-4) vs. Chargers (8-4) game that will determine sole possession of first place in the AFC West. There's the Colts (8-4) vs. Titans (7-5) game that has huge AFC South implications. In the Falcons (8-3-1) vs. Bucs (9-3) game, first place in the NFC South is on the line.

Other games with weighty playoff implications: Bills (6-6) vs. Patriots (7-5), Broncos (7-5) vs. Jets (6-6) and Rams (5-7) vs. Chiefs (6-6).

And the Eagles and 49ers can clinch division titles with wins and losses by the Giants and Rams, respectively.

TRIVIA QUESTION: Since the start of the 2000 season, which coach has the most wins?

CAN'T WIN THE BIG ONES: Things could change, but none of the six teams the Giants have beaten this season appears headed for the playoffs. That shouldn't be surprising.

Last season, the Giants didn't beat any playoff teams, and the season before they beat one.

RAISE YOUR GLASS TO ANDY: If the Eagles get deep into the playoffs, coach Andy Reid ought to be considered for coach of the year.

Granted, every team has injuries, but the Eagles have been without several key players, including quarterback Donovan McNabb, star defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, starting guard John Welbourn and linebacker Carlos Emmons, for significant stretches.

It's amazing they still are in the playoff hunt, let alone first place in the NFC East with their best 12-game start (9-3) since 1981.

THAT RUNDOWN FEELING: The Seahawks run defense ranks last in the league. Considering the remaining schedule, that isn't likely to improve.

The Seahawks, who've allowed eight 100-yard rushers in 12 games, have to face Philadelphia's Duce Staley, Atlanta's Michael Vick, St. Louis' Marshall Faulk and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.

DID YOU KNOW?: There's a Web site for fans who want Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin fired. It's

At 5-7, the Jags are headed toward their third straight losing season under Coughlin, who doesn't think he has done a bad job.

"I think we've done a good job. I really do," he said, presumably with a straight face.

BY GEORGE, WHERE IS EDDIE?: Titans running back Eddie George is on pace for another 1,000-yard season, but he has been noticeably absent late in games the past two weeks. Coach Jeff Fisher has gone with backup Robert Holcombe instead.

While Fisher continues to insist George is his featured back, not everyone is so sure, including George.

"Jeff says I'm his running back; we'll see," George said. "We'll see if I get the carries. That's all I can say."

SOMEBODY CALL JESSE JACKSON: The Bengals apparently aren't just the worst in football, they are worst in terms of diversity.

In the wake of the NFL's recent formation of a diversity committee to study the lack of minority head coaches, the Bengals franchise has become the league's biggest target because it never has hired or even interviewed an African-American for coach, offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator.

Only two black employees are among the team's 65 listed employees.

BLOW IT OUT YOUR EAR, JIMMY: Fox Sports analyst Jimmy Johnson recently said on air that quarterback Tim Couch is too inconsistent to be the Browns quarterback of the future.

Told of Johnson's comment, Couch said: "I really don't care what Jimmy Johnson thinks. He's an announcer. Unless he's the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, I don't care."

STAT OF THE WEEK: The Bears, who play at Miami on Monday night, are 1-9 in road games on Monday night in December.

TRIVIA ANSWER: Reid with 34. Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden is second with 33.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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