It is really easy to concentrate your attention during the final week of the NFL’s regular season on the best teams, and those still trying to secure a playoff spot, a bye, or a home game in the postseason. What is the point concerning yourself with the league’s cellar-dwellers? The answer is money. Sometimes in games that you’ll opt not to watch, there are teams still trying versus those who have ulterior motivations.
The Ravens gave everything they had to earn a playoff berth Sunday. They lost a heartbreaking game to Pittsburgh, and were eliminated from playoff consideration. Coach John Harbaugh is among the best in the sport, and knows a loss helps the Ravens draft position. Furthermore, there is no reason to rush back an impact player like Jimmy Smith, who is banged up for a meaningless game. The air came out of the tires in Week 16.
While the Bengals have been more or less out of the postseason picture for a month, they have continued to fight. Even during a four week winless stretch, they tied the Redskins, and lost by one point to the Giants, four to Buffalo, and five in Baltimore. The Bengals beat the Eagles and Browns, and lost tight games to the Steelers and Texans more recently. They are at home in the finale, and some think Marvin Lewis is fighting for his job. Cincinnati appears to be locked in, while the Ravens might be ready to call it a year.
Both teams are out of the playoffs (not entirely true; there is a crazy scenario that includes a Washington/New York Giants tie and a half-dozen other things happening to get the Bucs in) and neither is going to have a great draft pick. However, like the Ravens, the Bucs blew their chance last week with a loss to the Saints. While nobody would look at the Bucs’ season as anything other than encouraging, back-to-back road losses in meaningful games sets the stage for an unimportant finale at home against the Panthers. A victory would give Tampa its first winning season since 2010.
On the flip side, the Panthers have been out of the postseason race for a month, but like the Bengals, they have continued to play hard. They beat the Chargers in Week 14, got by Washington the following week, and played hard (but lost) in Atlanta in Week 16. Carolina lost to the Bucs (17-14) at home earlier in the year, but Cam Newton didn’t play in that game. Major-market teams see the year as black and white with little room for moral victories. In Charlotte, the Panthers will have “momentum” with a win over the Bucs, and though it doesn’t salvage a bad year, winning three of four down the stretch is something they’ll clearly try for.
Photo credit: Mike Morbeck (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]
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