h0480 BC-FBN-PlayoffLookahead 12-30 0770
Redskins clinch final NFC playoff spot, will head to Seattle
Eds: Will be UPDATED after Titans-Colts game.
By DAVE GOLDBERG
AP Football Writer
The Washington Redskins had to play all out in their final game and the New York Giants chose to play that way. Their opponents, Seattle and Tampa Bay, eased their way into the playoffs.
So the wild-card round in the NFC next week may be a test of whether it’s better to have momentum or be rested going into the playoffs.
In the AFC, Jacksonville will be at Pittsburgh coming off losses in which each team played less than its best. The other game was to be decided Sunday night with Tennessee getting in if it beat Indianapolis, and Cleveland going in if the Colts won.
The four top-seeded teams will be off until the second week of the playoffs: New England (16-0) and Indianapolis (13-2) in the AFC; Dallas (13-3) and Green Bay (13-3) in the NFC.
A look at next week’s wild-card round. All times are Eastern. NFC
Washington (9-7) at Seattle (10-6) (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.)
The first case of momentum vs. rest.
The Seahawks, the NFC West champions, were already locked into the third seed in the NFC when they went to Atlanta. So they rested offensive starters, played a bland defense and lost 44-41 to the Falcons, who had only three wins previously.
Now the Seahawks face a team that needed a win Sunday to get in and got it by beating top-seeded Dallas 27-6.
Washington now has won three straight and seems inspired since the shooting death of safety Sean Taylor. One surprise has been the play of 36-year-old quarterback Todd Collins, who took over when Jason Campbell was hurt against Chicago and led the team to wins over the Bears, Giants and Cowboys after sitting for most of the past 10 seasons.
That momentum goes against Seattle’s late lethargy: two losses in its last three games after clinching the division three weeks ago.
"We wanted to win the football game, but we got health out of it and that was a big plus," coach Mike Holmgren said after Sunday’s loss.
New York Giants (10-6) at Tampa Bay (9-7) (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
The Giants played one of their best games of the season Saturday night in losing 38-35 to the unbeaten Patriots. But cornerback Sam Madison, center Shaun O’Hara and linebacker Kawika Mitchell were hurt and the status of all three for this game is unclear.
Coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday he wouldn’t have done it any other way, even though the Giants already had clinched a spot and knew they were going to Tampa before they tried their hardest to prevent New England from becoming the first 16-0 team.
"I don’t know that you can move toward the playoffs in a better way than to play against the No. 1 team in the league, a team that is 16-0, and hold your own, at least for the majority of the evening," Coughlin said. "Those are all positives."
If the Giants have momentum, the Bucs, NFC South champions, are healthier. They rested a lot of starters against Carolina on Sunday and lost 31-23.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden, questioned whether that was the correct approach, alluded to the Patriots-Giants game in fending off suggestions his team had lost momentum.
"If we were playing New England on a national televised game, we might have taken a different approach," Gruden said. "... I’ve seen teams walk into the playoffs and win the Super Bowl that were the wild card. And I’ve seen teams win three games on the road in the playoffs. But I’m not going to make any predictions."
Jacksonville (11-5) at Pittsburgh (10-6) (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.)
Neither team played hard in its finale.
The Jaguars are the side the higher-seeded teams don’t want to play. They beat the Steelers 29-22 in Pittsburgh on Dec. 16, part of a run of six wins in seven games that ended Sunday when they played backups and lost in Houston. Backup QB Quinn Gray threw four TD passes as David Garrard sat and six starters were inactive, including running back Fred Taylor
"Bottom line is our approach today was to be smart," coach Jack Del Rio said. "We earned that right. We earned the ability to be able to do that. We hope to be as fresh as possible going forward next week."
The Steelers also sat starters, notably injured QB Ben Roethlisberger in Baltimore, where they lost 27-21 to the Ravens, who broke a nine-game losing streak. They lost their star running back, Willie Parker, with a broken leg suffered against St. Louis on Dec. 20.