the No. 3 seed in the AFC and the Chiefs possess the fourth seed.
The Ravens can secure one AFC wild card, and end a two-season absence from the postseason, with a victory at home over the Bengals. The Titans can seize the other with a triumph over the Jaguars in Nashville. The Chargers and Bills still have hope but need help. The Bills are attempting to make their first playoff appearance since the 1999 season, the league’s longest postseason drought.
In the NFC, the Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed. The Vikings can secure the second seed with a triumph at home over the Bears. That would give the Vikings, who are attempting to become the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium, an opening-round bye and then a home game in a conference semifinal.
The Rams are in the playoffs as the NFC West champ. The Saints and Panthers have secured postseason spots. The Saints will be the NFC South champions if they beat the Buccaneers, which would relegate the Panthers to a wild card and the No. 5 seed.
The competition for the second wild card and the NFC’s sixth seed comes down to the Falcons and Seahawks. The Falcons, the defending NFC champs, are in with a win at home over the Panthers. The Seahawks need to beat the Arizona Cardinals and hope the Falcons lose.
That’s a decent number of loose ends needing to be tied up on the final day of the regular season.
*** Gettleman and the Giants ... The New York Giants made the expected move at general manager Thursday when they hired Dave Gettleman to replace the fired Jerry Reese. Gettleman has a history in the Giants’ front
office and oversaw a Super Bowl team in Carolina.
But was it the right move? There are some within the league who wonder about that. It was Marty Hurney, not Gettleman, who put much of the core of the Panthers’ Super Bowl team in place. And Gettleman might have disassembled that Super Bowl team too quickly when he inexplicably removed the franchise player tag from cornerback Josh Norman, allowing him to leave Carolina and sign with the Redskins.
It also is possible that the hiring of Gettleman could take the Giants out of the running for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to fill their head coaching vacancy. Some within the league suspect that McDaniels wants to work with Patriots executive Nick Caserio or ESPN analyst Louis Riddick as his GM. The Giants interviewed Riddick but went with Gettleman, who formerly worked for Ernie Accorsi in the team’s front office. Accorsi assisted the Giants’ search.
Gettleman very well might make things work and restore the Giants to their accustomed level of success. But not everyone within the sport considers that a sure thing. Riveron and replay ... When NFL owners voted in March in Phoenix to ratify centralized replay — meaning that rulings on instant replay reviews would be made from the league office, with the referee on the field merely consulting — they did so with the belief that Dean Blandino would be overseeing the new system as head of the NFL’s officiating department.
The move was an attempt to make replay rulings more consistent and more accurate. It also could have been interpreted as a vote of confidence in the performance of Blandino, who had earned respect in most teams’ front offices for the manner in which he did a ver y demanding job.
But then Blandino abruptly left the NFL to become a rules analyst for Fox, and the league promoted Al Riveron to replace him. The hope was that the transition would be seamless, given that Riveron had been by Blandino’s side assisting him on replay rulings and other key tasks.
The transition has not been seamless. A number of replay rulings this season have raised eyebrows in and around the league, most recently the decision to overturn a touchdown catch last weekend by the Buffalo Bills’ Kelvin Benjamin. Bills owner Terry Pegula went public this week with his dissatisfaction, saying that the NFL must fix its replay system.
Some of this season’s replay rulings have been criticized by Blandino and Mike Pereira, Blandino’s predecessor with the NFL who also is a Fox rules analyst. Some within the league believe that Riveron has, at times, attempted to re-officiate plays from New York rather than adhering to the intended role of replay and merely correcting obvious mistakes while otherwise allowing the calls made on the field to stand.
So the issue becomes: Is the NFL’s replay system broken? Or is it merely being misapplied this season?
It will be interesting to see what happens this coming offseason when the NFL’s rule-making competition committee deliberates and then reports to the owners at the annual league meeting in March in Orlando. The replay system itself could be tweaked. Or if the conclusion is that the system itself is fine but the way it is being applied is not, there could be a directive made to change the approach.