The New Year’s holiday playoff dinner table has no more seats in the AFC. There is space for just one reservation at the NFC table.
As a result, minimal drama on the final day of the season.
Green Bay at Detroit, the 256th and final game of the 2016 regular season on Sunday night, is the only matchup where both teams are fighting to make it into the Super Bowl Tournament. The survivor will be the NFC North champion and the loser will be eliminated if earlier in the day Washington beats the Giants, putting three NFC East teams in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
There’s still plenty to be determined with first-round byes and playoff seeding in both conferences. The only spots locked in: Cowboys at No. 1 and Giants at No. 5 in the NFC and the Steelers at No. 3 and Texans at No. 4 in the AFC.
Here’s my prediction on playoff seeding:
NFC: 1. Cowboys 2. Falcons 3. Seahawks 4. Packers 5. Giants 6. Washington
AFC: 1. Patriots 2. Chiefs 3. Steelers 4. Texans 5. Raiders 6. Dolphins
Stay tuned for more drama on Black Monday.
To set things up for the final Sunday and a busy next few weeks, here is the annual Daily News Season-Ending Guide.
1. AND THE ENVELOPE PLEASE FOR THE MVP
Sneak preview: I have one of the 50 votes for the Associated Press All-Pro team and individual awards. The votes are due Wednesday but I’ve made up my mind for MVP: Raiders QB Derek Carr.
He has the Raiders in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and it’s such a shame he broke his fibula last week and is done for the year. He wears No. 4 because he loves Brett Favre and he has a lot of the old gunslinger in him but keeps the INTs down. He has 28 TDs, 6 INTs and 3,933 yards passing. I picked Carr over Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (34 TDs, 7 INTs, 4,613 yards) and New England’s Tom Brady (25 TDs, 2 INTs, 3,278 yards)
Why Carr? He took what has been the most dysfunctional team and won 12 games, the most for the Raiders since 2000. Going into this season, they were 63-145 since their Super Bowl appearance in 2002 and never finished above .500. Ryan has been spectacular but has won two fewer games. Brady has been Brady, which means he’s just adding to his legacy as the best QB of all time. Although he was punished unfairly for Deflategate, he was suspended for one-quarter of the season, which makes it hard to pick him. He will gladly trade the regular season MVP for his fourth Super Bowl MVP trophy on Feb. 5.
2. BLACK MONDAY ROLL CALL
Fisher, Bradley and Ryan are gone. Interim coaches Anthony Lynn (Bills) and Doug Marrone (Jaguars) have a chance to hold on. John Fassel (Rams) does not, but he is one of the best special teams coaches in the league and will be in demand.
Who could be told to turn in their playbook Monday?
Chuck Pagano days in charge of the Colts could be numbered.
(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Chuck Pagano: The Colts are wasting the best years of Andrew Luck’s career. He made the playoffs his first three years, advancing one round further each time, but was hurt most of last year and this year has been hurt by a bad team around him. The Colts are out of the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1997-98 when Jim Harbaugh and Peyton Manning were the QBs. Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson were given contract extensions after last year, but that won’t stop Jim Irsay from firing them.
John Fox: He’s 9-22 in two years with the Bears. He’s the most overrated coach of the last 15 years and could get fired from his third job.
Chip Kelly: It’s more likely GM Trent Baalke gets fired than Kelly loses his job after one year even though his only two victories are against the Rams. GMs don’t last long with Kelly — right Howie Roseman in Philly? They blew it pushing Harbaugh out two years ago. Jim Tomsula lasted only one year.
Mike McCoy: The Chargers (5-10) have 19 players on IR and Philip Rivers has thrown 19 INTs. McCoy is 28-38 in four seasons, including 1-1 in the playoffs. If the Chargers are on their way to Los Angeles next season, then it makes sense for Dean Spanos to switch coaches and give the team a fresh look.
Tom Coughlin (r.) should get another shot to coach in the NFL.
(Al Bello/Getty Images)
3. WHO ARE THE HOT COACHING CANDIDATES?
Tom Coughlin 2.0 could happen in Jacksonville. Coughlin and Ryan became very good friends the last couple of years they each coached in New York. How about Ryan as Coughlin’s defensive coordinator? Coughlin could also be the replacement for Ryan in Buffalo.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, with a strong recommendation from Brady, is ready for another chance to be a head coach. If he’s a believer in Jared Goff, the Rams job would fit. Same with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who had a failed stint as Broncos head coach, appears ready for another shot at a top job.
(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Nightmare scenario for the Jets with sources saying Todd Bowles is safe: If Sean Payton and the Saints decide a divorce makes sense after he signed a five-year, $45 million extension in March and missed the playoffs again and they are willing to trade him, then Payton is exactly the coach the Jets need: A tough guy, the No. 1 Bill Parcells disciple in attitude and philosophy, he’s also a creative offensive mind. Maybe he could bring Drew Brees along for a couple of years. Even if the Jets had an opening, Payton to the Rams is more logical.
4. WILL BILL BELICHICK COST THE PATRIOTS THE NO. 1 SEED AGAIN?
They went into game 15 last year with a two-game lead on the Broncos for the No. 1 seed. Magic number: One. But the Little Hoodie didn’t give the Patriots a chance to beat the Jets in OT when he won the toss and kicked off and Ryan Fitzpatrick was unstoppable driving for the winning TD in the signature moment of his Jets career; and, the next week in Miami, Belichick took the ball out of Brady’s hands again and decided to work on the Pats running game and lost. The Broncos won their last two games and the AFC title game was played in Denver, where the Broncos beat the Pats. If Belichick didn’t have a coaching meltdown, the championship game would have been played in Foxborough and there is no doubt New England wins that game.
So to secure the No. 1 seed on Sunday, the Pats need to win in Miami, or Oakland, without Carr, has to lose in Denver. Otherwise, the Pats will have to go into the Black Hole if they both get past the divisional round.
5. CAN THE COWBOYS DO THE TEXAS THREE STEP?
The Cowboys, who have won only three playoff games since last winning the Super Bowl in 1995, don’t have to leave Texas to get their sixth title. The NFC playoffs go through Dallas and then Super Bowl LI is 240 miles south in Houston. If the Cowboys get to the big game, it will be the hottest Super Bowl ticket ever, especially if they play the Patriots. Brady Nation will really have to infiltrate Houston to prevent this from being the greatest home field advantage in Super Bowl history.
Warning to Cowboys Nation: The last time the Cowboys were the No. 1 seed nine years ago, Tony Romo spent part of the bye week in Cabo and Dallas lost in the divisional round to the Giants.
You can be sure rookie Dak Prescott will not be anywhere near a beach during the bye week.
The issue with Romo is how much he will play Sunday in Philly. He hasn’t been in a regular season game since breaking his collarbone last Thanksgiving for the second time in the 2015 season. Romo could use some snaps in the event Prescott suffers an injury in the playoffs. Prescott’s 13 victories tie him with Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie record set in 2004.
Eli Manning should keep his streak alive and then quickly find a spot on the bench Sunday.
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
6. SHOULD ELI MANNING PLAY IN WASHINGTON?
Ben McAdoo should let him play the first series to extend his consecutive starts streak to 199 games — third longest behind Favre (297) and Peyton Manning (208) — and then get him out of there. It’s a game with no playoff implications for the Giants.
Three reasons to play it safe:
– Carr and Marcus Mariota each suffered fractured fibulas last week. I hate the argument that a player can also get hurt walking across the street. It seems there is a better chance of a defensive end with bad intentions hurting Manning than him getting run over by a car. Minimize the risks. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, one of Terry Bradshaw’s favorites, is more than a cheerleader. He’s a smart guy. He’s sitting down Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell against the Browns.
– In the final game of the 2013 season, Manning suffered an ankle injury vs. Washington and missed the second half. He eventually needed surgery. Washington is in the playoffs with a victory and will be playing all out. Manning’s arm can also use the rest: His 571 attempts are tied with Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins for fourth in the league. Having a first-round bye is a huge advantage in the playoffs. The Giants didn’t earn one but McAdoo can make this weekend a bye with smart deployment of personnel.
– It would be great if McAdoo can predict the future and know his offense would finally get untracked in Washington after 15 games and go into the playoffs with momentum and that Manning would not be injured. But there’s a better chance of Manning getting hurt than the offense exploding.
7. CAN ANYBODY IN AFC BEAT THE PATRIOTS?
Just the Steelers.
They are the only team with a QB who can stand toe-to-toe with Brady. Last year, the Steelers nearly won in the divisional round in Denver despite Big Ben playing with an injured throwing shoulder and with Bell and Brown out with injuries.
Look at the other AFC QBs. Kansas City has a capable game manager in Alex Smith but his coach Andy Reid is one of the worst playoff coaches of this generation. Matt McGloin, who has not started a game since 2013, takes over for Carr; Houston’s Tom Savage is starting over Brock Osweiler, the $72 million bust; and Matt Moore is the Dolphins starter unless Ryan Tannehill makes it back next weekend from his knee injury. That is not an impressive group.
8. ARE THE CHARGERS HEADING NORTH ON I-5 TO LA?
They have until Jan. 15 to exercise their option to be $1 per year tenants of the Rams in Stan Kroenke’s $2.6 billion palace in Inglewood. One source told me the construction is already behind schedule and the stadium, on the site of the old Hollywood Race Track, is not expected to be ready until 2020. The plan has been to open in 2019. If the Chargers exercise their option, they can’t play in San Diego as a lame duck for even one year. It would get ugly. It’s likely they will join the Rams in the L.A. Coliseum. The Rams’ difficult season in their first year back in L.A. gives the Chargers an opportunity, with a good product, to make inroads right away in a new market. Unless a new stadium plan emerges at the last minute in San Diego, the Chargers will probably be on the move.
9. DAK’S ALL FOLKS
It’s best buddies Prescott vs. Zeke Elliott for offensive rookie of the year. In any other year, it would go to Elliott. But Prescott, just a fourth-round pick, has been phenomenal. He’s 13-2 with 23 TDs and just four INTs. Last year, the Cowboys were 1-11 without Romo.
10. THAT’S A NICE TIE
If Washington beats the Giants, they are in as the No. 6 seed unless the Lions and Packers tie… then both Detroit and Green Bay are in. The Packers would win the NFC North (they would be 1-0-1 vs. Detroit) and the Lions would get the second wild-card over Washington (they beat Dan Snyder’s team).
What if the Lions and Packers are in overtime? Do they each play it safe and settle for the tie so they live to play another game? Will Mike McCarthy and Jim Caldwell wink at each other? Or do they go for the win to get the home game next week instead of being on the road, but risk making a big mistake to lose the game and be out of the playoffs?
This could be a $5 million job for Ted Wells.
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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News