It's Jets vs. Raiders in battle of the bickering

Posted: Sunday, January 06, 2002

The New York Jets may have squandered their best shot at the playoffs when they lost last week to Buffalo. Then they began bickering about who to blame -- offensive coordinator Paul Hackett or quarterback Vinny Testaverde -- for a stupid play call late in the game.

Now the Jets go to Oakland to play the Raiders, who have lost three of five to endanger their chances of a first-round bye. They're bickering, too, as quarterback Rich Gannon claims the team lacks discipline.

''Rich Gannon can say what he wants to say,'' coach Jon Gruden says. ''I respect his opinion, but his opinion isn't the only one on this football team.''

The Raiders (10-5) will clinch a first-round bye with a win, as long as New England wins at Carolina (1-14) or Miami loses to Buffalo. If the Raiders lose, they'll probably have to play a first-round game.

The Jets (9-6) will make the playoffs if they win, but they should have done that against the Bills. If they lose and Seattle beats Kansas City at home, they're out, adding another late-season failure to the ones they've had under Bruce Coslet, Pete Carroll, Bill Parcells and Al Groh.

If New York does miss out, it has more people to blame than Testaverde and Hackett.

Buffalo had won just two games going into last Sunday and has allowed the third most points in the league, 386 in 15 games. Yet the Jets, playing at home, got just three field goals.

In other words, it shouldn't have come down to the one play, on which Testaverde threw over the middle to Curtis Martin with the clock running down and no timeouts left. That left him time only to get off a futile desperation pass.

New England (10-5) at Carolina (1-14)

Buffalo (3-12) at Miami (10-5)

Kansas City (6-9) at Seattle (8-7)

The Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a win and can get a first-round bye if they win and Oakland loses. If New England loses, Miami can win the division by beating the Bills, although Buffalo proved last week it can be dangerous.

For the Panthers, the stakes are more embarrassing. They can become the first team to lose 15 straight games in a single season. They have a long way to go to reach the two-season record: Tampa Bay lost its first 26 as an expansion team in 1976-77, 14 games the first season and 12 the next.

Seattle has no walkover, because Kansas City has won three straight, something the Seahawks haven't done all season -- their longest winning and losing streaks are two games.

Atlanta (7-8) at St. Louis (13-2)

Jacksonville (6-9) at Chicago (12-3)

Green Bay (11-4) at New York Giants (7-8)

The NFC pecking order.

If St. Louis, Chicago and Green Bay all win, the Rams will be seeded first and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But Chicago can catch the Rams if they win and St. Louis loses. If the Bears lose and Green Bay wins, the Packers win the Central and the first-round bye that goes with it.

Most likely, nothing will change, although what happens to the Packers may depend on whether the Giants feel like playing after being eliminated in Philadelphia last week.

One incentive for New York is Michael Strahan's challenge to Mark Gastineau's single-season sacks record. Strahan enters the game with 21 1/2, just behind the 22 Gastineau had in 1984.

Minnesota (5-10) at Baltimore (9-6)(Monday night)

The Ravens should make the playoffs, but their chances of repeating aren't very good. Elvis Grbac was terrible in Tampa last week, the running game is nil and the 262 points allowed in 15 games is 97 more than in 16 games last season.

Philadelphia (10-5) at Tampa Bay (9-6)

This Sunday night contest is more like an exhibition than a regular-season game.

Whatever happens, these teams will meet in a playoff game next week in Philadelphia. Eagles coach Andy Reid says ''we'll play to win, just like we do every game.''

Note: There are 17 Bucs and 15 Eagles on the ''injury'' report.

Dallas (5-10) at Detroit (1-14)

The major story line involves Emmitt Smith, who needs 56 yards to become the first player with 11 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Smith, who turns 33 next May, had a season-high 126 yards last week against San Francisco and is 616 yards behind Walter Payton's NFL record of 16,726.

Cincinnati (5-10) at Tennessee (7-8)

This is likely to be the final game for Bruce Matthews, Tennessee's 41-year-old offensive lineman, who has played more NFL games than any non-kicker.

San Francisco (11-4) at New Orleans (7-8)

The 49ers' loss in Dallas last week leaves them facing a trip to Green Bay for a first-round playoff game. If they win and the Packers lose in the Meadowlands, the game will be in San Francisco.

Cleveland (7-8) at Pittsburgh (12-3)

The Browns aren't satisfied with the way their season has ended, although they ended a four-game losing streak in Tennessee last week. Nonetheless, their seven victories are two more than they had combined in their first two seasons back in the league.

Denver (8-7) at Indianapolis (5-10)

Two examples of what injuries can do to teams that began the season with high hopes, although the Colts' awful defense probably doomed them anyway.

Arizona (7-8) at Washington (7-8)

The winner gets to .500, quite an accomplishment for both.

The Redskins have bounced back from an 0-5 start. If the Cardinals win, it would be just their third year at .500 or better in the 14 seasons since they moved from St. Louis.

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