The NFL’s regular season came to an end yesterday, and the action, as dictated by the league’s creative scheduling, was Exhibit A as to why professional football is the king of the American sports world.

So here’s where things stood coming into yesterday’s games: The Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals had all already qualified for the playoffs in the AFC, while the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles had all already punched their tickets to the postseason. That left only two playoff berths open, both in the AFC, with the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens in the driver’s seat to secure those two spots.  Both teams entered the weekend knowing that all they had to do was win their game in order to make the playoffs.  But a loss by either of those teams would open the door for several other squads, like the Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Denver Broncos.

Inherently dramatic stuff, but the NFL has used its staggered scheduling system to wring even more drama out of its final weekend.  How do they do this?  In their 1 p.m. time slot yesterday, the league scheduled the Houston Texans to play New England and the Pittsburgh Steelers to play the Miami Dolphins.  With a win,  both the Steelers and Texans would still be alive for a playoff berth going into the late afternoon games, and both teams did just that.  So now the Steelers and Texans, and their fans, are now glued to their televisions to watch the late afternoon games, which featured the Baltimore Ravens playing the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs visiting the Denver Broncos, while the night game featured the Jets against the Bengals.  The Texans needed losses by two of the three teams still alive for playoff berths (the Broncos, Ravens, and Jets) in order to qualify for the playoffs, while the Steelers needed all three teams to lose.  So during the 4:15 window, the Ravens, behind a great day by running back Willis McGahee (pictured)  beat the Raiders, but the Broncos lost to the Chiefs. So now, going into the final game of the day (the Jets game against the Bengals), the Ravens had qualified for the postseason, the Steelers were eliminated (thanks to Baltimore’s win) and the Texans were hoping against hope that the Jets would lose.  They did not.  New York crushed a Cincinnati team that looked like they would have rather, all things being equal, not even bothered to play their final meaningless game of the season. (more…)

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In all honesty, there are very few must-see events on the sporting calendar on Saturday. There is some college football action, but nothing to write home about.  So if you want to do anything with your sports fan we strongly suggest that you do so tomorrow.  The NFL returns on Sunday, and we all know that means.  Add in the fact that the Colts ad Patriots will be going at it on Sunday night, and we would urge you to make alternate plans for Sunday night. Here’s our guide to what’s on tap.

1. The Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots have played each other every year for the last seven years, and the two winningest teams on the decade will renew hostilities on Sunday night.  This rivalry features the two best quarterbacks in the league, bar none, in Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and New England’s Thomas Edward Brady Jr. The Colts enter this game unbeaten at 8-0, while the Patriot are 6-2, but have won their last three games.  This one should be very entertaining.  Don’t expect your average sports fan to be doing anything else on Sunday night.  It’s a good thing the Mad Men finale was last week.

2. If the Colts-Pats game is the main event on Sunday night, the NFL does have a few rather interesting games on the undercard in the afternoon.  The Cincinnati Bengals will travel to Pittsburgh to face the defending champion Steelers at 1 p.m. in a game that will determine the leader in the AFC North.  The Philadelphia Eagles, fresh off a terrible loss to the Dallas Cowboys, will travel to the west coast to face the suddenly resurgent San Diego Chargers.  And the Dallas Cowboys will square off against the reeling Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin.

3. When the best game on the college football schedule is a match-up between Texas Christian and Utah, you know that this is not a banner week on the collegiate gridiron.  But still, there are a few games this weekend that could get in the way of your best laid plans.  Tonight, Cincinnati will put its unbeaten record on the line when the Bearcats face West Virginia at 8 p.m.  This is the beginning of a brutal final stretch for Cincy as they play both the Mountaineers and number 12 Pitt in their final three games, with a home date against pesky Illinois sandwiched between those two league contests.  Speaking of Pitt, they wil go up against Notre Dame on Saturday night in a game that may very well determine the future of Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. (more…)