nolead begins

Win and in (or tie, or tie and . . .)

We're certain you've read playoff scenarios at this time of year before. Some teams have a list longer than Santa Claus' naughty-or-nice dossier, and sometimes they include items such as "need Jupiter and Saturn to align with Mars."

For five teams this week, it's as simple as win and in.

The Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, and New York Jets can clinch playoff spots just by winning. In fact, the Eagles, Ravens, Saints, and Jets can clinch with a tie.

In addition, the Eagles, New England, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Atlanta can clinch division titles, though the path for some is easier than others.

And the Patriots and Falcons can clinch the top seed in their respective conferences with nothing more than a tie.

nolead begins

On the other side of the coin . . .

If we're talking about the race for the playoffs, that means it's also time to talk about the race to be the team that will watch in horror as Stanford QB Andrew Luck becomes a bust. (Just kidding . . . we think.)

The Carolina Panthers sit in whatever is the opposite of the catbird seat. The Panthers are 2-13 with a 11/2-game "lead" over their competition and head to 12-2 Atlanta in Week 17. A 2-14 finish, which would clinch the No. 1 spot in the draft, seems likely.

The Panthers probably wouldn't go for Luck after picking Jimmy Clausen with the 48th pick last year.

The 3-11 Bengals (with games vs. San Diego and at Baltimore) and 3-11 Broncos (hosting Houston and San Diego) also can nab that top pick if Carolina slips up and wins its last game.

The Broncos used last year's first-round pick to select Tim Tebow. If the Bengals wake up and realize what everyone else knew two years ago - that Carson Palmer is washed up - it seems they would be the most likely team for Luck.

nolead begins

The Lombardi Trophy won't rebuild the Ninth Ward

Atlanta wideout Roddy White took exception to Trent Dilfer's proclaiming the Saints would beat the Falcons this week and again if they meet in the playoffs.

So White went to Twitter, where it seems things - such as spelling - never go well: "The grace of god gave them tht championship so tht city wouldn fall apart now and now they think they hot [stuff]."

It seems to us that if the grace of God was going to give anything to New Orleans, it would have been a reprieve from Hurricane Katrina in the first place.

And does White know how, exactly, the Lombardi Trophy is keeping the city from falling apart? Is it being used as a load-bearing professional sports award?

nolead begins

Yes, we all answer to Darth Vader

As a guest on Dan Patrick's radio show this week, ex-Giant Michael Strahan called his former team "soft and relaxed" during the fourth quarter against the Eagles.

Eli Manning, who famously called out ex-Giant Tiki Barber in 2007, took it in stride.

"Well, it is typical," Manning said, according to "He has gone media so that is what they do. . . . He's on the dark side now."

You think it stung when Strahan and Barber turned on you? Just wait until your brother joins us in a few years, Eli.