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Reason for a change

Oh, NFC West, why do you torture us so?

The race among the four tortoises out West has cost one coach his job and given the rest of us headaches. If only we didn't love football so, then we could turn the TV off and not worry about the Rams-Seahawks game.

But NBC decided that's what we shall see on Sunday night and so it will be.

With a win, the Seahawks - who are 2-7 in their last nine games and have lost those seven games by an average of 22.1 points - would claim the division at 7-9 and host a playoff game. It sounds unlikely, but consider that the Rams will be starting a rookie quarterback in his first nationally televised game with a raucous crowd inside the league's loudest building rooting against him.

If the NFL can change the rules midseason on the penalties handed out for hard hits, it can change them midseason to keep sub-.500 teams out of the playoffs. Heck, David Stern once changed the length of the first round of the NBA playoffs halfway through the season.

Roger Goodell, please keep us from having to watch the farce of 12-4 New Orleans playing on the road at 7-9 Seattle in a playoff game.

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The longest shot

We know who's in the playoffs and who has a pretty good chance to get there. But who has the longest odds on Sunday?

It's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it isn't all that inconceivable. In fact, as long as they get the help they need, the Bucs don't even have to beat the Saints on Sunday to get in.

If the Bucs and Saints tie and the Giants lose in Washington (would you bet on the Giants right now?) while the Packers lose to the Bears (who have locked in a first-round bye but could still get the No. 1 seed), Tampa Bay will head for Philadelphia in the first round. If the Bucs win, they need only a tie from the Giants and Packers.

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Scheduling drama

The NFL flexed its scheduling muscle and did its best to make sure any game with playoff implications going into Week 17 will still have that drama at kickoff.

Pittsburgh and Baltimore are tied atop the AFC Central and each will play at 1 p.m.

One game apart, Atlanta and New Orleans will decide the NFC South in separate contests, each starting at 1.

The Colts and Jaguars are in a similar scenario and will kick off their games at 4:15.

The Giants and Packers are trying to get in the door, and each will kick off at 4:15. (The aforementioned Bucs play at 1 against the Saints, but that contest will not change the stakes for New York or Green Bay.)

The only winner-take-all game, St. Louis at Seattle, stands alone at 8:20.

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White gold

The winter storm that shut down a large chunk of the East Coast may have helped CBS to its best NFL Sunday in 13 seasons.

Viewers unable to escape the house boosted the preliminary ratings to 15.4 and a 30 share, the best for CBS since it took over AFC coverage in 1998.

Sunday's CBS games were Chicago-New York Jets, Baltimore-Cleveland, Tennessee-Kansas City, New England-Buffalo, Indianapolis-Oakland, San Diego-Cincinnati, and Houston-Denver.

The network's previous best was a 14.3 on Oct. 17.