It's that time of the season again. No, not presents, office parties, and alcohol. It's NFL playoff scenarios season.
The cheery news for fans of New England, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and the New York Jets is that all four clinch playoff berths this weekend.
The Patriots (10-2) will do so simply with a victory. They also get in if Miami (6-6) and Jacksonville (7-5) both lose or tie, or if Miami and Indianapolis (6-6 and playing Tennessee on Thursday night) both lose or tie.
The Steelers (9-3) need a variety of scenarios, all of them requiring a Pittsburgh win except one in which a tie and losses or ties by Miami, Oakland (6-6), and San Diego (6-6), and an Indianapolis loss will do.
Atlanta (10-2) must win and have any two of the Giants (8-4), Eagles (8-4), and Packers (8-4) lose. Or a Falcons tie and losses by the Giants, Eagles, Packers, and a loss or tie by the Buccaneers (7-5).
The Jets (9-3) need a win and losses or ties by the Chargers and Jaguars, or Chargers and Colts. Or a Jets tie and losses by San Diego and Indianapolis, plus a loss or tie by Oakland.
Thursday night milestones. Who'd have thought the Colts-Titans game would become a Losers' Bowl? But the Colts (6-6) have lost three straight and the Titans (5-7) have lost five straight.
Peyton Manning needs one TD pass to become the first QB in NFL history to throw 25 TD passes in 13 straight seasons. (He's already the only player to do it 12 in a row.) Manning has 62 career 300-yard passing games, tied for second most in NFL history with Brett Favre. Dan Marino had 63.
The Titans' Randy Moss needs 95 yards receiving to pass Tim Brown (14,934) for fourth-most in NFL history.
Quarterbacks roundup. Matt Cassel, a key reason the Kansas City Chiefs have emerged as contenders, underwent an appendectomy Wednesday.
The Chiefs said the procedure was a success and they expected Cassel to return to work this week. They did not say he would be ready to play on Sunday, when the Chiefs (8-4) travel to San Diego.
Brodie Croyle, who is 0-9 as an NFL starter and has not appeared in a game all year, took snaps with the starting team at practice.
Brett Favre said he was unsure if he would be able to extend his NFL record of 297 consecutive starts against the Giants, because of a sprained right shoulder. Interim coach Leslie Frazier said he wouldn't be surprised if a decision goes until game time.
Miami's Chad Pennington is scheduled for shoulder surgery Friday, and he said it was 50-50 whether he'll retire. The 34-year-old will undergo surgery on his right shoulder for a fourth time.
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt declined to name a quarterback for Sunday's game against Denver. Rookie John Skelton and the newly signed Richard Bartel took reps with the first unit in practice.
Noteworthy. Detroit defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch will go on injured reserve because of a bulging disk in his neck that requires surgery. . . . Miami receiver Brian Hartline missed practice because of a finger injury, and coach Tony Sparano said his status was day to day. . . . The Jets released wide receiver Laveranues Coles and added safety Emanuel Cook to the roster. . . . The Chargers said they would play in San Diego in 2011, amid speculation the team could move to Los Angeles in the future. . . . NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spent a few hours with the the NFL's head, neck, and spine medical committee to hear from equipment makers, researchers, the military, and NASCAR officials on how to improve helmet safety and cut down on concussions.