Few NFL regular seasons have ended with a more frantic finish than this one. (Don’t we know it, Miami!) Week 17 bears in with four of 12 playoff spots yet to be determined and with 10 teams still alive — however faintly — for that final coveted quartet of postseason passes.
It has been seven years since this many fans league-wide have been allowed to carry hope into the last week, and, complainers be damned, it’s a wonderful advertisement for King Sport. Two winner-take-all finales in Packers-Bears and Eagles-Cowboys — I don’t care what the records are, that’s sports drama to the max.
The complaint of course is that mediocrity is taking over, like crabgrass, because the teams still fighting for a playoff spot include one with six losses, six with seven losses — including the Dolphins — and one with eight losses.
So what. When it all shakes out at least nine and perhaps as many as 10 of the 12 playoff entrants will be 10-win teams.
It is the barely-over-.500 teams sneaking in last that give a postseason its Cinderella element, its needed balance.
Besides, this isn’t the NBA or NHL, where seven-game playoff series make it nearly impossible for the true underdogs to advance. And this isn’t baseball, where so few (too few) teams make the postseason that Cinderellas need not apply.
This is the NFL, where being in the playoffs means you have a real chance, and where being in the playoffs needn’t always mean excellence, because there is room too for the pluggers, the fighters, the grinders and the lucky.
Consider that just since 1997 five wild-card teams have won the Super Bowl and five teams with six or more losses have reigned. Have we forgotten that as recently as 2011 a 9-7 Giants team wound up fitting its nickname? Matter of fact the past three SB champs in a row lost at least six games.
So, yes, a bunch of barely .500 teams are still alive this weekend.
And it’s a good thing.
Here’s how it is entering the Week 17 regular-season finale:
• AFC — In: Broncos, Patriots, Bengals, Colts and Chiefs. Four alive for final spot, with postseason likelihood via makenflplayoffs.com: Ravens 43.76%, Dolphins 37.46, Chargers 12.58 and Steelers 6.20.
• NFC — In: Seahawks, Panthers and 49ers. Six alive for final three spots, with postseason likelihood via makenflplayoffs.com: Saints 74.89%, Eagles 50.12, Bears 50.10, Packers 49.90, Cowboys 49.88 and Cardinals 25.11.
• Final Pro Bowl votes are to be revealed Friday. No Dolphin will make it via fan selection, but guys who still have a shot to be added include punter Brandon Fields, cornerback Brent Grimes, center Mike Pouncey and defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.
• Denver’s will be most prolific offense of modern era if it scores 18 points at Oakland to break New England’s 2007 season record of 589. Pats scored 75 touchdowns that year. The Broncos enter their finale with 72.
• Panthers’ Luke Kuechly might have secured defensive player of the year honors last week as first player since 2001 to have a game with 20 tackles and an interception.
• Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (103 catches) has joined Wes Welker as only players with five 100-catch seasons.
• Ex-Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby of Cardinals is only the fourth player to have at least six sacks, four interceptions and two returned for TDs in a season.