Time is running out. With two weeks to go in the NFL regular season, it's time for teams to make their final playoff push.
"There is a lot of football to be played in the next two weeks, not only for the Atlanta Falcons, but for everybody in the league," says Falcons head coach MIKE SMITH.
While four postseason berths have been clinched - Atlanta, Chicago, New England and Pittsburgh - there are still 20 teams in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLV in North Texas.
"We're constantly trying to give ourselves the best chance to have success," says head coach SEAN PAYTON of the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. "That means winning as many games as you can to get into playoff position. Our focus is on the next opponent."
The division races are going down to the wire. Seven of the eight divisions have yet to be decided - Chicago won the NFC North - and three divisions (AFC North, AFC South and NFC West) have two teams tied for first place with just two weeks to play.
"We have two division games coming up and we have to focus on that," says head coach JOHN HARBAUGH of the 10-4 Baltimore Ravens. "We have to keep the pressure on Pittsburgh. We're still trying to win the division."
Week 16 begins at Heinz Field, when Pittsburgh hosts the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night (NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET). Despite a loss to the New York Jets last week, the 10-4 Steelers clinched a playoff berth and are closing in on the AFC North division title.
"We're excited about advancing to the postseason," says Steelers head coach MIKE TOMLIN. "A division title is still in our sights and all the goals we set out for ourselves at the beginning of the year are still attainable. We've got to play winning football. And it starts with Carolina on Thursday night."
The action continues on Christmas night when the Arizona Cardinals host the Dallas Cowboys at University of Phoenix Stadium (NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET). The last time these teams met (October 12, 2008), the Cardinals won 30-24 in overtime when SEAN MOREY blocked a punt that was returned by MONTY BEISEL three yards for a touchdown. It marked the first time in NFL regular-season history that a game has ended on a touchdown off a blocked punt.
Some of the headline games in Week 16 :
NEW YORK JETS (10-4) at CHICAGO BEARS (10-4) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)
The Jets improved to 10-4 with a 22-17 road victory at Pittsburgh in Week 15. BRAD SMITH returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and cornerback MARQUICE COLE broke up the game's final play in the end zone.
With a win at Chicago on Sunday, New York can clinch a playoff spot.
"The great thing is that all we have to do is win to get into the playoffs," says Jets head coach REX RYAN. "That's all I know. That's all I'm concerned with. That's our focus.
Through Week 15, NFL games are averaging 44.3 points per game. If that pace holds for the final two weeks of the season, it will be the highest scoring average in the Super Bowl era.
"We know they're a good football team," says Ryan about the Bears. "Their record proves that. Playing them at their place, it's not an easy place to play by any stretch of the imagination. They'll be fired up, but we know how to play. We've just got to go out and play to the best of our ability and see what happens."
The Bears clinched the NFC North with a 40-14 victory at Minnesota on Monday night. Chicago's DEVIN HESTER scored two touchdowns, including a 64-yard punt-return TD. He has 14 combined kick-return touchdowns in his career, the most in NFL history.
"We're not satisfied just being division champs and making the playoffs," says Bears tight end GREG OLSEN. "We want to go the whole way. We've got two games left. The highest seed you can get gives you more chances of having those home playoff games. If you can get the first-round bye, that would be huge. It's exciting. But we're not content. We know where we want to go. We're not there yet."
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (8-6) at OAKLAND RAIDERS (7-7) (Sunday, CBS, 4:05 PM ET)
The Colts knocked off the Jaguars 34-24 last week to move into a tie with Jacksonville atop the AFC South. The Colts, who currently hold the tiebreaker over the Jagaurs, can win the division with wins in their final two games.
"It's make it, take it," says Indianapolis head coach JIM CALDWELL. "We have to keep winning."
Oakland defeated the Denver Broncos last week 39-23 and the Raiders are still in the mix for a playoff spot.
"Everybody's excited we have something to play for," says Oakland cornerback NNAMDI ASOMUGHA. "It's great for us and it's great for the mood of the team."
"We need to win these last two and let everything take care of itself," says Raiders fullback MARCEL REECE. "We have to take care of our business and not worry about the other teams. We just need to worry about Indianapolis this week and then Kansas City the last week of the season."
NEW YORK GIANTS (9-5) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-6) (Sunday, FOX, 4:15 PM ET)
The Giants and Packers will meet at Green Bay's Lambeau Field in a game with playoff implications. The Giants own a 9-5 record while the Packers are just one game behind at 8-6.
"We're 8-6," says Green Bay head coach MIKE MC CARTHY. "We need to get ready for the Giants and we need to get our ninth win. That's the focus of our football team."
New York enters Week 16 knowing that a win over Green Bay will secure the Giants a playoff berth.
"We're in a good position," says New York quarterback ELI MANNING. "We're in a position a lot of other teams would like to be in. We have to go out and win at Green Bay and that's our goal. We have to have a great week of preparation and focus and make sure we continue to do things well and find a way to get a win against a good team."
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (10-4) at ATLANTA FALCONS (12-2) (Monday, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)
Two of the NFC's best will take center stage on Monday night at the Georgia Dome when the 12-2 Falcons host the 10-4 Saints. Atlanta won the Week 3 meeting between the teams, a 27-24 overtime victory at New Orleans. With a win on Monday night, the Falcons will clinch the NFC South and secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
"We are focused on this game because it's the next game," says Atlanta head coach MIKE SMITH. "We know where we're at. It's going to be a hard-fought football game. The Saints are playing as well as any team in the league right now. It's a big challenge. We know what's at stake.
"It is going to be imperative for us to get that dome rocking as we get ready for the defending Super Bowl champions coming in here on Monday night. I encourage everybody to come on down to the dome and get ready to roll."
For the Saints, the defending Super Bowl champions can lock up a playoff berth with a win (or a Tampa Bay loss or tie on Sunday). A victory also would keep New Orleans in the hunt for the division title.
"There are two division games left and the key for us is to get our 11th win," says Saints head coach SEAN PAYTON. "Right now, the first opportunity to get that win comes versus Atlanta on Monday in a primetime game. We're excited about it. We know it's a big challenge going there and the team we're playing."