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Bears (somehow) keep playoff hopes alive

Kyle OrtonI don’t know whether to laud the Chicago Bears for their incredible come-from-behind victory over the Green Bay Packers Monday night or write how they have a four-leaf clover shoved directly up their ass.

Somehow the Bears are still alive in the NFC North despite Kyle Orton’s two interceptions, the Packers out-gaining them by 115 total yards, and controlling the ball for almost eight minutes more.

Green Bay outplayed Chicago for nearly 57 minutes on Monday night. And even when the Bears tied the game at 17-17 with a Matt Forte 3-yard touchdown run with less than three minutes remaining, Chicago still tried to give the game away when Adrian Peterson committed a stupid penalty on the kickoff to give the Packers prime field position.

But it didn’t matter. In the closing minute of the game the Bears blocked a field goal, won the overtime coin toss when the coin hit off Brian Urlacher’s head (seriously), and won the game on a 38-yard Robbie Gould field goal. Chicago has more magic on Monday Night Football than David Copperfield has on a stage in Vegas. (Just ask Denny Green if the Bears are who we thought they were.)

So now Bear fans get to ride this roller coaster for another week. If Chicago can beat the Texans next Sunday in Houston and the Vikings lose to the Giants at the Metrodome, Da Bears are NFC North Champions. And if the 2000 NFC Championship Game is any indication of how the Vikings will play on Sunday, the NFC North title is Chicago’s to lose.

With the way both teams played in Week 16, neither the Vikings nor the Bears look like division champs. And depending on which Wild Card teams make it, there’s a strong case to be made that whichever team wins the North will be bounced in the first round. That said, you have to apperciate that two divisions (the North and South) won’t be won until the final week of the season. That’s what parity does for the game of football and I for one, am glad to have it (parity) around.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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The Panthers next game is crucial

John FoxThe Carolina Panthers better come up with a win next week against the New Orleans Saints or make no mistake, they’re in trouble come the postseason.

The Panthers are currently 11-4 on the season, but all four of their losses have come on the road. Granted, they do have impressive road wins against San Diego and Green Bay, but they needed late rallies in each game to come away victorious. It was easy to fall in love with Panthers when they thumped Tampa Bay and Denver the past two weeks, but each of those victories came at home and against teams that are fading fast.

Carolina lost the chance to play at home throughout the playoffs when they choked away a victory in New York Sunday night. The Giants came from behind multiple times in the second have to edge the Panthers 34-28 in overtime. The win allowed the G-Men to clinch the No. 1 seed and while the Panthers control their own destiny for the No. 2 seed, they left the door open for the Falcons to sneak through the backdoor.

With their 24-17 win over Minnesota, the Falcons just need a win over the Rams at home next week and a Panther loss in New Orleans to win the NFC South. Amazingly, Atlanta could go from out of the playoffs entering Week 16, to clinching the No. 2 seed at the end of the regular season.

But back to the Panthers – they need to win next week against the Saints. With their running game and the threat of Steve Smith taking it to the house every time he touches the ball, they’re every bit of a Super Bowl contender. But not if they have to go on the road to do so. NFC South teams are 0-11 on the road this year against other NFC South opponents and with Drew Brees going for Dan Mario’s record for most passing yards in a season, the Saints aren’t going to just hand Carolina a victory.

So essentially, a trip to the NFC Championship Game might be on the line this week for the Panthers in New Orleans.

Should the Jets fire Mangini if they miss the playoffs?

Bob Glauber of Newsday thinks they should:

If Mangini doesn’t get to the playoffs, the Jets need to show him the door. No excuses. No explanations. He was on board with the Favre decision, and he must pay the price if the collapse is completed next week.

Yesterday, his coaching was abysmal:

Fourth down and less than a yard from the Seattle 2 on the Jets’ first drive, and Mangini goes conservative and has Jay Feely kick a field goal.

Early in the fourth quarter, Feely makes a field goal with room to spare from 45 yards. However, the Jets are penalized five yards, which wipes out the points. Mangini elects to punt. What?!

With 2:21 left in the fourth quarter, the Jets face a fourth-and-2 at their 20 with all three timeouts and the two-minute warning, and Mangini goes for it. Favre’s pass over the middle to Laveranues Coles is dropped. The Seahawks kick a field goal (with 1:47 to play, meaning the Jets still had plenty of time if they’d elected to punt) to ice it.

It all adds up to three losses in four games, with the only win a gift from the Bills last week after Buffalo coach Dick Jauron inexplicably put the ball in J.P. Losman’s hands instead of Marshawn Lynch’s in a must-run situation.

The Jets’ playoff fate now rests in the hands of a 39-year-old quarterback who is at the end of the road — and a head coach who should be, too.

It’s amazing how Mangini has looked so bad at times since his first year in New York when he led the Jets to the playoffs. A lot of purists compared him to Bill Belichick when he became the Jets head coach, but the difference between Belicheat and Mangenious is having the ability to make adjustments throughout the game. Belichick is one of the best in-game coaches in the league and while Mangini can game plan, he can’t deliver when opponents start to make adjustments.

Things don’t look good for the Jets, although I think they beat Miami next week at the Meadowlands. The Dolphins have struggled there over the years and the Jets have been a better team at home than they’ve been on the road. But New England will win the AFC East. The Pats look like a juggernaut right now and I doubt they lose to the Bills next Sunday, although a game in Buffalo is always a little tougher in December than it is in September.

The race for the AFC West is a filthy mess of a situation

Mike ShanahanThat sound you just heard was the Denver Broncos’ season flushing down the toilet.

Following their embarrassing 30-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills at home on Sunday, the Broncos are now one loss away from losing their grip on the AFC West and sending the San Diego Chargers to the playoffs.

All the Broncos had to do was beat a struggling Bills team at home and they would win the AFC West. All they had to do was beat a quarterback in Trent Edwards that hadn’t played in three weeks and score more points on a team that was ready to get the season over weeks ago. And yet the Broncos couldn’t do it.

I guess a win for the Chargers next week would be justice served. The Ed Hochuli game sent San Diego into a massive tailspin and gave Denver momentum for what should have been a season in which they won the AFC West. But a win for the Chargers would be sweet revenge and with the way things have gone this year in the NFL, would anyone be surprised if San Diego beat Denver and went to the playoffs with an 8-8 record? It would be pathetic but so what? Maybe if Hochuli gets the call right in the first meeting between these two teams, the Chargers wouldn’t have collapsed.

The Chargers have all the momentum now, will be playing at home and have a bad taste in their mouths from their loss to Denver in Week 2. Personally, I think San Diego is a lock to win next week.

The Falcons are the best story in ‘08

Mike SmithIf you can’t appreciate the 2008 Atlanta Falcons season, than you probably won’t appreciate most sports stories.

Following a year in which they went 4-12, lost the face of their franchise to federal prison for dog fighting and their head coach to the University of Arkansas in the middle of the night, the Falcons are heading back to the playoffs for the first time since 2004 thanks to a 24-17 win over the Vikings on Sunday.

For everyone who said Arthur Blank was too involved as an owner for the Falcons to succeed, how do you feel now? Instead of throwing his hands up in the air and bailing like that gutless wonder Bobby Petrino did, Blank hung tough and got back to work this offseason. He hired general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who then hired Mike Smith, drafted Matt Ryan and signed free agent Michael Turner. Blank didn’t give up on his franchise and now he’s being rewarded for it.

The Falcons were very fortunate Sunday in Minnesota. The Vikings turned the ball over four times and when Atlanta tried to return the favor with a fumble of their own, they recovered it for a touchdown. Yes, Atlanta could have lost very easily. But so what? It’s about time the ball bounced the way of the Falcons and after a year of suffering one blow after another, they deserved what happened this season.

Who knows whether or not this great story will have a fairytale ending? And actually, it doesn’t matter because the Falcons have already won by showing up this season. They have a great young offensive core in Turner, Ryan and Roddy White, an improving defense, a general manager who gets how to build a winner and a solid football coach to keep everything running smoothly. More importantly, they have an owner that is willing to do anything to succeed.

Thanks in large part to Blank, the Falcons are the best story in the NFL this season and somehow, someway, are heading to the playoffs.

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