Playoff races heat up as season winds down

Fri Dec 7, 2012 1:42pm EST
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By Julian Linden

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will get another opportunity on Sunday to secure National Football League (NFL) playoff berths after squandering their first chances to qualify last weekend.

Both teams are coming off agonizing defeats that put their postseason celebrations on hold but get another crack if they win this weekend and other results go their way.

The Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons have already secured their playoff berths but could clinch some key advantages if they win this weekend and other results work out in their favor.

The Texans (11-1), unbeaten on the road this season, can wrap up the American Football Conference (AFC) South division and secure a first-round bye with a victory at the New England Patriots on Monday combined with a Tennessee Titans (4-8) upset victory over the Indianapolis Colts (8-3).

A win over New England (9-3) would also go a long way to deciding the top seed in the AFC and the stakes are high with both the Texans and Patriots riding six-game winning streaks.

"We've put ourselves in a tremendous position right now here for the rest of the season for the last four games," Houston quarterback Matt Schaub told reporters.

"It's about how we take advantage of the position we've put ourselves in so we can be peaking and playing our best football as we get to the late part of December and into January."

The Falcons (11-1), who have clinched the National Football Conference's (NFC) South division, could secure a first-round bye and home-field advantage with a road win over the struggling Carolina Panthers (3-9).   Continued...