Race for NFL playoffs gathering speed

Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:57pm EST
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By Julian Linden

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The race is on for the National Football League (NFL) playoffs. The pressure is building by the day with teams knowing one mistake could cost them a chance to be a contender for the Super Bowl.

With just three weeks left in the regular season only four teams, the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos, the Houston Texans and the Atlanta Falcons, are assured of spots in the postseason.

That leaves eight places still up for grabs, with 20 teams vying for the remaining spots and only eight of the NFL's 32 teams eliminated from the playoff race.

The picture could become a lot clearer after this weekend with four teams, the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens, all on the verge of clinching their places.

The Packers, Super Bowl champions two seasons ago, can wrap up the NFC North Division with a win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

The 49ers, who came within a whisker of making last year's Super Bowl, losing the NFC Conference final to eventual champions the New York Giants in overtime, are away to the Patriots.

A win will secure San Francisco's spot in the playoffs while a win and a loss by the Seattle Seahawks would give them the NFC West Division.

The Baltimore Ravens, AFC Conference finalists last season, can clinch the NFC North Division with a win at home over the Broncos.   Continued...

Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub talks with Texans head coach Gary Kubiak against the New York Jets during the second half of their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey October 8, 2012. REUTERS/Adam Hunger