Improving the NFL playoff scenarios
There are two things I truly enjoy each holiday season: "Bad Santa," the 2003 movie starring Billy Bob Thornton, whose performance will cure even the worst case of Bah Humbugs, and of course, the NFL's Playoff Scenarios.
For example: according to these easy-to-follow NASA-style equations -- equal parts mad libs, binary code and tweet speak -- Baltimore can lose this week and still be guaranteed a playoff spot if, by chance, Kansas City loses, San Diego wins, Peyton Manning leaves the NFL for QVC and Jacksonville comes away with a tie that coincides with the final stages of a lunar eclipse.
You see? Simple.
As in years past, even with Santa paying close attention, I simply cannot resist the urge to improve upon (mess with) the league's intricate linguistic playoff equations.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New England has already clinched a playoff spot. New England clinches AFC East division and home-field advantage with:
1) NE win or tie OR
2) NYJ loss or tie AND
3) FANS stop making ridiculous comparisons to the 2007 team AND
4) NE + doesn't + have + to + face + a QB + better + than + Matt Flynn.
Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with:
1) An invitation into the CFL OR
2) A better quarterback and a new coach OR
3) By reaching the completion of their 25-year plan OR
4) A new 32-team playoff system OR
5) I run out of Bengals jokes before my deadline.
Pittsburgh has already clinched a playoff spot. Pittsburgh clinches AFC North title and a first-round bye with:
1) PIT win + BAL loss AND
2) DNA technology that allows them to clone Troy Polamalu AND
3) No one uses the JETS blueprint to gum up the Steelers offense AND
4) They win the season finale when, intimidated by PIT's top run defense, CLE starts punting on second down.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFSKansas City clinches AFC West title with:
1) KC win + SD loss or tie OR
2) KC tie + SD loss OR
3) LB Derrick Johnson doesn't get appendicitis OR
4) The NFL decides to give SD TWO tougher final opponents (like, say, Toledo and Troy).
Oakland clinches a playoff spot with:
1) Just about every other potential wild card team in the AFC finishing 0-2 PLUS
2) Way more consistency at QB + DL OR
3) In + exactly + ONE + year.
Jacksonville clinches a playoff spot with:
1) INDY moves Jeff Saturday to WR because of injuries OR
2) SEA + SF + STL + do + the + right + thing + and + hand + over + their + postseason + spot.
Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:
1) BAL win or tie OR
2) KC loss + JAX loss or tie OR
3) KC loss + IND loss or tie OR
4) SD loss or tie + JAX loss or tie OR
5) SD loss or tie + IND loss or tie OR
6) Two + ties + in + one + week + really? There + have + only + been + two + ties + in + the + last + 13 + years.
NEW YORK JETS
New York Jets clinch a playoff spot with:
1) NYJ win or tie OR
2) JAX loss or tie OR
3) IND loss or tie OR
4) This franchise manages to go a week (no, a day) without being distracted by some other bizarre off-the-field freak show.
5) Seriously, will someone with the Jets please put their foot down?
Denver clinches a playoff spot with:
1) A time machine + to undo + all of Josh McDaniels' personnel decisions OR
2) A defense that allows fewer than, oh, 500 points per season OR
3) By not hiring Bill Cowher, who, I guess, has been retired long enough for people to forget that his less-than-dynamic we-do-what-we-do-and-we-do-it-better-than-anyone-else-chin-and-spit-style is a dinosaur in today's game and easy pickings for guys like Bill Belichick.
Atlanta clinches NFC South division and home-field advantage with:
1) Not + too + much + difficulty + actually OR
2) Without + anyone + in + the + NFL + bothering + to + notice + until + Matt Ryan + is + holding + the Lombardi + Trophy.
St. Louis clinches NFC West title with:
1) The + loss + of + all + hope/logic/competitiveness + in + the + NFL OR
2) A SF loss + OTTAWA loss + CALGARY tie + WINNIPEG loss.
Philadelphia clinches NFC East title with:
1) PHI win OR
2) PHI tie + NYG loss or tie OR
3) NYG loss OR
4) The GIANTS win the NFC East and then, at the last second, just decided to hand it over to DeSean Jackson.
Chicago clinches a first-round bye with:
1) CHI win + PHI loss + NYG loss or tie OR
2) Heartsick NFL pundits don't just go ahead and award CHI's spot to Brett Favre who, no matter how sad, pathetic or bizarre he acts, just becomes more beloved by the masses OR
3) CHI + rests + its + starters + like + it + did + against + New England OR
4) Julius Peppers doesn't get distracted by his upset win over Mike Vick in the MVP award, becoming just the second non-QB/RB to win the honor in the last 25 years.
Carolina clinches a playoff spot with:
1) CAR win + CAR win + CAR win + CAR win + CAR win + CAR win + CAR win + CAR win OR
2) A move to the NFC West, where it's 2-2.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
New Orleans clinches a playoff spot with:
1) NO win or tie OR
2) TB loss or tie OR
3) The Saints aren't visited by the ghosts of Ray Rice (233 yards and 2 TDs); the Cleveland Browns secondary (four picks on Drew Brees) or Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant on Christmas Eve.
Tampa Bay clinches a playoff spot with:
1) A team that doesn't actually lose to the Lions in the heat of the playoff race OR
2) Their fans never actually knowing OR
3) By merging + with + Green + Bay + to + collect enough healthy players to actually finish the season.
NEW YORK GIANTS
New York Giants clinch a playoff spot with:
1) NYG win OR
2) Wait + hold + on + I + think + the + Eagles + just + scored + again OR
3) Hey + buddy + I + see + that + finger OR
4) Tom Coughlin + stops + blaming + a + seventh + round + rookie + punter + and + focuses + on + the + other + 28 + points + his + team + gave + up.
The 49ers clinch a playoff spot with:
1) No + honest + it + could + really + happen OR
2) I + swear OR
3) Seriously + stop + laughing.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a columnist for ESPN.com. While covering the NFL for the past 16 years at Sports Illustrated and ESPN, he has written more than 30 cover stories and two books ("Noah's Rainbow" and "Breaker Boys"), and his work has been anthologized in "The Best American Sports Writing."