The playoff picture in the National Football League became a bit clearer as the 2010 season rolls into its final game this Sunday.

Mistakes in the late stages of several games last weekend spelled doom for a couple of teams fighting to grab one of the remaining spots in the upcoming NFL playoffs.

However, for our two Lone Star State franchises, their respective fans merely saw their teams suffer losses that could have and should have been victories.

The Dallas Cowboys scored a touchdown with 1:46 left which overcame two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and finally put them in the lead for the first time in the Christmas Day game 26-24 after David Buehler missed the extra point.

But that missed an extra point came back to haunt them as Jay Feely of the Arizona Cardinals kicked a 48-yard field goal in the final five seconds to hand the Pokes a frustrating 27-26 loss, as the Cowboys’ lost 10 games for the first time since their last losing record in 2004 when they finished 6-10.

Things went quite the opposite for the Houston Texans, who led Denver the entire game until rookie quarterback Tim Tebow scored a touchdown with 1:36 left to put the Broncos ahead for the first time 24-23.

The Texans were driving for the winning score when Matt Schaub’s pass caromed off the helmet of Denver defensive tackle Justin Bannan right into the hands of cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson for the interception that gave the Broncos the victory and saddled Houston with its eighth loss in the last nine games.

All the Saints, Eagles, Giants, Jets and Ravens had to do was win and they were in the playoffs. However, only Baltimore did what it had to while the two New York teams suffered losses, the Philadelphia-Minnesota game was postponed until Tuesday night because of a blizzard. New Orleans played at Atlanta Monday night and won 17-14.
And because Jacksonville lost 20-17 to the Washington Redskins in overtime at home, the Jets clinched a wild card in the AFC East.

The race for the AFC West championship was cut short when Kansas City thrashed Tennessee 34-14 and Cincinnati upset San Diego 34-20, giving the Chiefs the AFC West division title and eliminating the Chargers from the playoff picture.

The New England Patriots, who are this Korner’s pick to win the Super Bowl, took the first step by clinching the AFC East Division title after squashing the Bills 34-3 in Buffalo Sunday. The Pats also earned a first-round bye and the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

With their big 27-3 win over Carolina Thursday, the Pittsburgh Steelers clinched a playoff berth and hold the tie-breaker advantage over Baltimore in the AFC North. The second-place team will be a wild card. The Ravens have clinched at-least the wild card.
The Indianapolis Colts, who usually have the AFC South Division locked up by this point in the season need a win over the Tennessee Titans Sunday to successfully defend their title. But if the Colts are upset by Tennessee, Jacksonville will win the division by beating the Texans in Houston Sunday.

If the Atlanta Falcons had won win at home over the defending world champion New Orleans Saints Monday night, they would have won both the NFC South Division and the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for having the best record in the conference. They must defeat lowly Carolina Sunday to accomplish this now.

The Chicago Bears clinched the NFC North Division by winning seven of their last eight games while the Saints earned a playoff berth by beating Atlanta Monday night.

And last, but not least, the NFC West will have a champion with a non-winning record as division-leading St. Louis (7-8) travels to second place Seattle (6-9) with the winner emerging as the division champ. This will be the biggest game of Orange’s Earl Thomas’ young career with the Seahawks.

Green Bay can earn a wild card spot by beating Chicago Sunday or with losses by both the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Sunday. But the Giants can gain the wild card if the Packers lose to Chicago Sunday.

Tampa Bay has an outside shot at a playoff berth if the Saints lose to both Atlanta and the Bucs and either the Giants or Packers lose Sunday.

So a few of Sunday’s final games of the regular season will have some significance while others will merely seal the fate for some of the head coaches. San Francisco’s Mike Singletary became the first victim when he refused to resign after Sunday’s 25-17 loss to St. Louis and was fired on the plane ride home.

Several coaches, including Houston Texans’ Gary Kubiak, Tennessee Titans’ Jeff Fisher, San Diego’s Norv Turner, NY Giants’ Tom Coughlin and Miami’ Tony Sparano are in jeopardy of losing their jobs after Sunday’s games.

If Kubiak is canned, he will probably be the prime candidate for the Denver Broncos’ head coaching job, despite being under contract with the Texans through 2012.

KWICKIES…If the Houston Texans allow 385 net passing yards Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, they will become the team with the worst pass defense in NFL history. The 1995 Atlanta Falcons hold that dubious honor, allowing 283.8 yards per game.

On the other side of the coin, Houston Texans’ undrafted running back Arian Foster maintained his hold on the NFL rushing lead by gaining 91 yards against the Denver Broncos Sunday. He leads Port Arthur native Jamaal Charles of Kansas City 1,436 yards to 1,380 with Tennessee’s Chris Johnson third with 1,325, one yard ahead of Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew who sat out Sunday’s loss to the Washington Redskins.

A deluge of 24 bowl games will take place for the next two weeks beginning today (Wed.) and concluding with the BCS national championship game Jan. 10 between Auburn (13-0) and Oregon (12-0). Four games are on tap tomorrow and Friday with six scheduled for the traditional New Year’s Day on Saturday. Then there is one bowl game each day beginning Jan. 3.

Texas Tech defensive coordinator James Willis, who came to the Red Raiders from Auburn with Tommy Tuberville, is leaving after one season to pursue other opportunities. Perhaps the biggest factor in his decision is that Texas Tech finished 116th out of 120 teams in total defense, allowing a whopping 463 total yards per game.

The next road game this season for the New England Patriots would be the Super Bowl as the Pats finish the regular season Sunday at home against the Miami Dolphins and then have the home field throughout the upcoming NFL playoffs.

JUST BETWEEN US…The Dallas Cowboys should have a pretty good advantage in Sunday’s finale at home against the Philadelphia Eagles if game-preparation time has anything to do with it. The Cowboys, who played Saturday, will have three extra days to get ready for Sunday’s game than the Eagles, whose game last week against the Minnesota Vikings got postponed until Tuesday due to the huge snowstorm that hit the Philadelphia area last Sunday.