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by Matt White | Sun., Dec. 23, 2012 9:54 PM
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
The NFL playoff picture came into sharper focus this week, with all but two playoff spots claimed by Sunday night, though the exact matchups remain unresolved.
But even as the postseason looms, the last weeks of the regular season have become a showcase for several players chasing historic individual records.
Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson, known as "Megatron," came into Sunday needing 182 receiving yards to pass Jerry Rice's all-time single-season record of 1,848 yards, set in 1995. Johnson caught 11 balls for 225 yards to blow past Rice, and will get a chance at to hit 2,000 next week against the Bears.
In Sunday's wildest game, Dallas' Jason Witten caught two passes against the Saints to move to 103 catches on the year, the most ever by a tight end. Dallas lost in overtime, but a loss by the Giants kept the Cowboys' playoff hopes alive.
And another player chasing the mythic 2,000-yard mark, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, did not quite get there in Minnesota's unexpected upset of Houston. He rushed for just 86 yards and now has 1,898. He'll get another chance at "Yards2K" against the Packers next week in a game the Vikings need to win in order to ensure a playoff spot.
But even if Peterson didn't get his record, one of his teammates did cap a big season with a major prize this week: his quarterback, Christian Ponder, made headlines by marrying his girlfriend of four months, ESPN reporter Samantha Steele, last Monday.
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A Viking Wedding: Steele and Ponder have had a well-chronicled romance this season (often by themselves via Twitter), and Steele has been subjected to the usual kinds of unfair speculation and commentary that women who date athletes usually get: smarmy "discussion" that she might be affecting her boyfriend's play and, with the surfacing of a single slightly-non-skinny picture, inevitable pregnancy speculation, which drew a cheeky tweet from Steele on Tuesday: "All reports of a babybump are false and offensive. All reports of a foodbump are true and offensive :)
What we find offensive is how predictable such attacks on athlete girlfriends are. Tony Romo didn't stink because of Jessica Simpson, nor did Gisele Bündchen lose the Super Bowl for the Patriots. Steele doesn't cover the NFL, so she has no conflict with her job or Ponder's. In fact, the last time we caught Steele, she was covering what is secretly our favorite non-NFL broadcast of the year, the National Spelling Bee, where she was witty and delightful. (Though, based on a late miscue, we hope that when she reached the altar last week, she married the right guy.)
AFC Playoffs: The teams are set, but their order is still to be determined. The Texans, Broncos and Patriots each have a shot at the two top seeds and a first-round bye heading into the final week. The Ravens, Bengals and Colts—who won just twice last year and traded away Peyton Manning to Denver in the offseason—are also in.
NFC Playoffs: The Falcons clinched the top seed and home field through the playoffs, and Seattle's trouncing of the 49ers Sunday reduced the open spots to just two with the 49ers, Packers and Seahawks all in. Five teams will be chasing the last two spots next week, including Dallas and Washington, who meet in a winner-take-all season finale.
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Is Tebow Being Called Home? One baffling year after it should have happened, several indications emerged this week that Tim Tebow will finally be joining the Jacksonville Jaguars in Florida. The final chapter of Tebowmania in New York was clearly written Sunday when "rumors" came out of the Jets lockerroom that Tebow had "refused" to play Sunday, after learning he was being passed over as starter by the team's third-stringer, Greg McElroy.
So sooner rather than later, expect Tebow to be set free from the hapless Jets, likely to Jacksonville. Finally. (What's to become of Mark Sanchez is another question entirely.)
The reasons for Tebow-to-the-Jags in 2013 are almost as numerous and overwhelming as the reasons he should never have joined the Jets in 2012.
For one, Tebow is from near Jacksonville, and remains, arguably, the most beloved Floridian of all time. Seriously: Who's above Tebow in the hearts of Sunshine Staters? Sonny Crockett? Tony Montana? Kate Upton?
Better still, Jacksonville has just suffered through a second straight dreadful season. What few fans the team still has would leap at the chance to jump on a wave of Tebow-mania, unlike the cynical, seen-it-all New York market, where Tebow's outsized personality never caught on.
Sunday's alleged Tebow Mutiny—whether true or an anti-Tebow smear from Jets management—just made it all but official.
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