NFL gets what it wants: late-season craziness

The folks at the gleaming NFL headquarters in New York must be having a field day this week.

With only one game to play in the regular season, which comes to a close Sunday night, eight of the 12 playoff berths have been secured with 10 more clubs vying for the final four spots.

But, here’s where it becomes a lot of fun: Only one of the 12 seeds — the AFC’s No. 5 spot — has been locked down heading into the final weekend.

Four AFC and four NFC teams are still in the running for the coveted first or second seeds, which carries with it a first-round bye and a home game in the divisional round.

It’s certainly what the NFL had it mind in 2009 when it started scheduling intra-division games for the final week of the season to make late-season games more compelling.

It’s especially jumbled up in the NFC, where the reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers could be the first, second, fifth or sixth seed — depending on what happens this week.

The New Orleans Saints could wind up as the second, fifth or sixth seed — or they may be out of the postseason altogether.

“This would be unique, especially in the NFC,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, whose team missed an opportunity to nail down the NFC South title and the No. 2 seed with Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. “It’s probably a good result of what their goals were a few years back when they started pushing some of these divisional games back in the schedule.”

The Saints can still claim the division title and No. 2 seed with a win against the Tampa Bay Bucs and a loss by the Panthers to the Atlanta Falcons.

Or, the Saints could get in as the No. 5 or 6 seed with a win or a loss by the Arizona Cardinals, who play the 49ers.

The Seattle Seahawks currently hold the No. 1 spot in the NFC, but they could fall all the way to the fifth seed by losing to the St. Louis Rams — coupled with a 49ers’ win.

Two divisions, the NFC North and NFC East, will be determined by what are essentially play-in games.

The Philadelphia Eagles-Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears matchups will be win-or-go-home affairs with the winners being penciled in as the third and fourth seeds, or vice versa.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees also took notice of how things have panned out with the scenarios being talked about in the past four weeks or so.

“A few years ago, they started making the schedule changes to where you’re playing divisional or NFC opponents right there at the end — so those games become even more meaningful,” he said, “(with) the swings that can occur in regards to a change in seeding and all of that stuff.

“Look at the NFC picture going into the last week. It’s crazy how many things and scenarios can take place.”

Tackle Zach Strief said all the playoff uncertainty will make things exciting for the fans.

“This is what you want from a fan’s perspective,” he said. “A lot of these games are like playoff games. Then, some teams are in but don’t know where they’ll be seeded. It’s good for the league and it keeps the players motivated.”

Still, Payton said there won’t be a lot of scoreboard-watching before their 3:25 p.m. kickoff with the Bucs while the Panthers-Falcons game, which starts at noon, is winding down.

“The main thing is that there will be a lot of different scenarios,” he said. “We’re approaching this like a playoff game itself. There are a handful of things we can’t control … but we can control this week.”