With the NFL playoff picture nearly complete, New Orleans Saints quarterback Steve Walsh hopes he gets a chance to bring out his brush.
"The picture will be painted Monday night when we play the Rams," Walsh said Sunday after the Saints upset the San Francisco 49ers 13-10 to remain alive in the battle for the final NFC wild-card berth.The Saints and the Dallas Cowboys, hoping to become the first one-game winner to make the playoffs the next season, are the combatants even though they don't play each other.
"Now we're even," Walsh said in reference to the Cowboys, but Dallas is a little more even.
The Saints and Dallas are both 7-8, but it's the Cowboys who control their own destiny. Because it lost to Dallas earlier in the season, New Orleans must hope Atlanta beats the Cowboys on Sunday.
Philadelphia, a 17-3 winner over Dallas, and Washington, a 35-28 loser Saturday against Indianapolis, have already locked up wild-card berths behind division champions San Francisco, the New York Giants and Chicago.
By beating Phoenix 24-21, the Giants assured themselves of the second seed - behind San Francisco - and a playoff week off. The Bears would play either New Orleans or Dallas in the first round while all that remains to be settled between Washington and Philadelphia is the site of their game.
"We got what we wanted," Giant Coach Bill Parcells said. "I'll take 12 wins in this league anytime."
The NFC East champions (12-3) hold the home-field advantage over all but the 49ers.
The AFC is not so simple.
Buffalo clinched the East with a 24-14 victory over Miami, which already had a wild-card berth.
The Los Angeles Raiders, 28-24 winners Saturday over Minnesota, and the Kansas City Chiefs also have berths clinched. The Raiders (11-4) need to finish a game ahead of the Chiefs (10-5) to win the West because Kansas City won both times they played. The Chiefs clinched with a 24-21 victory over San Diego.
That brings us to the AFC Central, where all the excitement will exist next Sunday.
"This might be the most exciting game of the year in the NFL. It's a hot offense going against a hot defense," Pittsburgh cornerback David Johnson said of the Steelers' showdown with the Houston Oilers.
"Maybe it's better we have to win," Johnson said after Pittsburgh routed Cleveland 35-0. "If we knew there was a chance we could lose and still make the playoffs, who knows, maybe we'd relax."
The Steelers (9-6) would win the AFC Central with a victory over Houston, but they would be eliminated in the wild-card tiebreaking procedure with a loss to the Oilers (8-7). Pittsburgh could still be a wild-card if there are no other 9-7 teams.
Houston can win only the division if it beats Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (8-7) loses to Cleveland (3-12).
Seattle, a 17-12 winner over Denver, would finish 9-7 with a victory over Detroit. The Seahawks would win a wild-card tiebreaker over Cincinnati or Houston on the strength of victories earlier this season, but if Pittsburgh gets involved in the wild-card race with Seattle, the head-to-head advantage disappears because Seattle did not play the Steelers.
Bills 24, Dolphins 14
Subbing for the injured Jim Kelly, Frank Reich completed 15 of 21 passes for a career-high 234 yards and two touchdowns, and Thurman Thomas ran for 154 yards and a score as the Bills (13-2) won their third straight AFC East title and the home-field advantage.
Using the no-huddle offense that Kelly ran so well, Reich threw touchdown passes of seven yards to James Lofton and 11 yards to Andre Reed.
Thomas has 1,297 rushing yards, 16 more than Detroit's Barry Sanders.
Steelers 35, Browns 0
Pittsburgh's AFC-leading defense forced fumbles on Cleveland's first three plays from scrimmage and took a 21-0 lead with less than nine minutes gone.
Bubby Brister threw four touchdown passes in the first half, two to Mike Mularkey and one each to Merril Hoge and rookie Chris Calloway.
Bengals 40, Oilers 20
Houston quarterback Warren Moon dislocated his thumb and figures to miss the playoffs if the Oilers make it.
James Brooks broke his club rushing record with 201 yards, including 56 on a touchdown run, and Cincinnati knocked Houston out of first place. Boomer Esiason threw two touchdown passes to Eric Kattus.
Giants 24, Cardinals 21
Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler scored the decisive touchdown on a 4-yard run in the final period.
But the NFC East champion Giants had to withstand a career-high 381-yard passing performance by Timm Rosenbach, who also tied a career high with three touchdown passes. Rosenbach was 23 of 41 with two interceptions.
Chiefs 24, Chargers 21
Nick Lowery kicked Kansas City into the playoffs, making a 32-yard field with 2:46 remaining to assure the Chiefs of their first playoff appearance since 1986.
Kansas City (10-5) began the winning drive inches from its own goal line. Steve DeBerg, playing with a protective cast on his left hand, hit Todd McNair for 65 yards to set up Lowery.
Saints 13, 49ers 10
Morten Andersen kicked a 40-yard field goal with 4:43 remaining to keep the Saints' playoff hopes alive.
Joe Montana did not dress for the game due to a strained abdominal muscle that flared up overnight. It was the first game Montana has missed this season.
The 49ers lost four fumbles, the third setting up the decisive field goal and the fourth halting a final bid by San Francisco.
Eagles 17, Cowboys 3
Philadelphia knocked Troy Aikman out of the game with a separated shoulder that probably will eliminate him from the picture if the Cowboys make the playoffs.
Keith Byars threw for his fourth touchdown in four pass attempts as the Eagles (9-6) moved within a victory over Phoenix next week of hosting the NFC wild-card game.
Randall Cunningham completed 16 of 28 passes for 144 yards and scrambled for 54 yards. With one regular-season game left, Cunningham is 88 yards short of Bobby Douglass' NFL season record of 969 rushing yards by a quarterback.
Bears 27, Buccaneers 14
Mike Tomczak, making his first start this season, passed for two touchdowns and ran for one as Chicago ended Tampa Bay's playoff hopes.
Tomczak, filling in for the injured Harbaugh, ran a yard for a score and threw TD passes of 18 yards to Wendell Davis and 12 yards to James Thornton. Tomczak completed 16 of 33 passes for 239 yards.
Falcons 20, Rams 13
Scott Case returned an interception 36 yards for a TD, and quarterback Hugh Millen won for the first time as a starter.
The Falcons (4-11) snapped a seven-game losing streak and left the Rams at 5-10.
Jets 42, Patriots 7
New York (5-10) got two scoring runs from Freeman McNeil and two TD passes from Ken O'Brien to end a five-game slide.
New England lost for a club-record 13th straight time. At 1-14, the Patriots have clinched the top pick in next spring's draft.