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Unlike college football, the NFL still has four weeks to go and 10 playoff spots to decide. But maybe if they adopted a system like the NCAA’s, figuring out who will be playing in January might be more efficient.

So, with what we know after three months of the season, here’s what polls might determine if the NFL went bowling:

The Toilet Bowl — Miami Dolphins vs. Atlanta Falcons: The woeful Dolphins missed their best chance to win a game this season, getting dominated in a 40-13 loss on Sunday to the New York Jets. The Jets have managed only three victories all season, but two of them have helped keep Miami winless.

So why not give the worst team in the league a shot at the second worst, the Falcons? They made 36-year-old QB Gus Frerotte look like a Pro Bowler on Sunday; he threw three first-half TDs as the St. Louis Rams romped over Atlanta 28-16. Ideally, it would be held at a neutral site so no home fans would have to watch.

The Spirit of Giving Bowl — New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: QB Eli Manning played his team into this game with two more interceptions in Sunday’s victory over the Chicago Bears, giving him eight in the past four games. He’d probably do even worse in the bowl game, since it would be held in late December when the Giants are usually completing their second-half swoon.

The Eagles would seem an odd choice for this one, with QB Donovan McNabb throwing only six interceptions all season, but the bowl committee focused instead on backup QB A.J. Feeley’s play. Feeley has thrown seven interceptions in his past two starts, including four to Seattle Seahawks linebackers on Sunday, making him a strong candidate to be bowl MVP.

The Invisible Bowl — Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Seattle Seahawks: Quietly, these teams have each won their past four games and taken control of their respective divisions. The Seahawks’ offense has shaken off early season problems. It also has a healthy Shaun Alexander back on the field, and games against the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers and Falcons to finish the season.

The Bucs on Sunday fielded their third QB in the past three games, but despite that had their best passing day since mid-October. Luke McCown threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ 27-23 victory over New Orleans, which gave Tampa a season sweep of the Saints and a three-game lead in the NFC South.

The Runner-Up Bowl — Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys: No matter how many games these teams win, they just can’t get into serious conversation for championship consideration. The Cowboys proved they’re the best team in the NFC with last Thursday’s victory over the Green Bay Packers, but that honor comes with the caveat of dominating a conference containing only four teams with winning records.

Meanwhile, the Steelers looked dominating again in their Sunday night victory over the Bengals, but that game came just a week after a 3-0 victory over the Dolphins and two weeks after a loss to the Jets. Only two of their victories have come against teams over .500, and they were both against the Cleveland Browns.

The NFL Championship Bowl Game — New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts: The Patriots were the obvious choice here, but the Colts’ appearance left some fans scratching their heads. Shouldn’t the big game include a representative from the NFC, or at least the SEC?

Still, the pollsters argued that after Sunday’s 28-25 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, their domination of the AFC South (perhaps the deepest division in the league) with WR Marvin Harrison and numerous other starters injured showed the Colts were the league’s clear No. 2 team.

Besides, who could resist yet another matchup between these two? The first game was fodder for analysts for weeks leading up to the game. If the two could meet in the NFL championship instead of the AFC title game, the game could be hyped for weeks and weeks.

It’d be so big, they might even call it a Super Bowl.


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