You’ll need the equivalent of a road map to try and figure out all of the possible solutions that could result after Week 17 of the NFL season. For a few teams with their destiny still up in the air, it all comes down to this.
One week after what could quite possibly be considered one of the biggest wins in franchise history, the Carolina Panthers will wrap up a historic season with a final game in Atlanta. Still on the line is the top spot in the NFC South, as well as a potential number 1 seed in the NFC playoffs (if a few other things shake up in their favor). Luckily for them, the Panthers will be playing a 4-11 Atlanta squad. In a season that couldn’t end soon enough, the Falcons had one of the more drastic turnarounds in the league. Coming up just 10-yards short of a making the Super Bowl last year, the Falcons have lost plenty of close games this year and are looking at more time on the golf course in the offseason because of it. A sure disappointment, and an area that they’ll look to improve in, has got to be the running game for the Falcons. Acquiring Steven Jackson was supposed to be a key element to the Falcons offense, but they rank dead last in rushing yards per game. And they likely won’t be running away with anything this weekend against the second best rush defense in the league. The Panthers will be looking to get a huge win this weekend, while the Falcons will likely be looking to just get things over with.
Both the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans had high expectations coming into this football season. For the Texans, they had Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Matt Schaub leading a prolific offense. For the Titans, they had Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Jake Locker. But Locker and Foster were both injured in the regular season, while Schaub and Johnson had disappointing seasons of their own. In the final week of the NFL season, this game doesn’t mean much in terms of the playoffs. Ironically, the last win that the Texans had came back in Week 2 against this Titans squad. The Titans are a touchdown favorite in the last game of the season for both of these teams.
After starting the season with four straight losses, it’s quite remarkable to think that the Steelers even have a chance to still make the playoffs. And it’s likely that before they take the field on Sunday against the Browns, they’ll know whether or not they’ll be playing any more games in the coming weeks. The Steelers will need to beat the Browns, and then hope for the Ravens and the Dolphins to both lose. Only one team, the 1992 San Diego Chargers, has made the playoffs after a 0-4 start, so this would be a historic event if things play out for the Steelers. The Steelers are a 7-point favorite in this game. They’ll want to make sure they cover that spread, and also keep their fingers crossed for the Dolphins and Ravens to lose.
Week 17 is the final game of the season for the Giants and the Redskins. With Eli Manning and RGIII as the respective quarterbacks of each team, who would’ve guessed that neither of these squads would be in the playoff picture come seasons end? Especially when the entire NFC East was bad this year and the door was really open for anyone to take the lead. The Giants surprised everyone when they started the season 0-6. And although they were able to win four in a row to get the ball rolling, they didn’t have enough momentum to finish out the season above .500. As for the Skins, their problems probably started back in the preseason when Robert Griffin III didn’t play a single snap. And though he was ready by Week 1, three losses in a row would add continual pressure to this Redskins team. Then starting in Week 10 began the seven game slide that they are currently on. The Giants are a slight 3 ½ point favorite on Sunday. Though it’s likely that these teams offseason may be what more fans are looking forward to seeing.
After everything the Ravens have been through this year, they don’t want to be apart of a conversation that includes being considered a letdown team. The Ravens have been hot and cold all season, but a four game winning streak that started in Week 12 allowed them to sneak into serious contention for a playoff spot. But after a 41-7 demoralizing loss to the Patriots last week, the Ravens now need a win against the Bengals in Week 17 to get a wild-card spot. As for those Bengals, they clinched their playoff spot with a win last weekend and the Baltimore loss. But don’t expect the Bengals to lie down on Sunday. They still have a shot at a first-round bye with a win and they also haven’t lost at home all year long so they’ll want to keep that streak alive. The Bengals currently sit as 6-point favorites, in what should be one of the more entertaining games on the slate on Sunday.
Coming off a huge win over the Chiefs, the Colts also have an outside shot at getting a first-round bye if they can win against Jacksonville on Sunday. A win would also be their third in a row, which would be huge for momentum going into the playoffs. Especially since it’s likely that they could end up playing that same Chiefs squad once again. As for the Jags, it’s been yet another disappointing season. They did have a three game winning streak that started in Week 12, but with back-to-back losses against Buffalo and Tennessee, they’ll be looking to finish up their season after Sunday. With one of the bigger spreads on the day, the Colts are currently 11 ½ point favorites.
Much like the Ravens, Steelers and a few other squads, the Dolphins are probably elated with the possibility to make the playoffs after everything they’ve experienced this year. After a three game streak that started in Week 13, the Dolphins could’ve clinched with a win last weekend against Buffalo. Instead, a 19-0 loss has Miami needing a win, and a bit of luck, this Sunday. As for the Jets, this is their third straight season missing the playoffs. However, a divisional win and the potential of finishing the season on a two-game winning streak, could mean a lot for Rex Ryan and the rest of the Jets front office. There has been much talk about the possibility of Ryan being fired at the end of this season, so he’ll need as much evidence as possible to show he kept his guys motivated, even when all hope was lost. The Dolphins are a touchdown favorite, but they’ll need a much stronger effort than what they had last weekend when they were also favored over the Bills.
The Minnesota Vikings will play their last game in the Metrodome as they welcome the Lions to town on Sunday. The Lions have gotten a ton of heat in recent weeks, all of which is for good reason. In November, the Lions were ahead of the NFC North and on their way to a divisional title. Fast forward a few weeks and now they are playing on Sunday simply to get back to .500. On the other hand, the Vikings started the season losing seven of eight, which made it difficult to climb back from, especially with the quarterback carousel that they had with Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman. The biggest part for both of these teams on Sunday may just be that nobody gets hurt. We could see some rebuilding in the near future for both Detroit and Minnesota, especially considering both squads have pieces that could fetch worthy returns. The Lions may be playing for pride in this one, while the Vikings will be playing in the homage of the Metrodome. So while it may not be very valuable for the playoff picture, it could be an interesting matchup.
It’s winner takes all when the Packers and Bears meet in Chicago on Sunday. The Bears had a chance to wrap things up last week, but were embarrassed with a 54-11 loss to the Eagles. The Packers also lost last weekend, but could let out a sigh of relief after seeing the effort the Bears put out in their game. Aside from the fact that the winner will advance to the playoffs and the loser will close things down until next September, the other big hot topic will be who is going to quarterback these two squads. Aaron Rodgers is still questionable as to whether or not he will play. And for the Bears, Jay Cutler had such a bad performance last week that many people are suggesting that Chicago goes with Josh McCown instead. The Bears won 27-20 the last time these two teams played in Week 9. The Packers will hope to return the favor with a road win of their own that would get them into the playoffs.
The Bills are out of it, but they proved last weekend with their 19-0 win over Miami that they aren’t going to lay down in these divisional games that wrap up the season. The Patriots will look to follow up last weeks 41-7 beat down of Baltimore to get another win that could give them a first round bye. A first round bye has also worked in the favor for the Patriots before, making the Super Bowl on five different occasions of the seven times they’ve earned the bye week. Granted the Patriots may know before the game even starts if they’ll get that bye, depending on how the Colts and Bengals do. But New England will also want to continue working out the kinks in their offense, as Tom Brady looks to build comfort working with a fairly new receiving core. As for Buffalo, a 6-9 season is disappointing, but they’ve shown signs of potential with EJ Manuel behind center. If he could find a way to beat the Patriots in the final game of the season, it could be a motivating offseason for the Bills.
Having the advantage of playing in the afternoon, the Saints will also know whether or not they absolutely need a win on Sunday before the game even kicks off. If the Panthers lose earlier in the day, the Saints have another chance to secure the NFC South with a win of their own. While that option is ideal, the Saints will still make the playoffs if the 49ers beat the Cardinals. However, if the Saints lose to the Bucs and the red-hot Cardinals are able to beat the 49ers, the Saints will be looking at a 10-win season that doesn’t include a trip to the playoffs. For some teams in Week 17, they need a lot of things to go right to make the playoffs. But for the Saints, they would need a lot of things to go terribly wrong. However, it could happen and would send waves throughout the NFC. As for the Bucs, they are riding a two-game losing streak that is on the tail end of an extremely frustrating season. They’ll be cleaning out their lockers no matter what happens on Sunday, but they could do so in a bit better mood with a win over one of the top teams in their division. This one is likely going to be an interesting one, that could be even more intriguing depending on what happens throughout the rest of the league.
The Broncos have already wrapped up a first-round bye but don’t think that won’t stop them from coming full tilt on Sunday against the Raiders. First of all, the Broncos and Raiders are one of the more heated rivalries in all of football. Second, the Broncos have a chance to break a few more records, including most points scored in a single season. Lastly, the Broncos will need to start adjusting their defense to accommodate for the loss of Von Miller, who tore his ACL last weekend against Houston. As for the Raiders, they’ll be starting Terrell Pryor and looking for a shocking win to end their season. At 4-11, the Raiders are one of the more disappointing teams in the league, and it certainly wasn’t any easier having to play in the same division as the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers. Look for the Broncos to rack up points as they show they are just hitting form in preparation for a Super Bowl run, while the Raiders look to surprise everyone with an upset.
Had the 49ers lost last Monday, their game against the Cardinals would be one of the more interesting matchups in Week 17. But after a win over Atlanta, San Francisco was able to secure a playoff spot, which they’ll look to improve their positioning with a win this weekend over Arizona. They’ll also hope for the Seahawks to trip up against the Rams, which would give the 49ers an NFC West title. As for the Cardinals, they’ve won seven of their last eight, including a win last weekend in Seattle. And even with a 10-5 record, there is still the chance that Arizona may not even make the playoffs. Not only will the Cardinals have to win on Sunday, but they’ll also have to hope for a New Orleans to lose to the Bucs. This game has a lot on the line and could be one of the more entertaining ones on the weekend. And the implications of the NFC could be dependent on how this one shakes out.
The game against the Chiefs could mean the world to the Chargers, or it could mean absolutely nothing by the time the game starts. If the Dolphins and Ravens win or tie, the Chargers can’t make the playoffs. But if both of those teams lose, then a Chargers win will get them into the wild card spot. Luckily for them, the Chiefs may not even care one way or another as to the outcome in the game. Kansas City already is set at the five seed in the AFC and will be there no matter what happens on Sunday. And while a bunch of teams will have at least something to play for, Andy Reid is even considering sitting his starters to give them rest before their game next weekend. Whether or not he does that will obviously have a big impact on how this game shakes out. Then again, if either the Ravens or Dolphins win, the Chargers may not have the emotional momentum to put up much of an effort of their own. Keep an eye on the earlier games to get a better idea as to how this one could turn out.
The Seahawks are coming off their first loss at home in over a year and they’ll look to make sure it’s not two in a row when they play the Rams on Sunday. Also on the line is the NFC West title, which the Seahawks can wrap up with a win of their own. The Rams haven’t won in Seattle since 2004, but a win this weekend would put them at .500 for the season and further solidify just how tough the NFC West is. The Seahawks are currently an 11-point favorite, and you can bet that both they and their fans will come out looking to avenge last weekends hiccup as they prepare for the playoffs.
What better way to end the 2013 NFL season, then with a showdown between rivals that will determine the outlook of the playoffs? Granted the Eagles and Cowboys may not be the best two teams in the league, but we’ll hope that they both put on a show on Sunday night in a winner-takes-all scenario for the NFC East. Since Nick Foles has taken over the Eagles, they have been one of the more scary teams to face in the league. And with a huge 54-11 win last weekend against the Bears, they proved that Chip Kelly’s offense can be effective in the NFL. As for the Cowboys, they put a bit, and only in the slightest of ways, of silence to those who say they can’t win in December with a win against the Redskins last week. Granted it was only a 24-23 win over one of the weaker teams in the NFL. But a win is a win and it put them in position to win the NFC East. However, news was announced this week that Tony Romo likely won’t play for the Cowboys, which will certainly make things more difficult for them. No matter the outcome of the game, there is sure to be plenty of backlash towards the loosing team. And as for the winner, we’ll they’ll find themselves right in the playoff picture with a fresh record to make a run with.
Wild Card Round
In The Hunt
Ravens(8-7-0) Proj: 7th Seed
Chargers(8-7-0) Proj: 8th Seed
Steelers(7-8-0) Proj: 9th Seed
Cardinals(10-5-0) Proj: 7th Seed
Cowboys(8-7-0) Proj: 8th Seed
Packers(7-7-1) Proj: 9th Seed