Week 17 is shaping up to be, well, pure chaos. After a little light rescheduling, the league has compressed the 16-game slate into about seven hours of Sunday afternoon airtime. It’s the RedZone Channel’s dream (or maybe its logistical nightmare); there’s no Thursday Night Football, no Saturday games, no Sunday Night Football, and no Monday Night Football—instead, we get seven matchups in the 1:00 p.m. ET time slot and nine games smashed into the 4:25 p.m. ET spot. That setup would be hectic enough on its own, but add in the myriad playoff scenarios still up in the air and your football viewing experience this week has the potential to get pretty overwhelming:
AFC playoff seeding scenarios based on the outcome of Week 17 games with playoff implications: pic.twitter.com/L2Y6XqHAyl— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 26, 2017
But, we’ve got your back. Whether you’re looking for a reason to watch the Texans-Colts tilt, trying to figure out who to root for in the Panthers-Falcons matchup, or wondering how the hell all these games affect postseason seeding, here’s a quick and handy viewing guide for the final week of the NFL season.
1:00 P.M. ET
Houston Texans (4-11) at Indianapolis Colts (3-12)
This is easily the worst game on the slate. If it weren’t for the Browns, the Colts would be the worst team in football. The Texans’ season was lost the day Deshaun Watson tore his ACL. However, it’ll be worth keeping your eye on this game for two important reasons: First, DeAndre Hopkins is appointment viewing no matter who’s throwing passes or which team Houston’s playing, and second, this:
4 players have rushed for 1,000+ yards in 10 seasons:— Evan Silva (@evansilva) December 26, 2017
Frank Gore needs 139 yards vs HOU to become the 5th.
This may be the last game that Chuck Pagano coaches in Indy. It’d be cool if his swan song was to feed Gore the rock as many times as it takes, and help the ageless vet punch his ticket to Canton.
New York Jets (5-10) at New England Patriots (12-3)
The Patriots have already locked up the AFC East title and a first-round bye, but there’s still plenty to play for in Sunday’s matchup with the Jets. For starters, New England can clinch the AFC’s no. 1 seed, and the ever-important home-field advantage throughout the playoffs that comes with it, with a win (or a Pittsburgh loss).
But past that, there are a few statistical benchmarks worth tracking: Right now, Tom Brady is first in the NFL in passing yards (4,387), 136 ahead of Ben Roethlisberger. He’s not far off in the race for the touchdown passes title, currently three behind Carson Wentz for the league lead (33), and two behind Russell Wilson. He’s tied with Drew Brees for an NFL-best 8.1 yards per attempt. And he’s just a half point behind Alex Smith for the top mark in passer rating. Though he’s on the wrong side of 40, there’s no sign of decline: Brady has a real shot to finish the year leading the league in touchdown passes, passing yards, yards per attempt, and passer rating. Unreal.
Cleveland Browns (0-15) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3)
The Steelers will be doing a little scoreboard watching this week. If Pittsburgh beats the lowly Browns and New England loses or ties, Big Ben and company can lock up the no. 1 seed.
As for the Browns, the only real thing to play for is pride … and maybe some semblance of optimism heading into next season. They already have the top pick in the draft. Cleveland’s secured a few moral victories this year, like that it appears they have a solid offensive line, a stout defensive front, and a trio of explosive pass catchers in Corey Coleman, David Njoku, and Josh Gordon. But what Cleveland really needs is actual victories to start to turn the corner as a franchise. They can start on Sunday.
Green Bay Packers (7-8) at Detroit Lions (8-7)
This matchup, featuring another pair of playoff-eliminated teams, gives the Houston-Indy game a run for its money as the worst game on the schedule. But one reason to tune in is that this may be our last chance for a while to evaluate (in real, live game action) what kind of future Packers quarterback Brett Hundley has in this league. In his nine appearances in relief of injured Aaron Rodgers, the third-year pro gave Green Bay a series of up and (way, way) down performances. But after a disastrous start last week when he completed just 17 of 40 passes for 130 yards, he’s got a chance to repair his resume somewhat, assuming he’ll get the green light to cut it loose. Here’s the good news: Hundley’s been much, much better on the road. In his three road starts this season, he’s thrown seven touchdowns to no picks and has been aggressive throwing the ball downfield. Hopefully that’s the player we’ll see on Sunday.
Chicago Bears (5-10) at Minnesota Vikings (12-3)
The NFC’s no. 2 seed is still technically up for grabs, but the Vikings have the inside track in that race. With a win or tie this week against the Bears, they’ll lock that spot up. Even if Chicago rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky plays the best game of his career and manages to lead his team to a win on the road, though, Minnesota can still fall into that 2-seed spot if the Panthers lose to or tie the Falcons, if the Saints beat the Buccaneers, or if the Rams beat the 49ers.
Washington Redskins (7-8) at New York Giants (2-13)
This will be Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins’s last chance to show out and earn himself a few extra bargaining chips for his upcoming free-agency tour. Cousins hasn’t had many opportunities to shout “You like that?” or “How you like me now?” this year, but he should still have plenty of suitors this offseason. On the year, he’s thrown 27 touchdowns to 10 picks at 7.8 yards per attempt and a 98.5 passer rating, and he’s going up against a Giants defense that has been bad all year and just sent safety Landon Collins to the injured reserve.
Dallas Cowboys (8-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-2)
The Eagles have the no. 1 seed and home-field advantage locked up, but it would behoove Philly to get quarterback Nick Foles a few more live-fire reps on the eve of the playoffs. Foles played well in his first game of relief of Carson Wentz in Week 15 and tossed four touchdowns, but he fell solidly back to earth last week against a bad Raiders squad, and completed just 19 of 38 passes for 163 yards, one touchdown, and one pick. Head coach Doug Pederson is faced with a conundrum: risk his starters in a meaningless game to get Foles more action with his top targets, or head into the playoffs with a bad taste in his mouth from last week’s terrible offensive performance.
4:25 P.M. ET
Carolina Panthers (11-4) at Atlanta Falcons (9-6)
This is the only game this week with playoff implications for both squads. Technically, the Panthers still have a shot at the no. 2 seed in the NFC, where a win—along with a Saints loss, a Vikings loss, and a Rams loss—would help them leapfrog all three of those squads. Of course, that’s not likely to happen, so the next best scenario would be a win against the Falcons combined with a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay, which would give Carolina the NFC South division title and home-field advantage in the wild card round. If the Saints win, however, or if the Panthers lose, Carolina will be the 5-seed.
There’s a great deal more at stake for the defending NFC champion Falcons. If Atlanta can knock off the Panthers—winners of seven out of their last eight games—they’re into the postseason with the no. 6 seed. If they lose, and if the Seahawks beat the Cardinals, they’ll be watching the playoffs from their couches come January.
New Orleans Saints (11-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11)
The Saints have a guaranteed spot in the playoffs, but they can’t afford to take their foot off the pedal in Week 17. With a win, New Orleans clinches the NFC South title and secures a crucial home-field advantage in the wild-card round.
Arizona Cardinals (7-8) at Seattle Seahawks (9-6)
Seattle needs two things to happen on Sunday to go back to the postseason for the sixth year in a row: First, they must beat the Cardinals at home, then they must hope the Panthers knock off the Falcons in Atlanta.
Of course, that first domino is hardly a given, considering Seattle’s erratic play over the last month. The Seahawks’ defense is banged up, Russell Wilson’s been all over the place as a passer of late, and the team has no run game to speak of. Arizona has given Seattle some trouble at CenturyLink over the past few years, too, and has won the last three out of four games between these two teams in Seattle. And, if a postseason berth wasn’t motivation enough for Seattle, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians poured some gas on what has already been a good rivalry between these two teams on Sunday.
"We know that's our home field. We're goin' up there to kick their ass." -Bruce Arians to his team after today's game. Cards play at Seattle next week.— Shane Dale (@ShaneDaleABC15) December 25, 2017
Kansas City Chiefs (9-6) at Denver Broncos (5-10)
The Broncos are out of the playoff picture and the Chiefs are going to be the AFC’s no. 4 seed no matter what. That leaves two reasons to watch this game: First, of course, is the Patrick Mahomes II show. Andy Reid plans to rest Alex Smith for the season finale, which means the exciting rookie will see the field for the first time as a pro—and could offer a glimpse into the future at the position for Kansas City. On the other side, Paxton Lynch—Denver’s second-year former first-round pick, a passer that’s shown little promise so far—will get what may be his last chance to impress for a Broncos squad whose quarterback situation will be its biggest offseason question mark.
San Francisco 49ers (5-10) at Los Angeles Rams (11-4)
It’s the Jimmy G show, baby. It’s hard to not get excited about watching the electric former Patriot try to push his record as a starter to 5-0 on the year against a quality Rams defense. Of course, that Rams defense may be missing a few starters: Head coach Sean McVay suggested Tuesday that he’ll rest some of his key players in preparation for the postseason, as the game is largely meaningless for the team’s playoff seeding. Whether they’re the no. 3 or no. 4 seed, L.A. will host a playoff game in the wild-card round either way. The team may even prefer that lower seed, considering a wild-card weekend win would (likely) send them to Philly to take on the Foles-led Eagles in the divisional round instead of (likely) Minnesota to play the Vikings.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)
On paper, the Ravens’ path to the postseason is pretty simple: Beat (or tie) the Bengals, and they’re in. If the defense falters, or if Joe Flacco reverts to his early-season self, and the Bengals get the upset, Baltimore would still get in if either the Bills or Titans lose or tie. Of course, with both the Titans and Bills playing in this same time slot, the Ravens won’t have the luxury of knowing whether or not they have that postseason parachute intact until late in the day. Can’t say I blame John Harbaugh for being mad about the league’s decision to move the game out of Sunday Night Football, but it certainly makes things more interesting in the afternoon slot—and makes the Ravens sing for their supper.
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5) at Tennessee Titans (8-7)
With a win against the erratic Jags, the Titans would secure a postseason spot. But if they lose their fourth consecutive game on Sunday, they’ll need the Bills and Chargers to both lose to sneak into the postseason. Getting that win is not going to be easy against one of the best defenses in the NFL: Marcus Mariota has struggled with accuracy and decision-making all year, and Mike Mularkey’s old-school run-based offense hasn’t exactly accentuated Mariota’s skill set. That may be changing, though, and there have been signs that Mularkey’s scheme has finally begun to evolve with Mariota in mind, featuring more uptempo plays, no-huddle looks, and spread out formations. Will those changes be enough for a team that hasn’t looked like a playoff squad in a month?
Jacksonville holds the no. 3 seed regardless of what happens in this game. But after the shellacking they took last week at the hands of Garoppolo and the 49ers, it’s worth watching to see if they’ll bounce back against a Titans squad fighting for their playoff lives.
Buffalo Bills (8-7) at Miami Dolphins (6-9)
The Bills still have a shot at the postseason, but they’re going to need some help. If Buffalo can knock off Dolphins, they’ll still need the Ravens to lose to the Bengals—or, failing that, have both the Chargers and Titans lose/tie—to punch their playoff ticket. In either case, Buffalo would head back to the postseason for the first time since 1999 and snap the longest playoff drought in the NFL.
Oakland Raiders (6-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)
First things first, Philip Rivers and Co. must dispatch the struggling Raiders to stay alive. On paper, that shouldn’t be too hard, but divisional grudge matches like these are often closer than expected (L.A.’s favored by 7.5): The Chargers have a top-flight pass rush unit, a stingy secondary, and an explosive offense under Rivers and Keenan Allen, sure, but the team recently lost top tight end Hunter Henry to a kidney injury, and running back Melvin Gordon is dealing with an ankle injury. Even if L.A. manages to get past Oakland, though, they’re going to need a few other games to go their way: With a win, plus a Titans loss and a Bills loss or a Ravens win, they’ll earn a spot in the postseason.