The most wonderful time of year is upon us, and it has nothing to do with Christmas. The NFL postseason has nearly arrived, and the playoff picture in both conferences is coming into focus.
While any game involving a team in the hunt for a playoff spot has implications for which franchises will be smiling in January, a few matchups are hugely important.
The games in which two teams fighting for the postseason are involved will be the ones that fans should clear their schedules for.
Here are the Week 16 games with the most playoff significance.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Houston Texans
The Vikings are truly unfortunate to play so many quality opponents at the end of its schedule, and the tough matchups continue in Week 16 against the Texans.
Adrian Peterson will need to continue playing at a superhuman level, as Minnesota is a one-dimensional team while Houston has one of the most balanced rosters in the NFL.
The Vikings need this victory to stay in the wild-card race and they are certainly the more desperate team. But the Texans have the Denver Broncos threatening to take home-field advantage away from them if they slip up, and this will provide enough motivation for the team to play well.
With a home crowd behind it, Houston is a comfortable favorite in this game.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
No game has more on the line than this one.
Who will win this AFC North showdown?
The Bengals can wrap up a postseason berth with a win, while the Steelers need a victory to stay alive.
While the Miami Dolphins are technically still in the hunt, the AFC’s final wild-card spot will almost certainly come down to these two teams, and the winner will have the inside track towards the playoffs.
The Steelers are playing at home and have one of league’s most clutch quarterbacks, and this gives them an advantage is this exciting matchup.
New York Giants vs. Baltimore Ravens
Both the Giants and the Ravens have struggled recently, but Baltimore is fortunate enough to have built enough of a cushion to seal a playoff spot.
New York has not been as lucky, and they will need to win on the road in order to keep pace with the other NFC playoff hopefuls. After a 34-0 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week, it will be difficult to head into this matchup with confidence.
While this matchup is clearly more important to the Giants, the Ravens have a vested interest in playing well. A win may not improve their seed, but heading into the postseason on a lengthy losing streak is not a recipe for success.
Still, the more desperate team usually wins matchups this late in the season, and this gives the edge to the Giants.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks
The 49ers may be playing better than any team in the NFL, but they have not won their division just yet.
In addition to an NFC West title, San Francisco will also be fighting to hold on to the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. This will provide more than enough motivation for the team to leave everything on the field against Seattle.
But the Seahawks will face a sticky situation if they are unable to get a victory, and could be tied with a number of NFC teams.
Seattle is certainly the more desperate team in this matchup, but San Francisco is too talented and playing too well to lose this game.
NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
|No. 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons (12-2) Clinched NFC South|
|No. 2 Seed San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) Lead NFC West; Clinched Playoff Berth|
|No. 3 Seed Green Bay Packers (10-4) Clinched NFC North|
|No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (8-6) Lead NFC East|
|WILD CARD LEADERS|
|No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (9-5)|
|No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (8-6)|
|IN THE HUNT|
|Chicago Bears (8-6)|
|Dallas Cowboys (8-6)|
|New York Giants (8-6)|
|St. Louis Rams (6-7-1)|
| New Orleans Saints (6-8)|
AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
|No. 1 Seed Houston Texans (12-2) Clinched AFC South|
|No. 2 Seed Denver Broncos (11-3) Clinched AFC West|
|No. 3 Seed New England Patriots (10-4) Clinched AFC East|
| No. 4 Seed Baltimore Ravens (9-5) Lead AFC North; Clinched Playoff Berth|
|WILD CARD LEADERS|
|No. 5 Seed Indianapolis Colts (9-5)|
|No. 6 Seed Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)|
|IN THE HUNT|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)|
| Miami Dolphins (6-8)|
Atlanta: vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago
San Francisco: at Seattle, vs. Arizona
Green Bay: vs. Tennessee, at Minnesota
Washington: at Philadelphia, vs. Dallas
Seattle: vs. San Francisco, vs. St. Louis
Minnesota: at Houston, vs. Green Bay
Chicago: at Arizona, vs. Detroit
Dallas: vs. New Orleans, at Washington
New York: at Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia
St. Louis: at Tampa Bay, at Seattle
New Orleans: at Dallas, vs. Carolina
Houston: vs. Minnesota, at Indianapolis
Denver: vs. Cleveland, vs. Kansas City
New England: at Jacksonville, vs. Miami
Baltimore: vs. New York Giants, at Cincinnati
Indianapolis: at Kansas City, vs. Houston
Cincinnati: at Pittsburgh, vs. Baltimore
Pittsburgh: vs. Cincinnati, vs. Cleveland
Miami: vs. Buffalo, at New England
PLAYOFF SCENARIOS ON NFL.COM (FOR REFERENCE)