While there is finally a little clarity with the NFL playoff picture, Week 17 promises to shake things up a bit.
There are still two playoff berths on the line in the NFC, and although all six AFC teams are set, their seeding could change dramatically by Sunday evening. Only the Atlanta Falcons have nothing left to play for after they clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs in Week 16.
Every other game involving playoff teams carries some postseason implications. The following three will have the biggest effects on the playoff picture.
1. Dallas Cowboys (8-7) at Washington Redskins (9-6)
This is the most important game of Week 17, as it will decide the NFC East championship and impact the wild-card race as well.
If the Cowboys win, they will claim the division crown and advance to the playoffs. If they lose, they will be eliminated from postseason contention. Meanwhile, Washington can still sneak into the playoffs with a loss, but it would need both Minnesota and Chicago to lose.
It should be a thrilling game, especially considering the result of their first high-profile meeting this season. When the two met on Thanksgiving, Dallas fell behind 35-13 before gaining 15 straight points to get back in the game.
The Redskins were able to hold on, though, prevailing 38-31. While I wouldn't expect this game to be as high-scoring, it is setting up to be another classic meeting between the two rivals.
2. Green Bay Packers (11-4) at Minnesota Vikings (9-6)
The Packers have clinched the NFC North title, but they need a win to guarantee they will get a first-round bye. On the other side, the Vikings are fighting for a playoff spot.
Minnesota controls its own destiny, as a win guarantees it gets the last wild-card berth. It can still get in if it loses, but it would need both New York and Dallas to lose or tie as well.
Common sense says to ride the Packers in this one, as Green Bay has won nine of its last 10.
One of those victories was a 23-14 victory over Minnesota. In that game, Adrian Peterson rushed for 210 yards and one touchdown, but Christian Ponder threw two second-half interceptions to crush the Vikings' hopes.
This Sunday, I'm expecting another close game. However, I think the Vikings come out on top thanks to the efforts of Peterson. He has been unstoppable this season, and as long as Ponder doesn't force anything, the Vikings offense should be successful.
3. Miami Dolphins (7-8) at New England Patriots (11-4)
The Dolphins don't have any playoff hopes, but this is a meaningful game for the Patriots and their Super Bowl chances.
If New England wins and Denver loses, the Patriots will get a first-round bye. That also means they would host their second-round playoff game, which would be a major advantage for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Co.
The Patriots are 5-2 at home this season, and they made it to the Super Bowl last year after beating Denver and Baltimore in Foxboro.
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