Week 17 is always a mixed bag in the NFL.
More than any other week in the regular season, the season's final weekend features a host of games between teams with nothing to play for. Backups playing as starters for one week abound throughout the league, as many are left looking ahead to the offseason. But Week 17 is always good for a small number of extremely important games. This year is no different.
With two playoff spots up for grabs and even more seeds unfinalized, the season's final week will provide enough intrigue to keep even the most casual fan glued to the TV. Here are three games that will shape the playoff picture in major ways.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
The biggest domino won't fall until 4:25 p.m. ET and, by the time of kickoff, it could hold significantly less weight.
But that's highly doubtful. If the Bears and Giants both lose to 4-11 teams during the early afternoon, Minnesota could potentially lose this game and still make the playoffs. In order to do so, however, they'd need to cross their fingers and hope Washington defeats Dallas.
They'd be better served just taking care of business on their own and putting their destiny in their own hands.
A Vikings win would eliminate the Bears and Giants from the playoffs. It would also end the Redskins' wild-card hopes, making the Sunday Night game a de facto playoff game.
A Vikings loss would open the door for all sorts of madness: Coupled with a Bears win, Chicago would make the playoffs; along with a Bears loss and a Dallas loss, the Giants would gain a berth; combined with a Bears loss and Washington loss, the Redskins would make the playoffs as the sixth seed.
Green Bay, meanwhile, can clinch the NFC's second seed, and the subsequent first-round bye, with a win over Minnesota. But losing would open the door for San Francisco, who could then sneak by them with a win over the Cardinals.
In that scenario, Green Bay would have to play a first-round playoff game against....well, the Vikings. Funny how that works out, huh?
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
For the Cowboys and Redskins, this game has serious playoff implications. Whoever wins Sunday night will clinch the NFC East and host a playoff game next weekend.
But this game's ramifications reach much further than these two teams.
Many of those upshots were alluded to above: The Giants must have a Dallas loss if they want to sneak into the playoffs. If the Vikings lose to Green Bay, they'll need Dallas to lose too. Those teams would all be reaping the benefits of Washington's division win, as they have a stronger Wild Card resume than Dallas.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
Unlikely as it may be at Reliant Field, a Houston loss would massively alter the AFC playoff picture.
Combined with a Denver win, the Broncos would assume the conference's top seed and enjoy home-field advantage throughout. Combined with an additional New England win, the Pats would pass the Texans in seeding and clinch a first-round bye. That would leave the suddenly-reeling Texans with a first-round home game against Cincinnati.
Indianapolis doesn't have much to play for, as they're locked into the fifth seed, with a near-surefire trip to Baltimore looming. If the Ravens win and New England loses, the Colts would play the Pats at Foxborough.
Houston is rightfully a heavy favorite. But if the Colts pull off the upset, it would throw a major wrench into the playoff picture.