Depending upon how things play out in Week 16, things could get interesting in the final week of the NFL's regular season. A number of divisional races are still up for grabs, and they may remain unresolved in Week 17. If that is the case, then NBC and the NFL will have a difficult decision on their hands.
As many as three Week 17 games could essentially serve as de facto divisional championship games with the winner moving onto the playoffs and the loser going home. The league has yet to decide on a Sunday Night Football game for Week 17 since it will wait to see how things play out in Week 16.
Plenty of factors could impact the NFL's decision, but here are the three best flex options for the final Sunday Night Football game of the regular season.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys
For the past several weeks, it has seemed imminent that the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles would play each other for the NFC East title in Week 17. Had the Cowboys held onto a 23-point advantage over the Green Bay Packers in Week 15, that much would already be assured.
The Eagles hold a one-game lead in the division, so it is conceivable that they could clinch the NFC East with a win over the Chicago Bears, as long as the Cowboys lose to the rival Washington Redskins in Week 16, according to Bleacher Report's Dan Levy:
NFC East will now come down to Week 17, Eagles at Cowboys. Unless the Eagles win next week & Dallas loses. Then it'll be over.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) December 16, 2013
As bad as the Redskins are, it is far from a guarantee that Dallas will beat them. The Cowboys have been a mess lately, especially on defense. Dallas has the worst pass defense in football, and Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins could potentially have a big day with the organization attempting to showcase him.
Also, the game is on the road, and head coach Jason Garrett seems content to allow quarterback Tony Romo to throw on basically every play, despite the success of running back DeMarco Murray.
With that said, the Cowboys usually wait until the last possible moment to tear their fans' hearts out, so they'll likely find a way to win. Even if they lose, there is still a chance that they could play for the division title, provided the Eagles lose to the Chicago Bears in Week 16. That is a definite possibility, although Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson should have a field day against Chicago's defense.
If this matchup is for the NFC East in Week 17, then the NFL will likely go in that direction.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Which game would you most like to see on Sunday night in Week 17?
It wasn't long ago that the Cincinnati Bengals seemed to have the AFC North sewn up, but that is no longer the case. Cincinnati holds a one-game advantage over the Baltimore Ravens, but the Ravens beat the Bengals earlier in the season.
The teams will meet in Week 17, which means either a Baltimore win or a Cincinnati loss would create a one-game playoff situation for the AFC North crown.
NFC North matchups are always intense and hard-hitting affairs, and that would be especially true with the division on the line. Most figured that the defending Super Bowl champions were done after a rocky start, but they have since bounced back in a big way. Quarterback Joe Flacco isn't playing at a Super Bowl MVP level; however, the defense has stepped up.
Incredibly, as pointed out by NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, this game could be a case of the winner getting the No. 2 seed and the loser missing the playoffs, depending upon what happens with the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins:
A delicious, conceivable scenario from @mikeybtv for Week 17: Bengals-Ravens where the winner gets No. 2 seed, loser is out of playoffs.— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) December 16, 2013
That is an enticing thought, and this game would make for a great Sunday night affair. There are so many storylines to consider, including the fact that the Ravens are kind of the old guard, while the Bengals are an up-and-coming team.
Baltimore isn't surrendering its spot quietly, so Cincinnati will have to take it. The onus will fall on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton as he tries to prove that he can take the team to the next level. Beating the Ravens in a must-win game would be a huge step in the right direction.
Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears
The Green Bay Packers vs. the Chicago Bears may be the best rivalry in the NFL and sports in general. It feels important each and every time they step onto the field, but that could reach another level in Week 17.
The Packers trail the Bears by just a half-game in the NFC North, which means that either a Bears loss to the Eagles, a Packers win over the Pittsburgh Steelers or both could result in a battle for the NFC North, although the Detroit Lions might factor in as well should they win in Week 16.
Assuming both the Packers and Bears take care of business in Week 16, though, the winner of their Week 17 clash will be going to the playoffs, while the loser will go home.
There is no doubt that the most intriguing piece to the puzzle is the status of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He will miss his seventh straight game in Week 16 against the Steelers, and head coach Mike McCarthy addressed the situation diplomatically, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:
"He's not medically cleared," McCarthy said Friday. "That's still the case today. But as an organization, we don't feel that this is the right time for him to play."
"Just as I've stated all along, we've got two different circumstances here," McCarthy said. "We've got Aaron Rodgers' health, and obviously where are as a football team. Until we feel good about where Aaron is medically, that will not be part of the second circumstance. So as an organization, we are not ready for him to play."
It's basically impossible to say whether or not Rodgers will play in Week 17, but the possibility remains. Even if he does play, though, it doesn't guarantee anything. The Bears are dangerous offensively thanks to the likes of Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and they could potentially beat Green Bay in a shootout.
Whatever the case, plenty of football fans are rooting for the NFC North to come down to this battle.
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