Week 17 in the NFL is typically reserved for, well, exactly that—reserves. But with 13 out of 16 games this week having playoff implications and eight that will decide whether or not a team is in or out, there is a reason the NFL made the regular season end with all games played between division rivals.
With so many games determining where teams will end up in both conferences between wild-card or division races like the NFC South, North and East, there are sure to be major changes to the playoff picture during Week 17.
Here is a breakdown of a few games that will surely shake up the playoff picture.
NFC North Division Title: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears, 4:25 p.m. ET
The fact that these two teams are already huge rivals means the game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears was already important. But when it means the division crown is on the line and the loser goes home, it's going to get all sorts of crazy between these two teams.
In a division that seemingly no team wanted to win—every team lost in Week 16 by a combined total of 81 points—the NFC North has been atrocious this season. Dave Rappoccio of thedrawplay.com created a perfect illustration of the division thus far:
Okay fine, if you insist. MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE NFC NORTH AGAIN pic.twitter.com/0nWWqhlz4y— Dave Rappoccio (@DrawPlayDave) December 23, 2013
With the possibility of Aaron Rodgers returning this week still up in the air, according to the Associated Press, the playoff hopes of the Packers are now in the hands of Matt Flynn and Eddie Lacy, who is hoping to play after injuring his ankle.
As for the Bears, putting a humiliating loss against the Philadelphia Eagles behind them will be hard, but the defense will need to regroup to take down the Packers. Chicago will also need a much better performance from Jay Cutler, who has thrown for four touchdowns and three interceptions in the two games since his return.
AFC Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers, 4:25 p.m. ET
Let's take a step back and look at the situation in the AFC wild-card race. The Kansas City Chiefs are the No. 5 seed; they can't move up, and they can't move down. The San Diego Chargers' fate lies in the hands of both the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, who both play at 1 p.m. ET.
Given the scenario, the Chiefs already have nothing to play for, and the Chargers might be left with nothing to play for if either the Dolphins or Ravens win. But if both Miami and Baltimore win, their playoff hopes rely on whether or not San Diego wins or loses.
In order for the Chargers to get into the playoffs, they would need both the Dolphins and Ravens to lose. For the Dolphins to get in, they would need a victory by the Chargers to win the three-way tie over the Ravens. The Ravens, on the other hand, would need the Chargers to falter and force a two-way tie situation with the Dolphins that they would win thanks to a head-to-head win over both teams.
If that scenario causes a headache, it's understandable. The AFC wild card is a mess, with the Pittsburgh Steelers hoping for every other team in the equation to lose so that they can sneak in at 8-8 with a win over the Cleveland Browns. That game is also played at 1 p.m. ET.
NFC East Division Title: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Dallas Cowboys are once again competing for the NFC East division crown. In the final game of the year. On Sunday Night Football. But this year, it's a little different.
Not only are the Cowboys playing a different opponent for the third straight season in the Philadelphia Eagles, they'll have to do so without their franchise quarterback, Tony Romo, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN:
Cowboys QB Tony Romo has been ruled out the rest of the season due to his back injury, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
On top of that, the Cowboys defense will have its hands full with the Eagles offense. Here's a breakdown of how the two teams match up:
|Team||YPG||Rush YPG||Pass YPG||PPG|
Needless to say, it doesn't look good for the Cowboys. The Eagles have the No. 1 rushing offense in the league and the No. 2 overall offense in terms of yards and points per game thanks to offensive playmakers like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy around Nick Foles.
On the other side is a Cowboys defense that is ranked 31st in the league in terms of passing yards, last in total yards and is allowing 27.2 points per game. Dallas has been the laughingstock of the NFL this season while its former defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, has the New Orleans Saints as a top-five defense in just one year.
With just one game remaining for the NFC East to be decided, it looks like a lopsided one in the Eagles' favor. But that could spell disaster for Chip Kelly with the Philly fans in his first season if they falter against a Cowboys team that is seriously depleted.