Three of the NFL's four wild-card spots remain unsettled entering the 17th and final week of the regular season, but that will change on Sunday when all 32 teams are in action.
In the AFC, the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers are vying for a playoff spot, and while the Kansas City Chiefs have already clinched at least a wild-card berth, they can still win the AFC West with a victory and a Denver Broncos loss.
Things aren't quite as complicated in the NFC, as the winner of the Sunday Night Football clash between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings will take the NFC North, while the loser will settle for the wild card.
Here is a rundown of the wild-card scenarios worth keeping an eye on in Week 17, along with predictions for how those races will play out.
|1||New England Patriots||12||3|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||10||5|
|6||New York Jets||10||5|
|3||Green Bay Packers||10||5|
|New York Jets||Clinch Wild Card with win or tie OR PIT loss or tie|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Clinch Wild Card with win AND NYJ loss|
|Denver Broncos||Clinch AFC West with win or tie OR KC loss or tie, clinch Wild Card with loss AND KC win|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Clinch AFC West with win AND DEN loss, clinch Wild Card with loss or tie OR DEN win or tie|
|Green Bay Packers||Clinch NFC North with win or tie, clinch Wild Card with loss|
|Minnesota Vikings||Clinch NFC North with win, clinch Wild Card with loss or tie|
Week 17 Predictions
New York Jets vs. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills are once again outside the playoff field, but they still have something to play for on Sunday in the form of potentially keeping rivals the New York Jets out of the playoffs.
Buffalo has already beaten Gang Green once this year, and head coach Rex Ryan would love to do it again, although he hasn't let on there is any extra meaning going up against his former team, according to Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News:
First off, it's about getting the win. We know we’re facing a team that's red hot, a team that's probably as talented as anybody out there. When you look at it—even from a statistical standpoint—I think the defense is sixth and the offense is eighth. This team is a complete football team. No surprise they had the record they had. But just to get a win. I don't care if we’re playing East Carolina, you want to get a win. Period. There's no question about it.
Conversely, former Bills and current Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick conceded there was a certain symmetry to having a chance to clinch a playoff spot against the team that gave him his first extended chance at being a starter, per ESPN's Ed Werder:
Added motivation aside, the fact remains the Jets must beat a team on the road it already fell short against at home.
A win won't do much for the Bills aside from allowing them to enter the offseason on a high note, but several players have something to play for, including quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who will be looking to prove he deserves another season as Buffalo's starter.
With Taylor and Buffalo's running game firing on all cylinders as of late, the Bills will pull off the upset against New York and give the Pittsburgh Steelers a chance to punch their ticket to the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns
If Buffalo manages to upend the Jets, then the door will be open for Pittsburgh to assume the No. 6 seed in the AFC, assuming it can beat the rival Cleveland Browns on the road.
The Steelers can't afford to take anything for granted after losing to the Baltimore Ravens last time out, but the stars are aligned for them to make up for that defeat as Cleveland will be without quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has a concussion, according to SportsCenter.
That means Pittsburgh will go up against the unheralded Austin Davis. In addition to that, Cleveland seems to have checked out as a team, which bodes well for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the explosive Steelers offense.
The Steelers desperately need to win this game in order to keep their postseason hopes alive, and they have a chance to send Browns head coach Mike Pettine packing in the process. While no rivalry game is a given, Pittsburgh will simply be too much for a Browns team that is in disarray.
San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos could find themselves in any number of positions on Sunday as they could seize the No. 1 seed, remain in the No. 2 seed or even fall into a wild-card spot depending upon what happens in their game and a couple of others.
If the Broncos lose to the San Diego Chargers, then the Kansas City Chiefs can take the AFC West crown by beating the Oakland Raiders.
Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler has a chance to ensure Denver will secure a first-round bye, but he'll have to deal with an interesting dynamic, as future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning is expected to be healthy enough to be the backup, according to SportsCenter.
That could add some pressure on the 25-year-old signal-caller's shoulders, but he insists his focus is solely on beating the Bolts rather than being named the starter, per Mike Klis of 9News in Denver:
Obviously it means a lot. It shows I think that Coach believes in me, but once again, that's not where my focus is. Like I've said before, whether I'm the starter, whether I'm the backup, I'm going to prepare the same exact way. I'm going to give this team everything I have every single week. Certainly to answer your question, yes, it means a lot, but that's not really where my focus is. It feels good, but at the same time, I have a job to do this week.
Osweiler certainly won't have to get the job done on his own, as he has plenty of playmakers on offense and arguably the best defense in the league to support him as well.
According to the Chargers' official Twitter account, offensive coordinator Frank Reich is most concerned with Denver's defense and the challenges it will present:
Reich: "The Broncos defense... is good on all fronts. Toughest front seven you'll face." Says offense will rise to the challenge.— San Diego Chargers (@Chargers) December 31, 2015
The Broncos can't afford to let their guard down despite San Diego's struggles this season since divisional games can be tricky, plus the Chargers always have a shot with Philip Rivers at quarterback.
With a bye within reach and the defense continuing to play dominant football, though, the Broncos will close out the season with a win and render what the Chiefs do moot.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
The final game of the regular season will pit the Minnesota Vikings against the Green Bay Packers in a clash for NFC North supremacy.
Green Bay will take the division with a win or tie, which would keep the Vikes in a wild-card spot, but Minnesota can ascend to the No. 3 seed and swap places with the Pack if it manages to pull off the upset at Lambeau Field.
Minnesota has been the better team lately as it rides a two-game winning streak into Week 17. Green Bay, meanwhile, is coming off a 38-8 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
That may not matter, though, as the Packers beat Minnesota 30-13 on the road earlier in the season, shutting down running back Adrian Peterson in the process.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn't played great in recent weeks, but he tends to rise to the occasion in big games, especially at Lambeau Field. Because of that, the Packers will put Week 16's beatdown behind them and come through with an NFC North-winning performance.
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