The NFC has 5 teams vying for wildcard spots, 3 teams trying to clinch a first-round bye, 3 teams scrapping for the NFC East crown, 2 teams trying to lock up the NFC West, with a handful of teams looking to spoil the party.
The AFC has 3 teams battling for the wildcard, 3 teams also craving a first-round bye, 2 teams positioning for the NFC North title, with its fair share of spoilers.
Top Seeds & Records
Minnesota Vikings @Houston Texans
Speaking of records, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is looking to to surpass 2,000 yards for the all-time rushing record in a single season. A.P. has thrusted the Vikings into playoff contention and has my vote for MVP, regardless of the outcome. Minnesota will be playing for a wildcard spot, facing a Texans team that has cruised through most of the season and salivating to wrap up the AFC’s top seed and a bye.
Saturday Night Football: Atlanta Falcons @Detroit Lions
The Falcons get to play in the comfort of dome, visiting the Lions with an opportunity to clinch the top seed in the NFC and a bye. Detroit will not be in the playoff picture like they were a year ago, but they can play the spoiler role with Calvin Johnson’s sights on a couple receiving records.
Everything At Stake
Sunday Night Football: San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
Two of the league’s elite defenses, powerful ground games, motivational head coaches, and all that jazz will be in the spotlight for a couple of reasons with huge playoff implications. In the battle of young athletic quarterbacks in this exciting game of the week, the Seahawks will play in front of the supportive “12th Man.” Seattle looks to stay alive to win the NFC West while San Francisco wants to put their stamp on the division and focus on a first-round bye.
Cincinnati Bengals @Pittsburgh Steelers
This should be an all-out war between division rivals, separated by a game and scrapping for the wildcard. The weather may get ugly and that’s the type of game you should expect when they clash. After all, the Bengals can overcome an obstacle by beating the Steelers, sending them home while stamping Cincinnati onto the playoff slate. Pittsburgh did win the first game.
New York Giants @ Baltimore Ravens
You knew the Giants would be in this position, fighting for their playoff lives in the final weeks of the season. New York needs Ahmad Bradshaw on the field against the Ravens positioning for a higher seed of their own after clinching the NFC North. The G-Men have 2 cracks at the postseason, if they look to repeat last year’s run this would be the game to start it, but knowing them it could come down to next week’s finale.
Bye, Bye, Bye
Cleveland Browns @ Denver Broncos
The Browns aren’t destined for the postseason or anything, but they haven’t been welcome mats for anyone this season. Cleveland will come to play, as will Denver. The Broncos will return to the playoffs as balanced as any team as of late, on both sides of the ball, and they’re in line for a bye if not the top seed.
New England Patriots @Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars don’t have anything to play for, unless they covet a particular player in the upcoming draft. They can, however, damper New England’s chances at a first round bye by defending home turf. The Patriots look to rebound from defeat in prime time action last week, but it looks like Denver will win out so they better hope Houston loses out.
Tennessee Titans @ Green Bay Packers
So the Titans won at home on Monday Night Football last week, now they get a date with a Packers team making a run similar to their Super Bowl a couple seasons ago. Tennessee has been playing hard and they travel to the frozen tundra, where a Green Bay team is focused on a first round bye, neck and neck with San Francisco.
To Clinch…Or To Spoil
Washington Redskins @Philadelphia Eagles
Washington’s offense has been spear-headed by rookies, and the defense has played terrific despite numerous key injuries. The Redskins are leading the NFC East division due to a tiebreaker, but if they were to slip in the division they’re still in wildcard hunt as well. Philadelphia gets running back LeSean McCoy back on the field, and what better way to close out the season than to spoil your division rival and dash their playoff hopes (besides making the playoffs yourselves)?
New Orleans Saints @Dallas Cowboys
The Saints plan on marching into another dome, looking to be a road block in between the Cowboys and the playoffs. New Orleans gets a chance to knock off a team that suspended head coach, Sean Payton, has history with and set to hit the market. Dallas is in the midst of jockeying for playoff position, in December where they have struggled recently, both within the division and for a wildcard spot.
Indianapolis Colts @Kansas City Chiefs
Indianapolis could lock up a wildcard berth with a win at Kansas City, led by the quarterback I think is Rookie of the Year, Andrew Luck. Although the Chiefs are in the same boat as the Colts were last season (vying for the first pick of the draft with only 2 wins thus far), they can detour their opponent from the postseason for another week.
Chicago Bears @ Arizona Cardinals
The Bears have suffered the injury bug in the past couple of Decembers. Last year and this year, they have gone from playoff bound to clinging onto playoff hopes. This will be a physical game, especially since defensive lineman Calais Campbell is back for the Cardinals defense.
St. Louis Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Two young teams that got a taste of the playoff picture this season, that will be giving everything they have and looking to improve to be in next year’s bracket. The quarterbacks will have to take the next step in the growth process, as both coaches did a solid job in their first seasons with their teams.
San Diego Chargers @ New York Jets
Similar teams with self-inflicted wounds and disappointment. If anything, they will bring it to the field and play for pride, after some key (playoff) matchups in years past. Two teams with playoff aspirations will go back to the drawing board this offseason, but one coach is on the hot seat while the other will most likely coach for somebody else next year.
Oakland Raiders @ Carolina Panthers
The Raiders played Terrelle Pryor a little bit last week, we will see if he gets more playing time or if they want Carson Palmer and Darren McFadden in the lineup together. Carolina has won 3 of their last 4 games, including back-to-back victories, and they’ve found some rhythm offensively.
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins
This matchups features NFC East rivals that are playing for bragging rights. Last year Buffalo started strong, something Miami did this year, before they eventually fell off the playoff radar. The defenses have something to prove after some stout expectations, and both offenses have the ability to explode, occasionally.