Washington @ New York Giants
There are a handful of meaningless games this week. Some are meaningless because a team involved is locked into their playoff seed, and some because neither team can make the playoffs. This is one of the latter, which means you really have to grasp for storylines. So let’s see, how about both quarterbacks could be playing their last game with their respective team. Enticing enough for ya? Yeah, me either. How about this, you can watch and repeatedly slap yourself in the face for making a preseason pick that the Giants would make the NFC title game. What were you thinking? You disgust me ... because you are me. Noooooooooo!
New York Jets @ New England
For a team that many expected to do no better than 2-14, this surprisingly competitive Jets' season has to be considered a success. Then again, they’ll likely finish 5-11 and end up with something like the 7th Pick in the draft, just low enough to snag the 3rd quarterback off the board. Ok, so just to recap, this season has been a total failure for the Jets. Though to be fair no one was going to take that top pick in the draft from the Browns this year, so the best that New York could’ve hoped for was number two. As for the Patriots, we don’t know if this was a successful season for them yet, and we probably won’t for another 5 weeks or so, because the only way for them to have a successful season is to win the Super Bowl. You fool Belichick, you’ve created impossible standards for yourself, and now you’re trapped by expectations. What hell it must be to be you. I have to say I feel sorry for him. He’s probably one of he more sympathetic characters of our time.
Chicago @ Minnesota
Are the Vikings the favorites in the NFC? At first blush I’d say no. But they’ll likely be the #2 seed, and I’m not sure I’d expect any team to beat them in Minnesota. The only team they’d have to play on the road is the Eagles ... So here we are, the Vikings are the favorites in the NFC. And the man they have to thank more so than any other is Sam Bradford. There’s no way a team with Bradford as the starting QB could possibly be in this situation; and I don’t just mean because he would never actually be healthy this late into a season. The history of Super Bowl champions is dotted with QBs who came off the bench at some point in the season, whether it be Brady, Dilfer, or Hostetler. So will Case Keenum be the next? If this season has taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected. But if Vikings’ playoff history has taught us anything, in a much larger sample size, it’s to expect no less than an excruciating loss, most likely at home. That could even include the Super Bow this season, so yeah, that seems like the logical conclusion here.
Green Bay @ Detroit
You may have noticed that in the interest of competitive balance (and probably ratings concerns) there is no Sunday night game scheduled in Week 17. The biggest repercussion of course being that Cris Collinsworth will not be on the airwaves this Sunday. But fear not, I checked in with him to see what his plans were for his week off, and since this game is meaningless I decided to post it in this space:
That got sad pretty abruptly.
Houston @ Indianapolis
Of all the meaningless games on Sunday this one has a strong case to be the most meaningless. It’s the appendix of games. Then again, an appendix can rupture unexpectedly and be potentially fatal. I guess the equivalent in this game would be a hit or on-field incident so violent that the NFL decides to cancel the playoffs. Just to be safe the league should preemptively call off this contest, much in the same way evolution should have removed our appendixes long ago. I mean what’s the use? They’re just ticking time bombs inside our body that probably won’t go off. It makes me question the theory of evolution as a whole. Maybe the earth is 6,000 years old.
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh
It’s come to this for the Browns. To avoid the league’s second ever 0-16 season they must beat a Pittsburgh team that very much has a reason to win this game. In other words, the Browns will be the second 0-16 team in NFL history. This feels like some sort of medieval, public execution in which yes, the prisoner committed the crime they’re being punished for, but they did it for noble reasons. Maybe (absolutely) that’s a strained analogy, but I think my point was that I expect the Browns to put forth an admirable effort. Admirable in that you can tell they’re trying their best, not in that they’ll be competitive, because they assuredly will not. And so, off with their heads. Good night sweet princes. Your candle burned out long before your season ever did.
Dallas @ Philadelphia
The Eagles have clinched the #1 seed in the NFC, and the fans in Philly are feeling the pressure, because it might literally be up to them to get the team to the Super Bowl. After Nick Foles and the gang squeaked out an ugly victory over the Raiders on Monday it’s clear that they’ll need all the external assistance they can get. Though trying to run plays with 70,000 people at once would probably be more trouble than it’s worth. Just imagine trying to get them all set. Or even having everybody line up onside, especially if they’re on their own side of the 50. The more I think about it, the Eagles are going to have to do this on their own. Luckily for them the Cowboys also looked pretty listless last week, and now that they have nothing to play for I expect a 3 hour hissy fit. Though that may good enough in a second-half filled with Philly second-stringers.
San Francisco @ Los Angeles Rams
Rams coach Sean McVay has announced that Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Donald are among LA's regular starters who won’t play this Sunday. Apparently McVay doesn’t understand that 3 is better than 4, because with a win the Rams will be the NFC’s 3 seed, but a loss will most likely send them to the #4 slot. Then again, maybe he wants to be #4. Being the 3 seed ensures that if you win your first round game you’ll be headed to Minnesota in round two. Whereas a win as #4 gives you the chance to travel to Philly in the next round to face an Eagles team that looked oh so woebegone in their win(?!?) over the Raiders on Christmas night. It’s all a Machiavellian plan by McVay isn’t it? You slick bastard. I’m gonna expose your ruse and topple your empire before your reign even begins! What’s that? Nothing about this is against the rules? Weeeelllllll shit.
Oakland @ Los Angeles Chargers
Much has been made of the idea that the majority of those in attendance this week at the Chargers “Home” stadium will be Raiders fans. But is that really an advantage? The Chargers already won in Oakland this season, and it’s not like they’re unaccustomed to playing in a hostile StubHub Center environment. Speaking of a hostile StubHub environment, $200 for Cavalia?!? Those horses better do some fuggin backflips. LA has a shot at making the playoffs with a win and a Tennessee loss, so it would make Charger-sense for both of them to lose and have the Titans make the playoffs by default. But like I said before these Chargers can’t disappoint their home crowd, because they won’t have one. That takes all the fun out of a devastating loss, so they’ll probably get the win.
Kansas City @ Denver
The Chiefs are giving rookie Pat Mahomes his first start at quarterback in what is mostly an effort to rest starter Alex Smith, but it makes me wonder ... there’s no scenario in which Mahomes plays so well that he puts a seed of doubt into Andy Reid’s head about who should be QB1 in KC, right? Alex Smith has gone from being an MVP candidate, to listless, back to pretty good over the length of this season. With that wide breadth of performance level it wouldn’t be shocking to see him come out and struggle early in the Chiefs’ upcoming playoff game. Would a great performance by Mahomes this week create a short leash for Smith in that scenario? I say yes. And from what I hear using a short leash will be nothing new for Andy Reid, dude is a total S&M freak. Don’t even ask me what he does with his offensive line and a cat o’ nine tails.
Jacksonville @ Tennessee
Jaguars' coach Doug Marrone has assured the media that despite his team being locked into the #3 seed in the AFC he will not rest any of his starters. And I don’t blame him, it’s clearly the correct move to play your first-stringers and lose on purpose, setting up a playoff rematch with the Titans next week and giving Tennessee a false confidence in the process. Then you can show up for the wild card game with your real game plan and squash these suckers. Of course, that wouldn’t necessarily be fair to the Bills or Chargers who are also fighting for the AFC’s final postseason spot. But do you think Doug Marrone cares about being fair? Hell nah son.
New Orleans @ Tampa Bay
Last week I dubbed the Bucs a Tupperware team, because they weren’t going to spoil anything. Never was that more apparent than last Sunday when they let Cam Newton pick the ball up off the ground and score the winning touchdown with under a minute to go. Well here we are again and Tampa has one more mild spoil opportunity. Yes the Saints are already in the playoffs, but the Bucs can help keep them from winning the NFC South. But again, Tampa won’t, so I’m not sure why I’m bringing it up. Maybe because I’m taking a bit of schadenfreude in this Tampa season after seeing them on Hard Knocks over the summer. A particular scene sticks out in which defensive lineman Chris Baker clowned on Jacksonville fans for how perennially lousy their team is. How'd that turn out Baker? It was a strange ride coming from a member of a team that never makes the playoffs. And now his team can’t even stop others from making the playoffs. For shame.
Buffalo @ Miami
Believe it or not the Bills have the longest active postseason drought of any team in a major American sport. I’m not sure why you wouldn't believe it. Maybe if you haven’t been paying attention to the NFL for the past 18 seasons, or you’re a Buffalo fan who has just woken up from a coma after slamming your head through a table following the last time the Bills made the playoffs. In which case, you didn’t miss much. Also, this is called the INTERNET. (I know the internet existed in 1999, but I’m guessing this Buffalo resident who slammed his head through a table had never been on it) When you think about it it’s really not that shocking that the Bills haven’t had a playoff game since that fateful day in Nashville. After losing four straight Super Bowls and being on the losing end of the Music City Miracle all within a 10 year span it’s almost as if the whole organization decided they and the postseason could use some space. I don’t know if they meant this much space, but regardless, I’m not sure they’ll rekindle their abusive relationship anytime soon.
Arizona @ Seattle
After what we’ll go ahead and call a gritty win in Dallas last week the Seahawks’ playoff hopes are still alive. They need only a win here against Kangol Karl and company and an Atlanta loss to reach the postseason for the sixth consecutive year. Or, I suppose one of the five NFC teams that have already clinched a playoff spot could incur some sort of unprecedented organizational suspension. Or, the league could immediately institute a 14 team playoff, in which case the Hawks are sitting pretty. But barring any of those unlikely events, the only way in for Seattle is the aforementioned win/loss combo with the Falcons. Certainly not impossible, and if you believe what you’re about to read, it’s even probable!
Carolina @ Atlanta
Ever since they dropped to 7-5 everybody had been telling the Falcons that they could still win the NFC South if they won out. Now that they’ve lost a game it would be pretty funny if no one told them that they can still make it to the playoffs as a wild card. I mean you’d expect them to do the research on their own, but who knows, they’re busy guys, maybe they’re just clueless and think their season is over. Yes, I get that it’s not likely, and yes I get that if they’re reading this right now I just tipped them off ... Oh shit. I wish I could delete all of this, but you know as well as I do that I DON’T DELETE ANYTHING.
Cincinnati @ Baltimore
Alright Ravens, win and you’re in. Lose and it will still take wins from the Titans and Bills to knock you out of the playoffs. So congrats! You’re in! Baltimore's own match-up could prove more difficult than once thought however, because after a win over Detroit, Cincinnati suddenly seems frisky. Then again, all they did was beat the Lions late in the season, which hasn’t been historically difficult. Then again, they’re only playing the Ravens this week. But at the same time the Ravens just have to beat the Bengals. Wait a minute what just happened? I’m running on fumes here gang.