The Bills could finish their season at 13-3 with a win over the Dolphins. That’s surprising. I mean I know they’re good, but are they 13-3 good? Meanwhile, with a win the Dolphins would get to 11-5 and clinch a playoff berth. That’s also surprising. I mean I know they’re good, but are they 11-5 good? So if I don’t foresee either team winning how exactly does this reconcile? Maybe a tie. But are the Bills 12-3-1 good? Ok, I’m confusing myself by thinking about the big picture, perhaps I should focus more on this one game and less on the teams’ final records. Buffalo will likely be playing their starters in an attempt to take the 2nd seed in the AFC, but will their sense of urgency be as high as Miami’s? The Dolphins’ season will probably be over with a loss. Unfortunately, Miami won't have on of their best players either after Quarterback Closer Ryan Fitzpatrick tested positive for COVID this week. Miami will have no one to bail them out if their other quarterback Tua Tagovailoa once again can't manage to get the ball downfield. However, the Dolphins can hope for a different sort of late game reprieve this Sunday. Buffalo can also clinch the 2 seed with a Steelers loss. Perhaps if the Bills check the scoreboard and see that Pittsburgh is trailing big they'll pull some of their first team and allow the Dolphins to come roaring back. And somewhere far away Fitzpatrick will smile and nod.
Baltimore at Cincinnati
Much like the Dolphins, the Ravens have a win and in scenario. Unlike the Dolphins, Baltimore doesn’t have to play a division leader. And thus, I believe the Ravens will make the playoffs. That being said, this match-up also took place three seasons ago with the exact same stakes and the Ravens weren’t able to get the job done. Of course, that Bengals team was better than this one, and they had the full support of Bills Mafia behind them. Cincy is coming off consecutive wins though, so it’s not out of the question that they could pull the upset. Especially if half of Baltimore’s starters come down with COVID again. In fact, don’t be surprised if one of the other 10-5 teams in the AFC sends a COVID cake to Lamar Jackson’s hotel room this weekend. To clarify, that’s just a normal cake but it’s delivered by an infected guy with a lisp. But as long as Jackson checks the peephole the Ravens should be playoff bound.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
The Browns only had to beat the Jets last week to clinch a spot in the playoffs. They didn't do that. Now they’re very close to missing the postseason altogether. Luckily for them the Steelers have announced that Ben Roethlisberger won’t be playing, which could suggest that other Pittsburgh starters will rest for some, or all, of the game. At first glance that’s great news for Cleveland, it should give them a better chance at winning. However, anyone who knows anything about the Browns knows that this just means the perfect trap has been set. Nothing would make more sense than for Cleveland to be a win away from the playoffs only for them to lose consecutive games to the Jets and a group of Steelers backups. It almost seems destined to happen now that I think about it. And if that does come to pass don’t be surprised to see the Browns leave Cleveland again, this time for an ice floe. Don’t mind us, we know it’s our time, goodbye.
Minnesota at Detroit
The Lions had to play last week without their interim coach Darrell Bevell due to COVID 19 protocols. They ended up losing 47-7 to the Bucs in what was a big win for coaches everywhere. See, they matter! I’m assuming Bevell will be back on the sideline this week, but maybe Detroit should use this as an opportunity. Invite the snarkiest know-it-all commenter on their twitter feed to be the head coach for the final game of the season. It’s a win-win; the guy sees how hard it is to coach a football game and learns his lesson, and then after the game all the players who he’s made negative comments about get to kick his ass. Then even the players he likes get to join in for a few shots, making it all the more painful. See, win-win! Oh also, a loss could only help the Lions’ draft status, so actually it would be a win-win-win! Three wins in a row? There’s something the Lions haven’t had in years. See that’s exactly the type of comment that got that guy’s ass kicked.
New York Jets at New England
This is one of three games on the day that has no playoff implications nor involves a team going to the postseason. Hard to fathom that the Patriots are involved. Sure they lost the winningest quarterback in the history of the NFL, but come on, is that really that important? Apparently so. But what if there were a way that Tom Brady could still get this Patriots team to the playoffs? I know it seems impossible, but just hear me out. Now bear with me, because this is pretty convoluted and there are a lot of moving parts. Here we go: Brady buys them all tickets to the Bucs’ first round game. Alright, I suppose the only complicated part is whether or not Tampa’s opponent allows fans. But I have to believe that Brady would find a way to make it happen no matter what. As New England knows from experience, he always does.
Dallas at New York Giants
The Cowboys have won three games in a row to surge to 6-9 while the Giants have stumbled lately to arrive at the final week with a 5-10 record. But of course, both teams can still win the NFC East. We’ve been joking about it all season, but we’re finally going to find out just how far under .500 the division champ will be. Obviously I’ll be rooting for New York and the first ever 6-10 playoff team, but do Giants fans feel the same? I’m guessing that their hopes of a deep postseason run aren’t high, and a trip to the playoffs would severely damage their draft position. In fact, it’s still possible (not likely, but possible) that the Giants could climb up to the 3rd overall pick with a loss this Sunday. Just think about the absurdity of that, it’s Week 17 and a team could either go to the playoffs or get the 3rd pick in the draft! Actually there are two teams you can say that about this season. The other one is Miami, but they can actually do both at the same time because they made the wise decision to trade with Bill O’Brien before he got fired. The Cowboys have been surprisingly explosive on offense lately, and momentum is definitely on their side. But come on, this is the 2020 NFC East! We’ve suffered through it all season and we deserve a historically bad 6-10 champ.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay
The Bucs just need a win to get the coveted 5th seed in the NFC and play themselves into a match-up with the previously discussed, possibly 6-10 NFC East champion. If Tampa advances from there they could go on to face a Packers teams they beat by 28 earlier this season. Maybe we should just print up the Bucs’ conference championship game participant banner now. Oh that’s right, only the Colts do that. When these teams met two weeks ago the Falcons actually gave Tampa a run for their money, amassing a 17 point second half lead. It was actually the first reported instance in NFL history of a scoreboard rolling its eyes. Of course, as anybody with any knowledge of recent Falcons history could guess, Atlanta blew that lead. They then blew out of town for the remainder of the season leaving Mercedes Benz Stadium alone in the dark with nothing to do but think about the abusive relationship their team has inflicted upon them. Hopefully the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day can show the MB scoreboard a good time and maybe remind them of how nice a healthy relationship with a football team can be. They deserve it.
Green Bay at Chicago
Uh guys, this Bears offense is out of hibernation! Which is strange, because usually bears start hibernating in the winter ... Enough semantics! There’s no denying that Chicago finally has some firepower. There’s also no denying that their four consecutive 30 point efforts have come against the Lions, Texans, Vikings, and Jaguars. That’s not to say their recent output isn’t impressive, but it is to say that it’s less impressive. But hey, Chicago don’t make the schedule, they just show up and play whoever’s on the other side of the field. Sometimes they’re there on the wrong day and they play the grounds crew. It’s pretty messed up considering that those guys aren’t pro athletes, nor do they have the proper equipment. But that’s beside the point, all that matters now is that if the Bears win they’re in. But if they lose, well they still might be in. So much has been made (including in this space) about how comically bad the NFC East is; well guess what, the last NFC wild card team might be 8-8. Perhaps the conference as a whole just isn’t very deep. I, for one, hope that’s what happens just so the NFL gets egg on its face after adding an extra playoff team. We don’t want more playoff games you assholes! Just go back where you came from and keep giving us a reason to live.
Las Vegas at Denver
This game means nothing huh? You try telling that to Jon Gruden. Seriously he probably thinks there’s still a way the Raiders can get into the playoffs. "Just a little bit of gumption and some old fashioned know how ... you try and tell us we can’t find a way to nab that final wild card!" Got get ‘em J man. If you can dream it you can do it! How else would you explain all of my teeth falling out in real life? It’s a dream come true! I also have not been to a math class all semester. So who are we to tell Jon Gruden that Las Vegas can’t make the playoffs? The league will likely fax him that info on Monday, so really we don’t have to worry about it.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis
These teams played in Week 1 and it’s the only game the Jags have won all season. Now they meet in the final week in what could provide a perfect bookend for Jacksonville. Now that the Jags have secured the top pick in the 2021 draft they can fully pursue a win in this game. Is it possible that they’ll end the season 2-14 with two victories over the Colts? That would be the only time in the history of the NFL that that’s happened. No, I didn’t do the research on that, but you’re not going to either are you? Ok cool, so let’s just agree that it’s a fact. I doubt that it will happen though. Indy needs a win to have a chance at the playoffs, and they’ve no doubt been living with the embarrassment of losing to the Jags for the last 3+ months. They’ll likely resort to anything to get this win. Hard counts, trick plays, murder. Murder? Yes, murder! But consider this, there’s a chance that the Colts will win and still not make the playoffs. Can you imagine the overwhelming despair of living the next eight months knowing that the only reason you didn’t make the playoffs was because you lost in Week 1 to the Jags?!? Indy is left with very few agreeable options, which means they’ll have to ensure that the Dolphins, Browns, Titans, and/or Ravens lose. That’s where that murder I was talking about earlier comes into play.
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City
With a win the Chiefs could enter the rarefied air of 15-1 NFL teams. Only seven squads have been that good (or better) since the league extended the schedule to 16 games in 1978. That’s a pretty exclusive club KC could join, so perhaps it would behoove them to go for the win here even though it wouldn’t benefit their current standing whatsoever. Or perhaps not ... Consider this, the last five teams to have a regular season record of 15-1 or better have not won the Super Bowl. It would stand to reason that the best regular season teams would normally win it all, but in actuality the best teams of the last 30+ seasons have not. So now the Chiefs have another reason to leave their starters on the bench besides rest. The only negative side effect of a loss would be KC relinquishing their AFC crown to the Chargers. Remember? The Kings of the AFC title I made up at the beginning of the season that the Chiefs lost to the Raiders but then won back? Well it’s up for grabs here. Even if this game means nothing in terms of the postseason, it means something to us, right?!? Not you? Fine. It’s still real to me damn it!
Arizona at Los Angeles Rams
It’s a win and you’re in scenario for both teams. Though the Rams don’t have to win to get in. If they lose and the Bears lose then they and the Cardinals are in. That could very well happen, especially since LA will be going with John Wolford at quarterback, a man who’s most recent experience as a professional starter was with the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF. Imagine an Arizona pro football fan so dedicated that they’re torn as to who they want to win. Would it be the Cardinals, an active pro football franchise in the state, or the Rams, who are starting a quarterback who once played for a now defunct Arizona team? What torment that totally fake, non-existent person must be feeling. If I were them I’d wait to see what happens the first time Wolford throws a pass in the NFL. If it gets deflected back and wedged into his facemask triggering a panic that results in him running through the back of his own end zone, well they’ll have their answer. And that answer is: root for him! This poor bastard needs all the help he can get!
Seattle at San Francisco
With a win the Seahawks can get to 12-4, a threshold they’ve only reached 4 times before in their history. The 49ers have been 12-4 or better 14 times since Seattle entered the league in 1976. So clearly San Fran has the better pedigree, and it wouldn’t bother them if the Seahawks got a measly 5 to their 14. Or at least that’s what they’d say if they lose. You know that deep down inside they’re scared. In another 30 years or so Seattle may have equaled the 49ers' 12-4 level. And as we all know, that’s the true measure of a great franchise. Not conference or Super Bowl championships, but seasons in which you finish with a .750 win percentage or better. San Fran can’t let the Hawks gain an inch, or else they’ll take a mile, a mile of wins. Literally. That’s 5,280 feet or 1,760 yards, which would surely be enough to win 12 games. Hmm, actually that would only be 146 per win, so that doesn’t work.
New Orleans at Carolina
Alvin Kamara is coming off a 6 touchdown performance on Christmas Day. How can he possibly top that? The simple answer would be: with 7 touchdowns. But if you ask me, there are plenty of ways to do something more amazing than scoring 6 touchdowns in a football game. How about volunteering at a homeless shelter, donating blood, or teaching a child to read? I don’t know, maybe I just have a broader scope and realize that not everything is about football. In fact, and this might sound ridiculous to a lot of you, I believe these players can make a bigger difference off the field than they can on it. Pretty mind-blowing, right? It makes me think of JFK’s famous quote: “Ask not what a football player can do on the field, instead ask him to build a community center. Preferably with a pool!”
Tennessee at Houston
The Titans are the leaders of the AFC South and poised to host a playoff game next week, But there’s still a chance that they could miss the playoffs entirely. Yes, multiple results would have to break the wrong way for Tennessee, but come on, this is 2020, nothing’s impossible. Oh wait a minute, it’s 2021 now. We don’t know what, if anything, is actually possible anymore. Maybe this year will be conventional as hell. If so, Tennessee will win and Derrick Henry will run for exactly 223 yards to get him to 2,000 on the season. Then we’ll all high five and hug and kiss afterward, ya know just like how we used to before 2020. Oh what, you never celebrated football games with a nice wet, juicy kiss planted upon whoever was nearest you at the time? Pfft, man I feel sorry for you.
Washington at Philadelphia
So it's come to this. If Washington wins they are the NFC East champions, and if they lose they're just another 6-10 schlub. The stake couldn't be higher (unless it was any other division)! Let's find out what fate Sunday Night Football's Cris Collinsworth thinks awaits Washington:
A very inspiring message to kickoff our new year. Thank you CriColl.
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