Week 17 of the NFL season — the final weekend of action before the postseason begins — may not seem like an important week on the road to Super Bowl 50, but the slate of games on tap for this Sunday are full of playoff implications, division title-deciding matchups, and games that determine who the top seed in each conference will ultimately be. To help you gear up for an important final week of the regular season, here are Week’s 17 five biggest games, which will impact the outlook of the postseason.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
Both the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers have already clinched their spots in the NFC playoffs, but this Sunday night matchup between the two teams will determine the winner of the NFC North. Each club sits at 10-5 entering this contest, so it’s a true division championship game, if you will. Of course, the winner will be the No. 3 seed in the NFC, earning the right to host a playoff game on wild-card weekend.
Interestingly, if the Vikings lose, they could drop all the way to the No. 6 seed (depending on what happens with the Seattle Seahawks in their Week 17 game), which would mean the two sides would meet again during wild-card weekend (one week after this game). Green Bay can drop no lower than No. 5, because they beat the Seahawks (9-6) earlier this season and therefore own the tiebreaker.
Regardless of what happens, this could be the most exciting game of the weekend. Adrian Peterson and the Vikings are hoping for a bounce-back performance against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers after Green Bay won in Minnesota back in Week 11. The Packers are in need of a win following their debacle against Arizona in Week 16, which creates an interesting matchup with the Vikings, who just blew out the Giants. This differing momentum should see Minnesota take the division title.
Prediction: Minnesota Vikings 20, Green Bay Packers 13
New York Jets vs. Buffalo Bills
For one of these teams, this game doesn’t matter at all. For the other, their playoff hopes hang in the balance. These two variables create what should be an intense AFC matchup in a bitter rivalry. The team with nothing to play for is the Buffalo Bills, who have already been eliminated from postseason contention. Their counterpart, the New York Jets, control their own destiny. They need to clinch a wild card berth with a 10-5 record. However, if they lose and the Pittsburgh Steelers win, the Jets will get knocked out of the running.
Seeing as how the Steelers face the struggling Cleveland Browns in Week 17, it’s vital that the Jets win. It’s not as if Buffalo will just hand the game to their rival though, as head coach Rex Ryan already called this game the Bills’ “Super Bowl.” Obviously, they would love nothing more than to derail New York’s season. With how well Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets are playing right though (coming off a huge win against the New England Patriots), they should be able to overcome an inconsistent Bills team. However, Buffalo beat the Jets back in Week 10. Perhaps they have the blueprint to stop New York’s five-game winning streak.
Prediction: New York Jets 24, Buffalo Bills 14
Oakland Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are the hottest team in the NFL right now — save for the Arizona Cardinals. A couple months ago, nobody could’ve imagined that we’d be saying that about a team that started the season 1-5. Since that horrific start though, the Chiefs have won nine straight games to clinch a playoff spot and give themselves a chance to win the AFC West in Week 17 behind Alex Smith and a defense that makes big plays every week.
Kansas City’s counterpart on Sunday is the Oakland Raiders, a team that has impressed many this season even with a 7-8 record. Oakland’s core of young players, led by quarterback Derek Carr, would love nothing more than to finish the season by ending the Chiefs’ winning ways and recording a win-loss record of 8-8 (which would be one of the Raiders’ best marks since 2002).
If Kansas City is able to beat Oakland on Sunday, they would need a Denver Broncos loss to the San Diego Chargers in order to win the division. It’s unlikely that San Diego can beat Denver on the road, but crazier things have happened. Regardless, we think the Chiefs will take care of business and earn a playoff date with the AFC South winner in wild-card weekend (in all likelihood, the Houston Texans).
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs 31, Oakland Raiders 20
New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins
A big theme in Week 17: Teams with no hope for the playoffs facing off against division rivals fighting for playoff positions. That’ll be the case when the Miami Dolphins host the New England Patriots on Sunday. Entering last weekend, the Patriots were very much in control of the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but a loss to the Jets put them on the verge of losing that spot. Tom Brady and company can’t afford to lose against Miami; if they do and the Denver Broncos win, it’ll be Denver that secures home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
On the surface, it would seem like the Dolphins have no chance of winning this game. They’ve struggled to a 5-10 record this season, showing few signs of being the team that was a popular sleeper pick in the AFC East before the season began. However, the team needs a big win going into the offseason, so they have something to build on. This game is bigger for the Dolphins than you may think. With that, the Patriots should cruise in this game, but seeing how they’ve played during their stumble after their 10-0 start, anything is possible.
Prediction: New England Patriots 21, Miami Dolphins 7
Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals have clinched a first-round bye in the NFC. The Seattle Seahawks have clinched a playoff spot. What else do these teams have to play for? Well, it goes beyond postseason positioning. If Arizona is able to win this game, the Cardinals could move up to the No. 1 seed if the Carolina Panthers stumble against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arizona has been hot, winning nine straight games (including a win in Seattle back in Week 10). They are trying to prove they are the best team in the NFL and a season sweep of their NFC West rivals might just do the trick.
For Seattle, a win might ensure that they get a road contest against the Washington Redskins in wild-card weekend (the NFC North battle will determine what happens for the most part, though). Aside from that, Seattle could use a big win entering the postseason after St. Louis upended them in Week 16. Of course, the Seahawks know how to win in January, as proven by their two consecutive Super Bowl appearances, so even a loss against Arizona wouldn’t be the end of the world. Ultimately, this game is about pride. Both teams will play their hearts out. If it’s anything like the two sides’ first meeting this season, this game will be can’t-miss TV.