Saturday starts wild weekend
Playoff scenarios are plentiful for nearly every contender at this point of the season, but the easiest way for teams to improve their chances is to win. This is a rare NFL weekend — with 12 Saturday games and two Sunday games, along with “Monday Night Football.”
Only two games this weekend have no playoff implications: San Diego at Cleveland and San Francisco at Los Angeles. For the rest of the matchups, home-field advantage, division titles and making it to the playoff party are the main priorities.
Miami (9-5) at Buffalo (7-7), 11 a.m. The Dolphins control their own destiny to make it to the playoffs, but there’s something about Miami’s inconsistencies that ensure it won’t be easy.
Since stumbling in the final week of the 2015 regular season at Miami to lose out on home-field advantage and then losing at Denver in the AFC championship game, the Patriots have preached finishing. They are two wins away from playing host throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Titans are the best team in the AFC South, and if they avoid a letdown against Jacksonville they will set up a division championship game against Houston next weekend.
No NFC team wants to see Green Bay in the playoffs. After posting four consecutive wins, the Packers’ playoff hopes have gone from slim to likely.
The Browns are only two losses away from a completely winless season. It would be hard to comprehend the Browns winning at Pittsburgh in Week 17, so this is essentially their chance to avoid 0-16.
Washington is mired in mediocrity. Even if the Redskins win their last two games, they could be sitting at home because of their porous defense and bad running game. The Falcons have to fend off a hot Buccaneers team to win the NFC South, but the Panthers have aspirations of playing spoiler for the second consecutive week.
So you’re saying there’s a chance? The Colts are holding on to extremely slim playoff chances, but they all start with an upset road win against the Raiders.
Game of the week
Baltimore (8-6) at Pittsburgh (9-5), 2:25 p.m. Sunday, NFL Network. This rivalry has returned to prominence with an AFC North title at stake on Christmas. The Steelers would clinch the division with a win and strike a huge blow to the Ravens’ playoff hopes. Baltimore has dominated Pittsburgh recently, winning the last four meetings. To end that streak, the Steelers will need big games out of their playmakers — running back Le’Veon Bell, wide receiver Antonio Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Saints, like the Panthers, are playing the role of home spoiler against their NFC South rivals. Drew Brees will be on his game after yet another Pro Bowl snub.
Russell Wilson and Seattle have been an enigma all season, but it’s not hard to see them back in the Super Bowl again if their running game wakes up.
This is a classic December fight for draft position. The Rams have already fired their coach and the 49ers are likely to have front office and/or coaching changes too.
Tom Savage’s comeback victory over Jacksonville earned him a shot as the Texans’ starting quarterback with an AFC South title on the line.
The Cowboys have clinched the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed, so it will be interesting to see how motivated they are for this game. Detroit has plenty to play for, including the NFC North title.