The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles will finish Week 16 tonight at Lincoln Financial Field (NBC, 8:00 PM ET) in the first NFL game played on a Tuesday since 1946.
And then comes the final push as the regular season ends on Sunday, January 2. All 16 games in Week 17 are division contests.
With one week to go, there are still 16 teams in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLV in North Texas.
In the AFC, five of the six playoff spots have been secured, led by the New England Patriots (13-2) who won the AFC East and have homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. However, two division titles will be on the line.
The AFC North comes down to the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) and Baltimore Ravens (11-4). Pittsburgh clinches the division and a first-round bye with a win or Baltimore loss. The Ravens win the AFC North and secure a first-round bye with a win and a Pittsburgh loss.
In the AFC South, the Indianapolis Colts (9-6) look to hold off the Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7). The Colts will win the division with a win or Jacksonville loss. The Jaguars clinch the AFC South with a win and an Indianapolis loss.
Nine teams remain in Super Bowl contention in the NFC. The Atlanta Falcons own the conference’s best record at 12-3 and can win the NFC South and secure homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory over Carolina. The defending champion New Orleans Saints (11-4), who beat Atlanta in Week 16, are still alive for the division title and homefield advantage. The Saints can secure both with a win and an Atlanta loss. Both the Chicago Bears (11-4) and Philadelphia Eagles (10-4) are still in the running for homefield advantage. And one of the teams will at least receive a first-round bye. The Bears can clinch a first-round bye with a win or a Philadelphia loss. The Eagles need two wins and a Chicago loss to secure a first-round bye.
The NFC West title will be decided on Sunday night (NBC, 8:20 PM ET) when the St. Louis Rams (7-8) visit the Seattle Seahawks (6-9). The winner of that contest clinches the division.
The second and final Wild Card berth will come down to three teams – the Green Bay Packers (9-6), New York Giants (9-6) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6). Green Bay is in with a win or losses by both New York and Tampa Bay. The Giants need a win and a Packers loss. Tampa Bay goes to the playoffs with a win and losses by both New York and Green Bay. Some of the key games with playoff implications in Week 17:
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-6) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (11-4) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
The Buccaneers improved to 9-6 last week with a 38-15 win over Seattle behind JOSH FREEMAN’s five touchdown passes. Tampa Bay, which became the first team since the 1970 merger to start at least 10 different rookies and have a winning season, needs a win and losses by both Green Bay and the New York Giants to clinch a playoff spot.
“These are our playoffs,” says Buccaneers tackle DONALD PENN. “For us, it’s win or we’re out.”
The defending champion Saints secured a postseason berth with a victory over Atlanta last week. New Orleans can claim the NFC South and homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory and a Falcons loss.
“The way I feel about this team, it doesn’t matter if we play at home or on the road,” says Saints quarterback DREW BREES, who is the first player with at least 400 completions in three different seasons. “We’re battle tested. We’re playing with a lot of confidence. We trust one another. There’s no task that we don’t feel like we can accomplish.”
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (8-7) at HOUSTON TEXANS (5-10) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)
The Jaguars look to finish the season strong with a win at Houston. A Jacksonville victory coupled with an Indianapolis loss to Tennessee would give the Jaguars the AFC South title.
“The goal is to secure a winning season, get to 4-2 in the division and see if that gets us a division title,” says Jaguars head coach JACK DEL RIO.
“We know that when we go to Houston, there’s only one way to come out of that game,” says Jacksonville cornerback RASHEAN MATHIS.
TENNESSEE TITANS (6-9) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (9-6) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)
The Colts will host the Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. With a win, Indianapolis will clinch the AFC South for the seventh time in the past eight years.
“Our guys have done a great job of staying focused and not getting caught up in all the scenarios,” says Colts head coach JIM CALDWELL. “The lowest common denominator is that we have to win. That’s what we try to continue to focus on.
“This is a huge rivalry, year in and year out. We know the Titans will be well-prepared. They’ll play extremely hard. These are always competitive games. That’s just the way it is.”
Indianapolis aims to reach the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, which would tie Dallas (1975-83) for the longest streak in NFL history. With a victory, the Colts will register their ninth 10-win season in a row, which would be the second-longest streak in league annals (San Francisco, 16, 1983-98).
NEW YORK GIANTS (9-6) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (6-9) (Sunday, FOX, 4:15 PM ET)
The Giants enter the final week of the season still in the playoff hunt. The Redskins will attempt to knock their division rivals out of contention.
“There is a chance for us to make the playoffs and we do need to have a little bit of help,” says New York head coach TOM COUGHLIN. “That’s the incentive for us to regroup and try to put together the kind of game we can be proud of.”
A Giants win, combined with a Green Bay loss, will clinch a playoff spot for New York.
CHICAGO BEARS (11-4) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (9-6) (Sunday, FOX, 4:15 PM ET)
A lot will be at stake at Lambeau Field when these two division rivals meet.
For the Packers, a win clinches a playoff berth. Green Bay is riding high after a 45-17 win over the New York Giants.
“We’re going into the last game of the season with a chance to make the playoffs with a win,” says Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS, who passed for 404 yards and four touchdowns against New York. “That’s all we can ask for.”
The Bears, who have already clinched the NFC North, are closing in on a first-round bye. Chicago secures that bye with a win or a Philadelphia loss.
“The bye is very important,” says Bears safety CHRIS HARRIS, who sealed the team’s Week 16 victory over the Jets with an interception. “It’s an automatic win and you advance to the second round. That’s how we look at it. You get a win without even having to play. So the bye is huge for us.”
ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-8) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (6-9) (Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)
It’s win and you’re in. The 2010 regular season concludes on Sunday night with the NFC West division title on the line.
“We’re very excited,” says Rams quarterback SAM BRADFORD, who set an NFL rookie record with 335 completions this season. “When you set out at the beginning of the year, you always want to have the opportunity to make the playoffs late in the year. Here we are, going into our last regular-season game and we control our own destiny. So if that doesn’t excite you, I really don’t know what does.”
Seattle’s Qwest Field will be rocking as the Seahawks try to win their fifth division title in the past seven years.
“One win is everything right now,” says Seattle linebacker LOFA TATUPU. “It’s like a playoff game. We need to show up because the Rams are playing good football. It’s a championship game.”