In the era of perpetual parity, the regular season’s final Sunday never lacks for drama.
This year is no exception. The NFC North will be decided in a de facto division title tilt, the AFC West crown will come down to the final games for a pair of age old rivals, and wild card round seeding in either conference remains fluid pending several pivotal finals.
In a coup for the “flex scheduling” model, the week’s most important matchup – at least from the standpoint of playoff implications for both sides – is slated as the last game of the year. When the Detroit Lions (9-6) host the Green Bay Packers (9-6) on Sunday Night Football, each team will enter knowing a win will send the North title their way – and a home playoff game along with it.
Conversely, should the Washington Redskins (8-6-1) slip past the New York Giants (10-5) during the early games, the loser between Detroit and Green Bay will miss out on the postseason tournament altogether. A Redskins loss, on the other hand, will send both NFC North members to the playoffs by default, removing a bit of drama from the proceedings.
Thus, the Packers and their ancient rivalry with the Lions takes on new meaning this time around. Both teams remain in full control of their own fate, and if the Giants rest their stars as is expected, a Redskins win would turn Sunday Night Football into the first playoff game of the season for all intents and purposes.
The Packers have reeled off five straight wins, and one more will complete quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ promise to “run the table” when his team sat humbled at 4-6. The Lions, meanwhile, were just destroyed in primetime to the tune of 42-21 against a Dallas Cowboys (13-2) team that presumably had nothing to play for.
The oddsmakers at Bovada like recent trends to continue, installing the Packers as 3.5-point road favorites. As for the Redskins’ chances to upset the Giants and stamp their postseason ticket, Bovada believes New York will use Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., and other key contributors sparingly, so Washington has the 8-point edge at home.
Over in the AFC, the West will be won by the Oakland Raiders (12-3) if they can head to Mile High and defeat the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos (8-7).
Oakland will be without rising star quarterback Derek Carr after last week’s heartbreaking broken leg, while Denver is licking its wounds after yet another dismal offensive showing finalized their elimination from the playoffs.
With Carr no longer under center, the former Cinderella stories of the season are back to the underdog role, and Bovada lists the Broncos as 2.5-point home favorites.
If Oakland can’t get the job done, a win by the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) over the San Diego Chargers (5-10) would be enough to bring an AFC West banner back to Arrowhead. The Chiefs will have to beat a frisky Chargers team in San Diego, and with QB Phillip Rivers vowing to give everything he’s got in a “meaningless” game, the consensus line favors Kansas City by just 5.5 points.
Both Oakland and Kansas City have already clinched playoff berths, but both teams have their sights set on winning the West.
Another AFC game that will determine playoff seeding takes place in South Beach, where the resurgent Miami Dolphins (10-5) host the New England Patriots (13-2). A win by the Pats is enough to claim the AFC’s top seed, and the accompanying first-round bye and home field advantage. For the Dolphins, a win coupled with a Chiefs loss would elevate Miami to the fifth seed, and an advantageous first-round road date with the undermanned Houston Texans (9-6).
The oddsmakers at Bovada aren’t on the Dolphins’ bandwagon just yet, posting the Pats as huge 10-point road favorites.