In the NFL, every play, every drive, every touchdown really makes a difference no matter what week it is.
But, with Week 17 right around the corner, the playoff spots are up for grabs. For others, their backs are against the wall, and one more loss could end it all.
Nine teams, five from the AFC and four from the NFC, have clinched a playoff spot in hopes of playing the Super Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of the Arizona Cardinals.
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The division winners that have already been crowned are the Buffalo Bills (AFC East) and Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West) and the Minnesota Vikings (NFC North) and San Francisco 49ers (NFC West).
In the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are still in contention for the AFC North crown, but both are already in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Chargers just clinched their spot on Monday night by beating the Indianapolis Colts.
For the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles are just one win away from owning the No. 1 seed in the conference and winning the NFC East title, while the rival Dallas Cowboys are already in the playoffs as well. They still have a shot at the division if Philly loses.
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With those teams in, coaches will be wary of starting in the coming weeks. The teams we’re going to introduce here will need all the firepower they can get in week 17.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8) vs. Carolina Panthers (6-9) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Tom Brady escaped with an overtime win over the Cardinals on Christmas night. The Bucs are one win away from an NFC South title.
It hasn’t been pretty for Tampa Bay. Many waited to see when Brady would go for a run, but it just didn’t happen. If the Bucs lost to the Cards on Sunday, this matchup against the Panthers would have seen both teams go 6-9 on the year, with Carolina already holding the tiebreaker after their 21-3 win earlier this season.
The Panthers have been playing well recently under interim head coach Steve Wilks, and quarterback Sam Darnold seems to be thriving since getting the starting job. A Panthers win makes Week 18 an interesting time for the division.
But if Brady can match this division series and emerge victorious, he’ll be back in the playoffs yet again. So who knows what these Bucs can do?
New York Giants (8-6-1) vs. Indianapolis Colts (4-10-1) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Eagles and Cowboys are in, but the way things are going into this week, the entire NFC East makes the playoffs.
The Giants and Washington Commanders own the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds, respectively, and the Giants will earn their first playoff berth since 2016 with a win over a Colts team that has struggled to find consistency in its quarterbacks all season.
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Nick Foles had his first season opener on Monday night and it was brutal. He threw three interceptions and the Colts scored just three points.
Saquon Barkley has never been in the playoffs. Neither did Daniel Jones. With the game at home, the Giants are looking for their fans to show up and give them as much advantage as possible to end the drought.
Miami Dolphins (8-7) at New England Patriots (7-8) — Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Tua Tagovailoa is back in concussion protocol, and while that’s the top news coming out of Miami, the Dolphins are still looking to make the playoffs during Mike McDaniel’s first season as head coach.
A win by the Dolphins on Sunday and a loss or tie by the New York Jets puts the Dolphins in the postseason. The Dolphins also qualify if they tie, the Jets lose, and the Pittsburgh Steelers lose or tie.
Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson are the Dolphins’ quarterbacks because Tagovailoa has already been ruled out. The Dolphins hope to avoid losing five straight games.
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Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) vs. Buffalo Bills (12-3) — Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
While these two teams have clinched a playoff spot, this is going to be a fun matchup to watch as it could be a preview of a playoff game.
The Bengals also have a chance to clinch the AFC North title with a win and a loss or a tie by the Ravens.
The Bills still have home field advantage as the current No. 1 seed in the AFC. They’ll clinch it with a win and a Chiefs loss.
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Both teams have long winning streaks. The Bengals have won seven in a row to the Bills’ six. Josh Allen and Joe Burrow are two of the best young quarterbacks in this league.