Looking ahead to the final day of the NFL’s 2017 regular season:
1. New Year’s Eve won’t be Football Night in America The NFL won’t close the regular season with a prime time game on New Year’s Eve because it got unlucky this year. They try to schedule good matchups for the season finales. Like Dallas-Philadelphia and Carolina-Atlanta. But it turns out Dallas is out of the playoffs and Philadelphia has nailed down the top seed so nothing is at stake. And nothing may be stake when Carolina plays Atlanta if Seattle loses to Arizona and the Saints beat the Bucs. So the NFL decided to pass on Sunday night and flexed games so playoff contenders play at the same time.
2. New England and Pittsburgh can clinch the first and second seeds if they both win against the Jets and Browns in the early games. If New England loses and Pittsburgh wins, the Steelers get the top seed. But coach Mike Tomlin has indicated he may rest Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell. He either thinks there is little chance of the Patriots losing or figures he can beat the winless Browns without them. Win or lose, Browns coach Hue Jackson will try to swim in frigid Lake Erie after the season ends because he said he’d do it if the Browns went 1-15 and they’re 0-15. He will raise money for his foundation by doing it.
3. Four teams are still live in the AFC for the final two playoff spots and the league switched games so they all play in the second games. Baltimore and Tennessee can clinch the spots with wins over the Bengals and Jaguars. If either loses, the Chargers, who play Oakland, and the Bills, who play at Miami, will have a shot. Tennessee’s Mike Mularkey and Oakland’s Jack DelRio may be coaching for their jobs in their season finales.
4. Jimmy Garoppolo can become the fifth NFL quarterback to win his first seven starts since 1970 when the 49ers play the Rams. He’d then have to win his first eight next year to tie Ben Roethlisberger’s record of 15 in a row. Jimmy G is getting a break because the Rams are resting key starters because they can’t get a bye.
5. Cincinnati has a chance to play the spoiler role at Baltimore in what may be the final Bengals’ game for coach Marvin Lewis, who is the second longest tenured coach in the league at 15 years. Lewis revitalized the franchise and took them to the playoff seven times and lost all seven – the only coach to lose his first seven playoff games. Assuming that Bengals boss Paul Brown decides not to renew his contract, it will be interesting to see what is next for Lewis.