Going into the regular season finales, ten of the 12 teams have clinched playoff spots and six of the eight have clinched division titles.
It is a difficult week to handicap because there is only one game – 49ers-Seattle — in which both teams have something to play for and they’re playing for the division title and the top seed, not a playoff spot.
The final two playoff spots go to the winner of the NFC East and an AFC wild card spot. The Eagles win the NFC East if they beat the Giants or if they lose and the Cowboys lose to Washington. The Cowboys get it if they win and the Eagles lose.
The Titans can clinch the AFC wild card spot if they beat the Texans. If they lose, Pittsburgh and even the Raiders have a shot.
The league is having the teams with something at stake playing at the same time although games could be affected by halftime scores.
For example, if New England is way ahead at halftime and on its way to clinching the second seed, Kansas City could pull Patrick Mahomes in the second half against the Chargers because the Chiefs would then have nothing to play for.
Game of the week: The 12-3 49ers go to Seattle to play the 11-4 Seahawks, who have been hit by injuries but have the homefield edge. A 49er victory clinches the top seed for San Francisco and relegates Seattle to a wild card spot. Seattle gets the division title if it wins but would need the Packers and Saints to lose to get the top seed. So, the odds are against the Seahawks getting the top seed but they get a home game in the first round of the playoffs if they win instead of playing on the road as a wild card team. The Seahawks will know by kickoff if they still have a shot at the top seed.
Game of the weak: The 5-9-1 Cardinals go to the 8-7 Rams, who are possibly the most disappointing team in the league. The Rams lost the Super Bowl last year and went all in on making it back by trading two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey. Now the Rams are cash strapped under the cap and don’t have those first round picks. The Rams are also locked in the same division with the 49ers and Seahawks and likely won’t be back to the Super Bowl any time soon. Whether they finish 9-7 or 8-8 is meaningless.
What to watch for this weekend:
—The Dolphins have been a surprise team, winning four games when the front office was trying to tank the season. But the Patriots are a virtual lock at home against the Dolphins. The Patriots are playing for the second seed and a first-round bye and it’s hard to imagine them not nailing it down even though they have struggled much of the season on offense and are facing questions whether Tom Brady is showing is age and will be back next year.
—The Chiefs are in an unusual situation. They can’t bench their starters because they get the top seed if they beat the Chargers and the Patriots lose to Miami. But they know the odds of the Patriots losing to Miami are slim and none. The Chiefs main goal is to not get anyone hurt. It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs rest their starters in the second half if the Patriots get off to a big lead over the Dolphins.
—The Steelers get a wild card spot if they beat the Ravens and the Titans lose to Houston. And the Ravens are resting Lamar Jackson and several other starters because the they have clinched the top seed. But they Ravens aren’t likely to mail it in because the Steelers are their main rival.
—The Eagles get the NFC East if they beat the Giants but this could be a dangerous game for the Eagles. They are riddled with injuries, are coming off an emotional victory over the Cowboys and Giants’ rookie quarter Daniel Jones is coming off a big game. The Giants have nothing to play for but would like nothing better than to knock a division rival out of the playoffs.
—The Packers get the top seed if they beat the Lions and the 49ers lose to the Seahawks. But since the 49ers-Seahawks game will be played Sunday night, they won’t know going into the Lions game if they have a shot at the top seed. But they do know a victory gives them at least a second seed regardless of what happens in the 49ers-Seahawks game so they have to play to win the game.