NFL Week 17 road map: Games that matter
As the NFL reaches the final week of the regular season, more than half the teams in the league still have something to play for.
Whether it's a playoff spot, a first-round bye or home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs, teams have a variety of motivations entering Week 17. Some control their own fate, while others need a little - or a lot - of help to realize their postseason dreams.
Here's a look at the games that matter as the season winds down Sunday:
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5, 44.5)
The Bengals have already clinched the AFC North title, but have a first-round bye in their sights. To land one, they'll need a home victory against the Ravens, combined with a New England Patriots loss in their season finale against Buffalo. The Ravens face a more harrowing path to the playoffs; they need either a win combined with a San Diego or Miami loss, or defeats by the Chargers, Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers if they fall in Cincinnati.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (+5.5, 45.5)
The Panthers face a wide range of outcomes. A victory or a New Orleans loss against Tampa Bay would secure the NFC South championship. Carolina also has an outside shot at the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage all the way to the Super Bowl, but would need a win over the visiting Falcons combined with losses by the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (-5.5, 41.5)
Miami doesn't control its destiny in its season finale. The Dolphins need to beat the Jets at home, but can't reach the playoffs unless they also get a Baltimore loss to Cincinnati, or a San Diego victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Miami may benefit from playing a Jets team with nothing on the line, which may prompt them to give some second and third-stringers an audition.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7, 44)
The Steelers have the longest odds of any team still alive in the playoff hunt. Pittsburgh faces a must-win scenario at home against Cleveland, but that's only the beginning, it also needs Miami, Baltimore and San Diego to all lose. That would leave all four teams in a tie at 8-8, with Pittsburgh owning the tiebreaker in that scenario based on 4-2 NFC North record and the best conference record (6-6) of the remaining teams.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (-10.5, 45)
Indianapolis has already secured the AFC South championship, but has a first-round bye in its sights. The Colts can secure the extra week of rest with a home victory over Jacksonville and a loss by both New England and Cincinnati. Indianapolis has the benefit of facing a Jaguars team with nothing to play for, a threadbare receiving corps and an expected time split between running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Jordan Todman.
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots (-7.5, 47)
With the AFC East division already wrapped up, the Patriots find themselves in a great spot to improve their position entering the postseason. The Patriots will lock up a first-round by with a victory over the Bills; even if they lose, they'll get an extra week off if Cincinnati and Indianapolis both lose. New England also has a shot at the top seed in the conference, but will need a win combined with a Denver loss.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (+11, 53.5)
Led by one of the most historically proficient offenses in NFL history, the Broncos are in position to enjoy a home-field edge throughout the AFC playoffs. If Denver earns a victory or tie in Oakland, or if New England loses to or ties Buffalo, Denver will have the top seed in the conference. Expect Peyton Manning and Co. to pile up the points against a Raiders defense that ranks among the worst in the league.
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks (-11.5, 43)
The Seahawks find themselves in a similar situation as the Broncos. Seattle can clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a home victory in its season finale against division rival St. Louis. The Seahawks will also earn the No. 1 seed if San Francisco drops its last game in Arizona. Seattle fell 17-10 to the Cardinals on Sunday for its first home loss in 15 games.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (+3, 53)
The NFC North Division title is at stake when the Packers visit the Bears at Soldier Field. Chicago holds a half-game lead over Green Bay, and can secure the division championship with either a win or a tie versus the Packers. Green Bay will have their MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers back under center for the first time since Nov. 4 when he broke his collarbone.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals (Pick'em, 42)
Last week's home loss by the Seahawks opened the door for San Francisco to seize the division title. But it will need to dispatch the tricky Cardinals and hope Seattle loses at home to St. Louis. San Francisco can add home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to its resume with a victory, a Seattle loss and a Carolina loss. Arizona advances with a win or tie and a New Orleans loss - a result the Cardinals will already know come game time.
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers (-10, 44.5)
The Chargers have the most interesting afternoon ahead of them, as they'll already have a good idea of their playoff future going into the game against the visiting Chiefs. San Diego can only earn an AFC wild-card berth if both Miami and Baltimore lose their early games and the Chargers go on to beat a Kansas City club that has already clinched the No. 5 seed and will be resting its starters.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (+7, 52.5)
The final game of the NFL's regular season will decide who emerges from the mediocre NFC East. The Eagles own a slight edge over the host Cowboys, meaning they can clinch the division championship with a win or tie. Dallas needs to win outright - and faces an uphill battle a quarterback Tony Romo deals with a back injury. Neither team is eligible for a first-round bye.