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NFL Week 17 Viewing Guide -- What in the Blue Hell Each Game Means

"College football has the best regular season of any sport, and the lack of a playoff is one big reason why." -- Bill Hancock, Executive Director, Bowl Cartel Championship Series

That's my favorite inane argument against a college football playoff -- that somehow the existence of a playoff cheapens the meaning and enjoyment of the regular season. Typically this is followed by Hancock citing the most important game of Week One of the college football season and bludgeoning us with his duplicitous rhetoric that the reason an early game was so important was the lack of a playoff at year's end. It's completely nonsensical logic for anyone who chooses to eschew generalities and peel back the onion layers of a logical playoff system.

Hundreds have done that. As my counterargument, I will merely outline the reasons to watch the games in the final week of the NFL regular season.

Here are the playoff implications for all 16 NFL games this Sunday:

Carolina at New Orleans, Noon FOX New Orleans clinched the NFC South with a rout of the Falcons on Monday night but can still clinch a first-round bye with a win over Carolina (the easy part) and the remote possibility that the Rams beat the 49ers in St. Louis (the much trickier part).

Chicago at Minnesota, Noon FOX It's Josh McCown! It's Joe Webb! It's the NFL on FOX!! (Translation: This game means nothing.)

NY Jets at Miami, Noon CBS The Jets have to win to even have a prayer of getting in. If they beat Miami in Miami (which is no gimme), then they need the Titans to lose (or tie), the Bengals to lose, and one of the Raiders or Broncos to lose (or tie). Speaking editorially, the playoffs would be more fun with the Jets and Rex Ryan in as the sixth seed. However, I don't think the inexperienced Texans would be all that hyped about facing them.

Buffalo at New England, Noon CBS The Patriots have already clinched a first-round bye (giving them an extra week to figure out how to play defense), but can clinch the first seed overall and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Bills.

San Francisco at St. Louis, Noon FOX The 49ers can clinch a first-round bye with a win, which should jibe perfectly with the Rams strategy of losing to remain mathematically alive for the number one overall pick in the draft!

Detroit at Green Bay, Noon FOX Green Bay has clinched home field throughout the playoffs, and with an undefeated season going up in smoke a couple weeks ago, we will probably get a heaping helping of Matt Flynn. Detroit needs to win to stay out of a head-to-head tie with the Falcons (who beat the Lions in Week 7) for the fifth seed, mainly because the fifth seed gets the Cowboys-Giants winner, while the sixth seed has to go to New Orleans or San Francisco. It's a very underplayed subplot right now.

 

Washington at Philadelphia, Noon FOX Maybe you have a Rex Grossman interception prop bet that you want to cash. Maybe you want one last chance to boo Michael Vick in the 2011 season. Your motivation for watching this game will come from within.

Indianapolis at Jacksonville, Noon CBS Ditto this game, although the Colts can clinch a boatload of offseason drama by securing the number one pick in the 2012 draft with a loss, touching off literally about a thousand "What do the Colts do with Peyton Manning?" stories.

Tennessee at Houston, Noon CBS The Texans are locked in at the number three seed, but have as much to accomplish as any team "not playing for something." They need to get their offense back on track and get Andre Johnson some reps at full speed.

As for the Titans, their playoff scenario is the closest thing to a bike-lock combination as any team still mathematically in this thing. They have a few very specific scenarios that need to play out to qualify for the postseason. The two constants -- they need to win and the Bengals need to lose. From there, any of these three combinations cracks the rest of the code:

- Jets win AND Oakland loses (or ties) - Jets win AND Denver loses (or ties) - Jets lose (or tie) AND Oakland wins AND Denver wins

Piece of cake.

Seattle at Arizona, 3:15 p.m. FOX The winner of this game gets to tell their fans that they finished the season 8-8 after starting 2-6. So...yay.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta, 3:15 p.m. FOX Atlanta needs to win this game (and hope the Packers try against the Lions, and win) to have a shot at the fifth seed and avoid a trip to New Orleans or San Francisco in round one of the playoffs.

Baltimore at Cincinnati, 3:15 p.m. CBS The Ravens have already clinched a playoff spot and can lock up the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win over the Bengals as they hold the tiebreaker for the division over Pittsburgh, thanks to two regular season wins over the Steelers. A Ravens win and a Patriots loss brings with it the bonus of home field throughout the playoffs. If the Ravens lose, they will still clinch the division and first-round bye if the Browns upset the Steelers; however, a Ravens loss and a Steelers win means Baltimore travels to take on the winner of the AFC South for a first round matchup.

As for the Bengals, they can lock up the sixth and final seed in the AFC with a win. However, if the Ravens win this game, all hell breaks loose for the final playoff spot as we could have as many as four teams tied at 9-7 for the final wild card spot. At 9-7, the Bengals need to have hoped that the Jets lost (or tied) earlier AND then either the Broncos or Raiders lose (or tie).

This is getting fun.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland, 3:15 p.m. CBS The Steelers need help to escape the fifth seed and an opening-round playoff game on the road. Adding a win over the Browns to a Ravens loss would win the AFC North and a first-round bye for the Steelers; adding a win to a Ravens loss AND a Patriots loss would make the Steelers the number one seed in the AFC. A Steelers loss, and they are the five seed, no questions asked.

Kansas City at Denver, 3:15 p.m. CBS This one is simple. If Denver wins, they lock up the AFC West and the four seed in the AFC. If they lose and the Raiders lose, the Broncos also win the division. If they lose and the Raiders win, Tebow will have to find something else for which to thank God.

San Diego at Oakland, 3:15 p.m. CBS Oakland's path to the playoffs involving the least amount of math involves them beating the Chargers and the Broncos losing. That would make them AFC West champs. If the Broncos win, the Raiders can still make the playoffs as the sixth seed if the Ravens beat the Bengals, the Titans lose (or tie) AND the Jets win. (Basically, the Raiders can't have the Titans in the 9-7 mix with them for tiebreaker reasons.)

Dallas at NY Giants, 7:20 p.m. NBC Two inconsistent 8-7 teams battling for the NFC East, winner take all. And it will pop a huge number on Sunday night.

By my count, that's 12 of the 16 games in the final week that have some sort of playoff implication, either qualifying for the playoffs or for seeding.

Yeah, those playoffs are killing the NFL regular season, aren't they?

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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