Since 1978, the crescendo of the NFL season had culminated in Week 17 battles that would determine who made the playoffs, and what seed they ended up with.
Here we are in Week 17 of the current NFL campaign, but due to the league’s regular season expansion to an 18-game schedule, we have one more week of games after this for the above to shake out.
With that said, there are three games on this week’s NFL slate that will go a long way in shaping the playoff picture in both the AFC and NFC.
3. Los Angeles Rams At Baltimore Ravens
The Los Angeles Rams make their final east coast road trip of the season in what will be a critically important game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Los Angeles has already qualified for the postseason, but their range of outcomes within the NFC greatly vary.
They’re currently leading the NFC West division with a record of 11-4, and have an outside chance of claiming the conference’s number one overall seed if they get some help from the Green Bay Packers.
If the Rams lose against Baltimore on Sunday, then there’s an increased risk that they may not even win the division.
“Obviously we can control what we can control.”
What @AaronDonald97 + more had to say ahead of Ravens matchup.
— x – Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 31, 2021
Meanwhile, for the Ravens they’re just trying to survive what’s been a dramatic, but unfulfilling few weeks.
Baltimore has hung in many games without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, but they have not been able to get over the hump.
The Ravens are currently out of the AFC playoffs, and will be looking to end a four-game losing streak.
2. Miami Dolphins At Tennessee Titans
Speaking of the AFC playoff scene, the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans matchup in Nashville will have many ramifications.
Earlier in the NFL season, it didn’t seem like Tennessee would have to sweat much in the AFC South.
They got off to a strong start, and all of their competition in the division floundered.
The Indianapolis Colts now only sit one game behind the Titans, and have won four out of their last five contests.
While the Colts are playing well, Miami is red hot, having reeled off seven straight victories.
Their most recent triumph was a drubbing of the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football.
It seemed borderline impossible after their 1-7 start, but the Dolphins actually sit in the seventh and final playoff spot in the AFC, and will qualify for the postseason with wins in their final two games.
1. Arizona Cardinals At Dallas Cowboys
The NFC postseason could be significantly impacted by the result of the Arizona Cardinals-Dallas Cowboys matchup.
Dallas already clinched the NFC East prior to last week’s demolishing of the Washington Football Team, and it will be fascinating to see how they approach the final two weeks of the regular season.
Like the Rams, the Cowboys have an outside shot of grabbing the number one seed in the NFC, but are also guaranteed to host a playoff game on Wild Card Weekend.
They might try to give some of their stars a bit of rest down the stretch, but could also take a full steam ahead approach as well.
On the other side of the coin, the Cardinals have also clinched a playoff spot, but have not played well in the last month.
Losing to the Detroit Lions, and sputtering on offense last weekend against the Colts is a legitimate cause for concern.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) December 30, 2021
This will be another solid test against a team they could face in a couple weeks.