It's the final Sunday of the regular season. With every matchup being a division tilt, many with postseason implications, this is clearly one of the better Week 17 situations there has been in a long time. While some fight for playoff spots, others are competing to keep their jobs.
With that in mind, here are the storylines to follow.
1. Play for your coach, and yourself
The Monday after the season ends is usually when head coaches on the hot seat are handed a pink slip. We already have four coaches fired, and more will follow. I talked with a player for the Texans who was happy to hear the rumors that Gary Kubiak will be back, but added that he and his teammates weren't taking any chances as they prepared for the Jaguars.
I hope the Bengals, Panthers, Browns, Vikings, Cowboys, Jaguars, Raiders, Dolphins, and Giants play their hearts out for the coach that probably gave them their chance in pro football. Otherwise, they could be working with a new coach and all bets are off in that scenario. Players should have paid close attention to the number of personnel changes the Seahawks made when the new staff took over in Seattle.
Week 17 matchups to watch
Want to know what you should be watching for with playoff spots on the line? Gil Brandt has the answer as he breaks down all the action with postseason implications. More ...
2. Title bout
The Rams and Seahawks are preparing for a game that will crown the NFC West champion. Neither St. Louis nor Seattle has a winning record, but the victor of this matchup will be going to the playoffs. The Rams are a 2-5 road team facing the Seahawks, who are 4-3 at home. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford will probably finish his rookie season with more than 3,500 yards passing and 20 touchdowns, and just maybe, a division title. Interestingly enough, the Seahawks will probably be led by a QB with less playing time than Bradford. Charlie Whitehurst looks like he'll probably get the nod with Matt Hasselbeck banged up.
3. Spoiler alert
I love when a team out of the playoff race decides, if we can't go to the dance, you can't either. The Redskins can eliminate the Giants and save a little respect for themselves with a win. Don't be surprised to see the Redskins play like the Vikings did Tuesday night in Philadelphia. I talked to one Washington player who felt he and his teammates had the attitude to go out and end the Giants' dreams. The Titans and Texans also have a chance to impact the AFC South race with matchups against the Colts and Jaguars, respectively.
4. Something on the line
Final playoff spots and seeding will play a role in 11 games. With most teams fighting for the same spot or position playing simultaneously, it will be fast-paced action. One exception is the Giants, Packers and Buccaneers fighting for one wild-card spot. Tampa Bay plays at 1 p.m. ET and needs to win and get help. A victory, and the Buccaneers can sit back and watch the Packers and Giants play, hoping for the best. Green Bay is in the driver's seat to land the remaining spot.
5. Ultimate rematch weekend
There are 16 divisional games Sunday, six of the matchups were decided by seven points or less the first time around, and it could easily go the other way this time. The Bengals beat the Ravens by five, the Bears edged the Packers, 20-17, the Jaguars escaped the Texans on a game-ending Hail Mary touchdown, the Raiders outlasted the Chiefs in overtime, the Colts won by two at Tennessee, and the Eagles were victorious, 30-27, in Dallas. All six losers could flip their fortunes this weekend.
6. Future or last hurrah?
I have admired Brett Favre's career and ability to play 20 years, but with one game to go it is more important to see Joe Webb than to give Favre his swan song. Webb will get 60 more plays on tape, Minnesota will get a chance to decide what to do at quarterback for next year, and the Vikings played inspired football and won on the road with Webb. The team always comes before the individual, and the Vikings need to move forward.
7. Give 'em a break
I don't blame coaches for resting their players when they have clinched all they can in the playoff race. The Eagles sitting Michael Vick is smart, plus Kevin Kolb needs the work. If Tom Brady gets pulled at halftime, or earlier, that's fine with me. Losing the week of preparation for a young, inexperienced player or group can be a mistake, but a veteran who has been there before and needs some rest is the sensible thing to do.
8. Finishing strong
It's not for a playoff berth or a division title or even a winning record, but the Lions have a mission to accomplish. They are ridding themselves of ugly demons this season. Detroit finally won a division game after 19 straight defeats, snapped a 26-game road losing streak and now can finish the season on a four-game win streak without its premiere quarterback or defensive leader. I talk with Lions coaches, players and fans every week, and the Vikings are in for one heck of a game because Detroit fans are treating this like a championship tilt. The Lions average 26.3 points a game at home, while Minnesota scores 17.9 per game on the road.
9. Home cooking
The Patriots and Chiefs can finish the regular season with a chance to go 8-0 at home. Earlier this week, the Falcons were in the same situation and couldn't seal the deal. The Raiders beat the Chiefs earlier this season at Oakland, and Kansas City will look for some revenge. The Patriots never seem to lose at home and face the Dolphins, who are 3-7 at New England since 2000.
10. Meaningless game, really?
There are a few games with no playoff implications (San Diego at Denver, Minnesota at Detroit, and Arizona at San Francisco). Some would believe the players are just going through the motions, and some very well might do that. However, the smart players know someone is watching upstairs. At least three of these six teams will get a new coach. I've been involved in four coaching changes, and one of the first things a new regime does is watch the last few games to see which players threw in the towel.