As the NFL heads into Thanksgiving week, the playoff picture begins to take full effect. All of a sudden the playoff standings matter as the final third of the season is coming, with some huge games on the horizon between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The Philadelphia Eagles finally suffered their first loss of the season in Week 10, but still lead the NFC with eight weeks to play. The Minnesota Vikings are right on Philadelphia’s heels in the race for home-field advantage, while the New York Giants are one game behind the Eagles for the NFC East lead.
The Kansas City Chiefs have control for home-field advantage in the AFC while the Buffalo Bills look to get their act together and make a run at the top seed. The Bills first have to regain control of the AFC East as they currently sit in third place in the division — a half game behind the first place Miami Dolphins.
There are quite a few games over the course of the next few weeks that will have a significant impact on the playoff races in both conferences, along with causing a shakeup in the standings. Which games will be must see TV?
These are the five games not worth missing:
Dallas Cowboys (6-3) at Minnesota Vikings (8-1)
Week 11 (Nov. 20)
This one has major implications in the NFC playoff race, especially since the Vikings are tied for the best record in the NFC with the Eagles (Philadelphia owns the head-to-head tiebreaker after beating Minnesota in Week 2). A win by the Vikings would be significant in keeping pace with the Eagles for home-field advantage in the NFC, especially since the Vikings won’t be playing a game outside a dome for the rest of 2022.
The Cowboys are still two games out in the NFC East race (also lost a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Eagles), but have to stay ahead of the dogfight for the final playoff spot. Currently the No. 6 seed in the NFC, a loss would put the Cowboys in striking distance of the San Francisco 49ers (5-4), Washington Commanders (5-5), and Green Bay Packers (4-6) in the race for the final playoff spot in the NFC. Dallas also plays New York four days later on Thanksgiving, so a bounce-back win after a loss to Green Bay would be significant.
If Dallas loses, the Cowboys can forget about winning the NFC East. If Minnesota loses, taking home-field advantage in the NFC will be significantly more difficult.
Week 13 (Dec. 4)
The Chiefs have one of the easiest schedules in the second half of the season, which brings the AFC leaders with their biggest test remaining. Cincinnati is the last AFC team that currently has an over .500 record Kansas City faces, as this matchup is a rematch of the AFC Championship Game last year (the Bengals beat the Chiefs twice last season).
Cincinnati is fighting for its playoff lives in the AFC, as the Bengals sit one game behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North (and lost to Baltimore earlier this year). Making the playoffs is paramount for Cincinnati, which has remaining games against the Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns (with Deshaun Watson at quarterback), Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, and Ravens to close the year.
Currently the No. 9 seed in the AFC playoff race, fair to say the Bengals need this one. If the Chiefs win, Kansas City will have control of the home-field advantage race in the AFC.
Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) at New York Giants (7-2)
Week 14 (Dec. 11)
Incredibly, the Giants are one game out of the NFC East race at this point of the season, and have won seven of their first nine games in the process. The Giants are creating separation from the pack in a crowded wild card playoff race, making this game for first place in the NFC East even more significant. Sure the Giants have a big game coming up on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys (who they lost to already) and four consecutive games against the NFC East — but this is a major litmus test for a team looking to prove they are a contender for the division title.
The Eagles are only one game up on the Giants in the NFC East race, and play them twice in the final five weeks. This game will have the most significant meaning with Philadelphia fighting for home-field advantage and looking to take control of the division for good — especially if New York slips up before then.
The Eagles-Giants rivalry is back, as significant playoff implications in the division are at stake.
Week. 15 (Dec. 15)
The NFC West race just got a lot more intriguing with the Seahawks losing to the Buccaneers and the 49ers beating the Los Angeles Chargers last week. San Francisco is just one game behind Seattle in the race for the NFC West, which has a playoff spot and a home playoff game up for grabs.
The Seahawks should be able to hold steady in the division race with three consecutive games against teams under .500 immediately after the bye week before the showdown with the 49ers. There’s also an opportunity to create separation for a wild card spot in the NFC wild card race should Seattle lose to San Francisco — and give up the division lead somewhere along the way.
The 49ers don’t have an easy path either, facing the Miami Dolphins and Buccaneers before facing the Seahawks, who they also play on a short week (Thursday Night Football on the road). The 49ers have some challenging games coming up, so sweeping Seattle in their NFC West matchups is a must.
This matchup might be the best Thursday Night Football game of the year.
Miami Dolphins (7-3) at Buffalo Bills (6-3)
Week 15 (Dec. 18/19)
The AFC East race is as tight as it can get with three teams separated by half a game in the division standings and all four teams separated by 1.5 games. Heading into Week 11, all four teams in the AFC East are in the playoffs — making the battle for playoff spots and the division title must-watch television over the final eight weeks.
Miami heading to Buffalo may be the biggest matchup, especially since the Dolphins beat the Bills earlier this year. Not only is this a must-win game for Buffalo to take control of the division, but for the Bills to stay ahead in a wild card race that features the New York Jets (6-3), New England Patriots (5-4) , Chargers (5-4), and Bengals (5-4).
This is the last of three consecutive AFC East games for the Bills in December, as Buffalo essentially controls its own AFC East fate. The Dolphins have challenging games against the 49ers and Chargers before facing the Bills, the third of three consecutive road contests.
Not only could this game be for the AFC East title, but a top-two seed in the conference could be in play as well (especially if the Chiefs were to slip up).