In the NFL, every snap, every drive, every touchdown truly makes a difference no matter what week it is.
But, with Week 17 on our doorstep, playoff spots are there for the taking. For others, backs are against the wall, and one more loss could end everything.
Nine teams, five from the AFC and four from the NFC, have clinched spots in the playoffs with the hope of playing in the Super Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of the Arizona Cardinals.
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Division winners that have already been crowned are the Buffalo Bills (AFC East) and Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West) and the Minnesota Vikings (NFC North) and San Francisco 49ers (NFC West).
In the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are still vying for the AFC North crown, but they are both already in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Chargers just clinched their berth Monday night by beating the Indianapolis Colts.
For the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles are just one win away from owning the No. 1 seed in the conference and earning the NFC East title, while the rival Dallas Cowboys are already in the playoffs, too. They still have a shot at the division if Philly loses out.
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With those teams in, coaches will be cautious to play starters in the coming weeks. The teams we’re going to feature here will need all the firepower they can get in Week 17.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8) vs. Carolina Panthers (6-9) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Tom Brady escaped with an overtime victory over the Cardinals on Christmas night. The Bucs are one win away from an NFC South title.
It hasn’t been pretty at all for Tampa Bay. Many were waiting to see when Brady would go on a run, but it just hasn’t happened. If the Bucs lost to the Cards on Sunday, this matchup against the Panthers would have seen both teams at 6-9 on the year, and Carolina already holds the tiebreaker after its 21-3 win earlier this season.
The Panthers have been playing well recently under interim head coach Steve Wilks, and quarterback Sam Darnold seems to be thriving since he got the starting job. A win for the Panthers makes Week 18 an interesting time for the division.
But if Brady can even this division series and come away victorious, he’ll be back in the playoffs once again. Then, who knows what these Bucs can do?
New York Giants (8-6-1) vs. Indianapolis Colts (4-10-1) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Eagles and Cowboys are in, but as things stand entering this week, the entire NFC East makes it to the playoffs.
The Giants and the Washington Commanders own the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds, respectively, and the Giants will earn their first playoff spot since 2016 with a win over a Colts team that has struggled to find consistency from its quarterbacks all season long.
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Nick Foles got his first start of the season Monday night, and it was brutal. He threw three interceptions, and the Colts scored just three points.
Saquon Barkley has never been to the playoffs. Neither has Daniel Jones. With the game at home, the Giants are looking for their fans to show up and give them as much of an edge as possible to end the drought.
Miami Dolphins (8-7) at New England Patriots (7-8) – Sunday, 1 pm ET, CBS
Tua Tagovailoa is back in the concussion protocol, and while that is the main news coming out of Miami, the Dolphins are still looking to get into the playoffs during Mike McDaniel’s first season as head coach.
A Dolphins win Sunday and a New York Jets loss or tie gets the Dolphins in the postseason. The Dolphins also qualify if they tie, the Jets lose and the Pittsburgh Steelers lose or tie.
Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson are the quarterbacks for the Dolphins because Tagovailoa has already been ruled out. The Dolphins are hoping to avoid losing five straight games.
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Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) vs. Buffalo Bills (12-3) — Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
While both of these teams have clinched a playoff berth, this will be a fun matchup to watch since it could be a preview of a playoff game.
The Bengals also have a chance to clinch the AFC North title with a win and a Ravens loss or tie.
The Bills still have home-field advantage to play for as the current No. 1 seed in the AFC. They will clinch that with a win and a Chiefs loss.
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Both teams are on long winning streaks. The Bengals have won seven straight to the Bills’ six. Josh Allen and Joe Burrow are two of the top young quarterbacks in this league.