Usually, by week 16, you have one, maybe two really good playoff races, and everybody else is already resting their starters and thinking about January. This year, in addition to getting a new Star Wars film, we get a compelling end to the NFL season. Is it Christmas?
Oh, wait, it is.
Right now, the AFC South remains up for grabs, and the suddenly competitive AFC West could have a huge shakeup if the Chiefs win out and the Broncos stumble. And either the Chiefs or Broncos would then have to vie with the Steelers and Jets for the AFC wild card slots. (The Pats and Bengals are already in.)
The NFC, meanwhile, is a bit more settled, with Arizona and Carolina winning their divisions, the Seahawks firmly in possession of the wild card, and the Packers and Vikings battling to figure out who gets the division and who gets the wild card. And it looks like that 3-way race for the NFC East title now hinges on whether the Redskins can simply win out or not.
In any event, there are lots of games that matter this week, and not just for playoffs. There are coaches on the hot-seat and draft picks to be won by losing. So here we go with the picks. As always, winners are in italics. Games that could affect the playoffs are marked with a P, while games that could affect next year’s season via draft or coaching changes are marked with an N.
San Diego at Oakland: Is this the Raiders’ last game in Oakland? Will these two teams be sharing a stadium in Los Angeles next year? All good questions, but I suppose that may not impact an otherwise meaningless game for these two. You can do better on Christmas Eve.
Washington at Philadelphia (P): Is Washington really good enough? I have doubts, especially against an Eagles team that shocked the Patriots a few weeks ago. Cheesesteaks all around.
New England at N.Y. Jets (P): This is a game New York desperately wants to win, just as desperately as Kylo Ren wants to lose the vestiges of his conscience. I’m betting neither happens.
Houston at Tennessee (P/N): The Texans need a win here to seal up the AFC South. The Titans may very well oblige, because the first pick of the 2016 draft awaits.
Cleveland at Kansas City (P/N): Same deal. The Chiefs would love nothing more than to win out and watch the Broncos stumble, while the Browncoats may want to lie down in Serenity Valley for a nice draft pick.
Indianapolis at Miami (P/N): Indy needs a win here to stay in the hunt for the division, especially with the Texans’ likely easy win. And both coaches here are looking to stay on with their respective teams.
San Francisco at Detroit: And here’s your Netflix game of the week in the early time slot. A rewatch of the Doctor Who Christmas specials seems fitting.
Dallas at Buffalo: This ought to be one of those frozen December classics, but it’s like 70 degrees outside right now.
Carolina at Atlanta: When will Ron Rivera rest his starters? There’s no space-time wormhole to go back and change his mind if Cam Newton gets hurt.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore (P): The Steelers need this win to keep up with the Chiefs and move ahead of the Jets (should they lose as expected). Baltimore would love to play spoiler, but it won’t happen.
Jacksonville at New Orleans (N): Here’s your Netflix game in the late-afternoon time slot. If you haven’t watched It’s a Wonderful Life yet this Christmas season, this is your chance — unless you’re in New Orleans, where it comes down to whether Sean Payton or Drew Brees will be back.
St. Louis at Seattle (P): This is a boring game the Seahawks will win, but it could actually matter as to whether the Seattle gets the 5th seed, and plays the NFC East winner (yay!) or the 6th seed and ends up playing the NFC North winner (less yay).
Green Bay at Arizona (P): Tough one to call. You know the Pack will go all out to win here, and Arizona has no real reason to battle. But man…Arizona is really good.
N.Y. Giants at Minnesota (P): The Giants are such an odd case this year. They’re very well coached and have incredible drive, but they’ve come up short twice after playing vastly better opponents. Why is this?!
Cincinnati at Denver (P): Andy Dalton, the Ginger Ninja of the NFL, is down with an injury, which gives the Broncos a fighting chance.
Last week’s record: Another 11-5 week. I’ll take it.
Season record: 139-85, which puts me ahead of all but four of these guys.