The league said in an official statement that having no Sunday night game is "the right thing to do."
The NFL released its schedule for Week 17, and there is notably no Sunday night game on the schedule.
"We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fiar thing to do is schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. ET windows," NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz said in a statement. "This ensures that we do not have a matchup on Sunday Night Football on New Year's Eve that because of earlier results has no playoff implications for one or both of the competing teams"
It is customary for the league to schedule games that may impact each other at the same time. For example, if Team A clinches a playoff berth with a loss by Team B, the league will schedule Team A's game and Team B's game at the same time to ensure that Team A plays its starters no matter what.
What is highly unusual is for the league not to schedule a game for the Sunday night primetime slot. In years past, the NFL has put winner-take-all type games in which both teams are highly incentivized to win in this slot. The options this year are Jacksonville-Tennessee and Carolina-Atlanta, but both Atlanta and Tennessee could be locked into a Wild Card spot with losses by certain teams, which could cause those teams to rest their starters.
Another factor in the decision is that Sunday is New Year's Eve, so primetime programming could conflict with NBC's scheduled New Years programming.
In total, there are seven games that will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET and nine that will start at 4:25 p.m. ET. The only game with playoff implications in the earlier slate is Jets at Patriots, which New England needs to win in order to secure home-field advantage. The other games with playoff implications—Carolina at Atlanta, Cincinnati at Baltimore, Oakland at Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans at Tampa Bay and Jacksonville at Tennessee—all kick off at 4:25 p.m.