AFC, NFC wild card races will conclude during packed late Sunday afternoon window
Facing the potential of a meaningless regular-season finale and/or a New Year's Eve ratings clunker, the NFL instead decided to nix the Sunday night game altogether in Week 17 (and with it, your best excuse to skip that neighbor's party).
Only three playoff spots remain unclaimed (one wild card in the NFC; two in the AFC) and despite the league's strategy of loading the final week with divisional face-offs, there isn't a straightforward elimination proposition among them. The last time the league had a team just hoping to escape healthy in a New Year's Eve finale, 2006, Packers-Bears lost to that week's "Deal Or No Deal" in the 18-49 demographic. More recently, college football struggled to gain attention when staging playoff games on NYE. Which brings us to next week. NBC loses out, while CBS and FOX will broadcast what could be a wild late afternoon slate. Among the attractions:
• Panthers at Falcons: Atlanta hopes to claim a playoff spot, while Carolina is still in play for a first-round bye.
• Jaguars at Titans: The AFC South doormats of late are looking to bounce back from Week 16 defeats; Tennessee probably needs a victory to extend its season (Jacksonville is already locked in as the AFC's No. 3 seed).
• 49ers at Rams: Kyle Shanahan-Sean McVay II.
At the same time, the Ravens, Chargers, Bills, and Seahawks will all be playing for a postseason berth. Here. We. Go.
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LATER TODAY: Peter King's special Tuesday Morning Quarterback ... Our Week 17 Power Rankings ... and more. Stay tuned.
1. We're taking press coverage in a different direction today. Here are yesterday's results, plus the four most meaningful results that you may have missed from the holiday weekend.
2a. Eagles 19, Raiders 10. The second half of this one included seven turnovers, but ultimately the difference was simple: kicking. Oakland's Giorgio Tavecchio missed a 48-yarder with 8:03 to play while Philadelphia's Jake Elliott was true from the same distance with 22 seconds left. (The Eagles ran back the Raiders' last-second toss-around to pick up a meaningless six points on the game's final play.) Philly may have clinched the No. 1 seed, but it looks quite beatable with Nick Foles under center.
2b. Steelers 34, Texans 6. DeAndre Hopkins turned in a Touchdown of the Year candidate. It wasn't nearly enough, though, as his quarterbacks, T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke, combined for 51 net passing yards.
3. 49ers 44, Jaguars 33. Nobody had Jags-Niners pegged as one of the most interesting Week 16 matchups, yet here we are, in the Jimmy Garoppolo era. Jacksonville actually outgained San Fran, 472-369, only to be sunk by three Blake Bortles interceptions, but don't let the numbers get in the way of the narrative. The 49ers are one of the few teams I'll be sad to say goodbye to when the regular season ends.
4. Seahawks 21, Cowboys 12. Two playoff hopefuls walked into AT&T Stadium; only Seattle survived. Dallas jumped out to a 6-0 lead but failed to get into the end zone, even with Ezekiel Elliott back in the fold. Those red zone struggles, combined with three turnovers and two missed field goals, ended the Cowboys' season—a disappointing one for Dak Prescott. "Having a first year like I did, I think you almost want to take things for granted," he said afterward. "And then you come into your second year and a lot things just go against you and it’s tough. I’ve given my all. I will learn from it and get better." As for Seattle, it still needs a win against the Cardinals and a Falcons loss to make the playoffs.
5. Saints 23, Falcons 13. Two goal-line stands helped New Orleans clinch its first playoff berth since 2013, and proved once again that this Saints team can rely on its D. Atlanta now returns home to face the Panthers, needing a win (or a Seahawks loss) if it hopes to avenge last year's Super Bowl collapse.
6. Rams 27, Titans 23. The Los Angeles Rams are your NFC West champs (for the first time since 2003). Jared Goff tallied 301 yards and four touchdowns, Todd Gurley racked up 276 yards from scrimmage, and Sean McVay's team doubled its 2016 scoring output with a week to spare. And where do the Titans sit? After three straight losses, they're now in the middle of a four-team race for the two AFC wild card spots. Win next week against the Jaguars and they're still in; otherwise they'll need Chargers and Bills losses.
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JuJu Smith-Schuster + Christmas was guaranteed to work out well.
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