The last day of regular season football is upon us, concluding another wild season of football.
With only seven of fourteen playoff places currently occupied, Sunday’s action still carries a lot of significance as the 2020 regular season draws to a close. On what will be the first Sunday of the New Year, for many teams it will, unfortunately, be the last Sunday of meaningful football until September.
There are several scenarios across the league where divisions can be won or lost, playoff berths can be gained and in the NFC the number one seed is yet to be determined. As if to reward us for the year that it’s been, the NFL schedule-makers have stacked Sunday with every remaining game. No Thursday Night Football, No Monday Night Football – just Sunday Football.
Looking at either side of the conference divide there are a number of key matchups to keep an eye on. Perhaps the biggest game of the weekend is the AFC North decider between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns had a chance to clinch their playoff spot last week but came up short against the seemingly in-form New York Jets.
Cleveland hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002 but can end that streak with a win on Sunday against their biggest rivals. Pittsburgh is in the post-season already. They currently occupy the number three seed, and can only go as far as the two seed with Kansas City having already claimed the number one spot. That said, the Steelers are approaching Sunday’s game with an element of caution. Backup QB Mason Rudolph will start the game and many other starters are expected to remain sidelined for the final game of the year, ensuring peak freshness for the first round of the playoffs a week from now.
Despite the backups playing, the magnitude of this game cannot be understated. Two old school rivals going head to head for the right to call themselves division champs.
The AFC has a few other ‘win and in’ scenarios set to play out on Sunday. Baltimore can reach the playoffs with a win over the Bengals. Lamar Jackson and co are finding form again at the right time and will be a tough match for anyone who meets them in January. The Miami Dolphins, last in the playoffs in 2016, will punch their post-season ticket with a win at the Buffalo Bills while Tennessee need a win at Houston to see themselves play on Wild Card weekend. Indianapolis can get in with a win but need a Tennessee loss to help them get there.
Over in the NFC, every division except the lagging East has been won. Green Bay, New Orleans and Seattle are all divisional champs for 2020. The “win and in” mantra applies to four teams in the NFC. The Arizona Cardinals and the LA Rams are two of those teams and come Sunday they will face off for the right to call themselves second-best of the west. A win for either side gets them a spot in next week’s Wild Card round.
The Chicago Bears rollercoaster season is still alive in week seventeen; a win over the Packers and they will be playing playoff football. The Washington Football team have the best chance of winning the NFC East. They’ll be division champs if they can find a way past the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants and the Cowboys, who play each other on Sunday, can both make the playoffs but rely on a Washington loss. They play Sunday afternoon but won’t know their fate until the conclusion of Washington and Philly on Sunday Night Football.
The Number One seed in the NFC is to be decided between three teams. Green Bay, New Orleans, and Seattle all have a chance to earn a first round bye. In what can only be described as a triangle dilemma, the outcome of each team directly affects the other two. Green Bay claims the top spot with a win over Chicago and a Seattle loss. The Saints will inherit the one seed with a win, a Green Bay loss and Chicago loss. Finally, Seattle will be top of the pile if they secure a win over the 49ers and both the Packers and Saints lose.
A Sunday full of drama and entertainment awaits as we see off another exciting regular season and usher in a new year.