BOSTON (CBS) — There are just three weeks remaining in the NFL’s regular season, but for many teams, the playoffs have essentially arrived.
Not much has been determined in the AFC’s playoff picture, with the top two teams battling this weekend in Pittsburgh and a handful of other teams still fighting to play when the calendar turns to 2018. It sets up some extremely important games this weekend and what should be an entertaining final few weeks of the regular season.
With the AFC playoff picture tighter than your waistline during the holiday season, and though the bottom of it is a cluster of mediocrity, it should make for some exciting football to close December. Here are the games with playoff implications this weekend:
Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) @ Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)
The NFL is taking yet another night of the week, though you won’t find too many people complaining about over-saturation with a couple of Saturday night games this time of the year. Especially when one of those games this weekend has some big playoff ramifications.
Kansas City currently sits atop the AFC West thanks to their Week 3 win over the Chargers, while Los Angeles is on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. But these two teams are much different now than they were two and a half months ago, as the Chiefs’ hot start has come to a screeching halt, losing six of their last eight, while the Chargers have won four straight and seven of their last nine.
This weekend’s winner will lead the division and be in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. The other will likely have to hope for a Wild Card berth.
Houston Texans (4-9) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)
The Jaguars are on fire at the moment, winning six of their last seven games, and sit comfortably as the AFC’s three-seed. Yes, that means the Jaguars will likely be hosting a playoff game this season, and they’re in a prime position to move up to the two-seed if the Patriots have another misstep.
If Jacksonville wins their final three games (with trips to San Francisco and Tennessee to close the season) and the Patriots lose any of their final three games, both teams would finish at 12-4. The Jags would have just two AFC losses while the Pats would have three, giving Jacksonville the tiebreaker and the two-seed in the AFC.
If the Jags take care of their business the rest of the way, the Patriots cannot afford another loss along the way.
Miami Dolphins (6-7) @ Buffalo Bills (7-6)
The Bills are a playoff team by a slim margin and need to beat the Dolphins to hang on to the AFC’s final Wild Card spot. They’ll face the Dolphins twice in the final three weeks of the season, with a visit to the Patriots sandwiched in the middle.
The Dolphins are hanging on in the playoff picture, but a loss on Sunday would essentially end their chances.
Baltimore Ravens (7-6) @ Cleveland Browns (0-13)
Baltimore is currently sitting just outside of the playoff picture, but what better way for the Ravens to keep their postseason hopes alive than a late-season meeting with the winless Browns? The Ravens haven’t lost in Cleveland since 2013.
New England Patriots (10-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)
If the Patriots can bounce back from their disappointing Monday night loss in Miami and beat the Steelers, they’ll be back in the driver’s seat for the AFC top seed and home-field advantage. They’ll obtain both by winning out, even if the Steelers can win their final two games (a visit to Houston and at home against Cleveland), with Sunday’s outcome the first tiebreaker between the two.
But if the Patriots lose on Sunday, they can forget about the No. 1 seed. And with the Jaguars in hot pursuit of that No. 2 seed, New England’s final two games (home tilts against the Bills and Jets) would become must-win affairs if they want to hold onto that first-round bye.
The Steelers can clinch a first-round bye with a win and a Jacksonville loss. The Pats can clinch a playoff berth with a Baltimore loss, and the AFC East with a win or Buffalo loss.
Tennessee Titans (8-5) @ San Francisco 49ers (3-10)
Tennessee enters this weekend as the five-seed (one game back of the Jags in the AFC South) and are looking good to make the postseason for the first time since 2008. But they need a win this weekend to keep a slew of other Wild Card hopefuls at bay.