In the NFL, every snap, every drive, every touchdown truly makes a difference, no matter the week.
But, with Week 17 upon us, the playoff spots are there for the taking. For others, their backs to the wall and one more defeat could end it all.
Nine teams, five from the AFC and four from the NFC, have clinched playoff spots with hopes of playing in the Super Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., home of the Arizona Cardinals.
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The division winners who have already been crowned are the Buffalo Bills (AFC East) and Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West) and Minnesota Vikings (NFC North) and San Francisco 49ers (NFC West).
In the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are still in contention for the AFC North crown, but they’re both already in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Chargers just clinched their spot on Monday night by beating the Indianapolis Colts.
For the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles are just one win away from owning the No. 1 seed in the conference and capturing the NFC East title, while the rival Dallas Cowboys are already in the playoffs as well. They still have a chance to win the division if Philly loses.
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With these teams, coaches will be careful to play starters in the coming weeks. The teams we’re going to feature here will need all the firepower they can get in Week 17.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8) vs. Carolina Panthers (6-9) – 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Tom Brady escaped with an overtime victory against the Cardinals on Christmas night. The Bucs are one win away from an NFC South title.
It hasn’t been pretty at all for Tampa Bay. Many were waiting to see when Brady would take off running, but it just didn’t happen. Had the Bucs lost to the Cards on Sunday, that game against the Panthers would have seen both teams 6-9 this year, and Carolina already holds the tiebreaker after its 21-3 victory earlier this season.
The Panthers have been playing well recently under interim head coach Steve Wilks, and quarterback Sam Darnold seems to be thriving since getting the starting job. A Panthers victory makes Week 18 an interesting time for the division.
But if Brady can even this split series and emerge victorious, he’ll be back in the playoffs once again. So who knows what these Bucs can do?
New York Giants (8-6-1) vs. Indianapolis Colts (4-10-1) – 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Eagles and Cowboys are in, but as things stand this week, the entire NFC East is making the playoffs.
The Giants and Washington Commanders own the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds, respectively, and the Giants will earn their first playoff berth since 2016 with a win over a Colts team that struggled to find the consistency of his quarters throughout the season.
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Nick Foles got his first start of the season on Monday night, and it was brutal. He threw three interceptions and the Colts scored just three runs.
Saquon Barkley never made the playoffs. Neither does Daniel Jones. With the game at home, the Giants are looking to get their fans to show up and give them as much of an advantage as possible to end the drought.
Miami Dolphins (8-7) vs. New England Patriots (7-8) – Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Tua Tagovailoa is back on concussion protocol, and while that’s the main news coming out of Miami, the Dolphins are still looking to make the playoffs in Mike McDaniel’s first season as head coach.
A Dolphins win on Sunday and a New York Jets loss or tie takes the Dolphins to the playoffs. The Dolphins also qualify in the event of a tie, the Jets lose and the Pittsburgh Steelers lose or draw.
Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson are the quarterbacks for the Dolphins as Tagovailoa has already been ruled out. The Dolphins hope to avoid losing five straight games.
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Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) vs. Buffalo Bills (12-3) – Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Although both of these teams clinched a playoff spot, this will be a fun game to watch as it could be a preview of a playoff game.
The Bengals also have a chance to clinch the AFC North title with a win and loss or draw against the Ravens.
The Bills still have the home-court advantage to play as the AFC’s current No. 1 seed. They will clinch that with a win and a Chiefs loss.
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Both teams are on long winning streaks. The Bengals have won seven in a row to the Bills’ six. Josh Allen and Joe Burrow are two of the best young quarterbacks in this league.