Fifteen teams remain alive in a mad scramble for five remaining playoff spots and the seven clubs already qualified for the postseason play fight for seeding in the penultimate week of NFL action.
The Week 16 schedule has most games slotted today, with five Christmas Eve showdowns between teams still battling to stay alive in their bid to join the Super Bowl tournament.
One of those clashes is a Big Apple civil war between the New York Jets (8-6) and the New York Giants (7-7), with both teams desperate for a win to stay on track for a playoff spot.
“We have to win this game, they have to win this game,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “You play all those games, 16 regular season games, to earn the right to go to the playoffs and now we have two left. We have to win both and that’s how we’re looking at it. I know that’s how the Giants are looking at it, so this game, you can’t get any bigger than that.”
The Jets hold the edge to claiming an AFC wild-card berth, while the Giants can win the NFC East title with two wins.
NFC East Division leaders the Dallas Cowboys (8-6), who visit the Giants in the regular season finale, host the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles (6-8), who need a victory to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The lone game tomorrow has the Green Bay Packers (13-1) entertaining the Chicago Bears (7-7), with the hosts looking to bounce back from their first defeat, a 19-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and clinch home field advantage for the playoffs.
The loss to the Chiefs scuttled any chance of NFC North champions Green Bay achieving the NFL’s first 19-0 campaign, but could in the long run help their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions with the pressures of an unbeaten run suddenly off their shoulders.
“It hurts because that’s something special,” veteran Packers wide receiver Donald Driver said after the Kansas City game, their first defeat in nearly a year. “The perfect season is over now. We know we have five games left to win the whole thing.”
The New Orleans Saints (11-3) can sew up the NFC South with a win on Monday night against the visiting Atlanta Falcons, who at 9-5 are tied with the Detroit Lions as front-runners for the NFC wild-card spots. The Lions host the still-hopeful San Diego Chargers (7-7).
Atlanta and Detroit would clinch wild cards with a victory.
The Denver Broncos (8-6) and hard-running quarterback Tim Tebow, who received praise this week from previously skeptical team executive and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, visit the Buffalo Bills as they close in on the AFC West title.
However, all four AFC West teams are still alive for the playoffs, with the Oakland Raiders (7-7) at Kansas City (6-8) in an intra-division clash, and San Diego all in the mix.
The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers remained locked in a struggle for the AFC North crown with 10-4 records, with the Ravens hosting the Cleveland Browns (4-10) and the Steelers entertaining the St Louis Rams (2-12).
One change this weekend is a new safety measure to protect against possible concussions, stemming from a hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy that resulted in an undetected injury in a game against the Steelers earlier this month.
A trainer will be assigned to each game with access to replays and a direct line to teams’ medical staffs to watch for players that might need checking for concussions.