Since the NFL released the 2012 schedule Tuesday evening, we here at NFL Spin Zone have been going through it with a fine-toothed comb.
One of the more interesting dynamics falls on Week 17. The NFL does not schedule a game for Sunday Night Football during Week 17, opting to wait and see which games have playoff implications and selecting a game accordingly. For similar reasons, every Week 17 games is a divisional game.
Below are some of the most intriguing Week 17 match-ups that may determine whether your team is in the playoffs or watching it from their couch.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills: The Jets are not a team devoid of drama. After an underwhelming 8-8 season, the team will look to bounce back with their third playoff appearance in four years under head coach Rex Ryan. The Bills were a team who started off surprisingly hot in 2011, with a 5-2 record and a stunning upset over the Super Bowl runner-up New England Patriots. They ended up losing eight of their next nine, but with the acquisition of Mario Williams, could they be sleepers? This game certainly has a number of possible storylines: will Tim Tebow be the starting quarterback? Is Rex Ryan on the hot seat? Is the recently injury-prone Mario Williams still playing?
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: The Ravens were a dropped pass and a missed field goal away from the Super Bowl. The Bengals, under the leadership of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and a scrappy defense, surprised everyone by earning a Wild Card berth. The Bengals will be looking to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 25 years. The Ravens have their eyes set on a Lombardi trophy. Will the Bengals will be able to buck their historically bad trend? Will the Ravens finally get Ed Reed a ring and Ray Lewis his second?
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: Despite having a new head coach, two new coordinators, a new quarterback, a shortened offseason, lackluster production from star running back Chris Johnson and elite wide receiver Kenny Britt on the sidelines, Mike Munchak’s squad mustered up nine wins in 2011. The Jaguars finished with only five wins on the season, but hope to see a significant step forward from quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Although it’s unlikely that the Jaguars make the playoffs, this could certainly be a win-and-in situation for the Titans.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: Every year, it seems like the NFC East comes down to the final weeks. This should be no exception. The Eagles will be looking to bounce back from a highly disappointing 8-8 season while the Giants will be hoping to repeat last year’s Super Bowl win. Neither of these teams are known for cruising into the playoffs, so expect the winner of this one to make it and the loser to watch it on TV.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: Can Robert Griffin III lead his team to the playoffs in his rookie season? The Cowboys may have something to say about that. The Cowboys, growing ever more restless, will hope to finally make a run at the Super Bowl with quarterback Tony Romo. This may be an unpopular opinion, but if Romo can’t deliver at least a Conference Game appearance, his seat may begin to get warm. Like the Eagles and Giants, expect only one of these teams to earn a playoff berth and for this game to go a long way in deciding which.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: This one is a bit of a crapshoot. Nobody knows how the Saints will respond to losing their head coach for the season. However, this could be a defining game for Cam Newton and the Panthers. After winning four more games in 2011 than in 2010, I expect the Panthers to shore up their defense and win another four games. The only question is whether 10 games is enough to make the playoffs in the NFC. It’s unlikely that the Panthers, Saints and Falcons all make it. Despite their postseason struggles, Atlanta is virtually a lock to return. This game could very well decide whether Carolina or New Orleans is playing into January.
Of course, it is too early to definitively say any of these games will matter. Players get hurt, teams surprise us and the unpredictability of the NFL rears its (wonderfully) awful head. However, from an April perspective, these are all Week 17 games that you should keep an eye on.
Here is the week 17 schedule: