The 5 Week 17 Game Most Likely To Be Flexed
Like many things in sports, the NFL's flexible scheduling procedures, "flexing" an attractive game into the hallowed ground of NBC's Sunday Night Football, has gotten mixed reviews. But the Week 17 procedure, taking a game that has guaranteed playoff implications and putting it into the spot, has drawn rave reviews from mostly everyone, and with three games left for each of the NFL's 32 teams, it's time to start thinking which of Week 17's offerings, all divisional matchups, will take the spot. Many feature matchups where either one or both teams are/will be eliminated, but here are six we've handpicked that could take over....
6) Cleveland @ Pittsburgh
If only for the possibility that the Steelers' playoff chances could ride on this game, and the macabre implications that the Browns could complete the imperfect season, could this game grace the hallowed airspace, but hey, it's something to think about.
5) New England @ Miami
This more than likely won't decide the AFC East, which will go to New England for the 4,234th year in a row. But to their credit, the Dolphins have amassed themselves a solid season, and find themselves tied for the second AFC wild card spot in the waning weeks of the 2016 season. Sure, the Patriots may have everything, namely homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, wrapped up by this point, but wouldn't it just be so...Belichick-ian in nature for the Patriots to play their starters and do everything in their power to keep the Dolphins, a division rival they've tortured since for a good portion of the new millennium out a playoff spot that's eluded them for so long.
4) Oakland @ Denver
It seemed like a certainty a few weeks ago that the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos would be returning to the playoffs, but suddenly that's not so assured anymore. Following a 4-0 start, the Broncos have gone 4-5 since, including losses in two of their past three, currently leaving them in a tie for the final AFC wild card spot with the Dolphins. Part of the reason for the Broncos' collapse is the fact they've gone 1-3 within the AFC West, including an 0-2 mark against the Raiders and Chiefs, whom the Broncos will close the season out with over the final two weeks (following their already difficult tilt with the Patriots this Sunday). At 10-3 right now, Oakland could have their spot wrapped up by Week 17, but the allure of this matchup could steer in their favor, and, again, could do everything in their power to keep their division rival on the outside looking in.
3) NY Giants @ Washington
This game probably could've been the most likely candidate had the Giants not picked up an unexpected win over the Dallas Cowboys in last week's edition of SNF that has them feeling a whole lot better about their playoff spot. Had they lost, it would've tied them with Tampa Bay in the NFC Wild Card slots and leave them only a half game up on the Redskins, who defeated the Giants in a memorable slugfest back in late September. This could very well still get the slot due to the fact that NFC East rivalries, no matter which half of the quartet partakes, always draw eyes, and the Odell Beckham Jr-Josh Norman storylines simply write themselves.
2) Houston @ Tennessee
Look, I'm with you. The last thing we need is the Houston Texans, now with more Brock Osweiler, to be given yet another national television appearance. But at the end of the day, you'd much rather see Brock and Co. in Week 17 than you would during the AFC playoffs. Win-or-go home games are prime fodder for the Week 17 SNF slot, and if things keep up, this battle for the AFC South slot would be prime territory. If anything, we would also get our first good glimpse of the Tennessee Titans, a team that could regularly grace SNF airspace over the coming years, armed with Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray, not to mention what will be a high Los Angeles-acquired draft pick that received in the Jared Goff trade.
1) Green Bay @ Detroit
You have to lack a soul and perhaps decent human decency to not enjoy what the Detroit Lions are doing this season. Left for dead upon the departure of Calvin Johnson, the Lions would be owners of a first-round bye if the season ended today. At 9-4, the Lions have also never been boring, trailing in all but one of their games in the fourth quarter. Matthew Stafford has also never been better, leading comebacks and putting himself in the MVP discussion.
But since this is the Lions, we have to ask....when is the other shoe going to drop?
We've seen inklings of it, particularly last week. The Lions needed some last minute magic to top Matt Barkley's Chicago Bears, and Stafford will have to throw with a glove this week after injuring his fingers in the Chicago win. Meanwhile, likewise left for dead, the Packers formally reintroduced themselves to the playoff picture with a blowout win over Seattle last week. Combine that with the fact the Lions have to play two of the NFC's top teams, the Giants and Cowboys, prior to this one, and it could set up a winner takes all game at Ford Field...and I think we know what happened the last time this meeting took place there.
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