It’s win and get in for the Chargers, Raiders, 49ers and Colts.
Not much more you can ask for as the NFL completes its first 17-game regular season.
The brightest spotlight is on Sin City, where the winner of Chargers-Raiders takes a wild-card berth. LA is done if it loses, but Las Vegas has ways of advancing to the playoffs with a defeat and help.
Never mind that. This is all about moving on, whether or not it prevents your longtime rival from doing so, too.
”We know what’s at stake here,” Chargers defensive lineman Justin Jones said. ”We knew what was at stake last week as well, so it’s the same type of preparation and same type of mindset going into this game. Every week is a playoff game for us. … The guys on the team know the gravity of this game. You win, you’re in. If you lose, you’re going home. We’ve known that since last week. It’s all the same for us.”
Brandon Staley is trying to become the fourth coach since the merger to lead the Chargers to the playoffs in his first season with the franchise. Meanwhile, Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia has done a solid job helping the team overcome all the turmoil in 2021.
”All I know is we’re really excited about our opportunity in front of us on Sunday night,” Bisaccia said, ”and we’re going to look to put our best foot forward and look to put a product on the field that all the Raider Nation can be proud of.”
Indianapolis (9-7) at Jacksonville (2-14)
It’s difficult to believe the Colts would have any trepidation about a trip to North Florida considering the state of the Jaguars. But the Colts have lost five in a row in Jacksonville.
Still, Indy is plus-16 in turnover margin and Jacksonville is minus-22. The Colts have the league’s rushing champion in Jonathan Taylor, and the Jaguars can’t stop the run.
Offering potential entertainment here: Jaguars fans are organizing a ”Klown out” for the finale, in which hundreds or maybe thousands of disgruntled regulars are planning to wear clown attire to the game in hopes of persuading owner Shad Khan to fire general manager Trent Baalke.
San Francisco (9-7) at Los Angeles Rams (12-4)
LA is in and takes the NFC West by beating the Niners, who could again start first-round draftee Trey Lance at quarterback if Jimmy Garoppolo’s damaged finger sidelines him. Garoppolo has won all five career starts against the Rams. Indeed, the 49ers have won five in a row against the Rams. Coach Kyle Shanahan is 6-3 vs. Los Angeles, 5-15 against the rest of the NFC West.
”Yeah, they’ve had our number, at least since I’ve been here,” Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. ”It is frustrating, but they don’t have mind control over us or nothing. It’s just how the games went. We’re not going out there on Sunday thinking, `Oh, we’ve lost this many games to them.’ We’re going out there confident.”
Cooper Kupp has a chance to set the NFL’s single-season records for receptions and yards receiving. Kupp has 138 catches, 11 behind Michael Thomas’ 149 for New Orleans in 2019. The Rams star’s 1,829 yards put him 135 behind Calvin Johnson’s 1,964 for Detroit in 2012. Kupp is also on track to become the first player to lead the league in receptions, yards receiving, and touchdown receptions since Steve Smith in 2005. Remember, this is the first season the NFL is playing 17 games.
New Orleans (8-8) at Atlanta (7-9)
If the Rams beat their Northern California competitor and the Saints beat their most historic rival, New Orleans gets the final NFC wild card. Since Sean Payton became coach in 2006, the Saints have won 21 of 31 meetings, including six of the past eight.
Watch for Saints pass rusher Cameron Jordan, who has 7+ sacks during his past three games. He got 11 tackles with 3+ sacks last week against Carolina.
Also watch for Falcons rookie Kyle Pitts. If able to return from a hamstring injury which limited him to two snaps in the second half last week, he could pass Mike Ditka’s record for most receiving yards by a rookie tight end, needing 50.
New York Jets (4-12) at Buffalo (10-6)
Buffalo’s division-clinching chore is simple: beat New York. The Bills have won three straight and will clinch their second consecutive AFC East title with a win or a New England loss to Miami. Buffalo hasn’t won consecutive division championships since a four-year run spanning 1988-91.
Buffalo is 9-1 this season when scoring a touchdown, 7-0 when scoring a TD on its opening drive.
The Jets have allowed a franchise-record 477 points, topping the 457 they surrendered last season.
Carolina (5-11) at Tampa Bay (12-4)
If any quarterback can put aside the fiasco that was Antonio Brown’s departure from the NFC South champion Bucs, it’s Tom Brady. The seven-time Super Bowl winner is close to something even he hasn’t accomplished: leading the NFL in the four major passing categories. He is on top in completions (456), passing attempts (682), passing yards (4,990) and touchdown passes (40).
Mike Evans is the only player in NFL history to begin a career with seven consecutive seasons with 1,000-plus yards receiving. He enters this game 54 yards short of extending the record.
The Panthers have lost six straight games and 11 of their past 13 overall.
Cincinnati (10-6) at Cleveland (7-9)
Not much to this Battle of Ohio considering the Bengals own the AFC North title for the first time since 2015 and the Bengals, who were last in the division in 2020, have the fewest penalties (68) and penalty yards (588). Cleveland’s distressing season will end Sunday.
Many starters will sit, including both QBs, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.
Bengals wideout Ja’Marr Chase had 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns last week, a rookie record.
Green Bay (13-3) at Detroit (2-13-1)
Even with the best record in the NFL and the NFC’s only wild-card weekend bye, the Packers plan to play plenty of regulars. Matt LaFleur’s 39 regular-season victories are the most for an NFL coach in his first three seasons, ahead of former San Francisco coach George Seifert’s 38 from 1989-91.
Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown 18 touchdown passes without an interception over his past six games, has 50 TD passes and just eight interceptions against the Lions in his career.
Detroit has lost five in a row to Green Bay.
Tennessee (11-5) at Houston (4-12)
The Titans want to emulate the Packers and get the lone bye in their conference. A win over a Texans team that won at Nashville earlier in the season is needed. This current streak of three straight playoff berths is the longest for the Titans since a seven-season stretch between 1987-1993 as the Houston Oilers.
”I want a bye week next week,” Tennessee Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard said. ”That’s the motivation to go in there and try to play our best game so we can get that bye week … and … the playoffs, the AFC can kind of come through Nashville.”
Tennessee’s defense has allowed 39 points combined over the past four games. The Titans are tied for ninth with 41 sacks, more than double what they managed last season, and Houston has yielded 42.
Kansas City (11-5) at Denver (7-9), Saturday
KC would earn the No. 1 AFC spot with a victory and a Tennessee defeat. The first part should be a cinch considering the Chiefs have won 12 straight against Denver. Also helping: coach Andy Reid is 35-6 against division opponents since 2015 and the Chiefs have won six straight AFC West titles; QB Patrick Mahomes is 12-0 as a starter in road divisional games.
With Teddy Bridgewater out, Drew Lock is aiming for his fourth consecutive start without an interception. He tied for the league lead last year with 15 interceptions and 18 turnovers overall.
Dallas (11-5) at Philadelphia (9-7), Saturday
Two more big rivals go at it, but this game has little impact. Both are in the postseason, Dallas as NFC East winner. The Eagles also have been hit by a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Eagles haven’t beaten a team that currently has a winning record, but turned around their season when they concentrated on the run game. They’re 41 yards away from the franchise rushing record of 2,607, set in 1949 in a 12-game season.
The Cowboys’ dynamic rookie linebacker/edge rusher Micah Parsons went on the reserve/COVID-19 list as well.
Seattle (6-10) at Arizona (11-5)
Despite a recent slump, the Cardinals win the NFC West with a victory and a loss by the Rams. Arizona is trying for its first season sweep over Seattle since 2009. They don’t fear being a wild card, however, after going 8-1 on the road.
The Seahawks’ most disappointing season under Pete Carroll will end without a playoff berth for just the second time in 10 seasons. But Russell Wilson can pass Peyton Manning for the most wins in a quarterback’s first 10 seasons – regular and postseason – with a victory. Both have 113.
New England (10-6) at Miami (8-8)
The Patriots still could get the top seed in the AFC, but need everyone in front of them to lose. The Dolphins are the only AFC East team with a winning home record (12-9) against the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era.
New England is in position to allow the fewest points in the NFL for the second time in the past three years. Miami WR Jaylen Waddle is one catch away from 100 and two catches from matching Anquan Boldin’s NFL record for receptions by a rookie. Waddle’s 12 yards away from the 1,000 mark.
Pittsburgh (8-7-1) at Baltimore (8-8)
One of the NFL’s best and most rugged rivalries, but both teams need more help than it’s worth hoping for to get into the postseason.
The Steelers, with Ben Roethlisberger almost certainly in his final regular-season game, can make it with a victory, an Indianapolis loss, and not tie between Las Vegas and the Chargers. T.J. Watt needs 1 1/2 sacks to break Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s single-season mark of 22 1/2. Watt’s done it despite missing significant time this season with groin, hip and knee injuries that forced him to sit out two games completely.
After five straight defeats, injury-ravaged Baltimore’s playoff chances require a win, plus losses by the Chargers and Colts and a loss or tie by the Dolphins.
Chicago (6-10) at Minnesota (7-9)
Coaches Matt Nagy of the Bears and Mike Zimmer of the Vikings could be handling their final games even though both have career winning records. Nagy, 5-2 against the Vikings, has a 34-40 mark, 0-2 postseason. Zimmer is 71-56-1 and 2-3 in the playoffs.
The Bears planned to start rookie QB Justin Fields, but he landed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Fields, 2-8 as a starter this year, missed the past two games with an ankle injury.
Washington (6-10) at New York Giants (4-12)
The Giants have won five of the past six overall in the series, but they can’t score and are down to untested quarterback Jake Fromm. Washington WR Terry McLaurin is 40 yards receiving away from a second consecutive 1,000-yard season and had 11 catches for 107 yards against New York in Week 2.
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