Monday, December 16, 2013

Ranking The Candidates For Week 17 Sunday Night Flex Game

Could we see the Cowboys play for the NFC East
title in the Week 17 flex game again?
I originally wrote this Monday morning before the Ravens-Lions tilt.  I've since amended it to add in Baltimore's thrilling win at Detroit.

Just two weeks remain in the season and it is time to look at the prime candidates for the possible flex game for the final game of the NFL season.  If you don't know, a few years ago the NFL starting flexing the best game to the Week 17 Sunday Night Football time slot on NBC.  The game has always had playoff implications with a usual matchup of two teams needing the win to get into the postseason.

Let's assume one thing is likely:  two of the mix of the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers or Arizona Cardinals will be the NFC Wildcard teams.  Not an absolute, but it is most likely.

So here is who it could be:

1-EAGLES (8-6) AT COWBOYS (7-7):  Most likely the best choice.  Most likely it would be a game where the winner is the NFC East champion and the loser goes home.  It would pit the very TV-genic Cowboys who will gain interest from the hordes of their fans as well as the loads of people wanting the see them fail again.  The last two Week 17 flex games have involved the Cowboys playing for the NFC East title.  In 2011 (Giants) and 2012 (Redskins) they lost.  The NFC East ... say what you want ... is the top division draw in the NFL.  The only way this game doesn't happen is if the Cowboys lose to the Redskins in Week 16 and the Eagles beat the Bears.  [Cowboys won first meeting and own the division tiebreaker]

2-PACKERS (7-6-1) AT BEARS (8-6):  This would be another great game to have.  The longest rivalry in the NFL with a division title on the line.  Packers.  Bears.  Icy cold.  Two teams who have navigated through a season filled with their QB injuries.  The only thing that could derail this ... or even make this a bit odd ... is the Detroit Lions.  Right now, the Lions are ahead of the Packers in the standings and own the tiebreaker over the Bears [as I type this, the Lions are a half game back of the Bears entering their Monday Night game against the Ravens].  If Detroit wins out, they would be the NFC North champions and this game would probably mean nothing.  With the Lions' loss on Monday, the Bears and Packers are ahead of Detroit in the standings and all that must happen for this game to have all the meaning in the world is the Packers beating Pittsburgh this coming week and either the Lions losing or the Bears winning.  Detroit could throw a monkey wrench into this deal if the Packers lose or the Bears lose to the Eagles in Week 16 and the Lions beat the Giants which is a real possibility.  Detroit owns the tiebreaker over Chicago by beating them twice.  So if Detroit wins and the Packers and/or the Bears lose, the Lions could either clinch the NFC North earlier Sunday making this game moot.  However, if the Lions lose or both the Bears and Pack win next week, it's on. [Bears won first meeting; winner of a Packers-Bears finale will own division tiebreaker]

3-RAVENS (8-6) AT BENGALS (9-5):  Cincinnati's meltdown in Pittsburgh helps this game move up the chart.  If Baltimore beats Detroit tonight, Baltimore beat Detroit on Monday so they will remain a game back of the Bengals.  Baltimore won their first matchup with the Bengals meaning that they would only need to stay that one game back to make their finale mean something.  The Bengals get the lowly Vikings next week while the Ravens get an angry Patriots squad.  Going by that, Cincinnati could/should have the AFC North wrapped up by Week 17.  Regardless, a Ravens win over the Pats guarantees the finale will be for the AFC North title.  Still, the Ravens could be fighting for the final wildcard spot which would make this game a possibility.  [Ravens won first meeting; Ravens win in finale ties division record; Ravens own common games tiebreaker]

4-49ERS (10-4) AT CARDINALS (9-5):  It would take a lot for this game to happen, but it could happen.  If the Niners lose to the Falcons and the Cardinals win in Seattle.  Probably not happening.  If it did, then the Niners and Cardinals would be tied at 10-5 with their Week 17 matchup as the winner getting that final NFC wildcard spot. [49ers won first meeting and own division tiebreaker]

5-JETS (6-8) AT DOLPHINS (8-6):  A million things need to happen for this game to mean something.  Still, if all those things did occur, the Jets and Dolphins on primetime TV wouldn't be that bad.  While we are all freezing in our homes in our post-Christmas stupor and pre-New Year's mode, we can watch those always chat-worthy Jets try to sneak into the playoffs in South Beach against a better-than-you-know Dolphins squad.  [Dolphins won first meeting; division record is still up for debate]    With the Ravens win over the Lions on Monday, the Jets have been eliminated from the playoffs.


-Chiefs at Chargers:  San Diego may be fighting to get in the playoffs while KC may be trying to get the No. 1 seed.

-Panthers at Falcons:  Carolina may need this win for either a playoff spot or the NFC South title

-Buccaneers at Saints: See above.  The Saints could have to win this just to get into the playoffs.

-Lions at Vikings: As explained above, the Lions have an outside shot of still winning the NFC North

-Broncos at Raiders: Denver could be playing for the No. 1 seed or the No. 5 seed.

-Bills at Patriots: New England could be fighting for a bye week or even the No. 1 seed in the AFC

-Jaguars at Colts:  Colts are already in but their seeding could ride on this one

-Rams at Seahawks:  Seattle should have the top seed in the NFC locked down by now


-Redskins at Giants
-Texans at Titans
-Browns at Steelers

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