Through 17 weeks of injuries, pandemics, homesickness, records and scandals, the NFL regular season has served so far to define exactly one thing: The Packers are first place in the National Conference.
Everything else is up in the air and will be resolved in the last 16 games of the regular schedule, including 14 scheduled for Sunday.
For the first time in 15 years, at least 18 teams enter the final week of the regular season with tickets in hand or with postseason aspirations. There is only room for 14 and four of them are in control of their destiny.
The American Conference – the same one that has sent just seven different representatives to the Super Bowl since 2000 – is now a sea of uncertainty with five contenders for the last three available spots.
Colts, Raiders and Chargers just need one win. Those last two teams face each other.
However, an unlikely loss to Indianapolis (9-7) in their visit to Jacksonville (2-14) would give life to Pittsburgh (8-7-1) and Baltimore (8-8), who also collide with each other.
Similarly, a setback from the Colts, who haven’t won at Jacksonville since 2014, would open up the possibility of the Chargers and Raiders getting the last two playoff spots with a tie.
“For us, the playoffs start this week,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said.
“Trust me, I had every intention that not everything was defined in the last week. But that’s the way this business is and we accept it. You accept the moment you have ”.
In the event that Indianapolis achieves its seventh victory in the last nine games, the last ticket will go to the winner of the game between Raiders and Chargers, a divisional meeting between two teams traveling in opposite directions.
Las Vegas managed to stay alive thanks to three consecutive victories, all of them by four points or less.
The Chargers, meanwhile, lost momentum with two losses in their last three games, including a resounding setback to the mediocre Texans.
Now they need to beat the Raiders for the third time in a row to reach the postseason for the first time since 2018.
“We had to win the last three weeks just for this game to mean anything,” said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
“I think all the games in the last month have been playoffs for us and I don’t think anything is going to change this week.”
Within the game of musical chairs that is the last week of the season, there are still two divisions without a champion.
Whoever is crowned there will be a local in a postseason game.
In the American Conference, the Bills are looking to win the East Division in consecutive years for the first time since 1990-91, when they went to two of the first four Super Bowls in a row with Jim Kelly behind center.
Buffalo (10-6) has the upper hand and a victory at home against the Jets (4-12) would be enough to fasten the division crown, but stranger things have happened and a disaster would open the door for the Patriots to regain the top. of the sector, who lent last year for the first time in the last 11 campaigns.
New England is back in familiar territory, with a playoff spot and a chance to clinch its 18th division title in 22 years under head coach Bill Belichick.
For this, it is essential to achieve a victory in Miami.
However, the Pats have only one win in their last four visits home to the Dolphins.
In the National Conference the picture is clearer, with the Packers fixed at the top and six of the seven invited guests.
San Francisco has the lead heading into the playoffs and the Saints are still breathing.
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NFL playoffs: At least 18 teams enter the final week of the regular season with something to fight