The early schedule is absolutely loaded today with important games. Normally, the league tries to push the showcase game to the late time slot. While the game between two of the largest fanbases in the league, Pittsburgh and Dallas, does occupy that slot today, the early games provide as much drama as any week this year.
New York at Atlanta: Atlanta can basically clinch the NFC #1 seed for all practical purposes with a win. The Giants need the win to stay ahead of the Redskins and Cowboys and in playoff position. It’s a rematch of last year’s playoff game won by the Giants, and safety William Moore will miss this one for the Falcons.
Washington at Cleveland: Kirk Cousins is starting a huge game for the Redskins. If they win here, they get Philadelphia at home, and can hope that Griffin is ready to go for the Cowboys in a showdown in week 17. Cleveland has been playing better defensively lately and still has slim playoff hopes if they can win out.
Green Bay at Chicago: The Packers clinch the division with a win in Chicago, whom they have owned in recent years as long as they don’t commit a record setting number of penalties. Chicago is trying to avoid going from 7-1 to out of the playoffs, and this is the game that will change everything. A Bears’ win makes a wild NFC North and wildcard race.
Denver at Baltimore: New offensive coordinator for Baltimore, as Jim Caldwell takes over just in time to get in a game involving his former quarterback, Peyton Manning. The Ravens can clinch a playoff spot and stay in contention for a bye week. Denver needs this one to keep their bye hopes alive as well. Baltimore has a lot of players out in this one.
Indianapolis at Houston: The Colts are improbably still in contention for the AFC South, and even weirder is that these teams have not played yet with three weeks to go. Round one today in Houston, and the Texans can try for the knockout. As we’ve seen with the Colts all year, though, it better be by knockout. Don’t want to leave that door open late.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]