WWhile there may not be as many playoff spots up for grabs at this stage as promised when the league unveiled its new 17-game schedule, the stakes are still high this weekend. Beyond the seeded battle between teams that have already booked their postseason berths, there are five games that will decide who joins them in the playoffs – we show them here.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1pm EST / 6pm GMT)
What the Steelers must do to win: If Ben Roethlisberger wants to extend his career at least one more game, he will need to win this game and then wait for the Jacksonville Jaguars to defeat the Indianapolis Colts. Pittsburgh can only control what they control and that means fighting what is sure to be another tough and physical game against its perennial rivals.
What the Ravens need to do to win: Most likely Lamar Jackson will not return, which is already a huge disadvantage. It’s very likely that Baltimore’s season will end the way it started – with too many players on the disabled list. Still, the Ravens can at least play the spoilers if they win what could be a defensive battle and take advantage of Pittsburgh’s mistakes.
Key player: TJ Watt, outside linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers. With one more bag, Watt to tie Michael Strahan’s one-season record of 22.5, and it takes 1.5 to break it completely. And while Watt is playing an extended 17-game season, he has only made 14 appearances so far (Strahan achieved his record at 16 games).
Prediction: The Steelers beat the crows limping, that he would still need extra help to make the playoffs even with a victory. But it won’t end up importing for Pittsburgh because of a game in Florida …
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1pm EST / 6pm GMT)
What the Colts must do to win: Appear? The Colts are a far superior team and are playing for a postseason spot rather than avoiding the worst record in the NFL. They just have to play like they’re not facing the biggest embarrassment of the season because if they sleepwalk through this game, the Jaguars will seize the opportunity to make their opponent the butt of the joke for a change.
What the Jaguars must do to win: Can they? Let’s face it: This game would be the Jaguars’ Super Bowl if they could win it. Sure, the organization would rather have the top pick in this year’s draft, but no NFL team wants to go to that well two years in a row. It would be a sign of a failure for the franchise to capitalize on Trevor Lawrence’s landing with the first overall pick last year.
Key Player: Jonathan Taylor, running back, Indianapolis Colts. Aaron Rodgers has probably already secured a second straight MVP, but there are still plenty of opportunities for Taylor to get a solid runner-up putting together another game of racing over 100 yards.
Prediction: Colts win and clinch a playoff spot.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 4.25 pm EST / 9.25 pm GMT)
What the Saints must do to win: First of all, they must hope the Falcons are out and not exhausted in a game that means nothing to them. Assuming Atlanta plays a competitive game, the Saints will have to hope to get something out of their shaky quarterback position. Can Taysom Hill Really Be Her Man?
What the Falcons must do to winTechnically, the Falcons ‘season is over, but spoilers can play here, ending the Saints’ attempts to sneak into the postseason. As with the Jaguars, the issue could be both one of will and one of skill (although the team has already gone 0-2 against Hill as owner; they may want to avoid the 0-3 just for pride).
Key Player: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons. Here’s an interesting Atlanta-centric subplot for this game, It could be Ryan’s last game as a Falcons quarterback.. If so, it would be nice to end with a win at your home stadium.
Prediction: Falcons win, ending the Saints’ playoff chances.
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (Sunday, 4.25pm EST / 8.25pm GMT)
What the 49ers must do to win: In this point, an injury to Jimmy Garoppolo it means they haven’t announced a starting quarterback yet. Whether he ends up being Garoppolo or Trey Lance, the Niners must seize the opportunity and not give head coach Mike Shanahan a chance to regret his choice.
What the Rams must do to winLos Angeles have to be laser-focused and avoid looking at the scoreboard if they want to clinch the division with a win. Even with a loss, the Rams can still win the division. if the Arizona Cardinals lose to the Seattle Seahawks. Oh, and there’s the ball safety issue: if Matthew Stafford has another game of multiple interception, this is probably a quick close.
Key player: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams. The current Defensive Player of the Year has a high chance of winning the award one more time. A few big plays to help your team achieve a division title won’t affect your position.
Prediction: Rams beat the 49ers, still slipping into the playoffs thanks to the loss of the Saints and other extenuating circumstances.
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders (Sunday, 8.20 pm EST / Monday 1.20 am GMT)
What the Chargers must do to winThis is how the league designed it when they came up with the idea for a Week 18 game: a chance to end the season with an old-fashioned win-and-go contest. The Chargers, as always, will rely on the dynamic arm of their quarterback (in this case, it’s Justin Herbert rather than Philip Rivers) and will seek to separate their opponents. If there’s one thing any Chargers fan wants to see, it’s his team in a one-score game late in the fourth quarter.
What the Raiders must do to win: The Chargers are a more talented team than these Raiders, but like Vegas they will play at home against a team prone to late-game mistakes. The Raiders can’t exactly play conservatively, but they will have to play smart, error-free football.
Key Player: Derek Carr, QB, Las Vegas Raiders. At this point, Carr is a known entity. He’s an average quarterback in the league who will have both good and bad games. This is your bright moment to put together a performance of the highlights.
Prediction: It wouldn’t be a Chargers season without a last-minute meltdown. The Raiders win, probably with a last-minute field goal, and advance to the playoffs as the Chargers go home.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism