By Don Banks | December 5, 2017 9:00 am PT
Only four weeks remain in the NFL’s regular season and nary a playoff berth has been clinched yet. After Monday night’s Pittsburgh at Cincinnati matchup, there will be just 64 games left on schedule. Here’s our breakdown of the 12 most intriguing games still to come in Weeks 14-17, in chronological order:
- Minnesota at Carolina — The 10-2 Vikings squeaked into the NFC’s top seeding slot by virtue of their gritty 14-9 win at Atlanta on Sunday combined with the Eagles loss at Seattle, but the challenges keep right on coming for Mike Zimmer’s club. Carolina slipped to the NFC’s No. 6 seed with its loss at New Orleans, and needs a win to keep wild-card hopefuls Atlanta (7-5), Green Bay, Dallas and Detroit (all 6-6) at bay.
- Oakland at Kansas City — The three-team battle royale that is the fascinating AFC West race commences in earnest. The Raiders (6-6) nipped the visiting Chiefs 31-30 in Week 7, in that Thursday night game that wouldn’t end, and now must cope with Arrowhead Stadium for the rematch. Kansas City (6-6) has dropped six of seven after starting 5-0, and must stop the bleeding now before all hope evaporates.
- Philadelphia at Los Angeles Rams — After looking mortal for the first time since Week 2 with that 14-point loss in Seattle Sunday night, the Eagles (10-2) are staying in So Cal all week to practice for their biggest game yet this season: a road showdown with the No. 3 seeded Rams (9-3). With a loss, Philadelphia would suddenly be in position of having to play a first-round game, rather than claim the bye that looked to belong to the Eagles for most of the season. Jared Goff versus Carson Wentz in a battle of the first two picks in the 2016 draft will get the full-blown hype-fest treatment.
- Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City — The Chargers are the hot team in the AFC West, having scratched their way to .500 at 6-6 after starting a disastrous 0-4. The Chiefs by comparison are reeling and this Saturday night game might represent last-chance territory for Kansas City if Andy Reid’s team loses at home to Oakland in Week 14. The Chiefs beat L.A. 24-10 on the road in Week 3, but that might as well have been last year when it comes to these two streaking teams.
- Los Angeles Rams at Seattle — Don’t sleep on Seattle. The plucky, resilient Seahawks (8-4) at the moment are just one game behind the first-place Rams in the NFC West, and already own a head-to-head win against their division rivals, courtesy of a 16-10 road victory in Week 5. With a series sweep, Seattle would in essence own a one-game lead in the West with two weeks remaining. Do the proud old Seahawks have one more Super Bowl run in them?
- New England at Pittsburgh — Depending on if the Steelers took care of business against the Bengals and Ravens in Weeks 13-14, this game, as Mike Tomlin predicted, sets up as the game of the year in the AFC, deciding who will own the top seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Patriots have owned the Steelers in the Brady-Belichick era and are undoubtedly in their heads. Can Pittsburgh flip the script and ensure the January rematch is at Heinz Field?
- Atlanta at New Orleans — These two division rivals are also playing in Week 14 in Atlanta, but if the Falcons can hold serve at home, the rematch will be the bigger game. Remember, the past two NFC champions have come out of the NFC South after finishing at .500 or below the previous season: Atlanta in 2016 and Carolina in 2015. Can the resurgent Saints keep that trend alive, after their third consecutive 7-9 finish a year ago?
- Los Angeles Rams at Tennessee — An interesting inter-conference matchup that should help determine the potential January strength and readiness for both of these current first-place clubs. The Rams haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, the Titans since 2008. But both are well on their way to snapping those embarrassing streaks, thanks in part to young quarterbacks Jared Goff and Marcus Mariota, a couple of ex-Pac 12 passers who have made good.
- Oakland at Philadelphia — On Christmas night, we’ll get another high-profile inter-conference showdown that should have significant playoff berth and seeding implications. The Eagles haven’t been beaten at home yet this season, and the combustible mix of Raiders and Eagles fans in a holiday setting could make for some fireworks. This game is a Super Bowl XV rematch that is still in play for a Super Bowl LII pairing.
- Carolina at Atlanta — Depending how the next three weeks unfold, this division rivalry could wind up being an elimination game for the loser, and punch a postseason ticket for the winner. The Panthers nipped the Falcons 20-17 at home in Week 9, but the New Year’s Eve crowd will be on Atlanta’s side this time around. It could be final stand time for the NFC defending champs, or put the Panthers back into the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl 50 loss to Denver.
- Jacksonville at Tennessee — The AFC South has never been a glamor division, but it might have a marquee matchup to culminate this year’s race between these two longtime stragglers turned contenders. The Titans won big in the first game in Jacksonville, cruising 37-16 in Week 2. But the Jaguars have grown up a lot since that meeting, and have a stellar defense that could pose a major challenge to Tennessee’s run-first offense. Both these club are likely playoff bound, but the difference between a first-round home game and having to go the wild-card route on the road is huge.
- Oakland at Los Angeles Chargers — It would only be fitting if the wild, wild AFC West race (mild, mild?) came down to the Raiders and Chargers on the last day of the regular season, in the bandbox stadium in Carson that Los Angeles now calls home. Would Raiders fans out-number Chargers devotees? And could the Chargers team that started the season 0-4 cap its three-month rally by winning and returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2013? Or will Oakland seize the day and the division, weaving a comeback saga of its own after its dismal 4-6 start?