The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders match-up on Thursday does not have play-off implications, but it is noteworthy for a couple of reasons.
The most obvious is that it might be the last meeting between the two AFC West rivals in Oakland. Both teams, along with the St Louis Rams, are candidates for possible relocation to Los Angeles, as early as next season. Both the Chargers and Rams won their home finales last weekend and the Raiders hope to do the same on Thursday in what promises to be an emotional occasion.
Charles Woodson, who spent 11 of his 18 NFL seasons wearing the Silver and Black, announced his retirement on Monday. Woodson said he wanted to make the announcement before the team's final home game so the fans would know they were seeing him for the final time at O.co Coliseum. Another thing to watch is the possibility that Woodson plays some snaps on offence.
Woodson and the Raiders defence will contend with an inconsistent Chargers offence that is capable of putting up big numbers, and is coming off one of their best games of the season. The Chargers whipped the Miami Dolphins last Sunday with scatback Danny Woodhead scoring four times.
Defences have largely dominated Thursday night games this season, but the Raiders can score plenty of points with offensive weapons in quarterback Derek Carr, receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts and running back Latavius Murray.
While Thursday's game does not impact the post-season picture, plenty of Sunday games do with only two weeks remaining in the season. There are two spots still open in the NFC and four AFC spots up for grabs, and no team has yet to lock up a seed.
Washington Redskins (7-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-8), Saturday, 8.25pm. ET
It is pretty simple for Washington -- win Saturday and clinch the NFC East. The Eagles have other plans and can win the division with wins over the Redskins and New York Giants, who play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night. If the Redskins lose Saturday and then next weekend at Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles-Giants game at the Meadowlands could decide the division.
The Redskins hope to eliminate all of those scenarios by taking advantage of an Eagles defense that ranks 29th in yards allowed and 27th in points. The Redskins have ended the post-season dreams of the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills in the last two weeks and can do it again on Saturday. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is playing his best football of the year, throwing for 619 yards with five touchdowns and only one interception the last two weeks.
The Eagles have lost four of six and have allowed 40 or more points in three of those losses, including last Sunday's 40-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Quarterback Sam Bradford went over 3,000 yards for the season last week, but the Eagles have had issues running the ball all year. The good news is Philadelphia will be facing the NFL's fifth-worst run defence. The bad news is Chip Kelly is not calling very many rush plays and that has leading rusher DeMarco Murray, who has just 606 yards, very disgruntled.
Carolina Panthers (14-0) at Atlanta Falcons (7-7), Sunday, 1pm. ET
If there was any chance the Panthers were going to rest their starters after last Sunday's win over the Giants, it was eliminated after the Cardinals whipped the Eagles on Sunday night. The Panthers have yet to clinch homefield throughout the NFC play-offs and are still chasing perfection.
The Panthers have held the mantra, "Keep Pounding" all season, so do not expect them to take their foot off the gas -- even against a Falcons team they beat 38-0 just two weeks ago. The Falcons will be facing a motivated Josh Norman, who drew three -- and could have been more -- personal foul penalties against New York's Odell Beckham Jr. Falcons receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones gave Norman some bulletin board material this week by saying Norman is not that tough despite shutting down every receiver he has faced this season, save maybe New Orleans Saints' Brandin Cooks.
The Panthers will secure homefield throughout the play-offs and should be able to do so even at the Georgia Dome, where the Panthers easily won 34-3 last December to clinch the NFC South for the second straight season. The Panthers became the first team to win the division in three straight seasons since NFL realignment in 2002. Against a once-stout Falcons defence, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a perfect quarterback rating in the December 13 win while Carolina rolled up 142 rushing yards.
It wll be another difficult outing for the Falcons with a struggling offense that has scored more than 20 points just three times since starting the season 5-0. The Panthers, meanwhile, have scored 33 points or more in their last five games and have not been held under 20 points all season.
New England Patriots (12-2) at New York Jets (9-5), Sunday, 1pm. ET
If the play-offs started today, the Jets would be out of the play-offs. With two games remaining against AFC East rivals New England and Buffalo, the Jets are essentially in a must-win situation to try to move ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs for one of the AFC's two wildcard spots.
The Patriots have already locked up the AFC East, but also need to win to hold off the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos -- who play each other on Monday in Denver -- for the top seed in the AFC and homefield advantage throughout the play-offs. A win by New England will lock up homefield, which is important because they have never reached the Super Bowl in a season when they have not had a bye week.
The Jets, winners of four straight, are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. They are led by the NFL's fifth-ranked defense and will have to put pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots are beat up at receiver with a hobbled Danny Amendola as the top option. But New England still has tight end Rob Gronkowski, who may be the difference against the Jets defence, which kept the Brady in check in the first meeting until Brady, Amendola and Gronkowski heated up in the fourth quarter of the 30-23 win.
Green Bay Packers (10-4) at Cardinals (12-2), Sunday, 4.25 pm
The Packers have claimed a play-off berth, the next step is clinching the NFC North. The Pack maintained their one-game lead over the Vikings and can lock up the division with a win and a Vikings loss to the Giants on Sunday. Otherwise the division could come down to a winner-take-all game next weekend at Lambeau Field.
The Packers, who currently hold the number three seed, can still claim the two-seed and a first-round bye if they beat the Cardinals and Vikings and if the Cardinals lose next week to the Seattle Seahawks.
It will not be easy against a red-hot Cardinals offence led by quarterback Carson Palmer. The Cardinals have the NFL's top offence and will face a Packers defence ranked 17th overall. The Packers offence has not been the potent unit of years past, even with reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. But they may be able to find success against the Cardinals, who lost starting safety Tyrann Mathieu last Sunday with a season-ending ACL. The Cardinals rank seventh in total defense, but Mathieu was having a Pro Bowl-calibre season.
If the Packers can get the ground game going with Eddie Lacy and James Starks, they may be able to attack the middle of the field with tight end Richard Rodgers, who is second on the team with 50 receptions.