Chicago vs. Green Bay for the NFC North in Week 17. The best historic rivalry in the NFL, and a playoff spot on the line. All of us would have signed up for that before the season started.
There is a problem, of course. Neither team is all that good. The Bears, with a truly terrible defense, were beat 54-11 on Sunday night in Philadelphia. The Packers have played one good half of football, the second half comeback at Dallas, since Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Rodgers injured himself on Nov. 4. There has been a lot of mediocre to bad football played in Green Bay since then.
Still, one of these teams is going to the playoffs and the other will have its season end, and the fans of the winning side will have a lot of fun with that. And even though these are two flawed teams, there's plenty of interest.
Chicago might not have a good defense, but the offense is very strong. The Bears are one of four teams in the NFL averaging 6 yards per play. Matt Forte is a dangerous back and it's very difficult to defend super-sized receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Coach Marc Trestman, hailed as an offensive genius, has delivered on that promise for the Bears in his first season. That has made for some entertaining Bears games. They might not be an easy out in the playoffs.
The Packers have the Rodgers card. No contender wants to see the former NFL MVP in the playoffs. Although we have suffered through the "is this the week?" drama without Rodgers being cleared for a few weeks now, eventually the answer is going to be yes. Maybe it's this week, which would make Sunday's game much more interesting. It has been entertaining to watch the Packers try to stay afloat without him, even if their division mates' failures have helped. Green Bay is 2-5-1 without Rodgers, counting the game he got hurt. One of the wins was a one-point win at home against Atlanta, the tie was at home against Minnesota. Those two teams have a combined 8-21-1 record. So Green Bay hasn't done much right without Rodgers, but with one week left, they're still alive to host a playoff game as division champions.
So both teams go into Sunday's 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff playing for the division title. These rival teams are flawed, but that's part of what makes this game so intriguing.
Here are the other NFL games this week, from best to worst (all times Eastern, and in Week 17 all games are on Sunday):
2. Philadelphia at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.: Here's your other division championship game. The only problem is that Tony Romo reportedly won't play. Watching Kyle Orton lead the Cowboys would take some shine off of the NFC East title showdown.
3. San Francisco at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.: Arizona has proven it is a good team, and because of the schedule, the Cardinals will not be eliminated by kickoff. They need some help, but the only thing they can control is winning. Likewise, the 49ers will still be alive for the NFC West title when the game kicks off. So you'll get the best effort from two good teams.
4. Baltimore at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.: The early games are the showcase for the AFC's sixth seed. Three of the four teams alive for the final playoff spot play at 1 p.m., including the Ravens. Baltimore loses a three-way tie to the Dolphins, but wins a two-way tie with the Chargers or Dolphins. Got that? The Bengals are still alive for a first-round bye, so they won't be resting anyone.
5. N.Y. Jets at Miami, 1 p.m.: The Jets were eliminated, but you'd figure they give a good effort in what might be Rex Ryan's last game. The Dolphins are fighting for a playoff spot and trying to put last week's debacle at Miami behind them.
6. St. Louis at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.: The Rams should have beat the Seahawks once this season. Seattle can wrap up the NFC West and home-field advantage through the playoffs with a win, but that won't be easy.
7. Carolina at Atlanta, 1 p.m.: The Panthers can clinch a division title and a first-round bye with a win. The Falcons played the 49ers tough on Monday night, indicating this game might not be an easy one.
8. Tampa Bay at New Orleans, 4:25 p.m.: Surprisingly, the Saints could be bounced from the playoffs if they lose to the Buccaneers. And before dismissing Tampa Bay, they came very close to beating New Orleans earlier this season.
9. Buffalo at New England, 4:25 p.m.: The Patriots probably will need to win to clinch a first-round bye, and still are alive to get the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
10. Denver at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.: The Broncos can wrap up the first seed in the AFC with a win. They should beat the fading Raiders, but as we've learned the last few weeks in the NFL, you never know.
11. Kansas City at San Diego, 4:25 p.m.: The Chargers need the Ravens and Dolphins to both lose for this game to mean anything. The Chiefs are already locked into the No. 5 seed.
12. Cleveland at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.: The Steelers need to win and have the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers to lose to make the playoffs. But hey, there's a chance.
13. Jacksonville at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.: The Colts can still move up to the No. 2 seed and get a bye if the Bengals and Patriots lose and they beat the Jaguars. That's more than enough incentive for them to play hard, although maybe they revise that plan if the Bengals get out to an insurmountable lead.
14. Houston at Tennessee, 1 p.m.: Finally, our first game of Week 17 that we know for certain won't have any playoff implications. But, this one does matter. Houston clinches the first pick of the 2014 draft with a loss.
15. Detroit at Minnesota, 1 p.m.: It's hard to envision the Lions being very motivated, considering they were unceremoniously dumped from the playoff race last week.
16. Washington at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m.: With all the interesting games going on this week, why would anyone voluntarily watch this one?
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