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Two Playoff Spots Are Still Up for Grabs & Other Things To Know About NFL Week 17

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers
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Each conference has a playoff spot open as the NFL readies for its final week of the 2014 regular season. Here are this week’s most interesting storylines.

Sun. Dec. 28

The Chargers Control The AFC Wild Card Race

San Diego at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Cleveland at Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Jacksonville at Houston | NRG Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Philip Rivers
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San Diego (9-6) is in line to grab the last AFC playoff spot. All the Chargers have to do is beat the Chiefs…something they couldn’t do in a 23-20 Week 7 loss. Kansas City (8-7) can still make the playoffs with a win and losses by the Ravens and Texans.

Because they lost to San Diego in Week 13, Baltimore (9-6) needs a win over Cleveland (7-8) plus a Chargers loss — or a tie with the Browns plus a Chargers loss. Houston (8-7) needs to beat punch-less Jacksonville (3-12) and hope for both the Ravens and Chargers to lose.

Confused? You should be. The NFL’s playoff scenarios are a reminder that football games are more fun on the field.

The NFC South Title Game Could Be Ugly

Carolina at Atlanta | Georgia Dome; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Cam Newton
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The Panthers and the Falcons both stink. By all rights, these teams should be preparing for the NFL Draft instead of the NFL playoffs. Nevertheless, Carolina (6-8-1) and Atlanta (6-9) duel in the Georgia Dome on Sunday for the NFC South title.

The Falcons edged the Panthers, 19-17, in Week 11. Atlanta settled for field goals on most of their drives that day, and they could again run into problems against Carolina’s solid pass defense in Week 17. The silver lining for Matt Ryan and Co. is that the Panthers don’t have any consistent offensive contributors other than Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. The pressure may shift to an ever-exciting war of field position and field goals. Ugh.

The Lions Are Good Enough To Win At Lambeau

Detroit at Green Bay | Lambeau Field; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions
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The NFC North title comes down to this: Lions vs. Packers at Lambeau Field. Frozen Tundra, “seal here and a seal here…,” blah, blah, blah. Green Bay’s legacy aside, Detroit (11-4) can play with the Pack, because its defense is very good at getting pressure on the quarterback. In the Lions 19-7 win over the Packers in Week 3, Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit defensive front sacked Aaron Rodgers twice and held him to only 162 passing yards.

With a loss to Buffalo in Week 15 and a hard-fought victory over Tampa Bay last week, Green Bay (11-4) is staggering down the stretch. Rodgers is nursing a strained left calf and he could miss Sunday’s finale, but everyone expects him to play. The Packers need to protect the NFL MVP candidate so that he can restart the buzzsaw offense that powered the team to nine wins in 10 games earlier this season.

The Seahawks Want To Repeat

St. Louis at Seattle | CenturyLink Field; 4:25 (ET) on Fox
Arizona at San Francisco | Levi’s Stadium; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals
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No one wants to play the Seahawks right now, especially not at CenturyLink Field. But that’s where the NFC contenders will be headed if Seattle (11-4) beats St. Louis (6-9) on Sunday and wraps up home field advantage through the NFC title game. Securing that edge should make the defending champs the odds-on favorite to at least return to the Super Bowl.

If by some miracle the Rams beat the Seahawks, Arizona (11-4) can clinch the NFC West title with a win over San Francisco (7-8). The Cardinals are letting rookie quarterback Logan Thomas make his first NFL start in the regular-season finale against the Niners. Madness? Not really. Arizona head coach Bruce Arians is already down to third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley as his “starter.” Arians needs to know what Thomas can do in case he’s pressed into action in an upcoming playoff game .

The Bengals & Steelers Play For The AFC North Crown

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh | Heinz Field; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Le'Veon Bell
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As inconsistent as they’ve been in 2014, Cincinnati (10-4-1) is in control of their fate. If the Bengals can beat the Steelers on Sunday night, they’ll claim the AFC North crown. Cincy can get a first-round bye if they win and Denver loses against Oakland. The only problem is that the Bengals fell apart in the fourth quarter in a 42-21 loss to Pittsburgh (10-5) in Week 14.

Led by Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers ground game is the wild card for the whole AFC playoff field. When the Pittsburgh rushing attack is potent, it opens up lanes for the passing game and makes the Steelers contenders.

Other Games

Sun. Dec. 28
Dallas at Washington | FedEx Field; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants | MetLife Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Indianapolis at Tennessee | LP Field; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
N.Y. Jets at Miami | Sun Life Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Chicago at Minnesota | TCF Bank Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Buffalo at New England | Gillette Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
New Orleans at Tampa Bay | Raymond James Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Oakland at Denver | Sports Authority Field at Mile High; 4:25 (ET) on CBS

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