The early run features the AFC playoff potentials as well as some clarity to the 2015 NFL Draft order. Here's what we've got:
San Diego Chargers (9-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7)
Another week 17 Bolts-Chiefs matchup with playoffs on the line, another late season start for Chase Daniel...what are the chances. San Diego can seal their spot at the back of the AFC playoff lineup with a win. A loss leaves the door open for Baltimore, Houston and...Kansas City. KC's sitting behind everyone, so they'll need the stars to align in a special way to make it in.
Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)
Baltimore's Week 13 loss to San Diego is the separator between the two as of now. Should the Chargers lose, the Ravens can win their way into a wild card spot with a performance against the drama-laden Browns. Just less than two months ago, Cleveland was sitting at 6-3 eyeing a playoff run. A six-game stretch in which they went 1-5 ended those hopes. Throw in Johnny Manziel (fined this week for being late to a treatment session on his injured hamstring) and Josh Gordon (suspended this week for missing a mid-week walkthrough practice), and the Browns are crashing into the offseason on fire...and not in the good Marv Albert kind of way.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) at Houston Texans (8-7)
Houston's the fourth team in contention for that last AFC spot. They'll need Baltimore and San Diego to both lose, but anything's possible. Jacksonville of course is assured a top 5 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Should Houston get this one, Jacksonville likely lands the #3 slot, the same space they were in earlier this year when they drafted QB Blake Bortles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-13) at New Orleans Saints (6-9)
Tampa's in line for the #1 overall pick in the draft...and seemingly in position for the QB of their choice in four months time.
Tennessee Titans (2-13) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
The Titans, on the other hand, would be subject to wait for Tampa's pick to put theirs in at #2. Would that mean they get the other option between Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston? Indy, for their part, is just warming up for the playoffs.
Dallas Cowboys (11-4) at Washington (4-11)
Ah, how 12 months can change things. The Cowboys are now closing out one of their best seasons with their first double-digit winning column since 2009. Of course, they'll be judged on how they performs in January, but they've achieved quite a bit in just getting themselves there. Washington is a hot bucket of donkey piss. They cut off their six-game win streak with a win last week against Philadelphia which has taken them out of the top five of the draft order. They're still assured the final spot in the NFC East though, so their 2015 schedule should set up nicely.
New York Jets (3-12) at Miami Dolphins (8-7)
Why would you?
Chicago Bears (5-10) at Minnesota Vikings (6-9)
Ahem. Why would you?
Buffalo Bills (8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3)
This one's just too sad for me. The Bills are one of those teams I always pull for because, well, I just feel bad for the city of Buffalo. And they were so close this go round, even without a real QB to hang their hat on. New England, meanwhile, has once again cemented themselves at the top of the AFC. This Bill Belichick-Tom Brady combo may just work out...
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at New York Giants (6-9)
Oh, Philadelphia. You were the darling of the forward-thinking cognoscenti among NFL fans hoping Chip Kelly would usher in an era of creativity and an eschewing of the traditional for the potential of the new. Then you pulled off a three-game losing streak in December: at home against Seattle, at home against Dallas and on the road out here in D.C. Formidable collapse.