Sixteen games on the Week 17 schedule and only one game — the Green Bay Packers vs. the Detroit Lions — is of major postseason consequence. But as many as seven others can have an impact on which teams get in and/or how the final seeding shakes out.
Without counting the Packers and Lions, who technically can spoil each other, these are the teams that can — regardless of their own playoff destiny — ruin someone else’s season, in order of least significant spoiler to most.
7. New England Patriots
Week 17 Opponent: Miami Dolphins
Labeling the Patriots a “spoiler” is fairly laughable, but in the strictest interpretation they are. A Dolphins win, coupled with a loss by Kansas City would push Miami up from the sixth seed into the fifth. That’s not exactly a momentous shift, but it has its merits: facing Houston in the wild-card round, as a five seed, is preferable to facing Pittsburgh as a six seed. But because the Patriots have already clinched the division, clinch the top seed with a victory and Miami is also assured of a playoff spot, the “spoiler” rating in this game is comparably low.
6. San Francisco 49ers
Week 17 Opponent: Seattle Seahawks
In some ways, the chances of San Francisco “spoiling” anything is far more remote than New England doing so. While the Patriots gain nothing from winning on Sunday, the 49ers very well could lose something considerable should they pull off a remarkable upset at home. If the Cleveland Browns manage to defeat or even tie a Pittsburgh Steelers team that’s sitting at least three (Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell) essentials, the 49ers can steal the top pick in next year’s draft by losing to Seattle. And since the 49ers finally snapped their 13-game losing streak last week they’ve (barely) avoided a totally calamitous, historically awful season already. Given how flat out bad the 49ers are — as unimpressive as they are on offense, they actually have statistically the worst defense in the NFL — it’s hard to imagine Seattle laying down when they have a shot to lock up the second seed, a postseason bye and a guaranteed second-round home playoff game.
5. Carolina Panthers
Week 17 Opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The odds of the Bucs reaching the postseason are already wafer-thin. To earn a playoff berth in his first year, coach Dirk Koetter needs not only a win over the Panthers, but for the Packers to lose, the Washington Redskins to tie and a bizarre combination of wins from Tennessee, Indianapolis, San Francisco and Dallas. So the Panthers “spoiling” anything is a longshot in its own right. Still, Carolina has plenty of reason to sell out. For a team that went 15-1 and reached the Super Bowl the previous season to lose double-digit games (the Panthers are currently 6-9) would be an immense embarrassment.
4. New Orleans Saints
Week 17 Opponent: Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons clinch a first-round bye with a victory over the Saints, and while the Saints can gain a small measure of respect by pulling even at .500, dealing their arch rival’s’ Super Bowl hopes a considerable blow is more significant. The best environment for a Saints surprise victory is a shootout in which the last team holding the ball wins. And with these two teams, that’s certainly plausible. In addition to combining for 9 offensive touchdowns in their Week 3 showdown, the Falcons (33.5 points per game) and Saints (29.1) are the NFL’s top-two scoring offenses. Just as relevant: both are in the bottom 10 in scoring defense, averaging 25-or-more points per game. In what could be coach Sean Payton’s final game at the helm, expect the Saints to empty the playbook in an effort to clinch an incredible eighth career passing yardage title.
3. New York Giants
Week 17 Opponent: Washington Redskins
Locked in as the five seed, the Giants can do nothing to improve their playoff seeding. So their only real motivation, other than tuning up for their wild-card visit to either Seattle or Atlanta, is knocking their rivals out of the playoff picture. With a Redskins win, they are most likely in, assuming the Lions-Packers game doesn’t end in a tie. But it’s worth mentioning that the Redskins defeated the Giants in Week 3, a game in which the offense redefined red zone incompetence: Not only did Eli Manning throw a brutal fourth quarter interception from the Redskins 15-yard-line, the Giants twice failed to score a touchdown from inside the 20, settling for field goals. In an effort to correct some of those mistakes — which have plagued the Giants all year — New York can also ruin the Redskins’ hopes of consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since the first Joe Gibbs Era.
2. Denver Broncos
Week 17 Opponent: Oakland Raiders
For the first time in six years, the Broncos have nothing to play for in Week 17. As Von Miller admitted, it’s an odd environment for the perennial Super Bowl contender. But their game is far from meaningless. A Broncos win, coupled with a Chiefs win, would hand the AFC West and the second seed to Kansas City. There’s no real silver lining in this scenario for Denver — either way, one of their hated division rivals benefits — but the Broncos have something to play for. Denver has just one win all year against their AFC West foes. Finishing 1-5 in a division they have owned since 2011 would be a remarkable 180-degree turn in the wrong direction. And considering how the Raiders offensive line manhandled the great Broncos defense (218 rushing yards, 30 first downs) in Week 9, expect Denver to show up.
1. San Diego Chargers
Week 17 Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs
This might well be the final game the San Diego Chargers ever play. And considering their current 4-game losing streak, punctuated by what happened last week in Cleveland, some might say good riddance. But this once-proud franchise does have a chance to give their few remaining fans a great sendoff. Not only would a win over the Chiefs avenge an absolutely brutal Week 1 loss that started San Diego down a miserable path that all but clinched their move out of town, but it would deal Kansas City a significant blow. The Chiefs can win the AFC West with a win and an Oakland loss. Without a handful of starters, and likely any support from the hometown crowd, the Chargers don’t pose much threat to a Chiefs team that is looking to sweep the division for the first time since 1995. But then again, no one really thought the Chargers would lose to the winless Browns.