Rather than give you five games to watch (FTW!) this week, we figured it’d be more helpful to simply rank all of the games in order of importance/intrigue level. Awesomely, 13 of the 16 games have something rather significant on the line, whether it’s a playoff spot, a playoff seed or a top draft pick.
(Team rankings are based on our latest power rankings.)
1. No. 9 Cowboys at No. 18 Giants (Sunday, 8:20 ET on NBC) – Two massive markets with the playoffs on the line in prime time. The winner earns the right to host either the Lions or Falcons on wild-card weekend.
2. No. 5 Ravens at No. 13 Bengals (Sunday, 4:15 ET on CBS) – Baltimore will probably need the victory to wrap up the AFC North and a first-round bye, while Cincinnati will probably need the victory to wrap up a playoff spot. So it’s basically a do-or-die situation in Cincy, where they’ve actually sold out the biggest game of the year. It’ll be interesting to see how a young Bengals team led by a rookie quarterback handles the pressure.
3. No. 24 Chiefs at No. 14 Broncos (Sunday, 4:15 ET on CBS) – Kyle Orton can play spoiler for the second time in three weeks. After ruining Green Bay’s perfect season, he and the Chiefs can eliminate his former team if they beat them in Denver and the Raiders can take care of San Diego at home.
4. No. 22 Chargers at No. 21 Raiders (Sunday, 4:15 ET on CBS) – Good week for CBS in the late time slot. As mentioned, the Raiders need to win and get help, but San Diego’s season is done and Oakland has won three straight against the Bolts.
5. No. 19 Titans at No. 15 Texans (Sunday, 1:00 ET on CBS) – Good week for CBS, period, with so many AFC teams still alive. If all of the favorites in the AFC playoff picture win and the underdogs lose, the Titans are the conference’s sixth seed, meaning they’d be back in Houston on wild-card weekend.
6. No. 29 Colts at No. 28 Jaguars (Sunday, 1:00 ET on CBS) – Jeez, even CBS’s bad games are interesting, with the top pick in the 2012 NFL draft on the line in Jacksonville, where an Indy win would probably cost the team Andrew Luck. Strangely, the Jags are a 3.5-point favorite, even though the Colts have won back-to-back games.
7. No. 6 Steelers at No. 30 Browns (Sunday, 4:15 ET on CBS) – The Bengals proved in Week 11 that they can go toe-to-toe with Baltimore, and they’re at home this week. So there’s a chance this Pittsburgh-Cleveland game could decide who wins the AFC North. And considering the half-decent performance from Cleveland against the Steelers in Week 14, this might not be a blowout (especially if Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t suit up).
8. No. 26 Bills at No. 4 Patriots (Sunday, 1:00 ET on CBS) – New England can lock up the top seed, but Buffalo beat the Pats earlier in the year and played surprisingly well in Week 16. Although the Patriots should still win handily, it’ll also be fun to watch Tom Brady as he pursues 5,000 yards, Dan Marino’s 5,084 and maybe even Drew Brees’ record.
9. No. 20 Jets at No. 17 Dolphins (Sunday, 1:00 ET on CBS) – Considering that the Jets are still in the playoff race, this one’s ranked quite low. But considering what New York also needs to happen if they beat the Dolphins, Titans-Texans and Colts-Jaguars might be better 1:00 games to focus on.
10. No. 12 Panthers at No. 2 Saints (Sunday, 1:00 ET on Fox) – This probably won’t mean anything as far as playoff positioning goes, but Brees will likely set the new single-season passing yards mark. Plus, it’s a good matchup between two hot teams with superstar quarterbacks.
11. No. 3 49ers at No. 32 Rams (Sunday, 1:00 ET on Fox) – Hard to believe the Rams upset the Saints back in Week 8. Now, they can make it up to New Orleans by upsetting the Niners to give the Saints a chance to secure a first-round bye. Don’t get your hopes up, Cajun folk.
12. No. 7 Lions at No. 1 Packers (Sunday, 1:00 ET on Fox) – Detroit just has to beat a Packers team with nothing to play for in order to grab the No. 5 seed in the NFC. That’s huge, because I’d much rather face the Giants or Cowboys than the Saints or 49ers.
13. No. 31 Buccaneers at No. 8 Falcons (Sunday, 4:15 ET on Fox) – But if the Lions lose to Green Bay, Atlanta will only have to beat the terrible Bucs to grab that fifth spot.
14. No. 11 Seahawks at No. 16 Cardinals (Sunday, 4:15 Et on Fox) – No playoff implications after both were eliminated last week, but it’s still a solid divisional matchup between two of the league’s hottest teams. They’ll both be contenders in 2012.
15. Tie between No. 27 Redskins at No. 10 Eagles (Sunday, 1:00 ET on Fox) & No. 23 Bears at No. 25 Vikings (Sunday, 1:00 ET on Fox) – Don’t you dare watch either of these games.