The final weekend of the NFL regular season is on the horizon, bringing an end to the battle for a spot in the playoffs or a better position in the draft. All will be decided this weekend but there is still plenty that is up in the air.
With three spots remaining in the playoffs, two in the AFC and one in the NFC, there is still the chance for the Superbowl dreams of many to continue – but the vast majority of the NFL’s 32 teams will bring an end to their season in the next few days.
We’ve delved into all of the fixtures below in our weekly preview.
Miami Dolphins (7-8) @ Buffalo Bills (5-10) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
Don’t expect a high-scoring affair in this tied as the Dolphins, with the 30th best offence in the NFL, tackle the 31st-ranked Bills. However, it should be the hosts that have the edge due to the fact that Miami also sit 30th in the rankings for both defence and passing.
On the other hand, the Bills have the second-best defence in the NFL and, on paper at least, should be able to secure an advantage. However, they are guaranteed to endure their sixth losing season since 2010 – a significant decline after making the playoffs last year.
Atlanta Falcons (6-9) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
Atlanta, who will host the Superbowl in February, enter the clash with the Buccaneers on the back of a two-match winning streak after victories against the Cardinals and the Panthers. With the eighth-best offence in the NFL and ranked fifth in passing stats, they have a solid platform to build upon during the offseason.
It will not be easy though against a Buccaneers side who have a solid offence, ranked third overall and first in passing stats. However, three defeats in a row have left their record looking very poor and there is a fair amount to sort in the months ahead amidst reports that wide receiver DeSean Jackson is seeking an exit.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 28, 2018
Dallas Cowboys (9-6) @ New York Giants (5-10) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
The Cowboys’ spot in the playoffs is secure with the fourth seed position and the most likely opponent for Dallas is the Seahawks, although there is still a chance they could clash with the Vikings. First up for the NFL’s sixth-best defence is a trip to tackle the Giants, a game where they will be expected to emerge victorious.
The Giants suffered a narrow defeat against the Colts last time out, a game which came off the back of a defeat to the Titans, and they are set to endure a losing season for the fifth time in six years – only showing a slight improvement from their 3-13 record last season.
Carolina Panthers (6-9) @ New Orleans Saints (13-2) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
The Panthers have witnessed a mediocre campaign this season but the fact they have the fourth-best rushing yards in the NFL does at least provide some encouragement, with Christian McCaffrey leading the way with 1080 – and also leading the team’s receiving yards with 845.
The Saints sealed their number 1 spot in the NFC last weekend with a victory over the Vikings and boast the best record in the NFL heading into the final weekend. Because of that, New Orleans are tipped by many as Superbowl favourites and they will be expected to finish the regular season with a win.
New York Jets (4-11) @ New England Patriots (10-5) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
The Jets have endured a poor season but the performances of young quarterback Sam Darnold are inspiring following a campaign that offered very little. With massive amounts of cap space in 2019 and currently sat in third spot in the 2019 draft, the Jets are ones to watch next year.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have not quite been at their brilliant best this season but another playoff adventure is set to begin with Tom Brady once again leading the charge. A strong offence has provided the platform for the Patriots but their defence needs to improve if they are to venture deep into the post-season campaign.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) @ Houston Texans (10-5) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
The Jaguars are another side with a poor record but one who has a decent platform to build upon in 2019, as they rank fifth defensively this season. Victory over the Dolphins last weekend will have raised spirits but a trip to Houston will not be easy.
The Texans are the outsiders in the hunt for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and first point of call will be securing a victory against the Jaguars, as they look to bounce back from their dramatic defeat to the Eagles last weekend.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) December 27, 2018
Detroit Lions (5-10) @ Green Bay Packers (6-8-1) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
Four defeats in the last five for the Lions have left their record looking rather poor and means Detroit will finish with a losing season for the first time since 2015. With work to do in the offseason, the fact that quarterback Matthew Stafford has hinted he wants to stay with the Lions for his entire career will provide a significant boost.
Meanwhile, the Packers will be excused for wondering what might have been if the narrow defeats to the Seahawks and the Cardinals over the course of the past six weeks had gone their way. Their work for next season is already underway as initial interviews for their vacant head coach position have taken place.
Arizona Cardinals (3-12) @ Seattle Seahawks (9-6) (Sunday, 21:25 GMT)
It has been a season to forget for the Cardinals, who have the worst offence, rushing yards and passing yards in the entire NFL and will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Set to win four games or fewer for the first time since 2003, Arizona currently sit number one in the draft order for 2019.
In typical Seahawks fashion, Pete Carroll’s side lost to the 49ers two weeks ago but sealed their spot in the playoffs with a hard-fought victory over the Chiefs last weekend. It is a tremendous achievement for a side in the middle of a transitional period and not something many expected but the Hawks have found form after returning to their roots, ranking first in rushing yards this season.
San Francisco 49ers (4-11) @ Los Angeles Rams (12-3) (Sunday, 21:25 GMT)
The 49ers have shown improvements in recent weeks, notably during the victory over division rivals the Seahawks, but expect them to be swept aside by the Rams. Looking set for a high pick in the first round of the draft, the biggest needs are in defence as the offence has talent but has been decimated by injury issues.
The Rams brought an end to their recent blip by coasting past the Cardinals last weekend and need another victory to secure a first-round bye, although a tie would also be enough. With the second-best offence in the NFL, ranking fourth for passing and third for rushing, it should be a comfortable win for the home side.
Los Angeles Chargers (11-4) @ Denver Broncos (6-9) (Sunday, 21:25 GMT)
With a top-ten offence and defence, the Chargers will enter the playoffs looking like a very capable outfit and have a chance of securing the 1st seed in the AFC if they win and the Chiefs lose. However, the latter seems unlikely and a spot in the wildcard round.
The Broncos have suffered three consecutive defeats against the Raiders, Browns and 49ers, which leaves them set for their second losing season in a row. Since winning the Superbowl in 2015, the Broncos have been unable to secure a return to the playoffs and now have to wait until 2018.
Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) @ Washington Redskins (7-8) (Sunday, 21:25 GMT)
A dramatic victory over the Texans last week kept the Eagles hopes of clinching a spot in the playoffs, and an extension of the defence of their Superbowl title, alive. To advance into the postseason, they need to beat the Redskins and also need the Bears to do them a favour against the Vikings.
Over the course of the past six weeks, the Redskins have seen their hopes of reaching the playoffs shattered after only managing to defeat the Jaguars during that stint. In fact, five of their eight losses this season have come since mid-November – a significant decline for a side that was 6-3 prior to that sequence.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1) (Sunday, 21:25 GMT)
The Bengals enter the final weekend of the season with the worst defence in the entire NFL and will finish the campaign with a losing record for only the second time since 2010 – following on from their 6-9-1 record last year, which shows there has not been too much in the way of improvements this term in Cincinnati.
The Steelers are still alive in the playoff hunt and, with a top-ten offence and defence, are certainly a capable side. However, they need to win and hope the Ravens do not secure victory if they are to seal the AFC North title. If they win and the Titans were to draw with the Colts in the late game, the Steelers would advance to the playoffs.
Chicago Bears (11-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1) (Sunday, 21:25 GMT)
Another game where a high score should not be expected is between the Bears, who have the fourth-best defence, against the third-best defence boasted by the Vikings. The Bears need a win and for the Rams to slip up against the 49ers to seal a first-round bye.
Meanwhile, the Vikings still have work to do if they are to reach the playoffs for the third time in four seasons and a win against the Bears would send them through. However, a defeat would leave the door open for the Eagles.
Oakland Raiders (4-11) @ Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) (Sunday, 21:25 GMT)
The Raiders have made only one playoff appearance since 2003, which came in 2016, and another absence from the postseason awaits in Oakland. The Raiders have three first-round picks in the 2019 draft and have plenty of room to improve upon, having finished with a losing record in six of the last seven seasons.
The Chiefs’ defeat to the Seahawks last weekend left some work to do to seal home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but a victory against Oakland would be enough. With the best offence in the league, the Chiefs should secure a comfortable win at home against the Raiders.
Patrick Mahomes can become just the second QB ever to throw for 5,000 passing yards and 50 passing touchdowns in one season. #MVPat@ChiefsReporter provides all the records you need to look out for on Sunday ⬇️ https://t.co/yoDJ43JwOe
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 28, 2018
Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (9-6) (Sunday, 21:25 GMT)
The Browns have improved significantly this season, with Baker Mayfield proving to be a stellar recruit, and a win against the Ravens would see Cleveland finish the campaign with a winning record for the first time since 2007.
However the Ravens, with the best defence in the NFL, will be expected to secure a victory that would see the AFC North title head to Baltimore for the first time since 2012 – the year the Ravens also won the Superbowl. A first-round bye is still possible but unlikely.
Indianapolis Colts (9-6) @ Tennessee Titans (9-6) (Monday, 01:20 GMT)
Undoubtedly the biggest clash of the week comes in the late window, as the Colts and the Titans clash in Tennessee in what is essentially a playoff game of its own. The Colts will know that a tie could be enough if the Steelers failed to win or if the Ravens lost and have the advantage in recent history having lost just three of the 17 meetings since 2010.
However, the Titans have won two of the last three clashes with the Colts and will be seeking revenge after losing 38-10 in Indianapolis last month. Either way, Tennessee will finish with a winning record for the third season in a row.