Although the NFL season is composed of 17 weeks of football and 16 games per team, the season inevitably comes down to a handful of oh-so-important games. With only twelve playoff positions up for grabs, these are the most important games in the second half of the season.
Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs (11/17 & 12/1)
The Broncos and the Chiefs have yet to start their season series, but the hype is already building. The Broncos will be the favorite to win their first matchup, even if the Chiefs continue to go unbeaten. That being said, this is a battle of two completely different teams.
The Broncos will attempt to win and re-stake their claim as the AFC’s dominant team by running up a huge score. The Chiefs, however, will try to play defense and move the ball efficiently on offense. It’s been forever since we’ve seen such hype surrounding this matchup between two AFC West dandies. Both these teams are playoff bound, but seeding, and a first round bye, is on the line.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (11/4)
This primetime matchup is huge. The NFC North, with the exception of the Minnesota Vikings, is the most complete division in football. In a tight playoff race, winning the division will be the easiest route into the playoffs, and for the Bears, there’s no better way to make the postseason than by beating the Packers.
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears (11/10)
Just a week after seeing the Packers, the Bears will get a shot at the Detroit Lions. Not to beat a dead horse, but one can’t overstate the importance of NFC North divisional games. The Lions are charging hard at the moment, and they’re proving to be one of the better clutch teams in the league. The Bears have been steady throughout, leading to a clash of styles, which should make for a great game.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (11/10)
The Bengals are currently threatening to run away with the AFC North. With the Steelers and Browns drowning in their own incompetence, it’s up to the Ravens to pull the division back together into a competitive mass. This early November matchup will be the Ravens’ first, and likely only, opportunity to get back in the game. With a win, the Bengals will push their advantage in the AFC North to nearly an insurmountable point, making this one a game to circle on your calendar.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (12/9)
This is another game all about seeding. The Seahawks currently hold the inside line to a first-round bye week in the playoffs, but that could change very quickly if the 49ers can come back and play well enough to win their home game against the Seahawks.
For 49ers fans, the good news here is the difference in the Seahawks between playing at home and playing away from home. That difference will give the 49ers a chance to win the game and make the last few weeks a race to the finish in the NFC West. If, however, the Seahawks win, they’ll likely be carrying that 12th man advantage in the postseason.
Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears (12/9)
This game may be almost a full month before the postseason, but it’ll have all the hype and feel of a true elimination game, and it’s on Monday Night Football no less. The Cowboys and Bears are both fighting for wildcard spots and divisional championships at the same time. If the latter falls through, this will become an extremely important tie-breaking game.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (12/12)
The Chargers haven’t been dealt any favors by playing in the AFC West. Between the Chiefs and Broncos, there’s not a lot of room for the Chargers to make the postseason unless they’re able to beat divisional opponents. That’s what make this game so paramount, at least for San Diego. For the Broncos, this game may be all about seeding, but for the Chargers, it could be about getting into the party or being left out in the cold.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (12/29)
It’s impossible to tell just where the NFC North could be by the last Sunday of the year, but this week 17 game between divisional rivals could become a de-facto elimination game. We expect two teams to be sent to the playoffs from the NFC North, but with the Lions playing well, there’s no guarantees in one of the toughest divisions in football.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (12/29)
In what could become a divisional championship game, the Cowboys may have yet another late-season chance to win their way into the playoffs. By week 17, we expect the Eagles to be back on track. The only question is, will the Eagles play the role of the spoiler, or can they get themselves in position to make this a meaningful game for both teams involved?
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers (12/29)
It’s very possible, if not probable, that this will be a cleanup game for the Chiefs. They’ll likely be locked into a playoff spot, and depending on where other teams stand, they may be able to rest some of their starters.
The Chargers, by contrast, may need this game to sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard team. If that’s the case, expect Philip Rivers to be as fiery as ever in one of his biggest games in recent memory.