We've reached the final week of the regular season in the NFL and there is still plenty to be decided as the playoff race reaches a conclusion. Richard O'Hagan has your guide to all the important games
It's the final week of the regular season in the NFL. Rarely - at least in recent times - has Week 17 arrived with so much at stake for so many teams. Even in the AFC, where we now know the six playoff sides, there is still plenty to be settled in terms of who plays who, where and when.
Even more intriguing, especially from a betting point of view, is the NFC. Atlanta sewed up the top seed position last weekend, meaning they not only get a first round bye in the playoffs but then get to play every game at home, but beneath them only Green Bay have won their division outright, leaving two more divisions and two more playoff berths undecided.
In the NFC West it is a straight fight to the title - and therefore a home game to open the playoffs. San Francisco hold a half-game advantage over Seattle by virtue of their 'sister-kisser' tie with St Louis earlier in the season. Both sides are at home, with the Seahawks playing the Rams and the Niners hosting Arizona. Both should win, but Seattle have looked the stronger side in recent weeks and should come into the playoffs with the greater momentum. They might just be a surprise winner of the NFC.
Kicking off at the same time as those two will be Green Bay's NFC North tie at Minnesota. The Packers need a win to secure a bye in the opening round of the playoffs whilst the Vikings will also be going hard for victory as defeat could see them lose a playoff slot to Chicago. If Green Bay lose then the bye will go to whoever wins the NFC West and Chicago will be out even if they do win. With so much to play for, home field advantage and the remarkable Adrian Peterson still chasing the regular season rushing yards record Minnesota look handily priced at 2.427/5 to beat Green Bay.
The Bears, meanwhile, could slip into the post-season despite having turned in only one decent game since Week 9. Fortunately for them it was last week against the Cardinals and they face even weaker opposition on Sunday when they visit Detroit, who have lost all five matches against NFC North rivals this year. They should win but need the Vikings to lose as well, though, so their efforts may be forlorn anyway. It's been a remarkably bad second-half of the season for Chicago.
The most important game in the NFC, though, is the very last one. Washington host Dallas in a 'winner-takes-all' contest for the NFC East. Whoever wins takes the division and makes the playoffs. If Dallas lose their season is over. If Washington lose then they need both Chicago and Minnesota to do the same to sneak 6th seed in the NFC. The big thing in Dallas' favour is that they have been here before. Twice in recent seasons they have needed to win their final game to make the playoffs. The big thing against them is that they lost both of those games, including last season's. I don't expect lightning to strike for a third time and even as outsiders I would still take the 2.546/4 on offer for them to beat Washington.
In the AFC it is all about jockeying for position this week. Indianapolis and Cincinnati both secured the wild card spots in the conference last weekend, the Bengals looking pretty impressive in grinding out the win that kept Pittsburgh out of contention. Houston and Denver have those opening round byes in their grasp and just need to beat the Colts and Chiefs respectively to retain them. It should be an easy win for the Broncos but the Texans will need to be wary against a Colts side who look better every week, especially after some shaky recent performances of their own. If either slip up then New England will take their bye by beating Miami.
What makes all of this even more interesting from a betting point of view is that there is a chance now to secure some really good odds on certain sides becoming conference champions and playing in the Super Bowl. Those odds might shorten on NFC sides once the weekend is over, but in the AFC there should be little difference as the contenders are now known.
Moreover, a bye week might benefit teams with settled line-ups like Green Bay and New England, but the likes of Houston and San Francisco, who are less consistent and who have had to make key personnel changes, might lose rhythm and momentum. Conversely, sides like the Bengals and Redskins, who are younger and who have less experienced quarterbacks, might not be at a disadvantage by playing next weekend anyway. New England at 3.3512/5 look good value to win the AFC and Green Bay at 3.9n/a still look the best value bet to win the NFC.
Back Minnesota to beat Green Bay @ 2.546/4