The NFL attempts to construct the Week 17 slate of games to ensure maximum drama. With eight games at 1:00 p.m. ET, seven at 4:25 p.m. ET, and a playoff play-in game between the Eagles and Cowboys at 8:30 p.m. ET, the league once again has done a great job of it.
But there’s one situation that will take a little excitement away from the final Sunday of the regular season. With a four-team scrum unfolding for the sixth seed in the AFC, the San Diego Chargers will know when their home game against the Chiefs begins at 4:25 p.m. ET (or not long after it starts, at the latest) whether a victory will propel the Chargers into the playoffs. Since the only way to avoid that would be to start the Chargers game at 10:00 a.m. local time, it’s an unavoidable complication.
The other three teams that make up the chase for the last golden ticket square off at 1:00 p.m. ET. If the Ravens or Dolphins win, the Chargers will know they can’t get in.
That said, the Chiefs-Chargers game will still carry some drama, if both the Ravens and Dolphins prevail in their early games. Under that scenario, a Chargers win sends Miami to the playoffs and a Chiefs win gives Baltimore the berth.
If the Ravens and Dolphins lose and the Steelers beat the Browns, a Chargers win gives San Diego the sixth seed; a loss hands it to the Steelers. If all three of the contenders lose their 1:00 starts, the Chargers remain win-and-in. A loss would give the spot to the Ravens.
Confused? Get used to it. Only one of 12 specific playoff seeds — the Chiefs with No. 5 in the AFC — have been locked in. By the time the Eagles-Cowboys game begins, the dust will have mostly settled.