The NFL’s schedule changes for Week 18 will feature exactly what the league wanted: a Sunday night showdown for a playoff berth.
To finish off the NFL’s first 17-game season, the Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders game was flexed from daytime to primetime. Both AFC West rivals are 9-7 and the winner will advance to the postseason.
“Each week has a life of its own in the NFL. It’s having a life of its own since the beginning, and that’s the way we need to treat things around here,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “And the more, the longer that we’re here, the more people will realize that every week is going to feel like this coming week.”
Also in the mix for the final wild-card slot in the AFC — New England owns one of them — are the Colts, the Steelers and the Ravens. If Indianapolis wins next Sunday at Jacksonville, it’s in. Pittsburgh (7-7-1) must win out; it plays Monday night at home against Cleveland, then visits Baltimore (8-8) and still could fall short.
Baltimore needs all sorts of help, but is mathematically alive and must break a five-game slide on Sunday against Pittsburgh. The Ravens would get the nod if they finish at 9-8 with the Chargers and Colts because they swept the other teams. But if the Raiders are 9-8 along with Baltimore and Indy, Las Vegas goes for the same reason.
A Chargers loss eliminates them.
The league also switched two games from Sunday to Saturday. Kansas City, already the AFC West champion, will be at Denver, followed by Dallas at Philadelphia. Neither of those games has the strong postseason implications of Chargers-Raiders.
The Chiefs (11-5) could get the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a victory but would need Tennessee (11-5) to lose at Houston. Denver is out.
Dallas (11-5) has won the NFC East and Philadelphia (9-7) owns an NFC wild card.
The other games in Week 18 are AFC West champion Cincinnati (10-6) at Cleveland; NFC North winner and top seed Green Bay (13-3) at Detroit; Seattle at Arizona, which owns a wild-card berth at 11-5 and still could win the NFC West; New Orleans (8-8 and in the mix for an NFC wild card) at Atlanta; the New York Jets at AFC East leader Buffalo (10-6), who take the division with a victory; San Francisco (9-7 and also in contention for an NFC wild card) at NFC West leader Los Angeles Rams (12-4); New England (10-6), which still could win the AFC East with a victory at Miami and a Buffalo defeat; Carolina at NFC South winner Tampa Bay (12-4); Chicago at Minnesota; and Washington at the New York Giants.
There are more permutations that will make heads spin. For example:
— A four-way or five-way tie at 9-8 for wild cards is possible in the AFC. If the Dolphins and/or Browns also get to that record, the Colts have the edge based on best conference record.
— While the Saints have the edge on the Niners for an NFC spot at 9-8 based on a better conference record, in a three-way tie with the Eagles, Philly is in with the best conference record and then New Orleans gets the other berth over San Francisco.
— Finally, there are scenarios involving ties that even some of the teams might not be sure of.
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