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Play-off permutations & what to look out for on final Sunday of regular season

January 6th, 2024

NFL 2023 regular season

Dates: 7 September 2023 – 7 January 2024

BBC coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and the BBC Sport website every Sunday.

Almost anything is still possible heading into the final week of the NFL regular season, with 20 of the 32 teams still in the hunt for the Super Bowl with five play-off spots and four divisional titles all up for grabs.

We are assured of a pulsating ending to a particularly thrilling campaign that saw 109 games won by six points or less – the second-most in NFL history – with 13 of the closing 16 games having direct play-off implications.

And since they are all divisional games it means there are some big rivalries taking place, some huge winner-takes-all matches and some complicated permutations to be figured out.

There’s also the prospect that one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, Bill Belichick, could be taking charge of his final game in New England.

Ravens & 49ers earn top seeds

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens have been the standout teams in the NFL this season, and the respective roads to the Super Bowl will go through them, as earning the top seeds means they will play at home throughout the play-offs.

Both sides also get the only first-round byes on offer, so as well as resting their top stars this week, they can kick back and relax next week as the remaining six teams from each conference fight it out in the wildcard round.

Play-off picture as it stands

AFC

Four teams have booked play-off spots with the Ravens, Chiefs and Browns already securing the first, third and fifth seed, while Miami face Buffalo in the game of the week.

One of the Jaguars, Texans and Colts will take fourth spot, with one of the other likely finishing seventh and the other missing out, while the Steelers need a lot to go their way to sneak in.

NFC

San Francisco occupy the Baltimore position as top dogs, while Dallas will finish second with a win but could swap places with Philadelphia if they lose and the Eagles win – and given how much better the Cowboys are at home than away then closing that out could be huge for their chances.

Tampa Bay need a win to clinch fourth, but defeat will open the door for the Saints and Falcons, who despite being 12th can still sneak in by winning their division.

Green Bay face a nice and simple win-and-in game but the Vikings need a win and a lot of help elsewhere to perform a minor miracle.

Buffalo v Miami headlines must-win games

The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins meet on SundayThe Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins meet on Sunday

The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins meet in the big game of the weekend

The Buffalo Bills have looked like one of the best teams in the league over the past month, but while they could win the AFC East by beating Miami, a defeat will see them miss out on the play-offs completely.

Quarterback Josh Allen has been back playing at MVP level but Miami have a high-powered attack and want a first division title since 2008 – plus the winner will grab the second seed and at least two home play-off games, which is a crucial advantage.

The Green Bay Packers will make the play-offs if they win at home against the Chicago Bears – who they have beaten in nine straight games – while a defeat leaves them looking for a ton of help.

Chicago have been in good form the second half of the season though and Justin Fields is playing to convince his team not to use the top pick of the 2024 Draft on a new quarterback.

His opposite number Jordan Love would love to succeed where Aaron Rodgers failed last season, when the Packers lost to the Lions in a similar scenario.

Both the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts have improved dramatically this year and the winner of their Saturday night game will advance while the loser goes home.

The victor could also win the AFC South if the Jacksonville Jaguars lose on Sunday, and they’re sweating over the fitness of their quarterback Trevor Lawrence before the game against the Tennessee Titans.

Is this Belichick’s final game with the Patriots?

New England Patriots head coach Bill BelichickNew England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick could be taking charge of his final New England Patriots game

The end of Bill Belichick’s 24th season in charge of the New England Patriots could well be his last as he has already secured his worst record in his 29-year head coaching career with 12 losses.

Snow is forecast in New England on Sunday, where defeat against big rivals the New York Jets, who Belichick’s team has beaten 15 times in a row, would just about cap a miserable ending to a legendary stay with the Pats.

“Well, I’ve always appreciated the opportunity, and I’m just looking forward to Sunday’s game against the Jets,” said Belichick when asked about his future on Friday.

“Like I said, trying to put our best game out there this year. That’s what we’re working towards.

“I’m sure there will be another time to talk about other things, but right now we’re just trying to focus on the Jets.”

With six Super Bowls under his belt Belichick will go down as one of the greats regardless of what happens, but even he sounds as though the end is near – and if he is to catch fellow coaching legend Don Shula for the most head coaching wins in NFL history, they may have to come away from New England.

All smiles for long suffering Browns & Lions

And finally, what about a word for the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions, the only two teams to ever go 0-16 in a season and two fanbases that have been starved of any kind of success.

The last time both sides made the play-offs in the same year was in 1994 (when Belichick was Browns head coach) and since then Detroit have an 0-6 play-off record and the Browns 1-2.

Detroit won their first divisional title since 1993 this year though, while Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has done wonders to get into the play-offs despite having to field four starting quarterbacks due to injuries.

The Browns are just the eighth team to make the play-offs using four starting quarterbacks, and they will be the first team in 35 years to start five when they rest their new hero, 2012 Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco, for their final game.

It just shows you that anything really can happen in the NFL, and with so much at stake across so many games there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns as the curtain comes down on another eventful regular season.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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