Are you ready for some football?
Good luck finding some this Sunday.
The final week of the NFL regular season is typically one of compelling match-ups with serious playoff implications and a grand football feast for pigskin aficionados. But the final Sunday of the 2004 season may be the most feeble and meaningless in NFL history, not to mention a serious handicap – no pun intended – for the gambling community.
There are eight games Sunday – half the entire Week 17 schedule – in which none of the 16 teams involved has a single postseason motivation. These teams have either been eliminated altogether or have already locked in to a playoff position.
Four of those games pair some of the league's most inept teams in a slate of contests no one should be exposed to without a full-body chemical suit. The number of meaningless games may grow, as the outcome of two early games may render two late games irrelevant as far as the postseason picture is concerned. In other words, we may be looking at a final week of the NFL season in which 10 of 16 games have absolutely no material impact on the playoff picture.
To make matters worse, just two games in the final week pit contenders fighting for postseason survival. And even those two games with serious playoff ramifications come up short on the excitement meter: Three of the four teams involved have losing records and all three can win and still miss the playoffs.
Why the sorry state of the Week 17 schedule? Credit it to the sudden disappearance of parity in the NFL this season. Despite the woeful state of the NFC, there's been serious separation this season between the league's haves and have-nots. With a week to go, seven of 12 playoff seeds have been locked up and locked in with no room for movement.
At the other end of the power structure, 15 teams have no hope of making the playoffs. That leaves just 10 teams fighting for five open playoff spots (four of them the wildcard slots) in the final week. Only a single divisional title, the NFC West, remains up for grabs and it's quite possible that an 8-8 team will win it.
But whatever the reason, the bottom line is that all but the most hard-core football fan will have trouble finding a compelling reason to watch a full slate of games on Sunday.
To help guide you through this whimpering conclusion to the NFL season, we turned to the chairman of the Motion Pigskin Association of America, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, to rate each Week 17 contest.
Rated R: Requires Adult Football Fan Supervision
Four Week 17 games pit two teams with nothing to play for. You'll see bad teams battling good teams with little motivation to play their best ball or field their best players for any extended time.
Cincinnati (7-8) at Philadelphia (13-2) – The Bengals are out of the playoff picture. The Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed and homefield throughout the NFC playoffs a few weeks ago. They already began resting their stars in their Monday night loss to St. Louis. Of course, the Eagles would have been well served resting their stars a week earlier against Dallas, when Terrell Owens was injured.
Kansas City (7-8) at San Diego (11-4) – The Chiefs are out of the playoff picture. The Chargers clinched the AFC's No. 4 seed and can move no lower or higher. Maybe No. 1 draft pick Philip Rivers will get a chance to show the NFL what might have been had he reported to San Diego's training camp on time.
Green Bay (9-6) at Chicago (5-10) – The Packers clinched the NFC's No. 3 seed and can move no lower or higher. Ahman Green is among the Packers who are banged up and could use a Sunday of rest. The Bears have been eliminated from the playoffs.
San Francisco (2-13) at New England (13-2) – The 49ers have been eliminated from the playoffs. The Patriots captured the AFC's No. 2 seed and can move no higher or lower. The injury-ravaged Patriots will likely welcome the chance to sit their most important players for most, if not all, of the game.
Rated PG-13: Some Material May be Inappropriate for Pigskin Fans Under 13
The ranks of meaningless games may swell by two depending upon the outcome of some of the early games. These are the late games in which one team currently has no postseason motivation and the other may have none by kickoff time.
Atlanta (11-4) at Seattle (8-7) – The Falcons clinched the NFC's No. 2 seed and can move no lower or higher. They already went on vacation by sitting Michael Vick in a 26-13 loss to New Orleans in Week 16. Seattle has clinched at least a wildcard spot and may need a victory to capture the NFC West title. However, if St. Louis loses to the N.Y. Jets in an early game, Seattle wins the NFC West no matter the outcome of this game.
Jacksonville (8-7) at Oakland (5-10) – The Jaguars need a victory to be eligible for a playoff spot. The Raiders have been eliminated from the playoffs. However, if Buffalo beats Pittsburgh in an early game, Jacksonville will be eliminated from playoff contention and this late game will be rendered meaningless by kickoff.
Rated PG: Pigskin Guidance Suggested
There are four viewable games in which one team is motivated by postseason hopes to put forth their best effort. Unfortunately, these games also feature bad teams or teams who have locked up playoff spots and are likely to rest their top players. The sad state of Week 17 is exposed by the fact that these games may prove to be the week's most compelling contests.
Pittsburgh (14-1) at Buffalo (9-6) – The Steelers have clinched the No. 1 seed and homefield throughout the AFC playoffs. They also have a banged-up rookie phenom quarterback who probably won't even dress for the game. Buffalo needs a win – and some help – to have a shot at the playoffs.
Indianapolis (12-3) at Denver (9-6) – The Colts clinched the No. 3 seed in the AFC and can move no higher or lower. Peyton Manning has already captured the single-season TD pass record and is unlikely to see significant time. The Broncos earn an AFC wildcard spot with a victory.
Miami (4-11) at Baltimore (8-7) – The Dolphins have been eliminated from the playoffs. The Ravens need a victory and plenty of help (losses by Buffalo, Denver and Jacksonville) to earn an AFC wildcard spot.
Minnesota (8-7) at Washington (5-10) – The Vikings clinch an NFC wildcard slot with a victory. The Redskins have been eliminated from the playoffs.
Rated G: Suitable for All Football Audiences
It's truly sorry that the most compelling games the NFL has to offer in Week 17 feature three teams with losing records. And just when you thought it couldn't, it gets even worse: The Jets are the only "win and in" team involved in one of these games. The Saints, Panthers and Rams all need a victory and some help.
New Orleans (7-8) at Carolina (7-8) – Both teams need a victory – and then plenty of help – to earn an NFC wildcard spot.
N.Y. Jets (10-5) at St. Louis (7-8) – The Jets control their own destiny: win and their in. But even with a loss they can still make the playoffs provided Buffalo or Denver lose. St. Louis wins the NFC West with a victory and a loss by Seattle. They can capture a wildcard slot with a win and some help.
Rated NC-17: For Mature Visiting TV Audiences Only
Four games feature two teams out of the playoff picture.
Detroit (6-9) at Tennessee (4-11); Cleveland (3-12) at Houston (7-8); Dallas (6-9) at N.Y. Giants (5-10); Tampa Bay (5-10) at Arizona (5-10) – These games should be banned from public viewing. In fact, because of the NFL's local blackout rules, they may not be televised anywhere but the visiting markets. Be thankful you don't live in Detroit, Cleveland, Dallas or Tampa.