What to watch for in NFL Sunday: Division titles, wild-card races hang in balance

Donnovan Bennett and Geoff Lowe get us set for the Week 16 matchup between the Rams and Seahawks, both like the Rams to bounce back after a horrible loss, and remind us why they're challenging for the NFC West division.

With just two Sundays left in the 2020 NFL regular season, it’s all about the push for the playoffs over the next seven days.

The action on Christmas Day and Boxing Day has already delivered plenty of drama, and Sunday is gearing up for more of the same.

So from No. 1 seeds to wild-card races, here’s what we’re watching for in the NFL on Sunday.

Chiefs, Packers can lock up No. 1 seeds

Under the new playoff format that sees seven teams from each conference qualify for the post-season, the No. 1 seed is more vital than ever as it represents the only team that will get the first round of the playoffs to rest up.

The teams in the driver’s seat for those coveted seeds are currently the Chiefs and Packers, and both can lock up a first-round bye on Sunday.

For Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, it’s simple: a win for heavily favoured K.C. at home against the Falcons and the defending Super Bowl champions will secure a weekend off.

With both the Bills and Steelers two games behind the Chiefs, if Andy Reid’s team somehow doesn’t get it done this weekend against the Falcons, they’ll have another chance next weekend with a victory over the Chargers.

Unlike the Chiefs, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will need some help in order to clinch the top seed in the NFC.

A win over the Titans in a tough Sunday night matchup in Green Bay would not be enough, as the Pack need the Seahawks to drop their crucial NFC West clash against the Rams (more on that later).

With Seahawks-Rams scheduled to kick off at 4:25 p.m. ET, Rodgers and Co. will know before the Sunday nighter gets underway at Lambeau Field if they’ll have a chance to clinch the NFC’s top seed.

MVP watch continues

Speaking of the Chiefs and Packers, Mahomes and Rodgers are also the frontrunners in the 2020 MVP race. So as their teams battle to secure the No. 1 seeds in the NFL, keep an eye on how the two signal-callers are performing in what could end up being a pretty tight battle for MVP.

According to Odds Shark, Mahomes is the favourite heading into Week 16's Sunday action at -300, while Rodgers trails as second-favourite at +260. Bills standout quarterback Josh Allen rounds out the top three at +900.

Via Odds Shark

Mahomes is undoubtedly in pole position to win the second MVP award of his short-yet-stellar career, but this race is far from finished.

Four division titles hang in the balance

The New Orleans Saints’ huge win over the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day, fuelled by a historic Alvin Kamara performance, wrapped up the NFC South title for the Saints and clinched the fourth division title of the season.

That means half of the division crowns still hang in the balance heading into Week 16’s Sunday action, and the day’s games will go a long way in deciding when or how the remainder of the divisions will be settled.

The matchup with the biggest divisional consequences on Sunday is a massive game between the Seahawks and Rams that could end with a champ being crowned at the final whistle: a win by Russell Wilson’s team would see the Seahawks capture the NFC West title for the first time since 2016. A win by Sean McVay’s Rams, however, would mean the fate of the division won't be decided until next week.

The AFC North could be just as intriguing: as the Steelers slump, the Browns surge. Cleveland can clinch its first playoff berth since 2002 on Sunday, but a division title for the first time since 1989 isn’t out of the question. While a Steelers win Sunday would clinch the division for Pittsburgh, a Steelers loss to the Colts and a Cleveland win over the Jets – which they’ll have to do without four wide receivers due to COVID-19 – would mean Week 17’s game between the Steelers and Browns will be for the AFC North title.

On behalf of NFL fans all over the world: yes, please.

The NFC (L)East can be decided in Week 16, too, and finally put the other three teams out of their misery. If Washington can beat Carolina and the Giants lose to Baltimore, the Football Team will be division champions — and we can finally leave this terrible division behind us.

Finally, the AFC South. The Titans and Colts are in a dead heat through 15 weeks of the season, with both teams at 10-4. Tennessee, however, holds the tiebreaker over Indianapolis and can clinch the division with a win at Green Bay on Sunday night plus a Colts loss.

Depending on how things unfold on Sunday, all eight divisions could have champions come day’s end. More likely, though, is that at least one of the remaining division titles up for grabs will come down to the final weekend.

Wild card race living up to its name

The addition of a third wild-card spot has led to a pair of very tight races in both conferences that, thanks to some unexpected and insane results on Saturday night, will come down to the final week of the season.

In the AFC, the Dolphins still sit in the third wild-card spot after an unlikely last-second victory over Las Vegas on Boxing Day that eliminated the Raiders and would’ve left Jon Gruden fuming.

Miami now sits one game ahead of the 9-5 Ravens, who currently sit on the outside looking in, and the Dolphins hold the tiebreaker thanks to a better win percentage in conference games. Baltimore needs a win over the Giants on Sunday to keep pace with Miami for the final AFC post-season berth, and to push the race to a final and deciding weekend.

In the NFC, a Saturday evening upset loss to the 49ers by Kyler Murray and the Cardinals means the Bears could leapfrog Arizona into the conference’s final wild-card spot on Sunday with a win over the lowly Jaguars.

The Cardinals’ Week 16 loss could prove decisive: if Arizona and Chicago finish the season with an identical record, the Bears hold the tiebreaker (better record against common opponents) and would make the playoffs.

So keep an eye on the Bears and Ravens on Sunday – if they both win, it sets up what will undoubtedly be a dramatic climax in the race for the final wild-card spot in both conferences.

The battle for the top pick in 2021

And what a battle it is.

The Jets had the best road to the top pick in next spring’s draft until a shocking win over the Rams last week allowed the Jaguars to leapfrog Gang Green for the honour of picking the top 2021 NFL prospect, presumably Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Can the Jets be worse than the Jaguars over the next two weeks and get back into top position for the No. 1 pick before the season comes to an end?

If we were to wager, we’d bet no – neither of these teams look primed to win another game this season. But as last week showed all too well, anybody can win on Sundays – even the Jets or Jaguars – so we can’t always count on the seemingly improbable.

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