The 2016 NFL season is down to its last five weeks of regular-season play, which makes every game from here on out important in deciding who will make the postseason, and who will be home watching the action after Week 17 concludes.
Here are eight teams facing must-win games in Week 13.
With the Patriots racing toward another AFC East title and the Dolphins enjoying a six-game win streak, the Bills have been able to fly under the radar for the most part. Quietly, Rex Ryan’s up-and-down team has won a pair of games to get to 6-5, but none of that will matter if the Bills can’t go into Oakland and beat the Raiders on Sunday.
There won’t be anything easy about leaving the West Coast with a win. The Raiders are 9-2 and seeking a first-round bye in the playoffs, but a big win in Oakland would make the statement that the Bills are serious about making their own run at the postseason. Falling to 6-6, however, would probably be asking too much of Rex Ryan’s team over the final four games. Anything short of a 10-6 record looks unlikely to be enough to qualify for the playoffs this year.
New Orleans Saints
It’s now or never time for the Saints, who are 5-6 and facing a tough test from the visiting Detroit Lions in Week 13. A loss to the Lions on Sunday and the season is probably over in the Big Easy.
That’s because the schedule looks daunting for the Saints after Week 12. New Orleans finishes the regular season with three road games in four weeks, including trips to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons inside the division. The Saints are only 2-3 away from New Orleans this season, making every remaining opportunity to get a win at home—regardless of their opponent—vital to a potential playoff run.
Green Bay Packers
An efficient and methodical win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12 helped resurrect Green Bay’s season. But the 5-6 Packers still need to start stacking wins, beginning on Sunday when the Houston Texans come to Lambeau Field.
While losing to an AFC team wouldn’t necessarily be a season-ender, the Packers have to consider the rest of their schedule. Green Bay’s final four games include a visit from the Seattle Seahawks and back-to-back battles against the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, the two teams in front of Green Bay in the NFC North standings. The Packers can possibly afford one more loss, but going 4-0 over the final four games would be a difficult task.
Despite a 4-0 start and a 7-4 overall record, the Broncos are currently on the outside looking in, as it relates to the AFC playoff picture. In fact, it suddenly looks possible that the defending Super Bowl champions could miss the postseason altogether.
While their Week 13 matchup may not be a “must-win game” in its truest definition, the Broncos desperately need a victory—and traveling to Jacksonville to take on the 2-9 Jaguars provides Denver a perfect opportunity to get to 8-4. On the other hand, a loss on Sunday would be a huge blow for the Broncos, especially with tough games against the Titans, Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders over the final four weeks of the season.
The Eagles are just 2-6 since starting 3-0, leaving a once promising season under rookie head coach Doug Pederson and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz in serious peril. While there’s still hope for a wild-card berth, the margin for error is now razor-thin in Philadelphia.
Righting the ship won’t be easy against the Bengals in Cincinnati. Marvin Lewis’ team is all but dead at 3-7-1, but Philadelphia is 1-5 away from home this season, and the Bengals are experienced enough on defense to make life difficult for Wentz. Still, this is a game the Eagles have to win if they want to stay relevant in the playoff race.
The Cardinals are dealing with dysfunction on both offense and defense, and with a 4-6-1 record after 11 games, the season is already probably over for the reigning NFC West champions. That said, it feels risky to count out a team with so much talent, and the NFC is still shaky enough for the Cardinals to make a run.
Arizona getting back in the postseason hunt has to start on Sunday. The Cardinals host the Washington Redskins, a team Arizona will likely have to jump to get into the playoffs. Either the Cardinals will breathe life into their disappointing campaign with a win, or they will bury it with a loss. It’s that simple for Bruce Arians’ team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We should learn a lot about the Buccaneers on Sunday, when Tampa Bay travels to San Diego to play the desperate Chargers. It’s feeling safer to trust the Bucs after back-to-back wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, but a trip out west following two big victories provides a strong chance for a letdown.
Tampa Bay can’t afford anything of the sort. At 6-5, the Buccaneers are currently alive in both the NFC South and wild-card races. And while a loss wouldn’t technically eliminate them from either, it would be a tough blow to a team that finally looks ready to make a serious run. A good team would find a way to keep the winning streak going in San Diego.
The Colts’ Thanksgiving night loss dilutes the fact that Indianapolis had beat both Green Bay and Tennessee in back-to-back games before being forced to play without Andrew Luck (concussion) against the Steelers. Luck is still in the concussion protocol, but has been practicing this week and will likely play on Monday night against the New York Jets, giving the Colts a real chance to regain momentum and put more pressure on the Houston Texans for the AFC South title.
In fact, with a Texans’ loss to Green Bay and a Colts’ win over the Jets, the two teams would go into next week’s showdown with identical 6-6 records.
But Indianapolis can’t overlook Monday night’s game. If the Texans find a way to beat the Packers, and the Colts drop a game they should win in New York, Chuck Pagano’s team would suddenly be one more defeat away from a lost season. Luck and the Colts simply have to get the job done against the 3-8 Jets.