NFL 2017 – What all 32 teams are playing for down the homestretch

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NFL Nation reporters break down what every team has to play for over the final five weeks of the regular season — from home-field advantage in the playoffs to pride to the future and more.

AFC East | AFC North| AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West


AFC EAST

To end their 17-year playoff drought

In benching Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman two weeks ago, first-year coach Sean McDermott said making the playoffs this season should not be the ultimate goal of his team. But once Peterman flopped and McDermott went back to Taylor, it is full steam ahead for the Bills as they try to secure a wild-card spot among an AFC field full of mediocre teams. The Bills took a step forward in beating the Chiefs on Sunday to improve to 6-5, but they must avoid slipping back to .500 with a loss next Sunday to the Patriots. — Mike Rodak

To make the playoffs

Despite five straight losses, the Dolphins (4-7) are still mathematically in the postseason race. But they have zero margin for error and would essentially have to run the table the rest of the way to make it. The good news for Miami is it has a winnable home game against the equally struggling Broncos next week to attempt to break its losing streak. — James Walker

For home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs

At 9-2, the Patriots are atop the AFC, with the Steelers — who are also 9-2 after Sunday night’s win over Green Bay — being their primary competition. The two teams meet Dec. 17 in Pittsburgh, and if things continue on their present course, it could be one of the most highly anticipated regular-season AFC games in recent memory. — Mike Reiss

For Todd Bowles’ job

With their playoff chances all but ruined, the Jets’ motivation is to play for their head coach, whose job security is the No. 1 question surrounding the team. Fortunately for him, there was no playoff mandate from ownership. It wants to see progress throughout the season. The Jets have lost five of six, but all five were by eight points or fewer. So the 4-7 Jets are competitive, but Bowles probably needs another couple of wins to validate himself. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

To hold onto the inside track to the No. 6 playoff spot in the AFC

Baltimore plays four of its last six games at home (including Monday night against the Texans) and faces only two teams with winning records. Entering this week, the Ravens had a 73.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason. It would be a major disappointment if Baltimore didn’t make the playoffs for the first time since 2014. –Jamison Hensley

To make the playoffs

The Bengals (5-6) are still mathematically in the playoff discussion after two straight wins, but they have to get past the big Steelers’ roadblock. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten the Steelers since the 2015 regular season, and the Bengals badly need a win now for Marvin Lewis’ job. With Lewis’ contract expiring at the end of the season, this game will probably decide whether the Bengals continue to improve or fall out of the playoff discussion. — Katherine Terrell

To avoid an 0-16 season

Hue Jackson has tied John McKay for the worst coaching start in NFL history (1-26), which means the Browns are playing for something fundamental: A stinking win. Their most recent win came Dec. 24, 2016, against the Chargers, their next opponent. Like a year ago, the Browns are desperate for any win that help them avoid a winless season. — Pat McManamon

For home-field advantage in the playoffs

The Steelers have made their intentions clear since June. And with four of their past six regular season games at Heinz Field, they hope late November and December will be an ideal warm-up act. Coach Mike Tomlin has outlined to his players how teams with a bye and two playoff home games usually capitalize on it. At Heinz, Ben Roethlisberger has averaged close to three touchdown passes per home game over the past two-plus years. — Jeremy Fowler

AFC SOUTH

To make the playoffs

For at least one more game, Houston is still in the hunt. Monday night’s result in Baltimore will be extremely telling for the Texans, who are on the edge of a playoff spot. They’ve dealt with injury after injury this season, but have a chance to take a step in the right direction and continue to play meaningful games. — Sarah Barshop

To evaluate players (and coaches)

The Colts are not officially eliminated from making the playoffs, but the reality is they’re on their way to missing the postseason for the third straight year. It has been all about building for the future and ensuring they have an all-around roster that doesn’t strictly depend on quarterback Andrew Luck when he returns in the future for general manager Chris Ballard. The final five games will allow Ballard and his staff to continue to do so because this offseason will feature more roster changes and likely coaching changes for a franchise that’s about to in its longest playoff drought since missing it for seven straight seasons from 1988 to 1994. — Mike Wells

For their first playoff berth since 2007

And potentially the first AFC South title in franchise history. The Jaguars are tied for first place with Tennessee after Sunday’s loss to Arizona. They have games against Houston, Indianapolis and San Francisco remaining, but things could come down to the regular-season finale at Tennessee. Both teams could have clinched playoff berths by then, but that game could be for the division title and a home playoff game. — Mike DiRocco

To win the AFC South

The 7-4 Titans are tied with the 7-4 Jaguars atop the division and their Week 17 rematch with — Titans won the first battle in Jacksonville, 37-16 — has a strong chance of deciding the AFC South. The Titans have a 1.5-game lead in the AFC wild-card race with their top competition being a Ravens team they already beat. The Titans can almost taste the playoffs, a place they haven’t been since 2008. — Cameron Wolfe

AFC WEST

For answers to questions at quarterback and beyond

The Broncos are playing for some answers as they have constructed the first seven-game losing streak since 1967. Start at quarterback, where they’ve had all three of their QBs both start at least one game and be a game day inactive at least one time this season. Paxton Lynch suffered a right ankle injury in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, so his status is even in doubt for next week’s game against the Dolphins. But the Broncos will make choices in the season’s final five weeks about who stays and who goes in what figures to be a massive makeover in the offseason. John Elway believed the Broncos were playoff team that could get in the Super Bowl conversation in training camp and they haven’t been anything close to that since their 3-1 start. — Jeff Legwold

To win the AFC West

The 6-5 Chiefs still lead the division, but their advantage is down to a single game over the Chargers and Raiders. Kansas City has a game remaining against each team, both at Arrowhead Stadium. Given the way the Chiefs are playing, that might not end up being such a good thing. But if the Chiefs can find a way to beat both, they’ll have a difficult time not winning their second straight division title. — Adam Teicher

To win the AFC West

After starting the season 0-4, the Chargers have won five of their past seven. And with the Chiefs losing five of their past six games, including a 16-10 setback at Arrowhead Stadium to the Bills on Sunday, the Chargers are only a game behind their AFC West rivals at 5-6. The Chargers will face the 6-5 Chiefs on the road in three weeks, but host the winless Browns on Sunday, offering another chance to inch closer to Kansas City. — Eric D. Williams

To make the playoffs for the second straight season

As strange as it sounds, the Raiders control their destiny to win the AFC West. Run the table to finish 10-6, and Oakland will have swept Kansas City and knocked the Chargers back at least one game back. Sure, there are tough games remaining after playing host to the Giants next week — such as at the Chiefs, at Philadelphia on Christmas and at the Chargers — but controlling one’s destiny is all one can hope for with five games to go, no? — Paul Gutierrez

NFC EAST

To stay in the NFC playoff race

At 5-6 and losers of three straight games by a combined score of 92-22, the Cowboys are in the playoff chase but are looking like they could need help to get there even if they run the table. A loss to Washington on Thursday and Philadelphia will clinch the NFC East. By Friday this answer could change to playing for Jason Garrett’s job despite Jerry Jones’ public support of Garrett and the staff as of late. As bad as things have been lately, the Cowboys have winnable games against the Redskins, Giants and Raiders before Elliott’s return from suspension. If the Cowboys can get to 8-6, then they can at least stay in the chase, but getting just one win seems like a mountain to climb at this point. — Todd Archer

For Ben McAdoo’s job

With a 2-9 record, the Giants’ season is beyond lost. McAdoo is coaching for his job after following a strong first season with a disastrous year filled with controversy. More important for the franchise over the final five games could be their draft position. That’s what they’re really playing for down the stretch. The more losses, the better? The Giants would currently pick No. 3 overall and could even get a higher pick considering the current state of their roster. — Jordan Raanan

For home-field advantage throughout the playoffs

At 10-1, the Eagles can clinch the division as early as Thursday night if the Cowboys lose to Washington. It’ll be all about playoff positioning (and keeping Carson Wentz healthy) over the final five weeks. There’s not a lot of room for error with teams such as the Panthers, Rams, Vikings and Saints not far behind in the standings. The Eagles will be tested over the next two weeks with games at the Seahawks and Rams before the schedule softens up a bit. — Tim McManus

To make the playoffs

The 5-6 Redskins still need a lot of help, but if they finish strong, the possibility still exists. Two years ago they won their final four games to go 9-7 and win the NFC East. With the NFC having a strong year, a 9-7 finish might not be enough to earn a playoff spot. Washington has dealt with a lot of injuries this season — only three offensive players have started each game this season. Still, after a difficult schedule over the first 10 weeks, the Redskins don’t face another team currently .500 or better. The schedule sets up for a hot finish; their health and the rest of the NFC picture might hold them back. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

For pride

What else is there? The Bears’ loss to Eagles assures them of their fourth straight non-winning record. Chicago (3-8) will miss the postseason for the 10th time in 11 years, and is 12-31 under John Fox. The Bears aren’t going anywhere. That’s a running theme in Chicago. — Jeff Dickerson

To make the playoffs

The postseason is still the goal for the Lions, sitting at 6-5 with five games remaining. The Thanksgiving loss to Minnesota squandered most realistic chances at a division title, but a wild-card berth is still possible. To do that, Detroit has to go no worse than 4-1 down the stretch and potentially get some help. The benefit for Detroit is none of the teams left on the schedule are dominant by any means and this is a possibility to happen, but a lot will be known within the next two weeks as trips to Baltimore and Tampa Bay await. — Michael Rothstein

To pave the way for a potential Aaron Rodgers‘ return

The Packers are playing for the chance to make it worthwhile for Rodgers to come back following collarbone surgery and play in the final two or three weeks. In order for that to happen, they’re probably going to have win at least two of the next three games. Otherwise, they’ll be out of they playoff picture and there would be no reason to put Rodgers in harm’s way until next season. — Rob Demovsky

For a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs

Minnesota (9-2) is in contention for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and already has wins over the Rams and Saints, which could play an important role if there ends up being a three-way tie between those teams. The Vikings furthered their grip on the division after beating the Lions on Thanksgiving to give themselves a three-game lead in the NFC North. If they keep winning — they have an upcoming stretch that includes Atlanta, Carolina and Green Bay on the road — they’ll lock up ideal positioning for the postseason. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

For favorable playoff seeding and to win the NFC South

The 7-4 Falcons and riding a three-game winning streak, have plenty of time to make a push for a good playoff seed and possibly even the NFC South title. They’re right behind New Orleans and Carolina in the division race, and they could make up a lot of ground by defeating the Saints in Weeks 14 and 16. Although the Falcons play their next two games at home, facing the Vikings and Saints back to back won’t be an easy task. But the Falcons are definitely back in the type of offensive groove that carried them all the way to the Super Bowl last season. — Vaughn McClure

For the No. 2 seed in the NFC

The Panthers have a lot to play for over the final five games, beginning with next Sunday’s game against New Orleans for the NFC South lead. Win that game and then win out, and Carolina has a chance to win the division for the fourth time in five years. It’ll be hard to catch Philadelphia for the top seed in the NFC, particularly since the Eagles beat Carolina earlier this year. But the No. 2 seed definitely is in play. — David Newton

To win the most stacked division race in the NFL

You’d think the Saints could have gained some separation with their eight-game win streak that was snapped in Sunday’s 26-20 loss at the Rams. Instead, they’re currently stuck behind the pack as the No. 4 seed in the NFC. And the top three teams in the NFC South are separated by one game — 8-3 Saints, 8-3 Panthers and 7-4 Falcons. The Saints won at Carolina in Week 3, which is huge. But they’ve got to host the Panthers again this week, then play Atlanta twice in Weeks 14 and 16. In other words, the season is just getting started. — Mike Triplett

For pride and Dirk Koetter’s job

At this point, the 4-7 Bucs — who are 0-3 in the NFC South — are playing for pride and the jobs of Koetter and his staff. General manager Jason Licht and the front office also feel the effects of a season that has been one of the biggest disappointments in years. Then there’s the situation with Jameis Winston. With so much uncertainty surrounding an investigation that’s expected to drag on into next year, the snaps for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick mean a lot more. He contemplated retiring this offseason and he’s currently on a one-year deal. If players continue to fight and are able to salvage some level of respectability this season, it could convince Fitzpatrick to keep playing, something the Bucs sure could use next year. — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

To make the playoffs

It might be a long shot for the 5-6 Cardinals, but the postseason is still a possibility. They just have to keep winning. A lot. Winning their division might be out of the question considering the Rams are 8-3 and don’t look like they’re slowing down. But a combination of wins and losses by a few teams ahead of them in the race for the wild card could shift the playoff landscape in favor of the Cardinals. They’re current two games back from the last wild-card spot, presently occupied by the Falcons, who own the tiebreaker over the Seahawks. — Josh Weinfuss

For favorable playoff seeding

It would’ve been a crazy thought at the start of the year, but the Rams are 8-3 coming off a win at home against the Saints. They lead the NFC West by a game and are currently the No. 3 seed in their conference, a game back of the second-place Vikings — who they lost to — for a chance at a first-round bye. The Rams have some tough games the rest of the way, specifically on the road against the division-rival Seahawks and at home against the first-place Eagles. It’s why first-year head coach Sean McVay wouldn’t call Sunday’s 26-20 victory over New Orleans his team’s biggest of the year. “It was the biggest because it’s the most recent,” he said. “Every one of these counts as one.” — Alden Gonzalez

For the future

This season was lost weeks ago, but the Niners have many young players getting important reps that the team hopes will be integral in building for 2018. The Niners remain firmly in the mix for the No. 1 overall draft pick and look poised to pick in the top three for the second straight year. Also, there’s the ongoing Jimmy Garoppolo watch as the 49ers and their fans eagerly anticipate his debut with the team, something Kyle Shanahan has said will happen, though the coach isn’t sure when. — Nick Wagoner

To make the playoffs

The Seahawks (7-4) were in play for one of the top two seeds at the start of November, but after home losses to Washington and Atlanta, just getting back to the playoffs for the sixth straight season is the goal now. They’re still very much in the thick of the NFC race even after dropping out of the No. 6 seed last week. But Seattle’s margin for error is pretty slim, especially with the NFC West-leading Rams continuing to win. — Brady Henderson



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