The NFL Playoff races are heating up in the NFC (because there are a ton of good teams) and the AFC (because there are a ton of mediocre teams), and several former Tar Heels are right in the thick of it. Here’s how to catch some of them in action this weekend:
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16
That’s right, that says “Saturday.” It’s a quirk of NFL scheduling now that the college season is basically over, and it’s easy to miss.
4:30 PM: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Although the Bears have been officially eliminated from playoff contention and head coach John Fox is widely expected to be fired following the season (some Bears fans think it should come sooner, but I digress), Mitchell Trubisky still has something to play for, namely auditioning for his next head coach. On the back of his strongest performance in the NFL to date, he’ll look to put together a good reel for whoever is going to be calling the shots next year. He’ll continue these efforts against Eric Ebron and the Detroit Lions, who are currently in 8th place in the NFC and looking to move up.
8:30 PM: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
Tre Boston and the surging Chargers, who find themselves near the top of a division that looked like it was locked up by the Chiefs early in the season, will play for the division lead against Kansas City.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 17
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars: I don’t envy quarterback TJ Yates, who has been thrust into the starting job after injuries to starter Deshaun Watson and backup Tom Savage just in time to face the league’s best defense.
Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers: Julius Peppers, the ageless wonder at defensive end for the Panthers, has a chance to become one of very few players to record 10 seasons with 10 or more sacks with a half-sack or more against his former team.
Arizona Cardinals at Washington Football Team: Hey, did you know that there was actually an Internet hoax going around this week that the Washington team was actually changing its name to the Redhawks? Ah, the Internet... Anyways, Washington has already been eliminated and Arizona has been all but eliminated from the playoffs, so there isn’t much to this game except for stat-padding, which might be important for NFL tackle leader Zach Brown for Washington. TJ Logan has not healed as expected and likely will not play this season, and linebacker Kareem Martin has been solid as usual.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: Mack Hollins’ team took a massive blow last week, as MVP frontrunner QB Carson Wentz tore his ACL and was determined out for the season. Hollins wasn’t producing a ton with Wentz, but things might change with Nick Foles at quarterback as the Eagles try to lock up the NFC #1 seed.
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: Offensive Tackle James Hurst continues to anchor a line for a Baltimore team that is somehow in the playoff hunt despite thoroughly awful quarterback play. Their hopes might be buoyed by playing the winless Browns.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: The Bills benched their starting quarterback in the middle of this season and are 5th in the AFC right now. Gosh, the AFC is so bad... Brandon Tate hasn’t been doing much at all as a receiver, but he’s been returning well for the team. This will be the first of two matchups in three weeks between the division rivals.
Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings: Running back Giovani Bernard, after a couple weeks of decent usage, should get relegated to spot snaps for the return of Joe Mixon for the Bengals. Russell Bodine is as solid as ever at center for a team that just got washed by the Bears and now goes up against one of the best teams in the league.
New York Jets at New Orleans Saints: Linebacker Bruce Carter will be one of several Jets defenders trying to bring down electric rookie Saint Alvin Kamara this weekend as the Jets attempt to play spoiler to the Saints, whose hot streak was doused last week by the Falcons.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks, FOX: Nazair Jones will be out for the fourth straight week for the Seahawks, who will battle DE Robert Quinn and the Rams for the NFC West lead. The Rams currently lead by one game, which means the Seahawks are currently outside the NFC’s top 6 despite Russell Wilson being touted as an MVP candidate.
Tennessee Titans at San Francisco 49ers, CBS: The Titans, meanwhile, find themselves at 5th in the AFC despite absolutely floundering throughout this season. They have 8 wins and are underdogs against the 3-win 49ers, led by a quarterback, Jimmy Garroppolo, with less than half a season’s worth of starts to his name. Da’Norris Searcy will try and make Garroppolo feel like a rookie again.
Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders, NBC: Dallas return man Ryan Switzer will try and add to his highlight reel against the surprisingly leaky Raiders, as both teams try and keep up their place in the thick of their respective conference playoff hunts.