Week Lucky Number Seven is in the books now, and the NFL landscape looks absolutely nothing like we are used to seeing over the last 10 years. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers BOTH have losing records at the same time. The Patriots are lost at the quarterback position, and the Steelers are not having much more luck under center. All the sudden, Geno Smith is really good, as is, most shockingly, the team that drafted him in the New York Jets, who are being outshined by the New York Giants! The Lions still stink, but thanks to Dan Campbell and the magic of Hard Knocks, you at least enjoy watching them now.
With only 17 games on the schedule, every week matters in the NFL. There are only so many chances to stack wins atop wins in hopes of attaining a sweet, sweet playoff spot, and rarely can a team afford to leave a win or two on the table.
While each game is important, some are far more important than others for a variety of reasons. Whether it be for divisional positioning, seeding, or just sending a message, each of our playoff teams has at least one game on the schedule they absolutely have to win. So this week, I am including each team's “Gotta Have It” game the rest of the way.
Note: These are not power rankings. These are not picks based off any analytical data or insider knowledge. These are picks based off what I have seen during the season so far. I could be wrong, just like I could be right. Either way, I will be back again next week to offer an updated projection to cover any of my past mistakes.
Check out the projections from weeks past here:
Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6
1 Seed: Buffalo Bills (15-2) AFC East Winner
Gotta Have It Game – 12/18 vs. Dolphins: One could say they already got their Gotta Have It win when they beat the Chiefs. But looking ahead, the Dolphins could be the biggest “threat” to the Bills down the stretch. A win here would put the kibosh on the division.
2 Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (14-3) AFC West Winner
Gotta Have It Game – 11/6 vs. Titans: The good news for the Chiefs is Andy Reid is basically unbeatable after bye weeks, so I feel very confident they will get that game they gotta have. A win here sets the Chiefs up comfortably for the second seed in the AFC.
3 Seed: Tennessee Titans (12-5) AFC South Winner
Gotta Have It Game – 11/6 at the Chiefs: For basically the same reasons as above. The winner of this game has a great shot of hosting the loser in a playoff game.
4 Seed: Baltimore Ravens (11-6) NFC North Winner
Gotta Have It Game – 12/18 at the Browns: If the Ravens want to win the division, they will have to fend off a late attack from Cleveland that will have Deshaun Watson under center. A win this week for the Ravens sets them up to hold onto the division lead going into the last weekend against the Bengals.
5 Seed: Miami Dolphins (11-6)
Gotta Have It Game – 1/1 at the Patriots. After not sweeping the Pats since 2000, the Dolphins will have to make it two years in a row to set them up for what could be a play-in game scenario in Week 18 against the Jets.
6 Seed: Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)
Gotta Have It Game – 12/4 at the Raiders: The Chargers will not catch the Chiefs, so instead they need to fatten up their record against the Raiders and hope that is enough to get them over the hump and into the playoffs.
7 Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
Gotta Have It Game – 12/11 vs the Browns: The Bengals last 7 games are a gauntlet: at Titans, vs. Chiefs, vs. Browns, at Bucs, at Pats, vs. Bills and vs. Ravens. That Browns game might be the least stressful game of the bunch depending on what Bill Belichick can cook up.
1 Seed: Philadelphia Eagles (15-2) NFC East Winner
Gotta Have It Game – 12/24 at the Cowboys: A Christmas Eve tilt between two bitter rivals with the division at stake. Santa flies over the roof at Cowboys Stadium for a peak of his own.
2 Seed: Minnesota Vikings (11-6) NFC North Winner
Gotta Have It Game – 11/20 vs the Cowboys: Everyone has to beat the Cowboys right? The Vikings have yet to beat a team with a winning record (the Tua-less Dolphins don’t count). And after a trip to Buffalo the week prior, this matchup at home against Dallas will be the Vikings first best chance to notch a statement win.
3 Seed: San Francisco 49ers (10-7) NFC West Winner
Gotta Have It Game: 12/15 at the Seahawks: 49ers in Seattle in primetime with a potential division title on the line. Just the scenario we all saw coming. Let’s all close our eyes real hard and pretend it is 2019.
4 Seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-8) NFC South Winner
Gotta Have It Game: 11/6 vs the Rams: If the Bucs lose this Thursday night to the Ravens, which is not out of the question, the following week against the defending Super Bowl champs who ended their season last year could be the last chance Tom Brady and friends get to right the ship so to speak that has been this season. No pressure.
5 Seed: Dallas Cowboys (13-4)
Gotta Have It Game – 11/24 vs the Giants: The division may not be in play, but the Cowboys certainly do not want to fall into third place. Beating the Giants again will prevent that from happening.
6 Seed: New York Giants (12-5)
Gotta Have It Win – 12/24 at the Vikings: The Giants schedule outside of their divisional opponents is extremely soft the rest of the way. Outside the Seahawks this week, the Vikings are the only non-divisional opponent the Giants play with a winning record down the stretch. Take care of business on Christmas Eve and the Giants should avoid having to sweat out any playoff races.
7 Seed: Seattle Seahawks (10-7)
Gotta Have It Game – 12/4 at the Rams: The Seahawks have not faced the Rams yet. A win in their first matchup could take a lot of the stakes away from their week 18 matchup.
AFC WILD CARD ROUND
(2) Chiefs over (7) Bengals
This is going to be way closer than you are willing to imagine right now.
(3) Titans over (6) Chargers
The Chargers keep breaking down in the health department. While I do not trust putting the game in Ryan Tannehill's hands, I will trust him to put the ball, and thus the game, in Derrick Henry's hands.
(5) Dolphins over (4) Ravens
What I like about this matchup is it allows me to use one of my favorite underused words ever: mollywhopped. As in, the Ravens putrid pass defense will be mollywhopped by the Dolphins on their own field.
NFC WILD CARD ROUND
(3) 49ers over (6) Giants
Daniel Jones is not Patrick Mahomes. That should help the 49ers defense a lot.
(5) Cowboys over (4) Bucs
“This Tom Brady-led offense is dead in the water.” Is not a sentence I expected to type this year, yet here we are.
(7) Seahawks over (2) Vikings
No, Kirk Cousins will not win a playoff game. Now how do you like that?
(1) Bills over (5) Dolphins
Josh Allen hits the out route in the endzone this time, and it gives the Bills a three-touchdown lead in the process.
(2) Chiefs over (3) Titans
The way 49ers fans feel about Jimmy G is how Titans fans feel about Ryan Tannehill. I assume. Either QB gives you the same chance of beating Mahomes: zero.
(1) Eagles over (7) Seahawks
We might have to disband the league if Geno Smith leads a team to the NFC Title game. Luckily, it won’t happen this year.
(5) Cowboys over (3) 49ers
I can no longer see Jimmy G miracling a victory together against the Cowboys. Dallas wins but the Niners cover the spread, and that is what really matters right?
(1) Bills over (2) Chiefs (Bills now lead 5-2 in this pick this season)
Ever feel like you ran a marathon after sitting on the couch for 4 hours?
(1) Eagles over (5) Cowboys
The City of Philadelphia dismantles and removes all the city’s lamp posts the night before this game. Eagles fans climb to the top of the Independence Hall instead.
(1) Bills over (1) Eagles
What would be worse for Philadelphia as a city: the Eagles and Phillies winning titles or them both losing titles?