An extended NFL regular season is drawing to a close, with one last week of games on the docket for the upcoming weekend. Most of the playoff spots have been filled, but there are still three wild cards left to fight for. We’ll take a closer look at the biggest games and predict who will make it through to the postseason.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Las Vegas Raiders
Undoubtedly the biggest game coming into the regular season finale, with a win-and-you’re in scenario for both AFC West teams. The Chargers currently hold the third and final wild card ticket, and they did beat the Raiders 28-14 in their previous encounter in week 4.
The Chargers have stumbled down the home stretch though, including an ugly 29-41 loss to the struggling Houston Texans. They have the offensive weapons to threaten any team with the trio of Herbert, Ekeler and Allen leading the way, but their defense has been less than stellar. With a 5-5 record since their bye, it is hard to know just which Chargers team will show up.
The Las Vegas Raiders have gone through a lot this season, but they have shown a lot of fight and character to still be within a shot of a playoff spot. They have pulled off three straight wins, none more impressive than a 23-20 upset over the Indianapolis Colts last week. If Derek Carr and Hunter Renfroe can deliver a similar performance on Sunday night, the Raiders can very well find themselves playing in the wild card round.
The maths are quite simple for the Chargers; a win guarantees a wild card, a loss ends their season. The Raiders however have a potential back door; a win means playoffs, but a loss could still mean they advance if both the Colts and the Steelers lose. A Colts loss to the lowly Jags does seem like a lot to hope for, so most likely LV need to do the job themselves.
Prediction: The Chargers are the favorite with odds sites that offer betting bonuses, and we think they will be able to hold on to the last wild card spot. Chargers win 31-27.
San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams
The 49ers currently hold the 6th seed in the NFC, but a loss coupled with a Saints win would see them drop out of the playoffs entirely. Things could get dicey for the visitors, with the LA Rams potentially needing a win to secure the NFC West crown. With starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo struggling with an injured thumb, it might be another showcase for rookie Trey Lance – can he get the job done against Aaron Donald and the Rams D?
The 49ers have managed to win 6 of their last 8 games, and even more importantly they have a strong hold on the Rams – they have won all 5 of their latest meetings, including a solid 31-10 win back in mid November. The 9ers rushed for over 150 yards in that game, and they are 5-1 in games in which they rushed for 150 yards or more this season. Getting the ground game going and keeping the dangerous Rams offense on the sidelines will be key for San Francisco to book their place in the playoffs.
Prediction: Which quarterback will play, and how effective will the rushing attack be for the 49ers? A potent Rams attack can be too tough to keep up with for rookie Lance. Rams win 31-24.
New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
The Saints have had a season full of ups and downs, but despite their struggles they can still book a wild card ticket at the last second. After a horrid November/December stretch which saw them lose five straight they have rebounded well with three wins in their last four, including an impressive shutout win over division rival Tampa Bay on the road.
Their good run puts them in prime position to steal the last NFC wild card, hoping that the Rams can help out while they handle business against the Atlanta Falcons. The last meeting did see the Falcons walk away with a 27-25 win, but New Orleans have been successful in their recent trips to Atlanta, winning three straight.
Prediction: With both Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara back in the fold, expect the Saints to have enough firepower to defeat the Falcons. Whether that will be enough to make it to the playoffs remains to be seen. Saints win 21-16.