Given last Monday night’s match-up, it’s a breath of fresh air to have a meaningful game in primetime tonight.
Yesterday, not every game among playoff contenders went according to plan. That’s why we love the NFL. That’s why they play the games.
And because of what transpired yesterday, there is an even greater sense of urgency when the New York Giants (7-4) and Washington Redskins (5-6) take the field.
Check out the everything-you-need-to-know guide to Giants-Redskins.
For the Washington Redskins, a loss tonight makes the road all the more difficult.
The big games for Wildcard contenders yesterday was Cowboys-Eagles, Vikings-Packers, Buccaneers-Broncos and Seahawks-Bears. Sorry, St. Louis, impressive win but check back next year.
The current Wildcard seeds are occupied by Chicago (8-4), which record-wise is tied atop the NFC North with Green Bay, and Seattle, which overcame a late deficit to top the Bears at Soldier Field yesterday to move to 7-5 on the year.
Seattle is the projected sixth seed. With seven wins, they stand a game ahead of Dallas, Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
Washington, at 5-6, need to win to remain in the contention for that final Wildcard slot. A loss all but guarantees that the ‘Skins fall out of the race.
Here is the remaining schedule for the five 6-seed contenders, including Washington:
Redskins: New York, Baltimore, @ Cleveland, @ Philadelphia, Dallas (3-2)
Seahawks: Arizona, @ Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis (3-1)
Vikings: Chicago, @ St. Louis, @ Houston, Green Bay (1-3)
Cowboys: @ Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, @ Washington (1-3)
Buccaneers: Philadelphia, @ New Orleans, St. Louis, @ Atlanta (3-1)
So, based on my expert projections (he said, sarcastically), the ‘Skins will probably have to win out, beginning tonight against the Giants, to overcome Seattle for the final seed.
I expect Dallas and Minnesota to fall out of the race based on shortcomings I’ve seen throughout the season and yesterday, and Washington — along with Tampa and Seattle — will have to play their best ball of the season for that playoff spot.
For the New York Giants, tonight not only represents an opportunity to solidify an NFC East division title, but now a first-round bye — a luxury the team did not enjoy in either of its most recent Super Bowl runs.
The Falcons topped the Saints on Thursday night, moving to 11-1 and likely the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Let’s consider that a lock.
The 49ers, who have been tested all year by Jeff Fisher’s Rams, lost in overtime yesterday. The Niners fell to 8-3-1 and their No. 2 seed is jeopardized by Green Bay and potentially New York and Chicago.
A win tonight would elevate the Giants to 8-4, the same record as both the Bears and Packers. New York obviously has the edged over Green Bay and would overtake them for the third seed in the division. The only confusing part is San Fran’s tie, which may actually prove to be an advantage at season’s end.
Then, the race is on.
Giants: @ Washington, New Orleans, @ Atlanta, @ Baltimore, Philadelphia (3-2)
49ers: Miami, @ New England, @ Seattle, Arizona (3-1)
Packers: Detroit, @ Chicago, Tennessee, @ Minnesota (3-1)
Bears: @ Minnesota, Green Bay, @ Arizona, @ Detroit (3-1)
These are not easy stretch-run schedules for any of these contenders, and realistically they will all be tested en route to a No. 2 seed.
Specifically, New York has to host a prolific New Orleans offense, then travel to Atlanta and Baltimore. San Fran travels from New England to Seattle in back-to-back weeks. The Packers get their taste of the NFC North, while the Bears are on the road for three of the final four weeks.
It’s the Niners bye week to lose, but if they slip up in consecutive weeks — which is a foreign concept to Jim Harbaugh’s squad — it could open the door for New York to creep in.
But the opportunity does not even exist without a win tonight.
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamSpiegs