The season began with a slate of 256 games. Some contests were dubbed must-see TV, while others were glossed over as ones with little meaning. Now months later, we have just 48 games left on the schedule. That’s three weeks’ worth of NFL action, and while not every single game will have playoff implications, there are a whole bunch that will.
From Patriots-Broncos to Packers-Lions to Ravens-Steelers, the home stretch should be a fun one with about 20 teams still vying for a postseason berth. To get you geared up for the final 48 games, we ranked all of them from least important to most important.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
49ers at Rams: 4:25 p.m., Dec. 24 (FOX)
This could wind up being the worst game of 2016 – and that includes the torturous Jets-49ers game we just saw.
Cardinals at Rams: 4:25 p.m., Jan. 1 (FOX)
The Cardinals and Rams will both be out of it at this point, and with the Rams having an interim coach, there’s no telling how ugly this will be.
Browns at Bills: 1 p.m., Dec. 18 (CBS)
The Bills aren’t technically out of it just yet, but let’s be honest: They’re done. This game will be more about Buffalo trying to figure out who will play quarterback and coach this team next season than anything else.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Bears at Vikings: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (FOX)
With the Lions and Packers establishing themselves as the favorites in the NFC North, the Vikings will be left on the outside looking in. On paper, this should be an easy victory, but with the way Matt Barkley is playing and with all of Minnesota’s issues, it won’t be.
Chargers at Browns: 1 p.m., Dec. 24 (CBS)
Don't spend your Christmas Eve with this Grinch of a matchup. The only thing that might make it noteworthy is the fact that this is the Browns’ best remaining shot at a win this season.
Bills at Jets: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (CBS)
If you were to look at the schedule before the season began, you’d think this one would have huge playoff implications given that both teams were competitive in 2015. Unfortunately, this game will be meaningless. But hey, at least Rex Ryan can grab more bragging rights against his former team … if he’s still the coach by then.
Jaguars at Colts: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (CBS)
The Colts could conceivably be vying for a playoff berth on the final Sunday of the season, but that’s not likely after their loss to the Texans. This could be Gus Bradley’s last game as an NFL coach, if you’re interested in catching that for some reason.
Seahawks at 49ers: 4:25 p.m., Jan. 1 (FOX)
This game would have been must-see TV … if it were 2013. It’s not, and the 49ers are one of the worst teams in the NFL, so they shouldn’t pose the slightest threat to Seattle.
Jets at Patriots: 1 p.m., Dec. 24 (CBS)
The Jets are among the worst teams in football this season, which is surprising considering they were one win shy of making the playoffs last year and appeared to improve the roster in the offseason. The Patriots will have no trouble with them.
Browns at Steelers: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (CBS)
Any time a team is playing the Browns the game means very little. The Steelers may not have a playoff spot locked up by this point, but the Browns won’t prevent them from securing one on the final Sunday.
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY SportsJason Bridge
Titans at Jaguars: 1 p.m., Dec. 24 (CBS)
The Titans are the only team fighting for a playoff spot in this game because, well, the Jaguars are not good.
Bengals at Texans: 8:25 p.m., Dec. 24 (NFLN)
The Bengals have been a huge letdown this season after winning the AFC North last year. The Texans need every win they can get down the stretch, but that doesn’t make this game any more meaningful or interesting.
Redskins at Bears: 1 p.m., Dec. 24 (FOX)
This is a money-making game for Kirk Cousins. I say that in the sense that he should have a good game and inflate his numbers, but if he loses to the Bears and misses out on the playoffs because of it, his positioning for a long-term contract will weaken.
Chiefs at Chargers: 4:25 p.m., Jan. 1 (CBS)
The Chargers will be playing spoiler by this point, and even then there won’t be much for them to spoil.
Saints at Cardinals: 4:05 p.m., Dec. 18 (FOX)
No playoff contenders, no interest. It’ll be a great game but one that will mean just about nothing.
Falcons at Panthers: 1 p.m., Dec. 24 (FOX)
The Panthers can win out and go 8-8, but it won’t be easy with their schedule. This one may actually be more interesting than it looks on paper.
Brett DavisBrett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
49ers at Falcons: 4:05 p.m. Dec. 18 (FOX)
The Falcons essentially get a bye with this one. The 49ers aren’t going to keep pace with Atlanta’s high-flying offense.
Rams at Seahawks: 8:25 p.m., Dec. 15 (NBC/NFLN)
This was the Super Bowl each year for Jeff Fisher, who actually always gave the Seahawks a fight. With Fisher freshly unemployed, what makes this meaningful?
Packers at Bears: 1 p.m., Dec. 18 (FOX)
This should be a cake walk for the Packers, who will likely need to win out to make the playoffs.
Jaguars at Texans: 1 p.m., Dec. 18 (CBS)
Blake Bortles vs. Brock Osweiler, anyone? Didn’t think so. Yet, this is a must-win game for Houston.
Cowboys at Eagles: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (FOX)
It’s sad that Cowboys-Eagles on the last day of the season won’t mean much. Dallas will probably have a first-round bye and possibly home-field advantage by this point, so resting starters is a possibility.
Raiders at Chargers: 4:25 p.m., Dec. 18 (CBS)
The Chargers have dealt with more injuries than just about any team in the NFL, and it makes this game far less exciting and meaningful. The Raiders should cruise to a win.
Dolphins at Bills: 1 p.m., Dec. 24 (CBS)
Rex Ryan needs every win he can get to save his job, and snaring one against a playoff-contending division rival could do the trick. This may very well be his last game in Orchard Park.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Panthers at Redskins: 8:30 p.m., Dec. 19 (ESPN)
The Redskins probably can’t afford to lose more than one game in the final three weeks, and facing a red-hot Panthers team won’t help that. There’s some meaning behind this one.
Eagles at Ravens: 1 p.m., Dec. 18 (FOX)
The Eagles have played surprisingly well against some of the better teams, so you just never know. The Ravens may get tripped up here en route to a playoff berth.
Cardinals at Seahawks: 4:25 p.m., Dec. 24 (FOX)
On paper, this looks like it shouldn’t be close. However, remember what happened the last time these teams played? It was a kicking fiasco, and the Cardinals should have come away with a win. It’ll be close again and could ruin the Seahawks’ chances of a first-round bye.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Giants at Eagles: 8:25 p.m., Dec. 22 (NBC/NFLN)
The Eagles will just be trying to play spoiler in this one, looking to hurt the Giants’ playoff seeding, if not help knock them out of the postseason altogether.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsBrad Penner
Dolphins at Jets: 8:25 p.m., Dec. 17 (NFLN)
The Dolphins will likely need to make a run without Ryan Tannehill, so every win they can get is key. Beating the lowly Jets is a must.
Panthers at Buccaneers: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (FOX)
The NFC South is likely to come down to the final weekend with the Buccaneers and Falcons both vying for the title. The Panthers will have nothing to lose, so this game is on high spoiler alert.
Saints at Falcons: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (FOX)
Steelers at Bengals: 8:30 p.m., Dec. 18 (NBC)
This game will have playoff implications, but only one team needs a win here. If the Steelers can get a win paired with a Ravens loss, the AFC North will just about be theirs.
Patriots at Dolphins: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (CBS)
Depending on how the Patriots finish the next two weeks, this game may not have any meaning for them. For the Dolphins, though, it could mean seeing backups and an assisted path to the playoffs, courtesy of New England. Not likely, but there will be plenty on the line in this season finale.
Colts at Vikings: 1 p.m., Dec. 18 (CBS)
Both teams need a win in the worst way as their playoff chances are slipping away. This is the most important game between two mediocre teams. One team’s season will end and the other’s will go on.
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY SportsThomas J. Russo
Buccaneers at Saints: 4:25 p.m., Dec. 24 (FOX)
The Saints nearly beat the Buccaneers the first time around, and there’s little reason to believe they can’t knock them off at home. This is their second meeting in 13 days, so they’ll be familiar with each other.
Ravens at Bengals: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (CBS)
Vontaze Burfict and Co. will be trying to knock the hated Ravens out of the playoff picture in this game. Not only will it be chippy, hard-fought and exciting, but the Ravens will have a lot riding on this game.
Vikings at Packers: 1 p.m., Dec. 24 (CBS)
The return of Adrian Peterson? Depending on whether the Vikings beat the Colts this week, it’s highly likely. This should be a fantastic game at Lambeau, and one that both teams need.
Colts at Raiders: 4:05 p.m., Dec. 24 (CBS)
Andrew Luck vs. Derek Carr should make for a riveting shootout, considering both secondaries are pretty week. The Colts will need a win more than the Raiders do, but a No. 2 seed could be waiting in the wings with a victory.
Titans at Chiefs: 1 p.m., Dec. 18, (CBS)
You won’t see 400 yards passing from either of these teams, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t playoff implications riding on this game. The Titans will be trying to keep pace with the Texans, while the Chiefs have their eye on a No. 2 seed.
Lions at Cowboys: 8:30 p.m., Dec. 26 (ESPN)
Monday Night Football between two teams well above .500? Yeah, this one will mean a lot for both squads, especially if the Cowboys somehow lose to the Buccaneers this week.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportsDerick E. Hingle
Giants at Redskins: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (FOX)
While the Giants will probably have a better record by this point and superior odds of making the playoffs, the Redskins’ season will likely come down to this game. There’s a chance this is a winner-takes-all for a wild card spot.
Lions at Giants: 1 p.m., Dec. 18 (FOX)
If the Giants want to have any shot at beating the Cowboys to a division title, they have to win this game. The same goes for the Lions in the NFC North with the Packers hot on their heels and a Week 17 showdown looming.
USA TODAY SportsTim Fuller
Buccaneers at Cowboys: 8:30 p.m., Dec. 18 (NBC)
The Cowboys can secure a first-round bye with a win in this game, while the Buccaneers need a win in the worst way. The Falcons have a cakewalk against the 49ers, meaning they’ll almost certainly improve to 9-5. The Bucs need to do the same.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
Texans at Titans: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (CBS)
This one’s (probably) for all the marbles. It’s not the flashiest or can’t-miss game of the season on paper, but it’s a candidate to be flexed to the night slot on the last Sunday. The winner likely will take home the AFC South title while the loser will probably be heading to the golf course a week early.
Raiders at Broncos: 4:25 p.m., Jan. 1 (CBS)
The Broncos have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, as you’ll notice by this list. Every game the rest of the way has playoff implications, but this is probably the one with the least meaning. I say that because they could easily lose their next two and be out of the race by this point.
Ravens at Steelers: 4:30 p.m., Dec. 25 (NFLN)
The Steelers currently have a one-game cushion over the Ravens. That puts them in a good position to win the AFC North crown, but a loss to Baltimore – which could certainly happen – would give the Ravens a fighting chance. This is must-win for both teams when it comes to the division title.
Broncos at Chiefs: 8:30 p.m., Dec. 25 (NBC)
Winning the AFC West might not be possible for the Broncos at this point, but making the playoffs certainly will be. A win against the almighty Chiefs would do wonders for their postseason chances, and in primetime on Christmas night there won’t be a bigger stage to do it on.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY SportsIsaiah J. Downing
Patriots at Broncos: 4:25 p.m., Dec. 18 (CBS)
Brady-Siemian doesn’t carry the allure that Brady-Manning did, but this isn’t just about the quarterbacks. It’s a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game with both teams having plenty riding on it. The Broncos need to bounce back from a loss to the Titans, while the Patriots have their eyes squarely on home-field advantage.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Packers at Lions: 1 p.m., Jan. 1 (FOX)
This one’s (likely to be) for all the marbles – winner-take-all. The Packers have two favorable games in the next two weeks while the Lions have to play the Giants and Cowboys. Depending on how those games shake out, this one could be for the NFC North crown. Not to mention, each quarterback could bolster his MVP case with a huge victory.