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NFL Watchability Index, Week 17: Playoff picture comes into focus

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The final week of the season has some insane playoff implications, and nobody's sure what will happen. We'll try to help here with the season finale of the Watchability Index.

Wesley Hitt

A few years ago the NFL decided to schedule nothing but divisional games during the last week of the season. This was done for two main reasons:

1. To add more drama to the playoff race by making late-season divisional games matter more.

2. To create an NFL version of college football's "Rivalry Week," encouraging teams to play harder and beat divisional foes even if they're out of playoff contention. Ideally this would prevent glorified preseason games with teams playing their backups.

I'm not sure how successful the latter goal has been, but the NFL got more than it bargained for when it comes to playoff races.

We're heading into what could be the craziest Week 17 in recent memory. The AFC division winners are decided, but the field remains wide open. The Chiefs are the only team locked into a seed (No. 5), and the No. 6 race is a four-way circus with no team controlling its own destiny. Over in the NFC, zero divisions have been clinched yet.

Even the No. 1 draft pick is still up in the air -- it could go to either the Texans or Rams (the latter via Washington) depending on what happens.

It's going to be a beautiful mess with a whole bunch of divisional enmity stacked up on top of that. I'll try to lead you through all the different scenarios as we go through each game, if you can keep up. There's a lot going on here.

Welcome to the 2013 season finale of the Watchability Index. For the last time, I'll rank every game on a scale of one through five.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons

1 p.m. ET, FOX

The Panthers can clinch the NFC South and a first-round bye with a win (or a Saints loss). They could have a tougher matchup than expected, particularly in the Georgia Dome, seeing how the Falcons nearly pulled off an upset in San Francisco. This is an early game to keep an eye on.

Watchability rating: 3

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Ravens can clinch with a win and a loss by either the Dolphins or Chargers. Even if they lose, they can clinch with losses by the Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers. The Bengals can get a first-round bye with a win and a loss by the Patriots. Following that? Good, because it's about to get more complicated from here on out.

Watchability rating: 5

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts

1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Colts are also in the hunt for a bye, but they'll need a little extra help. Indy can clinch one with a win and losses by both the Patriots and Bengals. As for the Jaguars, they're just looking to end the season on a high note and look to improve in 2014.

Watchability rating: 1

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

1 p.m. ET, CBS

If the season ended today, the Dolphins would have the No. 6 seed, but they still need a little bit of assistance. A win would obviously help things and only require that either the Ravens win or the Chargers lose. If Miami loses, it's out, which doesn't look so crazy after the team's dismal performance against the Bills. Rex Ryan reportedly told his players that he will get fired if the Jets lose out, which might give them some extra motivation to play for their coach and to send a divisional rival packing.

Watchability rating: 2

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings

1 p.m. ET, FOX

This is one of the few games this week without playoff implications, and we probably won't see Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson. The only real interest here is seeing the possible last game of both the Jim Schwartz and Leslie Frazier eras.

Watchability rating: 1

Washington Redskins at New York Giants

1 p.m. ET, FOX

Rams fans get to root for two teams this week: their own team against the Seahawks, and the Giants against Washington. The Redskins would "clinch" the No. 1 draft pick with a loss and a win by the Texans, but St. Louis gets that pick thanks to the Robert Griffin III trade. The Rams should be sending gift baskets to Dan Snyder for the next several years.

Watchability rating: 1

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

1 p.m. ET, CBS

Pittsburgh has one of the most convoluted paths to the playoffs. It needs to win and get losses by the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers to clinch the No. 6 seed. You say that sounds crazy, but this is the Steelers we're talking about, and the football gods can be cruel pranksters. Never count them out, especially when they're playing the Browns.

Watchability rating: 2

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans

1 p.m. ET, CBS

Tanking isn't quite the hot topic in the NFL like it is in the NBA, but interim coach Wade Phillips might have something up his sleeve. The Texans need to lose to get the No. 1 pick, and Phillips has already hinted at T.J. Yates getting the start with Case Keenum's thumb still gimpy and Matt Schaub being Matt Schaub.

Watchability rating: 2

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals

4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

The 49ers nearly choked away a playoff spot, but they clinched one with the miracle pick-six by NaVorro Bowman. Now the Cardinals need to beat San Francisco at home to keep their wild card hopes alive. They can get this with a win and a loss by the Saints. Two great defenses battling for playoff position, so what's not to like here?

Watchability rating: 5

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

The winner takes the NFC North crown. That should be good enough to get your attention. Still no word on whether or not Aaron Rodgers will play, as of Thursday morning, but Matt Flynn could do just fine against a Bears defense that gave up 54 points to the Eagles.

Watchability rating: 5

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots

4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

The Patriots wrap up a first-round bye with a win, and can still get home-field advantage if the Broncos lose. The Bills can get a lower draft position and lots of good feelings if they win. Drama!

Watchability rating: 1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

The Saints could either get the No. 2 seed or miss the playoffs entirely based on what they do this week. That's how crazy the NFC has been. They can make things much easier with a loss, but who knows what the Schiano Men will pull off this week.

Watchability rating: 2

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders

4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

Terrelle Pryor is starting and Von Miller is out. That's a thing here, I guess. Denver still needs to win or root for a Patriots loss to get home-field advantage, so there's a good chance of seeing Peyton Manning break the single-season passing yards record.

Watchability rating: 1

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers

4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

Andy Reid has already hinted that he'll rest his starters, so the Chargers have an easier path to a win. They still need the Dolphins and Ravens to lose, and both teams play at 1 p.m. Those results could determine how much face time Mike McCoy gives to the backups.

Watchability rating: 3

St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks

4:25 p.m. ET, FOX

The Seahawks are still licking their wounds from a home loss to the Cardinals. A win would clinch home-field advantage, although a loss by the 49ers would do the trick just as well. If the Rams win, every team in the NFC West will have a .500 or better record.

Watchability rating: 4

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

8:30 p.m. ET, NBC

The game everybody is waiting for ... or was waiting for, before Tony Romo suffered a herniated disc. It's now the Kyle Orton show with a divisional title on the line. His backup? A 41-year-old Jon Kitna, who was teaching high school before signing this week. At least he'll have some awesome stories to tell his students after the holiday break.

Watchability rating: 5

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