Week 17 of the NFL season is here, and there are still seven playoff spots up for grabs. There are several teams facing win-or-go-home games. The Browns need a victory at home against a Steelers team that will rest Ben Roethlisberger. The Cardinals and Rams need to beat each other to get into the postseason, and L.A. will be without Jared Goff, who broke his thumb last week. The Colts have a home game against a one-win Jaguars team with nothing to play for. It's a huge week as we head into next weekend's wild-card matchups.
Let's run through some key matchups on the final day of the regular season, focusing on game-plan keys, scheme, personnel and coaching for all of the teams facing must-win games.
We'll start with the two games in which both teams need to win to make the playoffs, with the NFC East and NFC wild-card spots still undecided:
Why this matchup matters: The winner of this game (1 p.m. ET, Fox) will be the NFC East champ ... if Washington loses to Philadelphia on Sunday night. If Washington wins, both the Cowboys and Giants will miss the playoffs.
What Dallas needs to do to win: Attack the Giants' zone coverage schemes
Unlike last week, when Dallas saw a lot of single-high man-coverage and favorable matchups in a blowout win over the Eagles, Patrick Graham's New York defense will play more zone coverage against the Cowboys' talented pass catchers. Think Cover 3 and Cover 2 here, mixing in some 2-Man on critical down situations. I would anticipate more boot with quarterback Andy Dalton, which caters to his ability to throw on the run, plus Hi-Lo reads to influence the Giants' underneath defenders. That allows the Cowboys to run intermediate in-breakers and flood concepts with both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, plus take shots on long balls to Michael Gallup, who had two scores against Philadelphia. The Cowboys will also need running back Ezekiel Elliott to get going on zone runs out of 12 (two tight ends) and 11 (one tight end) personnel, and I would give backup Tony Pollard some touches as well. He has explosive traits as a runner and receiver.
Defensively, I look at the linebacker position. Both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch (or Sean Lee, if Vander Esch misses the game with his ankle injury) need to fit their run gaps and be violent at the point of attack. Stack, shed and find the football -- New York is going to run power right at them.
What New York needs to do to win: Pound the ball and set up play-action for QB Daniel Jones