Football fans know that Week 16 of the 2016/17 National Football League season began Thursday night with the Eagles beating the Giants and making the Cowboys and their fans the happiest of all. The Giants will still make the playoffs. But they will have to remember to pack an offense if they are still going to be playing by mid-January. We know the NFC road to the Super Bowl will go through Big D. But the teams that will be involved in the do-si-do to get there is still up for grabs.
That brings us to the NFC West, from whence just one team will be doing the Promenade Right into the post-season. The Seahawks know they will be there. They don't know, for sure, how many weeks of playoff games they will need to play. And they know the only way to host the NFC championship Game in Seattle is for the Cowboys to stumble ahead of them.
The rest of the NFC West knows they have some work to do to get to Seattle's level. The Arizona Cardinals need health and a return to defensive prominence. The Rams have to figure out if Jared Goff is the answer at quarterback. The 49ers have to find their backsides with both hands and GPS coordinates. What to watch and when to watch it? That's what makes this the finest NFC West Viewer's Guide known to man.
Don't forget. Most of the games are played on Christmas Eve. The Ravens and the Steelers play Sunday afternoon. The Sunday night game is still played Sunday night. Monday Night Football will be played when most of the Christmas toys are broken.
Cardinals @ Seahawks, Saturday 4:25 Eastern/1:25 Pacific, Fox: While the Seahawks and their vaunted 12th Man know a lot about the playoffs, they don't know everything. No one knows if the Seahawks will get Wild Card weekend off? If the season ended today they would get the week off. If they win out they will get the week off. If the Cardinals beat the Hawks, Seattle may have to play Wild Card weekend. It is the only shred of intrigue left in the divisional race. For some reason, the Cardinals have had the Seahawks' number in the last few years. Arizona beat Seattle last year about this time in a game played in the Pacific Northwest. Earlier this year, the two teams played to a bizarre five-quarter tie when the Hawks' Steven Hauschka missed a potential game-winning field goal from about 8.5 inches out. The oddsmakers know the week off is very important to Seattle, and have installed the Hawks as a nine-point favorite. And they may sail past that number with ease. But expect the Cardinals to be a little ornerier than that. Take the points in a game Seattle will probably win.
49ers @ Rams, Saturday 4:25 Eastern/1:25 Pacific, Fox: Oh, dear. If the weight of public opinion means anything 49ers Head Coach Chip Kelly is about to empty his office for the very last time. Former Rams' Head Coach Jeff Fisher was summarily shown the door a couple of weeks ago. That's how far this rivalry, once one of the best in all sports, has fallen. Whether one blames Kelly for the mess he found in the Bay Area or not, the 49er faithful are voting with their parking lot passes and are staying away from the games in droves. In a game only exceeded in player lethargy by the games these teams will play next week, the Rams are favored by 4.5. Is that too high? Too low? Anyone who watches or bets on this game should seek help. We'll pass.