A decade's worth of Week 17 gems

Posted Dec. 23, 2011 @ 3:27 p.m.
Posted By Mike Beacom

Week 17 can be a lost week of football. That's certainly true for fantasy football, as most leagues refuse to extend their postseason into the NFL's final week in fear of too many irrelevant games.

But over the past decade there have been a number of games played on the final Sunday of the regular season that have had a great impact on playoff seeding and division crowns. And many of those games created a ripple effect that was felt deep into the postseason.

Here's a list of some of the more important Week 17 games from the past decade, from most recent to oldest …

Bears at Packers (2010)

It took a minor miracle to help the Packers qualify for the 2010-11 playoffs. The outcome of a dozen games were part of the final equation, but come Week 17 the focus of the mission had become quite simple: beat Chicago. The Bears had already wrapped up the NFC North crown, but Lovie Smith made it clear he would not lie down for his team's bitter rival — Green Bay was going to have to earn its way into the postseason. It was an ugly defensive battle, the difference being a one-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Donald Lee early into the fourth quarter. The Packers sacked Jay Cutler six times; a month later, Green Bay sacked the Bears in the NFC championship game.

Rams at Seahawks (2010)

The postseason is for winners. At least, that's what fans had believed until 2010. In the final game of the regular season, the Seahawks were still alive in the NFC West race despite owning a 6-9 mark. To get in, all they had to do was beat the 7-8 Rams. Thanks to an inspired performance by part-time starter Charlie Whitehurst, Seattle won 16-6, and with it earned a home playoff game with a 7-9 record. The next week, Pete Carroll's team beat the defending Super Bowl-champion Saints.

Giants at Vikings (2008)

Minnesota needed a win on the final Sunday of the regular season to claim its first NFC North crown (and first division title since 2000). To do so, they would have to beat the defending Super Bowl champion and NFC-leading Giants (12-3). But thanks to John Carney's fourth field goal, New York held a 19-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Four plays into the next drive, Tarvaris Jackson hit Bernard Berrian on a 54-yard scoring strike. After a Carney miss, the Vikings took possession at their own 38-yard line and used up the game's remaining 3:18 to set up Ryan Longwell for a game-winning kick from 50 yards.

Broncos at Chargers (2008)

Oh, it was an ugly season for the AFC West. With one game to play, Denver owned an 8-7 record; San Diego was a game behind, but a win over the division rival would earn the Chargers the tiebreaker. The entire season was riding on this one contest for both clubs, but the game itself was really no contest. The Chargers' backfield gained 289 yards rushing and scored five touchdowns. Philip Rivers added a pair of TD tosses in the 52-21 rout.

Patriots at Giants (2007)

With history on the line at The Meadowlands, Bill Belichick's club became the second team in the modern era to finish a regular season undefeated. Of course, Tom Coughlin's Giants made them work for it. Trailing 28-16 late into third quarter, Tom Brady guided New England to touchdowns on three of the team's next four possessions. Eli Manning's touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress in the final minute had no meaning — of course, a month later, the same connection produced one of the most famous touchdowns in Super Bowl history.

Lions at Cowboys (2006)

The 2006 Cowboys will be remembered for Tony Romo's place-holding gaffe in the first-round playoff loss to Seattle, but things began to unravel for Bill Parcells' club on New Year's Eve. Hosting a Detroit squad which hadn't won a game since Nov. 5, Dallas kept pace in a contest that boasted six lead changes. In the end, though, the Cowboys' secondary had no answer for Jon Kitna (306 yards, four touchdowns) or his destructive duo of Mike Furrey (11 catches) and Roy Williams (104 yards, two touchdowns). Detroit won, 39-31, to improve its record to 3-13; Dallas was sent spiraling into the postseason.

Jets at Rams (2004)

Only a few seasons after dominating the NFC, the Rams were just trying to hold on in 2004. They entered the final week of the season with a 7-8 record and an outside shot of qualifying for their fifth postseason over a six-year stretch. On the other sideline was a 10-5 Jets squad that owned one of the NFL's top defenses. Early on it showed, as Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk couldn't find room to roam (they combined for just 44 yards on 17 carries). QB Marc Bulger made up for the running game's woes with 450 passing yards to help St. Louis keep up. In overtime, Jeff Wilkins nailed a 31-yard field goal to send the .500 Rams into the playoffs, where they knocked off Seattle before falling to Atlanta.

Vikings at Cardinals (2003)

At the beginning of the year, Minnesota looked unbeatable. Mike Tice's club opened with a 6-0 record, including wins over all three division rivals. Then things fell apart. Heading into the last contest of the regular season, all Minnesota needed to do to wrap up the NFC North was beat a 3-12 Cardinals team that had lost seven in a row. But despite beating Arizona every way possible on paper, the win wasn't in the cards. The Cardinals scored two touchdowns in the final few minutes, including a 28-yard pass as time expired, to win 18-17. Minnesota became the second team in league history to begin a season 6-0 and fail to qualify for the playoffs.

Colts at Texans (2003)

By 2003, Peyton Manning had earned a reputation for failing to get the job done in the postseason (0-3). In the final week of the regular season, Manning's Colts needed a win over lowly Houston to wrap up the AFC South. They had to work harder than expected. Houston built a 17-3 heading into the final quarter. Edgerrin James opened the quarter with a touchdown run, and following an interception several minutes later, Manning hit Brandon Stokley to tie it up. Mike Vanderjagt's 43-yard field goal as time expired gave the Colts the division title. And in a home game against Denver the following week, Manning got his first playoff win.

Packers at Jets (2002)

The Packers were one of the hottest teams in football at the end of the 2002 season, and many predicted Brett Favre would lead them to San Diego for Super Bowl XXXVII. A win over the Jets would give the Packers a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Instead, Chad Pennington lit up the Packers' defense by throwing four touchdown passes in a 42-17 rout. The win helped the 9-7 Jets claim a playoff spot; the loss dropped Green Bay to the NFC's No. 3 seed, and the following weekend Favre and company became the first Packers team to lose a playoff game at Lambeau Field (to Michael Vick and the Falcons).

Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mbeac