This is the first year of the expanded 17 game NFL schedule. The first year of the expanded schedule features one of the tightest playoff races in recent history. As we enter the final stretch of the season it’s looking more and more likely that the final playoff seeding and playoff spots won’t be decided until the 17th and final game of the season.

NFL Week 17

Tight Playoff Races

In the AFC the top four spots all sit at four losses with the New England Patriots holding the top spot by virtue of having played (and won) one more game. Spots five through thirteen are all separated by only one game. This means almost every team in the conference is fighting for a playoff spot.

Looking at the NFC the top 5 teams are all separated by two games or less. Going down the rest of the conference, teams 6 through 15 are also only separated by two games. Just like in the AFC, almost every team in the NFC is alive and fighting for a potential playoff spot.

The Lions, Texans, Jets and Jaguars are the only teams that are out of the playoff race. That leaves 28 teams fighting for only 14 playoff spots. With a race packed this tightly that extra 17th game becomes even more important, throw in the fact that the 17th game features divisional matchups for a lot of teams and this could be one of the most exciting playoff races we’ve ever seen.

Upset Fans

In a race this close playoff seeding and positions are going to change from week to week. This means the standings after 16 games will most likely look different after the 17th and final game.

Imagine your favorite team barely holding on to a wild card spot after 16 games. In seasons past you would be a playoff team and talking yourself into a super bowl run. But in the first year of the expanded schedule things don’t go your way and you find yourself on the outside looking in after 17 games.

In a season where almost the entire league still has playoff hopes there are bound to be teams that miss out on the playoffs only because of the extra 17th game. And plenty of fans will convince themselves the only reason their team didn’t win the Super Bowl is, ‘because of that damn 17th game.’

Great for the League

This has been one of the most wide open and exciting seasons in a long time. Sports shows and talk radio are full of playoff position updates. Fan’s heads are tied up with complicated tie breaker scenarios.

Teams with 4 wins can talk themselves into a potential playoff run.Television ratings the league has been getting so far this season have been great. The 17th game is a win-win for the league and its fans. The NFL gets an extra game of revenue and the fans get one more game of excitement and drama.

One extra game can change everything in a race this close. There will be excitement, there will be heartbreak, and everything in between. But most importantly: there will be an extra week of something we all love, NFL football.