Coming into today, the Sunday Night matchup between the Chargers and Raiders in Las Vegas was being billed as a winner-takes-all game with the winner continuing their season past Week 18. While that is still technically a true statement, it’s not the only path for either team to make the playoffs.
With the Colts’ loss to the Jaguars this afternoon and the Steelers’ win in Baltimore, an amusing possibility has been presented to both squads preparing for tonight. If Sunday night’s game were to end in a tie, both the Chargers and the Raiders would make the playoffs. While there are seeding scenarios at play for the Raiders (a win could put them at the 5th or 6th Seed, potentially, and a tie would clinch the 7th seed), the Chargers have no motivation to play the game if the Raiders were to propose an intentional tie.
While Los Angeles head coach Brandon Staley said earlier this week, “We’re going to do everything we can to go win this game,” that was when the tying scenario was a long shot, as the Colts were heavy favorites to beat Jacksonville today. Staley’s tune might change now that he has a very real opportunity to give his team a week of rest before a grueling playoff schedule.
As far as the rulebook goes, there’s nothing that says two teams can’t intentionally play an entire game for a tie. I’m sure the NFL is doing everything they can to get themselves out of the corner they backed themselves into, but it was a truly strange decision for the NFL to schedule a game with this potential in the final regular season time slot. The NFL certainly likes for the regular season’s final game to hold the highest stakes, and we’ve seen some of the most entertaining games in that time slot. The 2019 regular season finale between the 49ers and Seahawks comes to mind, as San Francisco won with a fourth down stop on their own 1-yard line.
It’s certain the NFL was hoping for similar fireworks tonight, but an implosion by the Colts and the battling of the Steelers brings up what could be one of the most unique season finales in NFL history.