FOX Sports Insider
It’s gift giving season, the time of year when you either get something you asked for, something you didn’t get, or maybe, if you weren’t good, nothing. at all.
The same is true in the National Football League, where this year there are more parcels than usual piled around the metaphorical professional football family tree, and in many cases the same gift awaits once. that the pigskin-colored wrapper was torn.
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For all but a few villains, who have fared poorly, hope lingers on in various forms, thanks to this unconventional, unpredictable, high parity campaign where plenty of playoff spots are yet to be won.
The chance to resurrect a season is in some cases well deserved, in others probably much less, but either way here it is, a weekend full of football ahead just as Santa prepares for extra time , and everything to play.
As long as you have five or more wins at this point – and all but six teams meet those criteria – playoff football remains a legitimate possibility. Yet the charms of Christmas take various forms.
For some, the gift of hope is like receiving a lottery ticket on Christmas morning; a nice gesture, but guaranteed to achieve nothing. That’s how it is for the Pittsburgh Steelers, still on the hunt but needing a baffling combination of a dozen results — three of their own wins being just the start — to crash into the ground.
What do you get for the man who has everything? Or for the man who earns $50 million a year? For Aaron Rodgers, perhaps the greatest gift of all is this, the slightest chance of launching the Green Bay Packers an unlikely comeback in the playoffs even after all the dismal developments of the year and a two-month stretch that hasn’t achieved only a single victory.
“So we won two and pretty much everything we needed went to plan,” Rodgers told reporters. “Pretty much, isn’t it? Things are looking up.
Next, the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Day (1 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), where Rodgers hopes to continue the Pack’s mini-rescue.
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Those who never saw it coming may be the ones who appreciate it the most. The Detroit Lions, resurgent from 1-6 to 7-7, are well and truly in the conversation. At the end of November, even the ultra-optimistic Dan Campbell couldn’t have had the audacity to scribble that kind of result on his wishlist and send it off to the elves.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are also joyous, having taken their own momentum, mixed it with the mind-boggling collapse of the Tennessee Titans and find themselves at the gates of what would be an accelerated version of Trevor Lawrence’s progression timeline.
The Lions and Jaguars pounced when needed and showed proper form for a playoff contender. Other teams haven’t, but are still in the frame.
Among those, inconceivably, are the once again abysmal New York Jets on Thursday, with the only relief coming when fourth-string quarterback Chris Streveler was brought in to replace Zach Wilson.
They looked like a team that was going nowhere and they lost four games in a row. Win the final two, though, and there’s more than even a chance they’ll make the playoffs.
Renewed joy and the persistence of possibility is what was expected when the NFL added seventh place in the playoffs in every conference. On this evidence, it is difficult to argue with logic. Everyone loves gifts, and what better time than this?
In the NFC South, there is a happy lot for Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the first to win a playoff game at home despite a checkered and mostly unsatisfying season. The largesse, however, extends to all other members of the same division, New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina, all 5-9, are very aware that this opportunity is also theirs.
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For some, there’s the possibility of wrapping up the accomplishment of a playoff berth — in fancy paper and tape, presumably — with one more win, or even a result elsewhere falling nicely. That’s how it is for the Baltimore Ravens, who could end the Falcons’ waning odds (1 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app) and keep the pressure on the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.
The thing to remember about this particular type of Christmas present is that it’s only good to receive if it works, otherwise it evaporates and gets forgotten like all those ill-fitting clothes, unopened CDs, disappointing calendars and second-rate candy from years gone by.
Opportunity teases that good things can happen – but in most cases only if you win – which, despite all the permutations, is still what it’s all about.
That’s why Lawrence sat smiling in a Christmas jumper as early as Thursday night, his part in the festive slate already accomplished.
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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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