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NFL's Week 17 will feature three big division showdowns

Lions starting center suspended for Sunday stomp; barring appeal will miss Packers showdown

One small stomp for man, one giant gulp for the Detroit Lions.

The NFL on Monday suspended Detroit center Dominic Raiola one game for stomping on the ankle of Chicago defensive tackle Ego Ferguson the day before.

That means the Lions will be without the anchor of their offensive line for their biggest game of the season, a finale at Green Bay with the NFC North Division title hanging in the balance. As it is, Detroit hasn't won at Lambeau Field since 1991, and any missteps — let alone mis-stomps — can tilt the scales.

Raiola, who has been cited for six player-safety violations since 2010, has three days to appeal the suspension. If the punishment stands, the Lions will start rookie third-round pick Travis Swanson at center.

Lions-Packers is one of three winner-take-all divisional matchups Sunday, with Atlanta playing host to Carolina in the NFC South, and Cincinnati playing at Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

Both Green Bay and Detroit are assured of at least wild-card berths. They played each other Sept. 21, with the Lions holding serve at home, 19-7.

In that game, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a chance to exploit the Lions' broken-down secondary but was under too much pressure from the defensive front. He was sacked twice and threw for just 162 yards.

One of those sacks was by Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who made a boneheaded mistake in celebrating. He jumped up in the air and tried to mock Rodgers' "title belt" gesture, landed awkwardly and suffered a season-ending knee injury.

The Lions caught their share of breaks in that game too. Detroit's Matthew Stafford was intercepted twice. The second of those was picked off near Green Bay's goal line, and, although the play was first ruled a touchback, officials wound up giving the Packers the ball on their one-yard line.

On the next play, Green Bay's Eddie Lacy was tackled behind the line of scrimmage for a safety.

Both Rodgers and Lacy have been considerably more explosive since then.

Asked Monday about having the incentive to play for something in Week 17, Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said: "This is how you want to go into it. If you look at past experiences, sitting a bunch of players, they're so different than last games before that. The fact that we're playing a playoff-type game is exactly how you want to go into the playoffs. I know that's the way I'd prefer."

The Steelers got to the postseason by beating Kansas City on Sunday, ending their two-year playoff drought. But Pittsburgh wants a home game, of course, and that happens only with a win over Cincinnati.

Two weeks ago, Pittsburgh routed the Bengals, 42-21. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes in that game, including a 94-yarder to rookie Martavis Bryant.

Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell trampled the Bengals, too, running for 185 yards, reeling in six passes for 50 yards, and scoring three second-half touchdowns.

Whereas that game was a blowout, the Panthers-Falcons game on Nov. 16 was a nail-biter.

Atlanta won, 19-17, getting a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan and four field goals from Matt Bryant.

It's astounding that these teams are still vying for a playoff spot. The Panthers were 1-8-1 during a 10-game stretch in the middle of the season, and the Falcons are 1-9 outside their division. Yet here they are, each of them one win away from hosting a playoff game.

Barring a tie, the NFC South champion will finish 7-9 (Atlanta) or 7-8-1 (Carolina), just the second time in league history a team with a losing record made the playoffs. The first time was 2010, when the Seattle Seahawks of first-year Coach Pete Carroll won the NFC West at 7-9, then upset defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the first round.

"Now it all comes down to one game, and that's all we can ask for is to be in that situation," Carolina Coach Ron Rivera said.

In recent weeks, Falcons players have taken to wearing T-shirts that read "1-0" as a reminder to concentrate on the now, rather than glancing at the abysmal path that got them to this point.

"People are going to jump on the bandwagon, they're going to jump off the bandwagon," receiver Julio Jones said after Atlanta's 30-14 victory at New Orleans. "But when you get to the postseason, it's 0-0."

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