We’re finally here! We are entering the final week of the NFL season, and with so many teams’ playoff seeding in question, we’ll be entertained with several critical matchups, ending with a Sunday Night Football matchup with massive implications. Which teams will see their Super Bowl chances increase, and which will see them collapse? Let’s predict every game of Week 17, which is bound to come with multitudes of scoreboard watching and strange outcomes.
Jets (6-9) at Bills (10-5)
Spread Pick: NYJ (+1)
Over/Under Pick: Under (37)
Score Prediction: Jets 17 Bills 13
On any other week, the Bills would be much more than a one-point favorite to beat the inferior Jets. However, it’s Week 17, and with Buffalo locked in as the #5 seed, they have no reason to play their starters. Even if they do, as head coach Sean McDermott had indicated, it’s unlikely they’ll play them the full game nor go at full speed; Josh Allen probably won’t be utilized much as a rusher. Plus, it’s not as though the Jets are an awful team, so they should be able to take advantage; it’ll be interesting to see how Josh Allen fares as a pocket passer against the blitz-happy Jets defense under Gregg Williams. The outcome of this game honestly depends on how hard Buffalo tries to win, but assuming that the starters are rotated out as the game progresses, the safe pick is definitely the Jets.
Saints (12-3) at Panthers (5-10)
Spread Pick: CAR (+13)
Over/Under Pick: Under (45)
Score Prediction: Saints 20 Panthers 24
In this NFC South matchup, the Saints will look to stay in the hunt for a first-round bye as they travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers. Considering that they may be hosting a playoff game on week from now, New Orleans may not be focused on this upcoming game. Considering that they’re without defensive backs Marcus Williams, Vonn Bell, and Eli Apple, that could prove to be troublesome. Will Grier and the Panthers offense may have struggled mightily in Indianapolis, but when these two teams faced off in Week 12, Carolina, under a low-quality quarterback in Kyle Allen, mustered 31 points in New Orleans; don’t count out a rebound from Grier and co. in this game. As for the Saints offense, they’ve been on a roll recently, but they struggled early in imperfect conditions in Tennesee, and with rain in the forecast, it’s not a given that Drew Brees brings his “A” game. The Saints may play conservatively, hoping to stay healthy entering the playoffs, while the Panthers can adopt a “nothing to lose” mentality. That’s a dangerous combination that favors Carolina mightily, and as a result, I expect them to come out firing early to wrap up their season with a nice divisional victory.
Browns (6-9) at Bengals (1-14)
Spread Pick: CLE (-3)
Over/Under Pick: Over (43.5)
Score Prediction: Browns 30 Bengals 20
In what may be the most meaningless game of the week, the Browns and Bengals will face off in the Battle of Ohio. Obviously, the matchup doesn’t have the usual luster it would have if either of these teams were competing for the playoffs, but nevertheless, both teams have reasons to play hard; Cleveland will look to create some positive energy entering the offseason, while Cincinnati will certainly not want to finish the season with just one win. So, who comes out victorious. It’s impossible to trust either team, given that they are amongst the league’s worst teams, but still, I’ll reluctantly take the Browns. Cleveland’s offense remains explosive with their abundance of playmaking talent, and considering the Bengals couldn’t slow down the Dolphins, of all offenses last week, it appears to be a safe bet that they’ll be able to move the ball with ease; that is, if they don’t get in their own way. Plus, if this game turns into a shootout, I trust Baker Mayfield, who has had his way versus inferior defenses, over the conservative Andy Dalton, who hasn’t done the same. I wouldn’t be shocked if Cleveland ended their season with a dud, but the talent discrepancy between these two teams is magnificent enough for me to put some faith into them.
Packers (12-3) at Lions (3-11-1)
Spread Pick: GB (-12)
Over/Under Pick: Over (43.5)
Score Prediction: Packers 38 Lions 13
After an impressive Monday Night Football victory in Minnesota, the Packers’ path to a first-round bye is in their own hands- win at Detroit, and they’re guarenteed one, with the chance to move up to the #1 seed. While a primetime statement win is usually followed up by a letdown game, given the stakes at hand, there’s no way they don’t absolutely demolish the Lions. Where do we start? Detroit’s pass defense has been abysmal, so although Green Bay’s passing attack hasn’t been very explosive, this figures to be a prime chance for Aaron Rodgers to have a monster performance; the Lions also cannot stop the run, so if the Packers get out to an early lead, this definitely won’t be a game in which Rodgers has to make much happen. Furthermore, although he was a great story at first, third-string undrafted free agent David Blough has regressed into the very limited quarterback he is, and as a result, the Lions offense has sputtered. Well, Green Bay’s pass rush and secondary have been causing havoc in recent weeks, so why should anything chance here? Long story short- this game should be decided by the end of the first quarter.
Chargers (5-10) at Chiefs (11-4)
Spread Pick: KC (-9)
Over/Under Pick: Under (45.5)
Score Prediction: Chargers 17 Chiefs 27
The Chiefs are most likely locked into the #3 seed, but with there still being scenarios for them to be either the #2 or #4 seed, there should be no doubts on their effort for this game against the Chargers. Essentially, that’s all I needed to pick them to care of business- they’re by far the better team obviously. Kansas City’s pass defense has improved in recent weeks, and was great against Phillip Rivers when these two teams first matched up; perhaps this is the game where their talented pass rush finally makes a difference. Additionally, the Chiefs have hit their gear offensively as they get back to full health, and although the Chargers defense isn’t bad by any stretch, they’re much closer to average than they are above-average. Honestly, there’s not much to say here- Kansas City should dominate on both sides of the ball in front of their home crowd, and should coast to a relatively easy win; the Chargers are the type of talented team that could always make this close, though.
Bears (7-8) at Vikings (10-5)
Spread Pick: CHI (-3)
Over/Under Pick: Over (37)
Score Prediction: Bears 31 Vikings 14
Since they’re locked into the #6 seed, it appears that the Vikings will be resting their key players. including quarterback Kirk Cousins and linebacker Eric Kendricks. That means Sean Mannion will start under center for Minnesota, which essentially erases any chance they had of me picking them to win. The Bears may not be playoff-bound, but they’re still a capable team with a lot of high-end talent; this may be the classic “Mitch Trubisky has finally turned a corner game” in which he takes advantage of a defense full of backups; I also expect Chicago’s pass rush to finally breakthrough against a pedestrian Vikings offensive line. In other words, the Bears will be able to close out their season with a convincing victory, while Minnesota gears up for the playoffs.
Dolphins (4-11) at Patriots (12-3)
Spread Pick: NE (-16.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (44.5)
Score Prediction: Dolphins 14 Pats 34
In Week 2, the Patriots blew out the Dolphins in Miami by a score of 43. Obviously, the teams are much different now, but with the Patriots’ first-round bye on the line, a similar result should be anticipated. By using more two running back sets, New England finally has found the best way to efficient production from the offense. Plus, it also helps that they get to face the Dolphins defense this week, who’ve been vulnerable to subpar offenses such as the Eli Manning-led Giants and the Jets. Meanwhile, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s risky style of play – throwing constant 50-50 balls – may allow them to have success against the Bengals, but against arguably the best cornerback duo of the NFL in Stephon Gillmore and JC Jackson, I highly doubt that’ll work. New England knows what’s at stake here, so there’s no way they overlook Miami- they should put this game away relatively quickly.
Falcons (6-9) at Buccaneers (7-8)
Spread Pick: TB (+1)
Over/Under Pick: Over (47.5)
Score Prediction: Falcons 30 Bucs 35
Neither the Falcons nor the Bucs will be participating in the playoffs this season, but honestly, this matchup between the two in Tampa Bay is one of the most intriguing games of the week. After all, both of these NFC South teams have made some noise down the stretch, and come next season, could very well be in the race to win the division. So, who will end their season with some extra positive energy? This is essentially a toss-up, but on paper, the Bucs would appear to have the edge. Both teams possess explosive offenses, and both quarterbacks have had issues with turnover worthy plays and play under pressure (albeit greater for Tampa). However, while this may surprise you, a case can be made the Bucs have a top-ten defense right now, as their young secondary has meshed really well with an excellent front seven; they’re stopping the run AND the pass. In a game that could become a shootout, it may come down to which defense I trust more to make a big play or a key stop, so because of that, I’ll side with the Bucs to advance to .500 with a close home victory.
Steelers (8-7) at Ravens (13-2)
Spread Pick: PIT (-2)
Over/Under Pick: Under (36.5)
Score Prediction: Steelers 13 Ravens 10
In any other week, the Ravens, who’ve won 11 straight games, would definitely demolish the middling Steelers. However, it’s Week 17, and with the #1 seed clinched, Baltimore won’t be playing Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Marshal Yanda, Earl Thomas, Brandon Williams, among others. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s season is on the line, as they need to win and have the Titans lose in Houston- they have much more motivation to win this game. Even against backups, Duck Hudges and co. aren’t likely to do any better than the 10 points they scored against the Jets last week, but luckily for the Steelers, they have an elite defense. Said defense is as well equipped as any to slow down this high-powered offense, but now that the Ravens will be running the offense with plenty of backups, they’ll likely be able to carry Pittsburgh to victory on their own. You can never count on the Steelers, with arguably the league’s worst offense, to beat ANY team, but yet, I’ll pick them to beat Baltimore’s “B” team in a close game.
Redskins (3-12) at Cowboys (7-8)
Spread Pick: DAL (-12.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (46)
Score Prediction: Redskins 17 Cowboys 31
The Cowboys can’t control their own destiny if they want to win the NFC East, as after losing in Philadelphia last week, they would need a win and an Eagles loss to the Giants in order to clinch. Since both games will occur at 4:25 PM ET, Dallas will go into this game not knowing their fate, which means that they’ll probably treat this like a playoff game (though you never know with the Cowboys). That should be more than enough for them to handle the Redskins. Evidenced by their 3-12, Washington is not a good football team by any means, but without quarterback Dwayne Haskins, star receiver Terry McLaurin, and cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar, Josh Norman, and Fabian Moreau, they’re utterly depleted. At the same time, the Cowboys will look to make a statement after the scrutiny they’ve dealt with from the media after that loss to the Eagles; this should be a game in which their talent and mentality align with one another. The Redskins are the type of feisty team that could keep this game competitive, but given all the injuries they’re dealing with, it’s likely they secure the #2 overall pick with a loss, while Dallas keeps their slim playoff hopes alive.
Raiders (7-8) at Broncos (6-9)
Spread Pick: DEN (-3.5)
Over/Under Pick: Under (41)
Score Prediction: Raiders 10 Broncos 26
Believe it or not, but there exists the possibility that the Raiders could make the playoffs! Oakland needs to win at Denver, and then must receive a lot of help- the Steelers and Titans have to lose, while the Colts must win. We’ve definitely seen scenarios far less likely than that happen, but unfortunately for the Raiders, the outcome that I’m most pessimistic about is actually them beating the Broncos. As demonstrated by the spread in this game, they aren’t a better team than Denver, who after their 0-4 start, has gone 6-5. Plus, for the season, the Broncos also have a much better point differential than the Raiders, and overall, they just appear to be the superior team on paper. Outside of his one dud in the snow, Drew Lock has been a solid quarterback for Denver, and what better way to finish off his five-game stretch than with a productive outing against a very poor pass defense? Furthermore, on the other side of the ball, Oakland’s offensive success is predicated on rushing the ball, but without running back Josh Jacobs and multiple offensive linemen, that’s going to be extremely difficult against the league’s top run defense, per Pro Football Focus. There’s always the concern that since they still have playoff hopes, the Raiders may be the far more motivated team. However, the Broncos have shown a lot of potential since starting Lock, have an excellent home-field advantage, and just have more talent- they’ll spoil Oakland’s minuscule playoff hopes with a reasonably emphatic win.
Titans (8-7) at Texans (10-5)
Spread Pick: TEN (-6)
Over/Under Pick: Over (44)
Score Prediction: Titans 41 Texans 24
The Titans are in the best position to make the playoffs out of all of the remaining AFC teams in the hunt for the #6 seed- all they have to do is beat the Texans, and they’ll clinch a playoff spot. If Houston has something to play for and was certain to play their top players, I’d still pick the Titans, who are the better team and lost in Week 15 due to some bad luck. However, I don’t even have to stress about that; since the Chiefs will likely win and clinch the #3 seed, the Texans will have nothing to play for, and as a result, probably will pull their key starters. If that means no Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, then it means that Tennesee won’t have to engage in a shootout, but even if they do play, Houston will definitely be without deep threat Will Fuller; his absence has been correlated with offensive struggles for the Texans in the past. Oh, and facing one of the worst defenses in the NFL, Ryan Tannehill and the explosive Titans offense are poised to score often, and perhaps even put up 40 points; that’s not even accounting for the fact that Houston could sit some of their top defensive players Tennesee has the upper-hand over a normal Texans team, but with them needing to get into the playoffs and Houston potentially resting some of their players. Don’t think twice; the Titans will roll on their way to the playoffs.
Colts (7-8) at Jaguars (5-10)
Spread Pick: IND (-6)
Over/Under Pick: Over (42)
Score Prediction: Colts 34 Jags 13
The Colts may not be playoff-bound, but them winning is actually critical in scenarios for the Raiders or Steelers to make the playoffs. Obviously, that won’t affect them, but this is a team that has fought hard under head coach Frank Reich, even as they’ve dealt with constant adversity. The Jaguars, on the other hand, have lost by multiple scores in all of one game after Week 8, and appear to have quit on the season. Therefore, Indianapolis has the edge just from a motivation standpoint, but they also match up excellently with Jacksonville. The Jaguars run defense has been extremely abysmal down the stretch, and unfortunately for them, the Colts, behind their elite offensive line, have one of the most efficient rushing attacks in the NFL. Plus, Jacoby Brissett picked apart the Jags the first time these two teams faced off, and on the other side of the ball, Indianapolis’ simplistic cover-two scheme is a great match against rookie quarterbacks, such as Gardner Minshew. Just like in Week 11, a blowout victory for the Colts feels practically inevitable.
Eagles (8-7) at Giants (4-11)
Spread Pick: PHI (-3.5)
Over/Under Pick: Under (44.5)
Score Prediction: Eagles 20 Giants 13
It’s been a roller-coaster season for the Eagles, who’ve dealt with as many injuries as any other team and have had to go through significant identity shifts. Yet, with a win against the Giants, they’ll be the champions of the NFC East; their fate is in their hands. This certainly won’t be an easy task; New York almost beat the Eagles when these two teams faced off in Week 14, and now, Philadelphia will be without star tight end Zach Ertz. Still, the Eagles have found a way to win “the big game” over the years, and this year, I expect that to be no different. Even without Ertz, I’m confident that Carson Wentz can elevate the play of those around him just enough, as he’s facing one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL; running back Myles Sanders could have a huge game with screen passes. I’m certainly more worried about the Eagles defense, which has been a liability versus the pass and the run, facing a Giants offense that has shown some promise in recent weeks. Nevertheless, if Philadelphia is going to win this game, they’ll need a turnover or two to mask their major flaws, and they’re facing the perfect quarterback for that; Daniel Jones has an absurd turnover worthy play rate of 5.52%, per Pro Football Focus. The Eagles have to win this game and remain a better team than the Giants, despite their injuries; it won’t be comfortable by any means, but they should secure the division with a victory in New York.
Cardinals (5-9-1) at Rams (8-7)
Spread Pick: LAR (-6.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (44.5)
Score Prediction: Cardinals 17 Rams 30
In the only afternoon game with no playoff implications whatsoever, the Cardinals and Rams will meet up in an NFC West battle that has nothing more at stake than simply pride. Right now, it’s unclear if Kyler Murray, who injured his hamstring last week in Seattle, will start under center for Arizona, which means we may see Brett Hundley as the team’s starting quarterbacks. Either way, this Rams defense smothered the Cardinals the first time around in Week 13, though I’ll concede that Arizona should move the ball better in this game- Los Angeles will be without starting cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Troy Hill. Regardless, due to the uncertainty at quarterback for the Cardinals, I’d be surprised if they reach 20 points in this game, which won’t work against a Rams offense that dismantled their defense in Week 13. Los Angeles may not make the playoffs, but they still have the talent of a playoff-caliber team, just went punch for punch with he 49ers, and will be motivated under head coach Sean McVay to finish the season out strong. That’s exactly what they’ll do against a Cardinals team that arguably played their “Super Bowl” last week in Seattle; the fact that Arizona has been such a popular upset pick this week is a little surprising given the mismatch in talent and their probable issues at quarterback.
SNF: 49ers (12-3) at Seahawks (11-4)
Spread Pick: SF (-3)
Over/Under Pick: Under (45.5)
Score Prediction: 49ers 27 Seahawks 16
In what is easily the game of the week, the 49ers and Seahawks will face off in Seattle on Sunday Night Football- this will not only determine the winner, but drastically impact the playoff seeding in the NFC. If the 49ers were to win, they’d be the #1 seed, while the Seahawks would likely the #3 scenario if they were to win- the loser will be the #5 seed. Therefore, this is a massive game for both teams, and will certainly have a playoff feel to it. Seattle has a knack for playing well in these types of games, and did beat San Francisco in Week 10, but still, the 49ers are just the significantly better team. The Seahawks will get some of their top defensive players back, but right now, the 49ers offense is rolling right now, and Seattle remains average at best defensively. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson is fantastic and dominates against zone coverage, but he’s regressed in the second half, and the Seahawks will be without any of their top running backs, and most importantly, will be without left tackle Duane Brown- Wilson will have to put the team on his back, which will be awfully difficult against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Then, there’s also the in-game coaching advantage that San Francisco has with Kyle Shanahan, as he’s aggressive and makes much more analytically-inclined decisions that the conservative Pete Carroll and Seattle’s run-heavy offensive style. The 49ers have the edge in so many areas and are so adversity tested, that it’d be foolish not to take them to win this big game.