This is where the rubber meets the proverbial road in the NFL. Approximately seven games hold playoff implications, give or take based on how some of the matchups fall. In the AFC the Chargers and Bills are in the hunt with the Ravens and Titans controlling their own destiny. In the NFC, our beloved Dirty Birds are the only team that hasn’t clinched a playoff birth as they must win to ensure they get in over the Seahawks who remain in the hunt. In other words, the Hawks, Chargers, and Bills need to win and hope the other wild card teams, Falcons, Ravens, and Titans lose. There’s still a lot left to determine beyond who is even in the dance.
Home field advantage is still in play between the Pats and Steelers, even after the “catch, no-catch” play between the two teams two weeks ago. Then there’s playoff seeding at stake for the Rams and Vikings who are battling for home field advantage. Both teams have relatively easy matchups, meaning they should win out and standings would remain pat. That said, the Rams have the more difficult matchup given the impressive play of Jimmy G. Garoppolo still has yet to lose a game as a starter in the NFL, and is making GM John Lynch look like a genius in the eyes of many. Jimmy will need to bring his A game yet again to take down the more complete Rams squad, but as we know, anything can happen on any given Sunday.
Speaking of bringing your A game. We went 9 and 7 last week, due to a few tough upset picks gone wrong. How the Kelvin Benjamin toe drag was ruled a no catch upon review is beyond us and only solidifies why it’s so difficult to pull for the Patriots. They got a lucky break through no good work of their own, and yet again it impacted their fate and possibly season for the better. As if they needed any more help. Also, for those keeping score at home that makes three potential game changing touchdowns overturned in the Patriots favor upon review. Three.
We’ll hope to make some solid picks to close out our season and get some lucky breaks along the way too.
Sunday, December 31st, 2017 – New Year’s Eve!
Washington Redskins @ New York Giants
So for the sake of time we are going to keep these previews fairly short between the teams already eliminated from contention and baring no playoff implications. The Giants did just hire Dave Gettleman as their new GM and we think that’s a strong move on their part to right the ship. That said this is lost season with little redeemable qualities for the G-Men.
Meanwhile the Redskins are evaluating whether they will negotiate a long-term contract for Kirk Cousins or release him before paying what would be a third franchise tag of an estimated $34 million. Neither team is positioned to end the season on a strong note, but the Redskins have the better team.
New York Jets @ New England Patriots
This one is simple. Pats win and they clinch home field advantage through the playoffs, which means all roads to the Super Bowl go through Foxboro. A big advantage for a team with tons of them already. Somehow blow an easy matchup and the Pats could find themselves headed into Heinz field facing an uphill battle to defend their crown.
Much has been made of James Harrison’s being cut by Pittsburgh and picked up by the Pats, but that’s mostly media hype and doesn’t have much impact on the Pats defense. That is, unless you think a 39 year old defensive end who has lost a step will significantly change a playoff game. Just ask the Falcons how much Dwight Freeney slowed down Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI.
Either way this game is a cake walk and reinforces the reason for many to question just how legitimately dominant the Pats would have been were they in a more competitive division during Belichick’s and Brady’s time there. Just imagine if they played the Ravens, Steelers, or Chiefs twice a season. Think they win 10 and 12 plus games a season for over a decade against that sort of schedule? But, you play the teams in your division, and this week, the Pats wrap up another route of the far inferior Jets team.
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
What could be an NFC battle between two heavy weight defenses will end up being a destruction of a young and hopeful squad by a more seasoned and talented one. The Vikings need to win to secure the #2 seed in the playoffs, but they don’t need to win so bad as to injure any of their key players. A large reason for the newfound success this season of QB Case Keenum has been the contested catch rate of wideouts Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Both receivers rank in the top 10, with Diggs holding down the top spot.
Want to make a QB look better than advertised? Try hauling in passes that should be picks nearly half of the time. Watch for Keenum to run into problems against tougher defenses, but until then, the Vikings continue cruising. Vikes roll past the Bears.
Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions
Other than bragging rights and posterity, this game does not matter. Green Bay has already sent Aaron Rodgers back to the IR, and the Lions are eliminated from playoff contention even if they tied Atlanta due to the tiebreaker rules and their loss to the Falcons earlier in the year. The Lions will be playing for pride. Get it? Lions. Pride?!
Look for Green Bay to pull out all of the stops and throw some different guys in to see what they have in their young players, while the Lions attempt to close out the season strong. Detroit wins as the home team with more talent in a ho-hum affair.
Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts
And another one. Another game that only matters to the individual fan bases and specific teams involved. What could be an interesting matchup next year and in years to come between DeShaun Watson and Andrew Luck, will now be a who cares throw away game between Tom Savage and Jacoby Brissett. Both starting QBs in 2017 that will be more likely to be holding clipboards than taking snaps under center in the coming seasons.
We’ll take the Colts to win, but it won’t be pretty. Houston still has a decent defense, but Indianapolis has more overall talent on offense and defense and it’s just hard to see Houston putting anything together for four meaningful quarters. Colts win a tight, ugly one.
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
When these two teams met week one of this year the Browns nearly upset the Steelers, falling just short 21-18. We don’t think this matchup comes nearly as close. The Browns have nice pieces, and we hoped they would upset and defeat the Packers in Green Bay, but as Cleveland has want to do, they goofed it up and gave it away in the end. We feel for you Browns fans, we truly do. As lifelong Falcons fans, believe us when we say that.
That being said, you’ll likely join the Lions as only the second team in modern era NFL history to go 0 for 16 over the course of an entire regular season. For the love of all that is good and enjoyable about watching a dumpster fire, please draft Baker Mayfield in 2018 and pick back up Johnny Manziel. Oh, and then re-sign RGIII! You’d have three Heisman winners! Triple the pleasure, triple the embarrassing and entertaining fun!
Seriously though. This goes without saying. Steelers dominate in this game. Even without AB, Big Ben connects with JuJu and Martavis while Bell runs all over Cleveland’s porous D. Pittsburgh wins and locks up the #2 seed.
Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
A game that usually has major implications in the football world brings little to the table to close out 2017. Thanks a lot Dallas. The Cowboys put on a dreadful performance against a beatable Seahawks team, eliminating them from playoff contention and making this game in Philly meaningless. Even without Carson Wentz the Eagles have locked up the top seed and home field throughout the playoffs. The Eagles will likely play their starters for a half, but don’t bet on either team to put any stars out there if they suspect even a hint of a serious injury.
Who’s ready for the backup and third string affair about to go down in Philly?! We sure aren’t. Cowboys win for pride, but who really cares.
San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams
Allow Todd Gurley III to reintroduce himself. Over the past three weeks, against the Eagles, Seahawks, and Titans, three playoff caliber teams, Gurley has done the following:
- Eagles: 96 yards rushing with 2 rushing touchdowns and 3 catches for 39 yards
- Seahawks: 152 yards rushing with 3 rushing touchdowns and 3 catches for 28 yards and 1 receiving touchdown
- Titans: 118 rushing yards, 10 catches – yes, TEN! – for 158 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns
No, those aren’t numbers from a Madden video game. Yes, those are the opponents who Gurley made mince meat of, proceeding to fly by and run over defenders attempting to slow his crazy train down.
After yet another outstanding performance, Gurley has placed his name on the short list of players in consideration for the MVP of the national football league. It’s hard to argue with the difference he has made for the Rams this season. Goff has improved gradually, but not the extent that Gurley has bounced back and exceeded expectations from his breakout rookie season. The MVP has become a bit of an NFL QB award, but if they want to give it more credence again they’d be wise to consider both Gurley and AB for this year’s honor.
There’s another guy in this matchup that is red hot though, and we mentioned him early on. Jimmy Garoppolo is off to a scorching start to his time as a Forty-Niner. In a game that could give the Rams home field and a first round bye, Garoppolo will do his damndest to spoil LA’s chances of post season success. As much as we’d love to see the Niners play spoiler it’s not realistic and LA is too balanced. Rams will put up more points than the Niners can match Sunday, and the Rams will head into the post season as arguably the hottest team in the NFL.
Oakland Raiders @ Los Angeles Chargers
The Raiders will attempt to ruin any post season hopes the Chargers have by heading into LA and knocking off their division rival. Oakland is out of contention, but still would love to eliminate the Chargers. LA finds themselves on the outside looking in, needing a win and a Ravens or Titans loss to get into the playoffs. Yet again Philip Rivers and the Chargers can’t seem to get enough done to make noise in their division and in the post season. The seemingly always talented Chargers squad continues to hype up their fan base only to disappoint in the end.
Will this be the year the Chargers begin to turn that narrative? Beating the Raiders will be a good start Sunday, but they’ll be scoreboard watching as much as any team this Sunday. Chargers run over the Raiders with solid performances from Rivers, Allen, and Gordon, and then play the waiting game.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos
The Chiefs have nothing to play for and the Broncos season is lost. Denver’s D could present problems for KC, but there’s little reason for the Chiefs to expose their star players to many big hits. Don’t expect KC to let their starters stay in the game much past the first quarter or two. After a bit of action to remain in rhythm Andy Reid will pull his starters and we’ll likely get our first look at Patrick Mahomes. The first year rookie out of Texas Tech was drafted for his big arm and upside and it will be fun to see what he can do against a good defense.
Chiefs lose, but keep the game closer than you may think as Mahomes impresses in his first turn as a starter in a Chiefs uniform. Denver will do enough on the back of their solid defense and decent offense to ground and pound KC into submission with the Chiefs resting their starters and preparing for the post season.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Tennessee Titans
An AFC South battle that shapes up to be one of the best of the weekend. Tennessee needs to win to secure their spot as there are numerous scenarios that knock them out of the playoffs with a loss. The last time these two teams met early in the season the Titans ran over the Jags, exposing a weaknesses in their defensive armor. In their attempt to repeat that effort, the Titans will be short handed as DeMarco Murray will miss this week due to a lingering injury. That means the Titans will roll with the combo of Derrick Henry, Mariota, and rookie CB/slasher Adoree Jackson.
This will be Mariota’s toughest test of the season, but one bit of good news is that Corey Davis appears to finally getting in sync with the Titans QB. If Davis steps up that could free up Delanie Walker in some underneath patterns enough to move the chains. Another factor in the Titans favor is that the Jags are likely to sit, rest, and not over extend their players as their #3 seed is already secured. The Jags aren’t able to attain a higher seed, which means they’ll play a series or two and likely begin to sit those that have any issues or minor nicks and bruises. Titans win a crucial matchup by virtue of scheduling and favorable timing.
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Saints locked up a playoff birth, but are attempting to win the NFC South as well. If New Orleans and Carolina win it will come down to a tie breaker, but it may not make it that far based on the outcome of the Panthers and Falcons game. The Saints should handle the Bucs in due course, but if the Panthers fall behind early New Orleans may sit their starters should the Falcons game get out of hand.
We don’t see blowouts likely in any of these, so we’ll take the Saints to secure their division title. Saints win, but the South will come down to the wire.
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins
This AFC East battle has major implications as the Bills could land the final playoff spot if the chips fall in their favor on Sunday. The Dolphins would love to spoil the Bills’ hopefuls chances, and will try their hardest to end 2017 on a high note. Buffalo was robbed of momentum and a crucial call at the end of the half against the Pats in week 16, but their competition is far less in week 17. Tyrod appears to be capable of stepping up as he did against New England and Miami has little motivation remaining for 2017.
Kenyan Drake and Jay Cutler are playing for larger roles in 2018, but that won’t match the effort put forth by a playoff hopeful Bills team. Expect Tyrod, KB, and Shady to be clicking on all cylinders. Bills win and wait.
Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks
Oy vey. Another important matchup with a team that is basically gifting a win to a needy opponent. Much like the Titans and Jags, the Seahawks face an opponent with little to play for, and setting up to be a mismatch with backups facing off against starters. The Seahawks need a win and a Falcons loss to get into the playoffs, so there’s still some luck they need to get in, but their matchup is conducive for at least a chance of a birth.
Seattle showed their D is still good enough to clamp down on inferior and unprepared opponents, and Arizona, outside of the great Larry Fitzgerald is just that. Russell Wilson won’t exactly light up the Cardinals sound defense, but he brings enough mobility and play extending ability to put points up. Seahawks survive a slight scare early to win and wait to see what happens with the Dirty Birds down south.
Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta lost to Carolina early in the season, due in large part to this…
Yes, an uncharacteristic drop by all-pro wideout Julio Jones ended up being the difference in a game that ended 20-17. This time around Atlanta has home field advantage, and Julio will certainly look to redeem himself.
The Panthers do have a major problem with #11 on Atlanta. Historically Jones has had the Panthers number for years. He burns them with incredible catches over defenders and blowing by them on the ground. Remember his 300 yard game from 2016? Yeah, that came against the Panthers. Remember the one loss the 2015 Panthers had prior to losing in the Super Bowl? That was thanks to a huge game from Julio, keyed off by a big catch over the back of Luke Kuechly. Jones has an unmatched size and speed that Carolina’s corners simply cannot contain.
Atlanta’s goal will be to limit Christian McCafferey out of the backfield similar to how they contained Alvin Kamara of the Saints. The Falcons defense has been the bright spot of late, and we expect them to continue their strong play. Deion Jones has improved even more from 2016 and with Vic Beasley finally flashing some of his game changing speed and ability to rush the QB, Atlanta’s front will cause Newton all kinds of problems. We’ve been on the Falcons bandwagon all season, but we acknowledge the problems Matt Ryan has presented. Ryan has to limit the mistakes and capitalize fully on momentum of the moment. Assuming Matt takes full advantage of scoring opportunities the Falcons will win this game surprisingly handedly. Dirty Birds win and get in, causing all sorts of nerves to be rustled as they seek to defend their NFC title.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens close out our matchups with another win and get in situation. Baltimore is easily one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC. After keeping pace with the explosive Steelers offense, and finding new life with Alex Collins and Danny Woodhead in the backfield, the Ravens and their dominant defense will present real problems for opponents in the playoffs. Baltimore’s defense, led by Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle, have playmakers all over the field and can shut down even the best offenses. The Ravens biggest weakness is stopping the run, but that won’t be a problem with the Bengals.
If Joe Flacco continues heating up as he has want to do, the Ravens could shock a lot of teams and analysts in the football world. For this week though Baltimore has more than enough firepower to take down the Bengals. Ravens dominate and lock up their playoff spot.
That’s a wrap for the regular season and 2017! We appreciate all of the love and support. Please continue, liking, loving, sharing and generally being awesome! Happy New Year and we’ll see you with playoff predictions in 2018!