There’s always some intrigue for Week 17 of the NFL season, in terms of the playoff race. This season it’s on overdrive.
Only one of the six wild-card spots has been clinched. All three from the AFC are undecided. Three teams are alive for the lone bye in the NFC. A 6-10 team could win the NFC East. The Indianapolis Colts could become the third 11-5 team to miss the playoffs, and do so in an expanded field. The Tennessee Titans could go from 10-5 and in first place to losing Week 17 and out of the playoffs altogether.
We haven’t even gotten to the Arizona Cardinals-Los Angeles Rams game. Those two teams are playing for a postseason spot, and due to injuries it could be John Wolford vs. Chris Streveler at quarterback. Neither has thrown an NFL pass. Which quarterback plays for which team? If you don’t know, you’re not alone (and we’ll discuss that game later).
Let’s go through the 16 games on Sunday, figuring out what each team is playing for and give some picks, using BetMGM’s odds:
Indianapolis Colts (-14) over Jacksonville Jaguars
The Colts need to win to stay alive for a playoff berth, and they need some help too (a loss by the Titans, Browns, Ravens or Dolphins). Indianapolis can still win the division as well. There’s a danger in just betting on teams that have “something to play for.” Every year we see a team that has long been eliminated rise up and pull an upset to affect the playoff picture. I just don’t think the Jaguars are that team.
New York Giants (+3) over Dallas Cowboys
The winner of this game will be alive for the NFC East championship. If Washington loses, one of these two bad teams will be in the playoffs. The Giants could be the first 6-10 team to get in the postseason. The Cowboys are favored because they have won three in a row, but none of the opponents were very good. The Giants have lost three in a row, but to the Cardinals, Browns and Ravens, all playoff contenders. I still don’t trust the Cowboys, especially giving a field goal.
Cleveland Browns (-10) over Pittsburgh Steelers
Mason Rudolph will start this game, and presumably a lot of Steelers starters will sit. The Steelers could get the No. 2 seed over the Bills, and get a potential divisional round playoff game against Buffalo at home, but that possibility isn’t enough for Mike Tomlin to go all out. The Browns were playing well before all their receivers were out last week, and I trust they’ll want to put this game away early.
New Orleans Saints (-6.5) over Carolina Panthers
I don’t see any reason Sean Payton would rest starters. If the Seahawks beat the 49ers, the Saints beat the Panthers and the Bears upset the Packers, the Saints get the No. 1 seed and a bye in the three-way tie. That’s not a crazy scenario. And if the starters play, a good Saints team should cruise past Carolina. The best-case scenario for New Orleans is building a big lead early and letting starters rest in the second half (the Saints are -4.5 for the first half at BetMGM ... just saying).
New York Jets (+3) over New England Patriots
I don’t know what’s crazier, the Jets being down to a 3-point underdog or me picking them. Obviously there’s nothing on the line in this game, not even the first pick of the draft, but the Patriots look like they want the season to be done.
Minnesota Vikings (-7) over Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford wants to play in the finale, but he’s beat up and the Lions might sit him. Either way, the Lions team we saw last week against Tampa Bay isn’t covering a spread against anyone.
Atlanta Falcons (+6.5) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are locked into a wild-card spot, but Bruce Arians said his starters will play anyway. "We're going to play to win," Arians said. "11-5, that's very rare. To have a chance to get to 11-5, keep that seeding — we want that seeding just for pride. We don't care who we play, it's more for pride.” Since it’s crazy to not rest players all so they can have the pride in their seed (whatever that means), I’ll assume Arians does rest players at some point Sunday and take the Falcons.
Baltimore Ravens (-12.5) over Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals strike me as a team that is playing hard and could make this more interesting than it should be. But the Ravens are playing well lately, are clearly the better team and being in a win-and-in scenario is pretty nice for them after it looked like they might need some Week 17 help.
Miami Dolphins (+1) over Buffalo Bills
The Colts might have gotten the short end of the stick when Mike Tomlin said he’d rest starters. Let’s explain.
There is some value in having the No. 2 seed, even though only one team from each conference gets a bye in the expanded playoffs. If the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds win on wild-card weekend, they’d play each other in the divisional round and the No. 2 seed would be the home team. Home-field advantage might not mean much in 2020, but it means a little something. Had the Steelers announced they were playing all out this week, the Bills might have had to do the same to ensure the No. 2 seed. The Bills and Steelers are tied in the standings but the Bills have the tiebreaker. Once the Steelers said starters would rest the Bills had the option to do the same, gambling that the Steelers’ second string can’t beat the Browns. Back to the Colts. Indianapolis needs someone ahead of them to lose to get in the playoffs. The Dolphins are the best bet, but not if the Bills sit everyone. Which I think they will.
Kansas City Chiefs (+3.5) over Los Angeles Chargers
This line sums up the weirdness of Week 17. The Chiefs will rest starters with the No. 1 seed clinched. The Chargers aren’t exactly a sure thing. If you’re betting on this game, good luck.
Chicago Bears (+5.5) over Green Bay Packers
The Bears’ surge has included wins over a lot of bad teams, but confidence is a funny thing. The Bears are playing better, feeling good and somehow get in the playoffs with a win (or Cardinals loss). The Packers need a win or a Seahawks loss to clinch the No. 1 seed, which would be huge for them. This is the NFL’s best rivalry, it means a lot in Week 17 and this should be a very good game.
Houston Texans (+7.5) over Tennessee Titans
The 10-5 Titans can clinch the AFC South with a win, but could fall out of the playoffs with a loss. Yep, it’s a weird Week 17. If the Titans lose, they’d need a loss by the Colts, Ravens or Dolphins to get in. The Texans aren’t good but they have been close a few times down the stretch, still have Deshaun Watson and maybe J.J. Watt’s speech will have some effect. I get the feeling this game will be close.
Denver Broncos (+2.5) over Las Vegas Raiders
If you have an angle on this meaningless game and have the stomach to watch it, all the best to you.
Arizona Cardinals (+1) over Los Angeles Rams
The John Wolford vs. Chris Streveler Bowl! Maybe. We know Wolford, who made a name in the AAF, will start for the Rams. Jared Goff is out. The Cardinals’ side of it is unclear.
Kyler Murray has a lower-leg injury but hasn’t been ruled out. Kliff Kingsbury initially said Streveler, who got some attention in the CFL, was Murray’s backup, but then backtracked and was vague if it would be Streveler or Brett Hundley if Murray can’t go. The Rams have a few key players out and it’s hard to know what to expect from either quarterback if it’s Wolford vs. Streveler. The Cardinals need to win to make the playoffs, or tie and get a Bears loss. So basically they need to win. The Rams are in with a win or Bears loss. Of all the Week 17 craziness, this could be the craziest of all. Again, it could be John Wolford vs. Chris Streveler with a playoff berth to the winner. Unless you’re an AAF or CFL junkie, you’ll be betting on a QB you’ve never seen play before.
San Francisco 49ers (+5.5) over Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks could still get the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win and losses by the Saints and Packers. It’s hard to know if Pete Carroll will be scoreboard watching and pull starters if the Packers or Saints go out to a big lead early. Either way, the 49ers showed last week they still have some pride and will play hard.
Washington Football Team (-1.5) over Philadelphia Eagles
The Sunday night finale will have some intrigue. Washington will be NFC East champs with a win and out with a loss. I’d like to know Alex Smith is ready to play and near 100 percent. Either way, I don’t really trust the Eagles to do much. They’ve been bad all season and that won’t change now that they’ve been eliminated.
Last week: 7-9
Season to date: 115-120-4