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Phil Hoffmann/Baltimore Ravens

2023 NFL Game Picks: Week 17

Last week: 10-6

Overall: 151-89


NYJ (6-9) @ CLE (10-5)

Thursday, December 28 | 8:15 PM ET | Prime Video


The final Thursday Night Football game of the year isn’t the battle between hopeful playoff teams that Amazon was anticipating, but it can still be a close game as the Jets look to spoil Cleveland’s opportunity to make the postseason with a victory. If New York is to pull off the upset, they will almost certainly need to make it a slugfest with Trevor Siemian unlikely to do much damage versus the NFL’s top pass defense, but the Jets are right behind Cleveland versus the pass, and Amari Cooper (heel) being at less than 100%—or out altogether—limits the explosiveness of the attack. Still, Joe Flacco has been lights out during the three-game winning streak, and David Njoku, Elijah Moore, Cedric Tillman, and others can do damage while avoiding Sauce Gardner. Look for the Browns to play stingy, opportunistic defense with Flacco making enough plays to get Cleveland into the playoffs as a real threat to make a run.


Winner: Cleveland Browns


DET (11-4) @ DAL (10-5)

Saturday, December 30 | 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ABC/ESPN2


Detroit locked up the NFC North last week, but they have their sights on at least the No. 2 seed in the conference—with a real shot at getting homefield advantage by winning out and having San Francisco lose another game. The focus needs to be on Saturday night, though, as the Lions enter Dallas as touchdown underdogs versus a team that has gone 7-0 at home, and I’m worried about the secondary for Detroit being exposed by CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, and Michael Gallup. Perhaps the takeaways generated can continue after recording four interceptions versus Nick Mullens in last week’s win over Minnesota, but the Vikings still threw for 411 yards, and Dak Prescott (who has a 25:3 touchdown-interception ratio over the past ten games) probably won’t be putting the ball in harm’s way. As a counter, I’d expect the Lions to play through David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs to control the game, but the officiating might slant towards Dallas with all the talk of Micah Parsons not getting calls, and it’s difficult to ignore their success at home.


Winner: Dallas Cowboys


MIA (11-4) @ BAL (12-3)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Baltimore showed their dominance with a 33-19 victory over San Francisco on Christmas Night, and last year’s deal for superstar linebacker Roquan Smith combined with the hiring of Mike Macdonald as defensive coordinator this offseason has made the defense perhaps the best in football. But will the upgrades be enough versus Tua Tagovailoa and a Miami offense that lit them up for 469 yards and six touchdowns through the air last year? Although the probable absence of Jaylen Waddle (ankle) will make the task a lot easier, the Dolphins had electric rookie De’Von Achane on the field more—even if his touches didn’t go up—when Waddle left the win over Dallas, and McDaniel might scheme up more ways to get him involved alongside Raheem Mostert. The other concern for Baltimore is them coming out a little flat (as teams often do after facing the 49ers), but Lamar Jackson has been consistent in his messaging about winning a Super Bowl being all he cares about, and winning this weekend would go a long way towards accomplishing that goal by clinching the No. 1 seed in the AFC.


Winner: Baltimore Ravens


NE (4-11) @ BUF (9-6)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The Patriots upset the Bills in the first matchup this season with Sean McDermott’s defense allowing Mac Jones to go 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes, but Buffalo is a different team now, and they know they cannot afford to slip up this week. Also, New England will be missing their top offensive contributors from the first meeting with Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) and Kendrick Bourne (knee) both done for the year, so keeping up with Josh Allen—who Bill Belichick compared to Tom Brady this week—might be too difficult to pull off another upset. Looking ahead, New England would be crazy to move on from the greatest coach of all-time after the season, but hitting on a quarterback is key with a likely top-five pick, and the 2024 class appears to be strong both in terms of pass-catchers and offensive linemen to get things turned around in a hurry.


Winner: Buffalo Bills


ATL (7-8) @ CHI (6-9)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Atlanta is another team that will need to hit on a signal-caller next year, but they already have the structure in place for a quarterback to thrive with an above-average offensive line and top-of-the-line talent at the skill positions. Of course, winning is the focus with the playoffs still well within reach if they can get a little help, so the veteran route could also be an option if it appears a preferred draft target won’t be attainable considering all the quarterback-needy teams that might be ahead of them; assuming Chicago “resets” the clock by drafting someone in April, Justin Fields could be one of the options, and I would like the fit despite having some concerns about him developing into an elite quarterback. For this week, the Falcons should play through Kyle Pitts as much as possible with the Bears being vulnerable against tight ends, and Taylor Heinicke—who has one turnover in four appearances this season—needs to keep taking care of the ball versus an opportunistic Chicago defense.


Winner: Atlanta Falcons


TEN (5-10) @ HOU (8-7)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Prior to the Week 15 matchup between the Titans and Texans, I said that DeMeco Ryans might not stand for the recent destruction of Derrick Henry in this division rivalry—but no one could have predicted how much he would be bottled up with 16 carries for nine scoreless yards in the overtime win for Houston. The formula without C.J. Stroud (concussion) two weeks ago was winning up front on both sides of the ball (in addition to stopping Henry, Devin Singletary totaled 170 yards and they sacked Will Levis seven times), so the return of Stroud could allow the Texans to make it less of a nail-biter at home. That said, Mike Vrabel showed again last week that he can have his defense rise to the occasion despite missing multiple starters, and I’m sure Tennessee will be trying different ways to get King Henry the ball in space to pick up a head of steam. If Stroud isn’t sharp after a couple of weeks away, the door is definitely open for an upset to suddenly eliminate the Texans pending other results on Sunday.


Winner: Houston Texans


LV (7-8) @ IND (8-7)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


One of the other results that will put Houston in danger of being eliminated if they lose this week would be Indianapolis taking care of business, but the Raiders have played tremendous football under interim head coach Antonio Pierce—thanks largely due to an old-school mentality and focus on fundamentals, which gives Las Vegas an advantage with many teams getting sloppy in recent years. I’ll reiterate that the Raiders would be in better position if Jimmy Garoppolo was under center with a likely win over Minnesota (the 3-0 loss) and maybe Miami (20-13), but he’s clearly been a great teammate if you watch him locked in and celebrating during games, and Aidan O’Connell should be positioned for success this week versus a collection of cornerbacks that I doubt can stick with Davante Adams. However, Shane Steichen has been a terrific coach this year as well, and Jonathan Taylor should find more running room this week versus a defense that he’s ripped by rushing 62 times for 405 yards (6.5 YPC) and four touchdowns in three career meetings, including 100+ and a score in every game.


Winner: Indianapolis Colts


CAR (2-13) @ JAX (8-7)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


It came in a 33-30 loss, but Bryce Young had his best game as a pro last week by completing 23-of-36 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns, and those writing off the No. 1 overall pick will eventually look foolish when he gets an improved supporting cast around him. The current state of the Jaguars—in the midst of a four-game losing streak and with a severely banged-up Trevor Lawrence (shoulder)—could allow Carolina to get a win this weekend, but this is a spot where the Jacksonville defense needs to takeover like they did at the end of last season with a defensive touchdown in each of the final two games to win the AFC South; in particular, Josh Allen needs to re-emerge with zero sacks over the past three weeks. Offensively, the Jags must play through Travis Etienne Jr. whether or not they have Lawrence, as carry totals of 11, 14, ten, and six during the current losing streak isn’t close to enough.


Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars


LAR (8-7) @ NYG (5-10)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


The Rams are red hot with a 5-1 record over their past six games, and the only loss came in overtime to the NFL-leading Ravens, 37-31. A major part of the run has been Matthew Stafford showing pinpoint accuracy all over the field, but it’s not a coincidence that Kyren Williams has been healthy, too, and the second-year back—who went in the fifth round despite a second-round grade from Wolf Sports last year—has gone for yardage totals of 158, 204, 112, 113, 155, and 104 over his past six games. As stated previously, the Rams are the perfect example of not only the importance of drafting well (even without premium capital to work with), but also developing talent under a top coaching staff, which more failing franchises need to realize. New York could be a challenge this week with Tyrod Taylor under center and Stafford struggling versus the Ravens when Wink Martindale was there (eight turnovers in three matchups), but Los Angeles will have had a few extra days to prepare and should have the edge.


Winner: Los Angeles Rams


ARI (3-12) @ PHI (11-4)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Knowing how the Eagles operate with team owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman having their fingerprints on everything, I would be surprised if Philadelphia didn’t try to destroy the Cardinals this week out of anger for how the Jonathan Gannon hiring went in the lead up and aftermath of Super Bowl LVII—and you know the fans will want to create a hostile environment for their former defensive coordinator. Remember, the situation resulted in a trade of draft picks as punishment for Arizona, and even though he spoke sincerely about always rooting for Gannon (other than this week), I’d guess Nick Sirianni might be given a directive from above to “run it up” if possible. Either way, there is probably too much talent for Philly to slip up at home, and A.J. Brown could have a monster day versus an overmatched and undersized cornerback group for the Cardinals.


Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


NO (7-8) @ TB (8-7)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


The Buccaneers entered December at 4-7, but they can leave it with a five-game winning streak and NFC South title by beating the Saints this weekend—and both sides of the ball played at a high level last week with four takeaways by the defense and another efficient day for Baker Mayfield on offense. Overall, the biggest difference from last season is the offensive system working under Dave Canales, and Todd Bowles deserves credit for hiring him after the work he did with Geno Smith in Seattle last season. New Orleans hasn’t had things come together on offense despite hope entering the year and flashes shown over the last four months, but they have been better in December outside of a couple of slow starts that put them too far behind in losses to the Lions and Rams, so maybe playing fast early on can be enough to keep their season alive; I’m just not confident enough in that being the case to pick them on the road.


Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers


SF (11-4) @ WAS (4-11)

Sunday, December 31 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


The Commanders are turning to Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback after back-to-back games where Sam Howell was benched and the veteran backup nearly led a comeback win, so Sunday could be more of a battle than anticipated for San Francisco. In regard to the reasoning for Washington making the move now—with the season over and Howell previously highlighted by Ron Rivera as something he got right for the next regime—there might be something to the head coach doing whatever he can do avoid a losing record for his career (currently 102-101-2); at the same time, it’s fair to the rest of the players for the Commanders to have the best option under center to put good things on tape (i.e. get a proper evaluation), and Howell is not that with a steep decline in his play. Unless last week somehow broke Brock Purdy, I would be very surprised if Kyle Shanahan’s offense doesn’t demolish Washington.


Winner: San Francisco 49ers


PIT (8-7) @ SEA (8-7)

Sunday, December 31 | 4:05 PM ET | FOX


I mentioned the downfield upside for George Pickens being unlocked with Mason Rudolph under center last week, and the No. 3 quarterback was able to guide Pittsburgh to a season-saving win while connecting with Pickens for 195 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday night. Playing in Seattle will be a bigger challenge, but Rudolph has high confidence in himself, and it seems his teammates feel the same, including the defense being energized by him starting. For the Seahawks, last week was too close for comfort with a couple of clutch touchdown passes by Geno Smith to give them the win, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Steelers sell out to stop the run like they did versus Cincinnati with Seattle obviously having plenty of firepower with DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba at wide receiver; the danger in playing with softer boxes is allowing Kenneth Walker III to reach the second level as a game-breaking runner, so it’s important for Pittsburgh to win in the trenches to lock up another season at .500 or better under Mike Tomlin.


Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


LAC (5-10) @ DEN (7-8)

Sunday, December 31 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


The Broncos went all-in on Russell Wilson two years ago, but it’s now clear they have gone all-in on Sean Payton after trading for him this offseason—and the Wilson era is over before his $242-million extension even kicked in. The domino effect could lead to general manager George Paton being shown the door next, and I’m very interested in finding out who Payton will be targeting at quarterback with plenty of options in the draft (even later in Round 1) or perhaps a reclamation project via trade or free agency (Jimmy Garoppolo comes to mind if Payton wants a triggerman more than a playmaker). To keep their slim playoff hopes alive with a win this week, I’d expect Denver to play through Javonte Williams, but Jarrett Stidham showed last year in Las Vegas that he can play extremely well off the bench with a near upset in a shootout loss to the 49ers (37-34), and the Chargers remain attackable on the backend.


Winner: Denver Broncos


CIN (8-7) @ KC (9-6)

Sunday, December 31 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


Kansas City will probably sneak their way into the No. 2 seed in the AFC considering they seem to always find a way to face Cincinnati and Buffalo at home, but this isn’t the same team that has reached the Super Bowl in three of the past four seasons—and the light will need to turn on quickly for them to have any shot of making another run next month. On the other side, all eyes are on the possible return of superstar wideout Ja’Marr Chase (shoulder), but don’t discount the impact of standout cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (ankle) to stabilize the coverage and provide a boost versus the run for the Bengals. Allowing big plays has been an issue all year in Cincinnati, though, so the Chiefs need others to step up behind rookie Rashee Rice (at least nine targets in each of the past five weeks) at wide receiver, especially with Travis Kelce’s production dipping down the stretch in back-to-back seasons. I don’t feel good about the pick, but Kansas City is the choice at home for what should be another intense battle.


Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


GB (7-8) @ MIN (7-8)

Sunday, December 31 | 8:20 PM ET | NBC


Jake Fromm was mentioned in early November as a guy that I would have loved to get a shot with Minnesota, but the playoff-hopeful Vikings are back to rookie Jaren Hall due to mistakes from Nick Mullens—which is frankly all the more reason that Fromm would have been the ideal replacement as an intelligent quarterback with a career 78:18 touchdown-interception ratio at Georgia (as a side note, the postgame meeting between Kevin O’Connell and Jimmy Garoppolo earlier this month after the 3-0 win for Minnesota almost seemed like a “we should have gotten you” conversation). One advantage Hall and the Vikings will have on Sunday night is Green Bay suspending former All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander because of the coin toss fiasco last week, so Justin Jefferson could be primed for a huge game versus a defense he torched for lines of 8/169/2 and 9/184/2 in the first meeting in each of the past two seasons before Alexander shadowed him in back-to-back Week 17 rematches (resulting in lines of 6/58 and 1/15). This year, the first matchup was a 24-10 road win for Minnesota, but the confidence of Jordan Love has only grown since then, and a healthy Aaron Jones could be the difference if Jefferson doesn’t go absolutely crazy.


Winner: Green Bay Packers