WAS (7-8) @ NYG (2-13) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The 2018 NFL offseason could have more turnover than ever before, and the Redskins and Giants are both candidates for sweeping changes to the franchise. For Washington, they will have to decide yet again if they want to meet Kirk Cousins’ contract demands and make him the long-term answer at quarterback, but they also could trade and/or fire Jay Gruden under impatient owner Dan Snyder, which would be a mistake barring a huge haul of draft picks in return. The rival Giants also have a decision to make at the quarterback position, and picking either second or third in April should make things easier on them if there’s a prospect they really love. As for this Sunday, Eli Manning will look to finish strong in what could be perhaps the end of his career (at least in New York), but Cousins will be the best player on the field in a meeting between two injury-plagued teams.
Winner: Washington Redskins
NYJ (5-10) @ NE (12-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It’s impossible to tell what ownership is thinking because it’s usually one person or a small group of people making a decision, but it seems as if Todd Bowles’ job is safe for next season, and deservedly so. I would think people in the NFL know that getting a handful of wins with New York’s roster was no small task, and even if he does get fired, Bowles should be able to get another opportunity as a head coach in Arizona or someplace else. A win against the Patriots would almost certainly mean no changes for the Jets, but I don’t see Tom Brady and Bill Belichick relinquishing home-field advantage in the AFC, especially playing at home against Bryce Petty.
Winner: New England Patriots
CHI (5-10) @ MIN (12-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Could a quarterback controversy be brewing with Sam Bradford set to return to practice next week? Case Keenum has been sensational for the Vikings, leading them to a 10-3 record in his starts with 3,358 yards, 21 touchdowns, and seven interceptions, but the window for NFL teams to win a Super Bowl isn’t open for very long, and I think Bradford is clearly the best quarterback on the roster if he’s healthy. In 17 games with Minnesota, the former first-overall pick has completed 71.8% of his passes for 4,259 yards, 23 touchdowns, and five interceptions, and in the season opener on Monday Night Football this year, he completely torched what has turned out to be a very good Saints defense for 346 yards and three scores while absorbing hits and dropping dimes. Keenam has been a magician at times to avoid defenders, but as a guy in New England has shown time and time again, the best way to win in January is from the pocket; not many are better than Bradford there. All that said, Keenum should be able to put the Bears away this week to lock up a first-round bye—and probably his job.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
GB (7-8) @ DET (8-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Of the several NFL coaches that are expected to be fired, Jim Caldwell is the one that has had the most success in recent years. Since Caldwell was hired in 2014, Detroit has made the playoffs twice, including last season, but an upset loss to Cincinnati that eliminated them from contention this year gives general manager Bob Quinn reason to get his own guy. I think Caldwell is a solid coach, but the Lions just weren’t taking the next step under his leadership, and it’s probably better for both sides to move on. Still, the Lions are a lot healthier than Green Bay is, and I like Matthew Stafford to finish strong at home this week.
Winner: Detroit Lions
HOU (4-11) @ IND (3-12) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It’s a shame that this game means more for next April’s draft than anything else because of injuries to Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck, but it’s crazy to think that a four-win team against a three-win team could have franchise-altering implications—but strangely not for Houston. While Indianapolis would move up to the second-overall pick with a loss and a Giants win, the Texans owe their first-round pick to Cleveland, so this means as much to the Browns as anyone else. People might not bring it up, but the difference between one or two spots in a quarterback-heavy draft is extremely significant. I’d still rather be watching Watson versus Luck for a potential playoff spot, though. Hopefully soon-to-be-fired Chuck Pagano is at least sent off with a home victory, as he made the most of what he had to work with in Indy over six seasons.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
CLE (0-15) @ PIT (12-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Ownership has said Hue Jackson will remain the team’s head coach in 2018, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a winless season changed things. Unless the Browns pull off a road upset this Sunday, Jackson’s record will be 1-31 with Cleveland, which is almost incomprehensible. I’ve defended the idea that head coaches should get time to build a winner (and that includes Jackson himself with the Raiders when he was fired following an 8-8 season), but ousted VP of football operations Sashi Brown and his regime picked a lot of talented players that the coaching staff hasn’t gotten the best out of. Brown also set them up with possibly the first- and fourth-overall picks in next year’s draft, so whether it’s Jackson or someone else as head coach, it will be one of the more desirable jobs in the NFL. We’ll see if JuJu Smith-Schuster and the Steelers somehow have some fun in the end zone at Cleveland’s expense this Sunday.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
DAL (8-7) @ PHI (13-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
This is one of the most unpredictable games of the week, because no matter what Doug Pederson says in regards to playing time for his starters, I’m not sure I’ll believe him. It’s worth noting that in the preseason, Pederson had an unusually quick hook for Carson Wentz and other key players (including the third game), so that’s something to keep in mind for fantasy owners and bettors. Of course, the Cowboys don’t have anything to play for either, and they will most likely be without left tackle Tyron Smith against the hungry backups for Philadelphia. I could change things later in the week depending on who is in and out for both sides, but I think the Eagles will get a close win and make things really interesting for Jason Garrett in Dallas following his fourth 8-8 finish in seven years. [Update: My pick has changed to the Cowboys based on Sunday morning’s inactives]
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
SF (5-10) @ LAR (11-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
I’ll repeat what I said in last week’s game picks: “Can anyone stop Jimmy Garoppolo?” The 26-year-old just led San Francisco to a 44-33 win against Jacksonville’s elite defense on Christmas Eve, and he’s now 6-0 as a starter in the NFL, including 4-0 with the previously one-win Niners. He rightfully isn’t going to come close to getting a vote, but with Todd Gurley sitting this week and former mentor Tom Brady in the midst of an interception streak, would Garoppolo have received some MVP consideration if he was traded a month earlier than he was? If you think about, it’s nearly impossible to add any more value to a team than Jimmy G did for Kyle Shanahan’s squad. I expect a fifth-straight win to finish out the season against the resting Rams, and looking ahead to the offseason, the free-agent-to-be probably shouldn’t settle for anything less than the largest contact in NFL history.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
OAK (6-9) @ LAC (8-7) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
It was closer than they would have liked, but the Chargers did what they needed to last week to potentially make the playoffs with a win and Tennessee loss in Week 17. All they can do is worry about their own game on Sunday, though, and that means defeating the Raiders, whom they’ve dropped four out of five against. Perhaps the fair-weather LA fans will come out to support the home team, but veterans Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates will have their younger teammates ready to roll either way. We’ll see if Melvin Gordon successfully forces his way onto the field with an injured ankle; I’m not sure the injured players for the Raiders will have the same motivation to play.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
KC (9-6) @ DEN (5-10) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
There are a lot of games that mean nothing on Sunday, and despite this being one of them, rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes seeing the field for the first time is reason enough to tune into Chiefs-Broncos. I had Mahomes just outside of the first round in my 2017 prospect rankings, but he has undeniable upside that Andy Reid and Kansas City fell in love and traded up for in the spring. I don’t expect Reid to keep the rookie gunslinger in check, so the exciting plays will be worth the mistakes in a what will amount to little more than an exhibition.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
JAC (10-5) @ TEN (8-7) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Despite being locked into the #3 seed, it sounds like the Jaguars are playing all their starters in an attempt to build some momentum for the postseason—and to potentially keep the rival Titans out. Doug Marrone could be taking the way Tennessee dominated his team in Week 2 (a 37-16 loss) into account, as they would play each other in the first round of the playoffs if the Ravens win as expected. I can’t think of many worse ways to end a season than letting up in the regular-season finale and allowing the team you just faced to make the playoffs and knock you out, and Marrone probably feels the same way. It would be fun to see Marcus Mariota and the Titans make the playoffs, especially if one of the toughest guys in the league in DeMarco Murray plays through an MCL tear with the season on the line, but I think last week’s loss will be a wake-up call for the Jags.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
NO (11-4) @ TB (4-11) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Drew Brees and the Saints are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, but they still have work to do if they want to win the NFC South and play in the Superdome next month. They’ll have to handle business on the road this week, though, and it will be against a Tampa Bay team that came up just short when playing spoiler against the Falcons and Panthers over the past two weeks. However, I don’t like the Bucs’ chances in this one, as New Orleans dominated the first meeting, and Jameis Winston is coming off an on-field meltdown where he tried attacking the ref after his third fumble ended the game. Could the Jon Gruden era be reincarnated in 2018?
Winner: New Orleans Saints
BUF (8-7) @ MIA (6-9) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
With the Bills still playing for a wild-card spot and the Dolphins being led by the competitive Adam Gase, I think this should be one of the better games this week. Buffalo won two weeks ago against Miami, but the rematch will be on the road against a team with nothing to lose, which would scare me as a Bills fan. It would be awful for the franchise if they have things break their way only to squander the chance to end their NFL-long postseason drought with a loss, but we’ve already seen the Dolphins upset the Patriots at home this month, and I have a bad feeling about this matchup for Buffalo. I’m picking against them, but if Tre’Davious White makes another big play in the fourth quarter to get his team into the playoffs, he deserves some serious Defensive Player of the Year consideration as a rookie.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
ARI (7-8) @ SEA (9-6) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Seemingly everyone picked the Cowboys last week in Ezekiel Elliott’s return, but I thought Seattle would be able to contain him and put points on the board to stay alive in the postseason. While the offense wasn’t there for Russell Wilson, the Seahawks did enough with a forced fumble by Byron Maxwell and a pick-six by Justin Coleman to possibly get into the playoffs with another win combined with an Atlanta loss this week. I think this will be Larry Fitzgerald’s final career NFL game, so he will do everything in his power to make sure he ruins Seattle’s season. Unfortunately, I don’t think his heroics will be enough, but perhaps he will give it one more go in 2018.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
CAR (11-4) @ ATL (9-6) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
This will probably be the main game for most fans on Sunday, and rightfully so. Barring a loss by the Seahawks, Atlanta is playing for a playoff spot, while the Panthers could climb all the way up to the #2 seed if things break right in some other NFC matchups. Carolina could also claim the NFC South with a simple win combined with a loss by the Saints, but it would be a surprise if they didn’t end up as the #5 seed. That leads me to believe the more desperate team will be able to pickup a victory, and I’m not sure many team will want to play the Falcons in January as they look to forget their Super Bowl LI loss. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones should be the focal point, but Atlanta needs to get Tevin Coleman 15-20 touches in a must-win game.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
CIN (6-9) @ BAL (9-6) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
I think last week’s results were somewhat of a best-case scenario for the Ravens, as the Colts gave them a game on Saturday, and then Cincinnati upset the Lions to end Detroit’s playoff hopes the next day. I say it’s a best-case scenario because Baltimore isn’t going to sleepwalk their way into the postseason, as John Harbaugh will make sure his guys aren’t looking ahead before they even clinch a wild-card spot. I expect the Bengals to play hard in what will be Marvin Lewis’ final game with the team, but the opportunistic defense of the Ravens isn’t going to miss takeaway chances like they did against Indianapolis. If they win on Sunday, the rest of the AFC should watch out for the Ravens and Joe Flacco
Winner: Baltimore Ravens