CLE (6-9) @ CIN (1-14) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
One play from last week’s loss to the Ravens encapsulated the entire season for Cleveland, as down 7-6 with 1:18 left in the first half, Freddie Kitchens decided to call a deep pass play on first down rather than simply handing the ball to the team’s best player (Nick Chubb) or trying a high-percentage pass, and the incompletion was followed by two more clock-stopping throws—which were important because Baltimore had just one timeout remaining—to give Lamar Jackson the ball back for another touchdown drive before the break. Perhaps the Browns will put together a complete game on Sunday to preview 2020, but Chubb saw just three carries in the first 30 minutes of the previous meeting, and the team frankly doesn’t seem to have an identity (or any form of discipline) under Kitchens, which may unfortunately lead to more sub-par play next year if the same regime remains in place. Furthermore, with Ben Roethlisberger returning for Pittsburgh and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow potentially headed to Cincinnati, the AFC North will be loaded next fall. The result this weekend could be a factor on “Black Monday”.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
MIA (4-11) @ NE (12-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Bill Belichick apparently referred to Week 17 as a playoff game with New England looking to earn a first-round bye, and the offense in particular will hope to stay balanced ahead of the real playoff games in January. Last week against a stout Buffalo defense, Sony Michel ran for a season-high 96 yards on 21 attempts, while Tom Brady completed a season-high 78.8% of his passes, so the group may have figured things at the perfect time before a heavyweight rematch versus the Chiefs, Texans, or Bills in the Divisional Round. Defensively, I highly doubt the Patriots have a unit that Ryan Fitzpatrick will be able to catch fire against to pull off an upset, but it will be interesting to see how the size of DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki is used after the young weapons combined for just one reception for 11 scoreless yards in their Week 2 meeting. Making a play on special teams or winning turnover margin are usually key for a big underdog, but the edge New England has in both areas is reason to feel confident about them this week and into the postseason.
Winner: New England Patriots
CHI (7-8) @ MIN (10-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I was hoping the Rams would win last week to extend the NFC wild card race, but now, Bears-Vikings doesn’t mean anything in terms of playoff positioning for Week 17. That said, Chicago will be playing their starters (Matt Nagy seems like a guy that will really want to finish 8-8 rather than 7-9), and Minnesota—locked into the No. 6 seed—may be bounced immediately if they are unable to build momentum following Monday night’s difficult-to-watch showing against the Packers. There are multiple concerns I have about the Vikings’ chances to make a run, but the biggest is Adam Thielen not appearing to be a difference-maker since returning from a hamstring injury that kept him out for five weeks; if Kirk Cousins is forced to get into a road shootout without a healthy, true-to-form compliment of weapons, he will likely enter the final year of his contract (and age-32 season) having yet to win a playoff game. Assuming everyone suits up this week, Minnesota should come out on top, but Friday reports have suggested Mike Zimmer will rest his key players.
Winner: Chicago Bears
LAC (5-10) @ KC (11-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Defensive dominance for the Chiefs started six games ago in the previous matchup against the Chargers (a 24-17 victory in which Philip Rivers threw four interceptions), and both sides of the ball playing like they are for Andy Reid’s squad will make them a scary opponent in the playoffs. To lock up the No. 3 seed, Kansas City just needs to beat Los Angeles, and the overwhelming success against Rivers (15 interceptions in the past six meetings) could make for a relatively easy day at Arrowhead Stadium if Melvin Gordon isn’t featured early to set up play-action shots to Keenan Allen and Mike Williams in one-on-one coverage—where I think the Chiefs can be beaten. Overall, the Chargers have plenty of talent, but they have consistently found new ways to lose, and the possible final game with the franchise for Rivers could be one to forget based on the history of this rivalry and how Kansas City’s defense has played in recent weeks. Look for Damien Williams to work as the lead back again as the Chiefs gear up for January.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
NYJ (6-9) @ BUF (10-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Josh Allen is expected to see limited action on Sunday with Buffalo locked into the No. 5 seed, but for a guy that was called a “low-probability prospect” entering the league and apparently needed “three or four years to develop,” the accomplishments weren’t half bad in his second season: 10-5 record, five game-winning drives, 8:0 touchdown-interception ratio in the fourth quarter, zero turnovers in the red zone, 29 total touchdowns, and last-minute road losses to the top two teams in the AFC. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Bills ended up winning it all this season, as Allen is the perfect quarterback to compliment Sean McDermott’s defense because he can make clutch and off-script plays, and the lights have never been too bright for him or the team in the biggest spots. Also, being a close-knit group is an underrated factor for the emerging Buffalo roster turning things around, and I think we’ll see the top players remain energized as spectators with Matt Barkley—who started last year against the Jets in a 41-10 win—trying to deliver the franchise’s first 11-win season in 20 years.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
GB (12-3) @ DET (3-11-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Green Bay and Detroit have gone in opposite directions since a 23-22 victory for the Packers in Week 6 (for what, at the time, was a huge battle in the NFC North), but the Lions should be competitive again in 2020 when Matthew Stafford returns.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
NO (12-3) @ CAR (5-10) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Panthers—on the road—were able to push New Orleans to the limit last month, but that was with Kyle Allen under center for perhaps his best career performance, and rookie Will Grier might not be able to pull off a similar result as the Saints aim for the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NFC. I don’t think you can ever give a running back like Christian McCaffrey too many touches, though, and Carolina feeding him to get a 1,000/1,000 season (he needs 67 receiving yards) and maybe even Chris Johnson’s single-season yards-from-scrimmage record (he needs 215 yards to break it) might lead to a monster performance that keeps the Panthers in the game. At quarterback, Grier clearly had natural arm talent coming out of West Virginia, but the transition has not been easy dating back to the preseason, and any sign of improvement compared to last week (224 yards and three interceptions) would be encouraging. D.J. Moore (concussion) may not play in the finale, but moving forward, the next head coach of the Panthers will have some really good young talent on offense, especially if second-rounder Greg Little can stay healthy and become a cornerstone left tackle.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
ATL (6-9) @ TB (7-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I have no idea what the Buccaneers believe will change in 2020 that makes them (reportedly) committed to Jameis Winston as their franchise quarterback, but you can’t win the in the NFL when you throw the ball to the other team, and no one has done that more frequently than the first-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft since he entered the league. Tampa Bay is a very young team, but that doesn’t mean they can get comfortable and waste another year if there is an upgrade to be made at quarterback via the draft, free agency, or trade, so we’ll see if Jameis reaching the 30-interception mark this weekend (currently at 28) will lead to the franchise reconsidering before they make a one-year or multi-year investment at the position. The Falcons, on the other hand, have absolutely no questions to be answered at quarterback, and Matt Ryan should enjoy a bounce-back season in 2020 assuming first-rounders Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary can stay healthy and progress on the offensive line. I think Atlanta fans should be happy about the team keeping head coach Dan Quinn in 2020 based on how the players have responded since Julio Jones stuck up for him following a loss earlier this year.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
PHI (8-7) @ NYG (4-11) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
The late afternoon slate is what really matters in terms of who will make the playoffs (Philadelphia or Dallas in the NFC East and Tennessee, Pittsburgh, or Oakland for the No. 6 seed in the AFC), and it seems like every year, there is an unforeseen outcome in the final week that shakes things up. The Eagles narrowly escaped with a win over the Giants at home on Monday Night Football earlier this month, and the coverage will have to improve significantly—this time with Daniel Jones under center for New York—to avoid a Week 17 collapse. The offensive firepower (Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, and Kaden Smith) is enough to give Philly problems, so Carson Wentz may need to put up points this weekend—potentially without Zach Ertz (ribs) in the lineup if he’s unable to get cleared. On the bright side, Jordan Howard (shoulder) is finally returning, and the one-two punch of him and Miles Sanders will be tough for New York this week and anyone else in the NFC next month. I’m expecting a close game, but the Eagles shouldn’t squander their huge win over Dallas with a loss on Sunday.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
TEN (8-7) @ HOU (10-5) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Chargers-Chiefs being an early afternoon game after flex scheduling was a mistake by the league, as a Kansas City win would allow Houston to sit their guys and possibly gift the Titans a playoff berth, which would be a worst-case scenario for Pittsburgh (and Oakland). Limited roster space in the regular season forces some starters to play, but the Texans would love to get rest for Deshaun Watson and their offensive playmakers ahead of a heavyweight bought versus Buffalo in the Wild Card Round. Plus, not having to take 60 minutes of punishment from Derrick Henry will have defenders feeling fresh come next Saturday or Sunday. Even if Henry is still not close to 100% as he deals with a hamstring injury, the connection between Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown should be enough for Tennessee to win on the road after the rookie wideout had eight receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago versus Houston.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
WAS (3-12) @ DAL (7-8) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
The players obviously could have been better, but last week’s loss for Dallas falls mostly on the coaching staff in my opinion, and Amari Cooper—despite seeming to revert back to the inconsistencies that plagued him in Oakland—was probably right when he said the deep ball was there and should have been highlighted more against a banged-up, attackable cornerback group. The health of Dak Prescott (shoulder) might have played a role, but the Cowboys not pushing the ball downfield after some early misses is something the coaching staff may already be regretting, as it would have only taken one hit to change the game. While the Redskins will be a very vulnerable secondary this week (having signed two free agents to start at corner over Josh Norman), Dallas could decide to simply feed Ezekiel Elliott to get through Sunday and hope the Giants are able simultaneously to upset the Eagles. Especially on the road, Washington firepower will be severely limited with Terry McLaurin (concussion) ruled out, so Adrian Peterson may get all the work he can handle.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
PIT (8-7) @ BAL (13-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Steelers-Ravens would have been the perfect Sunday Night Football game to end the regular season if the results were flipped last week to make Pittsburgh need a win to get into the playoffs and Baltimore need a win to get the No. 1 seed, but instead, Pittsburgh will try to beat Robert Griffin III and get some help from the Texans in their attempt to sneak in as the No. 6 seed. Mason Rudolph was able to provide a jolt off the bench last week for the Steelers, but a shoulder injury knocked him out of the game and for the remainder of the season, so Devlin Hodges (six interceptions over the past two games) needs to avoid mistakes for a team that is led by its defense. I would like to see RGIII play well and put himself in the conversation to start somewhere in 2020, but Pittsburgh isn’t an opponent that allows quarterbacks to shine, and not having Mark Ingram, Mark Andrews, or Marquise Brown will make things even tougher for the former Heisman winner.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
IND (7-8) @ JAX (5-10) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Team owner Shad Khan could change his mind, but the Jaguars reportedly leaning towards sticking with head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell in 2020 is very surprising based on the team’s play in the second half of the season—but perhaps Sunday’s outcome could go a long way in determining whether or not changes are after the season. In the previous matchup against the Colts, Jacksonville allowed 264 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns (including two 100-yard rushers), so a showing like that again could be the final nail in the coffin for both Marrone and Caldwell. Marlon Mack will lead the way for Indy this weekend, but Nyheim Hines and Jonathan Williams will both rotate in against a Jags defense that has allowed 1,066 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns over the past seven games. The best chance Jacksonville has is jumping out to an early lead to make the Colts have to air it out, which would potentially give Josh Allen (10.0 sacks) a closing argument for Defensive Rookie of the Year over heavy favorite Nick Bosa (9.0 sacks).
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
OAK (7-8) @ DEN (6-9) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
The Raiders come into Week 17 as the biggest longshots still alive for the postseason, and everything they need to have happen—including beating the Broncos—is viewed as unlikely by oddsmakers. Still, the games are played for a reason, and Oakland previously topped Denver in the season opener, 24-16, with Josh Jacobs (85 yards and two touchdowns on the ground) leading the way in his NFL debut. Jacobs powering the Raiders to another win on Sunday while playing with a fractured shoulder would probably lock up the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but he is unfortunately not expected to play, which puts more pressure on Derek Carr. For the Broncos, Drew Lock going 4-1 in December to start his career would be awesome, and the Denver players have sounded confident about the young signal-caller being the answer they’ve been searching for since Peyton Manning retired. I think this matchup is essentially a tossup, but I’m going with the team still hoping to sneak into the postseason.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
ARI (5-9-1) @ LAR (8-7) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
You could see the pure anger on Sean McVay’s face after San Francisco converted two third-and-16 plays on the final drive last Saturday night to end the Rams’ playoff hopes, and—assuming they play the starters—I could see frustration leading to an offensive explosion against the Cardinals on Sunday. Earlier this month, Jared Goff threw for 424 yards and two touchdowns in Arizona, but it could have been an even bigger day if Los Angeles didn’t take their foot off the gas in the second half. Overall, the Rams have dominated the Cardinals in recent years, but we will ideally see Kyler Murray (hamstring) in action to make it competitive in the season finale; if not, Brett Hundley will draw the start, and he would at least bring the ability to move the ball with his legs after six carries for 35 yards off the bench in Week 16. Arizona taking another step in 2020 could lead to all four NFC West teams playing a game that matters at this point next season.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
SF (12-3) @ SEA (11-4) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
All eyes will be on the 256th and final game of the regular season this Sunday night, and the winner of 49ers-Seahawks could have the NFC run through them in January (Seattle will need help earlier in the day to get the No. 1 seed). Pete Carroll’s squad has suffered some big blows this month with Chris Carson (hip) and others going down, but as long as Russell Wilson is at quarterback, they will have a chance against anyone. In home primetime games since Wilson was drafted in 2012, the Seahawks have an unreal 16-2 record, and the crowd will be even more fired up than usual with a division title on the line—not to mention the return of Marshawn Lynch creating added buzz in the stadium. However, San Francisco has risen to the occasion in difficult road spots before (the 48-46 shootout win over New Orleans being the latest example), and I would be surprised if Jimmy Garoppolo faces pressure similar to what he saw last week against the Rams when he was sacked six times. Seattle losing at home under the lights is very rare, but they might not be healthy enough right now and arguably don’t have as much to gain as the Niners do.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers