IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS. It’s NFL Week 17, with just one game left for every team and everything on the line for so many. Eleven of the 16 games have potential playoff implications, five teams are playing for their playoff lives, and six teams can still earn a first-round bye this week. In a top-heavy NFL season, almost everything is still up for grabs.
We went 10–5–1 last week but missed our lock of the season as the Cowboys choked yet again. Can Dallas bounce back and sneak into the playoffs? Who grabs the AFC 6-seed — and does it matter? What NFC teams earn bye weeks? And who wins the monster Sunday night game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks?
You know the drill. Let’s hit a Week 17 Power Rankings then head around the league with picks for every remaining game. Merry Christmas, y’all!
WEEK 17 POWER RANKINGS
TIER I — LOMBARDI OR BUST
1. Baltimore Ravens 13–2 (Last week: 1)
TIER II — CONTENDERS TO THE THRONE
2. San Francisco 49ers 12–3 (3)
3. Kansas City Chiefs 11–4 (4)
4. New Orleans Saints 12–3 (2)
5. New England Patriots 12–3 (5)
TIER III — GONNA NEED A FEW LUCKY BOUNCES
6. Green Bay Packers 12–3 (8)
7. Seattle Seahawks 11–4 (6)
8. Buffalo Bills 10–5 (9)
9. Minnesota Vikings 10–5 (7)
TIER IV — SUPER DANGEROUS, IF THEY SHOW UP
10. Houston Texans 10–5 (10)
11. Tennessee Titans 8–7 (12)
12. Los Angeles Rams 8–7 (13)
TIER V — UNFATHOMABLY MEDIOCRE
13. Atlanta Falcons 6–9 (17)
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7–8 (16)
15. Philadelphia Eagles 8–7 (15)
16. Dallas Cowboys 7–8 (16)
17. Pittsburgh Steelers 8–7 (14)
18. Oakland Raiders 7–8 (20)
19. Indianapolis Colts 7–8 (18)
TIER VI — MORE DISAPPOINTING THAN THEIR RECORD
20. New York Jets 6–9 (27)
21. Cleveland Browns 6–9 (21)
22. Chicago Bears 7–8 (19)
23. Los Angeles Chargers 5–10 (22)
TIER VII — THESE TEAMS ALSO PLAYED THIS SEASON
24. Arizona Cardinals 5–9–1 (23)
25. Denver Broncos 6–9 (24)
26. Jacksonville Jaguars 5–10 (25)
27. Carolina Panthers 5–10 (26)
TIER VIII — THE FINAL FISH TANK
28. Miami Dolphins 4–11 (28)
29. New York Giants 4–11 (29)
30. Detroit Lions 3–11–1 (28)
31. Washington Haskins 3–12 (31)
32. Cincinnati Bengals 1–14 (32)
WHAT’S AT STAKE FOR EVERY TEAM IN WEEK 17?
Before we can make any Week 17 picks, it’s extremely important to consider each team’s motivation heading into the regular season finale. Some teams have everything on the line — a playoff berth, a home game or bye week, or a top draft pick — while other teams are already home for the holidays mentally.
I went in depth earlier this week on what’s at stake for every team in Week 17, ranking the games in order from least to most important. You’ll want to skim that one for sure before reading this week’s picks…
THE MEANINGLESS STAY AWAYS
Los Angeles Rams -4 vs Arizona
This game is utterly meaningless, and Brett Hundley should start for the injured Kyler Murray at quarterback. The Rams have won five straight against the Cards and it probably means more to them to finish the season with a win and a record above .500. Still, you never know what could come of these meaningless games, so stay away from betting anything much here.
Cleveland -2.5 at Cincinnati
The Bengals are already locked into the #1 pick either way, so this game means nothing… although Freddie Kitchens would be wise to avoid losing to a 1–14 team in the finale if he likes his job. The Browns offense quietly turned things around midseason, and Baker Mayfield has 14 touchdowns in the last seven games but was miserable in a win against these Bengals. A nice big win here will make us fall for Cleveland all over again next fall.
Atlanta PK at Tampa Bay
You might have noticed these teams in the top 15 of the Power Rankings as both are finishing the year hot. Atlanta has already announced they’re keeping the coaching staff, but Jameis Winston can still reach some crazy statistical totals, including the NFL’s first ever 5000–30–30 season. Both teams want to finish the year strong. The Falcons have won five of six against the Bucs with an average score of 34 to 25. Every victor but one has scored at least 34, and every loser has scored at least 20. The Bucs over is 11–4 this season, too. In other words: take the over and expect a lot of points and a fun finale.
ALREADY LOCKED INTO THEIR SEED
New York Jets +1.5 at Buffalo
Like Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold has turned things around in the second half with 11 touchdowns and only three picks in his last six games, along with a 4–2 record. The Jets have been schizophrenic but Buffalo will treat this one like a bye week before hitting the road for a playoff game.
Chicago +7.5 at Minnesota
The Vikings are locked into the 6-seed after their Monday night disaster, and they’ve had a slew of injuries and badly need a week off before a road playoff game. Chicago has been awful on the road this year but has beaten Minnesota three times in a row. Here’s to a fourth win and a big game from Mitch Trubisky so Chicago talks themselves into another year!
THE AFC 6-SEED “RACE”
Indianapolis -3 at Jacksonville
Both teams are already eliminated, but this game could determine which other AFC team makes the playoffs. In October, it looked like the AFC South was wide open before both these teams imploded. The Jaguars have lost six of seven but are averaging only 12.7 points per game in that stretch. The Colts have lost six of eight too, but at least they’ve remained mostly competitive.
Denver -3 vs Oakland
The Raiders are fresh off a four-game losing streak but can somehow still make the playoffs with a win plus Titans, Steelers, and Jaguars losses. Just one problem: they might not even win this game. Denver would be in the playoff hunt if not for the Minnesota collapse or the three games lost by a field goal on the final play. Instead, the Broncos have to play spoiler. The Raiders haven’t beaten a .500 team all season (not that Denver counts), and the home team has won seven straight in this rivalry. Denver is favored for a reason.
Pittsburgh -2 at Baltimore
The Ravens are locked into the 1-seed and will rest Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Earl Thomas, and others, while the Steelers absolutely have to win this game to make the playoffs. I’m still not sure they will. Duck Hodges is not an NFL quarterback, and Kordell Stewart might be the emergency QB at this point. The Steelers under is 12–3 this season, 7–0 on the road, and 7–0 since November 3. Don’t expect many points, and I’m skeptical whether Pittsburgh can do enough to win, even against a team that isn’t trying.
Tennessee -3 at Houston
We still don’t totally know if the Texans will try in this game, or if they’ll try all game. If the Chiefs are way up at halftime, this game means nothing to Houston. For the Titans, there’s a playoff berth on the line. Win and they’re in, and I still believe this team is very dangerous. Tennessee has scored at least three TDs every game with Ryan Tannehill, and they’d be my most dangerous wildcard team entering next week with a win here. Let’s see if this is real.
THE NFC LEAST
New York Giants +5 vs Philadelphia
The Eagles took care of business against Dallas last week and now control their fate. Any scenario other than a Philly loss and a Cowboys win and they’re in. But… what is left on this team? Jordan Howard is back but now Zach Ertz is hurt too, along with Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery and Lane Johnson and a bunch of corners and other Eagles. New York has covered four of their last five spreads and almost beat these Eagles a few weeks ago. Philly has won 10 of 11 in the rivalry, but eight of those games have been one-score affairs. It does feel like Carson Wentz will find a way, but maybe not without sweating out one more close one.
Dallas -10 vs Washington
The Cowboys might just show up in the fetal position, ready to dump Jason Garrett and start over, but it would be much more Dallas to come out and look awesome, win by three or four TDs, and then go home and watch the playoffs. Dallas has six double-digit wins this season and an average win margin of 18.6 points, so when they do win, they win big. Washington needs to lose to keep the #2 pick and secure Joe Burrow or Chase Young. Even Dak Prescott banged up, the Cowboys should take care of business.
PLAYING FOR THAT BYE
Kansas City -7 vs Los Angeles Chargers
The Chiefs aren’t playing for a bye, but they probably need to go for the win since a loss could drop them to the 4-seed and a more difficult path. Kansas City has quietly become very dangerous. They’ve won five straight and have covered in all five without allowing over 17 points in that stretch. The Chargers have cratered and are 5–10, but all but one loss has been by one score. I think the Chiefs win comfortably but fear some backdoor Chargers cover voodoo in a game whose result might not matter late if the Pats are up big and the Texans are cruising to a loss.
Miami +16.5 at New England
New England’s beaten Miami 10 times in a row at home, and a win here secures the 2-seed and a bye. But I have a funny feeling about this one. New England has finally started to figure some things out offensively, but they just don’t feel right. Miami is +850 to win, a massive underdog, but a win here could be the beginning of the end for this Patriots dynasty and man does it feel like we might be there. Could Miami do the unthinkable?
New Orleans -11.5 at Carolina
The Panthers entered their bye week 4–2 but have since lost four times by 20+ points, and they enter this one on a seven-game losing streak. Their season ended long ago. New Orleans has a shot at a bye with a win, and they should take care of business. Expect them to win with ease, and that should mean covering the -11.5 too.
Green Bay -9.5 at Detroit
The Lions pulled the plug on the season long ago, too. They’ve lose eight games in a row, including three straight double-digit losses since Thanksgiving. The Packers can clinch a bye week and the least memorable 13–3 season in recent memory, and Detroit is playing a bunch of no name dudes across their offense. Like the Saints, the Packers should coast here, which means all eyes will turn to Sunday night for the game that determines everything in the NFC playoff bracket.
THE BIG ONE
Seattle +3.5 vs San Francisco
The Seahawks are 2–5 ATS at home. The 49ers are 3–6–1 ATS as favorites. San Francisco clinches the 1-seed with a win but drops to 5 with a loss. Seattle’s scenarios are still up for grabs, but they know a win gives them at least a home game. The loser here probably has to hit the road for a Saturday night playoff game, so this game means everything. San Francisco may have peaked too soon. They’ve played four straight one-score games and already lost at home to Seattle in November. This feels like a complete coin flip, but I’d still rather have Russell Wilson than Jimmy Garoppolo with so much on the line — especially at home with that 0.5 hook. This one will have a playoff atmosphere. Let the games begin.
WEEK 17 BEST BETS
Tennessee -3 at Houston
New Orleans -11.5 at Carolina
Green Bay -9.5 at Detroit
Merry Christmas, everyone! Thanks for reading all season, and enjoy the games! ■