To call Week 17 tumultuous for the league and its fans is to grossly understate the situation. We all tuned in Monday night for what should have been one of the most anticipated games of the entire season, expectations off the charts as rising Cincinnati and powerhouse Buffalo squared off in a top-tier AFC battle for supremacy. Within minutes in the first quarter, I was transported back to that horrific night in 1978 when in a preseason game between the Patriots and Raiders, Darryl Stingley had his neck broken and lay paralyzed on the field. Nothing prepares you for the helpless shock from these rare, severe incidents like Damar Hamlin’s heart attack. As the week unfolded, we were all torn by the raw emotion of the event, and by facing the fact that there was no way the NFL was going to be able to decide the game’s outcome in a way fair to everybody, as it has turned out. So, a week of frustration, shock, fear and finally more frustration, mixed in with a sense of relief and growing optimism for Mr. Hamlin. May the Lord grant him a complete recovery. Say a prayer for Peyton Hillis too, while you’re at it Here’s the picks.
Chiefs at Raiders – The Chiefs don’t play great defense, with the exception of Chris Jones planting QBs like tulip bulbs in the fall. Vegas can score, as we have seen many times this season, and Jarrett Stick’em has breathed momentary excitement into the moribund vacuum that was Derek Carr’s spot under center. But the Faders play less defense than most, and KCs calling card in the Mahomes era has always been screaming comebacks that slap 30 points on the scoreboard so fast it scorches your eyeballs. So no matter if the over on this game is 81 points, it will be the Chiefs OVER the Faders. Chiefs get the bye by and by. Buh-BYE.
Titans at Jaguars – This is probably the biggest matchup of the week, the AFC South title riding on it. One clinches, one ditches. Tennessee has a history of bulldogging wins in these type of games when their backs are to the wall…but they are so thin on offense that the entire known universe knows their game plan (Henry for 90 carries). Willpower is not enough this week, and there will be a new sheriff in the South. Pederson drives his new Jaguars to victory lane this week. Welcome back, Jacksonville.
Buccaneers at Falcons – The Bucs finally found some passing game, as Evans and Godwin seemed back in form once again. Two people have something to play for in this meaningless match; Tom Brady, who has never suffered a .500 season in his entire career, and Taylor Allgeier, who needs 100 rushing yards to eclipse 1,000. I say they both get what they want, as Tampa tunes up for the playoffs on a high note.
Patriots at Bills – Two things seem certain to me about this game; New England will play their hearts out, and Buffalo will win. That NE defense is the real deal, and the Bills will have their hands full landing points. But McDermott’s defense is likely to strangle Matt Patricia’s predictable offense, as receivers can’t get separation FROM EACH OTHER, let alone the Bills’ secondary, and those insipid sideline out patterns for 2-yard losses should have been stricken from the playbook in Week 2. They are Pick-6s waiting to happen, and happen they will if Poyer & Company see any. Bills bury Belichick’s belligerents.
Vikings at Bears – Chicago has no reason to win this game at all, standing in contention for the #1 overall pick in next year’s draft. The Vikes played like the Yikes last week, dropping a very sloppy offensive match to Green Bay, a team you don’t want to have hanging around come playoff time. Captain Kirk has a career habit of salting a horrible, pick-laden game in amongst his impressive wins every few weeks. Standings or no, Minnesota isn’t going to want to enter playoff week on the weakness of two ugly losses, so expect the starters to play at least half the game or more until it’s out of reach. Bloomington gets the take-down on Chi-town.
Ravens at Bengals – The Bengals got jobbed by the league, nothing they can do about it except win out and bash every post-season opponent as revenge…which they really could do. This game will be without Lamar Jackson again, more’s the pity, so I give the Ravens no chance to beat Cincy on the road. Burrow doesn’t need this win, but after losing the opportunity to play Buffalo, this team could use a tune-up before Wild Card week. Tigers eat birds whenever they can, and this game is no exception.
Lions at Packers – This is Detroit’s chance to gut-check what this season really means for them; simple redemption after a horrid start, or actually getting to the next level against quality opponents. Green Bay has been here so many times it’s old hat, or ‘aged cheesehead’ if you will. A win in Lambeau IS a statement game, especially with a rebounding Packers team. These teams actually match up really well, both with solid ground games, a bit of an edge to Detroit’s passing game, decent O-lines and of course, Aaron Rodgers. It comes down to defense, as always. Detroit has a strong pass rush, and the Pack gets sacks as well. Neither team is great against the run, so that’s a wash. But the Packers’ air defense has really come on, with Alexander the Great negating the top wideouts on any team. I like the Lions’ turnaround this season, and am optimistic about their future…next year. This one belongs to the veterans of the playoff wars. The Pack makes it back.
Texans at Colts – This dreadful game actually matters, because Houston secures the #1 overall pick with a loss. They have played pretty well of late, while the headless Colts have been an alarming spectre of ‘dead team walking’ for months. I like the Texans to lay down on this one, and not lose the one advantage they have this season as winners of the booby prize. Colts corral the cattle in the final roundup.
Jets at Dolphins – For a game with playoff implications, this one is a mess. Joe Flaccid, who resembles the President in the way he wanders the Jets sideline looking confused, is taking the snaps Sunday, with Wilson as backup. You KNOW we will see Wilson before the 1st quarter ends, right? The Jets have reverted to being…the Jets. On the outside looking in, after a great start. Miami has a slim chance to clinch, but they are riding a 5-game losing streak to oblivion, and the magic has left McDaniel. If Tua plays….Miami has a good shot to make the playoffs. I don’t think he will, so I’ll take New York’s potent defense and whatever few points Flaccid can muster up over McDaniel’s Minnows. Phins git skinned and don’t get in.
Panthers at Saints – It don’t matter and don’t nobody care, as Larry Bird would eulogize this game. Saints have won three straight, too little too late, but there’s no reason to think they won’t make it four. Kamara hits 5th gear, Taysom goes running up that Hill, Lattimore gets picks-galore, and the Christians eat the lions.
Giants at Eagles – NY has nothing to play for here, including pride. There is no reason to subject Daniel Jones to that carnivorous Philly pass rush, or risk injury to Barkley here. Philly wants to secure the bye and top slot over the Niners, so they have every reason to pull out the stops, especially after dropping one to lowly New Orleans last week. Gotta wash that bad taste out before the prom. Eagles build their nest atop the NFC this week.
Browns at Steelers – No love lost here, and that’s good for us. Cleveland has underperformed all season, and even if they want to wreck Pittsburgh’s thin playoff hopes as motivation, it’s probably not enough. Tomlin has never had a sub-500 season, so that’s on the table as well. I’ll take the steely resolve of these metalworking hardhats and TJ Watts’ heroics over Cleveland’s dysfunctional Addams Family antics this week. The Rust Belt goes to…Pittsburgh.
Cowboys at Commanders – DC is falling into disarray again, as the eliminated Commanders play ‘QB Shuffle’ between a benched overachiever and a bust. Dallas wades into this mess at 12-4 and not looking to underperform in any way. It’s a simple formula, really. Cowboys batter their broken Beltway brethren.
Chargers at Broncos – Half a game. That’s all I want to see the Charger starters this week. Crush that noble-but-exhausted Denver defense by the half, and then empty the bench. Bolts have nothing to gain by risking their health, so beat and retreat. Chargers provide just enough voltage to dim the lights in Denver.
Rams at Seahawks – This is LA’s chance to exact some revenge for their earlier defeat by the Squawks, and punch them out of the playoff picture. That said, they have neither the horses nor the amount of motivation Seattle has to do it, in all likelihood. Geno has been stellar this season, very careful with the ball and versatile at adapting his offense to take what the defense is giving. Lockett & Metcalf are a fearsome twosome to smother for four quarters. Kenny Walker has returned to form as well, and Pete Carroll loves to smother opposing QBs with affectionate pass rushers. The Rams are still a dumpster fire on both sides of the ball. LA fails to knock the Squawks out of a lock on the playoffs.
Cardinals at 49ers – Just…no. The Cardinals wear red uniforms this year to signify that they have been scorched by nearly every team they faced. This game will be no different, as Shanahan has his eye on top-seeding in the NFC. We don’t need to pull this one apart; the outcome is indisputable.
Enjoy the games!
Pigskin Pundit (Nate Clark)