Week 17 NFL Picks

Back in 2010, the NFL adjusted its scheduling parameters to specify that every team must play a division opponent in Week 17. The idea was that teams would be less likely to rest players. With little to nothing on the line for many teams in the final week of the 2017 regular season, we’ll see if that logic holds up on Sunday afternoon. For the first time since 1977, the season will not end with a prime time game. Instead seven games will kick off at 1pm EST and the nine remaining games kicking off at 4:25pm EST will feature all the playoff bubble teams whose fate is interrelated. If we can’t have good football, at least we’re gonna have entertaining chaos! The potential for statistical milestones, playoff drama, or head coach survival technically means that there is something to watch for in every game, but the SportsIntel editors are picking the games you really shouldn’t miss. Click for charts detailing all the scenarios.

Picks by Brad

New Orleans Saints (11-4) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11); Line: Saints by 7.5

Despite entering the final week of the season on a five-game losing streak, the Buccaneers have been surprisingly competitive in recent weeks so don’t assume a Saints walk over in this match up. Jameis Winston’s last two outings have been his best of the year and, coincidentally, have come in his team’s second match up with division opponents. Tampa definitely has the weapons on offense to make a game of this; then again, wasted potential has been the story for a disappointing 2017 campaign.

On the other hand we have New Orleans, which has locked up a playoff spot, but will have to do a little scoreboard watching to see what seed (3rd, 4th, or 5th) it will land. While beating the Bucs means clinching the NFC South crown no matter what, the Saints can be impacted by the results of the Rams-49ers and Falcons-Panthers games. In the first meeting back on November 5th, the Saints ran the ball well and were incredibly efficient in the passing game while the Bucs couldn’t run the ball or throw it with both quarterbacks struggling to get much done.  A loss would mean Tampa goes the entire year without notching a W in division, but New Orleans is the better team and I expect them to play to win. Saints 27, Buccaneers 20

Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) @ Baltimore Ravens (9-6); Line: Ravens by 10.5

After a pair of dreadful performances against the Bears and Vikings in Weeks 14 and 15, it looked like the Bengals had quit entirely, but last week they stood tall at home against a Lions team that had to win in the Queen City to keep its playoff hopes alive. Running back Giovanni Bernard had his best performance of the season rushing for 116 yards and a TD while the defense limited the Lions’ passing attack and pressured them into big mistakes. The Ravens have been a very good home team, but I think Cincinnati’s style should travel relatively well.

Baltimore’s formula for making the playoffs is simple: win and they’re in. However they have the best odds of all the teams vying for a wild card with 94% of simulations getting them into the post season. This means that they will still probably get in even with a home loss to Cincy. The complicated nature of these permutations brings us to the story of the week in the NFL: scheduling.

This game was originally slated for Sunday Night Football, but, as you learned above, the NFL chose to move this game into the 4:25pm EST time slot and forego the SNF game entirely, citing the desire to make things fair for all teams competing to get into the playoffs. Coach John Harbaugh expressed his displeasure with the choice saying that the last-second change to New Year’s Eve scheduling was not fair to ticket-buying spectators. While I understand his position, I think the NFL actually chose in favor of the greater good where fans are concerned. I’m sure Coach Harbaugh and the Ravens would loved to have watched all the results Sunday afternoon and then entered their Sunday prime time game knowing exactly what was needed to make the playoffs, but that’s not entirely fair to the other teams who had to play their games without the benefit of such information. Long story short: I applaud the NFL for this move even though I am not looking forward to a New Year’s Eve where all the football is over by 8pm.

The Ravens have won four of five and seem to be peeking at the right time, but the recent analytical hyperbole painting them as a serious threat to the AFC big boys feels like something bored columnists have invented. Baltimore has one victory over a team with a winning record this year (44-20 over Detroit) and I think that statistic is keenly indicative of who they really are. As for the game itself, I think they take care of business. Ravens 23, Bengals 13

Kansas City Chiefs (9-6) @ Denver Broncos (5-10); Line: Broncos by 3

According to reports that began to surface this week, first year coach Vance Joseph might surprisingly be on the hot seat. If that is true, Kansas City’s decision to start rookie QB Patrick Mahomes II could be very good or very bad for Denver. Most agree that Joseph can save himself with a win, but could losing to a rookie making his first start for a team that has nothing to play for cost him his job? Maybe. It’s worth noting that the Broncos play just their second home game in the last six weeks on Sunday, but the other home game was a 23-0 drubbing of the Jets who came into that game as favorites at Mile High.

Kansas City has turned things around the last three weeks winning by multiple scores each time out, but feels like a much different team than the squad that hammered the Broncos at Arrowhead back in October. The Chiefs are locked in as the #4 seed in the AFC so there is absolutely nothing to play for this weekend. The thinking seems to be that there is no reason to expose Alex Smith to a fierce Denver pass rush and I understand the sentiment, however I’m generally not in favor of disrupting players’ routines and certainly not in favor of waiving the white flag. I’m curious to see how the rookie quarterback looks, but I don’t expect much. If the coach’s attitude toward this game trickles down to the players, I don’t see the Chiefs winning. Broncos 20, Chiefs 10

Picks by Chris

Carolina Panthers (11-4) @ Atlanta Falcons (9-6); Line Falcons by 4

The Panthers are a lock for at least the fifth seed and the Falcons are fighting for a playoff spot. Ron Rivera is electing to make this contest competitive by leaving his starters in. I like the move, the Falcons haven’t been the dominant force they were last season, but they still have one of the most talented offenses in football. A Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman, and Matt Ryan mix is more than capable of ruining playoff expectations for pretty much everyone. Winning the battle in the regular season means Ron Rivera might not have to see the Falcons again this year and that’s a good thing for this Panthers team.

It’s also important to note a Panthers win helps them potentially clinch the NFC South over the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers winning in week 17 is just one piece, and it’s not of paramount importance considering they are in the playoffs regardless of the outcome on Sunday, but it’s a nice finish to the season for Ron Rivera and company.

I hate to say it, I really do, but the Falcons might have a chance in this one. Cam Newton has been inconsistent at best in the passing game this season with just over 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. That’s marginally better than his 2016 production and yet the Panthers are 11-4 not 6-8. The difference this season has been his ability to break off big runs and find the end zone by running the ball. Surprisingly, I think the Falcons match up well against the Panthers for this reason. They have a top 10 run defense and I believe most teams struggle with Cam Newton because he’s deceptively quick for how big he is, but the Falcons are one of the fastest defenses in the NFL. Grady Jerrett, Brian Poole, Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, Desmond Trufant, etc., these guys are young, talented football players that run through the whistle and they do it with energy.

The Falcons are dead to me, but this defense can give them the win against the Carolina Panthers. In fact, Panthers 21, Falcons 24.

Buffalo Bills (8-7) @ Miami Dolphins (6-9); Line: Bills by 2.5

Another team still fighting for the post-season, the Bills looked competitive in the first half against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots last week. In our Week 16 AAR, we discussed the overturned touchdown that might have given the Bills the momentum necessary to overcome Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, so I won’t rehash that here, but the question this week becomes: Can the Bills bounce back against the Dolphins on the road?

Brad was adamant we shouldn’t trust so-so quarterbacks on the road and I believe Tyrod Taylor qualifies as so-so, but Taylor has also played his best games against the Dolphins including a recent win over them in Orchard Park two weeks ago. There is speculation that David Fales could be getting some game time evaluation this week and I think that’s a good sign for the Bills. I don’t believe the temperate climate is going to negatively impact Buffalo all that much and I think the key to this win will rest with the Bills defense. A so-so quarterback can’t mess that up… can he?

I’m taking Buffalo here. Bills 24, Dolphins 14.

Oakland Raiders (6-9) @ Los Angeles Chargers (8-7); Line: Chargers by 9

There’s not much to see here. The Raiders are not the same squad from 2016 and they’ve struggled against mediocre teams all year long. There are a few bottom tier teams that would make me nervous facing off with the Chargers but the Raiders aren’t one of them.

These Raiders have regressed quite a bit from their 2016 form and that starts with their quarterback, Derek Carr. Towards the end of last season and early into the 2017 season sports analysts praised the young QB lavishly for his high caliber play, conversations like this were common place not so long ago, but he’s had a down season since running into the Washington Redskins in week three and that’s not likely to change by the weekend. The Raiders are now hoping to finish the season 7-9 and that’s simply not much to play for if you’re looking for motivation.

On the other side of the ball, the Chargers are still fighting for a chance at the playoffs and need this win to put their hat in the ring of wild card hopefuls. If there’s any team likely to implode with an opportunity like this it’s the Chargers but I see them playing good, consistent football. Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger, their defense is strong and Melvin Gordon has been exceptional for most of the season, and Keenan Allen has stepped up to provide a consistent passing threat for the Bolts. They have the pieces and I think the will to make it this season. Raiders 17, Chargers 24.

Picks by Danny

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5) @ Tennessee Titans (8-7); Line: Titans by 3

The Tennessee Titans have had every opportunity to lock up a playoff spot and have failed to do so, meanwhile the Jaguars have finished strong and locked up the division. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said that he won’t rest starters despite playing a relatively meaningless game. Despite the sport’s extreme physicality, there is a mental aspect to the game that is much more important than many give credit. Marrone is sending a message to his players that they will compete in every game and I think that it is a strong indicator of future success. After losing last week to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners the last thing the Jags want to do is limp into to the post season on a two-game losing streak.

I will admit to being upset with the Titans. This game could have been a battle for the AFC South crown and instead it is the Titans hoping to sneak into the playoffs. I like a lot of things about this team, but they have consistently under performed when they needed it the most. Add in that they will be playing without DeMarco Murray and they will be playing against one of the best defenses in the league, I think this game goes to the Jags. If there is one bright spot here, the Titans are playing at home where they have only lost two games all season. Jaguars 21, Titans 17

San Francisco 49ers (5-10) @ Los Angeles Rams (11-4); Line: 49ers by 3

The Rams are cruising into the playoffs having beat the Titans and Seahawks on the road in the last couple of weeks. Coach Sean McVay has decided that this game against the Niners isn’t worth the risk so he is sitting Jared Goff and Todd Gurley to ensure their health going into the postseason. I get the logic behind the move but I’m not a fan of it. If you have a player who has been playing through an injury and could really use the rest I get it, but resting guys who are healthy I think sends the wrong message to the team. First, it says that some of you guys are more valuable than others (which players generally know, but they don’t like to hear). Second, it relays the idea that some games don’t matter or even some snaps don’t matter. As a former coach I want my players to want to win every game. Most of these athletes are ultra-competitive and they don’t want to lay down for anyone. Resting your healthy players is the equivalent of laying down.

I’ve spent a whole paragraph talking about this game and have yet to touch on the real story, the emergence of Jimmy GQ, Tom Brady 2.0, or whatever you want to call him. Jimmy Garappolo has yet to lose a game he’s started and is loudly playing the 49ers out of a top-ten draft pick. (I’m glad to see some bad teams like the Colts, Bengals and 49ers playing hard despite having nothing to play for). Jimmy Garappolo will face a Rams team that likes to pressure the QB and has thrived on turnovers through out this season. Garappolo is up to the task and will help the Rams back into the playoffs with a loss. He has shown the ability to handle pressure and elevate those around him. He is among the hottest players in the league today. 49ers 28, Rams 10

On a side note, with the emergence of the Rams and Jimmy Garappolo and aging Seahawks and Cardinals teams regressing to the mean this could be the match up that defines the NFC West for the next couple of years. McVay vs. Shannahan, Goff vs. Garappolo, SF vs. LA for who is the king of California. This budding rivalry has the potential to be great in the immediate future. Unfortunately one of these coaches has decided that this particular episode in the series doesn’t matter much.

Dallas Cowboys (8-7) @ Philadelphia Eagles (13-2); Line: ‘Boys by 2.5

Two teams with nothing to play for and a bunch of questions. This season has been tough for the Cowboys. The team had such high hopes coming off of 2016. Ezekiel Elliott’s past caught up to him and defensive coordinators caught up to Dak Prescott. A lot of Cowboys fans are asking themselves if 2016 was an aberration or if 2017 was just a hiccup. The Eagles are wondering if Nick Foles can regain some of the magic he enjoyed early in his career and if their team can build off its strong regular season and put together a Super Bowl run. Eagles coach Doug Pederson said that he plans on playing all of his starters which I think is the right move. The offense could use all the reps it can get together to build chemistry for a playoff run. The Eagles will have the following week off regardless of the result. I don’t like the mental toughness of the Cowboys right now and I think the Eagles do just enough to win an ugly game. Eagles 17, Cowboys 14