16 weeks of gruelling injuries and incredible individual efforts have finally led to the most stressful weekend of regular season NFL football. Week 17 is the first weekend of ‘playoff football’ where teams playoff dreams are either confirmed or ripped away from them before they can even start. This years teams on the bubble include: last year’s NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, the 0-4 starting Los Angeles Chargers, the leagues biggest dark-horse Tennessee Titans, the Buffalo Bills, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Seattle Seahawks. All of the six teams have had their share of ups and downs but there are only so three spots to go around.
Updated Week 17 Playoff Scenarios (after completion of Monday's games) pic.twitter.com/XXB9QOcDtK
— Randall Liu (@RLiuCBS) December 26, 2017
None of the remaining teams can win their respective divisions, but a victory in a revenge game against the team that topped you during the regular season will all but put that behind them. Despite the NFL flexing no games into Sunday night primetime, each of these six teams will make sure to keep the TV on in the locker room.
Week 17 NFL Wildcard Predictions
OUT: Atlanta Falcons (9-6) Vs. Carolina Panthers (11-4)
No one draws a harder opponent than the Carolina Panthers during week 17 and the Falcons are going to suffer because of it. The Panthers have only lost one game since week eight, culminating to a 7-1 record over that span, including a three-point victory over these same Falcons. In Atlanta’s defence, Carolina’s win did come at home, but the Falcons aren’t playing well enough to convince me they’re any better than they were in week nine.
The Falcons offence has looked nothing like the one that made it all the way to Super Bowl LI, mainly hinging on the performance of Matt Ryan. Following up Ryan’s MVP performance in 2016 was going to be a tall task but his regression in 2017 has been scary. With just one game left in the 2017, Ryan has thrown for half as many touchdowns (19) as he did in 2016 (38). Not to mention his interception to touchdown ratio over the last five weeks is 4:4, adding to his less than stellar 19:12 ratio on the season.
Atlanta’s defence in 2017 has been better than expected – ranking 10th in total defence – but Cam Newton could be poised for a big game. Carolina’s QB has thrown for four TDs in two of his last six contests and even though he has been inconsistent, has looked similar to the Newton that led the Panthers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2015.
This matchup will be decided by if the good Newton show’s up because Ryan doesn’t look like he has the ability to take over games anymore.
Prediction: Panthers win 23-20
IN: Seattle Seahawks (9-6) Vs. Arizona Cardinals (7-8)
If there is one team that has a reason to complain about injuries this season, it is the Seahawks. Seattle may not have the most injuries in the league, but they have lost what feels like the biggest pieces. Cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Cliff Avril are the biggest names on Seattle’s injured reserve and have forced quarterback Russell Wilson to stand on his head and make up for their defensive shortcomings. Fortunately for the Seahawks they get a favourable matchup on week 17.
The Cardinals are far from the NFL’s worst team, but due to injury and poor play, will find themselves under 500 for the second straight season. Arizona dropped their past matchup with Seattle 22-16 and have felt the injury sting since. The Cardinals will be without Jared Veldheer – Arizona’s best offensive lineman – and are going to be eaten alive by Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson and the Seattle pass rush. Drew Stanton has fumbled twice in his four starts this season and could very well turnover the ball more than just once on Sunday. The Cardinals are also having trouble running the ball. Since taking over for Adrian Peterson, Kerwynn William has been unimpressive — seeing his total rushing yards, and yards per carry fall in each start since week 13. You can’t win football games, if you can’t throw or run the ball.
The Seahawks get in Because of their strength of matchup. The Cardinals know how to beat the Hawks, but winning at Century link is a huge challenge especially considering the circumstances. With this much on the line, Wilson is going to play one of his best games of the year and vault the Seahawks into the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.
Prediction: Seahawks win 20-13
OUT: Tennessee Titans (8-7) Vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5)
The Titan’s potential offseason moves had their fans foaming at the mouth coming into the season, while their team was dubbed the biggest breakout candidate of the year. Their recent form has discouraged fans to the same extent. Tennessee comes into their final regular season game on a three game losing skid; taking them from division leaders to the fringe of the wildcard.
The Titans will find it hard to break through against a really good Jacksonville defence, but this should come as no surprise considering the way the offence has played all year. Tennessee was anchored in 2016 by the leagues best offensive line that has since regressed to somewhat plague the Titans all year. It is not that the o-line has been awful, it’s that they aren’t flawless like last year, and the rest of the team hasn’t been able to adjust. Demarco Murray – the Titans lead back – will be watching Sunday’s finale from the sidelines, their top wide receiver Rishard Matthews is only averaging four catches a game, and quarterback Marcus Mariota has three multi-interception games in the teams last six contests.
An offence of Tennessee’s potential has a shot against any team any week, but their inconstancy mixed with Jacksonville’s overall brilliance on defence is an easy recipe for defeat. If Mariota is throwing multiple picks against Arizona and Indianapolis, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye might each have a field day running the ball back into the Tennessee endzone. Blake Bortles (minus last week) has also found his groove at the right time.
Prediction: Jaguars win 27-20
IN: Baltimore Ravens (9-6) Vs. Cincinatti Bengals (6-9)
The Ravens come in playing some of their best football all year, despite despite losing their top corner Jimmy Smith week 13 in Detroit. However, the task always changes when the Ravens have to face the Bengals. Since 2011 the Ravens vs. Bengals Rivalry has been dead even at 7 games a piece. The Bengals did at one point win five straight matchups, but have since dropped two of the last three — including the season opener at Paul Brown Stadium.
Baltimore has been defined all year by it’s stout defence but since dropping their week nine matchup in Tennessee, Joe Flacco and the Ravens offence has found a second gear. Since their week 10 bye, Flacco has finished five of the Ravens six games with a passer rating of over 88.0 and has thrown for over 230 yards in four straight contests. Alex Collins and the running game are also playing at a high level, rushing for over 100 yards as a team in four of their last five games.
The key to Baltimore finishing their year on a high note will all come down to the matchup of A.J. Green and the Baltimore secondary. The Ravens secondary gave up a 213 yard game to Antonio Brown without Smith, and Green has been known to torment the Ravens in the past — he went off for a career high 227 yards during week three of the 2015 season. His presence alone makes this feel like a potential trap game in Baltimore, but the Ravens still have home court advantage and if their defence plays like it did in week one where Baltmore completely shut out Cincinnati, the Ravens will be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Prediction: Ravens win 24-16
OUT: Buffalo Bills (8-7) @ Miami Dolphins (6-9)
When you think about the way the entire 2017 offseason played out for the Bills, any sane person would think the Bills were trying to tank and finish in the top-5 of the draft order come April. Instead, they’ve won every game they should have in 2017. Since the conclusion last season, the Bills core has been gutted. Gone are last years best receiver Sammy Watkins, last years best corner Ronald Darby, and maybe the best player on their defence defensive, tackle Marcell Dareus. After all of that the Bills aren’t perfect, and could’ve found their way in had they not dropped their week 11 matchup with the Chargers. Both teams currently sit at the same record but LA holds the matchup tie breaker.
The Bills need to beat the Dolphins, whom they beat just two weeks ago, and pray the Chargers somehow drop their game with Oakland. Kelvin Benjamin (despite the no catch in New England) has looked a lot better over the past three weeks, even though his numbers aren’t terrific, and LeSean McCoy is looking like his old self over his past four games. The problem is a win isn’t enough.
It’s crazy how the one game in which Sean McDermott thought it was a good idea to start rookie Nathan Peterman, is ultimately going to end up costing the Bills their miracle season. Both Jay Cutler and Matt Moore have been awful and as long as Tyrod Taylor doesn’t throw the game away, the Bills will win Sunday.
Buffalo’s numbers are pretty awful all over the board but their story just makes you want to root a little harder for them.
Prediction: Bills win 17-16
IN: Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) Vs. Oakland Raiders (6-9)
It feels like just a few minutes ago, the NFL spectrum was buzzing with talk of the Chargers being the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. Now that the hype has died down a bit, everyone can take off the pink shades and look at the Chargers through a realist lens.
The Chargers have been a Cinderella story since starting the year 0-4 but the team hasn’t made it this far by luck. The Chargers have a quarterback in Philip Rivers that is playing a pro bowl level, a secondary that has a new star every week, and a dynamic, thee headed monster of a receiving core. These are all things that the Raiders don’t have. The Raiders have two solid receivers but one decides to disappear every week, an inconsistent quarterback and two pass rushers that are the only good parts of their entire defence. Combine everything listed and you get a matchup that should be overwhelmingly in the Chargers favours.
LA might not be the juggernaut many thought they were before facing Kansas City, but they are still a very solid team. The Raiders also looked awful against the Eagles on Monday night while Carr only managed 137 yards passing and threw two picks.
The Only way the Chargers do not make the playoffs is if somehow Tennessee puts it all together and beats Jacksonville. Other than that, their is no reason the Chargers should miss the playoffs. They are the better team, they are playing better, and are at home. The damage they do in the playoffs is anyones guess.
Prediction: Chargers win 30-17
Embed from Getty Images