Week 17: Closing in on the Finish Line

As Week 17 of the NFL regular season arrives, the race for those scarce playoff spots will only get hotter. Few teams have already clinched a playoff berth but said teams are now fighting for home-field advantage come playoff time. Also, the wild card picture will only get even more chaotic as the regular season closes out. Never has come a more vital moment to play one’s cards right than right now.

Here are a few topics to entertain the mind for Week 17 of the regular season.

What to Watch for in Week 17

Who Will Actually Win the AFC South?

Before the start of the 2023 campaign, the Jacksonville Jaguars looked like the most obvious favorite to take the division title. For a while, Jacksonville was well on its way to a successful title defense, going 8-3 in the first eleven games. But they are currently in the midst of a four-game skid, with ugly losses to Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Not to mention quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, is getting battered by the injury bug.

Jacksonville does own a 4-1 record in divisional play, but Indianapolis and Houston are hot on its tail. Both Houston and Indianapolis are having the seasons very few experts could have predicted, especially with each having a first-year head coach at the helm. The Colts and the Texans currently stand at 8-7 (like Jacksonville), and the AFC South is just about anyone’s game.

Can San Francisco Hang On?

Coming off of its bye-week, the San Francisco 49ers looked unstoppable as they clobbered its next seven opponents in a row. But when the 49ers hosted the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas Day, the Ravens embarrassed Brock Purdy and company, 33-19. Purdy threw an uncharacteristic four interceptions in that game, leaving the Ravens as the first team to reach 12 wins for this season.

The 49ers have already clinched the NFC West, but their chances of retaining the number one seed in the NFC are hanging in the balance. With Detroit and Philadelphia reaching 11-4 from their most recent victories, there is now a three-way tie for the top spot in the conference. A lot will have to go San Fran’s way to ensure that the entire conference will have to go through Santa Clara to arrive in Las Vegas.

Miami Dolphins: So Many Battles, So Little Time

Everything felt right in Miami as they came back to beat the Dallas Cowboys 22-20 on Christmas Eve. Not only did they beat their first opponent with a winning record this season, but the injury-riddled offensive line held Micah Parsons and the crew to just one sack the entire game. Clinching a playoff berth for a second time under head coach Mike McDaniel sounds great. Now, the Dolphins must prepare for even bigger battles just around the corner.

The Dolphins will travel to Baltimore to take on the heavily favored Ravens and try to close the gap between Miami and the number-one seed in the AFC. Not to mention they host the red-hot Buffalo Bills in a divisional bout to end the regular season. For all that Miami has accomplished in 2023, now is no time to celebrate. Now is the time for the Dolphins to salvage every opportunity to force the AFC into trying to reach Vegas through Miami.

Tampa Bay: Back in Business?

The NFC South has developed a bad reputation in recent years, being labeled as the worst conference in the NFL. Although teams like New Orleans and Atlanta have witnessed notable improvements, this hasn’t been enough for either to pull ahead of the pack. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seemed to have cracked the code and are in the midst of a four-game winning streak.

It’s not just the Baker Mayfield/Mike Evans combination that has boosted the Bucs to the top of the NFC South. Tampa’s rush defense and potent offensive line have done their part in putting themselves back into the playoff picture. Now head coach Todd Bowles and company must win out their remaining games against the Saints and the Panthers to retain their division title and the fourth seed in the NFC playoff bracket.

Main Image: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

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