Who gets the #1 seed in the AFC? Will the Ravens blow it again? Who gets the final Wild Card spot in the NFC? Breakout Live answers all the pivotal questions heading into week 17 of the NFL.
Who’s getting the #1 seed in the AFC?
Right now, four teams are still in contention for the #1 seed in the AFC heading into Week 17: Kansas City, Los Angeles, New England and Houston. If either Kansas City or Los Angeles wins, the West champ would be the #1 seed. If they both win, the Chiefs win the tiebreaker. New England would need to beat the Jets and have both the Chiefs and Chargers lose. And Houston would need all three teams to lose and beat the Jaguars at home.
Yes, the Chiefs have struggled the last several weeks since the Kareem Hunt scandal. But they get the Raiders at home for all the marbles, and I don’t expect them to have a letdown. The Chiefs should be lifting the AFC West trophy and heading into the playoffs as the #1 seed. The question is, will that be enough for Andy Reid and the Chiefs to break their playoff jinxes?
Will the Ravens blow a playoff chance two years in a row on their home field?
It’s been nearly 12 months to the day since one of the all-time Buffalo Bills legends, Andy Dalton, hit another Bills legend, Tyler Boyd, on a 4th and 12 touchdown pass to knock the Baltimore Ravens out of the playoffs in Week 17. No, I don’t need an editor. That late Bengals strike in Baltimore sent the Bills to the playoffs and Baltimore to the offseason.
Now, 12 months later, the Ravens find themselves at home again facing a divisional foe with a playoff berth on the line. This time it’s the resurgent Cleveland Browns and their new field general, Baker Mayfield. You think Cincy had some motivation to knock out the Ravens? How about having your franchise ripped away and watching another city celebrate two Super Bowl titles while your new team languishes in pain and sadness for two decades? Yeah, the Browns have a little motivation for this one.
The only problem is, the beneficiaries of a Browns’ upset would be none other than the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, whose only playoff hope rests on beating the Bengals at home and having the Browns take out the Ravens.
So, will the Ravens blow it two years in a row? I do think the Browns are good enough to get it done, especially if they can contain Lamar Jackson’s ground game. But we all know the strength of these Ravens is their #1 defense, which just made the Chargers look silly in Los Angeles. I think the Ravens D will keep Baker in check and Lamar & company will do just enough to seal the deal.
Where will the Texans playoff wheel of fortune land?
The Texans have arguably the strangest playoff scenario heading into a Week 17 in league history. When do you ever recall a team still being in contention for the #1 and #6 seeds heading into their final game? Well, that’s where the Texans find themselves. So where will the Texans end up Sunday night? Here are their scenarios, assuming no ties:
- If the Texans win and the Chiefs, Chargers and Patriots lose, the Texans could get the #1 seed if they end up ahead of the Chiefs in strength of victory.
- If the Texans win and the Patriots win and the Chiefs and Chargers lose, the Texans are the #2 seed.
- If the Texans win, the Patriots lose, and either the Chiefs or Chargers win, the Texans are the #2 seed.
- If the Texans win and the Patriots win and either the Chiefs or Chargers win, the Texans are the #3 seed.
- If the Texans lose and the Colts/Titans game does not end in a tie, the Texans are the #6 seed.
Given the long odds of the Chiefs and Patriots losing at home to the Raiders and Jets, respectively, the Texans are mostly likely to end up a #3 or #6 seed. And given the way Jacksonville’s defense has been playing as of late, the Texans will have to work for that 3-seed. I say they get it done, but it won’t be easy.
Who wins the play-in game in Nashville?
The Indianapolis Colts head to Nashville Sunday night to play the Tennessee Titans in what is being dubbed a play-in game. That’s because the winner of this game qualifies for the playoffs either as a Wild Card or a divisional winner, pending the outcome of the Texans game. As it stands, Marcus Mariota did return to practice after suffering neck and foot injuries, which is obviously a big deal. The Colts blew out the Titans 38-10 in Indianapolis six weeks ago and are presently on a streak of 8 wins in their last 9 games. The Titans have won 4 in a row themselves, albeit against inferior competition.
In addition to dominating the previous matchup, the Colts have a significantly better offense, coming in at #7 in total offense vs. the Titans at #26. On the defensive side, both teams are fairly even at #7 (Titans) and #11 (Colts). I expect Andrew Luck to be the difference in this game, as he’s passed for over three times the number of TDs as Marcus Mariota and nearly 2,000 more yards. It should be a lot closer than the previous affair, but expect Luck and the Colts to put the icing on a remarkable turn-around season.
Will the Bears play their starters?
Week 17 is typically the time many playoff-bound teams rest key starters ahead of the playoffs. For teams like the Saints and Cowboys, who cannot change their seeds no matter what outcome, it makes sense to protect their stars from injury. Some teams, like the Texans, are guaranteed a playoff spot but are still playing for a division title or a better seed. Then there’s a team like the Bears, who can’t fall from their current seed of #3 but have a slight chance of moving up to the #2 and grabbing the playoff bye. The question is, is it worth the risk? And in this case, the decision doesn’t just affect the Bears, because the Eagles need to Bears to win at Minnesota to have a chance to sneak into the playoffs.
Well, it looks like the decision has already been made. According to Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy, “If we were in a position where you can’t move at all seed-wise and you were just locked in, then I think that’s something [resting starters] that you have to discuss. But we’re not in that position. So we have to play to win.” That’s music to the Eagles’ ears.
Who gets the final Wild Card spot in the NFC?
Well, a lot of that is contingent on whether the Bears play their starters. Since Coach Nagy is promising the first team this Sunday at Minnesota, the final Wild Card spot in the NFC is very much in play. Here’s what it comes down to: If the Vikings beat the Bears at home, the Vikings are in. But if the Vikings lose and the Eagles win at Washington, Philadelphia gets a shot to defend their title come playoff time.
I expect Foles and the Eagles to lay it on the Redskins and take care of their end of the bargain. The other side of the equation isn’t so easy. The Bears are the better team for sure. But the Vikings certainly have a lot more to play for. And while the Bears are known for their defense, the Vikings are actually rated just ahead of the Bears at #3 in total defense. Both offenses are middling and I don’t know that I would expect either quarterback to excel. I think it will be a close one, but the home-field advantage and greater incentive should propel the Vikes to the win and the playoffs, knocking the defending champs out of the playoff picture.
Who has the biggest chance of getting upset?
Restricting the debate to top teams playing inferior opponents (and not resting their starters), the candidates are:
Patriots vs. Jets
Texans vs. Jaguars
Chargers at Broncos
Chiefs vs. Raiders
Rams vs. 49ers
Steelers vs. Bengals
Seahawks vs. Cardinals
Ravens vs. Browns
As you can see, only one of these candidates is playing on the road. And the Chargers just lost to the Broncos in their previous matchup a few weeks ago in Los Angeles. But I don’t think the Chargers are the only team who could get upset this Sunday.
The Jaguars are playing solid defense again; the 49ers have given good teams a lot of trouble the last few weeks; and the Browns are a vastly better team than they were during the Hue Jackson era. I think the Texans and Rams will pull it out, but it won’t be easy. And I believe the Chargers will find a much more deflated version of the Broncos this time around.
So I’ll have to go with the Ravens as being the most vulnerable to an upset in Week 17. I still think their defense will pull them through, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Fabulous Baker Boy drives a spear through the heart of the Ravens’ playoff hopes.