Ten games in final week of NFL regular-season have playoff implications
December 30, 2017 9:12 AM
by Bob Christ
The 98th year in NFL history heads into its final regular-season weekend when 16 divisional games take place across the country. Ten of the games have playoff implications.
Weatherwise, as of early Saturday morning, freezing temps were likely at seven venues, with New England to be the coldest with a forecast for 10 degrees at kickoff (minus 4 wind chill). Pittsburgh (15) and NY Giants (19) also should have frosty home games, with battles in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Tennessee and Denver having temps in the mid- to low 20s. No snow, though.
(FYI: In discussing playoff scenarios, the possibility of ties will not be addressed. There hasn’t been one this year.)
Now for a closer look at Sunday’s games. The odds are provided by Westgate Las Vegas. All times PST.
Green Bay Packers (7-8) at Detroit Lions (8-7)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Lions by 6.5 (43)
Facts: The game carries no playoff significance after Detroit was upset last Sunday at Cincinnati 26-17 to drop out of wild-card contention. The Packers have been dead for two weeks and have put QB Aaron Rodgers back on IR... Lions QB Matt Stafford had his best game of the season (132.4 passer rating) in Detroit’s 30-17 win at Lambeau in Week 9 when the Lions didn’t even punt. Last year, he threw for 385 yards and 347 yards vs. the Packers, the most he had any games in 2016... Brett Hundley gets the start again at QB for GB. He has a 3-5 record and has produced zero points in two games, including last week’s 16-0 loss at home to Minnesota.
Analysis: Green Bay’s injury list keeps mounting. In addition to Rodgers being out, the Packers will be without leading receiver Davante Adams and game-breaking WR Jordy Nelson, plus LB Nick Perry. Fellow LB Clay Matthew is questionable (hamstring). All this one top of a secondary that’s been in tatters most of the second half of the season. And since Stafford has made it look easy in the passing game against Green Bay, another big day is in the offing as Detroit tries to finish with a winning record in front of the home fans.
Forecast: Lions 26, Packers 7
NY Jets (5-10) at New England Patriots (12-3)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Patriots by 15 (43)
Facts: The Jets are 9-2 ATS against the spread the past six years against the Patriots, but 2-9 straight up... The Patriots have had eight consecutive seasons of 12-plus wins. The Jets have had one in their 58-year history... Since Jets QB Bryce Petty has taken over for injured Josh McCown, the team has scored 22 points the past 2.5 games... Considering New England needs a win to beat out Pittsburgh to assure itself the top seed in the AFC, QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski are sure to play until the game gets out of hand or they rub there eyes and notice Cleveland walloping the Steelers despite being an 11-point underdog.
Analysis: This marks the third time this season the Jets are underdogs of 14 points or more (1-1 ATS), which is one more than the rest of the league combined. Even in the best of conditions, playing in New Orleans’ dome, Petty didn’t complete half his passes so how does he expect to compete in below-zero wind chill in front of a hostile crowd cheering on the defending champs? He could be under heavy pressure from a defense that had six sacks last week vs. Buffalo. Maybe QB Christian Hackenberg will get in, too, since he took some first-team snaps this week. If that’s the case, the Patriots might set a record for sacks in a game.
Forecast: Patriots 23, Jets 3
Houston Texans (4-11) at Indianapolis Colts (3-12)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Colts by 5 (40.5)
Facts: Who’s going to play QB for Houston? With Deshaun Watson and Tom Savage on IR, it’s between T.J. Yates and fourth-stringer Taylor Heinicke, who both suffered concussions Christmas afternoon in a 34-6 home loss to Pittsburgh. It’s probably going to be Yates since listed as probable and Heinicke as questionable... In their Week 9 meeting, Indy won at Houston 20-14 as a 6-point dog... Colts QB Jacoby Brissett directed the Colts on two TD drives of 90-plus yards in that game, with T.Y. Hilton have 175 receiving yards. Only one other team has that many such drives in a game this year... Out for Houston is WR DeAndre Hopkins. His 13 receiving TDs are tops in the league.
Analysis: The Texans have lost seven of eight since Watson went down with a knee injury. And if they didn’t show any life last week at home on the holiday, what’s will they give in this game since they can’t even attempt to be a spoiler for anything. The Colts, meanwhile, put up a valiant fight in Baltimore last week in their closer-than-expected 23-16 loss at Baltimore. What’s really should play to Indy’s benefit is that it has had an extra day of rest after playing last Saturday while Houston is being shortchanged off a Monday game.
Forecast: Colts 24, Texans 10
Cleveland Browns (0-15) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Steelers by 6 (36.5)
Facts: The Steelers have clinched no worse than the second seed and a bye in AFC. Their only hope of leapfrogging the Patriots for No. 1 is for New England to lose to the Jets in a game that also is in the early time slot. Thus, if NE has a healthy second-half lead as expected, there could be a Landry Jones sighting at QB for Pittsburgh... Just like the 2008 Lions, the Browns can go 0-16. And just like those Lions, Cleveland also was 4-0 in exhibition games... The Browns’ turnover differential is at minus 28, just two off the league mark set by Pittsburgh 52 years ago, but in a 14-game season.
Analysis: There’s a good chance the Steelers will let up off the throttle at some point and have stars such as RB Le’Veon Bell and QB Ben Roethlisberger huddled on the sidelines. Then again, the Browns played Pittsburgh tough in the season opener, losing only 21-18 as a 9.5-point dog. But since coach Hue Jackson continues to let DeShone Kizer start at QB, the Steelers should be OK. Three times they’ve held the enemy to less than 100 yards passing and this could be No. 4. Anyway, the guess here is the Browns take advantage of Pittsburgh’s JV and make it close, just like last year when the Browns, on a one-game winning streak, lost in overtime in Pittsburgh 27-24 as a 3.5-point dog.
Forecast: Steelers 19, Browns 16
Washington Redskins (7-8) at NY Giants (2-13)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Redskins by 3.5 (39.5)
Facts: In their Thanksgiving meeting in D.C., the Redskins won 20-10, with NYG’s Eli Manning having his worst passer rating (44.2) the past two years, with the Giants getting their only TD on a pick-6... That game helped trigger the one-game Geno Smith experiment before Manning returned after the upheaval in NYG’s front office... Washington has won two in a row, including a 27-11 romp over Denver last week despite WR Josh Doctson catching only two of 13 throws in his direction from Kirk Cousins... Go figure: Manning is the league’s 23rd-rated passer. In 2011, when he led the team to a Super Bowl title, he ranked 27th.
Analysis: The Giants haven’t responded all that well to interim coach Steve Spagnuolo, losing all three games. The chances of NYG finishing on a winning note even grew bleaker this week when their best remaining receivers, WR Sterling Sherpard and TE Evan Engram, were ruled out. Earlier in the season, of course, the team lost its first wave of receivers when Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall went down. On defense, NYG will be without Pro Bowl strong safety Landin Collins. On the Redskins sideline, meanwhile, the team seems to be stoked to avoid a losing season and sweep their hated rival.
Forecast: Redskins 28, Giants 17
Chicago Bears (5-10) at Minnesota Vikings (12-3)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Vikings by 11.5 (39)
Facts: The Vikings can clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a victory, or with a Saints or Rams victory or a Panthers loss... Chicago rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky makes his 12th straight start. In his debut at Soldier Field in Week 5 against Minnesota, he was 12-for-25 for 128 yards in a 20-17 defeat. Over the course of the past four weeks, though, he has completed 71 percent of his throws and led the Bears to lopsided wins vs. Cincinnati and Cleveland... Bears RB Jordan Howard, fifth on the rushing chart with 1,113 yards. had 76 in their previous meeting, but in last year’s two get-togethers had his two most productive days, running for 153 and 135 yards.
Analysis: QB Case Keenum’s breakthrough season for the Vikings began in earnest against the Bears in Week 5 when he took over for injured and ineffective Sam Bradford and led Minnesota to its third win of the season. He’s since guided the Vikes to nine wins in 10 starts and is the league’s seventh-rated QB. Defensively, the Vikings might be even more potent. In their past two games, they’ve held the Bengals to seven points (and only 161 yards of total offense) and then shut out the Packers. Now this week they’ll be facing a Bears team that’s weak at wide receiver. The Vikings don’t have to win big to make their day a success, but it would be the feel-right thing to do heading into the playoffs.
Forecast: Vikings 30, Bears 14
Dallas Cowboys (8-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-2)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Cowboys by 2.5 (39)
Facts: Neither team has anything at stake, which is a reversal of the 2016 finale when Dallas traveled to Philadelphia with the No. 1 seed secured and the Eagles out of playoff contention. Phllly won, 27-13... In their Week 11 meeting in Dallas, with Cowboys RB Zeke Elliott in his second week in the NFL pokey, Philadelphia romped 37-9. Thus, this marks the eighth time since 2001 the Eagles have given the Cowboys their most lopsided loss of the season... The Eagles clinched the top NFC seed with an uninspiring 19-10 Christmas night win over Oakland, with a FG and fumble-return TD in the final seconds.
Analysis: For the Cowboys, Elliott’s personal quest to reach 1,000 yards after missing six weeks would seem to be the main focus for Dallas. He needs 120 to get there, but no one has done that against the Eagle defense the past 26 games. So that should be a game within the game. As for Philly, coach Doug Pederson would like to see a more productive Nick Foles at QB, for he was only 1-for-14 converting on third down Monday. And no doubt there will be a Nate Sudfeld appearance. He’s behind Foles on the depth chart and hasn’t thrown a pass in a real game in his two years in the league. Give the Eagles a slight edge because of their desire to set a franchise record with their 14th win.
Forecast: Eagles 23, Cowboys 21:
Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Ravens by 9.5 (40)
Facts: The Ravens clinch the fifth seed with a victory or with a loss by the Titans or Bills, who are both slight favorites in their finales... In the Baltimore’s opener in Cincinnati, the Ravens got the first of their three shutouts, 20-0, with Bengals QB Andy Dalton throwing four INTs, twice as many as he’s had in an outing the past three years. He later rebounded to have a six-game stretch in which he had 11 TDs and zero interceptions... Baltimore’s only loss its past six games was at Pittsburgh in Week 14, 39-38, when the Ravens blew a 31-20 fourth-quarter lead... Bengals star LB Vontaze Burfict missed the Week 1 meeting because of a suspension. But he’s back.
Analysis: With the wind chill expected to be in the mid-teens and Ravens QB Joe Flacco already lamenting that he’d rather see temps in the 60s, maybe this turns into a ground battle with Alex Collins leading the way. The ex-Razorback is 105 yards shy of his first 1,000 yard season. But considering he averaged only 2.8 yards on 18 carries last week against a Colts defense that ranks 30th in the league, he’ll need lots of help. Chances are Flacco won’t need to do much, though, thanks to a defense that leads the league in takeaways with 33 and is tied for sacks with 40.
Forecast: Ravens 17, Bengals 10
Buffalo Bills (8-7) at Miami Dolphins (6-9)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Bills by 2.5 (42.5)
Facts: The temperature should be about 55 degrees warmer than two weeks ago when these teams met in Buffalo, a 24-16 victory for the Bills with a reading of 22 degrees at kickoff... This marks the Bills’ first meaningful game in Week 17 over the past 13 seasons, yet they don’t control their palyoff destiny. Even with a win, to make the playoffs they will need a loss by the Ravens or else losses by the Titans AND Chargers. All three are favored in their games, with Baltimore and LA by more than a touchdown... Miami QB Jay Cutler could be making his farewell appearance yet again before returning to the broadcast booth.
Analysis: Because there’s a good chance the Bills will be getting bad news from out of town, their adrenaline reservoir could be lacking in the latter stages of this game, making the Dolphins an attractive home choice under fiery coach Adam Gase. And looking behind the scenes of last week’s 29-13 loss by Miami in frosty Kansas City, the Dolphins were doomed by a minus-2 turnover differential and by the Chiefs’ average launch point on drives of their 41. That’s like giving away points. They Dolphins should play better in toastier Miami, such as the last time they were home and upset New England.
Forecast: Dolphins 27, Bills 21
Carolina Panthers (11-4) at Atlanta Falcons (9-6)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Falcons by 3.5 (45)
Facts: The Falcons clinch the second wild card with a win or a Seattle loss at Arizona... Carolina has clinched at least a wild card and can secure the AFC South title with a victory and a New Orleans loss at Tampa Bay... Carolina welcomes back LB Thomas Davis and DE Charles Johnson from suspensions... In the Falcons’ 48-33 home win over TB last year, Matt Ryan threw for 501 yards and five TDs... In Week 9 this season, the Panthers overcame a 10-0 deficit to win at home to beat Atlanta, 20-17. The Panthers’ Cam Newton had 86 rushing yards, the most by a QB in a game this year.
Analysis: Atlanta is by far the more desperate team, since it doesn’t dare risk losing and then having to hope the Seahawks lose as a heavy favorite vs. the Cardinals. The Falcons are particularly bitter about last week’s 23-13 loss at New Orleans that looks worse that it was, for they twice were at the Saints’ 1 and came away with nothing after losing a fumble and failing on a fourth-down run. Plus, is Newton at 100 percent? He took a mighty shot on a run up the middle last week and needed recovery time. Even the Panthers admit they have to reel in his number of carries, which have totaled 14 in each of the past two games.
Forecast: Falcons 28, Panthers 20
New Orleans Saints (11-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Saints by 6.5 (48.5)
Facts: The Saints have clinched a playoff spot and would win the AFC South and the fourth seed with a win. But a loss and a Carolina win makes them a wild card... The Bucs will be playing for the 16th straight weekend without a break. But it’s probably not that big a deal since this is the Saints’ 12th consecutive week of action... N.O. is one of nine teams that opened 0-2 that’s assured of playing in January. Only the LA Chargers have a chance to join in... Bucs QB Jameis Winston is coming off consecutive games with a passer rating exceeding 130. Only Tom Brady and Cam Newton have done that this year. Winston was resting a sore shoulder when the Saints beat the Bucs 30-10 in Week 9.
Analysis: Saints QB Drew Brees has had another solid year and has completed 71.9 percent of his throws, which would break the record of 71.6 set by Minnesota’s Sam Bradford last season. Chances are, thanks to the dual running threats of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, Brees should have another nice day. And it will be even nicer if TB continues to have trouble getting sacks, with a league-low 20 this season. The hungry Saints will want to pull away and rest up for next week.
Forecast: Saints 31, Bucs 20
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5) at Tennessee Titans (8-7)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Titans by 3 (41)
Facts: The Jaguars have clinched the AFC South and are locked in at the No. 3 seed. The Titans need a victory here to qualify for the postseason, or else root for Buffalo and the LA Chargers to lose, enabling them to back in... In Jacksonville in Week 2, the Titans gave the Jaguars their most onesided loss of the season, 37-16 thanks in large part to 176 rushing yards, with 92 by Derek Henry, who needs only 307 yards this week to reach 1,000... Last year in Week 16, in Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone debut as sideline boss, the Jaguars KO’d Tennessee’s playoff hopes by that same score... Despite nothing at stake, Marrone insists he’s out to win and will be playing is starters.
Analysis: The Titans have lost three games in a row and have been weighed down by QB Marcus Mariota’s weak season in which he has fewer TD throws than interceptions (12/15). That’s a far cry from his sophomore season of 2016 when he had 26 touchdowns passes and only nine INTs. Plus this week he’ll be without rugged RB DeMarco Murray, who injured a knee last week. With the Jaguars apparently playing for keeps, this spread seems too enormous to ignore. And this time, the Titans shouldn’t expect a 17-yard edge in average starting field possession, which they had in their previous meeting.
Forecast: Jaguars 24, Titans 23
Oakland Raiders (6-9) at LA Chargers (8-7)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Chargers by 7 (42)
Facts: Whereas the Raiders have been dead since last Sunday, the Chargers are still battling for a wild-card berth. A key to their success will be if RB Melvin Gordon can go (questionable, ankle)... To make the postseason, LA needs a win, a Tennessee loss and a loss by either Baltimore or Buffalo. All three of those enemy teams are favored Sunday... The Raiders are coming off a 19-10 loss at Philadelphia on Christmas and will be playing on the road a second straight game – and after a cross-country flight – and on short rest... When the Chargers beat the Raiders 17-16 in Week 6 as a 3-point dog, it was the first game back for Oakland QB Derek Carr after his back injury.
Analysis: The StubHub no doubt will be filled with Raiders fans, but if their cheering was that big a deal why were the preseason favorites to win the AFC West only 4-3 at Oakland Coliseum this season, including that loss to LA? The Chargers kept their postseason hopes alive last week with a 14-7 victory over the Jets, made more difficult considering their average starting field position was their 16, which is 3 yards worse than any other team had this year. That’s sure to balance out this week.
Forecast: Chargers 26, Raiders 16
Arizona Cardinals (7-8) at Seattle Seahawks (9-6)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Seahawks by 9 (38.5)
Facts: Seattle’s wild-card playoff hopes hinge on the Falcons losing to Carolina... The Cards have won three of the past four in Seattle, but all were with Carson Palmer at QB. Drew Stanton is in the quarterback now. He was in charge in that lone Arizona loss in the Pacific Northwest... Seattle is 2-5 ATS at home this year... Seattle had only 136 yards of total offense in its 21-12 staying-alive win in Dallas last week... The Cardinals had 34 rushing yards on 24 carries in their 22-16 home loss to the Seahawks in Week 6. But WR Larry Fitzgerald had 113 through the air... Arizona has allowed only 268 yards a game since Week 10. Over the course of a full season, that would lead the league.
Analysis: The Seahawks no doubt didn’t need any bulletin-board material for this one but got some anyway when Arizona coach Bruce Arians spouted off in the locker room after last week’s 23-0 win of NYG that they were headed to their “home field” in Seattle, where they have won three of four. But in at least one of those games, the Seahawks didn’t seem to care. Seattle should be able to mystify Stanton like in the past and enough to get the victory, but with the exception of Seattle’s rousing home win over the Eagles four weeks ago, the Seahawks have looked vulnerable – especially in their 42-7 home loss to the LA Rams. It’ll be close but no stogie for the Cardinals.,
Forecast: Seahawks 16, Cardinals 13
Kansas City Chiefs (9-6) at Denver Broncos (5-10)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Broncos by 4 (38)
Facts: This game has no bearing on the postseason, with the Chiefs secure with the No. 4 seed and Denver long eliminated... With nothing at stake, KC coach Andy Reid is giving rookie first-round pick Patrick Mahomes his initial start. He’s the third backup Denver will have faced the past four weeks, counting NYJ’s Bryce Petty in long relief in Week 14 and last Thursday vs. Indy’s Jacoby Brissett. The Broncos won both by double digits, yielding a total of 13 points... Rookie Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt has 1,292 rushing yards and is 13 behind the Rams’ Todd Gurley for the rushing lead. Since Gurley isn’t expected to play in his game, Reid might let his guy get some action.
Analysis: The Chiefs aren’t the only ones conducting an experiment at QB, for the Broncos are planning to give Paxton Lynch his second start of the season despite reports out of Denver that say Lynch was still hobbled by an ankle injury he suffered five weeks ago. With the wind chill expected to be around 20 degrees, both QBs might have a little added trouble. Taking the points and the under make sense.
Forecast: Chiefs 20, Broncos 17
San Francisco 49ers (5-10) at LA Rams (11-4)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: 49ers by 4 (43.5)
Facts: With the NFC West clinched, Rams coach Sean McVay said he would rest key starters, including QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley. Sean Mannion is LA’s QB this week. He’s thrown 16 passes in his three-year career... S.F. has won four in a row behind QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Last week he spearheaded a 44-33 win over a Jacksonville. But despite that rousing win, San Fran’s defense allowed the Jags 32 first downs, matching the most yielded by a winning team since 2014... Over the past two weeks, in wins over the Jags and Titans, S.F. blew leads of 16 points and 13, respectively. The only time a team squandered a bigger lead and won this year was Washington (17-0) vs. S.F.
Analysis: The Rams’ choice to rest so many key guys is puzzling since if they lose and the Saints beat Tampa Bay, a game that also is in the late time slot, LA slips from the No. 3 to No. 4 seed behind New Orleans. But first things first, winning that wild card game. San Francisco backers, meanwhile, have hit the betting windows with gusto so far with the line moving from LA minus 3.5 to San Fran minus 5, mainly because of McVay’s decision to give key personnel some down time. With the Rams’ heads in the clouds and looking to next week, an energized 49ers team seems the right choice.
Forecast: 49ers 31, Rams 17
Last week: 8-7-1 ATS; 11-5 SU
Season total: 116-114-10 (..504) ATS; 146-94 (.608) SU