I’m still on vacation so this week I’ll look ahead to each week 17 game to talk a little bit about what’s at stake (if anything). I should be able to get the usual picks up by Sunday morning, but in case I don’t you can use the power ranking at the bottom to make a good guess about who should win, assuming teams are trying as much as they have all season. Hint: I have only three home underdogs this week, and only one of those by more than half a point.
Chicago at Detroit: Chicago needs a win and help to get into the playoffs. That isn’t great shakes for a team that I had as the best in the league at one point this season, but it’s better than the Lions. They aren’t playing for anything besides draft position. I hope they put up a good fight but lose (which is pretty much what has happened all year).
Tampa at Atlanta: Atlanta has their number one seed locked up, so they don’t have to do anything. Tampa is also just playing for draft position, so who knows what will happen this game. I thought Tampa was better than they turned out to be, so if Atlanta rests players this game should at least be competitive.
Jets at Buffalo: This game will do little other than establish some AFC East bragging rights (maybe?). The Jets have been their usual entertainingly implosive selves and Buffalo has been inconsistent at best. Should be joyless to watch.
Baltimore at Bengals: The Ravens have clinched the division title regardless of outcome, but they could move into the 3 seed if they win and the Patriots lose. The Bengals have clinched their spot, and I *think* that they are locked into their spot at 6. Depending on how things go, they could play again in the wild card round. AFC North games tend to be pretty decent in general, so if the Bengals try hopefully this will be a good one.
Jacksonville at Tennessee: This game ain’t never gonna be good. The best thing that happened to Jacksonville this year was when their starting QB got hurt, and that wasn’t so great anyway.
Houston at Colts: Houston needs to win to guarantee their number one seed, so they should be trying hard. The Colts have nothing to play for, but I don’t know if they would rest up given how that seemed to go for the Manning-led teams in the past. With the Colts at home, hopefully this is a good one.
Green Bay at Minnesota: The Packers currently have the 2 seed in the NFC but both Seattle and San Fran are only a game behind. They would presumably rather have teams come up to Lambeau for as long as possible, so they should be looking to win. The Vikings need to win to keep their playoff spot, which is not guaranteed (they can get in with a loss if Chicago, Dallas, and the Giants all lose). And if nothing else, AP will be going for the rushing record. This should be a good one.
Miami at New England: The Patriots are playing for the best possible spot in the top four. They need to stay ahead of the Ravens, who they lost to, and they can move up if either the Broncos or Texans lose. Miami is playing for the honor of being the highest ranked AFC team not in the playoffs. I expect something of a Patriots cakewalk, but it wasn’t so easy against Jacksonville last week.
Carolina at New Orleans: Typically an entertaining game, but neither team has anything to play for. Hopefully they pretend they do and we’ll have a shoot-out.
Philly at Giants: Mike Vick gets one game to audition for a job on some other team while the Giants have some shot at a playoff spot (they need a win along with Dallas, Minnesota, and Chicago losses). I hope Philly wins just so I don’t have to even think about reading any articles about how the Giants could get hot and run through the playoffs.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh: Both teams are out of the playoffs, but I can’t imagine Mike Tomlin letting the Steelers just sit this one out. Cleveland has been a bit tougher than their record indicates, but Pittsburgh should take this one.
Dallas at Washington: Perhaps the most meaningful game of the day, so it makes sense they moved it to Sunday night. A Dallas win gives them the division, which would be kind of amazing given their season (they would have to win by 14 just to break even on point differential for the year). A loss keeps them out of the playoffs. Washington is playing for the division, obviously, but they could also fall out of the playoffs with a loss. This one should have everything that people like about sports.
Kansas City at Denver: The Chiefs are playing for their last shreds of pride while the Broncos are looking to keep their bye and possibly get the number one seed. Don’t expect this one to be pretty.
Oakland at San Diego: Two teams that have been about the worst thing you can be, which is unremarkable. Since I think they’ve already announced that Norv Turner is done at the end of the year, I don’t know that anyone cares how this turns out.
Arizona at San Fran: After a promising start to the season, the Cardinals have turned out to be who we thought they were. The 49ers could get a bye with some help from the Packers/Vikings, but also need to hold off the Seahawks for the division title. Again, don’t expect this one to be pretty.
St. Louis at Seattle: The Rams were much more fiesty than I think many people thought they would be, and a win would technically get them over .500 thanks to their tie with the 49ers. That would be quite an accomplishment. But the Seahawks have shown that they are the real deal, especially recently. I hadn’t really noticed, but they skyrocketed up my power rankings at the end, moving from the middle of the pack in the middle of the season and 13th as recently as after week 13 to 6th, 4th, and now 3rd. Two of those wins were somewhat impressive, being by huge amounts but against Buffalo and Arizona, but blowing out the 49ers last week suggests they’re the real deal. A win this weekend potentially gives the Seahawks the division or even a bye depending on the 49ers and Packers, but they are at least in the playoffs regardless. Other teams should be afraid.
And in case you like the numbers, here are the power rankings and season predictions. I still have the Patriots as the best team in the league, but in the playoffs home field can make a huge difference.