As we head into Week 17, nine of the NFL’s 14 playoff spots have been clinched, and eight teams have been eliminated. That leaves plenty to play for—seeding, homefield advantage, playoff berths—for the majority of the league.
Lines are from FanDuel as of Wednesday night. Stats are from TruMedia/Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted. Now, on to the picks.
Week 16 record: 7-9
Season record: 123-110-7
Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans (+12.5)
Bizarre situation for the Titans. They have literally nothing to play for in this game. Tennessee cannot earn a wild-card berth, and the Titans’ playoff hopes come down to a Week 18 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. If they win that game, they’re AFC South champs and will host a playoff game. If they lose that game, they’re out. So, there’s no incentive for the Titans to play starters or anyone who’s dealing with even a slight injury this week against Dallas. And that’s why a bunch of guys will be sitting.
As for the Cowboys, they have a lot to play for. Winning the NFC East is highly unlikely, but not impossible. They need to win their last two and have the Eagles lose their last two. Dak Prescott was fantastic in a win last week against the Eagles, but this Cowboys defense is not what it was earlier in the season.
This is an especially tough game to pick, so I’m just going to go the contrarian route here and hope for the best since I assume almost everyone will be on Dallas.
The pick: Titans (+12.5)
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)
How about that Panthers performance last week? Their 570 yards of offense against the Lions was second most for any team in a game this season. Carolina had seven runs of 20-plus yards; that’s more than any team’s produced in a single game in the past 20 years!
The Bucs, meanwhile, win the award for toughest watch this season. Every game is a slog, and the players always look miserable. Yet if they win here, they’re NFC South champs and will host a playoff game. If they lose, they’re not out yet, but the Panthers will be in the driver’s seat. One key injury here: The Panthers are expected to be without their top corner, Jaycee Horn, who suffered a wrist injury last week.
The Bucs are a league-worst 3-11-1 against the spread this season. There is absolutely zero reason to trust them. But this line reflects that we’re looking at two evenly matched teams. I hate myself for falling into the trap again, but if it’s a close, boring game, Tom Brady has shown he can still get it done in a two-minute drill and steal a win.
The pick: Bucs (-3)
Cleveland Browns at Washington Commanders (-1.5)
Just how bad was the Browns offense last week in a loss to the Saints? There have been 480 offensive performances in the NFL this year. The Browns’ showing in Week 16 ranked 475th in expected points added (EPA) per drive. Yes, the weather was bad, but this wasn’t a one-game thing. If extrapolated over an entire season, the Browns’ performance in four games with Deshaun Watson would translate to the worst offense in the NFL this season in terms of EPA per drive.
After last week’s loss to the 49ers, the Commanders will go back to Carson Wentz at quarterback. Something to chew on: If the Commanders were to sneak into the playoffs and win their first-round matchup, Wentz would potentially go to Philadelphia to face his former team in the divisional round. What a twist that would be.
There’s not a whole lot to like about this Washington team, but the defense is frisky, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll just go away quietly.
The pick: Commanders (-1.5)
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles (-6)
It looks like the Eagles will roll with Gardner Minshew again in this game. Minshew was fine last week against the Cowboys, but what really stood out in that game was how well-supported he was. DeVonta Smith was terrific, and the coaching staff dialed up some outstanding calls against Dallas’s defense. The Eagles can lock up the no. 1 seed in the NFC with a win here.
As for the Saints, they have just a 3 percent chance of getting into the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. Don’t forget about the subplot in this one. The Eagles own the Saints’ first-round pick in 2023. If the season ended today, that’d be the 10th selection.
I have no feel for this game. I think there’s a chance that the Eagles defense will bounce back in a big way, and they’ll roll. But I could also see the Saints defense giving Minshew a tough time. I think the Eagles will win but the Saints cover.
The pick: Saints (+6)
Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (-3)
We had some fun discussing the Cardinals on this week’s episode of Extra Point Taken.
An ESPN article cited a source close to Kliff Kingsbury saying: “They won’t let [Kingsbury] be great.” Apparently, a 28-35-1 regular-season record with no playoff wins has nothing to do with Kingsbury and everything to do with everyone else. Glad that’s cleared up! By the way, I highly recommend using “You won’t let me be great” in your day-to-day interactions.
There’s nothing really to pay attention to here other than draft positioning. The Falcons have been the better-coached team, and the Cardinals looked mostly inept offensively last week.
The pick: Falcons (-3)
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans (+4.5)
The Jaguars are in a similar situation to the Titans, but it’s not exactly the same. They have a small chance (1.1 percent, per Football Outsiders) of getting into the playoffs as a wild card. The more likely path to the postseason, though, would be to simply beat the Titans in Week 18 and get in as AFC South champs. Doug Pederson told reporters this week that he’s playing his starters in this game.
Interesting stakes for the Texans, too. They currently own the no. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, but a win here and a Bears loss would bump Chicago ahead of them. Houston has been competitive in recent weeks, and the Texans beat the Jaguars earlier this season. I think they’ll keep it close.
The pick: Texans (+4.5)
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-5.5)
That Lions’ loss to the Panthers last week was a bummer. The defense got gashed, and the offense had a stretch in the middle of the game when it failed to pick up a first down on four consecutive possessions. But I’m not giving up on Detroit just yet. They need some help but still have a 24 percent chance of getting in.
The Bears had a 10-6 lead at halftime against the Bills last week before getting outscored 29-3 in the second half. They’ll continue to ride with Justin Fields for the final two weeks, and then Chicago’s attention will turn to upgrading the roster with plentiful resources (draft picks, cap space) in the offseason.
I still like this Lions team and would love to see them in the playoffs, but given what I saw from their defense last week, I can’t trust them to cover this number.
The pick: Bears (+5.5)
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-3)
The Dolphins will go with Teddy Bridgewater in this game. Earlier this week, Ben Solak and I discussed the many layers involved with Tua Tagovailoa once again entering the concussion protocol.
The Dolphins have a 59 percent chance of getting into the playoffs, while the Patriots are at 20 percent. With a win here, Miami would go all the way up to 84 percent, while New England would be eliminated. If the Patriots win, they’d have a 31 percent chance going into Week 18, while the Dolphins would be at 48 percent.
There’s a chance that Bill Belichick will cook up a special game plan, and the Patriots will roll to a double-digit win. But there’s really no reason to trust this New England team, and I think Miami can still move the ball with Bridgewater.
The pick: Dolphins (+3)
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5)
Advice to the Broncos: Try to hire the best head coach to replace Nathaniel Hackett. Don’t try to hire a Russell Wilson fixer. I expect the Broncos to take another shot with Wilson in 2023. But beyond that, who knows? Don’t get me wrong. Wilson’s play is a huge issue. But it’s not Denver’s only issue. Hackett’s game management was terrible. And the Broncos have shown no ability to correct their flaws. Frustration boiled over on the sideline last week with players going after each other. They haven’t just been a bad team: They’ve been a sloppy, undisciplined, disorganized team. Coaching can directly address those things, even if the quarterback play is bad.
As for the Chiefs, they’ve got plenty to play for. A win here combined with a Bills loss to the Bengals on Monday night would give Kansas City the no. 1 seed going into Week 18.
I don’t have many X’s and O’s reasons to believe this one will be close. But the Broncos defense is much better than it showed last week vs. the Rams, and maybe they get the classic, one-game interim coach bump? There’s no chance this ends well for me.
The pick: Broncos (+12.5)
Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants (-5.5)
The Colts turned to Nick Foles on Monday night, and well, that didn’t quite work out. They totaled 10 first downs and 173 yards in a loss to the Chargers. If the season ended today, Indianapolis would have the no. 5 pick in the draft.
The Giants went up and down the field last week against the Vikings, but turnovers and a blocked punt were too much to overcome. They’re still in great shape to make the playoffs, though. If they win here, they’ll clinch a postseason spot. Even with a loss, the Giants would have a 77 percent chance of making it going into Week 18.
The Giants are the better team, but this number is just a little too high for a team that is short on talent in so many key spots.
The pick: Colts (+5.5)
New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks (+1.5)
These are two reeling teams that are fighting for a chance to get into the tournament. The Seahawks have lost three in a row and are banged up. They’ve got a 27 percent chance of making the playoffs but obviously badly need a win here.
The Jets, meanwhile, are coming off a fourth straight loss. Last week’s Thursday night game felt like the end of the Zach Wilson era, as the Jets get Mike White back for this game. (Robert Saleh announced this week that Wilson will be inactive.) If we isolate the Jets’ offensive performance with White over the past two seasons, it would translate to roughly the 14th-best group in the NFL.
I’m not saying White is Patrick Mahomes, but the Jets are a different team with him at quarterback. And given the Seahawks’ injury situation, I like New York here.
The pick: Jets (-1.5)
San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders (+10)
Every offseason for a while now, it’s felt like there have been rumors about the Raiders moving on from Derek Carr. Well, we finally have some closure. The Raiders shut Carr down for the season and sent him home. They’ll start Jarrett Stidham in this game.
The Raiders and Derek Carr came to a decision that he should go home and not be a distraction the last two weeks of the season.— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) December 29, 2022
Carr is due $32.9 million next year, $41.9 million in 2024 and $41.2 million 2025. But none of his remaining salary is guaranteed. He’s shown he can be a solid starter if surrounded by the right pieces. The question is: How much will a team be willing to give up for him in a trade? That’ll be a big story this offseason.
The 49ers, meanwhile, continue to roll. They’ve won eight in a row, and six of those wins have been by double digits. A weird Brock Purdy game in which he makes some rookie mistakes and turns the ball over is probably coming at some point, but I’ll take my chances with this defense against Stidham.
The pick: 49ers (-10)
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-3)
Since 2000, there have been 66 teams that have produced at least 12 wins through Week 16. Among that group, this year’s Vikings rank last in point differential at plus-5. No other team with 12 or more wins was worse than plus-49. The average point differential among those teams was plus-144.2! This is really the perfect fan experience if you root for the Vikings. Every game is close. They rarely lose. But you don’t have huge expectations. And you can still yell at haters who don’t respect your team. I mean, really, what else can you ask for?
The Packers aren’t dead yet. They’ve got a 27 percent chance of sneaking into the playoffs after last week’s win in Miami. With a win here, that percentage would go all the way up to 55 percent. Credit to Matt LaFleur. This team looked cooked a few weeks ago, but they keep playing hard. I like the Packers’ chances of winning their fourth straight.
The pick: Packers (-3)
Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Chargers (-6.5)
Ready to have your mind blown? The Rams’ offensive performance (EPA per drive) last week against the Broncos was not only their best of this season, but better than any performance by the 2021 team that won the Super Bowl! Sean McVay has been pretty candid about how trying this year has been. It had to feel good to show he’s still got it for one week at least.
The Chargers beat the Colts to clinch a playoff berth and have won three in a row. But it feels like every week, you look at the scoreboard and wonder why they haven’t scored more points. The last time the Chargers scored 30 or more was in Week 5.
I still don’t trust this Chargers team, and the Rams are still playing hard. Give me the points.
The pick: Rams (+6.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)
Lamar Jackson did not practice Wednesday, so we could be looking at another start for Tyler Huntley. Jackson suffered an injury early in the team’s Week 13 game against the Broncos. In four games without Jackson, the Ravens have failed to score more than 17 points. Baltimore has clinched a playoff spot and is not in the mix to earn a bye, so erring on the side of caution (assuming that’s all it is) with Jackson probably makes sense.
As for the Steelers, Mike Tomlin is doing it again. The team is 7-8 after last week’s win over the Raiders. Because of the tiebreak situation, Pittsburgh has just a 3 percent chance of making the playoffs, but this team has improved and continues to play hard.
If this were a pick ’em, I might go with the Ravens. But given how much Baltimore’s offense has struggled without Jackson, I see a low-scoring game and will take the points.
The pick: Steelers (+2.5)
Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals (+1.5)
The Bengals lost right tackle La’el Collins to a torn ACL last week and will now turn to Hakeem Adeniji, who was a big part of the team’s struggles up front last season. It’s gone a little under the radar, but the Bengals have had the good fortune of starting the same five offensive linemen for every game this season. Now, with the playoffs two weeks away, they face some adversity up front.
It wasn’t the prettiest win for the Bills last week, but they took care of business in the second half against the Bears and now lead the NFL with a plus-157 point differential. Buffalo’s run game has really improved, and while the team’s Super Bowl fortunes still rest mostly on Josh Allen, the Bills have shown they can win in different ways.
These are two legit Super Bowl contenders that I’ve been high on all season long. I worry about the Bills’ ability to cover Cincinnati’s wide receivers, but the Bengals could have a hard time protecting Joe Burrow. It’s a coin-flip game that I can’t wait to watch, but give me the Bills in what hopefully turns out to be a classic.
The pick: Bills (-1.5)