It’s crunch time. The playoffs are just one week away, and there is plenty left to play for as teams fight for preferred seeding in NFL Week 17.
It’s a tricky weekend to pick winners against the spread, as some games feature playoff-bound teams that will play starters an indeterminate amount of time. Other games feature teams that already know they’re going to be picking high in next year’s draft and could look to take a look at some young players in this final contest.
That said, we’ve got our eyes set on a handful of games in which the favorites are on upset alert.
Note: Odds courtesy of Bovada
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles (-4.5)
We already know the Cowboys are going to play their starters, then let the reserves get in some action as the game progresses. Mark Sanchez will play, and Tony Romo has reportedly been green-lighted to play unless you talk to Jerry Jones, who says nothing has been determined on that front (yeah, right).
Jones also hinted that the team might let Ezekiel Elliott gun for Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record. He needs 178 yards to set a new mark, meaning he’ll need to go bonkers early in the game or that he might play well into the second half if he’s going good.
What this all means is that the Cowboys kind of do have a lot to play for this week, even though they’re already locked into the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The Eagles, on the other hand, have won just one game in their last six, the win coming last Thursday night at home against the New York Giants. While a win is always sweet, Thursday night games almost always go to the home team. So we’re not exactly excited about their chances of winning this one. Even against a Dallas team that will not play its starters the entire way.
Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)
Locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers have already made it clear that their top offensive players won’t even suit up for this game (more on that here). No Ben Roethlisberger. No Le’Veon Bell. No Antonio Brown. Veteran linebacker James Harrison also won’t play.
So while the Browns haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 2003, this game offers the best opportunity the doomed franchise has had in ages to break that trend.
Coming off a stunning win at home against the San Diego Chargers, their first of the year, the Browns have a legitimate chance to win two in a row here. Robert Griffin III — who’s been good, but not great — will start for Cleveland in this one. He’ll need some help from Isaiah Crowell and the team’s ground game to avoid getting pounded in the pocket, but that’s not asking too much.
The big issue that will determine the outcome is whether Cleveland’s defense can hold veteran back DeAngelo Williams in check. Landry Jones isn’t going to torch the Browns, but Williams could if the front seven of Cleveland doesn’t stay disciplined.
While we’re not outright predicting a second straight Browns win, we are saying they could certainly go into Pittsburgh and win this game. Based on the way the team has fought for head coach Hue Jackson of late, it’s a bet worth making.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts (-4.5)
It was awfully fun watching the Jags play loose last weekend in their first game following Gus Bradley’s termination. Interim head coach Doug Marrone, who could conceivably see the interim label removed next season, had Jacksonville cutting loose and even called a magnificent trick play in which Blake Bortles caught a touchdown pass (watch here).
Never short on talent this year, the Jaguars simply failed to execute on the most basic of levels throughout the year. This led to just two wins before last weekend’s impressive blowout win over the Tennessee Titans, a team that desperately needed a win to stay alive in the AFC South.
On the other side of the field in this one is a Indianapolis team that has underperformed once again under the guidance of head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson. While Indy has won seven games this year, there is no doubt the franchise ranks among the NFL’s most dysfunctional.
Having been eliminated from playoff contention already, we wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever to see the Colts finish off the season with a whimper at home.
New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins (-7.5)
The Giants are locked into the No. 5 seed, but that doesn’t mean this team has nothing to play for on Sunday. For starters, they have a chance to knock an archrival out of playoff contention with a win. They also want to keep their positive momentum going strong as they’ll be hitting the road in the Wild Card round next weekend.
Featuring one of the hottest defenses in the NFL, New York has played lights out during the second half of the season. Forget about last week, as a Thursday night game for road teams is just ridiculously unfair. Possessing a dynamic pass rush and the secondary players to shut down Washington’s passing game somewhat, the Giants have what it takes to upset the Redskins in this one.
It’s unclear just how much Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and Co. will play Sunday. But based on the fact that Josh Johnson is the backup, we’re betting they play the majority of the game.
Washington hasn’t exactly been dominating at home this year, going 4-3 to this point. Kirk Cousins has cooled off of late, too, throwing just four touchdowns and three interceptions in his last four games. Not surprisingly, the Redskins have won just two of them.
The Redskins absolutely must win this game to ensure they get into the playoffs, barring a tie between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. Pressure creates diamonds, but it also crushes playoff hopes. We’re leaning towards the latter this weekend for Washington.
Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos (-2)
It’s easy to write off the Raiders this week in the wake of Derek Carr’s devastating leg injury last weekend. It’s also a lazy argument.
There is no doubt that Matt McGloin is a downgrade at the quarterback position for Oakland. But it’s not like Brock Osweiler is getting the start here. McGloin’s career numbers aren’t impressive, but he played pretty well in Week 1 of last year when called into duty, and we expect him to play passably well this Sunday in Denver.
And it’s not like Oakland was completely dependent on Carr this year, even though he was magical in the fourth quarter. Featuring the NFL’s No. 4-ranked rushing offense, the Raiders ran right through Denver’s defense the last time they played and the run should be heavily featured in this one.
On the other side, we’re going to get a look at both Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian in Denver’s offense (more on that here), which has struggled mightily down the stretch. Devoid of any running game, the Broncos have scored just 23 points in their last three games.
Oakland can clinch at top-two seed with a win Sunday afternoon in Denver. The Raiders have a ton on the line in this game and will be emotionally charged to make up for the loss of Carr. Don’t bet against this team in Week 17.