Clarifying the playoff picture once and for all
Tis the season to get crazy excited about the playoffs. Well, it’s almost that season, anyway. Before the postseason takes place we’ve got a wild, 16-game slate on tap Sunday in NFL Week 17 that will clarify the playoff picture once and for all.
There are some hugely important games on the schedule in Week 17, including a do-or-die Sunday night special between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans. No doubt, the pressure of the moment will crush some and turn others into diamonds.
So which teams are on upset alert this Sunday? Here are six potential upset specials for you to consider.
Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants (-6)
This one I really don’t get at all. Sure, the Cowboys have already clinched the NFC East. But if you believe Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett, the ‘Boys are playing their starters on Sunday in preparation for the playoffs, rather than resting them.
On the other side, Odell Beckham Jr. once again is not suiting up, and the Giants aren’t scaring anyone defensively. Even if Ezekiel Elliott is limited to conserve his strength for the playoffs the Cowboys are going to run the ball effectively.
It wouldn’t be shocking whatsoever if Dallas’ outstanding defense forces a key Eli Manning turnover or three — he continues to throw awful passes at the worst possible time.
Good teams win tight games, and it’s clear the Giants don’t fit into that category. This game is likely going to be tight, and the Cowboys likely will win their 10th game to close out the regular season.
Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings (-4.5)
The Bears have a couple of key starters out with injuries. However, head coach Matt Nagy has already told reporters he intends to play the rest of his starters deep into Sunday’s game against Minnesota unless the Los Angeles Rams are blowing out the San Francisco 49ers early. The big reason for this is that Chicago has a shot to win the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a win and a Rams loss.
Not only can Minnesota take the No. 2 seed (potentially) with a win, they’d also be knocking their divisional rival out of the playoffs altogether with that outcome.
As it relates to the actual matchup, while Minnesota’s offense is potent one would expect Khalil Mack and Co. to bring the heat to Kirk Cousins and force some mistakes. Cousins has an awful record against winning teams and would be bucking history with a winning performance.
Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens (-5.5)
This should be a very entertaining game to watch. Baker Mayfield and the Browns are really playing excellent football with a ton of confidence. On the other side, fellow rookie Lamar Jackson is giving the Ravens exactly what they needed to capitalize on their outstanding defense.
What this boils down to is this: When it comes down to it, we trust Mayfield to make the big throws when he needs to. He’s got the swagger and natural ability to make game-winning plays under pressure.
It also doesn’t hurt that Cleveland’s defense is playing tremendous ball these days and has a front seven that has the potential to slow down Baltimore’s run game.
Philadelphia Eagles (-7) vs. Washington Redskins
If not for a key interception last Saturday by Josh Johnson, Washington was in position to beat a playoff contender with an outstanding defense. His awful throws at the end of the Tennessee game doomed Jay Gruden’s club to failure, but it’s also clear that Johnson can give the Redskins the same type of play under center that Alex Smith did.
The Washington defense is very stout up front. If it hasn’t checked out due to being eliminated from playoff contention, this unit has the ability to give Nick Foles and Co. a hard time for 60 minutes.
On the other side, Adrian Peterson is running as hard as we’ve ever seen and appears to be highly motivated to not only continue proving his doubters wrong this year, but next year as well.
Los Angeles Chargers (-6.5) vs. Denver Broncos
We’ve seen this movie before. The Chargers were heavily favored to beat Denver earlier this year in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for them, the defense collapsed down the stretch as Case Keenum and the Broncos scored 16 of the final 19 points in the contest to win by one point on a last-second field goal.
Rivers did pass for over 400 yards in the game, but he also threw two key interceptions and was sacked three times — Von Miller and Bradley Chubb both got in on that action.
One reason to be down on Denver this Sunday is that rookie sensation Philip Lindsay is out with an injury. One reason to be optimistic that the Broncos can pull off the season sweep is that it’s going to be the last game at Mile High this year and the defense should be on its best behavior.
Indianapolis Colts (-3.5) vs. Tennessee Titans
There’s a chance the Titans are going to be forced to roll with Blaine Gabbert under center as Marcus Mariota continues to deal with the aftermath of a stinger suffered last Sunday. As bad as that sounds for Tennessee, it’s important to note that it doesn’t matter who’s under center because the offense will revolve around Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry, anyway.
Henry is on a tear right now. The past three games he’s racked up 492 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground — the embodiment of getting hot at the right time. He’s the biggest reason why the Titans have extended their winning streak to four games and have a shot at the playoffs at all.
Tennessee will utilize Henry to keep the chains moving and put points on the board. But his power rushing style also serves to help keep Andrew Luck and Co. off the field. Provided the Titans can consistently make gains on the ground at home Sunday night this game is theirs for the taking.