Jan. 07, 2020
NFL Week 17 Preview
Sixteen weeks of football has all led to this. One more long day of games to finalize the postseason lineup. While most teams have an "easy" game ahead of them to lock in their spot, a few have one last challenge heading their way in 2019. Whether they are playing to get into the tournament, make their road easier, or just beat a hated rival, all six teams below have something to play for this Sunday.
Steelers vs Ravens
There are few rivalries in the modern NFL was great as this one. Despite the Ravens being in just their 24th season, their rivalry with the Steelers seems to have as just as much history as any other in the league. More than anything else, this rivalry is fueled simply by their success. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have combined for 23 playoff appearances since the start of the 21st century. They each have accumulated 15 playoff wins in that span, while the Browns and Bengals have 0. They both have won multiple Lombardi trophies in that time as well, making them 2 of 4 teams to do so. They have also faced each other 4 times in the postseason, and a 5th could be on its way this season. But that will require a Pittsburgh win and a Tennessee loss this week, as well as a tough road playoff win from the Steelers next week. It may seem unlikely, but sometimes these legendary rivalries have a way of finding the big stage.
Fortunately for the Steelers, the Ravens have nothing to play for in the season's finale, at leasdt as far as the postseason is concerned. So they will be resting some of their starters. Unfortunately for them, they might still have less talent on the field than Baltimore will. That is nothing new for the Steelers this year. Although they do have a few impressive players in T.J. Watt, James Conner, and Minkah Fitzpatrick, compared to the other contending teams, they are clearly outmatched. However, that has not stopped them from getting where they are today. Mike Tomlin deserves tons of credit for keeping this team in the race. A couple years ago, any success of the Steelers was attributed to the world class talents of Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le'Veon Bell. Now, with all of them gone, the world is starting to see how much Tomlin means to this team. He's managed win more games with this rag-tag bunch than most others could, and even when they lose, they are always putting up a good fight. A deep playoff run still appears impossible, but this team won't go away easily.
Steelers win, 19-16
Titans vs Texans
Just a few short weeks ago, the Titans were on a hot streak and in a position to take control of the division. But a few hard-fought losses have now left them clinging to a 6th seed, and one more loss could send them home for the winter. If they want to secure their place in the tournament, they need to take a win on the road from a team that beat them just two weeks ago. A team that has beaten them 8 times since the start of 2014. A team that has now won this division 6 times since Tennessee last won it in 2008.
In times like these, with everything on the line, is when you see what a team is really made of. The drive and determination to win when it counts is what separates a great team from the really good ones. It is that quality that has kept New England winning, even when they seem outmatched in talent. It is the lack of that quality that caused a very talented Bengals team to go 0-5 in the playoffs from 2011 through 2015. If you ask me, the Titans showed that they lack that those abilities in these past couple weeks. They had a great chance to make a run at the division title with tons of momentum going into these final weeks. They blew that chance. The Titans are indeed a really good football team. But sometimes that isn't enough.
Texans win, 26-21
49ers vs Seahawks
It is only fitting that the best division in football will have its winner decided in the best way possible. One game under the lights with the title on the line. And depending on the outcomes of some earlier games, the #1 seed could come packaged with the division title. The loser will slide to the first wild card slot where their road to the Super Bowl will, most likely, have no stops at their home field. If this game turns out to be anything like their last meeting, it could be one of the most memorable regular season games in recent memory.
Both sides are deserving of taking home the title. Both boast a great lineup of players and coaches that have shown that they can perform when it matters most. But there are a couple advantages that one side has that can go a long way in a game like this. Experience and a good home-field advantage. In high-pressure situations, players who have been there before can keep everyone calm, focused, and confident. Not only does Seattle have Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll to lead them through this game, but they also added one more familiar vet. Although Marshawn Lynch may not be in the same shape as he was during Seattle's Super Bowl runs, his presence alone could go a long way for this team. Combine those leaders with the roaring 12th man of CenturyLink Field and that is a tough win for anyone. Richard Sherman's experience and knowledge of his former team is the biggest weapon that San Francisco has to combat those Seahawks' advantages. While that may help narrow the gap, I don't think it will be enough.
Seahawks win, 28-27