Jan. 31, 2019
Pick 6: NFL Week 17
Sixteen weeks of football has all boiled down to this. There are three unclaimed spots in the postseason bracket. There are also a bunch of battles for first-round byes. Most of the action will be within the AFC. In the NFC, it's down to two fights. The Eagles and Vikings are dueling for the final wild card spot, and the Rams and Bears are each trying to join the Saints with a bye.
In the AFC, however, things are as hectic as ever. Either the Steelers or Ravens will win the North, while the other will miss the playoffs, barring a tie from the Sunday night game. The Colts and Titans play each other in that night game, and the losing will be sent home, while the winner will take a wild card spot or possibly the South title. Where it really gets interesting is in the seeding race. No one in the AFC has clinched a bye. The Chiefs, Chargers, Texans, Patriots, Ravens and Titans all have a shot at a free pass to the divisional round.
The six games on here should have a playoff-like atmosphere. These are our appetizers to our playoff feast. High stakes could lead to great performances, as well as infamous blunders. This is what we look forward to every year.
Chargers vs Broncos
The L.A. Chargers could have taken the lead in the West and put themselves in the 1st seed if they had only beaten Baltimore last week. But that game turned out to be their poorest performance of the year, and that leaves them in unlikely position to pass Kansas City. However, there is still a chance.
To keep that chance alive, they have to beat the Broncos. The Broncos delivered L.A. their 2nd worst loss of this season. Denver was outplayed nearly the whole game, but they found a way to claw a win away from their division rival. That Charger loss ended a 6-game win streak, which was followed by a 4-game winning streak. The ten wins surrounding the loss to Denver included victories in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. So the question is, are the Broncos a genuine threat to the Chargers, or was that one game just a fluke? Personally, I believe it's the latter.
Denver is by no means a bad football team. For a few weeks, I really thought they were going to crawl into the playoffs. However, they aren't close to the Chargers' level. I've heard several people call L.A.'s roster the best in the league, and I think I'd agree. The only weakness I see is their kicker. They've also been better than anyone on the road. They actually have better record on the road than at home. You need some great coaching to sweep a team that outclasses you by that much. I don't think anyone's arguing with me when I say that Vance Joseph probably isn't the guy who will pull that off. The Chargers should do their part to get that #1 seed. Then they'll just have to hope and pray that Oakland can do theirs.
Chargers win, 24-16
Eagles vs Redskins
The legend of Nick Foles continues to grow with each passing week. Just when Philadelphia's season seemed over, Foles stepped in and delivered two wins over playoff teams. Last week's performance was about as unbelievable as they come. Facing one of the toughest defenses around, Foles threw for 471 yards and 4 TD's in a 32-30 win over the Texans. His success in big games remains one of the biggest mysteries in the game.
This Sunday's game in Washington should be the perfect demonstration of the importance of depth at the QB position. The Eagles wouldn't have won the Super Bowl last year without their strength at the most important position in the game, and they wouldn't be in the running again this year either. The Redskins have plummeted almost entirely due to their weakness in the same category. Once Alex Smith went down, the run game and defense couldn't carry the team anymore. I expect Foles to continue his magic and end the year on a 3-game winning streak. They will still need a little help from Chicago to extend their season though.
Eagles win, 31-17
Bears vs Vikings
Most assumed before the season's start that Minnesota and Green Bay would be the ones fighting for the NFC North title. What few expected was Chicago blowing by both of them and commanding the division. Even though the division is far out of reach for the Vikings, the Bears still stand in their way. With a win the Vikings would clinch their spot in the postseason. A loss would knock them out if paired with an Eagles win. The Bears have something of their own to play for. If the Rams lose to the 49ers, the Bears would earn a first-round bye with a win in Minnesota.
All of that considered, you could say this is a pretty big game. Whenever we have a big game featuring the Minnesota Vikings, we have to talk about Kirk Cousins. I know I sound like a broken record talking about his terrible track record against teams with winning records, but it really is an issue. Cousins has plenty of talent around him to win those games, but he folds like an $84-million-dollar card table every time. We saw how he played against this defense last time. Maybe at home he'll fare a bit better, but I doubt it'll be enough. Losing this game and missing the playoffs would be the fitting end to a disappointing season in Minnesota.
Bears win, 23-20
Bengals vs Steelers
Some of you may remember Cincinnati's win over Baltimore in week 17 of 2017. The Bengals were out of playoff contention, but they still had a chance to spoil their rival's season. And that's exactly what they did. With 44 seconds left, Tyler Boyd caught a 49-yard pass from Andy Dalton to take a 31-27 lead, which would be the final score. The Ravens fell out of the picture, and the Bills took their place. This year, the Bengals find themselves in a similar position.
This time around, they can knock out their bigger rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, while simultaneously making things right with the Ravens by clinching the division for them. The Ravens may not need the help from the Bengals, but it sure would be appreciated nonetheless. It would be a nice moment for Cincinnati in what could be their last game coached by Marvin Lewis.
As unlikely as it seems, I think the Bengals will pull it off. Pittsburgh has not been known for consistency in their recent past. Any given Sunday seems like a possible disaster, and their locker room has more drama than most soap operas. I never feel I can trust them to win any game. They have so much potential, but rarely come close to reaching it. I don't care how bad the Bengals have been. The Raiders beat the Steelers three games ago. Anyone can beat them if they meet on the right day.
Bengals win, 21-15
Browns vs Ravens
It's been quite the year for the Cleveland Browns. After recording the 2nd 0-16 season in NFL history, they've found a potential franchise QB, and he's led them to seven wins with a chance for eight this week. One last win to put them over .500 would be a great end to one of the most promising years the Browns have seen since moving back to Cleveland in 1999. It would feel even better if that win could spoil a division rival's season, even if that means sending Pittsburgh there in their place. If Pittsburgh loses like I predicted, then you can ignore that last bit. But regardless, this would still mean a lot to the Browns and their fans.
Obviously, a win would mean a little more to Baltimore. A loss could result in a devastating season's end, just as heart-breaking as last year. Plus, losing to the Cleveland Browns always stings. I don't care if the Browns are a legitimate team now, losing to them still brings a special sort of sadness. If they do indeed need a win to stay in the playoffs, that would make it so much worse.
I'm looking forward to these two rookie QB's duking it out in the regular season finale. We could be seeing a lot of these duels in the future if both of them pan out with their respective teams. Looking at the defenses behind them, I expect these duels to turn out more like defensive brawls with just flashes from these talented QB's. I think Baker Mayfield is the better QB, but Jackson is clearly part of the better team. The Ravens are a top 2 defense and they have a great run game. Those two things will lead them to victory as they have in past several weeks. Mayfield should play well, but the defense will get the better of him.
Ravens win, 20-13
Colts vs Titans
The stakes could not be any higher in a regular season game. The winner will put themselves in the playoffs. If Houston loses their game, the winner will claim the division title. The loser will back their bags and head home for the off-season. Both teams have shown some greatness and promise for a bright future, but only one can make the cut this year.
The Titans have a great roster, but they've lacked the QB production to get them to the next level. The Colts on the other hand have been riding the right arm of Andrew Luck to victory. The defense has been adequate and the running game is capable, but if you take away Luck, there is no hope in Indianapolis. These two teams have nearly polar opposite rosters, but somehow, they end up in the same position.
Many people like to put everything on the man under center. They act as though having that one great passer is all you need. A great QB can get you a lot of wins, but at some point, you need more to really contend for the top. I have always preached on the importance of defense, ground game, and home-field advantage in big games. The Titans have all these things going in their favor. They've allowed a stingy 18 points per game, which is 2nd in the NFL. Their 1,930 rushing yards is 5th in the NFL. They have also been fantastic on their own turf. They're 6-1 at Nissan Stadium, including wins over Houston and New England. Whether or not Mariota plays matters little to me. This team is capable of winning without a prominent passer, and that's something special.
Titans win, 23-20