Entering Week 17, there are many scenarios that result in teams securing division titles or playoff berths, and two teams can earn home-field advantage if things go their way. Here are all the playoff-clinching scenarios for this weekend:
- Clinch the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the AFC with a win and a Chiefs loss.
- Clinch the AFC North with a win and a Ravens loss or tie OR a tie and a Ravens loss.
- Clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Jets loss or tie OR a tie, a Jets loss and a Steelers loss or tie.
- Clinch the NFC East with a win or tie OR a Cowboys loss or tie.
- Clinch the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC with a win OR a tie and a Vikings loss or tie OR a Cowboys loss or tie, a Vikings loss and a 49ers loss or tie.
- Clinch NFC South with a win.
- Clinch a playoff spot with a win, a Seahawks loss, a Lions loss and a Packers loss or tie.
Giants can clinch a playoff spot with …
- A win.
- A tie, a Seahawks loss or tie and a Commanders loss or tie.
- A tie, a Seahawks loss or tie and a Lions loss or tie.
- A tie, a Commanders loss or tie, a Lions loss or tie and a Packers loss or tie.
- A Seahawks loss and a Commanders loss.
- A Seahawks loss, a Lions loss and a Packers loss or tie.
- A Commanders loss, a Lions loss and a Packers loss.
So there are plenty of big games to focus on this week, and Albert and Conor will take you through Sunday’s slate, noting the best matchups and the story lines they’ll be watching.
Games of the week
Dolphins (8–7) at Patriots (7–8), 1 p.m. ET Sunday: A massive game for two beat-up teams, with Teddy Bridgewater set to try and go after a banged-up New England secondary that might be dipping into the practice squad for bodies. The Patriots are now 24–25 post-Brady, and a loss here would almost certainly mean missing the playoffs for a second time in three years (you have to go back to the first three years of the Bill Belichick era to find such a stretch). As for the Dolphins, it’s been a gut-wrenching week and, similar to their hosts on Sunday, they’d need help to make the playoffs after a loss on Sunday. — Albert Breer
Panthers (6–9) at Buccaneers (7–8), 1 p.m. ET Saturday: I’m getting some serious 2020 NFC East vibes for this clash, in addition to the obviously intriguing subplot that Tom Brady may have already found his next destination (or is awaiting overtures from a few different potential destinations). While I’m likely to be repeating myself here, I still can’t believe Brady arrived at the conclusion—at some point—that his momentary retirement could in some way lead him to a place where he didn’t have to play for the Buccaneers in 2022. The whole charade this year has felt like a slowly deflating bicycle tire. The Panthers could complete the season sweep and really put the Brady conversation on high volume. — Conor Orr
Vikings (12–3) at Packers (7–8), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday: The Packers are suddenly hot, riding a three-game win streak, and need just a little help to get in the dance if they can beat the Vikings this week and the Lions next week (and either the Commanders lose once or the Giants lose twice). And with a competent receiver group starting to coalesce around Aaron Rodgers, and rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs starting to deliver on their promise, Green Bay would be the No. 7 seed no one (Minnesota included) would want to see. The Vikings have faint hope for the top seed (they’d need to win out and Philly would need to lose out), so right now, their wins and losses will probably amount to jockeying with the 49ers for the No. 2 seed (which, again, might not be optimal depending on who gets No. 7 seed).— A.B.
Steelers (7–8) at Ravens (10–5), 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday: While the Lamar Jackson saga rolls on, the Ravens will do their best to stay relevant in the divisional race (a win and a Bengals loss to the Bills would give them a 40% chance, according to FiveThirtyEight) while trying to get themselves right offensively before the playoffs. This is the perfect game for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who while eliminated from playoff contention, can flex on a momentarily inferior divisional rival and send them limping into the postseason. — C.O.
Bills (12–3) at Bengals (11–4), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday: This is good football. Plain and simple. While I’m not sure how many more big-time haymakers the Bills can take before the playoffs after a season full of battles, this is yet another tune-up that helps us gauge where the AFC playoffs are right now. Both of these teams could easily end up representing the conference in the Super Bowl. I also love that Joe Burrow is so young that we are still getting first matchups. Burrow has never faced a Sean McDermott-Leslie Frazier defense. He had never faced a Bill Belichick defense until last week. It’s worth watching, as either defense is quite capable of finding something in his game other teams can use in the postseason against him. — C.O.
Fantasy bold prediction of the week
Jared Goff will be a top-10 fantasy quarterback this week. Goff might not be the fantasy championship hero we asked for this season, but he could be the fantasy hero we get. He’s been tremendous at home, averaging more than 21 fantasy points a game this season. Goff should thrive against the Bears, who have allowed nearly 24 fantasy points on average to opposing quarterbacks. I’d be starting Goff over “big names” such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and Justin Herbert. — Michael Fabiano
• Fabiano’s Week 17 Start ’Em, Sit ’Em: QB | RB | WR | TE | K/DST
What is your one big prediction for Week 17?
Orr: Justin Fields absolutely goes off against the Lions. It was his last battle with Detroit that led us to believe that Fields is both an ascending star and a quarterback who, with the right offseason, could be elite. The Lions dared him to throw to win that game. Fields had a hard time despite carrying the Bears to that point. This week, after giving his offensive linemen Weber grills, I think Fields puts up 300-plus through the air and another 75-plus on the ground.
Breer: Jaylen Waddle goes off in a Miami win. It’s hard to trust the Patriots right now, and I’d have to think they’ll carry scars from the way they lost to the Raiders and Bengals. That said, I do trust Belichick to come up with a good plan for Tyreek Hill. The problem is, with his secondary a M*A*S*H unit, that’ll only make it that much harder to account for the explosive, dynamic Waddle, who I’ll put down for 150 scrimmage yards on Sunday.
Which team most needs a win in Week 17?
Breer: The Jets. They’re traveling across the country. They’re playing their old friend Geno Smith. And the good vibes that permeated Florham Park in the fall have dissipated amid a four-game losing streak. Playoffs or not, Robert Saleh could use some momentum going into 2023, and winning with Mike White the next two weeks would go a long way toward building that—it’d also be easier for the franchise to reckon with the issues of the past month if they can simply be pinned to the second-year struggles of a young quarterback.
Orr: Brandon Staley and the Chargers. You can’t lose momentum now, even if momentum is a figment of our imagination. Last week’s win over the Colts was one of two huge speed bumps en route to the playoffs. Now, a generous but potentially dangerous matchup against the Rams looms. The Chargers are effective offensively but not perfect by any stretch. They could use a perfect game against an excellent defensive coordinator such as Raheem Morris.
Which quarterback has been worse this season: Russell Wilson or Zach Wilson?
Orr: All due respect to both of these players—we’ve all had our rough stretches in football or in life where we aren’t at our best trying something new—I would say Russell Wilson has had the more difficult season because of what happened this week. A first-year head coach was fired. Lives were turned upside down. A lot of blame is being thrown around. With Zach, it sounds worse than it is, right? They took a shot, it didn’t work, and it doesn’t cost that much to fix it outside of a bruised ego.
Breer: It’s Russell Wilson. And, in large part, because so many narratives were confirmed, and the idea now of Letting Russ Cook (which all along presumed that Twitter knew more than one of three coaches in history to win titles at both the NFL and major college levels) seems, well, comical. The truth, it seems, is that the Seahawks were probably correct in the way they used him, and the way they resisted giving him power in the organization. And you’d think, or at least hope, that would make Wilson himself recalibrate his thoughts on a lot of things. Fact is, the distance between expectations and results was much greater in the case of Russ than it is in the case of Zach, who’s simply another young QB going the wrong way. Which is really what’s relevant in this argument.
The best move made by an NFL executive this year?
Breer: It has to be Seahawks GM John Schneider knowing when and how to trade Wilson—particularly when you consider the fact that he was working within the constraints of the quarterback’s no-trade clause, which made this a negotiation with a single suitor. The Seahawks got three solid vets (tight end Noah Fant, defensive end Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock), two first-round picks and two second-rounders in the deal (with a Day 3 pick swap as well). The first of the first-rounders became left tackle Charles Cross. The first of the second-rounders became edge rusher Boye Mafe. And the second of the first-rounder is shaping up to land in the top 5, and potentially become Jalen Carter or Will Anderson Jr. So this one looks like a franchise-changer for Seattle, and it happened in large part, again, thanks to Schneider’s sense for timing.
Orr: Certainly in hindsight the move Schneider made to trade Russell Wilson, right? Now we’re hearing from flocks of people who said they would never have traded for Wilson. I’m not sure what, exactly, the landscape was at the moment, but if Broncos GM George Paton was negotiating against himself, he certainly paid dearly.
If the Panthers beat the Buccaneers and Tom Brady and win the NFC South under Steve Wilks, should Wilks get the permanent job in Carolina?
Orr: I think he should have it already. There’s disadvantageous coaching situations and there’s the hand dealt to Wilks in Carolina. While he got to hang on to some players during the purge, losing the mechanism [Christian McCaffrey] that was supposed to make your offense work is a tough blow. So is battling that perception in the locker room. Wilks was absolutely hosed in Arizona and his perceived failures there don’t change the fact that he was once a deservedly hot candidate and should be again.
Breer: I think he’s got a really good shot at it either way. Yes, you have a new owner in David Tepper who is itching to build out his operation. But at this point, it’s really hard to ignore what’s happening. Wilks has navigated a tricky and awkward quarterback situation, given the team an offensive identity behind its powerful run game and maintained a rising young defense. And he’s clearly won the locker room, in the sort of situation where it’d have been easy to lose the players. Throw in his ties to the area, sticking with Wilks makes a lot of sense. Which is why Tepper’s really considering it now.
What’s your New Year’s resolution?
Breer: It sounds corny, but it’s just to be more present in everything I do, with work, with my family, with my friends, all of it. It’s easier than ever to get pulled in a million different directions or to stare at your phone when you shouldn’t. I’m gonna try and get better with that. We probably all should.
Orr: Be nicer to my editors. In all seriousness, using our platform for good and to spread positivity. The world can seem tough out there. Social media life can get pretty combative. But there is so much good and ability to uplift in all of us. See something you like here? Shout it out. I’ll do the same.
Steelers vs. Ravens (-2.5): An AFC North Division rivalry on primetime is a great way to close out Sunday’s action in Week 17. Baltimore is listed as 2.5-point favorites on SI Sportsbook and the point total is set at a very low 34.5 points. The Ravens already clinched a playoff spot in the AFC but sit a game behind the Bengals for the AFC North crown. Meanwhile, the Steelers are fighting for a wild-card berth thanks to four wins in their past five games. Coincidentally, that one loss came against the Ravens in Week 14, with Baltimore winning 16–14. The Ravens have a pitiful against-the-spread record of 1-5-1 in Baltimore when listed as a favorite. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has been profitable for bettors on the road, posting a 5–3 ATS record in away games. Two familiar foes with playoff motivations on the line should result in a close game (just like in Week 14). Bank the points with Pittsburgh and grab the 2.5.
Orr: It’s so funny that we’re almost in the exact same situation with Brady now as we were in 2019. We have assumed that the slowdown of his offense is due in part to his age and are skeptical about his next destination. I was proven completely, embarrassingly wrong by his time in Tampa. Now? I’m thinking twice before penning a Brady-to-New Orleans hit piece.
Breer: You like free agency? Well, we’ll probably be getting an early start this year. The Raiders will have to cut Derek Carr (or trade him) before 4 p.m. Feb. 15 (the third day of the waiver period) to avoid his $32.9 million base for 2023 and $7.5 million of his base for ’24 becoming fully guaranteed. Which means teams such as the Jets, Panthers, Commanders and Saints will probably have some early homework to do.