Five quick takes looking ahead to Week 17 in the NFL:
1. The final day of the NFL season is difficult to handicap because some teams who are locked into their playoff positions, like New Orleans and Dallas, have nothing at stake. And teams like Tampa Bay and Arizona, who are likely to fire their coaches, don’t have much motivation. And a team like the Bears can get a first round bye only if they beat the Vikings and the Rams lose to Oakland. The Bears may not have much motivation in the second half if the Rams are winning big. The best game, Indianapolis at Tennessee, has been flexed to Sunday night for the final regular season game of the year as both teams will be fighting for a playoff spot. This is like a play in game for the playoffs. A total of 11 games have playoff implications.
2. The Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year $84 million contract to win games like the one the Vikings play against the Bears. A victory gets the Vikings in the playoffs. If they don’t win and miss the playoffs, there will be a lot of second guessing that they overpaid Cousins. They made it last year with Case Keenum, but he hasn’t been the answer in Denver. Cousins faces as much pressure as any player in the league Sunday.
3. Andrew Luck has never lost to Marcus Mariota, but he may not face him or at least may not face a healthy Mariota, who suffered an elbow injury last week. If Blaine Gabbert starts for the Titans, the Colts should be in the playoffs. Of course, the Colts would already be in if coach Frank Reich hadn’t probably cost his team a tie against the Texans and a win against the Jaguars by going for it on fourth down and not making it and losing both games. Mariota is listed as questionable so the Titans are keeping the Colts guessing.
4. The Steelers need to beat the Bengals and must have help from the Browns, who have to beat the Ravens if the Steelers are to have a chance to make the playoffs. The Ravens-Browns game features two rookie quarterbacks and it will probably turn on which one plays better. But the Steelers might not be in this fix if coach Mike Tomlin hadn’t tried a fake punt against the Saints.
5. The Patriots figure to wrap up the second seed and a first round bye with a victory over the Jets. But the most interesting thing about this game is how Tom Brady plays. They can win with him looking like an old Tom Brady instead of the Tom Brady of old, which he has played like lately. Age may be catching up to him. If so, even a first round bye may not be enough to get the Patriots to the Super Bowl. The Patriots need Brady to get a playoff tuneup by finding his old magic against the Jets. One red flag is that Brady hasn’t qualified for $5 million in incentives he made last year because his numbers haven’t been as good as last year.