Previewing NFL Week 17

Going into the regular season finales, ten of the 12 teams have clinched playoff spots and six of the eight have clinched division titles.

It is a difficult week to handicap because there is only one game – 49ers-Seattle — in which both teams have something to play for and they’re playing for the division title and the top seed, not a playoff spot.

The final two playoff spots go to the winner of the NFC East and an AFC wild card spot. The Eagles win the NFC East if they beat the Giants or if they lose and the Cowboys lose to Washington. The Cowboys get it if they win and the Eagles lose.

The Titans can clinch the AFC wild card spot if they beat the Texans. If they lose, Pittsburgh and even the Raiders have a shot.

The league is having the teams with something at stake playing at the same time although games could be affected by halftime scores.

For example, if New England is way ahead at halftime and on its way to clinching the second seed, Kansas City could pull Patrick Mahomes in the second half against the Chargers because the Chiefs would then have nothing to play for.

Game of the week: The 12-3 49ers go to Seattle to play the 11-4 Seahawks, who have been hit by injuries but have the homefield edge. A 49er victory clinches the top seed for San Francisco and relegates Seattle to a wild card spot. Seattle gets the division title if it wins but would need the Packers and Saints to lose to get the top seed. So, the odds are against the Seahawks getting the top seed but they get a home game in the first round of the playoffs if they win instead of playing on the road as a wild card team. The Seahawks will know by kickoff if they still have a shot at the top seed.

Game of the weak: The 5-9-1 Cardinals go to the 8-7 Rams, who are possibly the most disappointing team in the league. The Rams lost the Super Bowl last year and went all in on making it back by trading two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey. Now the Rams are cash strapped under the cap and don’t have those first round picks. The Rams are also locked in the same division with the 49ers and Seahawks and likely won’t be back to the Super Bowl any time soon. Whether they finish 9-7 or 8-8 is meaningless.

What to watch for this weekend:

—The Dolphins have been a surprise team, winning four games when the front office was trying to tank the season. But the Patriots are a virtual lock at home against the Dolphins. The Patriots are playing for the second seed and a first-round bye and it’s hard to imagine them not nailing it down even though they have struggled much of the season on offense and are facing questions whether Tom Brady is showing is age and will be back next year.

—The Chiefs are in an unusual situation. They can’t bench their starters because they get the top seed if they beat the Chargers and the Patriots lose to Miami. But they know the odds of the Patriots losing to Miami are slim and none. The Chiefs main goal is to not get anyone hurt. It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs rest their starters in the second half if the Patriots get off to a big lead over the Dolphins.

—The Steelers get a wild card spot if they beat the Ravens and the Titans lose to Houston. And the Ravens are resting Lamar Jackson and several other starters because the they have clinched the top seed. But they Ravens aren’t likely to mail it in because the Steelers are their main rival.

—The Eagles get the NFC East if they beat the Giants but this could be a dangerous game for the Eagles. They are riddled with injuries, are coming off an emotional victory over the Cowboys and Giants’ rookie quarter Daniel Jones is coming off a big game. The Giants have nothing to play for but would like nothing better than to knock a division rival out of the playoffs.

—The Packers get the top seed if they beat the Lions and the 49ers lose to the Seahawks. But since the 49ers-Seahawks game will be played Sunday night, they won’t know going into the Lions game if they have a shot at the top seed. But they do know a victory gives them at least a second seed regardless of what happens in the 49ers-Seahawks game so they have to play to win the game.

Looking back at NFL Week 15

With two weeks to go, eight teams have already nailed down playoff berths and three more teams, the Texans, Cowboys and Vikings, can lock in playoff berths this weekend.

Baltimore and New England are on track to get the first two seeds in the AFC, but the battle for the top two seeds in the NFC is wide open with four teams, the Seahawks, Packers, Saints and 49ers, at 11-3.

The 49ers created the tie by losing to Atlanta on the final play when the replay official ruled Julio Jones had scored the winning touchdown after the officials first ruled he was stopped short of the goal line.


—The Atlanta Falcons seem to be trying to save Dan Quinn’s job by showing they haven’t quit on their coach. They posted their fourth win in the last six games by upsetting San Francisco.

—The Texans are a hard team to figure. They upset New England, were then drilled by the Broncos, but came back to beat the Titans to put themselves in a good position to win their division.

—The Cowboys and Eagles both won, beating the Rams and Redskins to remain tied at 7-7 and setting up a showdown this weekend with the division lead at stake. Dallas clinched with a victory while the Eagles have to win their last two to win the division.

—The Packers and Vikings both won, beating the Rams and the Chargers to remain one game apart in the NFC North with the Packers at 11-4 and the Vikings at 10-4. They play next Monday night.

—Drew Brees became the all-time leader in touchdown passes as he threw four against the Colts to boost his total to 540, moving him one ahead of Peyton Manning. But he’s only two ahead of Tom Brady. And he had just one incompletion as he completed 29 of 30 passes.


—The Rams are not only not likely to back to the Super Bowl, they’re not likely to make the playoffs after being routed by the Cowboys to fall to 8-6. They need to win their last two and the Vikings to lose their last two to get a wild card spot.

—The score looked impressive as the Patriots beat the Bengals, 34-13, but they don’t look like a Super Bowl team. They were actually outgained in yardage, 315 to 291. And Brady passed for only 128 yards, but the Patriots won on five turnovers.

—The Browns continued to be one of the most disappointing teams in the league. After all the hype in the offseason, they didn’t challenge for the playoffs. They lost to the Cardinals in the battle of Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winners Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield and the best the Browns can do now is finish .500.

—The Panthers recently fired coach Ron Rivera but they committed three turnovers in a loss to the Seahawks. The Panthers are now 5-9. It may be the coach wasn’t the problem.

—The Lions fell to 3-10-1 with the loss to the Bucs as Jameis Winston torched them for a career high 458 yards. But the Ford family announced that GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia will be back at least for one more year. Probably another wasted year. Quinn fired Jim Caldwell, who went 9-7, to hire Patricia.

Looking back at NFL Week 16

Ten of the 12 playoff teams are now determined with the Titans, Steelers and Raiders battling for the final playoff spot in the AFC, and the Eagles can clinch the final NFC spot by beating the Giants.

The Titans get the AFC slot if they beat Houston. If they lose, the Steelers probably get it because they play a Baltimore team that has clinched the top seed and will rest Lamar Jackson.

But if Titans and Steelers both lose and the Colts beat the Jaguars, the Raiders get in by beating Denver. New England gets the second seed and the bye by beating Miami.

In the NFC, the battle for the top seed is wide open. San Francisco gets it if it beats Seahawks. If the Seahawks win, the 49ers become a wild cardteam and the Packers, Seahawks and Saints will be battling for the top two spots.


—On Sept. 29, the Ravens didn’t look like a title contender when they suffered their second loss, a 40-25 setback against the Browns. It was fitting that they clinched the top seed with their 11th straight victory by beating the Browns 31-15. Lamar Jackson had a typical day, throwing for three touchdown passes and rushing for 103, the fifth time he has rushed for over 100 yards. Jackson’s MVP regular season is now over. He will sit out the season finale, but will be favored to get the Ravens their third title since the old Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996.

—Michael Thomas caught 12 passes for the Saints in their victory over Tennessee to boost his season total to 145 catches, the most over for a wide receiver in NFL history. And he somehow manages not to get much recognition because he is not a diva the way so many wide receivers are.

—Daniel Jones returned to the lineup for the Giants after sitting out two games with an ankle injury and completed 28 of 42 for 352 yards, five touchdowns and no picks in a 41-35 overtime victory over the Redskins. The Giants may have found their quarterback of the future.

—Jimmy Garoppolo twice converted on third and 16 in the game winning drive against the Rams to set up Robbie Gould’s game winning field goal that kept the 49ers alive in the bid for the top seed. They clinch it if they beat the Seahawks in their finale.

—The injury riddled Philadelphia Eagles beat the Cowboys 17-9 to put themselves in position to win the division and host a playoff game if they beat the Giants in their finale. Carson Wentz had a solid game, but it was the Eagles’ defense that was the difference as they throttled the Cowboys offense with the help of some errant throws by Dak Prescott, who was playing a shoulder injury.


—The Rams not only won’t be going back to the Super Bowl, they won’t be making the playoffs after losing to the Seahawks, 34-31. The loss dropped the Rams to 8-7 and eliminated them from the playoffs. The Rams went all in on winning this year, giving up on Marcus Peters and giving up two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey. On one of the two third and 16 plays the Rams allowed, Ramsey and Taylor Rupp had a mix-up in coverage and Emmanuel Sanders ran free on a 46-yard reception. The future is now bleak for the Rams. The Rams have spent two much money, notably on Todd Gurley, and don’t have the top picks they need to get back to the top. Teams are no longer looking for the next Sean McVay the way they were last year.

—The Steelers lost control of their destiny with the loss to the Jets. Coach Mike Tomlin benched Duck Hodges after he threw two interceptions and went back to Mason Rudolph but after he tied the game 10-10, he was injured and Hodges came back and couldn’t pull it out. The Steelers can still make the playoffs if they lose to a Baltimore team that will rest Lamar Jackson and Tennessee loses to Houston and could make it by losing if the Titans, Jaguars and Raiders all lose. But they may wind up being the seventh spot in a six-team playoff format for the fourth time in the last decade.

—Jerry Jones will probably fire Jason Garrett if the Eagles beat the Giants and knock them out of the playoffs. This will mean the Cowboys who last won a Super Bowl in 1995, won’t end that drought this year. But the problem isn’t Garrett. It’s Jerry. He likes a low-key coach like Garrett who doesn’t take the spotlight away from him. He should hire a general manager and let him find a coach but Jerry won’t do that so the Cowboys Super Bowl drought is likely to continue.

—The Bears got an up-close look at why they should have drafted Patrick Mahomes instead of Mitch Trubisky. The Chiefs routed the Bears 23-3 and Mahomes made a point of counting to 10 on his fingers to note he was the 10th pick. Trubisky was the second pick. Bypassing Mahomes and Deshaun Jackson will haunt the Bears a long time.

—The Browns got a lot of hype as a team on the rise in the offseason but they turned out to be the same old Browns. Their loss to the Ravens guaranteed them their 12th consecutive losing season and eliminated them from the playoffs. Freddie Kitchens could be gone after one season.

Previewing NFL Week 16

Since the college regular season is over, the NFL will scrap the Thursday night game and play a tripleheader on Saturday followed by a dozen Sunday games and the Packers-Vikings on Monday night.

The Sunday night game between the Chiefs and Bears is one of the most lackluster games of the weekend because the Chiefs are likely locked into the third seed in the AFC with Baltimore and New England likely to get the first two.

The premier Sunday game is the late afternoon game featuring Dallas at Philadelphia. The only other late game on Fox is Arizona at Seattle so the Cowboys-Eagles will be shown in every NFL market east of Denver.

The NFC battle for the top seed is wide open with four teams – 49ers, Packers, Seahawks and Saints — tied at 11-3 with two games left. Eight teams are in the playoffs and three more, the Texans, Cowboys and Vikings, can clinch this weekend.

Game of the week: The Cowboys go to Philadelphia with the NFC East division lead on the line with both teams at 7-7. Dallas clinched the division title with a win while the Eagles won’t clinch with a win. They would still need to beat the Giants in their finale or have Dallas lose to Washington in their finale. The game is more important to Dallas because Jason Garrett could lose his job if the Cowboys lose and don’t make the playoffs.

Game of the weak: The 1-13 Bengals, who now are likely to get the first pick, go to the 3-11 Dolphins, who supposed were tanking the season but have a chance to win their fourth game. Look for a lot of empty seats in Miami for this week.

What to look for this weekend:

—The 49ers, who have a shot at the top seed, will host the disappointing 8-6 Rams, who need a win to keep their flicking playoff hopes alive. They need to win their final two and have Minnesota lose their final two for them to make the playoffs so they are probably out of it even if they win. Meanwhile, the 49ers are battling the Seahawks, who are expected to beat Arizona, for the division title. The Seahawks and 49ers play next week at Seattle to conclude their seasons.

—There is not likely much at stake when the Bills play at New England. The Bills are likely to be the wild card team and the Patriots likely to be the second seed regardless of what happens in this game. But it would be a big statement game for the Bills to show they are contenders if they upset the Patriots and raise more questions about whether the Patriots are as good as their record. Tom Brady has a 31-3 record against the Bills.

—Green Bay, with a one game lead on the Vikings, can clinch the division title with a Monday night victory over the Vikings. Minnesota has the home field advantage but there are usually a lot of Packer fans at Vikings games. And Kirk Cousins isn’t noted for playing well in prime time.

—Since the NFL started its current playoff format, at least four teams that didn’t make the playoffs the previous year have made it. That is likely to continue because three teams that didn’t make it last year, the Bills, Packers and 49ers, have clinched and Minnesota and/or Pittsburgh have a shot at being the fourth team.

—The NFL has a lot of young guns who are emerging to replace players like Super Bowl winners Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger as the next generation of top quarterbacks. In 183 of the league’s 224 games this year, at least one quarterback at 27 or younger has started. The torch is being passed to the next generation.

Previewing NFL Week 15

Lamar Jackson started the weekend with another five-touchdown passing show against the Jets that moved the Ravens one step closer to clinching the top seed in the AFC. They hold a one game lead plus a head to head tie-breaker over the Patriots, who figure to beat Cincinnati Sunday. The Ravens last two games are against the Browns and Steelers. The Ravens and the Chiefs are the two AFC teams to clinch division titles. Both have three game leads. The Saints are the only NFC team to have clinched a division title with a four-game lead with three left. The other five divisions are close with no more than a game separating the top team from the second team. And then there’s the NFC East with the Cowboys and Eagles, who play next week, tied for first with losing records at 6-7.

Game of the week

The Texans and Titans are tied for first place in the AFC South at 8-5 and will meet twice in the last three weeks. If either team sweeps, they will clinch the division title.

Game of the weak

The 2-11 Giants and the 3-10 Dolphins meet in a game that may decide the second spot in the draft. Cincinnati is in the lead at 1-12. The game will feature the second start in a row for Eli Manning, who was benched for rookie Daniel Jones earlier this year, but got the job back when Jones was sidelined with a high ankle sprain.

What to look for this weekend

—The 8-5 Rams will attempt to stay in the wild card race in the NFC when they go to Dallas. It is a meaningless game for the Cowboys because they can lose this game and still win the division at 8-8 if they beat the Eagles and Redskins in their final two games. The Cowboys would have the tie-breaker edge with a sweep of the Eagles. The Eagles play at the Redskins Sunday.

—The 9-4 Bills go to the 8-5 Steelers, who started out 1-4, in a game that has a lot of playoff ramifications. The Bills can’t afford to look ahead to the game next week at New England. If the Bills win the next two, they would be tied with New England in head to head and division and conference records, assuming the Patriots beat the Bengals. A Steeler victory would likely mean both the Steelers and Bills get wild card spots.

—The Raiders play their last game in Oakland against the Jaguars before moving to Las Vegas next year. The amazing thing is the Raiders are leaving, but the Oakland fans still root for them. But both teams are struggling with the Raiders at 6-7 and the Jaguars at 4-9 so it is not likely to be a memorable matchup except for the atmosphere at the stadium.

—The 10-3 Packers can stay one game ahead of the 9-4 Vikings in the NFC North with the victory over the Bears. Meanwhile, the Vikings are at the Chargers. Both the Bears and Vikings have to stay focused. The Bears are an old rival and Mitch Trubisky is suddenly playing better. And the Chargers are better than their 5-8 record with all their losses by one score.

—The game between the 3-9-1 Cardinals and the disappointing 6-8 Browns wouldn’t seem to be much of an attraction except that it features a duel of the last two Heisman Trophy winners with Baker Mayfield facing Kyler Murray. Both played at Oklahoma.