This Sunday sees the final sixteen fixtures of the NFL season take place and there are still four postseason spots up for grabs, three in the NFC and just the sixth seed to be determined in the AFC. It’s Christmas week so I am going to cut to the chase to the Week 16 action – nobody has time to bother reading about the Browns vs Jets meeting, as everyone is far too busy making meaningful holiday videos on their iPhones to justify not actually conversing with their families during the day – so instead here is a rundown of the games that actually had playoff implications.
Denver confirmed the AFC West title and a first-round bye with a 37-13 victory over the Texans in Houston, with their division crown assured with a week to spare thanks to Kansas City’s home defeat by the Indianapolis Colts. In the Broncos win, Peyton Manning also usurped Tom Brady for the most ever touchdown passes in a season, as he threw four on the day to take his total for 2013 to 51, one ahead of the Patriots quarterback’s total set in 2007, with a week to spare. However, New England’s impressive 41-7 defeat of the Ravens in Baltimore means that Denver are not yet assured of the number 1 seed in the AFC and will have to compete in their final fixture if they are to secure home-field advantage up until the Super Bowl.
The loss for Baltimore meant that they are no longer in control of their own destiny for the sixth seed of the playoffs, even though the team they had previously been chief rivals with for the berth, the Miami Dolphins, were also beaten as the Bills blanked them 19-0 in Buffalo. Also still in the race for the last open AFC postseason spot are the Pittsburgh Steelers – who overcame the cold and some poor officiating to beat the Packers 38-31 in Green Bay – and the San Diego Chargers, who prevailed over the Raiders 26-13 to maintain their challenge. Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s 42-14 victory over the Vikings ensures they still have a chance to gain a first-round bye, but they also could still end up as low as the fourth seed in the AFC.
Over in the NFC, only half of the playoff places have been confirmed, with the most recent one coming on Monday night when the 49ers survived a late rally to beat the Falcons 34-24 in San Francisco, which marked the final regular season game at Candlestick Park, a stadium that is to be replaced starting next year. There is still a chance that the 49ers could claim the number 1 seed in the NFC, thanks to Arizona becoming the first team to beat the Seahawks in Seattle for two years, despite Carson Palmer throwing four interceptions as their defense put in a very impressive display. Carolina moved to within a victory of claiming their NFC South title since 2008 thanks to a 17-13 defeat of the Saints in a game that saw a torrential storm hit the field during the second half, while the Cowboys maintained their hopes of winning the East by rallying from behind to beat Washington 24-23, though they look likely to be without Tony Romo for the rest of the season as he struggles with a back injury that will require surgery.
The win for Dallas meant that Philadelphia’s evening game against the Bears had no real significance for the Eagles, since the division title was going to go down to their matchup with the Cowboys in Week 17 regardless of whether they won or lost. Alongside that, Green Bay’s earlier defeat to the Steelers gave Chicago the opportunity to claim the NFC North title if they could win in Philadelphia, but despite these opposite motivating factors the Eagles racked up seven touchdowns in a 54-11 thrashing of the Bears. Detroit were eliminated from the playoff picture after their 23-20 home loss to the Giants, even though they had held a seven point lead and possession with just over five minutes to go in the game. In the fixtures that did not matter in Week 16, the Rams moved to 7-8 with a 23-13 win over Tampa Bay; Tennessee beat the Jaguars, 20-16 in Jacksonville; and since I know everyone does really want to know, the Browns gave up a 10-0 lead to lose 24-13 to the Jets and thus ensured they should get a top five draft pick next May.
Week 17 Fixtures & Predictions
Here is a rundown of all the matchups for the final week of the regular season and what is at stake in each encounter – plus my against the spread predictions (Last week, 6-10, Season 119-121):
Panthers @ Falcons – Carolina claim number 2 seed with a win. My pick: Atlanta +7.5 over Carolina
Ravens @ Bengals – Baltimore need to win and then hope other results go their way for them to get the sixth seed (see note at bottom). Cincinnati can claim a first round bye if they win and the Patriots lose. My pick: Cincinnati -5.5 over Baltimore
Browns @ Steelers – Pittsburgh must win to maintain their hopes of the six seed in the AFC – see note at bottom for full list of scenarios. My pick: Pittsburgh -6.5 over Cleveland
Lions @ Vikings – No playoff implications. My pick: Detroit +3.5 over Minnesota
Texans @ Titans – No playoff implications. My pick: Houston +6.5 over Tennessee
Jaguars @ Colts – Indianapolis can end up with a first round bye if they win and Bengals & Patriots lose. My pick: Indianapolis -11.5 over Jacksonville
Jets @ Dolphins – Miami still in contention for AFC 6th seed, see note at bottom. My pick: Miami -6.5 over NY Jets
Washington @ Giants – No playoff implications. My pick: NY Giants -3.5 over Washington
Bills @ Patriots – New England guaranteed first round bye with a win, if they beat Buffalo and Denver loses, Patriots claim AFC’s top seed. My pick: New England -9.5 over Buffalo
Packers @ Bears – Winner takes the NFC North title – Aaron Rodgers is back for his first game since the first meeting between these two sides on November 4th. If you will forgive me some bias heading into Week 17… GO PACK GO!!! My Pick: Green Bay +3.5 over Chicago. Actually, forget the points (spread was set by ESPN before Rodgers was confirmed as in), straight up Packers over Bears.
Broncos @ Raiders – Denver wraps up the number 1 seed with a victory, lowest they can drop to is 2nd seed. My pick: Denver -12.5 over Oakland
Chiefs @ Chargers – Kansas City locked into the 5 seed; San Diego can still claim final AFC playoff berth, see note at the bottom. My pick: San Diego -9.5 over Kansas City
Rams @ Seahawks – If they win, Seattle claims homefield advantage in the NFC, a loss combined with San Francisco winning would see them drop down into the Wild Card places. My pick: Seattle -10.5 over St. Louis
Buccaneers @ Saints – Win and New Orleans are in the playoffs, if it is combined with a Carolina loss then the Saints would also claim the 2 seed in the NFC. My pick: New Orleans -12.5 over Tampa Bay
49ers @ Cardinals – San Francisco are assured of being in the postseason but if they can beat Arizona, they have a chance of a first round bye should Seattle lose against St. Louis. Arizona needs to win and hope for Tampa Bay to upset New Orleans if they are to claim a wild card place. My pick: Arizona +2.5 over San Francisco
Eagles @ Cowboys – Winner takes the NFC East title. It could end up being the ultimate humiliation for Tony Romo if Dallas were to finally win a Week 17 playoff showdown and he was forced to watch from the sidelines due to injury with Kyle Orton under center for the Cowboys. My pick: Dallas +6.5 over Philadelphia
AFC 6th Seed note: With the Chargers, Ravens, Steelers and Dolphins all still in contention to claim the final spot in the AFC playoffs, there is a strange situation that no team controls their own destiny, as any of them can win and still miss out depending on results in other fixtures. Here is a list of possible outcomes (ignoring any ties as that would get too complicated) and who would make the postseason in each case
Miami & Baltimore win, San Diego loss, Pittsburgh win/loss: Ravens
Baltimore & San Diego win, Miami loss, Pittsburgh win/loss: Ravens
Baltimore win, San Diego & Miami loss, Pittsburgh win/loss: Ravens
Everyone loses: Ravens
Miami, San Diego & Baltimore win, Pittsburgh win/loss: Dolphins
Miami win, San Diego & Baltimore loss, Pittsburgh win/loss: Dolphins
Miami & San Diego win, Baltimore loss, Pittsburgh win/loss: Dolphins
San Diego win, Miami & Baltimore loss; Pittsburgh win/loss: Chargers
Pittsburgh win, San Diego, Baltimore & Miami loss: Steelers
So Baltimore can win and go out (if Miami and San Diego both win) and could lose and go through (should the other three teams also go through). It should be a wild and fun weekend in the NFL this Sunday.