Week 17 Playbook: Previewing Packers-Bears, Eagles-Cowboys, more Week 17 games
NY Jets (7-8) at Miami (8-7) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Jets may be playing for Rex Ryan’s job (depending on who you believe), while the Dolphins are trying to sneak into the playoffs — they don’t control their own destiny at this point. Miami rolled over the Jets 23-3 on Dec. 1 in one of Ryan Tannehill’s best NFL games. Tannehill will be looking to bounce back after the Bills thumped him to the tune of a 19-0 rout last Sunday. — DF
Denver (12-3) at Oakland (4-11) — 4:25 p.m ET, CBS: If the Broncos win or the Patriots lose on Sunday, Denver will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Raiders have no sign of postseason concerns, but they’ve got their own drama, with head coach Dennis Allen ripping Terrelle Pryor’s agent. Pryor will start against the Broncos, and Denver’s defense could struggle against his running ability. DF
Tampa Bay (4-11) at New Orleans (10-5) — 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: The Saints have lost three of their last four games, leaving them with possibilities that rank from the second seed to the fifth seed to missing out on the postseason altogether. The Bucs are just playing for a respectable end to their season, but this could be a problem for New Orleans because Greg Schiano’s team is more formidable than the squad that lost by just two points to the Saints on Sept. 15. — DF
St. Louis (7-8) at Seattle (12-3) — 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: The Seahawks will grab home-field throughout if they beat the Rams, but that’s no sure thing. St. Louis’ hyper-talented front seven has proven that it can dominate Seattle’s iffy offensive line, and rookie Zac Stacy rocked the Seahawks for 134 rushing yards on 26 carries when these teams last met. That was a 14-9 win for Seattle; this game could easily go the other way. — DF
Carolina (11-4) at Atlanta (4-11) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Carolina has clinched a playoff spot, but the implications in this one are huge. If the Panthers win their 12th game, they’ll wrap up the NFC South and a top-two seed; if they lose, New Orleans could jump them for the division, sending Carolina on the road next week. They’ll have to win without injured WR Steve Smith. And it might be tough, given how close Atlanta came to shocking San Francisco in Week 16. – CB
Cleveland (4-11) at Pittsburgh (7-8) — 1 ET, CBS: The Steelers, almost inconceivably, are still alive for a playoff spot, though they need everything to fall their way Sunday (win plus losses by Miami, Baltimore and San Dieg0). They already stomped Cleveland once this year, 27-11 — loss No. 2 in the Browns’ current six-game slide. Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown will enter this one six catches back of the NFL lead. – CB
Buffalo (6-9) at New England (11-4) — 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: Buffalo played its spoiler role well last week, shutting out the Dolphins. Can the Bills repeat this Sunday in a place they haven’t won in since 2000? The Patriots have the AFC East sewed up, but they’re still aiming for a first-round bye (and possibly the No. 1 seed). They’ve had to prepare for two different QBs this week, EJ Manuel and Thad Lewis, though Lewis was announced as the starter Friday. The latter led that impressive Week 16 victory over the Dolphins. – CB
Kansas City (11-4) at San Diego (8-7) — 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: It sounds as if this game could add fuel to the fire regarding how much responsibility, if any, teams have to try to win in Week 17. Chiefs coach Andy Reid has said he plans to rest his starters a great deal here, which could be a huge development in the AFC wild-card race. Miami, Baltimore and Pittsburgh all play in Sunday’s early slot — meaning that last playoff spot could hinge on the outcome here. – CB
Only For The Faithful
Jacksonville (4-11) at Indianapolis (10-5) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Colts know they have a playoff spot sewn up, but they need to get their offense together sooner than later. Could be a tough task against a Jacksonville defense starting to play tougher under rookie head coach Gus Bradley. — DF
Washington (3-12) at NY Giants (6-9) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Giants are hoping to finish the season 7-3 after their horrid 0-6 start, while Mike Shanahan is probably hoping that Dan Snyder doesn’t fire him at halftime. The biggest suspense in this one might be what kind of trade scenario Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins can play himself into. — DF
Houston (2-13) at Tennessee (6-9) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Texans are one loss away from finishing the year on a 14-game skid … and with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. Ironically, they close the season against the last team they beat. Houston scored a dramatic Week 2 overtime win on the Titans, thanks to a terrific DeAndre Hopkins grab. – CB
Detroit (7-8) at Minnesota (4-10) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Two teams out of the playoff race bid farewell to the Metrodome, which will be replaced as the Vikings’ home next season. This also could be the final games for Detroit coach Jim Schwartz and Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier, both of whom find themselves planted firmly on the hot seat. – CB
(Unless otherwise indicated, all stats come from our friends at Pro Football Focus.)
- Patriots rookie cornerback Logan Ryan, a third-rounder from Rutgers, has been a real star late in the season after a rocky start. He’s picked off five passes this season (four in the last five games and two against the Ravens last Sunday), and only Seattle’s Richard Sherman is allowing a lower passer rating than Ryan’s 52.8 among qualifying cornerbacks (at least 50 percent of all defensive snaps).
“It’s not only ball skills but I’d say an awareness or an instinctiveness, if you will, in terms of when to look for the ball, having an awareness of the ball being thrown and near his location and anticipating routes and being able to react to those routes sometimes a little bit before the ball is thrown and in some cases, maybe if he’s reading the quarterback, a little bit before the receiver can get into his breaks,” Bill Belichick said of Ryan on Monday.
- Of the remaining potential playoff quarterbacks, none has faced more pressure than Seattle’s Russell Wilson — he’s been pressured on 43.5 percent of his 474 dropbacks. The good news is that he’s tied with Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger for the most touchdowns thrown under pressure with 10. The bad news is that Wilson was sacked three times by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn when the two teams last met, and Quinn leads the league in total pressures with 90. Quinn lines up on the defensive right side 99.1 percent of the time, so it’s all on Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung, who didn’t play in the previous matchup.
- Only the Dallas Cowboys have allowed more total yards than the Kansas City Chiefs over the last eight weeks, which is certainly a surprise to those who remember when Kansas City’s defense was lockdown all the way. One issue has been missed tackles, and linebacker Derrick Johnson leads the league in that category with 13. He didn’t help himself by blowing six against the Colts on Sunday.
- While Tom Brady’s targets are dropping all around him, receiver Julian Edelman has saved New England’s offense at times in what has been his best season. The five-year veteran has been especially effective on seam routes from the slot — he ranks third in the NFL with 50 slot receptions (behind Kendall Wright’s 61 and Wes Welker’s 57) despite just 284 slot targets. – DF
Matchup to Watch: Sheldon Richardson and the Jets’ D-line vs. Miami’s offensive line.
Ryan Tannehill has been sacked more than any other QB in the NFL this season (58 times so far, to be exact). That’s a problematic situation for the Dolphins, what with their depleted offensive line and all. The Bills took advantage of Miami in the trenches, chalking up seven sacks as part of a 19-0 win.
Miami must do a better job keeping Tannehill clean — and finding some running lanes for Lamar Miller — in Week 17. The Jets are tied for 11th in the league in sacks with 41, and their success up front often relies on how much push rookie DT Sheldon Richardson can create. If he’s able to drive the Dolphins’ guards and center back repeatedly, the outside lanes could be wide open for the likes of Muhammaed Wilkerson and Calvin Pace.
Pressure’s On …: Kyle Orton, QB, Cowboys.
The circumstances — stepping in for Tony Romo with the division on the line — dictate that the pressure is cranked up here. Reality might tell another story. With Orton taking the helm Sunday against an Eagles team that would be a prohibitive favorite, the Cowboys might find themselves in a somewhat-enviable “What do we have to lose?” sort of mindset.
This Week’s Sleeper: Chase Daniel, QB, Chiefs.
As mentioned earlier, the Chiefs’ Week 17 plan appears to involve clearing the bench early and often against San Diego. That strategy should afford Daniel, with 17 regular-season passes in four NFL seasons, a rare opportunity to see the field. He might be able to hang some yards on the Chargers’ pass defense, too. Alex Smith threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns in an earlier loss to San Diego, which ranks 29th in defending the pass.
Rookie Spotlight: Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks on the ground for Bernard, who has been limited to 53 total yards rushing on 26 carries over Cincinnati’s past two games. The Steelers shut both him and BenJarvus Green-Ellis down in Week 15, en route to a 30-20 win. Cincinnati needs its offensive balance in full effect Sunday against Baltimore. Finding some space for Bernard early would help further that cause. – CB
Dallas Cowboys. There are all kinds of must-win scenarios around the NFL this Sunday, but if the Cowboys lose to the Eagles and miss the playoffs this season, it will be for the fourth straight year, which hasn’t happened since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989. That could lead to the end of the Jason Garrett era, a huge roster re-shuffle determined by the franchise’s salary cap situation, and goodness knows what sort of moves made by Jones. Drama fans eagerly await the potential fallout to be sure, but Cowboys fans have to be shaking in their boots. – DF
Miami: The Dolphins could be bounced from the postseason even with a win. But they’d long regret coughing their spot away by ending with back-to-back losses to Buffalo and the Jets. – CB