By Don Banks | December 29, 2017 10 am PT
The end game has at last arrived in the NFL’s 2017 regular season. All the Week 17 games that really matter got shifted by the league into the late-afternoon kickoff time slot, which should make for three-plus hours of zany fun in terms of Red Zone Channel watching, as three playoff berths and seeding issues get decided.
Two matchups lead the way: Carolina at Atlanta and Jacksonville at Tennessee should feature the most palpable sense of desperation, because both the Falcons and Titans are at home and need to win in order to lock down the No. 6 seeds in their respective conferences. I’ve got one of them making it and the other one missing out, but read on to see which is team is moving on and which is going home.
With Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis just five weeks away, there are six teams still alive and fighting for those final three spots in the 12-team postseason field. Let’s hope the story concludes with a flourish.
* Last week’s picks: 13-3 (.813); Season: 48-16 (.750).
Green Bay at Detroit — Both teams underachieved this season, but at least the Lions still have a shot at a winning record, which would be their third in Jim Caldwell’s four-season tenure. Will that be enough to earn him a fifth season in Motown? I’m not optimistic on that front. Winner: Detroit.
Houston at Indianapolis — Colts head coach Chuck Pagano this week called it the “last rodeo’’ for his last-place team. And you know what that means. Win or lose he’s about to get thrown off his ride, and out of a job. I predict he’ll at least exit with one last “W” on his record. Winner: Indianapolis.
Chicago at Minnesota — The Vikings begin what they hope is a crazy memorable four-game home-stand, culminating in the big confetti shower and a parade in early February. Even if there is a road trip to Philly dropped in there, the Vikings will gladly roll with that. Winner: Minnesota.
New York Jets at New England — With the AFC’s top seed waiting to be wrapped up, the Patriots are going to take care of business against the Jets and QB Bryce Petty. They learned their lesson two years ago when they let home-field advantage slip through their fingers and wound up losing the AFC title game in Denver. No more taking their foot off the gas. Winner: New England.
Washington at New York Giants — Will we ever see QB Kirk Cousins in Washington and QB Eli Manning in New York after the conclusion of this game? I’ll wager two guesses: Yes and yes. Washington has a shot to finish at .500, which is at least some motivation. The Giants will likely have their cars idling in the players parking lot from the second quarter on. Winner: Washington.
Dallas at Philadelphia — We’re used to big games between these two in Week 17, but we couldn’t be further from that reality this season. The top-seeded Eagles will likely rest plenty of starters while the Cowboys play it out in pursuit of a winning season at 9-7. Winner: Dallas.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh — It sounds like the Steelers are going to rest plenty of their stars, having little or no faith the Jets will upset the Patriots on the road and put the AFC’s No. 1 seed back into play. That’s an accurate read of the situation, Mike Tomlin. That could give the desperate Browns a shot at their first victory and avoiding the infamy of 0-16, but I’m not about to show enough confidence in Cleveland to predict it. Winner: Pittsburgh.
Carolina at Atlanta — The Falcons have been difficult to read all season, but I think they’ll muster up just enough offense to prevail in this win-and-you’re-in scenario at home. Only barely, but Atlanta will at least avoid the missing the playoffs part of the Super Bowl hangover effect. Winner: Atlanta.
Cincinnati at Baltimore — The Ravens are 9-1 this season against teams that won’t make the playoffs. It’ll be 10-1 after Sunday, and will ensure Baltimore’s first playoff berth since 2014. Winner: Baltimore.
Buffalo at Miami — I hope I’m wrong on this one, because it’d be fun to see the party that would ensue in Buffalo if the Bills wind up breaking their NFL-worst 17-season playoff drought. But something tells me the Dolphins are going to do just enough to dash Buffalo’s hopes. Winner: Miami.
New Orleans at Tampa Bay — Once 0-2, the high-octane Saints will cruise into the playoffs with a wave of momentum behind them, routing a Bucs team that looks to be coming apart at the seams. Winner: New Orleans.
Jacksonville at Tennessee — Tennessee’s collapse will be complete after this one, and it very well could cost Titans head coach Mike Mularkey his job. The Jaguars want to wipe away the stench of last week’s loss to the 49ers, and also keep Tennessee from being their first-round playoff opponent next week in Jacksonville. Winner: Jacksonville.
Kansas City at Denver — Paxton Lynch starts at quarterback for Denver and rookie Patrick Mahomes for Kansas City. I’m flipping a coin and going with the Broncos to find a way to finish with a win and get head coach Vance Joseph’s first season record to 6-10. Will that still be one-and-done territory for Joseph? We’ll find out on Black Monday, because John Elway isn’t one to wait around after making a decision. Winner: Denver.
Oakland at Los Angeles Chargers — The Raiders were an enigma this season after their mirage of a 2-0 start. Oakland just wants its nightmare over with. The Chargers still have a shot at the playoffs and will do their part in the intriguing AFC wild-card race. Winner: Los Angeles.
San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams — With Rams head coach Sean McVay planning to rest many of his best players, including MVP candidate RB Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff, that swings this game to the red-hot 49ers and the unbeatable QB Jimmy Garoppolo. He’ll lose a game as an NFL starting quarterback some day, but not this season. Winner: San Francisco.
Arizona at Seattle — In picking Atlanta to win at home against Carolina, as I have, that means the Seahawks’ final shot at the playoffs will be snuffed out. But Seattle will still take solace in finishing 10-6 despite a host of key defensive injuries. It’ll be the Seahawks’ third straight year with 10 wins, and six in a row in double digits. Winner: Seattle.