NFL Week 17: What's at Stake for Teams, Players This Weekend?
The final week of the regular season will surely bring out strong emotions from fans of every team. While some are ready for the offseason to begin, others are hoping for a deep playoff run. The stakes are high on both sides of that spectrum.
All but two teams in the playoff picture have clinched at least one postseason game. The AFC South is still technically up in the air, and the AFC wild-card spot has a two-team race. The NFC just needs to figure out exact seeding, but all six teams are locked in.
We can’t forget about individual awards and the NFL draft order, either. Don’t worry, we have you covered there as well. There are six major storylines entering Week 17 that can greatly alter the NFL landscape.
Don’t forget to leave your predictions for this week in the comments section below.
New York Jets: The Wild Card
The final AFC wild-card spot is between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jets have notched five consecutive wins to put themselves one game ahead of the Steelers. Now they must finish the regular season in Buffalo against former head coach Rex Ryan.
First-year head coach Todd Bowles has done a masterful job of maximizing his roster to reach this point. His toughness perfectly matches the Jets’ roster, who often physically pulverize opponents over the course of four quarters. There’s little doubt that Monday mornings are rough after playing the Jets.
New York must win to take away any doubt of their playoff status. Losing in Buffalo opens the door for the Steelers to swap spots. A focused performance from New York should be enough to get the job done, but Ralph Wilson Stadium will be loud as they try to derail a divisional foe.
Minnesota Vikings: The NFC North
A crucial NFC North battle is taking place at Lambeau Field this Sunday night. The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers play to determine the divisional winner. The loser will be relegated to the wild card, which means playing on the road next week.
There was a fairly good chance the two would play again in wild-card weekend until the Seahawks lost in Week 16. But sitting in the third and fifth seed will prevent them from potentially playing a third time until the NFC Championship Game.
This game is bigger for the Vikings because of their ascent under Mike Zimmer. The Packers have long been relevant in the playoffs, but the Vikings are trying to start their own run. Winning this week starts the process of a long-term winning franchise.
New England Patriots: The No. 1 Seed
The New England Patriots have the chance to be the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC with just one more win. Currently sitting at 12-3, this is a team that looks much different than they did a month ago due to injuries.
They’ve clinched a first-round bye regardless of Week 17’s result, but to lose their positioning this late in the season would be back-breaking.
New England may choose to rest whatever players left on its roster that aren’t injured. If the team somehow loses in Miami, which is unlikely considering the Dolphins’ self-apathy, then a Broncos win would elevate Denver into the first seed. Denver is a nine-point favorite against San Diego, according to OddsShark.com.
If the Patriots and Broncos reach the AFC Championship Game, traveling to Denver is far from ideal. Tom Brady and the Patriots are 98-16 at home in the regular season since 2001. Although we’re now talking playoffs, that record is still impressive enough and a strong indicator that this team is even better at home.
Tennessee Titans: The No. 1 Overall Pick
It’s not often that a team fires their head coach just seven games after drafting a quarterback in the first round of the previous draft. The Titans did just that, but things haven’t improved. They now sit one loss away from securing the No. 1 overall pick.
Tennessee has a difficult choice should it lock up the top pick in the 2016 NFL draft. The team should focus on adding as much impact talent as it can, but a strong trade offer could tempt the franchise to move down. If Tennessee stays put, adding talent to the offensive or defensive line must be considered.
Either Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa or Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil would be tremendous fits for this team. If the Titans beat the Colts, they likely only drop to the second pick because of their bad strength of schedule (.493). But having their choice of trade options or a top-tier prospect is a better place for this franchise to sit.
Todd Gurley: Offensive Rookie of the Year
The 2015 rookie class has produced several absolute studs already, but the best offensive player to this point has been Todd Gurley. The Rams’ running back has amassed 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games. He’s third in rushing yards per game, with 85.1.
The competition for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award is impressive. Quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, and wide receiver Amari Cooper would win most other years. But Gurley’s dominance is too much to overlook.
He can wrap up a terrific rookie season and the award this week. The San Francisco 49ers’ rush defense ranks 27th in yards allowed, so Week 17 could be forgettable. Gurley averages 4.8 yards a carry, so he could be in for a massive performance.
Cincinnati Bengals: First-Round Bye
When it rains, it pours on the Cincinnati Bengals. A few weeks ago this looked like the best AFC team, but now they look like first-round fodder. This is largely due to a depleted quarterback room.
It was bad enough when Andy Dalton fractured his thumb. He may miss the first two weeks of the playoffs, but a first-round bye could change that outlook. The Bengals may need him to come back immediately if they can clinch the second seed this week.
Backup AJ McCarron struggled mightily in his first two games, and a wrist injury could keep him out of Week 17’s matchup with Baltimore. Not only do the Bengals need to beat the Ravens, who just trounced the Steelers last week, but they must hope the Chargers beat the Broncos. With that, they’d move back into the second seed in the AFC.
All stats used are from sports-reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.