New Year’s Redemption: NFL Week 17

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By Ron Johnson

Not since the 1993-94 NFL season have we seen Cleveland AND Detroit in the playoffs with winning records no less. After last night, we get both teams in the postseason. So what will the final stretch bring for the teams still fighting for their playoff lives? 

Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting…for NFL Playoff Seedings

Detroit vs. Dallas

The last time Detroit won a playoff game was in 1991 when they defeated the Dallas Cowboys. This is the longest playoff drought in the NFL, and it also happens to be a different era for both teams. Last week, the Dallas Cowboys suffered back-to-back losses on the road as they couldn’t solve their road woes. The Cowboys have been unstoppable at home, and Detroit has proven to be road warriors themselves after clinching the NFC North in Minnesota last week. This game has playoff matchup written all over it due in large part to the fact that Dallas is trying to win the NFC East. But to get there, they need to beat Detroit and hope that Philly stumbles in the final two weeks of the regular season. For Detroit, they are currently the third seed in NFC, so a win should give them an advantage heading into the final game of the season. Plus, this game is being played on Saturday night, which is always alright for fighting. 

NFL New Years’ Eve 

Miami vs. Baltimore

Did someone say NFL playoffs? The battle for the top seed in the AFC will be on full display as we get the No. 1 offense in the league, Miami, facing the No. 1 defense in the league, Baltimore. The Dolphins may be with or without Jalen Waddle, but they will have the Cheetah back in the lineup. The Ravens showed on Monday night that their defense is not one to look pass, and they even took down the so-called uncrowned Super Bowl Champions (according to Mike Florio), the San Francisco 49ers. For the Dolphins, the playoffs were locked up last week with the win over Dallas, but they want more. And can you blame them? Baltimore looks dangerous on paper in every category, but so does Miami. The Dolphins have been one of those teams that has been on the bubble of success for years, and so has the Ravens. With Lamar Jackson and Tua Tagovailoa both playing their best football right now, this is one of those evenly matched games that could come down to the final seconds depending on how both teams play the first three quarters of this game. Did we mention that the AFC’s No. 1 Seed is up for grabs in this game as well?

NFL

New England vs. Buffalo

The Patriots are going through the final stretch of the Bill Belichick era in New England. After seven Super Bowl wins and an illustrious Hall of Fame Career, Ol’ Hoodie is walking away from the franchise that made him a legend. But before he does that, he gets to visit Josh Allen and the Bills one last time. The Bills were on the bubble up until a few weeks ago when they turned their misfortunes around with a big win over Dallas and now find themselves as the sixth seed heading into a matchup they should win. But the issue for the Bills is that there are teams still on the bubble that are playing for their chances at a postseason. Even worse for the Bills is that a loss gives the AFC East to the Dolphins and gives a chance for Houston, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to jump them for their spot. I’m not saying it should be easy for the Bills…but considering how their pasty Michael Vick has been playing in December, they should not take these Patriots lightly. They are still a team with nothing to lose. 

Atlanta vs. Chicago

The Chicago Bears are still in the NFL playoff hunt. I know that is a weird thing to say at this juncture of the season, but they are. So are the Atlanta Falcons. The difference between these two is that the Falcons are trying to win the NFC South, while the Bears are trying to stay in the thick of a still wide open NFC Playoff Picture. A win for the Falcons coupled with a loss by the Buccaneers could be the ticket they need to swoop in and get their dinner. As for the Bears, they will need some massive help to get in the playoffs, like the Rams, Seahawks and Saints losing and the Packers and Vikings ending in a tie. 

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Tennessee vs. Houston

The Titans know they are eliminated, but the fact that they lost in overtime to the Houston Texans does not sit well with them. While the 2023-24 season has become the Year of the Backups, CJ Stroud is slated to return this weekend with a shot at the postseason on the line for the Texans. Tennessee has been eliminated from playoff contention, but that does not mean they won’t relish in the chance to play spoiler if necessary. Derrick Henry has become the premier quarterback for the Titans throwing passing touchdowns in the last set of games along with a running style that will still leave defenders on a poster. But here’s the thing: Derrick Henry is their running back, so what does that say about Tannehill and Levis when your running back has found more success throwing the ball than you?

Las Vegas vs. Indianapolis

Two teams fighting for a shot at the NFL postseason do battle on Sunday as the Raiders have finally got their groove back somewhat. After a monstrous win over the defending champs on Christmas Day, Vegas is eyeing the postseason in more ways than one. But then again, so are the Colts. Indy is looking to get back to its good fortunes as they lost a tough one last week. And with the AFC South now more wide open than ever, the Colts are riding the arm of Gardner Minshew all the way to the finish line. It is safe to say that everyone has a lot to lose in this game. A loss for the Raiders would mean they would most likely be eliminated from the NFL playoff picture, while a loss for the Colts would decrease their chances of taking the AFC South.

Carolina vs. Jacksonville

One lifetime ago, both of these teams were always in the NFL postseason talks. Lately, one has been going up, while the other has been spiraling out of control. Carolina is really not happy about losing that draft pick, but Jacksonville is not happy about being on this losing streak and possibly losing the AFC South. The Jaguars are trying to get it right, while the Panthers are just trying to get butts in the seats. This is a game one can pass if they want to…but what if the Panthers win this game? It is a top tier team after all. 

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LA Rams vs. NY Giants

This is a game that everyone would like to see for different reasons. The Giants are finished with their Italian experiment for now, so Tyrod Taylor will get the start in this game. For the Rams, it is all about winning and clinching. After a tumultuous season, the Rams are in the driver’s seat of their own destiny. If they can pull off a victory on Sunday, and the Seahawks lose somehow, the Rams punch their ticket to the NFL postseason. But the Giants have nothing to lose like most of the teams playing on Sunday. Can the Giants take down the most dangerous team in the NFL right now? Or will the Giants suffer a severe case of Nacua Matata of their own? Can the Rams clinch? Or will they be like most people in New York, which is stuck in traffic and not getting to where they want to go?

Arizona vs. Philadelphia

The Cardinals should lose this contest against the Eagles. This one will be about if the Eagles are truly back as they snapped their three-game losing streak last Monday night…but not by much. As much as the Cards are fighting, they’re still losing. The Eagles need this win to keep their spot in the playoff seedings but also to keep Dallas in their rear-view mirror. How ready are the Eagles for the NFL postseason? They shouldn’t take Arizona lightly, and they should be aware that Dallas is not their only threat in the postseason this time around (see San Francisco, Detroit, LA Rams, Seattle).

New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay

With the NFC South on the line, this game has meaning. With the way Baker Mayfield has stepped up in the absence of Tom Brady for the Bucs, this game has more meaning for them. A win for the Bucs, along with a loss by Atlanta, should clinch the NFC South. The Saints need to win this one to stay in contention, but they are having  buyers’ remorse with Derek Carr. He has been the toughest guy out there, but he has not got the Saints marching into the postseason so easily. A loss does not necessarily take them out of the NFL playoff hunt, but it does hurt their chances a little bit. 

San Francisco vs. Washington

The Niners are trying to figure what went wrong for them on Christmas Night. They had all the makings of being a Super Bowl caliber team, but on Monday night, they didn’t look like that Super Bowl caliber team. Brock Purdy threw four interceptions in this game and looked more like Nathan Peterman than a guy who was undefeated this time last season. I guess it’s a good thing they got the Commanders who have finally figured out that Sam Howell is the problem right now. We all know that there is a good chance that Ron Rivera will lose his job this offseason if not sooner, but the fact that Jacoby Brissett has been the only bright spot for the Commanders the last few weeks should make the new owners rethink their strategy heading into the next NFL season. 

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Pittsburgh vs. Seattle

In another Super Bowl rematch, the Steelers, who found their identity last week, are set to take on the Seahawks. Seattle survived their trip to Trashville and look to move closer to a potential playoff spot. For Seattle, the same rules apply to them as they do to the Rams. If they win and the Rams lose, they clinch. With Geno Smith back under center, and Mason Rudolph for the Steelers, this should be a highly contested, very close game. And with the NFL postseason on the line for both teams, it will be a matter of who can overcome one another’s defenses as TJ Watt and Bobby Wagner will take center stage for this matchup. 

LA Chargers vs. Denver

The Chargers are just going through the motions to finish out the season, while the soap opera-like drama in Denver has them against the ropes and the wind. The Broncos were hot, and then they got real cold real quick. With Russell Wilson being benched for this game, and the war between him and Sean Payton taking a fever pitch, something has to give. Denver needs this win to stay in playoff contention, while the Chargers will look to play spoiler once more. No one can say what the future holds for Denver, but eventually, one of these two needs to pull their head out of their asses in order to find success for a franchise still eyeing the NFL postseason.

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Cincinnati vs. Kansas City

Both teams are still fighting for their NFL playoff lives, and both teams were exposed in the worst way last week. The Bengals suffered a big loss to Pittsburgh over the weekend, while the Chiefs couldn’t get it going against the Raiders on Christmas morning. Now both will need to figure out how to navigate the murky waters of a conference that is flooded with teams looking to overtake them for their playoff spots. Currently the Chiefs have the same formula as last week: win and you’re in. But can they even do that with the Swift Bug circling around the stadium? As for Cincinnati, the Bengals will need to get over what happened last week and try to get back on the winning track with only two weeks left in the season. And can somebody get some stick ‘ems for Kadarius Toney so he can finally catch the flippin’ ball???

Sunday Night Football

Green Bay vs. Minnesota

In a showdown of NFC North rivals, and with both teams shockingly still in the playoff picture, the Packers travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings. While a lifetime ago, this would have been a battle for the North Crown, the one that Detroit now lays claim to, these two teams are now battling for a chance to increase their chances of the postseason. On a week where nothing is guaranteed and nothing is out of bounds, expect this rivalry game to be exactly what it should be. The crazy part of all this is the fact that both teams are still in contention after the way the season has gone for both of them. But unlike Florida State, they are not salty and complaining about it. They’re just happy to be there.

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