Start strong and finish strong, usually is a good recipe for success and the Falcons have a chance to do that by winning their third straight on Sunday, add that to a 5-0 start and the Falcons should be in the playoffs. The only problem is their season was a donut as they were terrible in the middle losing seven of eight. The Saints have been up and down and beat the Falcons in New Orleans earlier in the year. The Falcons and Saints typically split their season series and with this game in Atlanta I see the Falcons closing with a strong effort against the Saints soft defense.
Since winning Super Bowl III, the New York Jets have suffered more soul crushing losses than anybody. After beating the Patriots in overtime last Sunday, the Jets need to win on Sunday in Buffalo to make the playoffs. Their season is a success at ten wins, but a loss would wipe any of that out if coupled with a Steeler win knocks them out of the postseason. Facing former Coach Rex Ryan, it is almost like this was preordained. The Jets in this position always seem to come up with that loss. Word of advice keep Gang Green fans away from sharp objects when this one is over.
While the Packers and Vikings battle for first, these two battle for worst. Both teams come at 6-9 in different directions. The Lions coming off a playoff berth last year are disappointing, while the Bears in the first year under new Coach John Fox feel they made strides and look forward to next year. The Lions themselves could be entering an off-season of change, while the Bears who are hard to figure hope to finish strong and use this win at home as a boost for next season.
The Bengals last week lost a chance at getting a crucial first round bye with their overtime loss in Denver. The Bengals still can earn a bye but need to win and get some unlikely help. A.J. McCarron has been decent since taking over for the injured Andy Dalton, but the Bengals know they need to get their starter back if they want to go far in the playoffs. Winning this one will give them a chance to get Dalton back for the Divisional round. The Ravens meanwhile after playing their Super Bowl against the Steelers come out flat on the road in the finale.
The Steelers know they may have fumbled away a chance at the playoffs with their loss in Baltimore last week. They can still make the playoffs if they win and the Jets lose. They have no control over the Jets, but against the pathetic Browns they will take care of their own business. Once again Johnny Manziel will sit in the finale after a “concussion”. Funny Manziel who spiked his helmet last week did not show any concussion symptoms until another video of him getting drunk hit the interwebs. The Browns are a mess and need to restart and eject Johnny Football.
This game may resemble a pre-season game, as the Cowboys wrap up a disappointing injury plagued season, while the NFC East Champion Redskins look to next week’s Wild Card Game and will likely be resting starters most of the game. Don’t be shocked to see Robert Griffin III get some snaps as the Redskins will look to keep Kirk Cousins healthy for the playoffs and give RGIII one last chance to shine before being let go or traded in the off-season.
The AFC South is there for the taking for the Houston Texans. For the Texans to not win the division and make the playoffs a lot has to happen. They can erase any doubt all by themselves by simply beating the Jaguars at home. The Jaguars have been up and down once again, while the Texans are surging at the end. Brandon Weeden has been terrific the last two weeks, but the key is still their defense. Look for a big game from J.J. Watt who will be in the Jaguars back field all day with the playoffs in reach.
The Colts can still make the playoffs but they will need a miracle. Not only do they have to win, and the Texas have to lose but they need seven other games to break in exactly the right order. Facing the awful Titans without Marcus Mariota at home a win should be the easy part. However, Andrew Luck has yet to be cleared to play and Matt Hasslebeck is banged up. This means with the playoffs on the line the Colts could be starting Josh Freeman or Ryan Lindley. Two of the worst quarterbacks to ever start a game in the NFL. Even if Hasslebeck does start, one hit and its Lindley or Freeman as Charlie Whitehurst was placed on Injured Reserve.
Yet ends another disappointing season for the Miami Dolphins. The team that began the year with hopes to win the AFC East went bust again and are a bigger mess than ever. It is clear as day that Ryan Tannehill is a bust. Maybe a quarterback guru like Sean Payton can get him to improve, but without a big name coach the Dolphins are likely looking at a restart and that means ditching Tannehill and starting from scratch. The Patriots won’t even need Tom Brady to win this game as Jimmy Garoppolo could score enough to win this game.
It’s the end of an era on Sunday at the Meadowlands as Tom Coughlin will likely be coaching his final game for the Giants. One day his name will hang in the Giants ring of honor for his tenure year was highly successful with two Super Bowl wins over the Patriots. However, as he reaches 70 it is clear a change needs to be made. His late game decisions have cost the Giants at least four games and letting Odell Beckham run amok has only hurt everyone including Beckham himself. The Eagles meanwhile already fired Chip Kelly will be just wishing it was over as the Giants exploit their porous secondary all day to send Coughlin out a winner.
Both of these teams are going to the playoffs, the Cardinals as division champs have a bye still have an outside chance to get home field. The Seahawks need a win to get a fifth seed and an easier road against the Redskins. However, the Cardinals already beat the Seahawks in Seattle and are probably playing the best football out of anybody. The Seahawks were exposed last week in a sloppy loss to the Rams, look for more warts as the Cardinals cruise at home with Carson Palmer making one last charge at the NFL MVP award.
The Panthers tasted defeat for the first time last week, losing 20-13 in Atlanta. The loss may be a blessing for Carolina as it removes the pressure of the 1972 Dolphins and leaves them to focus on winning the Super Bowl. The Panthers could take a significant step to getting to the big game, by locking up home field, which they will do with a win. The Buccaneers have had a season of ups and downs they since reaching 6-6 they lost three straight. It is hard to see them going into Carolina and winning as the Panthers show they can bounce back bring their A game to finish 15-1.
The Broncos earned their biggest win of the season on Monday Night coming from behind to beat the Bengals in overtime. The Broncos still need a win to assure themselves of winning the AFC West as they can also get a first round bye. Peyton Manning will be active but won’t start, and depending what happens in this one it could play a role who gets the nod in the playoffs. The Chargers meanwhile are a mess. The move to Los Angeles hangs over their heads as players seem to be suffering from the lack of clarity. The Eric Weddle suspension shows just what a mess this team is and why they will be rolled over in the finale.
If the Broncos slip up the Kansas City Chiefs can step in and win the AFC West. Just the fact that the Chiefs are going to the playoffs is a great testament to Coach Andy Reid as they are the first team in 45 years to go to the postseason after a 1-5 start. The Chiefs are playing at a high level and can end with a nine game winning streak. That alone will provide enough motivation even if the Broncos win going away. The Raiders come in after an emotional home win in what could be their Oakland finale will have little in the tank to even stay in this one.
Both of these teams must consider their seasons a significant disappointment as neither were ever in the playoff race. The Rams can salvage something by finish .500 as the Niners head down a long dark tunnel with fans clamoring for an ownership change. The Rams could also be heading back to Los Angeles, but with St. Louis stepping up with a new stadium proposal that seems less likely. The Niners are heading in a worse direction irrelevance. The Rams after sweeping Seattle can really set themselves up nicely for next year with a win, look for a big game from Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley as the Rams make life hell for Blaine Gabbert.
There is a chance these teams could meet again next week if the Seahawks win their game. When they take the field they will know what Seattle did and that can have a great influence. If a meeting in the Wild Card Game occurs, you may see both teams play close to the vest. However, with home field and the NFC North being awarded to the winner the game should be close no matter what. The Packers won their earlier meeting in Minnesota and are used to these Week 17 division deciding games. That will be the difference as the Packers get the North and a playoff game next week at Lambeau Field.