NFL Talkboard and Pick Six week 17: who makes the playoffs?
Christmas time, mistletoe and wine / Guardian journalist trying to rhyme / Playoffs approaching, who will get in? / Two spots still open, six teams want in.
OK, that’s enough of that. Merry Christmas everyone, hope you are all as well fed and well rested as I intend to be by the time this article gets published. Just remember that the holidays are no excuse for slacking off on competitive commitments. This is the final weekend of the NFL’s regular season, which means it is also the final round in our annual Pick Six contest.
We will, of course, be inviting you to Pick the Playoffs over the next month, but this is your last chance to achieve a six-game sweep until September 2015. Nobody managed it in week 16.
The overall title race is also coming down to the wire. aojigbo leads the way with 68 correct predictions from 96 games, giving him a massive .708 hit rate, but 18 others are still in the running. I shall post the overall standings in the comments section shortly, but before that, here are this week’s games:
San Diego Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday 1pm ET/6pm GMT)
For San Diego, the playoffs begin a week early. A victory over Kansas City would take the Chargers through to the Wild Card round, but a loss would immediately eliminate them. Things are not so straightforward for the Chiefs, who could win on Sunday and still fall short (see our ‘playoff picture’ section below for full details), but it would be a mistake to presume that they are less of a threat as a consequence. Kansas City have beaten both the Patriots and Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium, and give up just 17 points per game on their own turf. The Chargers’ struggling offensive line lost its starting right guard, Johnnie Troutman, to injury last weekend, and could be without center Chris Watt on Sunday, too. Against a potent Kansas City pass rush, such absences do not bode well. Chiefs to win
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants (Sunday 1pm ET/6pm GMT)
Odell Beckham Jr was named as an alternate for the Pro Bowl this week. If he had not missed the first month of the season with a hamstring injury, he would surely have made it into the main roster pool. The rookie has racked up 1,120 receiving yards in just 11 professional games, with 1,014 of those coming after the Giants’ week eight bye. He should enjoy another productive afternoon against opponents who rank 25th in the league against the pass. The Eagles have lost three games in a row since the start of December, while New York are undefeated over the same stretch. Giants to win
Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons (Sunday 4.25pm ET/9.25pm GMT)
An all-or-nothing decider. Neither team will finish with a winning record, but one will host a playoff game next month. The Falcons looked sharp as they walloped the Saints 30-14 in New Orleans last week, but that was just their second triumph in five weeks. Carolina, meanwhile, have won three straight, but their last two victories came by a combined margin of six points. The Panthers have rediscovered their running game of late, Jonathan Stewart piling up 437 yards in four games, but even with Cam Newton back under center, I am not convinced they have the tools to exploit Atlanta’s greatest weaknesses in the secondary. Falcons to win
Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers (Sunday 4.25pm ET/9.25pm GMT)
As Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday, “this is what it’s all about”. A one-off game between two of the NFL’s oldest rivals to decide which of them will finish top of the NFC North. Both have 11-4 records, and each is guaranteed a playoff berth, but while the winner will receive a first-round bye, the loser could very well wind up as the conference’s sixth seed. And that might mean making a trip to Dallas on Wild Card weekend. The Lions will draw confidence from the fact they have won both of their last two matchups against the Packers, but those games were played in Detroit. They have not won in Green Bay since 1991. Even more troubling for the road team is the fact that they will be without their starting center, Dominic Raiola, who is serving a one-game suspension for stamping on an opponent last weekend. Packers to win
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers (Sunday 4.25pm ET/9.25pm GMT)
The Cardinals could yet finish top of the NFC West, if they win and Seattle fluff their lines against St Louis. Given that the Rams have beaten the Seahawks once already this season, we should not dismiss that scenario entirely. But Arizona will have a tough time holding up their end of the bargain with yet another new quarterback under center. Rookie Logan Thomas has been named as the team’s fourth starter at the position this season, after Ryan Lindley struggled badly against Seattle. The 49ers have lost four in a row, but will at least have enjoyed an extra day of rest after playing on Saturday against San Diego. Arizona, by contrast, took a physical battering against Seattle. It is no coincidence that the Seahawks’ last nine opponents have all gone on to lose their next game. 49ers to win
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday 8.30pm ET/Monday 1.30am GMT)
Yet another division decider. Baltimore’s loss to Houston last week means both teams have made it into the postseason, but only the winner will get to play another home game. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton might feel that he answered criticisms of his prime-time record by helping Cincinnati to a victory over Denver on Monday Night Football, but his personal performance was only so-so. With wide receiver AJ Green limited by an arm injury, Dalton limited himself mostly to short passes aimed at his running backs and tight end. Greater things might be required against a Steelers offense that averages more than 415 yards and 27 points per game. Unless Cincinnati’s defense can achieve a repeat of the four interceptions they snared against Denver, that is. Steelers to win
And the rest
Here are the remainder of this weekend’s games. These are not included in the Pick Six, but feel free to post your winners for them as well. If you do so, please keep them separate from your Pick Six predictions, as it will make life a lot easier when adding up your scores.
1pm ET/6pm GMT
Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens
Dallas Cowboys @ Washington
Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4.25pm ET/9.25pm GMT
Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos
St Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
And before we go, here is a complete look at the playoff picture going into week 17:
1) New England Patriots (12-3) – Guaranteed top seeding in the AFC.
2) Denver Broncos (11-4) – Will secure a first-round bye with a win over Oakland. A loss will still be enough if Cincinnati also lose (or, less probably, if the Bengals tie and the Colts win).
3) (10-4-1) – Will win the AFC North if they avoid defeat to the Steelers. A victory would also earn them a first-round bye if Denver fail to win.
4) Indianapolis Colts (10-5) – Effectively locked into the fourth seed. Only if the Bengals and Steelers tie could the Colts could move up to the third seed, by beating Tennessee.
5) (10-5) – Guaranteed a Wild Card berth. Will win the AFC North, and claim the third seed, if they beat Cincinnati.
6) (9-6) – Will secure the AFC’s final playoff berth with a win. A tie would be sufficient if the Ravens fail to win.
Still in the hunt:
Baltimore Ravens (9-6) – Must better the Chargers’ result to leapfrog them into the final Wild Card spot.
Houston Texans (8-7) – Will make the playoffs if they win and both the Chargers and Ravens lose.
(8-7) – Will make the playoffs if they beat San Diego, Baltimore lose, and Houston fail to win. (Given that the latter two are facing Cleveland and Jacksonville, respectively, it’s probably a long shot.)
1) Seattle Seahawks (11-4) – Will finish top of the NFC West as long as they better Arizona’s result on Sunday. A victory at home to the Rams would also seal a first-round bye, and almost certainly top seeding in the NFC. (Seattle could, theoretically, drop to No2 despite winning if Green Bay and Detroit tie, while Dallas beat Washington.)
2) (11-4) – Must avoid defeat against Green Bay in order to win the NFC North. Could also finish as the NFC’s top seed if they beat the Packers, while both Seattle and Arizona slip up.
3) Dallas Cowboys (11-4) – Guaranteed to finish top of the NFC East, and will claim a first-round bye if they better the results of both Seattle and Arizona. A tie between Green Bay and Detroit would open up an improbable opportunity for Dallas to snatch the conference’s top seed.
4) (6-8-1) – Must avoid defeat against Atlanta to win the NFC South and claim a Wild Card berth.
5) (11-5) – Guaranteed a playoff spot, but must beat the Lions to finish top of the NFC North. The Packers could then also claim the NFC’s top seed, if the Seahawks lose.
6) (11-5) – Guaranteed a playoff berth, but would need to better Seattle’s result to win the NFC West and take a first-round bye. Could claim top seeding, if they win and both Seattle and Green Bay slip up.
Still in the hunt
(6-9) – Must beat Carolina to win the NFC South and claim a Wild Card berth.