NFL Week 17: Picks and preview

Posted 18 hours ago | By Chris Mueller

Week 16 was a wild one in the NFL. The Steelers, specifically Ben Roethlisberger, rediscovered their ability to move the ball and score points just in the nick of time, rallying past the Colts and winning the AFC North as a result. The Browns shot themselves in the foot again, losing to the Jets, but Pittsburgh’s win unexpectedly helped Cleveland; they now need only beat the Steelers, who will sit Roethlisberger, and likely several others, to get into the playoffs. The Dolphins looked dead in the water against the Raiders, until some hideous penalties by Las Vegas, and perhaps the latest, greatest Fitz-magic of all time saved them. Brian Flores is standing by Tua Tagovailoa, but if that choice blows up in his face, there will be plenty of time for second-guessing. The Chiefs barely scraped by a game Falcons team and locked up the AFC’s sole bye in the process. The Rams lost a game and Jared Goff, and now must battle the Cardinals in a crucial finale, while the Packers demolished Tennessee. Oh, and the Ravens won their fourth in a row, in dominant fashion, while the NFC East remains a complete mess, with – appropriately – only the Eagles having been eliminated from contention. Multiple playoff spots are up for grabs in Week 17, and there is a very good chance that, for just the second time in league history, an 11-5 team will not qualify. On the flip side, there’s a very real chance that a 6-10 team wins the NFC East. Life isn’t fair, is it?

Point spreads are from and are current as of 11 a.m. ET Friday.

NOTE: Pick with spread is in bold.

Last Week: 6-10    Season: 118-117-51 of 16

MIAMI (10-5) AT BUFFALO (11-3) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

MIAMI (10-5) AT BUFFALO (11-3) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS       Line: NO LINE

What you need to know:  Brian Flores is playing a dangerous game by publicly declaring Tua Tagovailoa as his starter. Ryan Fitzpatrick saved the Dolphins against the Raiders and possibly saved their season. If Tagovailoa starts slowly against a Bills team that may have nothing of any significance to play for in this game, how quick will Flores be with the hook? Will he give him one at all? Everyone put a happy face on things at the moment, but beyond the Fitzpatrick-Tagovailoa interpersonal dynamic, what does the rest of the locker room think? Buffalo made a statement – and likely delighted the rest of the NFL – with their pummeling of the Patriots on Monday Night Football. The Bills had Bill Belichick throwing phones on the sideline and looking helpless against Josh Allen. Buffalo looks like the principal challenger to the Chiefs in the AFC and might be their best foil in the entire league. There isn’t much to play for in this game, save this: If the Bills win, they have a very good chance of avoiding the Ravens, who look like a buzz-saw at this point. Is that reason enough to play the starters? That’s for Sean McDermott to decide. 

On the spot: Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa . A positive COVID test for Ryan Fitzpatrick means that Miami doesn’t have its “closer,” and Tagovailoa doesn’t have any safety net if he struggles. The fifth overall pick in this year’s draft needs to play like it. 

Bills HC Sean McDermott: The decision for McDermott is simple, but also not. How long should he play Allen? Should he play him at all? Is there any worth in potentially knocking a division rival out of the playoffs?

The pick: Bills 23 Dolphins 16

BALTIMORE (10-5) AT CINCINNATI (4-10-1) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

BALTIMORE (10-5) AT CINCINNATI (4-10-1) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS       Line: Baltimore -13

What you need to know:  The Ravens just keep pummeling opponents into dust, and no AFC team is playing better football at the moment. Baltimore has won by an average of 16.2 points during its four-game winning streak, and most heartening for the Ravens is the fact that Lamar Jackson and the passing game appear to be working in crisp, efficient fashion. Though the Bengals have won two in a row, the Ravens look like a juggernaut, and at least at the moment, just maybe the best team in the AFC. As things stand now, the Bengals look like they’ll end up with between the fifth and seventh pick in the 2021 draft, and their modest two-game winning streak may hurt them in the long run, as it meant nothing for this season, and might impact their ability to draft a stud tackle with their top selection. Everything Cincinnati does needs to be geared towards helping Joe Burrow, and elite pass protection is right now at the top of the list for a line that has allowed 48 sacks so far this season. 

On the spot: Ravens HC John Harbaugh The Ravens can’t afford to take this game lightly, but with the way they’ve been rolling, the result should be academic, and pretty early. If that is the case, when does Harbaugh pull his starters?

Bengals WR Tee Higgins:  Higgins has been a bright spot so far for Cincy, and he should end his season by breaking Cris Collinsworth‘s team rookie record for catches – he only needs two. Now he just needs to find his way to the field to play.

The pick: Ravens 30 Bengals 20

PITTSBURGH (12-3) AT CLEVELAND (10-5) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

PITTSBURGH (12-3) AT CLEVELAND (10-5) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS       Line: NO LINE

What you need to know:  For 30 minutes against Indianapolis, the Steelers looked approximately as offensively inept as they did against the Bengals, with their only touchdown coming courtesy of a turnover that set them up inside the Colts’ 10-yard line. Then, almost miraculously, Ben Roethlisberger came alive, attempting and connecting on a few deep shots, and resuscitating Pittsburgh’s lifeless passing game. The Colts had no answers, and Pittsburgh won a game when trailing by at least 17 in the second half for the first time in Mike Tomlin‘s tenure, securing the AFC North in the process. Oddly enough, Pittsburgh’s rally may have saved Cleveland. The Browns, down their three best receivers and beset by other injuries and absences, laid an egg against the Jets; Baker Mayfield in particular was awful, committing multiple turnovers and missing open receivers, and said as much afterward. That said, the Steelers will start Mason Rudolph, and likely bench other starters, while the Browns should get healthy. Put it all together, and Cleveland has no excuse not to end the league’s longest postseason drought.

On the spot: Steelers QB Mason Rudolph. Rudolph revisits the site of the worst moment of his professional career, and if he can beat the Browns, he’ll knock them out of the playoffs, and perhaps show the Steelers something more positive than what he put on tape last year. 

Browns QB Baker Mayfield:  The Browns are having COVID issues, but they should still beat the Steelers’ jayvee team comfortably. Cleveland drafted Mayfield to come through in situations like this. Will he?

The pick: Browns 31 Steelers 14

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