Heading into the final Sunday of the regular season, seven teams have secured playoff spots and 10 others are in contention for seven positions. The key battles will come in the A.FC. South and the N.F.C. East and for the wild-card spots in both conferences, with plenty of seeding yet to be decided as well.
Here is a look at Week 17, with all picks made against the spread.
Last week’s record: 6-9-1
Overall record: 116-116-8
A look ahead at Week 17:
The A.F.C. Wild Cards
The battle for the three wild-card spots in the A.F.C. has come down to Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland and whichever team doesn’t win the A.F.C. South, Tennessee or Indianapolis.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. CBS
Line: Bills -1 | Total: 44.5
For the last 20 years, the Dolphins (10-5) and the Bills (12-3) have lived in the mighty shadow of the New England Patriots. Thanks to the fall of the New England dynasty, Buffalo has won its first division title since 1995 and Miami is on the verge of its first playoff appearance since 2016 (and just its third since 2001). But in a cruel joke by the scheduling gods, they face off in Week 17, and a loss may come with significant consequences.
For Buffalo, the No. 2 seed in the A.F.C. playoffs is at stake. While that distinction doesn’t come with a bye this season, it still offers home-field advantage — not a small thing when you play your games in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Bills will clinch the spot with a win, but would drop to No. 3 if they were to lose in concert with a Pittsburgh victory. That should be enough to keep Buffalo’s starters in for most of the game — with the nice side effect that Josh Allen will be given one more game to bolster his credentials for the Most Valuable Player Award.
For Miami, a wild-card spot is within reach. A win will be enough, but if the Dolphins lose, they will need a loss by Baltimore, Cleveland or Indianapolis. There are also several unlikely scenarios that involve multiple teams tying.
If both teams go all-out, this game favors Buffalo. The Bills have the N.F.L.’s fourth-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense, and the conditions at Bills Stadium should be fairly hostile for a visiting team: around 37 degrees with a chance of rain and snow. But the Dolphins shouldn’t be written off. Their run-heavy offense is suited to poor conditions and their defense has generated an N.F.L.-leading 27 turnovers, which could be extremely relevant if Allen gives in to his worst tendencies at exactly the wrong time. Pick: Bills -1
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Ravens -13 | Total: 44.5
The Ravens (10-5) have righted the ship in recent weeks, but their midseason lull means their playoff chances are coming down to the season’s final day. Considering that in the past two seasons, Lamar Jackson’s team dominated the regular season before falling apart in the postseason, perhaps a fight to the finish will be good for Baltimore — provided it makes the playoffs.
A win is enough to get the Ravens a wild-card spot — a loss by Cleveland or Indianapolis would also get Baltimore in — and while the Bengals (4-10-1) may not seem to be much of an obstacle, it is worth remembering that Cincinnati is coming off a pair of impressive wins over Pittsburgh and Houston. There’s no question that a motivated Ravens team is far better than the Bengals, but Cincinnati’s recent play is enough to throw some cold water on a 13-point spread. Pick: Bengals +13
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Browns -10 | Total: 42
After Week 12, Pittsburgh was 11-0 and Cleveland was 8-3, both rocketing their way toward the playoffs. Over the next four games, the Steelers went 1-3, and were very nearly 0-4 if not for a huge second-half comeback last week. The Browns went 2-2, losing to the lowly Jets last week partially because the team had four wide receivers on the Covid-19 reserve list.
The downturn has led to Pittsburgh’s dropping to the No. 3 seed in the A.F.C. playoffs and Cleveland’s needing a win, or some help, to get a wild-card spot.
Because the Steelers (12-3) would need both a win in their game and a loss by Buffalo to overtake the Bills for the No. 2 seed, Coach Mike Tomlin has declared that Mason Rudolph will start in place of Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. That most likely means that Pittsburgh’s other star players on offense, like wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool, will also be limited or sit out as well.
The Browns (10-5) should get their wide receivers back, which ought to be enough to get them a win at home, even though safeties Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo have replaced the receivers on the Covid-19 reserve list. Should Cleveland lose, the Browns could still qualify for the playoffs if Indianapolis loses or if a few other complex scenarios involving losses and ties come to be. Is that enough motivation to justify a 10-point spread against the Steelers’ backups? That’s debatable. Pick: Steelers +10
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Colts -14 | Total: 50
The Colts (10-5) have a good chance of being the best team in the N.F.L. that doesn’t make the playoffs this season. A solid team with an above-average offense and a spectacular defense, Indianapolis collapsed against Pittsburgh last week and now not only needs to win to get a wild-card spot, but also needs Baltimore, Cleveland or Miami to lose or to tie. Otherwise the Colts will be the No. 8 seed in a seven-team playoff structure.
Because each of the three other wild-card pursuers plays at 1 p.m., the Colts will go into this game knowing if they have a chance at one. But even without a shot at one of those three spots, Indianapolis has motivation: A win or a tie, combined with a Tennessee loss, would hand the Colts the A.F.C. South title.
For Indianapolis, winning should be easy. The Jaguars (1-14) no longer have direct motivation to lose, as the top pick in next year’s draft is secured, but they don’t have any motivation to win, either. A two-touchdown spread is risky no matter the motivation, but the Colts can cover if they want to. Pick: Colts -14
The A.F.C. South
Tennessee owns a tiebreaker over Indianapolis, so if the teams finish with the same record, the Titans will win the division.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans -7.5 | Total: 56.5
The Titans (10-5) could have clinched the A.F.C. South with a win over Green Bay, but a blowout loss has left Tennessee with an outside chance of missing the playoffs entirely. To secure a division title, the Titans need a win or an Indianapolis loss, or for both teams to tie. Should Tennessee be overtaken by the Colts, the Titans could still get a wild card provided Baltimore or Miami loses.
Let’s not pretend this game is in doubt, though. The Titans have Derrick Henry, the game’s most explosive running back, and Houston has the N.F.L.’s second-worst run defense. Tennessee could probably win this game without attempting a pass. Pick: Titans -7.5
The N.F.C. East
Three of the East’s four teams remained alive heading into the final week.
Dallas Cowboys at Giants, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Cowboys -3 | Total: 44.5
Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Footballers -1.5 | Total: 43.5
None of the teams in the N.F.C. East have been good enough to warrant individual game entries going into Week 17. The division has three teams vying for its title on the final day of the season, but the best record any of them can attain is 7-9, and there’s a nonzero chance of a 6-10 team hosting a first-round playoff game.
When healthy, the Footballers (6-9) are the most complete team in the East, with a decent offense and a defense that has shown drastic improvement. But quarterback Alex Smith is still not 100 percent and wide receiver Terry McLaurin is unlikely to play as a result of an ankle injury. That lessens Washington’s advantage over the Eagles (4-10-1) while also making a case that the Cowboys (6-9) have become the division’s best team, at least temporarily, at exactly the right time.
A Dallas loss at 1 p.m. would not lessen Washington’s motivation, as the Giants, somehow, some way, have not been eliminated, and the combination of a Giants win and a Footballers loss would hand Big Blue one of the more baffling division titles in years. But the most likely scenario of the day is for Dallas and Washington to both win, sending the Footballers limping into the playoffs. Picks: Cowboys -3; Footballers -1.5
The N.F.C. Wild Cards
Tampa Bay has clinched one of the three wild-card spots in the N.F.C., but the fight for the two others has come down to Chicago, Arizona and Los Angeles.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Packers -5.5 | Total: 51.5
In his long and decorated career, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is 19-5 against Chicago. He has won seven of his last eight starts against the division rival. Throw in Rodgers’s being in the top tier of M.V.P. candidates, the Packers’ being able to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win and the fact that a Chicago loss would eliminate the Bears (8-7) from the playoffs, and you’re looking at a full bingo card of Rodgers’s motivation. The only thing tempering all of that is the site: Chicago’s Soldier Field. But that shouldn’t trick you into thinking the Bears stand a chance against Green Bay (12-3). Pick: Packers -5.5
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Rams -1 | Total: 39.5
This result might not matter, but the players won’t know it at the time. Should Chicago lose to Green Bay, both the Cardinals (8-7) and the Rams (9-6) would earn wild-card spots. But the two games will be played simultaneously, giving Arizona and Los Angeles motivation to beat each other. A Bears win, unlikely as one is, would mean only one of these N.F.C. West teams would qualify.
Los Angeles is somehow favored in this one despite quarterback Jared Goff’s being out after surgery on his dislocated right thumb. John Wolford, who went undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2018 and has never thrown a pass in an N.F.L. game, will start in his place. That’s probably not going to cut it against Kyler Murray of the Cardinals, but this game is a nice rags-to-riches story for a player from the short-lived Alliance of American Football, which gave Wolford a chance to prove himself. Pick: Cardinals +1
The Seeding Games
Tampa Bay, Seattle and New Orleans have clinched playoff spots, but their seedings can be affected by this week’s results.
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Buccaneers -6.5 | Total: 50.5
The Buccaneers (10-5) have more than proved themselves in recent weeks, winning three games in a row, including one on the road against the Falcons (4-11). They can secure the No. 5 seed in the N.F.C. with a win, and after contemplating resting his starters, Coach Bruce Arians said, “We’re going to play to win.” Arians called the push for an 11th win a “pride thing.” For Tom Brady, who has set a franchise record for single-season passing touchdowns (36), the start also means a chance to extend his lead over Drew Brees atop the N.F.L.’s career passing touchdowns list. Brady’s big season and Brees’s injury-related absence have led to Brady’s having a nine-touchdown lead in what had been a seesaw battle.
Atlanta is better than the team’s record indicates, and the likelihood that numerous Buccaneers players sit out the second half makes this point spread a touch too large. Pick: Falcons +6.5
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Seahawks -5.5 | Total: 46
The Seahawks (11-4) captured their first N.F.C. West crown since 2016 with last week’s win over the Rams, and they go into the season’s final day with a chance at overtaking New Orleans for the No. 2 seed in the N.F.C. While the 49ers (6-9) would undoubtedly love to play a spoiler role of sorts — and they did just that by beating Arizona last week — you have to assume that if Seattle wants to win this game, it will do so handily. Pick: Seahawks -5.5
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Saints -6.5 | Total: 47.5
Going into Week 16, the Saints (11-4) had been sluggish on offense. A 52-point game in which Alvin Kamara tied an N.F.L. record with six rushing touchdowns went a long way toward reconfirming New Orleans’s status as a team that can score in bunches. A win would guarantee the Saints the No. 2 seed in the N.F.C. while keeping alive the possibility of a first-round bye, provided Green Bay loses. That should lead to the team’s taking no chances and keeping its starters in the game for a matchup in which the Panthers (5-10) are at a talent disadvantage: Pick: Saints -6.5
The Irrelevant Games
These four games have no relevance to the playoff picture.
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Chargers -3.5 | Total: 44
The Chiefs (14-1) clinched the top seed in the A.F.C. and a first-round bye with last week’s win, taking any excitement out of this game. Chad Henne is likely to start in place of Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, and most of Kansas City’s other starters are likely to sit as well — which would rob Travis Kelce of his shot at being the first tight end to have a 1,500-yard receiving season. As a result of Kansas City’s going full “preseason” mode, the Chargers (6-9) are favored. Justin Herbert, the Chargers’ rookie quarterback, should relish his chance to get a win at Arrowhead Stadium, as he might not win there again for some time. Pick: Chargers -3.5
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. Fox
Line: Vikings -7 | Total: 54.5
Had the Vikings (6-9) not started the year so poorly, they might be in the hunt for a wild-card spot. As it stands, they have a fairly entertaining offense and a defense bad enough that none of their scoring matters. The Lions (5-10) are expected to limp into this game with several players out — including quarterback Matthew Stafford — which means the most interesting subplot of this game will be whether Minnesota’s Adam Thielen can get the 132 yards receiving he needs to reach 1,000 for the season. Even with running back Dalvin Cook out after the death of his father, Minnesota should win easily. Pick: Vikings -7
Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Raiders -2.5 | Total: 50.5
The Raiders (7-8) and the Broncos (5-10) had moments of relevance in 2020, but it was a lost season for both franchises. With the Chiefs expected to dominate the A.F.C. West for years to come and the Chargers building something special, there may be several lost seasons in their futures as well. Pick: Broncos +2.5
Jets at New England Patriots, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Patriots -3 | Total: 40
Frank Gore will miss this game after sustaining a lung contusion last week, but he reached 16,000 yards rushing for his career before being removed, which is about the best thing anyone can say about this season for the Jets (2-13). Similarly, the Patriots (6-9) are an irrelevant team that will most likely undergo huge off-season renovations, with the only notable part of their year being Cam Newton’s tying the franchise record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a season (12), which Steve Grogan set in 1976. Despite Newton’s horrific passing in recent games, he is likely to start this game, giving him an outside chance of matching his own N.F.L. record of 14 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season. Pick: Patriots -3
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Titans -7.5, for example, means that Tennessee must beat Houston by at least 8 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
All times are Eastern.