WEEK 17 of the NFL season is always one of the trickiest to navigate. Teams heading to the playoffs will rest starters – neither Patrick Mahomes or Ben Roethlisberger will start this week for the Chiefs & Steelers respectively – whilst those that don’t have post season football to look forward to, and especially dead rubber match ups featuring two teams who have nothing to play for, are incredibly hard to call. So, this week, I’ve focused on 3 games with something significant at stake for both sides.
CHICAGO BEARS V GREEN BAY PACKERS
Indeed, the standout game of the weekend is Green Bay at Chicago, the Packers needing the win to secure the number one overall seed in the NFC, the comes with homefield advantage and a first-round bye, whilst the Bears need a victory to guarantee playoff football. Win and they’re in, lose and they’ll need the Rams to do them a favour against the Cardinals.
Ominously for the Bears when going up against the best QB/WR tandem in Aaron Rodgers (4059 yards, 44 TD’s, 5 INT) & Davante Adams (109 receptions, 1328 yards, 17 TD’s) they come into this banged up in the secondary with Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine unlikely to play. Rodgers is in a two-way fight for MVP against Mahomes – with respect to the formidable Derrick Henry – and this season he’s played some of the best football of a storied career. He’s always been a markedly driven character, and the challenge of success is all he needs to deliver, but the Packers drafting his apparent successor (Jordan Love) as opposed to one of the highly touted wide receivers available has seemingly motivated him further, as has the criticism of recent seasons, particularly last year’s 13-3 side that went to the NFC Championship game yet was routinely written off as far weaker than their record suggested. The battle in the trenches will be fascinating – with Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack attempting to penetrate a Packers O Line that’s one of the sturdier in the business and the emergence of David Montgomery, and the simplification of the play calling for much maligned Mitchell Trubisky has made the Bears competitive offensively, but I see this as a clear win for a focused Green Bay side, who lock in the number one seed and potentially knock out an old foe in the process.
NEW YORK GIANTS v DALLAS COWBOYS
Washington has control of the NFC East – beat the Eagles on SNF and they’re in. Before the late game, the two other contenders in the division square off, as, improbably, the winner of the Giants Cowboys game will end up as the number four seed, should Philly spoil the Washington party. The Dallas offense is humming – with veteran Andy Dalton adding much needed composure, enabling talented playmakers like Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper in a way that the other back ups (Garrett Gilbert and Ben DiNucci) were unable. Even Zeke Elliot looked more like his old self against the Eagles in Week 16 running for over 100 yards for only the second time this season, and Dallas – averaging 28.6 points per game over the last six weeks – will feel they’ll be able to put up points up on a Giants team that has been competitive defensively for much of the season but who gave up 249 yards on the ground to Baltimore last week in a 27-13 loss.
Offensively, NY will most likely gamble on QB Daniel Jones, who’s injuries are hampering his edge, namely his ability to run, and this leaves the Giants best chance via the ground game, going up against a poor Cowboys run D. I think they’ll have some success here, and as such, the total – set low because of New York’s lacklustre offense in recent weeks – seems attainable to me, particularly considering the 37-34 shoot out these two were involved with earlier in the season.
CAROLINA PANTHERS v NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The Saints have a shot at the number one seed if they beat the Panthers, the Seahawks win and the Packers lose to the Bears, and with both games going on at the same time, I suspect they won’t ease off against a Carolina side out of the running. The Panthers defense has been struggling giving up 32.6 points over last 5 games, and offensively will be without Christian McCaffrey once again. Even if Sean Payton rests Brees at any stage, should they get wind of the Packers blowing out the Bears, I still think the Saints will have enough to cover, as long as this stays under a TD.