This is it. It’s Week 17, the final week of the 2018 NFL regular season, giving teams one more chance to make it to the postseason or improve their playoff seeding. All four divisions have been clinched in the NFC, but only the AFC East champ has been decided in the AFC with the Patriots winning that division for a record 10th straight season. The Ravens and Steelers are vying for the AFC North, the AFC West is down to the Chiefs and Chargers, and it’s a three-way race for the AFC South with the Texans, Colts and Titans all still in contention. In all there is one playoff spot still up for grabs in the NFC, with two teams yet to punch their tickets into the postseason on the AFC side of the docket. As is traditionally the case, all 16 games this week are divisional games being played on Sunday, with the Colts visiting the Titans in a winner-take-all game as Game 256 on Sunday night. I went 7-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 115-135 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red
Sunday 1PM games
Falcons at Buccaneers (-1.5) – The Falcons are hosting the Super Bowl this year and since they are not in the postseason, the streak of a team never playing in the Super Bowl in its home stadium continues. Neither of these teams is very good, but I trust Falcons QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones more than the QB Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers offense. I think the Falcons win the game, so I’ll take the points on the road.
Dolphins at Bills (-3.5) – The Dolphins lost to the Jaguars at home last week, and now they have to head to Buffalo to take on the Bills in the cold weather. The Bills have been playing better since QB Josh Allen returned from his injury. Based on that and the Bills being more used to playing in cold weather in upstate New York, I’ll go with the home team to cover.
Cowboys at Giants (-6.5) – This spread is likely based on the assumption that the Cowboys, who are locked into the NFC’s four seed, will rest their starters for at least part of the game. That means QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott will probably play, at most, a quarter or two. That would mean backup QB Cooper Rush and RB Rod Smith would get in some work. But the Giants, who could be without WR Odell Beckham for a fourth straight game, aren’t that good either. Even if the Cowboys’ offense struggles without Dak and Ezekiel, they still have a pretty good defense. Even though the Cowboys may not win the game, I think they’ll stay within a touchdown so I’ll take the points.
Lions at Packers (-7.5) – This seems like a big spread for a Packers team that needed overtime to beat the Jets on Sunday. I don’t think the Packers are that much better than the Lions this season. I think QB Aaron Rodgers will find a way to get the Packers the victory at Lambeau Field in their season finale, but I don’t know if they’ll win by more than a touchdown. I’ll go with the Lions.
Jets at Patriots (-13.5) – The Patriots ended their two-game losing streak last week by beating the Bills. They need to win this game to ensure they end up the No. 2 seed in the AFC and the first-round bye that comes with it, so they will be playing their starters. But the Patriots’ offense isn’t the same as it once was, with age seeming to finally be catching up with QB Tom Brady and injuries hampering the performance of TE Rob Gronkowski. With that in mind, I’m hard pressed to imagine the Patriots being able to beat the Jets — who scored 38 last week against the Packers — by two touchdowns. Knowing what’s on the line for them, I expect the Patriots to win at home but the Jets cover.
Panthers at Saints (-10.5) – When the Rams lost to the Eagles last week, it clinched the top seed in the NFC for the Saints, who know they have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. With that in mind, QB Drew Brees is unlikely to play all 60 minutes in this game since the Saints have nothing to play for. The Panthers will have their third different starting quarterback in as many games after QB Taylor Heinicke, who got the start on Sunday, injured his elbow in the game. The team has placed him on IR and announced that QB Kyle Allen will get the start as the team continues sitting QB Cam Newton rather than risk further injury in a meaningless game. That, combined with the Superdome being a tough place for opponents to play, would seem to indicate that the Saints should win the game easily. But if Brees doesn’t play the whole game, that may not be the case. I’m counting on Brees only playing a quarter or so, so I’m going to go with the Panthers to cover.
Jaguars at Texans (-7.5) – After making it to the AFC Championship last year, the Jaguars are just 5-10 entering Week 17 and won’t make a return trip to the postseason. The Texans, on the other hand, clinched a playoff spot when the Steelers lost the Saints last week and they control their own destiny for the AFC South title. If the Texans win this game, they win the division. They would also get a first-round bye with a win and a Patriots loss, or a win and other results going their way. After starting QB Cody Kessler for the last four games, the Jaguars have announced that they’re going back to QB Blake Bortles as the starter for Sunday’s game. Regardless of who’s starting for the Jags, their offense isn’t very good and the Texans should easily win behind the offense led by QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans will, however, be without WR Demaryius Thomas, who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles against the Eagles on Sunday. I’m giving the points.
Sunday 4PM games
Bears at Vikings (-5.5) – This game is meaningful for both teams, but especially the Vikings, who control their own destiny for the final playoff spot in the NFC. If the Vikings beat the Bears — or if the Eagles lose to the Redskins — they get the remaining wild card in the conference. For the Bears, they have a chance to earn a first-round bye. They’ll get that bye if they win and the Rams lose to the 49ers. Given the fact that the bears can earn that bye with a win, I’m surprised the Vikings are such big favorites. I think the Bears win the game outright, so I’ll take the points.
Bengals at Steelers (-14.5) – Last week’s loss to the Saints proved costly for the Steelers, who now need help to make it to the postseason. Simply beating the Bengals won’t be enough to secure a playoff spot. The Steelers would also need the Ravens to lose to the Browns to earn the AFC North crown. The Steelers also have an outside chance at a wild card, but in order for them to get that they would need to win and have the Colts-Titans primetime game end in a tie.The Steelers should definitely win the game because the Bengals’ offense isn’t nearly at the same level as the Steelers with QB Ben Roethlisberger and WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Steelers win the game, but I think the Bengals cover the spread.
Browns at Ravens (-6.5) – Unlike the Steelers, the Ravens control their own destiny. If they beat the Browns, they win the AFC North. They also have an outside chance at earning a first-round bye if a lot goes their way, or getting a wild card if they tie and the Colts-Titans game ends in a tie. Since the double-tie scenario is unlikely to happen, the only realistic scenario for the Ravens is getting the division by winning their game. That will be easier said than done, though, because the Browns aren’t the pushovers they have been in the past thanks to the emergence of rookie QB Baker Mayfield. With QB Lamar Jackson continuing to start for the Ravens, I think they win the game and earn the division title, but I think the Browns keep it close so I’ll take the points on the road.
Chargers at Broncos (+6.5) – The Broncos seem to have given up on the season, having lost their last three games without scoring more than 16 points in any of those contests. The Chargers have already clinched a playoff spot, but they can still win the AFC West and earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and a Chiefs loss. So they definitely have something to play for, which means they won’t be resting QB Philip Rivers or RB Melvin Gordon in this one. Given the talent discrepancy between these teams, I think the Chargers cover the spread, and could win by double digits.
Raiders at Chiefs (-13.5) – The Chiefs simply need to win this game to ensure they win the AFC West and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference. That shouldn’t be hard to do with QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Tyreek HIll and TE Travis Kelce leading the offense against a subpar Raiders defense. I don’t typically like picking the favorite with a double-digit spread, but I think the Chiefs have enough firepower on offense to win by a couple touchdowns. I’ll give the points.
49ers at Rams (-9.5) – The Rams need a win or a Bears loss to get the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. Despite this game meaning something, the Rams may hold out RB Todd Gurley for a second straight game to rest him for the postseason as he continues to deal with inflammation in his left knee. RB C.J. Anderson performed well in Gurley’s absence last week, running for 167 yards and a touchdown in his first game with the team after being released by both the Panthers and Raiders earlier in the season. Regardless of who starts at running back, QB Jared Goff and WR Brandin Cooks will be out there for the Rams, which should be enough to beat the 49ers, who are relying on TE George Kittle and WR Dante Pettis to make up the bulk of their offense. While the margin of victory could be close to the 9.5-point spread, I think the Rams barely cover it.
Eagles at Redskins (+6.5) – The Eagles need to win this game and have the Vikings lose to earn the final playoff spot in the conference. If QB Nick Foles plays like he did last week — throwing for 471 yards and four touchdowns — winning the game shouldn’t be much of a challenge. I don’t expect another game like that for Foles, but I do think the Eagles beat the Redskins team that doesn’t have much of an offense apart from RB Adrian Peterson, who had his first 100-yard performance since Week 8 on Sunday. Eagles cover.
Cardinals at Seahawks (-12.5) – Both The Cardinals have clinched a wild card and are locked into their seed. With nothing to play for, QB Russell Wilson may not play the whole game, so backup QB Brett Hundley may see some action under center. Given that, I’m hesitant to go with the Seahawks to cover, even though the Cardinals are a bad team. I’ll give the points.
Sunday Night Football – Game 256
Colts at Titans (+1.5) – The final game of the regular season is a winner-take-all contest. If the Texans lose in the afternoon, the winner of this game is the AFC South champion. If the Texans win, the team that wins this game gets a wild card. The Titans got a scare last week when QB Marcus Mariota had to leave their game against the Redskins with a stinger. He is, however, saying he’s optimistic he will be able to play on Sunday. And with the importance of this game, he will do whatever he can to take the field. If he can’t go, backup QB Blaine Gabbert would get the start. Even if Mariota plays, I don’t think the Titans have much of a chance to win the game. Their offense isn’t very good, unless RB Derrick Henry has a big game. The Colts have QB Andrew Luck and WR T.Y. Hilton, although TE Eric Ebron — who has a career-high 12 touchdowns in his first season with the team — left last week’s game against the Giants with a concussion, and his status for Sunday night is unknown at this time. Even with the players who are questionable with injuries, I think the Colts are the better team and I think they can cover the minimal 1.5-point spread on the road to officially clinch their first postseason berth since the 2014 season.