For a select few teams in the NFL, Week 17 offers an opportunity to end the year in style. Whether they’re securing a first-round bye and home field advantage, claiming the division crown, or simply sneaking into the postseason tournament, these teams have everything to play for entering the regular season’s final Sunday.
For the rest of the league, relishing the role of spoiler should provide ample motivation – especially given Week 17’s all intra-division schedule.
And even with a few teams planning to rest their starting squad, oddball betting lines are enough to keep ostensible mismatches interesting.
Beginning with the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons (9-6) host the Carolina Panthers (11-4) in a game rife with playoff implications.
Atlanta controls its own destiny and can clinch a Wild Card berth with a win. Following last year’s inexplicable collapse in the Super Bowl, the Falcons would love a chance to redeem themselves – while missing the tournament altogether would represent a humiliating fall from grace.
Carolina is already in, but the Panthers can clinch the NFC South and a home playoff game with a win (combined with a Saints loss). And while it’s a longshot, a Panthers win plus losses by the Saints, Vikings, and Rams would ensure Carolina a first-round bye.
The Panthers notched a 20-17 home win the last time these teams met, but in the rubber match, online sportsbook Bovada likes the Falcons to flip that script as 3.5-point favorites.
Only one game on the AFC side pits a pair of potential playoff teams against one another, and similarly, it involves the South. The Tennessee Titans (8-7) host the Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5), with the home team in need of a win to earn a Wild Card spot.
Tennessee’s incentive is straightforward, but intrigue abounds in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars have already clinched the division and locked themselves into the third seed. With no ability to change the team’s seeding, first-year head coach Doug Marrone may be tempted to rest his starters, but “Saint Doug” isn’t inclined to give the rival Titans any favors.
Marrone has already announced that he’ll play studs like Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette, and Jalen Ramsey until the outcome is decided, declaring the Jags “all in” for the game.
Even so, the linemakers aren’t quite buying it. Bovada has Jacksonville as 3.5-point road underdogs, but that number may also reflect the Titans’ 37-16 shellacking of the Jaguars back in Week 2.
Should the Titans stumble, leaving the AFC’s sixth seed up for grabs, either the Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) or Buffalo Bills (8-7) can take their place.
The Chargers host the Oakland Raiders (6-9), and thus have the edge over the Bills, who travel to South Beach for a date with the Miami Dolphins (6-9). But the playoff path is smoother for Buffalo backers, as the Bills only need a win combined with a Ravens loss (among other permutations) to stamp a postseason ticket. In addition to winning, the Chargers need at least two other results to swing their way.
Thankfully, the NFL schedulers ensured all connected games take place at the same time this year, so both teams will be leaving it all on the field. Los Angeles has been installed as big 8-point home favorites, while Buffalo is favored by only 3 points on the road.
The Seattle Seahawks (9-6) are the only team lurking outside the NFC playoff picture, and to break through, they’ll need to beat the Arizona Cardinals (7-8). A win alone won’t cut it though, as the Seahawks also needs the Falcons to fall against the Panthers.
In last week’s faux playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys (8-7), Seattle made history by winning despite putting up more penalty yards (142) than yards on offense (136). That’s the second consecutive sub 150-yard game for Russell Wilson and crew, but they still get the benefit of the doubt at home as big time 9.5-point favorites.