The 2017 NFL regular season wraps up on Sunday afternoon. There is not as much drama this year compared to the week 17 of many previous seasons. The 2017 NFL playoff picture is relatively settled. In the AFC there are four teams battling for two wild card spots. The NFC still has one division title up for grabs, but has just two teams competing for one final playoff slot.
For the sake of clarity and sanity, ties have been omitted from the scenarios below.
AFC Playoff Picture for Week 17
12-3 New England Patriots
15½ point home favorites vs Jets.
Have clinched AFC East and a first round bye.
Clinch the #1 seed with either a win, or a Pittsburgh loss.
12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers
7 point home favorites vs Browns.
Have clinched AFC North and a first round bye.
Need a win plus a Patriots loss for #1 seed.
Are the #2 seed in any other scenario.
10-5 Jacksonville Jaguars
3 point underdogs at Tennessee.
Have clinched AFC South and #3 seed.
Locked into the #3 slot.
9-6 Kansas City Chiefs
3½ point underdogs at Denver.
Have clinched AFC West and #4 seed.
Locked into the #4 slot.
9-6 Baltimore Ravens
9½ point home favorites vs Cincinnati.
Become #5 seed with either a win, or losses by both Buffalo and Tennessee.
Become #6 spot with loss, and either Buffalo or Tennessee loses.
Miss playoffs with a loss, plus both Buffalo and Tennessee win.
8-7 Tennessee Titans
3 point home favorites vs Jacksonville.
Become #5 seed with a win, plus Baltimore loses.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus Baltimore wins.
Can still become #6 seed despite a loss if both Bills and Chargers lose.
Eliminated with a loss, plus a win by either the Bills or Chargers.
8-7 Los Angeles Chargers
8 point home favorites vs Oakland.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus both Tennessee and Buffalo lose.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus both Tennessee and Baltimore lose.
Chargers are eliminated with a loss, or if Tennessee wins, or if Buffalo wins and Baltimore loses.
8-7 Buffalo Bills
2½ point favorites at Miami.
Clinch #5 seed with a win, plus losses by both Baltimore and Tennessee.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus Baltimore loses.
Become #6 seed with a win, plus both the Titans and the Chargers lose.
Eliminated with either a loss, or if the Titans and Ravens both win, or if the Chargers and Ravens both win.
NFC Playoff Picture for Week 17
13-2 Philadelphia Eagles
3 point home underdogs vs Dallas.
Have already clinched NFC East and #1 seed.
12-3 Minnesota Vikings
12 point home favorites vs Chicago.
Will be the #2 seed unless they lose, Carolina wins, plus the Saints and Rams both lose.
11-4 Los Angeles Rams
3½ point home underdogs vs San Francisco.
Clinch the #3 seed with a win, or with losses by both Carolina and New Orleans.
Drop to #4 seed with a loss, plus a win by either Carolina or New Orleans.
11-4 New Orleans Saints
7 point favorites at Tampa Bay.
Become #3 seed with a win, plus loss by Rams.
Win NFC South and #4 seed with either a win, or Carolina loss.
Become #5 seed with a loss, plus a Carolina win.
11-4 Carolina Panthers
3½ point underdogs at Atlanta.
Clinch #2 seed and first round bye with a win, plus losses by the Vikings, Saints and Rams.
Win NFC South and #3 seed with a win, plus losses by both the Saints and Rams.
Win NFC South and #4 seed with a win, plus loss by Saints.
Become #5 seed with either a loss, or a New Orleans win.
9-6 Atlanta Falcons
3½ point home favorites vs Carolina.
Make the playoffs as #6 seed with either a win, or a Seattle loss.
Miss the playoffs with a loss, plus Seattle wins.
9-6 Seattle Seahawks
9½ point home favorites vs Arizona.
Make the playoffs as #6 seed with both a win, plus Atlanta loss.
Miss the playoffs with either a loss, or an Atlanta win.
Sunday’s American Football Conference Championship Game pits the two teams that have ruled the AFC this millennium. Including next month’s game in Houston, either the Steelers or Patriots will have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl ten times since 2001.
In the 1994 season Bobby Ross and Stan Humphries ended the Buffalo Bills’ reign of four straight AFC championships, with their San Diego Chargers blown out by San Francisco in the 49ers’ last Super Bowl victory. Since then the Pats (7) and Steelers (4) have combined for eleven conference championships, laying waste to the NFL’s vision of parity and every team taking a turn as the best in the league.
The Patriots have had sixteen consecutive winning seasons; Pittsburgh has had only one losing season since 2000, back in 2003. New England has won ten or more games 15 times since 2001, including 14 straight times. The Steelers have eleven double-digit winning years in that time span, including the last three in a row. The Patriots have won four Super Bowls this century to Pittsburgh’s two. Any and every Steeler fan will quickly respond to that fact by pointing out that the Black and Gold still lead the Patriots by the count of six Vince Lombardi Trophies to four overall – even though in most cases they are not old enough to remember four of those victories.
The Basics: Who, What, When, Where and Why
Who: 13-5 Pittsburgh Steelers (#3 seed, AFC North champs) at 15-2 New England Patriots (#1 seed, AFC East champs)
What: 2016-17 American Football Conference Championship Game
When: Sunday January 22 at 6:40 pm ET on CBS
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough MA
Why: Winner represents the AFC in Super Bowl 51 at Houston on February 5
Weather, Odds and More
Weather: Cloudy with 30% chance of light rain in the late afternoon. Chance of precipitation increases to 70% later in the evening. Winds from the northeast at about 15 mph. Game time temperature of about 33° F.
Keep in mind that this is New England, so the forecast could very well change between now and kickoff.
Coaches: Mike Tomlin is in his tenth year as head coach of the Steelers, having taken over for Bill Cowher in 2007. He has a 103-57 (.644) regular season record, finishing no worse than 8-8 in 2012 and 2013. Tomlin’s teams have made the playoffs seven out of ten times, compiling an 8-5 (.615) post-season record. Under Tomlin the Steelers lost in the wild card game three times and the division round once. Tomlin is 2-0 in the AFCCG and 1-1 in the Super Bowl.
Bill Belichick has compiled a 261-125 overall record in 22 seasons as an NFL head coach. In 17 years with the Patriots Belichick has amassed a 237-115 (.673) regular season record and 24-10 (.706) post season record. Under his guidance the Patriots have won four Super Bowls, six conference championships and fourteen division titles. This will be a post-merger record sixth consecutive time the Patriots have advanced to the AFCCG, and eleventh time they have done so under the Hoodie’s watch. The Pats are 5-5 in those games but only 1-3 in their last four conference championships.
Odds: This game opened up with the Patriots a six-point favorite, and that line has remained relatively steady thus far. Most outlets publish the over/under at 50½, with a handful of venues still listing the total at the original 51 points. New England has covered better than any other team in league this year, going 14-3 against the spread. The Pats 7-2 home ATS record is also the best in the NFL. After last week’s game at Kansas City Pittsburgh is 10-7 ATS, 6-3 on the road. Both clubs went over six times and under ten times in the 2016 season.
There is also this full game for your viewing pleasure. The NFL is very proactive about keeping these gems out of the public’s hands, so be forewarned; I don’t think it will be available for very long.
Here is a look at how the two teams compare statistically; the numbers reflect an average per game (or per play), rather than aggregate totals. Per-game and per-play stats are used rather than gross totals because that makes the rankings more meaningful, and because they provide a better context in regards to what to expect in any given game.
Numbers in green indicate a top-ten ranking while underlined green is top-five; red indicates a bottom-ten ranking and underlined red is bottom-five. Please note that the information below includes post-season games, so it will likely differ from official stats found elsewhere which are only for the regular season.
Pittsburgh is a well balanced team with legitimate championship aspirations. On offense the Steelers have explosive quick-strike weapons as well as the capability of methodically controlling the ball to drive the length of the field.
New England Patriot Offense versus Pittsburgh Steeler Defense
Scoring per Game: Patriots 27.9 (4th); Steelers 19.7 (8th)
Points per Play: Patriots .423 (4th); Steelers .320 (9th)
Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 3.2 (4th); Steelers 2.2 (8th)
Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 2.4 (4th); Steelers (12th)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage: Patriots 64.1 (8th); Steelers 47.5 (5th)
Yardage per Game: Patriots 386 (4th); Steelers 334 (9th)
First Downs per Game: Patriots 21.8 (7th); Steelers 19.3 (10th)
Yards per Play: Patriots 5.8 (7th); Steelers 5.4 (13th)
Yards per Drive: Patriots 6.66 (1st); Steelers 32.2 (15th)
Points per Drive: Patriots 2.53 (5th); Steelers 1.87 (11th)
Efficiency: Total Weighted DVOA: Patriots 34.0% (1st); Steelers 20.0% (3rd)
Team Efficiency: Offense DVOA: Patriots 21.1% (2nd); Steelers 11.1% (8th)
Team Efficiency: Defense DVOA: Patriots -1.5% (16th); Steelers -4.7% (11th)
Special Teams DVOA: Patriots 2.7% (7th); Steelers 0.0% (16th)
If you are still reading at this point, congratulations. Apologies for the lack of brevity. Pittsburgh has a very good team and deserves to be in this championship game. That being said the Patriots are just a bit better in all phases. Between the better coaches, better quarterback, and home field advantage the Pats should win. Enjoy the game, it should be a classic.