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.
NFL Week 17 Early Advanced ‘Look-Ahead’ Betting Lines: Pats favored by 16 vs Jets
The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has published their latest NFL Advanced Betting Lines. These early odds were posted a day after the Week 15 games finished. Keep in mind these odds were listed prior to any of this week’s injury reports, as well as any of the Week 16 games. Also known as Look-Ahead lines, they give the adventurous sports fan an opportunity to wager on games up to twelve days away from being played. Early lines offer a short opportunity to get a jump on odds that could become less favorable after Sunday’s games.
Handicapping games in the final week of the regular season can be a tricky proposition. Motivation could be difficult for a team that has played for the goal of making the playoffs for months, and suddenly finds themselves eliminated. A bad team might play loose and try things they normally wouldn’t, catching an opponent off guard. Good teams locked into a specific playoff slot may opt to rest players who would have otherwise started. The line in the Eagles-Cowboys game reflects that concept.
In Week 16 ten road teams are favored to win. That number falls back to a more typical number in Week 17, with five home dogs. The Saints are the biggest road favorite, minus 8½ points at Tampa Bay. The largest spread of the week is in Foxboro, where the Patriots are favored by 16 versus the Jets. That game is one of four double-digit spreads. The narrowest odds are with Houston as a one-point underdog at Indianapolis.
The most important games of Week 17 loom to be Carolina at Atlanta (-3½) in the NFC, and Jacksonville (-3½) at Tennessee in the AFC.
All games will be played on Sunday, December 31. There are no night games.
NFL Week 12 Early Odds – Early Games on CBS
New York Jets at New England Patriots (-16)
Jacksonville Jaguars (-3½) at Tennessee Titans
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-15)
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (-11)
Buffalo Bills (-2½) at Miami Dolphins
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (-1)
NFL Week 12 Early Odds – Early Games on Fox
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-3½)
New Orleans Saints (-8½) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-12)
Dallas Cowboys (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (-9)
Washington Redskins (-3) at New York Giants
NFL Week 12 Early Odds – Late Games
Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers (-7), CBS
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-7), Fox
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (-2½), CBS
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-7), Fox
Entering Week 16 five teams have clinched a playoff spot. The Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars, Eagles and Vikings have all punched a ticket for the post season. Philadelphia is the only team thus far to earn a first round bye.
In the AFC six teams have been eliminated: the Browns, Colts, Texans, Broncos, Bengals and Jets. The Dolphins and Raiders are technically alive, but comatose and on life support. The Chargers are not in much better shape, even though they are only one game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West. Most likely it is Ravens, Titans and Bills battling for two wild card spots.
The Giants, Bears, Forty Niners, Bucs, Cardinals, Skins and Packers are all officially eliminated. Dallas, Seattle and Detroit face tall odds to get in. Philadelphia and Minnesota have won their divisions and will host at least one playoff game. The only way the Rams don’t win the NFC West is to lose twice while Seattle wins twice. The NFC South is probably going to send three teams to the playoffs. Games involving the Saints, Panthers and Falcons are the most intriguing over the next two weeks. Atlanta is at New Orleans this week, and then the Falcons host Carolina next week.
For the sake of clarity (and sanity), I will not consider ties in the following playoff scenarios. Yes, I know they can happen: just ask Donovan McNabb.
AFC Playoff Picture
#1 (11-3) New England Patriots Home vs 8-6 Bills, home vs 5-9 Jets.
Have clinched AFC East and at least #3 seed.
Clinch #2 seed with win, plus a loss by either Jacksonville or Pittsburgh.
Clinch #1 seed with win, plus losses by both Jacksonville and Pittsburgh.
Clinch #1 seed with two wins regardless of what else happens.
#2 (11-3) Pittsburgh Steelers At 4-10 Texans, home vs 0-14 Browns.
Have clinched AFC North and at least #3 seed.
Clinch #2 seed with win, plus Jacksonville loss.
#3 (10-4) Jacksonville Jaguars At 4-10 49ers, at 8-6 Titans.
Clinch AFC South and #3 seed with either a win, or a Tennessee loss.
#4 (8-6) Kansas City Chiefs Home vs 6-8 Dolphins, at 5-9 Broncos.
Clinch AFC West and #4 seed with a win, plus a Chargers loss.
#5 (8-6) Tennessee Titans Home vs 10-4 Rams, home vs 10-4 Jaguars.
Clinch playoff spot with a win, plus losses by both the Bills and Ravens.
#6 (8-6) Baltimore Ravens Home vs 3-11 Colts, home vs 5-9 Bengals.
Clinch playoff spot with two wins.
#7 (8-6) Buffalo Bills At 11-3 Patriots, at 6-8 Dolphins.
#8 (7-7) Los Angeles Chargers At 5-9 Jets, home vs 6-8 Raiders.
Eliminated with a loss.
Can win AFC West and #4 seed with two wins, plus two losses by Kansas City.
Scenario #1 as a wild card: win twice, Titans lose twice, Ravens win or lose out (don’t go 1-1), and Bills lose at least once.
Scenario #2 as a wild card: win twice, Ravens lose twice Titans win or lose out (don’t go 1-1), and Bills lose at least once.
#9 (6-8) Oakland Raiders At 12-2 Eagles, at 7-7 Chargers.
Can only be a #6 seed, or miss playoffs.
Eliminated with a loss.
To make the playoffs the Raiders need to win twice while Buffalo and Tennessee both lose twice, Miami wins twice, and Baltimore wins at least once.
#10 (6-8) Miami Dolphins At 8-6 Chiefs, home vs 8-6 Bills.
Eliminated with a loss.
Scenario #1 as a wild card: win twice, Titans lose twice, Bills lose to Pats, Chiefs lose to Broncos, and Raiders lose at least once.
Scenario #2 as a wild card: win twice, Ravens lose twice, Bills lose to Pats, Chiefs lose to Broncos, and Raiders lose to Chargers.
NFC Playoff Picture
#1 (12-2) Philadelphia Eagles Home vs 6-8 Raiders, home vs 8-6 Cowboys.
Have clinched NFC East and at least #2 seed.
Clinch #1 seed with either a win, or a Vikings loss.
#2 (11-3) Minnesota Vikings At 7-7 Packers, home vs 4-10 Bears.
Have clinched NFC North.
Clinch #3 seed with either a win, or a Rams loss.
Clinch #2 seed with both a win, plus a Panthers loss.
#3 (10-4) Los Angeles Rams At 8-6 Titans, home vs 4-10 49ers.
Clinch a playoff spot with losses by the Falcons, Panthers and Lions.
Clinch the NFC West and #3 seed with either a win, or a Seahawks loss.
#4 (10-4) New Orleans Saints Home vs 9-5 Falcons, at 4-10 Bucs.
Clinch at least #5 seed with a win over Atlanta.
Clinch NFC West and at least #4 seed with win over Falcons, plus Panthers loss.
#5 (10-4) Carolina Panthers Home vs 4-10 Bucs, at 9-5 Falcons.
Clinch playoff spot with a win.
Clinch at least #5 seed with a win, plus Saints loss to Falcons.
#6 (9-5) Atlanta Falcons At 10-4 Saints, home vs 10-4 Panthers.
Clinch playoff spot with a win.
#7 (8-6) Detroit Lions At 5-9 Bengals, home vs 7-7 Packers.
Eliminated from playoffs with a loss.
Scenario #1 as wild card: win twice while Falcons lose twice.
Scenario #2: win twice, and either Saints or Panthers lose twice, and either Seahawks or Cowboys win twice.
#8 (8-6) Seattle Seahawks At 8-6 Cowboys, home vs 6-8 Cardinals.
Eliminated from playoffs with a loss.
Must win twice plus Rams lose twice to win NFC West and #4 seed.
Scenario #1 as wild card: win twice, Panthers lose twice, and Saints lose twice.
Scenario #2: win twice, Lions lose at least once, and one of Panthers, Saints or Falcons lose twice.
#9 (8-6) Dallas Cowboys Home vs 8-6 Cowboys, at 12-2 Eagles.
Eliminated from playoffs with a loss.
Scenario #1 as wild card: win twice, Panthers lose twice, and Saints lose twice.
Scenario #2: win twice, Lions lose at least once, and of Panthers, Saints or Falcons lose twice.
While we anxiously await the start of the 2017 NFL season, here is a peek behind enemy lines. For Pats fans, a bit of schadenfreude for one of the co-conspirators in the scheme to frame the Patriots by those that never learned the Ideal Gas Law.
Although it is only two games in to the preseason, the 2017 Indianapolis Colts appear to be closer to their ‘Suck for Luck’ 2011 team than the club that won 33 games from 2012 to 2014 and made it to the AFC championship game. The Colts have not had a winning season since then.
If Luck doesn’t practice by the end of this week – and there’s certainly no indication he will – the Colts will be down to just a handful of workouts before their opener. Because next week’s preseason finale will be a mid-week game (Thursday, Aug. 31), the Colts likely will have just two light practices on Monday and Tuesday (Wednesday, Aug. 30 would likely be limited to a walkthrough).
If Pagano’s past habits hold, the Colts then would have a three-day weekend heading into Week 1. Taking into account players’ one mandated day off during that week, the Colts would be down to roughly six more practices after this week.
Among the questions posed to Pagano on Tuesday was how many practices would Luck need before returning to game action. Remember, he’s been out for seven months.
Part of the angst in Indy is due to what the offense and backup quarterbacks have done thus far. With Scott Tolzien under center, the Colts have achieved exactly one first down in the first quarters of their two preseason games. One first down! Tolzein is averaging less than five yards per pass thus far. With 19 days until their week one game, Pagano is just now considering making a change at QB to Stephen Morris. He has spent three years on Jacksonville, Philadelphia and Indy’s practice squads, and had been listed fourth on the depth chart behind undrafted rookie Phillip Walker. That speaks volumes about Tolzein’s performance.
Quarterback is not the only offensive position in flux. An NFL offensive line depends on continuity to be effective, but there is neither cohesiveness nor productivity from this unit.
We’re already starting to see some willingness by Pagano to think unconventionally. The Colts started Jeremy Vujnovich over Le’Raven Clark at right tackle in Saturday’s 24-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. When asked about the move, Pagano responded, “We’re just trying to find the best five (linemen)”.
Unconventional thinking or desperation? I can understand giving a new player reps to see what he can do, or to let a veteran or injured player sit. This sounds like neither. To make matters worse starting center Ryan Kelly will be out for six to eight weeks due to surgery after injuring his foot two weeks ago in a joint practice with the Lions.
The Colts’ offense has been abysmal during the preseason – or, to borrow Pagano’s word from Saturday night, “pitiful.” Indianapolis ranks 26th among 32 teams in offense thus far. The Colts have been outgained in passing yards by their opponents 556 to 384. They’ve been outgained altogether 812 to 495. They’re 5-for-30 on first downs. Ouch.
Without Luck, Indy has scored 29 points in eight quarters and the offense has produced only one more touchdown (two) than the defense. Both offensive TDs came in the final minute of the games, and the starters still haven’t had a scoring drive.
Even worse: After going 4 of 18 on third-down chances in the preseason opener against Detroit, the Colts were an even more dismal 1 of 12 at Dallas.
Against the Cowboys the Colts did not record a first down until the second quarter. Their only touchdown before halftime came on a fumble return by the Dallas backup quarterback.
Colt Defense Is Even More Of An Issue Than The Defense
Now consider this: the Colt offense usually makes up for the shortcomings of their defense. Last year Indy ranked 8th in points scored versus 22nd in points allowed; the offense was 10th in yardage but 30th (3rd worst) in yards allowed.
Dallas’ first two possessions netted 166 yards, nine first downs and an 18-yard Dak Prescott-to-Dez Bryant touchdown pass. Only Darren McFadden’s red-zone fumble on the second drive kept the Cowboys from tacking up back-to-back TDs. The Prescott-led Cowboys averaged 9.2 yards per play and faced just one third-down situation, which they converted.
It is not as if that was due to there being a bunch of scrubs on the field either.
Most of the starters were on the field for approximately 30 percent of the game, including cornerback Vontae Davis, safeties Darius Butler and Matthias Farley, outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and John Simon, and linemen Al Woods, (Henry) Anderson and (Jonathan) Hankins.
At halftime, Dallas had amassed 281 total yards and 16 first downs. Only a pair of Colts’ takeaways, including Lavar Edwards’ returning a fumble for a touchdown, kept things from getting out of hand.
Now the Colts are bringing in street free agents, hoping they will represent an improvement over their current sad state of affairs.
Corner Chris Culliver was a free agent bust for Miami, washing out after two knee surgeries. CB Corey White is now on his sixth team since 2012 and has started just five games over the last two seasons. I wouldn’t place too much faith on a player that was just waived by the Jets.
This is shaping up to be a long season for the Indianapolis Colts; one that could push Jim Irsay over the edge and into the abyss.
Pittsburgh Steelers owner and chairman Dan Rooney passed away today. He was 84.
Consider this: from their inception in 1933 through 1971 the Steelers made the playoffs only once. Pittsburgh had a total of only seven winning seasons, and managed only four years where they were two or more games above .500.
Then Dan Rooney took a bigger role in the organization, running the football operations in 1969 and finally formally being announced team president in 1975. He hired Chuck Noll and the team quickly went from annual cellar dwellers to perennial contenders. For those that lament the dark days of the Patriots, where the Steelers were prior to Dan Rooney taking on his role was was far worse. They went 25 years between playoff appearances. 25 years! From 1965-69 Pittsburgh’s record was 14-53-3, finishing in last place in four out of five of those seasons.
The Steelers’ chief executive is 46-year-old President Dan Rooney, the oldest son of the team’s founder, 77-year-old Art Rooney. There is no biographical sketch for Dan Rooney in the club’s media guide. “I stay in the background,” he says. “A lot of owners in football think they have to say something profound, particularly to explain a win or a loss. I think the less you say, the better off you are. My job here is to make everyone else’s job easier. The Steeler players get the recognition, and that’s the way it should be. That’s better than having Chuck Noll or Dan Rooney get it. The players are the characters, if you look at football in the entertainment sense.”
While he was growing into his current job in the ’60s, Dan and his brother Art Rooney Jr., who is in charge of the team’s personnel department, determined that the Steelers, who had a history of trading away draft choices, should build through the draft. Only three of the Steelers on the roster for last Sunday’s game—placekicker Gerela, reserve Defensive Back Ray Oldham and reserve Tight End Jim Mandich—started their careers with other franchises.
In 1975 Pittsburgh went 12-2 and won their second consecutive Super Bowl. Rooney remained team president until 2002; during those years the Steelers were the class of the AFC and the best franchise in pro football over the last three decades of the 20th century.
More than anyone else, Dan Rooney was the reason for that turnaround. The Steelers’ long term success was due to the leadership at the top of the organization. Rooney earned his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Rest in peace. Condolences to the Rooney family and Steelers Nation.
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.
For the fourth straight season the Patriots will play in prime time in the divisional playoff round. There is a simple reason for this. With the exception of Pittsburgh, no team that played in the first round is remotely close to the Patriots in terms of excitement and entertainment. The Patriots have had sixteen consecutive winning seasons and fourteen straight years with double digit win totals. It is no wonder that fans of the 31 other teams hate the Patriots, witnessing a stretch of success that is unparalleled in the salary cap/free agency era. That type of productivity and success is the perfect recipe to make the Patriots villains for every other NFL owner and their fans.
The Basics: Who What, When and Where
Who: 9-7 Houston Texans (#4 seed, AFC South champs) at 14-2 New England Patriots (#1 seed, AFC East champs).
Weather: Cloudy afternoon skies with a high of about 33° F; winds from the north at 10-15 mph. Chance of snow is predicted to zoom from zero during the day to 60% at night, accumulating one to three inches. Low of 23° with light and variable winds of about 5 mph.
Keep in mind that this is New England, so the forecast could very well change between now and kickoff.
Coaches: Dorchester native Bill O’Brien is in his third year as an NFL head coach. His Texan teams have finished 9-7 in each of those three regular seasons, and he is now 1-1 in the playoffs. BoB was with the Patriots from 2007-11, serving as the offensive coordinator in his final year with the Pats. After that O’Brien spent two years as head coach at Penn State, resurrecting the Nittany Lions from sanctions following the aftermath of the Joe Paterno-Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Bill Belichick is now in his 22nd year as an NFL head coach, with a 237-115 (.673) regular season record. BB also has 14 playoff appearances, including the last seven in a row. Belichick is 23-10 in the playoffs (22-9, .710 with the Patriots) with four Lombardi trophies and six conference championships. The Hoodie also has two Super Bowl rings as defensive coordinator for the Giants.
Odds: In the early advanced look-ahead lines published prior to the wild card games the Patriots were listed as 13½ point favorites over Houston. After Sunday’s games the Patriots have initially been listed as 16-point favorites against the Texans. The MGM Mirage is listing the Pats as 17-point favorites, while some other venues are at 15½. For now the over/under is at a total of 45 points.
Head-to-Head Series Record: The Patriots lead the all-time series 7-1. That record includes the lone playoff game between the two teams, a 41-28 victory following the 2012 season. The Patriots have defeated Houston twice since O’Brien became the Houston head coach. Late in 2015 the Pats won at Houston 27-6. The New England defense sacked Brian Hoyer five times, limiting Houston to just seven first downs and 189 yards of offense. Earlier this season the Patriots easily prevailed 27-0 at Gillette Stadium, with LeGarrette Blount rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Team Stats and Rankings
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.
As you can see Houston does possess a formidable defense, but the Texan offense makes this game a mismatch on paper. Fortunately for Houston fans games are won and lost on the field and not on stat sheets. Hat tip to Jim Armstrong of Football Outsiders for many of their advanced statistics, including drive stats and DVOA.
New England Patriots Offense versus Houston Texans Defense
Scoring per Game: Patriots 27.1 (3rd); Texans 20.5 (11th)
Yardage per Game: Patriots 386 (4th); Texans 301 (1st)
First Downs per Game: Patriots 21.9 (5th); Texans 17.0 (1st)
Yards per Play: Patriots 5.9 (6th); Texans 4.9 (3rd)
Yards per Drive: Patriots 35.5 (7th); Texans 26.7 (2nd)
Points per Drive: Patriots 2.53 (5th); Texans 1.67 (5th)
Efficiency: Total Weighted DVOA: Patriots 34.1% (1st); Texans -17.7% (29th)
Team Efficiency: Offense DVOA: Patriots 21.1% (2nd); Texans -21.4% (30th)
Team Efficiency: Defense DVOA: Patriots -1.5% (16th); Texans -6.9% (7th)
Special Teams DVOA: Patriots 2.7% (7th); Texans -7.0% (32nd)
If you are still reading at this point, congratulations. Apologies for the lack of brevity, but pick and choose what stats are meaningful to you for this game. It will not be a surprise if Houston gives the New England offense fits early on. Keep in mind some of that is due to the Patriots seeing how the Texans react to different formations and play calls before you hit the panic button. The Patriots will methodically do what they need to do to win, while also minimizing opportunities for Houston to come away with an upset victory. Houston has had issues this season with their special teams coverage. That could set the Patriots up with a short field and a quick score. Once the Pats take a lead this Texan team is in trouble. Their offense does not have the talent to keep up with the Patriots.
There is relatively little intrigue in regards to which NFL playoff teams will make the playoffs. Entering the final day of the 2016 NFL regular season ten of the twelve playoff teams have been determined. Four NFC teams are battling for two post-season berths, but one (Tampa Bay) has virtually no chance of making it. One other team (Washington) has to win against a club with nothing to play for (Giants). Two others face each other tonight in a de facto playoff game. Unless Green Bay at Detroit ends in a tie the season continues for the winner, while the losing squad can clean out their lockers and schedule tee times.
AFC Wild Card Playoff Scenarios
Pittsburgh and Houston are locked in as the number three and four seeds respectively. That leaves three games to determine the conference playoff seeding. The three AFC games that actually matter today are Miami at New England, Kansas City at San Diego and Oakland at Denver. There are a total of eight possible combined outcomes to those games.
Patriots win, Raiders win, Chiefs win
Patriots win, Raiders win, Chiefs lose
Patriots win, Raiders lose, Chiefs win
Patriots win, Raiders lose, Chiefs lose
Patriots lose, Raiders win, Chiefs win
Patriots lose, Raiders win, Chiefs lose
Patriots lose, Raiders lose, Chiefs win
Patriots lose, Raiders lose, Chiefs lose
Before we get to the wild card round, let’s look at the team getting a bye. New England claims the number one spot and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with either a win or an Oakland loss. Kansas City needs a win plus an Oakland loss to gain a bye as the number two seed; the Chiefs cannot advance to the top slot.
If Miami loses then they will be at Pittsburgh regardless of what happens elsewhere. If Oakland loses and Kansas City wins then the Raiders are at Houston. And if Miami win and Kansas City loses then the Dolphins are at Houston and the Chiefs are at Pittsburgh.
Patriots win, Raiders win, Chiefs win – Mia at Pit, KC at Hou, NE #1, Oak #2
Patriots win, Raiders win, Chiefs lose – Mia at Pit, KC at Hou, NE #1, Oak #2
Patriots win, Raiders lose, Chiefs win – Mia at Pit, Oak at Hou, NE #1, KC #2
Patriots win, Raiders lose, Chiefs lose – Mia at Pit, KC at Hou, NE #1, KC #2
Patriots lose, Raiders win, Chiefs win – Mia at Pit, KC at Hou, Oak #1, NE #2
Patriots lose, Raiders win, Chiefs lose – KC at Pit, Mia at Hou, Oak #1, NE #2
Patriots lose, Raiders lose, Chiefs win – Mia at Pit, Oak at Hou, NE #1, KC #2
Patriots lose, Raiders lose, Chiefs lose – KC at Pit, Mia at Hou, NE#1, Oak #2
That last scenario is what Miami fans are hoping for. It would mean that the Dolphins would face Tom Savage at quarterback in the first round. Then if Kansas City wins the Fins would be up against Matt McGloin at QB in the division round.
NFC Wild Card Playoff Scenarios
Dallas is number one and New York number 5 in the NFC. Atlanta and Seattle are division champs that could get a bye at number two, or play next weekend at home as either a number three or four seed. Washington is in as the number six seed as long as the Lions and Packers don’t tie. Detroit could finish as high as number two seed, but for that to happen Seattle has to lose to the Niners. The Lions could also miss the playoffs entirely if they finish the season with a third straight loss and Washington wins. The best Green Bay can do is a number three seed, or they too could miss the playoffs. Tampa Bay needs a miracle.
Assuming Seattle defeats San Francisco:
Falcons win, Packers win, Wash wins – Wash at Seattle, Giants at Packers; Falcons #2, Lions out
Falcons win, Packers win, Wash loses – Lions at Seattle, Giants at Packers; Falcons #2, Wash out
Falcons win, Lions win, Wash wins – Wash at Seattle, Giants at Lions; Falcons #2, Packers out
Falcons win, Lions win, Wash loses – Packers at Seattle, Giants at Lions; Falcons #2, Wash out
Falcons lose, Packers win, Wash wins – Wash at Falcons, Giants at Packers; Seattle #2, Lions out
Falcons lose, Packers win, Wash loses – Lions at Falcons, Giants at Packers; Seattle #2, Wash out
Falcons lose, Lions win, Wash wins – Wash at Lions, Giants at Falcons; Seattle #2, Packers out
Falcons lose, Lions win, Wash loses – Packers at Lions, Giants at Falcons; Seattle #2, Wash out
And if the Niners somehow pull off the upset of the year and beat Seattle then the number five Giants will play at number four Seattle. Here is the rest of the field with that scenario.
Falcons win, Packers win, Wash wins – Skins at Packers, Falcons #2, Lions out
Falcons win, Packers win, Wash loses – Lions at Packers, Falcons #2, Skins out
Falcons win, Lions win, Wash wins – Skins at Lions, Falcons #2, Packers out
Falcons win, Lions win, Wash loses – Packers at Lions, Falcons #2, Skins out
Falcons lose, Packers win, Wash wins – Skins at Packers, Falcons #2, Lions out
Falcons lose, Packers win, Wash loses – Lions at Packers, Falcons #2, Skins out
Falcons lose, Lions win, Wash wins – Skins at Falcons, Lions #2, Packers out
Falcons lose, Lions win, Wash loses – Packers at Falcons, Lions #2, Skins out
Week 16 took much of the drama out of the final Sunday of the 2016 NFL regular season. Ten of the twelve post-season entries have been determined, but there is still plenty of drama available to make week 17 intriguing.
After having to travel to Denver last year Patriot fans are well aware of the importance of home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Bill Belichick will surely remind the team of last year’s 20-10 week 17 loss at Miami, complete with embarrassing film clips in team meetings. Add in the benching of a starter and it is doubtful there will be any lack of intensity in Miami Gardens.
In terms of other games, the one with the most impact is Green Bay at Detroit. Barring a tie the winner moves on as NFC North champion while the season ends for the loser. New England fans seeking an easier road to the playoffs will root for an Oakland loss at Denver and a victory by the Chiefs at San Diego. That would mean the Patriots cannot play both KC and Pittsburgh – the only two AFC teams with quarterbacks who were starters at the beginning of this month.
Note: for the sake of both clarity and sanity, outcomes dependent on ties have for the most part not been included.
AFC Playoff Picture
The AFC field was finalized last week, thanks in large part to Baltimore’s loss to Pittsburgh and Denver’s loss at Kansas City. On top of that two teams – Pittsburgh at #3 and Houston at #4 – cannot move up or down regardless of this week’s outcomes.
13-2 New England Patriots At Miami, 1:00 pm ET on CBS; favored by 9½. Can finish as #1 or #2 seed.
– Clinch #1 seed with win at Miami.
– Clinch #1 seed with Oakland loss.
– Drop to #2 seed with both loss to Dolphins, plus Raiders win.
12-3 Oakland Raiders At Denver, 4:25 pm ET on CBS; 1-point underdog. Can Finish as #1, #2 or #5 seed.
– Clinch #1 seed with both a win at Denver, plus a New England loss.
– Clinch at least the #2 seed with either one of the above.
– Drop to #5 seed with both a loss to Broncos, plus Chiefs win.
10-5 Pittsburgh Steelers Home vs Cleveland, 1:00 pm ET on CBS; favored by 6. Locked in as #3 seed.
Note: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are all not expected to play.
9-6 Houston Texans At Tennessee, 1:00 pm ET on CBS; 3-point underdog. Locked in as #4 seed.
Note: quarterbacks will be Tom Savage vs Matt Cassel.
11-4 Kansas City Chiefs At San Diego, 4:25 pm ET on CBS; favored by 6. Can finish as #2, #5 or #6 seed.
– Clinch #2 seed with both a win and a Raider loss.
– Clinch at least #5 seed with a win.
– Also clinch at least #5 seed with a Dolphins loss.
– Drop to #6 seed with both a loss, plus a Dolphins win.
10-5 Miami Dolphins Home vs New England, 1:00 pm ET on CBS; 9½ point underdog. Can finish as #5 or #6 seed.
– Clinch # 5 seed with both a win, plus a Chiefs loss.
– Remain a #6 seed under all other scenarios.
NFC Playoff Picture
Green Bay, Detroit, Washington and Tampa Bay are vying for two playoff slots. Even though the Redskins are currently on the outside looking in, their playoff chances are very good. With the Packers and Lions playing each other Sunday night the loser of that game could be done. Washington controls its own destiny, gaining a playoff berth with a win as long as the Packers and Lions don’t tie. Tampa Bay on the other hand needs seven games to go their way to extend their season, including a Giants-Skins tie.
10-5 Atlanta Falcons Home vs New Orleans, 4:25 pm ET on FOX; favored by 6½. Can finish as #2, #3 or #4 seed.
– Clinch #2 seed with a win at New Orleans.
– Also clinch #2 seed with losses by both Seattle and Detroit.
– Clinch at least #3 seed with loss by either Seahawks or Lions.
– Drop to #4 seed with (a) loss to Saints, plus (b) Seahawks win, plus (c) Lions win.
9-5-1 Seattle Seahawks At San Francisco, 4:25 pm ET on FOX; favored by 9½. Can finish as #2, #3 or #4 seed.
– Clinch #2 seed with both a win, plus a Falcons loss.
– Clinch at least #3 seed with a win.
– Drop to #4 seed with loss to 49ers. Think Seattle regrets that early season loss to the Rams now?
9-6 Green Bay Packers At Detroit, 8:30 pm ET on NBC; favored by 3½. Can finish as #3, #4 or #6 seed – or can miss playoffs.
– Clinch #3 seed with a win, plus Seattle loss.
– Clinch at least #4 seed with a win.
– Still clinch a playoff spot as #6 seed with loss Washington loss.
– Eliminated from #3 seed if Seattle wins.
– Eliminated from #4 seed with loss to Lions.
– Completely miss playoffs with both a loss, plus Washington wins.
10-5 New York Giants At Washington, 4:25 pm ET on FOX; 7-point underdogs. Locked in as #5 seed.
9-6 Detroit Lions Home vs Green Bay, 8:30 pm ET on NBC; 3½ point underdogs. Can finish as #2, #3, #4 or #6 seed – or miss playoffs entirely.
– Clinch #2 seed with a win, plus losses by both Atlanta and Seattle.
– Can clinch at least #3 with a win, plus loss by either Atlanta or Seattle.
– Clinch at least #4 seed with a win.
– Clinch a playoff spot and at least #6 seed with a Washington loss.
– Eliminated from first round bye with win by either Falcons or Seahawks.
– Eliminated from #3 seed with wins by both Falcons and Seahawks.
– Loss to Packers eliminates Detroit from #4 seed or better.
– Eliminated from playoffs with both a loss, plus a Washington win.
8-6-1 Washington Redskins Home vs New York Giants, 4:25 pm ET on FOX; favored by 7. Can only be either #6 seed or miss playoffs.
– Clinch #6 seed with a win, as long as Detroit-Green Bay does not end in a tie.
– Eliminated from playoffs with a loss.
– Eliminated from playoffs with a Lions-Packers tie.
Tampa Bay Bucs Playoff Picture
The Buccaneers deserve their own category simply because their playoff scenario is stranger than Rex Ryan’s proclivity for hidden cameras in an orthopedic surgeon’s office. Not only do the Bucs need a game to end in a tie, they also need two meaningless non-conference games to end in their favor. Oh, and for the Niners to beat Seattle too.
8-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Home vs Carolina, 1:00 pm ET on FOX; favored by 5½. Can finish as #6 seed or miss playoffs.
Clinch playoff spot with every one of the following:
– A win vs Carolina, plus
– Washington ties Giants, plus
– Packers lose to Lions; plus
That would mean Tampa can top Green Bay based on Strength of Schedule if:
– Dallas beats Philadelphia, plus
– San Francisco beats Seattle, plus
– Indianapolis beats Jacksonville, plus
– Tennessee beats Houston