ATLANTA: The NFL 2020 regular season is coming to an end in a miraculous fashion. The miracle finishes on the field are only a part of the story. The real miracle is that the games were played. COVID has upended businesses and lives all across the globe. Professional hockey, basketball, and baseball experienced truncated seasons. Basketball had barely ended when it started up again. College sports saw their seasons canceled altogether. A combination of luck and obsessive medical practices allowed the National Football League to survive unscathed. The preseason and the Pro Bowl were canceled, which will not bother a single leathered who truly loves football.
A few games had to be rescheduled, but not one NFL regular-season game was canceled.
By Sunday night, 256 regular-season games will be in the books. Barring any surprises, 255 of those games will have had a winner and a loser. One game ended in a tie. Whoever you root for, we letterheads are grateful that every single regular-season game was played.
Some players opted out of the season.
Other players missed games with COVID. Even more, players missed games due to contact tracing. They did not have COVID but were within close proximity of others who tested positive. This is not a cause for lamentation, since players miss games with injuries all the time. Illness is another injury. The Broncos played one game without a quarterback. The Lions played one game without their interim head coach. Fans missed games. The Raiders began their inaugural season in Las Vegas without fans. Raiders owner Mark Davis missed every home game. He refused to attend a game until the fans of the Raider Nation could.
Santa Clara banned sports altogether, forcing the 49ers to relocate to Arizona for home games.
Through it all, the games marched on. The players soldiered on. The teams rallied around the players they had available.
The league cracked down hard on anyone who put the season at risk. Coaches were fined for not wearing their masks during games. Egregious violations led to a couple of teams losing draft picks. Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins was a 2019 first-round draft pick. Just before this last game in 2020, he was cut from the team for violating COVID protocols.
The measures were drastic, but they got the job done. Professional football in 2020 was saved.
As 2021 begins, we all hope for a peaceful and happier world. We hope for good help and again to the scourge of this pandemic. During tough times, football has often provided a respite from outside worries. From the September 11th attacks to the 2008 financial crisis, football gave people joy amidst the pain. As tough as 2020 was, 2021 is off to a great start. We have meaningful December football. Hopefully, the January playoffs and the February Super Bowl will go as smoothly as the regular season did.
With that, here is the NFL 2020 Week 17 Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by DraftKings and all times Eastern.
Sunday, January 3, 2021, 1:00 p.m.
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6) —
The Buccaneers are in the playoffs as a wildcard and cannot move higher. The Falcons are long out of the playoffs. Raheem Morris desperately wants to beat the team that fired him so he can get the Falcons job on a permanent basis. However, the Buccaneers have too much firepower on offense. With the starters playing, this could be a blowout. Buccaneers cover.
Dallas Cowboys (-2.5) at New York Giants —
The 6-9 Cowboys and 5-10 Giants are both alive with a shot to win the NFC Least and make the playoffs.. If Washington wins, both of these teams are out. If Washington loses, the winner of this game is in the playoffs. The Cowboys have won three straight, and Andy Dalton is a better quarterback than Daniel Jones. Dalton also has more weapons at his disposal. Cowboys cover.
New York Jets at New England Patriots (-5) —
The Jets have won two straight, and the Patriots have their first losing season in 20 years. Nevertheless, Bill Belichick still takes delight in torturing the Jets. Cam Newton is playing for a starting job somewhere next year. If Adam Gase wins this game, he may avoid getting fired. Therefore, fans of both teams will be rooting for the Patriots to win. They will. Patriots cover.
Minnesota Vikings (-6.5) at Detroit Lions —
Both teams are out of the playoffs. Matthew Stafford may be out, and even if he plays, he is not at full strength. The Vikings have enough talent on offense that they can control the clock with Dalvin Cook. Minnesota’s defense is not playing well enough to justify the high spread on the road. Vikings win but fail to cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (-7) —
The 12-3 Steelers have clinched the AFC North. The 10-5 Browns will make the playoffs with a win but could be out with a loss. Mike Tomlin is resting Ben Roethlisberger and starting backup Mason Rudolph. There is history with Myles Garrett and Rudolph. The Browns have not made the playoffs since 2002. They are desperate and hungry. Against a backup quarterback at home, trust the Browns defense and running game against a team that lost three of its last four playing their starters. The Browns win but fail to cover.
Baltimore Ravens (-11.5) at Cincinnati Bengals —
The 10-5 Ravens have won four straight and are running the ball with authority. If they win, they make the playoffs. If they lose, they will need help to get in. The 4-10 Bengals have won two straight with backup quarterbacks. The Ravens are the far better team, but the spread is too high for a road team playing against a squad that is playing inspired in meaningless games. Ravens win but fail to cover.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (-1.5) —
The 12-3 Bills clinched the AFC East. The 10-5 Dolphins are in the playoffs with a win but will need help to get in if they lose. Ryan Fitzpatrick pulled out a miracle against the Raiders, but he is out of the regular-season finale with COVID. Tua Tagovailoa is not playing well and has been benched on multiple occasions this year. Even if Sean McDermott rests some starters, the Dolphins lack the offensive firepower to go in the freezing old and get a win. Bills cover.
Sunday, January 3, 2021, 4:25 p.m.
Seattle Seahawks (-4.5) at San Francisco 49ers —
The 11-4 Seahawks have clinched the NFC West and have an outside shot at home field throughout the playoffs. The 49ers are eliminated but would love to play spoiler. These teams often go down to the last play. The 49er’s defense is too injured to contain Russell Wilson, but the 49ers have enough of a running game to keep the game close. With this rivalry, throw out the records. The Seahawks win but fail to cover.
Arizona Cardinals (-1) at Los Angeles Rams —
The Cardinals started 6-3 but are now 8-7. The Rams were 9-4 but have lost two straight, including to the previously winless Jets. The winner of this game is in the playoffs. If the Cardinals lose, they are out. If the Rams lose, they can still get in with help. Both teams have a ton of offensive firepower, but Jared Goff is out with an injured thumb. Sean McVay and Kliff Kingsbury are both innovative offensive minds. The Cardinals have a golden opportunity playing against a backup quarterback, but the Rams have the better defense. Aaron Donald will corral Kyler Murray and the Rams will rally around their backup. Upset special, Rams win outright.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (-13.5) —
The Jaguars gave clinched the top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. After this game, they will be on the clock, perhaps with a new coach. The 10-5 Colts need a win and help to get in the playoffs either as a Wildcard or as AFC South champs. If they lose, they are out. The Colts have everything to play for against the worst team in the league. They will pour it on and put Doug Marrone out of his misery. Colts cover.
Tennessee Titans (-7.5) at Houston Texans —
The 10-5 Titans win the AFC South win a win. If they lose, they can still make the playoffs either as AFC South champions or as a Wildcard but would require help in both scenarios. The Texans are done for the year but they have been losing close games. They would love the chance to play spoiler in what could be J.J. Watt’s final game in Houston. A Texans win would help Romeo Crennel in his quest to be the permanent head coach next year. Derrick Henry gives the Titans the edge. Titans win but fail to cover.
Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos (-1.5) —
Both teams are out of the playoffs but a win would get the Raiders to 8-8, a one-game improvement over last year. The Raiders have lost in gut-wrenching fashion the last two weeks due to breakdowns from a defense that has been broken for years. The Raiders have more talent on offense. Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs have done their jobs. The Raiders won 37-12 over Denver in Las Vegas. The Broncos are too injured to get revenge. The Raiders frequently beat themselves, but they have gone toe to toe with better teams than Denver. Upset special, Raiders win outright.
Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5) at Kansas City Chiefs —
The 14-1 Chiefs have clinched home field throughout the playoffs and will be resting their starters. The Chargers have won two straight by three points each but have nothing to play for but pride. Anthony Lynn might be coaching for his job. Justin Herbert has set rookie records. The Chiefs with backups still have Walrus Andy Reid dreaming up trick plays for them to run. Upset special, Chiefs win outright.
Green Bay Packers (-5.5) at Chicago Bears — The 12-3 Packers with a win clinch home field throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye. The 8-7 Bears are in the playoffs with a win but would need help to get in with a loss. Aaron Rodgers is a man on a mission. Last year the Packers came up one game short because they did not get home field. They have far too much talent to be denied by a Bears team with little offense and erratic quarterback play. Packers cover.
New Orleans Saints (-5) at Carolina Panthers —
The 11-4 Saints have clinched the AFC South but still, have an outside shot at home field throughout the playoffs. The Panthers are done for the year. The Saints will be without Alvin Kamara, who tied an NFL record set in 1929 with six rushing touchdowns last week. Kamara tested positive for COVID. Drew Brees will still spread the ball around. The Panthers often play the Saints tough. Teddy Bridgewater was unbeaten in five games while playing for the Saints as a backup before being traded to the Panthers to be their starter. Saints win but fail to cover.
Sunday, January 3, 2021, 8:20 p.m.
Washington Non-Haskinses at Philadelphia Eagles (-1.5) —
The 6-9 No-Names win the NFC Least with a win. If they lose, they are out of the playoffs. The Eagles are out, but Jalen Hurts as impressed in three starts after Carson Wentz was benched. The No-Names have a decent defense, but the team looked awful at home against Carolina. Go with the hot hand, and that is Hurts. Eagles cover.