LOS ANGELES, December 26, 2016 — The National Football League regular season now has 16 weeks in the books. The 17th and last week of the 2016 regular season is approaching. Phrases not spoken for 358 days are pulled put of the closet, dusted off, and recycled. We learn which teams control their own destiny and who needs help. Some years it seems almost everybody has a shot at the playoffs. This year most of the issues involve seedings. Only three of the eight AFC Week 17 games have playoff implications.
The NFC playoff picture comes in to focus after Monday Night Football.
In the AFC, all six playoff teams have already been decided. The only thing left to determine is seedings.
Here is the AFC playoff picture with one week to go, complete with permutations, combinations and predictions.
Permutations and Combinations:
1.) The New England Patriots (13-2) have clinched the AFC East and right now are the top seed, but they have not locked it up. They have clinched a first round bye and are at worst the two seed. If they win next week or if Oakland loses, the Patriots have home field throughout the playoffs. If the Patriots lose and the Raiders win, the Patriots fall to the two seed.
2.) The Oakland Raiders (12-3) have the strangest situation. The only thing certain is that they have clinched a playoff spot. They can end up being the top seed or near the bottom or in between. At this moment they are the two seed with a first round bye. They lead the AFC West by one game but have not clinched their division. A ton of things can happen to them. If they win next week and New England loses, the Raiders win the tie-breaker and get the top seed with home field throughout the playoffs. If they lose next week, they can still keep the two seed if the Chiefs also lose. If the Raiders lose and the Chiefs win, the Raiders would tumble all the way to the five seed Wild Card and have to play all of their games on the road. Their Wildcard game would be at the Houston Texans.
3.) The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) have clinched the AFC North and are locked into the three seed. They will host a Wildcard game with the lowest Wildcard team, which will either be the Kansas City Chiefs or Miami Dolphins.
4.) The Houston Texans (9-6) have clinched the AFC South. They are locked into the four seed. They will host a Wildcard game with the highest Wildcard team, which will either be the Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, or Oakland Raiders.
5.) The Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at this moment are the five seed. They have clinched a playoff spot, but as of now have to play all their playoff games on the road. If the Chiefs lose next week and the Dolphins win, the Chiefs fall to the six seed. If the Chiefs win and the Raiders lose, the Chiefs would then win the AFC West and move up to the two seed and a first round bye. The tope seed is out of reach.
6.) The Miami Dolphins (10-5) have clinched a playoff spot. Their division is out of reach so they can only be a Wildcard. If they win and the Chiefs lose, the Dolphins move up to the five seed.
New England Patriots (13-2) at Miami Dolphins (10-5)
Oakland Raiders (12-3) at Denver Broncos (8-7)
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at San Diego Chargers (5-10)
In a very rare situation, absolutely none. Not one early game will produce a result that will allow any teams playing in the late games to rest their players. This is exactly how the NFL wants it. Nothing is settled. Everything is up for grabs.
Regular season predictions:
1.) New England Patriots (13-3) — Tom Brady even during his Super Bowl years has played some of his worst football games against the Dolphins. In 2004 the 12-1 Patriots lost at the 2-11 Dolphins. This game is in Miami. Last year the Patriots blew the top seed by losing at an inferior Miami team. This year Miami is actually good, especially their defense. However, this year the Patriots will get lucky and retain the top seed anyway.
2.) Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) — After losing last week to previously winless Cleveland, the San Diego Chargers will probably see Mike McCoy coach his last game. Philip Rivers has a decent offense, but the Chargers just find ways to lose games. The Chiefs win with the defense forcing turnovers and big plays on special teams. In Week 1, the Chargers blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead at Kansas City that set the tone for both teams. With no support from a home crowd that sees them moving to Los Angeles, expect the Chargers to find a way to lose.
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) — The Steelers host the Cleveland Browns, who last week finally won to avoid an 0-16 season. Mike Tomlin may choose to rest his starters. Outside of tackle Joe Thomas, Hue Jackson does not have any starters by NFL standards.
4.) Houston Texans (9-7) — Bill O’Brien could choose to play their backups. The Tennessee Titans are without injured Marcus Mariota, but will try to end with a winning record for Mike Mularkey.
5.) Oakland Raiders (12-4) — With Derek Carr out injured for the rest of the year, the life has been taken out of the Raiders. Matt McGloin will need a ton of help, and the Raiders defense is very vulnerable, especially in the secondary. The Broncos have nothing to play for, but ruining things for the Raiders will keep them motivated. Expect Wade Phillips to unleash his defense and bounce the Raiders out of a bye week and into Wildcard misery.
6.) Miami Dolphins (11-5) — Last year a bad Miami team shocked New England in the finale. This year Miami is 9-1 in their last 10 games. They could rest their starters since moving from the six seed to the five seed is normally not that big a deal. However, in this case the five seed would be playing a playoff game against an injured Houston team rather than a dangerous Pittsburgh team. Tom Brady for some reason has some of his worst games against the Dolphins. Matt Moore is a better backup quarterback than some starters in the league.
AFC Playoff Predictions:
Wild Cards: 6.) Dolphins at 3.) Steelers, 5.) Raiders at 4.) Texans
Divisionals: 5.) Raiders at 1.) Patriots, 3.) Steelers at 2.) Chiefs
NFC Title Game: 3.) Steelers at 1.) Patriots
AFC Champion: The Raiders will beat the only playoff team as banged up as they are but then run into reality against New England. 15 years after the Tuck Rule, there will be no revenge. Without Derek Carr, the Raiders will have to wait until neat year.
The Chiefs can dink and dunk against some teams, but Alex Smith and his West Coast Offense will meet its match in Pittsburgh. The Steelers will have LeVeon Bell run over them and Ben Roethlisberger is as tough as any defense.
The only complete team is the New England Patriots. Tom Brady has been unstoppable, and there is no evidence to see that any team in the league can go into New England and match the Patriots blow for blow.
In addition to the Lamar Hunt Trophy, the Patriots will also hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the fifth time in the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era. Forget the entire NFC. The New England Patriots will win Super Bowl 51.