With the season hanging in the balance, it all comes down to Week 17. When the dust settles Sunday evening, some teams will have earned the right to be called a playoff club, while others will be left wondering what went wrong. Check out the critical matchups that will determine a team’s success or failure.
Carolina Panthers vs Atlanta Falcons (-4) Sunday at 4:25 PM ET
Despite losing last week to the New Orleans Saints 23-13, the Atlanta Falcons remain in charge of their own destiny. Win, and they’re in. They can’t finish better than the sixth seed in the NFC, but if they beat Cam Newton and the Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this Sunday, none of their previous six losses will matter.
Carolina isn’t going to just roll over for the Falcons, however. With a win and a New Orleans’ tie or loss, the Panthers would clinch the NFC South. In their only other meeting this season, Carolina defeated the Falcons 20-17 in a game that Atlanta let slip away. Currently riding a three-game winning streak, the Panthers will look for the upset on the road and end Atlanta’s playoff chances.
Cincinnati Bengals vs Baltimore Ravens (-10) Sunday at 4:25 PM ET
Of the four teams that have a shot at a Wildcard position in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens are in the best position. At 9-6, they have one more win than the other three teams that are in the hunt, and they’re going up against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have been out of the playoff picture for over a month. Baltimore has won five of their last six games, with their only loss coming in a 39-38 thriller to the AFC North-leading Steelers. That strong play has positioned them for their first playoff berth in two seasons.
Add to the fact that Baltimore will clinch a playoff spot if any of the Chargers, Bills or Titans lose their Week 17 matchups, and things are looking good for the Ravens. As the 10-point home favourites, look for Baltimore to shut down the Bengals’ 28th-ranked offense and punch their ticket to the postseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Tennessee Titans (-3) Sunday at 4:25 PM ET
One wouldn’t expect to see the 8-7 Tennessee Titans as 3-point favourites over the 10-5 Jacksonville Jaguars, but playoff aspirations can do funny things to teams. Like the Ravens, if Tennessee can take care of their own business, they’ll find themselves in the playoffs next week. Further, if San Diego or Buffalo lose, the Titans are in.
Tennessee doesn’t have an easy task in Week 17, however. Despite having nothing to gain from this Sunday’s game, Jags’ head coach Doug Marrone confirmed that he won’t be sitting any players. After a surprising loss to the San Francisco 49ers last week, the Jaguars will be looking to make a statement this Sunday before heading into their first postseason since 2007. Look for Jacksonville to come out hard and put their No. 2 defense to work against Marcus Mariota and the Titans.
*Odds as of December 29, 2017