So we've reached Week 17 of the NFL season and the battle for some playoff spots will be settled. It's been another season living up to the hype that is the NFL, a season of huge upsets, uninspiring letdowns, bitter disappointment, and outright surprise. It's one more round before the big round begins (and the inevitable replays of Jim Mora's soundbite about the playoffs begin as well). So we take a look at Week 17 -
Steelers over Browns - The bad news for the Browns is they once again don't have anything to play for while the Steelers face a must-win to have any chance however unrealistic of making the playoffs. The good news is the Browns this year finally have shown signs of getting a legitimate program going, and it's shown in legitimately competitive efforts the last month. The Steelers for their part look like a mess and look to be getting worse instead of better.
Bengals over Ravens - The Ravens are well ahead of where a lot of people expected them to be this season to even be in playoff contention after basically blowing up the roster and overpaying Joe Flacco. That decision may begin haunting the Ravens after exposure of his weaknesses as a quarterback last week; one wonders how well the Bengals will exploit the weaknesses the Ravens have on both sides of the ball, especially as they nearly sealed the deal in Baltimore but ultimately didn't, and their offense has been rather inconsistent since the first meeting.
Vikings over Lions - Two of the big letdowns of the season square off one final time before 2014 with probable coaching and even front office changes for Detroit on the horizon and possible changes in Minnesota as well as the Vikings close out the Metrodome. That the Lions have fallen apart as they have perhaps was forseeable after their inability to handle success in 2012.
Dolphins over NY Jets - Rex Ryan told his players last week of the story he will be fired; it is odd that some advocate he be kept on given that his win total in five seasons won't surpass 42 and he accomplished nothing in terms of building a program; on the contrary he created a culture of bluster, poor discipline, and ineptitude. Joe Philbin in Miami meanwhile has implanted a culture that is steadily getting better.
Titans over Texans - Rumor is one or both of these teams will go after Penn State's Bill O'Brien; both have a legitimate case for his services but Tennessee has a much better record and a better roster for O'Brien to work with beginning with Jake Locker; I'm not buying the story the Titans are giving up on him after just two seasons as a starter, especially given the growth he showed as a quarterback in 2013. I do see Ryan Fitzpatrick being let go after this game for one of the most bitterly disappointing seasons a quarterback can have.
Jaguars over Colts - The Jaguars are 4-3 since the bye week and Gus Bradley clearly has them on an upswing, while the Colts got an important win over Kansas City but have overall looked a little scattershot the last two months of the season; the Jaguars also usually play the Colts tough.
Redskins over NY Giants - I'm baffled that the Giants may keep Tom Coughlin after this season given his history of second-half collapses; they've lost three of their last five after a four-game win streak. The Redskins have Kirk Cousins amid the chaos of whether Mike Shanahan gets fired or not; regardless Cousins shouldn't be considered trade bait; he has more upside than Robert Griffin has.
Panthers over Falcons - The Falcons have a lot of questions to ask, beginning with Matt Ryan, who has put up good numbers but who hasn't shown much in the way of clutch play in 2013. The Panthers race to the playoffs and look to steal the NFC South title from a faltering New Orleans squad.
Saints over Buccaneers - The Saints have been bad on the road this year and finish their regular season against the never-in-it Bucs. The Josh Freeman fiasco killed the season for the Bucs and now they have to pick up the pieces and start anew in 2014.
Seahawks over Rams - With just one win over a division foe, the Rams face the task of a rare win over the Seahawks, a team good enough to get to the Superbowl but who isn't unbeatable at home. Fisher has gotten much better play out of Kellen Clemens than I suspect anyone bargained for.
Packers over Bears - The Bears were ripped to shreds last week, and they host a Packers squad that has averaged 30 points a game the last three weeks. When they had the opportunity to put away the division, the Bears came up very small yet again, and it's impossible to trust Jay Cutler. The Packers for their part have questions to ask of their quarterbacks after Matt Flynn did in two games what Aaron Rodgers has shown his whole career he's not capable of doing - stage a comeback.
Broncos over Raiders - The Raiders organization is being rebuilt top to bottom and the process is slow enough that it's the Same Old Raiders finishing up another lost season, the eleventh such since 2002. Peyton Manning has the touchdown record again and the number one AFC seed.
Cardinals over 49ers - Both have the playoffs to play for and the Cardinals have been the team overlooked by everyone this season; they also are the team that ended Seattle's home win streak, and they get a Niners squad that looked pretty shaky in escaping the Monday Night win over the Falcons.
Chargers over Chiefs - Alex Smith's limits as a quarterback are showing up again; one of them is a winless career record over the Chargers, and the Chargers have more to play for right now than Kansas City does.
Patriots over Bills - The Bills have played the Patriots hard for the last five seasons but the Patriots have been the most battle-tested team in the league and appear to be getting stronger; after three straight comeback wins (led by the biggest such in club history) and a thorough manhandling of the Ravens, the Patriots are shooting to secure a bye week with an outside chance at the number one seed in the AFC.
Eagles over Cowboys - The Eagles have a program that's working. The Cowboys are a mess with their starting quarterback situation unsettled going into the game. It's the same old scenario for the clueless Cowboys and the result will be the same; the only disappointment is if the Eagles don't hang over 54 on the Cowboys like they did the Bears.
To paraphrase a cliche of one Bob Lobel - why can't more teams have offenses like that?