Steelers at Browns
Happy New Year, Fangirl Nation! As we head into 2021 and Week 17 of the NFL, we’ve got a plethora of playoff scenarios. Let’s start with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Cleveland Browns.
With basically their entire receiving corps on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last week, the Browns lost to the New York Jets (that’s so 2020), meaning their most efficient route to the playoffs is to beat the Steelers on Sunday. Wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones will be back. That’s the good news. The bad news is CB Denzel Ward, TE Harrison Bryant, S Andrew Sendejo and LBs Malcolm Smith and B.J. Goodson all tested positive for COVID and will be out.
But, there’s more good news for Cleveland. Pittsburgh is resting a number of starters in preparation for the playoffs, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Mason Rudolph will be QB1 for the day so he and Myles Garrett meet again.
Should the Browns clinch a playoff spot, it will be their first in 17 seasons. Go Browns!
Ravens at Bengals
Let’s stay in the AFC North for another slide, shall we? The 10-5 Baltimore Ravens head to Cincinnati to take on the 4-10-1 Bengals this weekend, and if they win, the Ravens are going to the playoffs.
On paper, this looks easy for Baltimore, but the Bengals are coming off a two-game win streak over the Steelers and Texans, respectively. That being said, the Ravens should win this game.
Baltimore’s ever-improving pass rush will be up against a Bengals’ offensive line that is, in a word, offensive. The Ravens’ defense is allowing just 20 points per game, while Baltimore has won four straight games behind QB Lamar Jackson and a Baltimore offense that is running the ball extremely well. The Ravens also have a 64.7% completion rate on third down during their win-streak. I would say the odds are ever in Baltimore’s favor.
That Crazy NFC East
Somewhere along the way, the NFC East got tired of being the laughingstock of the NFL and decided to make the Division interesting, or at least more interesting. As we head into the last weekend of the regular season, we’ve got match-ups that matter, and to prove it, the NFL put the 6-9 Washington Football Team on Sunday Night Football, as they take on the 4-10-1 Philadelphia Eagles.
If the Football Team wins, it clinches the division and is in the dance. It can also go with a tie or a Dallas loss or tie.
Speaking of Dallas, the 6-9 Cowboys (when did the Cowboys win six games???) will be in New York on Sunday afternoon to take on 5-10 Giants. In order for Dallas to clinch the NFC East, it needs a win and a Washington loss or tie or to tie and for Washington to lose. Is your head spinning yet?
But wait, there’s more! The Giants can win the division with a win and a Washington loss.
“All eyes on us,” the NFC East, probably.
Cardinals at Rams
Over in the NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals are heading to LA to take on the Rams in a game that has all the playoff implications. All both teams need to do to make the playoffs is win the game. Unfortunately for them both, only one of them can win the game. The loser would need the Chicago Bears to lose to still get in, but we’ll get to Chi-town in a minute.
Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff is out with a broken thumb, so John Wolford will get the start. Meanwhile, wide receiver Cooper Kupp is on the COVID-19 list and running back Cam Akers has a high-ankle sprain. Akers’ availability is TBD.
The match-up to watch will be Rams’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Cardinals’ wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Should Ramsey shut Hopkins down, Arizona will have trouble on offense. That being said, Wolford will be contending with linebacker Haason Reddick, who has had 7.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in his last three games.
This one’s going to be close, with the Los Angeles missing so many key players, advantage Arizona.
Packers at Bears
And for our final highlight, we turn to the NFC North where the 12-3 Green Bay Packers are off to Chicago to take on the 8-7 Bears. The Packers want the NFC’s #1 seed and first-round bye. The Bears want to make the playoffs.
After a six-game losing streak earlier this season, including a 41-25 loss to Green Bay in Week 12, Chicago has had quite the turnaround. Last week, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns against Jacksonville, and wide receiver Allen Robinson had 10 receptions for 103 yards. But Green Bay isn’t Jacksonville.
The Packers lead the NFL with an average score of 31.6 points per game, while they are giving up 23.5 points per game. Last week, Rodgers threw for four touchdown passes, while Davante Adams caught three. A.J. Dillon rushed for two. Over on defense, the Packers held Titans’ running back Derrick Henry under 100 yards rushing and forced two Ryan Tannehill interceptions and a Tannehill fumble.
This should be closer than the Week 12 match-up, but Rodgers is just too good and the Packers are clicking. Advantage: Green Bay