The weekly preview runs into the endzone with NFL tips for the eight best match-ups of a regular season-closing Week 17 brimming with division rivalry blockbusters.
History: Played 117: Vikings 60 V Bears 55 (2 Ties)
Last meeting: September 29, 2019: Bears 16 d Vikings 6 at Soldier Field
Final Thoughts: The 10-5 Minnesota Vikings have already confirmed a Wild Card berth and warm up for the playoffs with a clash against the out-of-contention, 7-8 Chicago Bears.
The Vikes’ hopes of snaring the NFC North title evaporated in a 23-10 home loss to the division-leading Packers last week. It was a result that put a big question mark over Minnesota’s credentials and emphasised how much their offence struggles without Dalvin Cook – but the gun RB is hopeful of returning this week.
The Bears’ belated revival – including a win over the Cowboys – petered out with losses to the Packers and Chiefs (the latter a 26-3 beatdown) in the past fortnight.
The Bears are on a three-match winning streak against the Vikings, including a 16-6 home win in Week 4 this season. They also snared a 24-10 victory in Minneapolis in the final regular-season fixture last season.
But only two teams in the NFL have scored less points than the Bears’ pop-gun offense. Count on the Vikings – 6-1 at U.S. Bank Stadium this season – taking care of business at home.
History: Played 108: Dolphins 55 V Patriots 53
Last meeting: September 15, 2019: Patriots 43 d Dolphins 0 at Hard Rock Stadium
Final Thoughts: The jury is still out on whether the New England Patriots still have the chops to take out another Super Bowl with Tom Brady well short of his G.O.A.T. best, but they have sealed another AFC East title by holding off the Bills 24-17 last week. The 12-3 Patriots have found some important momentum after wobbling with three losses in their previous five games.
It’s been a miserable season for the Miami Dolphins, but there’s no question they have been better in the second half of the season – improving to a 4-11 record after losing their opening seven games. They edged the woeful Bengals 38-35 in OT at home last week…not exactly a glowing endorsement of the Dolphins’ quality against the NFL’s least-potent offence.
The Dolphins have managed two wins in their last four games against the Pats, both at home. But the Patriots stomped the Dolphins 43-0 in Miami in Week 2. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are on a 10-match losing streak at Gillette Stadium that dates back to 2008.
The Patriots have conceded almost three points per game less than any other team. That should ensure they blunt a Dolphins offence that can put on quick points – even if Bill Belichick opts to rest some players in what is effectively a dead-rubber.
History: Played 119: Chiefs 62 V Chargers 56 (1 Tie)
Last meeting: November 18, 2019: Chiefs 24 d Chargers 17 at LA Memorial Coliseum
Final Thoughts: The Kansas City Chiefs have rapped up the AFC West and are rocking and rolling ahead of the post-season. The 11-4 Chiefs have won five straight, following up a statement victory over the Patriots with comprehensive beatings of the Broncos (23-3) and Bears (26-3). QB Patrick Mahomes is firing again and remains the obvious key, but not conceding a touchdown in consecutive games is a big positive for the Chiefs’ secondary.
The LA Chargers have been one of 2019’s big sliders. They have lost five of their last six and head into their last game with a dismal 5-10 record. Losses to the Vikings (39-10) and Raiders (24-17) in the past two weeks had the look of a team marking time until the end of the season.
The Chiefs have won 10 of their last 11 against the Chargers, including a 24-17 result in Los Angeles last month that saw Phillip Rivers toss up four picks. The Chargers earned a 29-28 victory in Kansas City last season – but this year’s side is not a patch on their 2018 vintage.
This could be veteran Rivers’ final game, but sentiment will be nowhere near enough to come close to the Chiefs in this one.
History: Played 173: Eagles 86 V Giants 85 (2 Ties)
Last meeting: September 12, 2019: Eagles 23 d Giants 17 (OT) at Lincoln Financial Field
Final Thoughts: New York Giants will attempt to spoil the party for the Philadelphia Eagles, who only need a win to clinch the title in the overwhelmingly underwhelming NFC East.
The 8-7 Eagles have come back from the brink with three straight wins over the Giants, Redskins and the Cowboys – the latter a virtual division title playoff. While Carson Wentz hasn’t lived up to expectations, the QB has led Philadelphia along the tightrope impressively.
The 4-11 Giants are finishing another fruitless year with a wet sail, emerging from a nine-match losing streak with back-to-back wins over fellow battlers the Dolphins (36-20) and Redskins (41-35 in OT).
The Eagles edging the Giants in overtime at home in Week 14 represented their 10th win in 11 matches in this rivalry and sixth on the trot. Seven of the teams’ last eight encounters were decided by six points or less.
The Eagles simply have to much at stake to drop this game. Wentz will get them the W.
History: Played 35: Titans 18 V Texans 17
Last meeting: December 15, 2019: Texans 24 d Titans 21 at LP Field
Final Thoughts: Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans meet for the second time in three weeks, with the AFC South title already under lock and key for the 10-5 Texans.
The nail-biting 24-21 win in Indianapolis was crucial to the Texans’ capture of the division. It was also their eighth win in 11 matches against the Titans, who are looking to snap a seven-match losing run in Houston here.
The 8-7 Titans subsequently lost 38-28 to the Saints last weekend with Derrick Henry sorely missed, blowing a 14-0 lead. But they can still claim a Wild Card berth with a win in Houston. Henry’s return will help balance out QB Ryan Tannehill’s strengths and weaknesses.
The Texans edged Tampa Bay 23-20 in Week 16 after an underwhelming display from Deshaun Watson and the offence. Despite speculation Watson could be rested with little riding on this match for Houston, he is set to line up.
The desperate Titans are favourites on the road, which is an open invitation to capitalise on the value in the Texans with the start.
History: Played 51: Steelers 28 V Ravens 23
Last meeting: October 6, 2019: Ravens 26 d Steelers 23 (OT) at Heinz Field
Final Thoughts: With the AFC’s top seed sewn up, the 13-2 Baltimore Ravens are expected to rest several key men – including MVP-elect Lamar Jackson. That’s great news for the 8-7 Pittsburgh Steelers, who need a win over the league’s form team to sneak a Wild Card berth.
The Steelers’ remarkable revival – winning seven of eight games from Week 6 – hit a big pothole with consecutive low-scoring losses to the Bills and Jets. Back-up QB Mason Rudolph left the field with a season-ending shoulder injury last weekend and the prospects of offensive improvement with Devlin Hodges under centre aren’t great.
The Ravens’ current 11-match winning run began with a nervy 26-23 overtime victory in Pittsburgh. Since then, they have rarely been challenged – seven of their last nine wins have come by 14-plus margins.
The Steelers have won their last three in Baltimore, but this Ravens outfit is a cut above any they have faced for some time.
Pittsburgh will obviously be the more desperate team and head in as narrow favourites against a significantly weakened Ravens outfit. But the under may be the better play with little expected of two depleted offences.
History: Played 119: Cowboys 72 V Redskins 45 (2 Ties)
Last meeting: September 15, 2019: Cowboys 31 d Redskins 21 at FedEx Field
Final Thoughts: Dallas Cowboys need the Giants to beat the Eagles to stay alive in the snail-paced NFC East title race. But if that happens, the 7-8 Cowboys will fancy their chances of grabbing the 11th-hour playoffs berth with a win over the 3-12 Redskins.
The Cowboys have endured a late-season implosion with four losses in their last five games. They crashed 17-9 in Philadelphia in Week 16. The Redskins suffered a 41-35 overtime loss to the Giants last week.
The Cowboys’ recent domination of the Redskins continued in Week 2 this season with a 31-21 victory in Washington D.C. Dak Prescott threw for three touchdowns as Dallas racked up their sixth win in seven encounters with their division rivals. The Redskins have lost their last three in Dallas, conceding an average of 33.3 points.
Case Keenum will be at quarterback for Washington with Dwayne Haskins. But expect Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to find form against one of the NFL’s leakier defences.
History: Played 42: Seahawks 26 V 49ers 16
Last meeting: November 11, 2019: Seahawks 27 d 49ers 24 (OT) at Levi’s Stadium
Final thoughts: An absolute dream blockbuster to finish the 2019 NFL regular season, with the 11-4 Seattle Seahawks and 12-3 San Francisco 49ers facing off for the NFC West title.
The Seahawks have stumbled in recent weeks with two losses in their last three games. A 27-13 home loss to the lowly Cardinals last weekend was compounded by a season-ending injury to RB Chris Carson. But the Seattle fanbase has been electrified by the stunning return of franchise legend Marshawn Lynch this week.
The 49ers have been similarly up and down after a 10-1 start to the season. But they bounced back from a last-second 29-22 loss to the Falcons in Week 15 with a 34-31 victory over the Rams. But San Francisco are struggling to protect QB Jimmy Garoppolo from the pass rush after Weston Richburg’s season-ending injury.
The heavyweights played out an epic duel in San Francisco last month. The Seahawks snared a 27-24 overtime result in dramatic fashion. It was the second consecutive encounter the teams have gone to OT, while it was Seahawks’ 11th win in 12 games against the Niners.
This has the makings of another cliff-hanger – and the 49ers have been found wanting in clutch moments. Lynch’s return in front of a baying Seattle crowd should also be a factor; the Seahawks are very tempting as outsiders.