2021 March Madness January Bracketology: Where teams stand midway through conference play

We are just over 6 weeks away from Selection Sunday, and we are midway through regular season conference play. I last posted a bracketology around New Year’s before conference play had really began. I come to you 4 weeks later with an update. Which teams improved? Which teams declined? Which teams are on the bubble? Keep reading to find out what I think.

Note: Conference winners were not based on current conference standings — they were based on who I think would win if the conference tournaments were played today.

I have Baylor edging out Gonzaga as the #1 overall team. Baylor is one of five remaining undefeated teams at 14-0 and comes off a strong week in which they took down Kansas and Oklahoma State. I have Tennessee as a 2 seed despite a rough week that included losses to Florida and Missouri. They should be back to business as usual once Jaden Springer returns. The Hawkeyes fall to a #3 seed after the loss to Indiana, though they should be back to a 2 seed soon if Luka Garza keeps playing like he has been. Florida State is definitely a top 16 team as well after some strong ACC wins over North Carolina, Louisville, and Clemson (who they lost to earlier in the season).

I’m higher on UConn than most. Sure, they had a rough week, but when James Bouknight is healthy the Huskies are a dangerous team. Bouknight nearly led UConn to upset Creighton in their first meeting, and I think UConn will play like a top 25 or possibly even top 16 team once Bouknight returns. The Hoosiers have won the games they should be winning, and I think the upset over Iowa gives them a borderline top 25 resume as well. Both the Hoosiers and Purdue should do well in the tourney this year considering the fact that it will be played entirely in Indiana. I have the Boilermakers as an 8 seed in this same conference.

The recent departure of Oscar Tshiebwe hurts West Virginia, but the Mountaineers did just upset Texas Tech. I still think they’re a top 25 team even if I’m lower on them than the consensus. I had LSU as a top 25 team to begin the year, but they won’t be back there until they beat some better opponents. Their biggest win so far is against Arkansas. USC is another team that lacks big name wins despite a strong season overall, so I have them in the 10 slot. The Friars are just about the opposite of those teams I just mentioned. They stand at 8-7, but they’ve had some pretty impressive moments. They were able to pull off an upset over Creighton after 36 points from David Duke and they have some other impressive Big East victories to add to it. That should be enough to secure a bye, while Utah State and Memphis have just enough of a resume to secure some of the final at-large bids.

Liberty, Montana State, Colgate, UMBC, and Jackson State fill out the rest of this region as I think they would win their conference tournaments based on what we’ve seen so far. Liberty was impressive at the Space Coast Challenge and has followed it up with a strong Atlantic Sun showing, so they get the highest seed of these teams. Montana State and Jackson State are undefeated in conference play, while Colgate and UMBC are close to it, so they should all get auto-bids as well.

Michigan’s only loss so far is in Minnesota, and the Gophers have been pretty impressive on their home court this year; I have them as a 1 seed despite their upcoming 2 week COVID pause. The Longhorns came pretty close to a 1 seed as well, but I think Michigan has a slightly better resume. Creighton is a very tricky team to rank. Every single Blue Jays game this year has come extremely close. The Jays nearly took down Kansas, but they also have three conference losses: Butler, Providence, and Marquette. Alabama is another team that’s hard to rank. They started off the season extremely shaky, falling to Stanford and Western Kentucky and nearly losing to Furman, but they have yet to lose an SEC game. Virginia, similarly, started off with a loss to San Francisco but is undefeated in ACC play. I have all three of those teams over Ohio State, who despite road wins over Wisconsin and Illinois got swept by Purdue and has a loss to Northwestern.

Oregon lost to an extremely inconsistent Colorado Buffaloes team, but they still appear to be the best squad in a weak Pac-12. I have them facing off against Duke in Round 1. Duke, like fellow 10 seed USC, lacks a big name win this year. I have Boise State and Drake in the 8-9 game. Both the teams play in fairly strong conferences (though they aren’t Power Six) and are undefeated in those conferences. Drake is undefeated on the season, while the Broncos have only lost once (to Houston). We’ll see if Drake can maintain their undefeated season when they return from their pause for COVID protocols.

Saint Bonaventure should snag one of the last four byes, as they’re off to a rather strong start in the Atlantic 10. Western Kentucky is the 12 seed here. While they are on this as an auto-bid, I think they would find a way into the tournament regardless after an impressive start that includes a win over Alabama.

I have Sam Houston, Grand Canyon, Northeastern, and Coastal Carolina winning their respective conferences to round out the region. Sam Houston is undefeated in the Southland Conference, as is Grand Canyon in the WAC, so they should get higher seeds than the Huskies and Chanticleers.

Gonzaga and Winthrop, two of the other undefeated teams this season (in addition to Baylor and Drake), are included in this region. The fifth remaining undefeated team is Alabama A&M, who is banned from the 2021 tournament due to poor academics. I have the Bulldogs slightly below Baylor, but they do have wins over Iowa and Kansas as a part of their 15-0 start to the season. Houston was undefeated for a while as well, but they split the season series with Tulsa. I have them as a 2 seed since they have been dominant for the most part as Quentin Grimes posts another strong season for the Cougars. Speaking of Kansas, I have the Jayhawks in the 3 slot for this region. They have wins over Texas Tech and Creighton, but they’ve also dropped 3 straight, falling to Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Oklahoma. Kansas was lined up to be a 1 seed last year, but without Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, they profile as more of a 3 seed for now.

I still have Illinois as a top 16 team despite their recent loss to Maryland. The Terrapins have been inconsistent, but they’ve had a lot of big wins lately, and that loss doesn’t really ruin the resume for Illinois. I’m higher on the Fighting Illini than most, and I’m also pretty high on the Florida Gators. Even after Keyontae Johnson’s scary collapse, the Gators have gotten off to a strong start in SEC play that includes a victory over Tennessee. If Johnson can return before the year ends, watch out for Florida in this tourney.

Yes, Minnesota did pull off upsets over Iowa and Michigan. However, both of those wins were at home, and the Gophers lost to each of those teams on the road. They aren’t invincible at home either, as they recently hosted Maryland and lost. It’s hard to put the Gophers much higher than I have them considering their inconsistency. A lot of people have Virginia Tech as a clear cut top 25 team and some have them over teams like Florida, Illinois, and Minnesota. Yes, they beat Villanova, but I don’t see how they’re any better than a team like Indiana; both lack a good resume around the big upset they pulled off.

In the 8-9 game here, I have Syracuse and San Diego State. I did not think I would end up putting Syracuse here, but all they really needed to prove was that they could beat other tourney contenders. Headed into this week, their best win was against Georgetown, but this week they added wins over Miami FL and Virginia Tech to legitimize their resume. SDSU has been inconsistent in the Mountain West, but they’ve had some impressive wins like their opening night victory over UCLA, which was back when UCLA star Chris Smith was healthy. UCLA gets one of the last four byes. I’m not as high on them considering Smith is done for the year and the Bruins already lacked a big name win. Unlike Syracuse, I don’t see them winning too many big games down the stretch.

Seton Hall is 9-6, but if they just finish their games a little stronger they have the potential to be a lot better. They’ve come within minutes of taking down Oregon, Louisville, and even Villanova. I have them grabbing the 10 seed, and I have Belmont, South Dakota State, UC Irvine, Siena, and Coppin State rounding out the region with at-large bids. Belmont is 16-1, and South Dakota State upset Utah State, so those two have the highest seeds of the bunch.

I have Villanova joining Baylor, Gonzaga, and Michigan as a 1 seed. Aside from the Virginia Tech loss, the Wildcats have dominated this season. Their resume would be up there with Baylor and Zags if it weren’t for the loss. They’re not there yet, but I could see Texas Tech making the case for a 1 seed as well. They didn’t really play too many good teams early on, but they’ve now taken down Texas and would be competing for the Big 12 if it weren’t for Baylor. They lost to the Bears about a week ago, but they play Baylor again in 3 weeks and a road win over Baylor could be what they need to make a leap in the rankings. Even if they don’t snag a 1 seed, I think Georgetown transfer Mac McClung could lead them on another Final Four run. Oklahoma State is another Big 12 team I think people are sleeping on. They put up a good fight against Baylor and Texas and led by freshman stud Cade Cunningham, they took down Kansas and Texas Tech. I think they headline that second tier of Big 12 teams; I have them ahead of West Virginia and the Oklahoma Sooners (who I have as a 10 seed here).

The Badgers have lost to Marquette and Maryland, two lesser teams that have been extremely inconsistent. I think those games were a fluke though, because Wisconsin has a very impressive resume aside from that. They annihilated Louisville early in the season and are 6-3 in an unforgiving B1G. I have 10 B1G teams making the tournament, including Michigan State and Rutgers from this region. The Spartans could be performing better in the conference, but I expect Tom Izzo to lead them on a turnaround and they’ll end up with an 8 or 9 seed as they usually do in down years. I have them taking on Louisville in the 8-9 game. The Scarlet Knights have similar inconsistencies to fellow B1G team Minnesota: they rarely win road games and they are even somewhat inconsistent at home. The difference between Rutgers and Minnesota? Rutgers doesn’t have wins over the B1G’s top two teams. Rutgers will have to make it out of a First Four game against another streaky team in Clemson. I have an Oscar da Silva-led Stanford squad ahead of both of these teams as they secure one of the last four byes.

Missouri and Saint Louis are two teams that have exceeded expectations. I didn’t really see Missouri as a tournament team before the season, but an experienced core led the Tigers to victories over Illinois, Oregon, and Tennessee (who had beaten them just a few weeks prior). The Billikens started off the season strong with wins over LSU and NC State and just one loss (in Minnesota). They’ve been on pause due to COVID but they’re starting Atlantic 10 play this week and that will be a test to see if this team is a legitimate top 25 squad.

Rounding out the region with auto-bids are Wofford, Toledo, Bryant, and Cleveland State.

Bubble Watch

Just outside the field of 68 is BYU. It’ll be hard for them to legitimize their resume unless they can upset Gonzaga, but they may be able to sneak into the tournament if other bubble teams struggle. Kentucky, unlike most years, is also just outside the tourney. Kentucky might very well be the most inconsistent team in the country right now. The Wildcats will need their young core to step up and finish games stronger if they want a slot in the tourney. Maryland is below .500 in B1G play despite some big name upsets. If they can win Big Ten games on a more consistent basis they should make it. South Florida has pretty much met expectations so far. If they can knock off Houston or another big name team, they might have a chance to get in.

I think Pittsburgh and Mississippi State have fairly good chances to get in as well. They play in a strong conference, they just need to prove themselves to be capable against some better conference opponents. The Shockers and Rams have an uphill climb, though either could have a chance if they upset their conference’s top team (Houston for Wichita State and Boise State for Colorado State).

That’s all for today’s bracketology. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Quick Takes #1: Tough division could make season difficult for Bruins

Welcome to quick takes, my new series of shorter posts with my sports opinions. I’m starting this series off with a post about the Bruins. I’ll be posting my full NHL predictions later, and I’m fairly high on Boston, but I want to point out why it might be tough for them to meet expectations this year.

All sports fans know just how easy the NFL’s NFC East was to win this year. 7-9 Washington snagged a playoff spot simply because they were the NFC East’s best team. They beat out the 6-10 Giants, 6-10 Cowboys, and 4-11-1 Eagles. Now think of the opposite of the NFC East. That’s like the NHL’s East Division this year.

This year, the regular season will utilize realigned divisions and make up of divisional play only, and the playoff bracket will be divided into four quadrants based on division. Four teams in each division will make it. When I was making my NHL predictions, I noticed that it was extremely hard to decide which East Division teams I’d put on my playoff bracket, because there were so many playoff caliber teams in the division. I calculated the combined points % of each of this year’s divisions. Notice the gap between the East Division and the other three:

Combined Points %

East: .597
Central: .542
West: .549
North: .542

In addition to this, 5 of the last 7 President’s Trophy winners have come from this year’s East Division.

Don’t get me wrong, I like this realignment. It’s going to revive classic rivalries, and I’ve always liked the idea of an all-Canadian NHL Division. I even proposed a way to keep this realignment around beyond COVID in my article about What Should Stick Around from 2020 Sports. It’s not the NHL’s fault the East Division is the toughest division to play-in, they just didn’t want teams traveling so far. The competitiveness of this division will impact the season though.

Yes, I have the Bruins taking this division, because the duo of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand is hard to beat. However, this feat won’t be easy, and even a short term absence of Pastrnak could hurt the Bruins in this merciless division. I don’t think any of these teams win the President’s Trophy; they’ll be too busy beating up on each other.

The Bruins will face competition from most of the teams in this division. The Flyers are coming off a big season thanks to the heroics of young goalie Carter Hart. The Rangers improved last year after bringing in Artemi Panarin and Alexis Lafreniere will help them get even better. Alex Ovechkin still leads a very strong Capitals squad. I think those four teams will end up in the playoffs, but none of these four are locks.

The Sabres, Penguins, or Islanders could all make a case for the playoffs too. Buffalo has slowly improved as the young talent develops, and the additions of Taylor Hall and Eric Staal will only accelerate things. The Penguins are getting older but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could still make a case for the playoffs. The Islanders lack big name superstars, but coach Barry Trotz has kept them competitive. I suspect the teams in this division will be beating up on the New Jersey Devils a lot. While the Devils are looking better than last year, they are no match for these other teams.

The Bruins may very well be the best team in this division or possibly even one of the best in the league. The issue is this division is so close that there’s going to be no margin for error. A bad stretch by the Bruins could cost them the division, or even cost them a playoff spot. For the Bruins this year, my expectations are low, but my hopes are high.

That’s all for my quick take today. Stay tuned for more NHL content on Twitter later today.

2021 NFL Playoff Predictions: How far can Henry take Titans, who wins it all?

The largest NFL playoffs in history start tomorrow with a crazy Wild Card Weekend. 6 playoff games will air over the next two days. Even though the Patriots missed the playoffs, I’ll be excited to watch as I keep an eye on Tom Brady’s Buccaneers among other teams. Below I have my playoff bracket and have broken down each game. However, before we get to that, I thought it would be interesting to touch on a big storyline from last week that could have implications for the playoffs: Derrick Henry’s 2000 yard season.

Henry is the 8th 2000 yard rusher in history. You would think teams with 2000 yard rushers would come from dominant teams. However, teams with 2000 yard rushers don’t really have an amazing history. Check out some data I gathered on the 2000 yard rushers and their teams:

Here’s some quick facts I have about the data:

  • Of the other 7 teams with 2000 yard rushers, 2 missed the playoffs, 4 lost a wild card game, and 1 (the 1998 Broncos) won the Super Bowl
  • Titans are the first franchise with two 2000 yard rushing seasons – the first was by speedster Chris Johnson in 2009
  • The all time single season rushing record belongs to Rams legend Eric Dickerson (2105 yards). Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season came close to that marker, but not Henry’s 2020 performance
  • Only two of the other teams with 2000 yard rushers had Pro Bowl QBs, the 1998 Broncos had John Elway and the 2009 Titans had Vince Young
  • The 2020 Titans were top 5 in offensive PPG and total offense. Only two of the other teams with 2000 yard rushers (the 1997 Lions and 1998 Broncos) had a top 5 offense in both categories
  • Of the 8 teams, only the 1998 Broncos were top 10 in total passing
  • All 8 teams were 1st or 2nd in total rushing. The 2020 Titans trailed their wild card opponent, the Ravens in total rushing
  • 6 of the 8 teams were top 16 in both total defense and PPG allowed. Both Titans teams were 28th in total defense. The 2009 Titans were also 28th in PPG allowed, while the 2020 Titans were 24th in that category
  • The 2020 Titans, at 11-5, have the second best record of the 8 teams. The Super Bowl winning 1998 Broncos had the best at 14-2
  • The 2020 Titans won the AFC South. Only two of the other 7 teams, the 1998 Broncos and 2003 Ravens won their division

The 1998 Broncos were a breed of their own among this group of teams with 2000 yard rushers. Terrell Davis’ 2000 yard season was in addition to big years by Hall of Fame QB John Elway and legendary TE Shannon Sharpe, as well as 1000 yard seasons by WRs Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. They were top 10 in PPG, total offense, total passing, and total rushing, and they had a top 12 defense to compliment it. The Broncos were a 14-2 super-team.

The 2020 Titans are definitely not as good as that Broncos team. However, they have a strong offense around Henry with QB Ryan Tannehill and the WR duo of A.J. Brown and Corey Davis. They did have the 2nd best record of these 8 teams, and they were one of three that were top 5 in total offense and offensive PPG. The question is whether they are more similar to the 1998 Broncos, or more similar to the other 6 teams, none of which made it past the wild card round.

The 1997 Lions, like the Titans, had a top 5 offense around RB Barry Sanders. However, their turnover prone QB Scott Mitchell and their inconsistency led them to a 9-7 record and a wild card loss. I think Ryan Tannehill and the 2020 Titans are better than this. However, the Titans have one of the worst defenses of these 8 teams, which could be a problem in these playoffs. I do think they’ll make it past the Ravens in the wild card round, as they know how to stop Lamar Jackson. They do also have the best offense with a 2000 yard rusher since the ‘98 Broncos. However, I can’t see them even coming close against if they have to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs or Josh Allen and the Bills. Those two teams are on another level.

Now, let’s get to the rest of my bracket:

2021 NFL Playoff Bracket

I have QB Josh Allen and the Bills taking it all. While the Chiefs have the #1 seed in the AFC, the Bills have looked really good down the stretch as Allen and the Bills defense improve.

Here’s my prediction and breakdown of each matchup:

Wild Card Weekend

Bills, 30, Colts, 17

The Colts defense has been pretty good this year, but it’s no match for dual threat QB Josh Allen, WR Stefon Diggs, and a stacked Buffalo Bills passing attack. Indy will lean on RB Jonathan Taylor in order to put up some points, but it won’t be enough for the victory.

Browns, 28, Steelers, 27

This one could truly go either way. QB Ben Roethlisberger will give the Steelers a boost compared to Week 17, but this Browns team is still no joke (even though Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster seems to think so). Even with HC Kevin Stefanski off the sidelines due to COVID, I think QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense will edge out a victory and win their first playoff game of the 21st century.

Titans, 24, Ravens, 16

These two teams have a history, and I think history will repeat itself here. This Titans offense is too strong to lose in the wild card game. I have RB Derrick Henry running all over this defense. While the Ravens will do a good job establishing the run between QB Lamar Jackson and RB J.K. Dobbins, Jackson will struggle to establish the passing game and break away for big plays.

Saints, 33, Bears, 30

I think Chicago is going to give the Saints a scare. QB Mitch Trubisky has looked good lately. Meanwhile, the Saints will be getting back into a rhythm with RBs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray alongside WR Michael Thomas returning. The Saints will struggle early on but eventually get their act together and advance.

Seahawks, 23, Rams, 17

These teams split the regular season series, and now they face off for one last time. QB Jared Goff won’t be 100% even if he plays, so I don’t see the Rams winning this one. It will be close since the Rams defense knows how to slow down QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.

Buccaneers, 27, Washington, 17

The Bucs should be grateful they have the 5 seed. They get to play the winner of a division that didn’t even have a team above .500. Even without WR Mike Evans, QB Tom Brady and his strong group of receivers will be too much for any NFC East defense, even Washington’s, to handle. I think QB Alex Smith will post a decent performance, but not enough to keep up with Brady.

Divisional Round

Chiefs, 45, Browns, 41

This Browns offense has looked really good lately.  I have them powering their way past Pittsburgh’s D and putting up even more points on this Chiefs defense.  The RB duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt has worked really well and they will thrive here.  The Browns will make this a shootout, but I think QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will prevail.  Mahomes was clutch in the regular season and could continue to show that in the playoffs.  With the help of WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce, Mahomes and the Chiefs will hang on for victory and move on to the AFC Championship.

Bills, 33, Titans, 13

The Titans may beat up on the Ravens (again), but they’re no match for this Bills team. I’m expecting that Allen and Diggs will dominate against a flawed Titans D here. He should significantly outperform QB Ryan Tannehill, who will face pressure from a stronger Bills D.

Buccaneers, 31, Packers, 28 (OT)

I think QB Aaron Rodgers will make this matchup closer than it was last time, leaning on star WR Davante Adams. This one could go either way, and I have it going to overtime after strong performances from both Brady and Rodgers. In overtime, Brady will prevail once again, helping his legacy as a clutch playoff QB.

Saints, 38, Seahawks, 28

The Saints will have gotten into more of a rhythm after finishing strong against the Bears. This game will be easier for them, as QB Drew Brees and his offense thrive against a Seattle D that has struggled all year. Yes, Russ will look better in this one than the wild card game, but it won’t be enough to keep up with Brees in his element.

AFC/NFC Championships

Bills, 38, Chiefs, 34

Mahomes will stay in this game until the very end. However, the Chiefs still have flaws on defense, and even if Mahomes dominates, it won’t guarantee a Chiefs win. I think the Chiefs secondary will struggle to keep up with Allen and his receivers, especially Diggs. The Bills will expose Kansas City’s defense as they advance to the Super Bowl.

Saints, 34, Buccaneers, 31

Brees has beaten Brady twice this year, and this one will be very close, but it seems the Saints defense knows how to limit Brady. I have the Saints prevailing in the end. I think both QBs will post dominant performances in this one, adding to their amazing careers, but motivated to get his second ring, Brees will beat out a six-ringed Brady in an intense game.

Super Bowl LV: Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints

Bills, 21, Saints, 16

This is a battle of two of the most well balanced teams in football. A lot of these playoff teams are offense heavy, but both the Bills and Saints have established a strong defense, so I’d expect a low scoring Super Bowl if this is the game. While Brees will be motivated to win another ring, he’ll struggle under pressure from this Bills D and CB Tre’Davious White should be able to shadow Michael Thomas. Meanwhile, Allen won’t post his typical numbers, but he’ll perform just well enough to lead the Bills to at long last, a Super Bowl win. That’s something Bills legend Jim Kelly could never do.

I’m really excited to see how these playoffs turn out, as there are many possibilities. Feel free to comment with your thoughts on these predictions and stay tuned for more NFL coverage in the coming weeks.

NFL Week 17 Picks: Which teams try, which teams win, and what that all means

As I said in my post about the unique changes in 2020 sports, the 14 team NFL playoffs leads to more exciting late season action. Well, here we are. It’s Week 17, and there are still 18 teams in contention. Only 7 have clinched. The other 11 are fighting over another 7 playoff spots. My Week 17 picks are here. I have predicted which teams will put an effort in, which teams will win, and what that all means for the playoff picture. Last week I went 10-6, bringing my overall record to 148-91-1. Which teams will be in? Which teams will be out? Will I break my single season pick’em record of 160-94-2? Keep reading for my picks and comment with your thoughts.

Lock of the Week

It seems the 49ers are playing for pride to an extent, as star TE George Kittle will be active despite lingering injuries throughout the year. WRs Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk will sit out though, as well as a handful of Niners defensive players. The Seahawks could be in competition for the first round bye if they win this game, so they have plenty on the line. While Kittle should help the 49ers put some points on the board, it won’t be enough to even come close against a motivated Seahawks offense.

Upset of the Week

Yes, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is far better than Bears QB Mitch Trubisky. However, division games are never truly locks, because it’s hard to beat the same team twice. Trubisky is on a hot streak, and at Soldier Field, I think Trubisky and his offense will post respectable numbers with a playoff spot on the line. The Bears D will also step up in this pressing situation, limiting QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams, and the Packers offense to just 24 points. I have the Bears securing their playoff spot as the Packers falling short, opening the #1 seed up to the Saints and Seahawks.

The Other Games

Sunday, 1PM
The Bills and Steelers are fighting over the #2 seed, and with Pittsburgh resting QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Bills should seize this opportunity. They will be resting some banged up players, but I expect the duo of QB Josh Allen and WR Stefon Diggs to post a strong performance. QB Tua Tagovailoa will rely on RB Myles Gaskin and WR DeVante Parker to make this close with a playoff spot on the line, but it won’t be enough to outperform the Allen-Diggs duo. That will leave Miami’s fate in the hands of teams like the Steelers (without Big Ben), Bengals, Texans, and Jaguars.
Sunday, 1PM
No matter how far out of the playoffs they are, Bill Belichick will never throw a game. Could he give QB Jarrett Stidham a chance? While he’s leaning towards starting veteran QB Cam Newton, that remains to be seen. I think this will be a close one, as the Jets have nothing to lose either way and should put their best effort in for a 3rd straight win. I have Belichick and Pats winning in a nail biter though.
Sunday, 1PM
The Browns should have a fairly easy win against a Steelers team that is without QB Ben Roethlisberger, TE Eric Ebron, and several key defensive players. The Browns did lose to the Jets last week, but they’ll get WRs Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Donovan Peoples-Jones back for this one, as well as several offensive linemen. I expect QB Baker Mayfield to pick up where he left off when this offense was last at full health and lock up a playoff spot for Cleveland.
Sunday, 1PM
The Bengals would be better off losing this one since they have a chance to win back the #3 overall pick. Meanwhile, the Ravens have a win and they’re in scenario, so this shouldn’t even be a contest. QB Lamar Jackson and his RBs should run all over the Bengals D.
Sunday, 1PM
Both of these teams still have a chance at the playoffs. Yes, they would also need an Eagles win over Washington, but both of these teams need this win badly. Neither QB is great here, but they’ll post respectable performances in this one. I think this will come down to the wire with both offenses playing well. I have the Giants winning thanks to a Graham Gano game-winning field goal.
Sunday, 1PM
The Vikings will be without RB Dalvin Cook, which means QB Kirk Cousins will have to air out the ball. I expect WRs Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to dominate against a below average Lions secondary. QB Matthew Stafford is suiting up and should help the Lions keep this competitive, but I see them falling short as they lack the star power to keep up with Thielen and Jefferson.
Sunday, 1PM
While QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski are questionable, it appears the Bucs will put their best effort in for this one. I think Brady will rely on a deep group of receivers to outplay the Atlanta defense and win this game fairly easily. I think QB Matt Ryan and WR Calvin Ridley will put on a show to stay in the game to an extent, but Brady and the Bucs should win rather comfortably.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
If the Titans win this, they clinch the AFC South and a playoff berth. The Texans won’t get much from throwing this game, as their first round pick belongs to Miami. I see QB Deshaun Watson and this offense putting up some points, but it won’t be enough against Tennessee. RB Derrick Henry is going for 2000 rushing yards, and he has already posted multiple 200 yard games in his career against Houston. I expect Henry to lead the way for a dominant offensive performance by the Titans.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
With the Dolphins falling short to Buffalo, the Colts will have a win and they’re in scenario here. The Colts lost to Jacksonville in their season opener, and they’ll be hungry for revenge. I have the Colts winning this easily as they utilize the 1-2 punch of RBs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Jacksonville won’t even really be trying here, and they’ll be guaranteed the top pick in the draft whether they win or not.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
The Chiefs have clinched everything they can possibly clinch. They come into Week 17 with the #1 seed and the best record in the NFL guaranteed. They have every right to rest this week, and they plan to rest QB Patrick Mahomes and WR Tyreek Hill at the very least. The Chargers don’t have anything to play for, but QB Justin Herbert should lead the Chargers to an easy victory here. He nearly upset the Chiefs at full strength back in his Week 2 debut.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
Neither of these teams have anything to play for, but they wouldn’t really gain all that much from a higher draft pick, so I expect both to play for pride. While the Raiders D will give up some points as usual, I’m expecting a strong offensive performance from QB Derek Carr, RB Josh Jacobs, and TE Darren Waller. The Raiders should finish the season with a .500 record while the Broncos fall to 5-11 and likely get a top 10 pick in the draft.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
The Saints will be missing RBs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray (COVID protocols) as well as WR Michael Thomas (lingering ankle issue). If they lose this, they’d have to play a playoff game without Kamara. This is QB Drew Brees’ final playoff run of his career, and he’ll be motivated to make the most of it. The Saints D will slow down Carolina’s strong group of WRs to allow Brees to edge out the victory despite missing multiple teammates. With the win, the Saints will lock up the first round bye, which should make it easier for Kamara, Murray, and Thomas to return for the next Saints game.
Sunday, 4:25 PM
The Rams are in a rough situation with a playoff spot on the line. They’ll be without QB Jared Goff, RB Darrell Henderson, and WR Cooper Kupp. RB Cam Akers is also questionable. QB Kyler Murray and the Cardinals also have a playoff spot on the line here, so they should be able to get past this banged up Rams offense.
This game will decide the fate of whoever wins the Cowboys-Giants game. The Jalen Hurts experiment will continue here for the Eagles, but they’ll be without TE Dallas Goedert, RB Miles Sanders, and WR DeSean Jackson among others. That should allow Washington to slow down Hurts and the Philly offense and win this game. With the win they’ll take the NFC East and take on Brady and the Bucs on Wild Card Weekend.

That’s all for my picks this week. I referred to the playoff scenarios on the line throughout the article. If my picks are right, the playoff picture will look like this:

I hope you all enjoy the final week of the NFL’s regular season, and I’ll have my playoff predictions out in another few days.