For the first time in what feels like forever there is no clear MVP candidate. No player has truly separated himself from the pack, but at the same time a handful of guys have put together seasons worthy of consideration. As Week 17 arrives the race has settled to these four candidates:
Ezekiel Elliott (+275)
The rookie wonder from the Cowboys has lived up to every inch of the hype he was given coming out of Ohio State. With Zeke manning the backfield that generational offensive line has been able to shine. If Zeke were the first rookie ever to win the award just know that in parenthese would be the names of Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Doug Free. Assuming he sits on Sunday Zeke will wrap up his historical rookie campaign with 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns. That is called a return on investment.
Matt Ryan (+300)
How about the return of Matty Ice? After spending the last two seasons in a shell of himself Ryan has returned to the guy we saw dominate the league in 2013. Having Julio Jones never hurts, but this year Ryan has had success regardless of who suits up. Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan has designed an offense tailor made for Ryan’s strengths and the results have been phenomenal. Ryan has the Falcons offense atop the league in points per game with a staggering 33.5 points per game. A win on Sunday will give the Falcons the two seed and home field for at least one game. That’s quite the turnaround for a guy who couldn’t get out of his own way just 12 months ago.
Aaron Rodgers (+300)
Just off his pseudo guarantee alone Aaron Rodgers should be one of the favorites. Rodgers said back in Week 11 that the Packers could run the table and thus far his troops have done just that. During the five game winning streak Rodgers has thrown for 1,367 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. If he can finish it off in Detroit against a Lions team he has success against the NFL might as well ship the trophy to his house.
Tom Brady (+400)
Watching Tom Brady go Tom Wick coming off his suspension was one of my favorite moments of the season. He is still on schedule to meet Roger “Mr. McMahon” Goodell at the Super Bowl and as a Jets fan it pains me to say that this would be the only year I wouldn’t mind seeing Brady win. In just eleven games Brady has thrown for over 3,000 yards (3,278 yards to be exact), 25 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Oh and the Patriots will likely be the one seed again. Business as usual in New England.
My Pick: Matt Ryan
It comes down to Rodgers vs. Ryan for me. Zeke’s candidacy truly belongs to his offensive line plus he will be given Rookie of the Year honors. Brady has been phenomenal, but has not had the same impact that Ryan or Rodgers has had which says a lot about the other two contenders. Where Ryan separates himself from Rodgers is expectations heading into the season. It’s easy to take greatness for granted when it’s as consistent as Rodgers. Just like LeBron in basketball and now Mike Trout in baseball, we can always give A-Rod the MVP. Given that Ryan looked washed up prior to 2016 he has my pick.
The good thing is we have one more week to decide and Week 17 is always liable to get a little crazy. Let’s take a look, home teams are in CAPS.
Bills (-3.5) over JETS
The Jets could not even get the satisfaction of forcing Rex Ryan to the unemployment line. Ryan and his brother Rob were relieved of their duties on Tuesday after the Bills not only failed to make the playoffs, but saw their defense go from a strength to a serious liability. Former Jets coach and Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn will take over for at least this week and his first act as head coach will be benching Tyrod Taylor. Ryan was allegedly the last Taylor supporter left in upstate New York so his exit should mean Taylor leaving town too. If that is the case maybe Jets GM Mike Maccagnan pays a visit before or after the game.
Why the Bills want to move on to E.J. Manuel is anyone’s guess, Taylor is the better option and the Jets would welcome him with open arms. The poo-poo platter of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg has translated to four wins this season. Petty and Smith have excuses, the team was already fractured and battered by the time they got their chance. As for Fitz? He’s been terrible even when the team was at full health. It is clear that 2015 was an arbitration more than it was foreshadowing. This should be the final game of Fitz’s career in New York and it could not come soon enough. This game will be a certified stinker and not worth anyone’s time.
Prediction: Bills 27, Jets 14
Ravens (+2) over BENGALS
Last Saturday night was one of the worst prime time games of the year not including the Jets. The Bengals and Texans put on the type of game that force people to never watch football again. Not only was the score 12-10, there were no highlight plays other than Randy Bullock shanking the potential chipshot field goal at the end of regulation. Marvin Lewis appears to be safe making this game even more useless. Last week the team’s inactive list featured a ton of starters including A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Vontaze Burfict, and Jeremy Hill. Common sense would tell us that all mentioned will be out again plus Andy Dalton and others.
The Ravens have nothing to play for either, but Sunday will be the final game of Steve Smith’s career. Smith was supposed to hang up his cleats last year before injuring his Achilles. In his extra season the future Hall of Famer pieced together a respectable stat line of 67 receptions, 765 yards, and 5 touchdowns. If nothing else the Ravens owe it to their veteran to try and get him the chance to retire on a win. Last week’s loss at Pittsburgh no doubt still stings given that they were up three with a minute left in the game. Nothing cures a bad loss like a win heading into the offseason.
Prediction: Ravens 17, Bengals 13
Texans (-3) over TITANS
Quite a few teams had a brutal Week 16 and the Titans are no exception. They lost their chance at a playoff spot as well as their franchise quarterback. Marcus Mariota breaking his fibula in last week’s washout against the Jaguars had to be a huge punch to the gut of anyone associated with the Titans. Matt Cassel is not a bad option considering the state of backups across the league, but it’s not like he will ever keep defensive coordinators up at night. With nothing left to play for the best thing the Titans can do is see what they have going into next season. DeMarco Murray figures to play a huge role next year so Derrick Henry should get his chance at the bellcow role this week.
The Texans they are pretty much locked into the fourth seed in the AFC. They will either have a second consecutive Wild Card weekend date with the Chiefs at home or welcome the Derek Carr-less Raiders. If the Football Gods are with them they will draw the Raiders, but any team that thinks Brock Osweiler deserves $72 million should never be rewarded. Tom Savage is definitely better than Brock, but then again so is my grandmother. Savage did not light the field up in last week’s 12-10 Christmas Eve snoozer so a strong outing before the playoffs would put Texans fans at ease. If Savage needs advice on how to score points here’s one for him–throw the ball to DeAndre Hopkins.
Prediction: Texans 23, Titans 16
Panthers (+5.5) over BUCCANEERS
If you were one of the people that lost their fantasy championship game because of Doug Martin’s late scratch my condolences are with you. I never thought much of Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter and after last week he confirmed he’s an idiot. Martin does not look like the resurgent running back we saw last year, but Jacquizz Rodgers is not exactly the player I think of as an upgrade. Martin’s healthy scratch had no positive effect on the Bucs’ performance as the team saw their playoff chances evaporate in New Orleans. Moving forward the future still looks bright with Jameis Winston and Mike Evans leading the way.
The future in Carolina is still up in the air. The Panthers were not the only playoff team to fall from grace this season–six playoff teams from last year missed the playoffs this year–but that does not mean it is acceptable. Cam Newton did not have a proper follow up to his 2015 MVP campaign but then again how could he when he’s taking kills shots every game. The referees have yet to award Cam a roughing the passer penalty and it’s starting to get ridiculous. To some the Panthers come off as whiny sore losers however if you watch Cam you see a quarterback not being treated like his peers. Cam is an elite player and elite quarterbacks need to get the calls not just pocket passers. Look for the former MVP to make one final statement as he heads into the offseason.
Prediction: Panthers 31, Buccaneers 28
COLTS (-4.5) over Jaguars
Congratulations to the Jaguars for finally looking like the team everyone thought they would be this year. Of course it comes after Gus Bradley gets fired and the team started 2-12, but hey let’s look at the bright side. Despite the pathetic record the Jaguars head coaching vacancy should be one of the better available job. Whoever comes in next season will have a good young defense, average running game, and an exciting young receiving core. The only piece missing is quarterback because Blake Bortles is not the guy. The best course of action would be to venture into the trade market and look at a Jimmy Garoppolo or a Tyrod Taylor next season. For this week they will have Bortles unfortunately which usually spells disaster for the Jags.
The Colts did not light the league on fire this year, but at least they have their franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck. If it weren’t for Luck I’m not so sure the Colts win five games this season. Colts GM Ryan Grigson is among the worst executives in the league and should be replaced after the season. He has done nothing to get the team back to the playoffs and to make matters worse he’s a blame game type of guy. Chuck Pagano might not be Bill Belichick, but he’s certainly better at his job than Grigson. My only hope is Grigson’s replacement gets an offensive line in front of Luck before he gets killed on the field.
Prediction: Jaguars 20, Colts 27
Patriots (-9.5) over DOLPHINS
This matchup is yet another meaningless Week 17 games for all the right reasons. The Dolphins have clinched a playoff spot already proving you just need a decent quarterback if everything else around them is good. Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore are guys you are never happy to have, but the supporting cast is a completely different story. One of my favorite storylines of the season has been the rise of Devante Parker and Jay Ajayi. Parker’s emergence as the second receiver has elevated the Dolphins offense and given Jarvis Landry more opportunities to make plays. Ajayi is solely responsible for a handful of the team’s wins including last week’s playoff clincher in Buffalo. His 50-yard run late in overtime was the epitome of clutch saved the Dolphins from having to play a must win game against the Patriots.
Technically the Patriots have to win this game. The AFC playoff field looks considerably worse than it did a couple weeks ago, but it never hurts to have home-field throughout the playoffs. A win on Sunday does just that for the Patriots. Tom Brady and company embarassed the rival Jets at home 41-3 last week and flashed the type of dominance that they are capable of even without Rob Gronkowski. Brady has never been dominant in Miami (6-7 in his last 13 games), but that should not waver anyone’s trust in him getting the job done. Above all Brady is a winner and if the Patriots need to win in Miami he will win in Miami. Expect one last display of dominance as they head into their bye week.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 20
VIKINGS (-5) over Bears
Want to hear a stat that will have Vikings fans running for a Clorox cocktail? Over the last ten games they have one more win than the Browns. Let that sink in. This was a team that was considered a Super Bowl contender during the first month. What went wrong for the Vikings since then? It starts with the offensive line, but lately the blame can be passed around to the defense, quarterback, and coaching staff. The defense that was the best unit in football a couple months ago has now given up 72 points in the last two weeks. Sam Bradford was never going to spearhead a high-powered offense so if the defense is getting torched for 30-plus a game there is not much to see. Last week’s 38-25 loss in Green Bay was not as egregious 34-6 home loss to the Colts the week before, but that’s not much consolation. If this team has any pride we will see it this week against a beatable opponent.
Matt Barkley’s fifteen minutes of fame in Chicago were short-lived. After being considered the starter of the future Barkley responded with a five interception performance in the home finale.If this had come against the Seahawks or another top unit it would be understandable. It came against the Redskins. No quarterback should ever throw five interceptions against the Redskins. Clearly the Bears’ quarterback search will continue, but at least they have the running back of the future in Jordan Howard. The rookie has been the lone reason for Bears fans to cheer and one of the least talked about players in the league.
Prediction: Bears 17, Vikings 24
EAGLES (-4) over Cowboys
In case there were any Tony Romo whispers left in Dallas Dak Prescott put them to rest last Monday night. The rookie quarterback looks every bit as good as his classmate Ezekiel Elliott which is saying something. In a pseudo playoff matchup against the Lions Prescott helped lead a dominant performance in the home finale as the offense put up 42 after Jason Garrett called off the dogs early in the fourth quarter. Whatever the Cowboys wanted to do they did. Even Dez Bryant threw a touchdown pass. With the top seed locked up it would be wise to rest Zeke and Dez, but the rest of the starters should see action before taking next week off.
The Eagles do not have a next week to look forward too. They do not even have a high pick to look forward too (although that Vikings first round pick gets better by the week). Carson Wentz had a successful rookie season, but it is painfully clear the Eagles need to invest in weapons. Jordan Matthews is the best receiver they have and he should never be a team’s top option. Believe it or not the Eagles are not that far off from competing for the playoffs. Their defense always seems to be able to generate turnovers and more importantly, score off those turnovers. All that is missing is a consistent offense. Last week they derailed the Giants’ playoff plans momentarily and will certainly give the Cowboys all they can handle in Week 17. The main thing I’m looking for is Tony Romo playing the second half.
Prediction: Cowboys 21, Eagles 27
STEELERS (-6) over Browns
Shout out to the Browns for not becoming the second winless team in NFL history. It was mildly pathetic to see a team celebrate how the Browns did after their win last week, but can you really blame them? Before last week’s win the last time they won Johnny Manziel was their quarterback. Now the team can get ready for the draft as they will have two top ten picks thanks to the Rams being such clowns. Last week was the perfect storm for them as they were at home against a West Coast team that was banged up. Isaiah Crowell scored twice and Robert Griffin III didn’t turn the ball over which helped guide the Browns to their lone victory of the season. Head coach Hue Jackson said the win could be the turning point for the franchise.
That turning point may come, but not this week. The Steelers may have clinched the AFC North already, but heading into the playoffs cold is never a smart decision. The starting offense figures to play at least the first quarter which could lead to a 14-0 lead if not more. It would be wise to get Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and especially Ben Roethlisberger off the field quickly, but the defense should stay the remainder of the game and get some reps. As of right now the Steelers are the only thing stopping the Patriots from a conference title, but they will never come close to taking down the Brady with their defense. Joe Flacco let them off the hook last week and Mike Tomlin cannot afford to have his defense look that bad again. That unit needs reps and who better to build your confidence against than the Browns?
Prediction: Browns 16, Steelers 24
BRONCOS (-1.5) over Raiders
Watching Derek Carr go down with a broken leg was the lowlight of the season. Carr is the heart of the Raiders and their once promising run seems to be over. This situation is eerily similar to what happened to the Cardinals two seasons ago when they lost Carson Palmer late and had to trot out Ryan Lindley in a Wild Card game. Matt McGloin is equally anemic as Lindley, but the bright side is the Cardinals made a deep playoff run the year after. With Carr gone the best course of action is to double down on the run game. They still possess one of the best offensive lines in the conference and have an impressive trio of Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington. These three helped seal the game last week and will be heavily relied on moving forward.
The Broncos fell victim to this running attack the first time these two met in Oakland. The defending champs got run over, but to be fair they weren’t at full health. This time they will be healthier and with nothing to play for. Trevor Siemian proved on Christmas that he is not the starter of the future, leading a feeble attack in a 33-10 washing at the hands of the Chiefs. They should have the upperhand in this game given the Raiders are probably still shellshocked by Carr’s injury. The only possible way the Raiders walk away with a win is if the Broncos pull an all-time petty move and sit their guys so the Chiefs (who ran up the score last week) have to play next weekend instead of having a bye.
Prediction: Raiders 10, Broncos 13
Giants (+7.5) over REDSKINS
The Giants are playoff bound once again despite still having some kinks to iron out. The defense has fulfilled its duties and then some. Odell Beckham has regained his superstar form after having minor trouble adjusting to the scrutiny early on. The two main points of concern heading into Wild Card weekend are Eli Manning and the offensive line. The running game has not been very good, but making the obvious switch from Rashad Jennings to rookie Paul Perkins should solve that. Left tackle Ereck Flowers seems to be a bust beyond saving so the only quick fix is to run away from him and reduce the five step drops for Eli. The problems up front are part of the problem with Eli, but not the whole. Even when given time Eli seems to either make the wrong decision or a bad throw. He was the reason the Giants didn’t clinch last week and it would go a long way to head into next weekend with a strong Week 17 outing.
This week will be a playoff scrimmage for the Giants as they take on a Redskins team that can clinch a berth of their own with a win. It’s remarkable that the Skins are still alive after falling flat on their face on Monday night two weeks ago. Kirk Cousins is 370 yards away from a 5,000 yard season and will have to earn every yard if he is going to accomplish that. An injured Jordan Reed in addition to a stout Giants secondary makes for an intriguing matchup. DeSean Jackson is a known Giants assassin so look for Cousins to continue to target his speed demon. Fat Rob will have to be really good for the Redskins to control the game and if he can then there might be playoff football in the DMV after all.
Prediction: Giants 24, Redskins 26
FALCONS (-6.5) over Saints
The final year of the Georgia Dome has brought out the best in Matt Ryan. When Ryan first arrived in Atlanta he completely owned the Georgia Dome. The past two seasons have been rough for him, but with his favorite place closing it seems like he is letting it rip. As of right now he stands as the frontrunner to take home MVP honors and possibly Comeback Player of the Year honors. He enters Sunday with 4,613 yards, 34 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions with a 69.5 completion percentage. Even when Julio Jones has been out Ryan has been able to captain the Falcons to the top of the league. They are by far the best offensive unit and will be a two seed in the NFC. Last week he picked apart the Panthers for a second time and will look to do the same against the Saints to lock up a bye.
Drew Brees has had another solid season per usual, but it was not enough to get a playoff spot. That can be credited to the Saints’ defense which started out as a trainwreck, temporarily got their shit together, and then became a trainwreck again. They were able to win their home finale which is always good, but will now face a Falcons offense that made mincemeat out of them in Week 3. This could be another fireworks display between the two as they look to burn down the Georgia Dome in its final regular season game.
Prediction: Saints 28, Falcons 38
Cardinals (-6) over RAMS
No division has fallen from grace quite like the NFC West. Just four years ago this was the cream of the crop in the league. Top to bottom the division was tough. Now? Everyone is at the bottom except the Seahawks. The basement of the division is now in Los Angeles where the Rams are not even capable of beating the 49ers. Todd Gurley finally found the end zone last week which made his fantasy owners happy, but the fact still remains that he is the sole asset on this offense. Tavon Austin is not a top option nor will he ever be and I’m not even sure Jared Goff can be a competent starter next year. The Rams are a complete mess and that should come as no surprise with Jeff Fisher calling the shots. With Fisher gone the best thing the Rams can do is hit reset and build around Gurley, Aaron Donald and any other young player that shows any remnants of will power.
The Cardinals were not much better this season, but they at least have their shit together. The only true areas in need of improvement are quarterback, cornerback, and receiver. Michael Floyd’s departure left a gaping hole at receiver and with Larry Fitzgerald entering the tail end of his career it’s time for the receiving corps to be replenished. J.J. Nelson has been an interesting weapon as he has taken on the Ted Ginn role in the offense. Other than that Bruce Arians might as well wipe the slate clean and see what he can work with. David Johnson is the star of the show, but every star needs a supporting cast. Week 17 is a chance for guys to claim their spot for next year or prove they are not worth the time.
Prediction: Cardinals 28, Rams 17
49ERS (+9.5) over Seahawks
Keeping the theme of shitty football in the NFC West are the Seahawks and 49ers. It’s hard to imagine that this was the marquee rivalry of the league four years ago. Colin Kaepernick was a rising star and the 49ers seemed poised to return to dynasty status. Since then Jim Harbaugh left, Kaepernick regressed, and any player with above average talent fled town like tsunami was on its way. That tsunami seems to be Jed York who has all the makings of a trust fund baby owner that sucks at his job. The team has nosedived under him and the 49ers fans have the same hate for him that Knicks fans have for James Dolan and Lakers fans have for Jimmy Buss. Chances are York isn’t going anywhere so Niners fans better start purchasing their Raiders gear now.
Things in Seattle have stayed the same for the most part. Despite the home finale loss to the Cardinals last week the Seahawks are playoff bound yet again. They are not the same bullies that ran the league a couple years back with Earl Thomas on the shelf and Marshawn Lynch retired. They do still have is Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Pete Carroll which should be enough to navigate the postseason. After watching Tyler Lockett brutally go down with a broken leg last week the Seahawks would be wise to take their foot off the gas quickly this week and head into next weekend as healthy as possible.
Prediction: Seahawks 20, 49ers 13
Chiefs (-5.5) over CHARGERS
The last time the Chargers faced the Chiefs they had them on the ropes. It was Week 1 and Melvin Gordon’s burst onto the scene caught everyone off guard. Philip Rivers still had a healthy lineup and the Chargers looked to be on their way to a strong 2016. They went on to choke in the second half of the game thanks to Keenan Allen’s devastating ACL tear and Spencer Ware tearing up the defense in the second half. Since that game it has been a rollercoaster for the Chargers. They have flirted with being a playoff-caliber team before falling back into the doldrums of the middle class. Gordon will not be available for this game as will half of the offense leaving only Tyrell Williams and Antonio Gates. They will have Joey Bosa on defense, but that should not play a role in stopping Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs high octane attack.
Who needs Jamaal Charles when you have Tyreek Hill? Chiefs fans can only dream about what those two could have done on the field together. Since Hill has heavily been involved in the offense the Chiefs have been nearly unstoppable. He’s been a matchup nightmare on the outside and his ability to line up at receiver and running back has to be giving defensive coaches migraines. A win plus a Raiders loss equals a first round bye so the Chargers can rule out an easier Sunday afternoon. Alex Smith has been more than solid this season picking up the slack left behind in the aftermath of Charles not being available this year. The defense has been just as solid as the Chiefs look like the best team at football at times.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Chargers 23
Packers (-3.5) over LIONS
Here is the game of the week. No game carries more playoff implications than this game. The winner takes the NFC North, the loser awaits the unknown of playoff scenarios. The Lions have fumbled their two chances to lock up a playoff spot, losing their last two games. In both those games Theo Riddick has been missing. Riddick has been the team’s second most vital piece aside from Matthew Stafford on the offensive side of the ball. Without him Stafford has had to force feed Golden Tate and Eric Ebron. Even with a loss the Lions can make the playoffs with a Redskins loss or a tie with the Packers.
The Packers are on a collision course. Since getting embarrassed by the Redskins on Sunday Night Football in November they have not lost. Following the massacre Aaron Rodgers felt his team could definitely run the table and they’ve done just that going 5-0. The stellar play of Rodgers has had an effect on the defense which has pulled itself together compared to where they were in the middle of the season. Ty Montgomery has stepped up big time to play running back effectively enough to open up the passing game. All of this coupled with the fact the last time Rodgers was in Ford Field this happened:
Rodgers will once again come up big and carry the Packers on his back and prove yet again that doubting him is simply idiotic.
Prediction: Packers 24, Lions 20
Last Week: 9-7