It’s usually the last week of the season, but Week 17 now sees the penultimate games in one of the most fascinating campaigns in years with plenty of play-off possibilities still to ponder.
The Chiefs and Bengals could serve up a classic if Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes are let off the leash, while the history-making Miami Dolphins are somehow in a play-off spot ahead of their visit to title-chasing Tennessee.
The Colts are one of the form horses in the league and can book their play-off spot, where nobody will want to face them and their MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor, while the Eagles are another top-rushing side who are looking to book their spot in the post-season.
So with all that to be decided let’s look at the pick of the games on the NFL Red Zone schedule this Sunday, along with a special touchdown double involving two light-footed quarterbacks to kick-off the New Year in style.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) @ Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
After a sticky 3-4 start, the Chiefs are right where they want to be with the AFC West title in the bag and now top seed in the AFC within reach. A win here and defeat for Tennessee will clinch it.
And given there’s just one bye available and the prize of playing at home throughout the playoffs, it’s hugely important given how loud and intimidating it gets at Arrowhead.
Their eight-game winning run isn’t exactly a surprise for a team that’s been in back-to-back Super Bowls, but the manner of it certainly is as their struggling defence has been transformed into a fearsome unit.
The Chiefs have actually allowed 10 points or less in five of their last eight wins, with only the Chargers getting over 17, with takeaways being a huge factor as they’ve forced 20 and given away just six turnovers in the last seven games.
The Bengals have similar firepower to the Chargers though, with QB Joe Burrow, rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase and running back Joe Mixon all game-changers, Cincy will get their points as they try to win the AFC North.
Burrow threw for 525 yards against Baltimore last week and the hope is he and Patrick Mahomes let it fly in what could be one of the most exciting games of the season.
The Chargers are a good form guide here with a similar passing attack, and both sides have played LA with both games having over 60 points with eight TDs, and this can follow suit.
Best bet: Over 6.5 touchdowns at 11/8
The final two weeks of the regular season are going to be very interesting. 👀 pic.twitter.com/ONjJANs3no
— NFL (@NFL) December 29, 2021
Miami Dolphins (8-7) @ Tennessee Titans (10-5)
The Titans can clinch the AFC South and stay in the running for top spot in the AFC if they can do something nobody seems able to do in the NFL these days – and that’s beat the streaking Miami Dolphins.
Miami are the first team in NFL history to lose seven straight games then win seven in a row, and their incredible turnaround has now put them in the third and final wildcard play-off spot.
With three other teams sat on the same 8-7 mark though, Miami’s position is precarious and even though the Titans have lost three of the last five they’re a big step up to what the Dolphins have been facing.
It’s just the third time since October that Miami are playing a team with a better record than them, and just the second time against a team with a winning record. The schedule has been kind but they’ve taken care of business.
We’ll see here if facing bad teams has inflated Miami’s league-leading pass rush numbers, as Ryan Tannehill has been sacked more than every other QB bar Joe Burrow thanks to some crippling injuries on the Titans offensive line.
But Tennessee are slowly getting healthier, and with the chance to lock up the division here and with Tannehill able to knock his old side out of the play-offs then the hosts will get it done.
Best bet: Titans -3.5pts at 20/21
Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) @ Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
Another game where it’s all on the line for both sides as a win for the Colts will punch their ticket to the post-season dance, while the Raiders need to win both their remaining games to make the play-offs for just the second time in almost two decades.
The Colts are one of the form horses in the league, winning their last three and eight out of the last 10. Apart from an opening day defeat by Seattle, they’ve only lost to good teams with four of their six defeats coming against sides with 10 wins or more currently – and the other to the Ravens before injuries hit.
So although they’ll likely finish as a wildcard they’re a team nobody really wants to play as they bring a strong defence and MVP candidate in top rusher Jonathan Taylor, with his 1626 yards and 17 TDs this season.
They’ve allowed just 17 points or less five times in the last six games, with only Tom Brady able to really carve them open, but their big worry for this game is QB Carson Wentz who has tested positive for Covid.
If he can’t return in time then rookie Sam Ehlinger will make his first NFL start in this crucial game, which sees the Raiders still somehow in play-off contention despite all their off-field troubles.
Vegas hasn’t scored more than 17 points in their last four games, but they’ve won the last two when stopping two seriously good running teams in their tracks – allowing Denver just 18 yards rushing last week.
If they can limit Taylor and the Colts have a rookie at QB then this could get interesting. Derek Carr and Vegas have to improve on turning the ball over though to stand a chance – with Indy’s defence second in the NFL with 31 turnovers this season.
This has the makings of a defensive arm wrestle.
Best bet: Under 45.5pts at 4/5
"If Carson Wentz cannot go, it'll be Frank Reich trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat again."
@PSchrags says it'll be a different game if the Colts QB can't play on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/BZOP6sXIUg
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) December 29, 2021
Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) @ Washington Football Team (6-9)
The Eagles can clinch a play-off spot with a win and a couple of other results going their way, but they have to do this job first and that’s making it four wins in a row for them and four defeats on the spin for their struggling rivals.
Philly beat Washington 27-17 just a fortnight ago where they ran for 238 yards and QB Jalen Hurts ran in two scores himself as he proved again to be more effective with his legs than his arm.
Interestingly, Hurts has scored his 10 rushing TDs in just five games, with four games of multiple scores on the ground showing that if defences show they can’t handle him near the goal line then the Eagles aren’t scared off giving him the rock time and time again.
This could be another one of those games.
Top running back Miles Sanders is out but the league’s top running unit has motored on whenever he’s missed time so expect a big game from Boston Scott if Jordan Howard is also missing.
Either way, the Eagles will grind this one out against a hurting Washington who just want to get the season over with now. Philly could, quite literally, run away with this one and win by a touchdown.
Best bet: Eagles -6.5pts at 13/10
Ryan Tannehill & Jalen Hurts both to score rushing TDs at 8/1
Ryan Tannehill is a nifty yet tough runner from the QB position, and if he can lead his Titans to victory against former team Miami then they’ll win their division. They’ll also knock the Dolphins out of the play-off places and will probably earn himself a week off next week, so what better incentive.
Tannehill is never scared of doing it himself and he’s fancied to run in his eighth rushing TD of the season.
And completing a nice New Year’s quarterback double is Eagles triggerman Jalen Hurts, who has 10 rushing TDs to his name this season including two against Washington just two weeks ago.
Philly play Washington again and unless something drastic has happened then the Eagles won’t be scared to let their QB keep it and run in another score, or maybe two, against their slumping rivals.