Week 17 NFL Instant Reactions: The Playoffs Are Set

The Washington Football Team just closed out the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football and now the playoffs are all set. The NFC East playoff spot was decided in pretty controversial fashion, as the Giants needed an Eagles win in order to make the playoffs, yet Eagles coach Doug Pederson benched his starting QB Jalen Hurts during the game in favor of Nate Sudfeld, which was effectively handing the game and the division over to Washington. I understand the Eagles are already eliminated from the playoffs, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an NFL coach deliberately forfeit a game in the middle of the game. At least bench your starters before the game.

Pederson said afterwards that he wasn’t tanking the game, but it’s not clear what the hell he was doing. Jalen Hurts didn’t even know what had happened. Also, Pederson went for it on 4th down from inside the Washington 5 yard line despite only being down 17-14. I don’t get that move, either. Philly fans are pissed about this, and they should be. If I had to guess, I’d say Pederson’s decision was based on draft order. Due to the loss, they’re 4-11-1 and are picking 6th. Had they won and finished 5-10-1, they’d be picking 9th. So that’s my best guess on why Philly basically threw the game. They couldn’t make it obvious they were throwing given that it had playoff implications for Washington and the Giants, so that’s why the situation seemed so bizarre and unprecedented.

But the bottom line is that the Washington Football Team is in the playoffs.

So here’s the full playoff bracket, along with the opening lines of every game:

So we’ve got the Chiefs and Packers both getting byes.

As for the other matchups:

  • Bucs (-7.5) at Washington: The Washington Football Team is actually a pretty scary matchup for Tampa. Washington can defend the pass and really gets after the quarterback. Brady is not a mobile QB, and as we know, the only proven way to beat Brady is to pressure him and make him uncomfortable. I don’t think I’m ready to bet on Washington to win the game outright because I think their offense will have big problems against that Tampa defense, but their defense really could make life miserable for Brady in this game. I think Tampa -7.5 is too much. I’ll probably bet Washington to cover, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to say they’re going to win straight-up.
  • Colts at Bills (-6.5): The Bills are absolutely on fire right now. They just knocked the Dolphins out of the playoff hunt by beating them 56-26. But the Colts are also pretty good and have flown under the radar this whole year. I just don’t think the Colts have the firepower to beat the Bills, though.
  • Ravens (-4.5) at Titans: Do the Ravens get revenge for their 30-24 overtime loss to the Titans earlier in the season? I would say the Ravens are definitely playing much better now than they were when these teams met in week 11. Plus, the Ravens also have an extra revenge motive from last year’s playoffs, when the Titans rolled them. JK Dobbins is really emerging as a damn good running back for the Ravens. The Ravens are now the #1 rushing offense in the league. And the Titans’ defense is just not good. They needed a last-second field goal to beat the Texans, who have long since been eliminated. I think the Ravens are going to win the game. But then again, it’s hard to pick against big Derrick Henry, who passed the 2,000 rushing yard mark this season, becoming only the 8th running back in NFL history to do so. The crazy thing was, he entered the game with 1,777 rushing yards on the season, so he needed a monster game to get to 2,000. He finished with 250 yards. I won’t count Tennessee completely out as long as he’s out there.
  • Rams at Seahawks (-3.5): It all comes down to health for the Rams. If Goff can’t play, they’ll probably lose. But then again, the backup QB John Wolford actually looked pretty decent in this game against the Cardinals. The Rams were also missing Cooper Kupp (Covid) and Darrell Henderson (ankle) against Arizona, so they’ll really need to get healthy before this game. The Seahawks are healthier and their defense is much much improved since week 10, so I think it’s fair that they’re favored in this game. The Seahawks have quietly gone 6-1 in their last 7 games. However, their offense has only hit the 30 point mark once in their past 8 games after scoring 30+ in 7 of their first 8 games to start the season. That’s a little concerning. This is a division rivalry game and thus anything can happen. I really don’t have a lean in this game due to the Rams’ injuries, but if the Rams are healthy I think this is basically a toss-up.
  • Bears at Saints (-8.5): The Bears are probably the least respected playoff team in the field. They snuck in at 8-8 despite getting blasted by the Packers in week 17, and have the Rams to thank for beating the Cardinals. Under the old 12-team playoff format, this Bears squad would not have even qualified. At least with the 7-9 Washington Football team, they had to overcome a ton of adversity and exceeded expectations. Washington started 2-7 and finished 7-9, while the Bears started 5-1 and finished 8-8. It just has a different feel. I know the Bears’ offense was supposedly roaring to life in the final few weeks of the season, but that was probably because they played some really bad defenses (Jags, Lions, Vikings, Texans), not because the Bears just suddenly became an offensive juggernaut. New Orleans is just a better team than Chicago top-to-bottom. I don’t see much hope that the Bears can win this game unless Khalil Mack and that defense play like it’s 2018 again and absolutely stifle the Saints’ offense. The Saints came into Chicago earlier in the season and squeaked out a 26-23 OT win, so there is at least that glimmer of hope for the Bears. Given the score of the earlier matchup, it seems strange that the Saints would be 8.5 point favorites, but then again the playoffs are a different beast. This one might be closer than Vegas thinks.
  • Browns at Steelers (-3.5): The Browns will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, although it seemed like it could be in doubt after they lost to the Jets last week. I know the obvious thought on this playoff game is: if the Browns at home could barely beat the Steelers without Big Ben (and Pouncey, and TJ Watt), then how are they going to beat the Steelers with Big Ben and in Pittsburgh? Well, in Cleveland’s defense, they were winning 24-9 in the 4th quarter of this game before letting the Steelers back in with two late TDs. But here’s the thing: Mason Rudolph actually had pretty good numbers in this game. He was 22/39 for 315 yards, 2 TDs, 1 pick, a 78.8 QBR and an 89.2 passer rating. In no way am I saying he’s just as good as Big Ben or anything like that, but I am saying the passing game production with Rudolph in the game did not drop off all that much. The Browns obviously have zero playoff experience and they’re going up against arguably the most experienced coach-QB duo in the NFL. It’s between Tomlin/Big Ben and Payton/Brees. This is a tall order for the Browns, even though the Steelers are limping into the playoffs having lost 4 of their past 5 games.

I’m going to wait until we have some more clarity on the Rams’ injury situation, and give myself some more time to ponder the games, before making predictions. Those will come later in the week.

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