NFL's Week 17 Early Game Previews


Photo Courtesy of Robert Robinson


Miami Dolphins (7-8) vs. Buffalo Bills (5-10)


Preview

A clash of divisional rivals would usually have some sort of implications, but these two teams have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and are playing for pride, draft position, and are evaluating young and old talent at this point. Even though the record wouldn’t suggest it, the Bills are in better position in this game, and for the future. They have a better defense, have a seemingly better offense with their rookie at the helm, and have been on a roll as of lately. Their future looks brighter with a stockpile of draft picks, an actual franchise quarterback under center, and salary cap to burn. As for the Dolphins, they have been sputtering since the Miami miracle, are away from home where their offense has been awful, and have no semblance of a defense with Xavien Howard out. The team’s future does not look bright either, they are cap strapped, have very little young talent, and have a heavy cap hit from a quarterback who may not be on their roster come next season. Can both of these teams put the past, present, and future on hold for just one game? We shall see on Sunday


Players to watch

Is this the last time Miami fans see Ryan Tannehill in a Dolphin’s uniform? It very well could be, so Kenny Stills should make the most out of it, but it might be tough with Tre’Davious White lined up across from him. Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage should continue to carry the load in this one but, the front seven made up of Trumaine Edmunds, Jerry Hughes, and Kyle Williams among many others should make their mark. This may be Tannehill’s last game in his respective uniform, but it certainly isn’t Josh Allen’s. The rookie runs this offense with his feet and help from Robert Foster and Zay Jones. Who should both have a field day with Xavien Howard out. He could use help from LeSean McCoy in this one, but it might be tough with Kiko Alonso out there.


Keys to the game

Miami Dolphins

Protect Tannehill

Control the ball

Challenge with the running game

Keep Allen in the pocket


Buffalo Bills

Let Allen use his feet

Establish the run

Pressure Tannehill

Score early and often


Injury list

Miami Dolphins

T.J. McDonald, S - Ankle (Doubtful)

Xavien Howard, CB - Knee (Questionable)

Kiko Alonso, LB - Knee/Hamstring (Questionable)

Andre Branch, DE - Knee (Questionable)

Ziggy Hood, DT - Hamstring (Questionable)


Buffalo Bills

Deonte Thompson, WR - Toe (Out)

Julian Stanford, LB - Ankle (Out)

Chris Ivory, RB - Shoulder (Questionable)

Ryan Lewis, CB - Concussion (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Josh Allen, QB (BUF)

Zay Jones, WR (BUF)

Ryan Tannehill, QB (MIA)

LeSean McCoy, RB (BUF)

Kenyan Drake, RB (MIA)


Prediction

While the Dolphins might have the better record, they are certainly not the better team. They are currently on a two-game skid and have played terribly when away from home. They did manage to beat the Bills in their last matchup, but this game has a different feel to it. The Bills lead by Josh Allen are just a totally different squad. The young quarterback is a juggernaut on offense and has the help from his prolific defense in this one. The elite defense should be able to thwart Tannehill very easily in the cold temperatures in Buffalo, and the Bills should finish the season on a serious high note.


Final Score: Bills 23, Dolphins 17


Written by: George Haraktsis



Detroit Lions (5-10) vs. Green Bay Packers (6-8-1)


Preview

This is a game between two teams which encountered a lot of issues on the field this season and are now both out of the playoff race. The Lions have had a decidedly lackluster season, including losing 7 of their last 9 games. The Packers are coming off of a bounce-back exciting OT victory over the Jets, after their crushing defeat at the hands of the Bears the previous week. Certainly, this has been a more disappointing season for the Packers given their normally high expectations, and they will be looking to get their second victory in a row over this divisional opponent. Both teams do not have a great deal to play for, other than the motivation to defeat their divisional opponent. Overall, this will be a game between two teams motivated to finish their losing seasons on a high note.


Players to watch

There can be no discussion of Packers offense at this point without mentioning Aaron Rodgers. He is the center of this offense, and without a strong performance from him the Packers will have a tough time. Rodgers also needs the support of his top weapons Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham. For the Lions, Matthew Stafford will need to have a strong close to an otherwise below average season in order to give the Lions any chance to keep pace with the Packers. They will also need the help from their defense, namely sacks leader Romeo Okwara, in order to shut down the Packers passing game.

Keys to the game

Detroit Lions

Keep the Packers offense one-dimensional

Get pressure in Rodgers face

Stop Rodgers from getting out of the pocket/running

Keep pace with the Packers scoring


Green Bay Packers

Get the passing game going early

Establish a solid rushing attack

Shut down the Lions passing offense


Injury list

Detroit Lions

A’Shawn Robinson, DT - Knee (Out)

DeShawn Shead, CB - Knee (Out)

Luke Wilson, TE - Concussion (Out)

Jamal Agnew, CB - Knee (Questionable)

LeGarrette Blount, RB - Knee (Questionable)

Quandre Diggs, DB - Back (Questionable)

Kenny Golladay, WR - Chest (Questionable)

Damon Harrison, DT - Ankle (Questionable)

Nevin Lawson, CB - Ankle (Questionable)


Green Bay Packers

Jason Spriggs, OT - Concussion (Doubtful)

Equanimeous St. Brown, WR - Concussion (Doubtful)

Davante Adams, WR - Knee (Questionable)

Jaire Alexander, CB - Groin (Questionable)

David Bakhtiari, OT - Hip (Questionable)

Kentrell Brice, S - Ankle (Questionable)

Fadol Brown, DE - Toe (Questionable)

Lucas Patrick, OG - Abdomen (Questionable)

Lane Taylor, OG - Knee (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Davante Adams, WR (GB)

Aaron Rodgers, QB (GB)

Matthew Stafford, QB (DET)

Kenny Golladay, WR (DET)

Jimmy Graham, TE (GB)

Prediction

This will be a hard fought game, but (assuming both teams play their starters for all or most of the game) the Packers will have an easy time defeating the Lions. While the Lion’s 10th-ranked passing defense may be able to slow down the Packers, I do not believe that the Lions 22nd-ranked passing attack will be able to keep pace with the Packers attack. Rodgers is angry about this season, and he will play angry. When he plays angry, he plays like the Rodgers we have all come to expect. While this will not be a blowout, the Packers will take care of business here at home to close out the season.


Final Score: Packers 28, Lions 17


Written by: Phillip Salmo


New York Jets (4-11) vs. New England Patriots (10-5)


Preview

The Jets look to play spoiler in this one against the Patriots, but could have a tough time after losing 8 out of their last nine games. Especially with New England at home and the chance for the Patriots to clinch at least the No. 2 seed and a Bye. Last week, with their win over Buffalo, the Patriots clinched the AFC East for the 10th straight year, A win over the Jets would give the Patriots their 13th Playoff Bye since 2011 and their seventh undefeated season at home. This seems easy, but before Buffalo, the Patriots were coming off two straight losses after dropping games to the Dolphins and Steelers. The Jets kept it close last week against the Packers, but ultimately lost in an overtime battle, due to the defenses inability to stop the Green Bay offense. Can the Defense pick up the pace this week against a somewhat sputtering Patriots offense, and can the Offense match last week’s production? If so we may have a divisional battle on our hands this Sunday.


Players to watch

As always, this game’s main focus will be long-time Patriots Tom Brady. Even in the win, Brady did not look good against Buffalo last week. It could be because he lost Josh Gordon for the year, and Gronk was shut down, but Julian Edelman had a day so maybe it was just him. He will need to rely on the combination of Sony Michel and James White, who both had great games against Buffalo if they’re going to win in this one. Leonard Williams and Avery Williamson will try to stop him, but the entire defense has had trouble stopping anyone this year. The Jets will need that defense to step up if they have any chance in this, but more importantly they will need Sam Darnold to perform. Darnold leads the league in turnovers and will need help from Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa if he has any chance in this one. But that should be tough against the likes of Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty. The Rookie can’t do it all alone though, he’ll need help from his running game in the form of Elijah McGuire. Can Kyle Van Noy, Patrick Chung, and company stop him? They’ll have to if they want to win.


Keys to the game

New York Jets

Protect Darnold

Control the clock and keep Brady off the field

Establish the run

Sack Brady


New England Patriots

Make Darnold uncomfortable

Score early and often

Run the ball

Short passes to get a groove in the passing game


Injury list

New York Jets

Morris Claiborne, CB - Shoulder/Ankle (Out)

Quincy Enunwa, WR - Ankle (Out)

Jermaine Kearse, WR - Achilles (Out)

Kevin Pierre-Lewis, LB - Shoulder (Out)

Jordan Jenkins, OLB - Ankle (Questionable)


New England Patriots

Jacob Hollister, TE - Hamstring (Out)

Dwayne Allen, TE - Knee (Questionable)

Brandon King, LB - Knee (Questionable)

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR - Knee (Questionable)

LaAdrian Waddle, OT - Illness (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Tom Brady, QB (NE)

Sony Michel, RB (NE)

Julian Edelman, WR (NE)

Sam Darnold, QB (NYJ)

Rob Gronkowski, TE (NE)


Prediction

The Jets will probably play like this is their very own Super Bowl, and they would love nothing more than to upset the Patriots and thwart their playoff plans, but I cannot see that happening. With a Bye on the line and at home, the Patriots will not lose this one. This franchise is the only one left in the NFL that’s undefeated at home, and that won’t change with the lowly Jets in town. Brady and Belichick will not let this team lose with so much on the line, and the Jets just aren’t good enough to beat them. Maybe the Jets can keep it close, because divisional teams usually play each other tough, but the reality of the situation is that the Patriots will probably crush them.


Final Score: Patriots 31, Jets 16


Written by: George Haraktsis




Carolina Panthers (6-9) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-2)


Preview

The #1 seed New Orleans Saints look to finish the 2018 regular season with a 14-2 record when they face the reeling Carolina Panthers from the Superdome. The possible league MVP in Drew Brees will be potentially rested in this game for preparation of the divisional round of the playoffs, while Carolina is coming in with their third-string quarterback after losing Cam Newton and Taylor Heineke to injury. The last time the Saints won the #1 seed, they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Miami. Can they do it again in Atlanta, home of their archrival? That remains to be seen.


Players to watch

Drew Brees is still playing at a high level, so look for him to play great against a bad defense. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are still a fierce duo in the backfield, but with the Panthers front seven, it could be tough to get anything going (see Week 15 MNF matchup for clarification). Kyle Allen is getting his first career start, so it remains to be seen how the Panthers’ offense will perform. Having Christian McCaffrey in the backfield is beneficial, but don’t force too much there and become one-dimensional.


Keys to the game

Carolina Panthers

Front seven needs to stop running game

Protect the quarterback

Figure out how to stop Brees


New Orleans Saints

Keep starters healthy

Control the clock

Win turnover battle


Injury list

Carolina Panthers

Trai Turner, OG - Ankle (Out)

Kawann Short, DT - Calf (Out)

Cam Newton, QB - Shoulder (Out)

Marshall Newhouse, OT - Hip (Questionable)

Kenjon Barner, RB - Knee (Questionable)


New Orleans Saints

Terron Armstead, OT - Pectoral (Out)

Jermon Bushrod, OT - Hamstring (Out)

Larry Warford, OG - Knee (Out)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Drew Brees, QB (NO)

Alvin Kamara, RB (NO)

Michael Thomas, WR (NO)

Christian McCaffrey, RB (CAR)

DJ Moore, WR (CAR)


Prediction

The NFC South this year, arguably the best in football, unfortunately has two Week 17 games which aren’t affecting anything for the playoff format in the NFC. Because of this, these games aren’t as must-watch as they normally would be, and that damages the division’s reputation. Despite that, New Orleans does want to keep their season going strong, and Brees will be tasked to keep that, even if it’s only temporary. Look for Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill to see more action in this game, and the Saints to win super easy.


Final Score: New Orleans 30, Carolina 10


Written by: Joe Carlino



Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) vs. Houston Texans (10-4)


Preview

The Jaguars and Texans faceoff in a divisional matchup that will help determine the winner of the AFC South. Jacksonville has nothing to play for, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to end the season on a 2-game winning streak while upsetting a division foe. Houston needs a win to clinch the AFC South and to give themselves a chance to get a first-round bye. The Jags defense has kept them alive in games this year but they will need their offense to produce to keep up with Houston. The Texans are banged up in their receiving corps and will need someone to step up as a threat with the loss of Demaryius Thomas for the season.


Players to watch

Blake Bortles is making his return as Jacksonville’s starting quarterback and he should be looking to put on a performance with so many question marks around him as the offseason approaches. Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue need to take advantage of the weak Texans offensive line so they can pressure Deshaun Watson. Lamar Miller will be leaned on heavily as the team needs more of a running game after losing Thomas for the season. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney will need to cap their dominate 2018 season with another impressive performance to help pressure Bortles into mistakes.


Keys to the game

Jacksonville Jaguars

Pressure and contain Watson

No costly turnovers

Put everyone on Hopkins


Houston Texans

Pressure Bortles into mistakes

Make Jags one-dimensional (Pass-heavy)

Jump out to a fast start


Injury list

Jacksonville Jaguars

Josh Lambo, K - Groin (Out)

A.J. Bouye, CB - Toe (Out)

Josh Wells, OG - Concussion (Out)

Leonard Fournette, RB - Ankle/Foot (Doubtful)

Carlos Hyde, RB - Knee (Questionable)

D.J. Hayden, CB - Groin (Questionable)


Houston Texans

Keke Coutee, WR - Hamstring (Questionable)

Brandon Dunn, NT - Ankle (Questionable)

Jonathan Joseph, CB - Neck (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

DeAndre Hopkins, WR (HOU)

Deshaun Watson, QB (HOU)

T.J. Yeldon, RB (JAX)

Lamar Miller, RB (HOU)

Dede Westbrook, WR (JAX)


Prediction

Houston has everything pointing in their direction between being at home, needing a win for the division title, and for a shot to get a first round bye. Watt and Clowney will be in Bortles face all afternoon which should result in some turnovers. Watson and the offense find ways to move the ball and put up some points to win what should be an easy matchup for them as they head into the playoffs.


Final Score: Texans 24, Jaguars 9


Written by: Cody Manning




Dallas Cowboys (9-6) vs. New York Giants (5-10)


Preview

This is a game that, had the Cowboys not already wrapped up the NFC East with last week’s win over the Bucs, would have been a far more meaningful divisional matchup to close out the season. After getting shut out by the Colts two weeks ago, America’s team looked solid against Tampa Bay. The Giants are coming off of a heartbreaking last second loss to the Colts, in which the team could not stop Andrew Luck and the Colts offense. Dallas does not really have much to play for, as they are locked into the 4 seed for the NFC playoffs. However, all indications from the Cowboys camp is that their starters will at least play a part of the game. The Giants, on the other hand, will have to play for the pride and joy of knocking off a divisional opponent. If not, they will only be securing themselves a better draft position for themselves in the 2019 Draft.


Players to watch

One very intriguing matchup in this game is how Saquon Barkley will match up against the Dallas front 7. This rookie is the core of the Giants offense, and he will key to them having any success. One player on the Cowboys that will be essential to stopping Barkley is rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. This rooke head-to-head will be great to watch. For the Giants, since their star Odell Beckham Jr. will be out for his fourth straight game, New York will need to rely on Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram so that their offense stays balanced. Depending on how long the Cowboys play their starters, Prescott, Elliot, and Cooper will be key to the Dallas offense keeping the team in the game .


Keys to the game

Dallas Cowboys

Shut down Barkley

Set up an early connection between Prescott and Cooper

Get Elliot going early

Keep their star players healthy before the playoffs


New York Giants

Protect Eli from Dallas’ front 7

Get Barkley going early

Get pressure on Dak and shut down Zeke


Injury list

Dallas Cowboys

Tyrone Crawford, DE - Neck (Out)

David Irving, DT - Ankle (Out)

Anthony Brown, CB - Back (Questionable)

Sean Lee, LB - Hamstring (Questionable)

Zack Martin, OG - Knee (Questionable)

Tyron Smith, OT - Neck (Questionable)


New York Giants

Odell Beckham Jr., WR - Quad (Out)

Mario Edwards, DL - Calf (Out)

Rhett Ellison, TE - Concussion (Out)

Alec Ogletree, LB - Concussion (Out)

Russell Shepard, WR - Ankle (Out)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Saquon Barkley, RB (NYG)

Ezekiel Elliott, RB (DAL)

Dak Prescott, QB (DAL)

Amari Cooper, WR (DAL)

Eli Manning, QB (NYG)


Prediction

It is unlikely that the Cowboys will play their starters for the entirety of this game. They may not even play them for the entire half, depending on how the game goes. I have a feeling that the Cowboys will jump out to an early lead, but the Giants, fueled by the pride of playing at home for the last time this season (given they play all their starters for the entire game also), will make the game close. Ultimately, this game will come down to which starters play for how long, so the game could really go in anyone’s favor. However, because I believe the Giants will likely play their starters for longer, I am going to say that they squeak by with a victory here in this essentially meaningful game for both teams.


Final Score: Giants 27, Cowboys 24


Written by: Phillip Salmo



Atlanta Falcons (6-9) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10)


Preview

Two teams with nothing to play for match up in Week 17 when the Falcons look to extend their winning streak against the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay recently lost to the Cowboys in Dallas, while Atlanta beat their divisional rival Panthers in Charlotte. Both teams appear to have aspirations for the future, maybe even in the form of personnel changes. It remains to be seen how Atlanta will go this route after what Dan Quinn has stated, but Tampa might be saying “Sayonara” to Dirk Koetter if they lose this game.


Players to watch

Matt Ryan has quietly been having an MVP-like season, despite his team’s subpar record, so he’ll be on full focus. With Tevin Coleman possibly out, it’ll be up to Brian Hill to get the ground game going. Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu have worked wonders since arriving in Atlanta, and they’ll be attacking a porous secondary with the great Julio Jones providing his level of elite skill. Jameis Winston has been decent this season at quarterback, but his accuracy still hurts him, and with Desean Jackson wanting out, he’ll need another deep threat receiver soon.


Keys to the game

Atlanta Falcons

Keep Ryan upright

Let explosive weapons loose

Win the turnover battle


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Don’t turn the ball over

Exploit a weak run defense

Kicker needs to step up


Injury list

Atlanta Falcons

Wes Schweitzer, OG - Back (Out)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

DeSean Jackson, WR - Achilles (Doubtful)

Carl Nassib, DE - Shoulder (Doubtful)

Devante Bond, LB - Illness (Questionable)

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE - Knee/Shoulder (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Matt Ryan, QB (ATL)

Julio Jones, WR (ATL)

Calvin Ridley, WR (ATL)

Peyton Barber, RB (TB)

Mike Evans, WR (TB)


Prediction

Because this game has no playoff implications, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses this game. But, for the future endeavors, Atlanta needs the win more than Tampa Bay because of the level of completeness their roster has. Sure, the possibility of their coordinators being axed is still a possibility, but maybe a three-game winning streak will change their fortunes. The stats would show Atlanta had a great season; they were just marred by injuries at the most inopportune of times. Atlanta wins comfortably, leaving the Bucs to do more thoughtful insight on their future.


Final Score: Atlanta 27, Tampa Bay 17


Written by: Joe Carlino