Week 17 of the NFL season is full of interesting playoff-clinching scenarios, tiebreakers, and inactive players. Some games may not have playoff consequences, but there should be several contests that will be hot-tested divisional battles. The Packers take on the Bears while the Steelers will be in Cleveland.
The New York Jets and New York Giants struggled mightily early in the season, and they face divisional rivals in Week 17. The Jets are hosting the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey while the Jets face the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The squads from New York may be trying to play spoiler for these games.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: Sunday, January 3, 1:00 pm eastern (Soldier Field)
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are taking on the Chicago Bears to finish the 2020 NFL regular season, as both teams look to make the playoffs. Matt LaFleur and Matt Nagy aim to make the postseason for the second time in their professional head coaching careers. The young coaches play with different types of strengths on their respective teams in this Week 17 matchup.
As the two strong squads continue their rivalry, they have had varying success over the last decade. After the Packers defeated the Bears in the NFC Championship Game and won Super Bowl XLV, the Packers and Bears went in separate directions. Green Bay won the NFC North four years in a row and clinched a postseason berth every year through the 2016 season. Meanwhile, Chicago did not make the postseason until the 2018 season.
The Packers’ 13-3 season last year came in a year that the offense finished in the middle of the pack. Green Bay’s defense allowed the ninth-fewest points in 2019, but in 2020, it is the offense that is leading the team. The drafting of quarterback Jordan Love may have lit a fire under Rodgers. While Green Bay’s offense has been excelling, it is the Bears’ defense that makes them a contender in the division.
After some lean years during the mid-2010s, the Bears have moved into the upper echelon in defense since acquiring linebacker Khalil Mack from the Raiders. Mack played in Oakland from 2014 to 2017, but Chicago could bring him in for a haul of draft picks. Unfortunately for Chicago, Mitchell Trubisky has not been able to perform well enough at the quarterback position. Early in 2020, Super Bowl LII champion Nick Foles took over for Mitchell Trubisky.
Heading into 2020, the Bears has been able to keep it close against the Rodgers’ Packers. If Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and Davante Adams are in sync against the Bears, it may be difficult for Chicago’s low-ranked offense to stay in the game. This game comes down to the Bears’ ability to keep Rodgers in check.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: Sunday, January 3, 1:00 pm eastern (FirstEnergy Stadium)
Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns enjoyed winning streaks early in 2020. Before this season, the Browns had 12 consecutive losing seasons while the Steelers had not had a losing season since 2003, the year before Pittsburgh drafted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger No. 11 overall.
The rivalry continues in Week 17, as the NFL world finally thinks that the Browns are on the same playing field as the Steelers. Cleveland’s strength is its offense, as first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski and first-year general manager Andrew Berry have helped to supercharge Baker Mayfield’s targets. Having two prominent players at running back, wide receiver, and tight end has helped the Browns offense succeed consistently for the first time in more than a decade.
On the Pittsburgh side, veteran head coach Mike Tomlin has the Steelers playing well once again. Roethlisberger, a six-time Pro Bowler, played just two games in 2019, but the Steelers hope his injury troubles are behind him. If the 38-year-old has to sit out, the Steelers would have to go with backup quarterback Mason Rudolph, who went 5-3 as a starter last year. Regarding the other side of the football, free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has boosted the defense in Pittsburgh. Tomlin’s defense now has the potential to play almost as well as Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl defenses from the late 2000s and early 2010s.
The turnover differential is vital for both of these teams. Both the Steelers and Browns can win essential games by forcing turnovers. Mayfield has a history of turning the ball over, but the Browns can win more when he limits the interceptions. The same can be said for Roethlisberger. In 2018 and 2019, Mayfield did not perform well in terms of turnovers. In 2018, Roethlisberger led the NFL in completions, passing attempts, and interceptions.
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: Sunday, January 3, 1:00 pm eastern (Arrowhead Stadium)
Andy Reid has revitalized the Chiefs franchise, and the drafting of Patrick Mahomes has made Kansas City a perennial Super Bowl contender. The Chiefs have made the previous five postseasons and finally won their second Super Bowl on February 2, 2020. They look to become the NFL’s first back-to-back champions in more than 15 years. Early in 2020, the Chiefs continued their dominance against the Chargers. However, it came in a come-from-behind overtime win.
In Week 2, the Chargers hosted the Chiefs at SoFi Stadium and jumped out to a 17-6 lead behind rookie Justin Herbert in his first NFL career game. He took over for starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor after a pre-game injection led to a punctured lung.
Herbert snapped the ball a whopping 83 times and excelled in the first half but mustered just six points in the final 50 minutes of the game, including a lengthy overtime period. In the contest, the Chargers also received strong production from running back Austin Ekeler. He accumulated 148 yards from scrimmage in the 23-20 loss.
Mahomes led the Chiefs’ comeback in their second victory of the season. In the second quarter, the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback connected with Travis Kelce on a 10-yard touchdown. Then soon after halftime, he found Tyreek Hill on a 54-yard score. Mahomes completed a pass to Mecole Hardman for the successful two-point conversion, which tied the game at 17. The Chiefs then leaned on kicker Harrison Butker, as he made a 58-yard field goal to win the game in overtime.
Kansas City would be glad to have another overtime victory against Los Angeles to end the regular season. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn is hoping to stop the losing streak against the Chiefs. Early in the season, wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry produced for Lynn. Allen received a new contract prior to 2020, and maybe Williams and Henry could be in for big paydays as well in the future.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: Sunday, January 3, 4:25 pm eastern (Levi’s Stadium)
Heading into 2020, the Seahawks and 49ers split the season series into the previous two seasons. Can Jimmy Garoppolo keep up with Most Valuable Player Award candidate Russell Wilson? Garoppolo was an essential part of the 2019 NFC Champion 49ers, but they could not get it done late in the game against the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
The 49ers encountered an abundance of injuries early in the season and struggled mightily at home. They salvaged a couple of victories at MetLife Stadium, even with Jimmy Garoppolo and Raheem Mostert, leaving the first two wins. San Francisco will not have it as easy against Seattle’s super-powered offense.
The very-talented NFC West division includes some very strong teams, and the Seahawks and 49ers have the talent to be among the best in the league. However, with Wilson at the Seahawks’ helm, most football fans give Seattle the edge because of his brilliance on offense. Wilson’s throwing ability and tremendous footwork allow him to be among the NFL’s top quarterbacks.
In the upcoming playoffs, Pete Carroll, Wilson, and company will look to win multiple postseason games in the same year for the first time since they defeated the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers six years ago.
Another battle against Aaron Rodgers will be tremendous to watch after Seattle fell to Green Bay last year in the Divisional Round. Wilson did not score multiple touchdowns in either of Seattle’s playoff games last year, so he will hope to change that this postseason.
Top Players of Week 17 to Watch
Aaron Rodgers – Quarterback, Green Bay Packers
The eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback entered this season with a 113-60-1 career record. Rodgers also has two MVP Awards in addition to the Super Bowl XLV MVP Award. He has victories in each of his last four playoff appearances. Rodgers has a chance at his third MVP Award in 2020.
Rodgers leads a potent Green Bay offense into Chicago for Week 17, as he looks to continue his NFL-best career marks: best all-time passer rating, interception percentage, and touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Bears defense led by Khalil Mack will try to slow down the explosive Packers offense, but Aaron Jones and Davante Adams continue to be tremendous targets for the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Patrick Mahomes – Quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes is arguably the greatest player in the sport in just his fourth season in the NFL. He took the NFL by storm with a league-leading 50 touchdowns in 2018, his first full year in the league. He and the defending champion Chiefs are looking to sweep the season series against the Chargers for the second consecutive year.
The Chiefs are in pursuit of another championship, and the most important player on the team is Mahomes. His 2020 season should be his third Pro Bowl, one as well as his second First-Team All-Pro selection.
The 2018 Offensive Player of the Year is just 25 years old and already has a Super Bowl MVP trophy. He led the NFL in passing yards in 2018, and he can do so many more times in his career.
Russell Wilson – Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson has an impressive resume as the Seahawks quarterback since being drafted No. 75 overall in the 2012 draft. He started all 16 games and won the NFL Rookie of the Year Award, and made his first Pro Bowl that year. Since his tremendous his rookie season of 3,118 passing yards and 30 total touchdowns, he has continued to improve.
In 2019, Wilson made his third consecutive Pro Bowl and was named a Second-Team All-Pro selection. This season, he is looking for his eighth career Pro Bowl and his first appearance on the First Team All-Pro squad.
Although Wilson is in his early 30s, he should have another decade of strong football in him. Heading into 2020, his career-high in touchdowns came in 2018 when he threw for 35. Wilson looks to finish his 2020 season on a strong note in San Francisco.
Rodgers, Mahomes, and Wilson will have all eyes on them heading into the postseason. In the AFC, the defending champions may have to deal with some AFC North playoff contenders like Lamar Jackson and the Ravens or Baker Mayfield and the Browns. However, Ben Roethlisberger should be bringing the Steelers to the postseason as they look for their first postseason victory in four years.
In the NFC, the Packers and Seahawks both have recent championships as well. The NFC East and NFC South did not start the season in a healthy fashion, with the teams closer to the East Coast struggling mightily.
Meanwhile, the NFC North and NFC West have impressive talent but heading into the postseason; the “Any Given Sunday” slogan comes into play. As always, Week 17 sets up as the perfect appetizer for the postseason.