Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Essentials - Week 17

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Dallas at N.Y. Giants (-6.5/41), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Talented guard Zack Martin’s knee is improving enough that he’ll be counted on to play in the Wild Card round but he’ll be absent here. Tackle Tyron Smith is working his way back from a knee injury but isn’t expected to play more than a series or two, which means you should take the pledge Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett made to utilize all healthy starters with a grain of salt. It’s hard to imagine the Cowboys exposing Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott behind backup offensive linemen even with the Giants having struggled so much this season. Linebacker Sean Lee should see a heavier workload as he tries to get back to 100 percent following his latest hamstring injury. Defensive linemen David Irving and Tyrone Crawford have been ruled out, which should make life easier for New York’s rookie running back to finish his season off in style.

Barkley opens this contest 236 yards behind Dallas’ Elliott for the rushing title and will likely get his typical workload barring something unexpected. With Odell Beckham, Jr. out, Eli Manning struck up a nice connection with Sterling Shepard last week, hooking up with him six times for 113 yards. Between Barkley, Shepard and tight end Evan Engram, the Giants have enough ammo to justify them being favored here with the Cowboys expected to ride backups for the majority of this one.

Carolina at New Orleans (-7.5/43), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The rumor is that Ron Rivera should survive Black Monday, so the head coach may finally dial back the workload on Christian McCaffrey, who has set an NFL record for running backs with 103 catches and got over the 1,000-yard mark, joining LaDainian Tomlinson and Matt Forte as the only players ever to post those numbers in a season. If he gets a well-deserved week off, the most likely candidate to replace him is fourth-year back Cameron Artis-Payne, who had a seven-yard carry and a 13-yard catch last week. The Auburn product has four career TDs and is looking for his first this season. Backup Taylor Heinicke had a turnover-filled debut last week and ended up injuring his elbow, so the Panthers will have their third QB in as many weeks in Kyle Allen, once an elite recruit who played at Texas A&M and Houston before and completed all four of his passes last week in spot duty against the Falcons.

The Saints have nothing to play for, already having clinched homefield advantage in the NFC as the No. 1 seed. Teddy Bridgewater will start instead of Drew Brees. He’s thrown one pass all season. While both teams will try and replicate their usual offensive packages and have players elated to finally get their shot, both will be operating behind backup offensive lines. The Saints have been perfect in the Superdome since a season-opening upset against Tampa Bay. Carolina is looking to avoid closing the season with an eight-game losing streak and has only won once outside Charlotte. Red-zone issues have plagued this group all year and Allen will be looking to pick up an offense that will likely be without their top weapon and has scored a season-low 19 points over a two-game span entering Sunday.

N.Y. Jets at New England (-13.5/46.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Rookie Sam Darnold was sidelined with a foot injury when the teams met in Week 12, so this will be his first look at Bill Belichick’s defense. Josh McCown was at the controls for the Jets and had a full bye week of preparation for his second start of the season but didn’t manage much in a 27-13 loss. After becoming the youngest player ever to throw for 300 yards and three TDs in an OT loss to the Packers last week, Darnold will look to close his first season on a high note. Todd Bowles is probably done as head coach and comes in 1-6 against the Patriots, continuing a 2-14 run for the Jets against the Pats since December 2010. The Jets haven’t defeated New England at Gillette Stadium since 2008, dropping nine straight.

With a much coveted first-round bye at stake for the Patriots, they’re going to go all out to secure a victory that would make their road back to a third straight Super Bowl far more manageable. Last week’s win over Buffalo saw them fail to cover the spread for a third straight contest but did secure double-digit wins in a season for a 16th consecutive campaign. New England will be looking to finish off a perfect 8-0 regular-season run in Foxboro and may not have tackle LaAdrian Waddle in the mix, so ensuring they keep the Jets from Tom Brady while picking up the win will be the primary motivation here. Brady threw for 283 yards and two scores against New York on Nov. 25 and will be looking to close out the season with a sharp effort where he again avoids being sacked as he managed in Week 12. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30’s, but winds shouldn’t be a factor.

Detroit at Green Bay (-8/45.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Packers demonstrated last week that they’re up for playing for pride, rallying to survive the Jets in overtime as Aaron Rodgers put his body on the line in showing off the wheels to fuel the comeback with a couple of late touchdown runs. He’s moving much better than he did earlier in the season and will likely have tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga in place. Top WR Davante Adams is also questionable, but if the Packers declare everyone available, there’s certainly motivation to finish strong since they’re looking for a 6-1-1 finish at Lambeau Field. Temperatures will be frigid and winds will be a factor, but the Packers are looking to avoid their fourth consecutive loss to the Lions after dropping the first meeting this season 31-23 to drop a third straight, something that hadn’t occurred in this one-sided series since 1991. Detroit is looking for back-to-back sweeps for the first time since 1982 and ’83.

The Lions are without DE Ziggy Ansah again after being without him for the first meeting and have major absences in the secondary with Nevin Lawson and Jamal Agnew ruled out. Top corner Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin will look to keep Rodgers from finishing with a career-high in passing yards for a single season if he throws for 228 here. Detroit scored 24 or more points in five of its first six games but have failed to top that total in each of its last nine, scoring under 20 in seven of its games. Matthew Stafford threw for two touchdowns against Green Bay in Week 5 but has only thrown for multiple scores in one of his last eight games and has failed to reach the end zone in three of his last five. Not surprisingly, the Lions have seen the ‘under’ prevail in eight of nine contests.

Jacksonville at Houston (-7/40), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Texans are likely going to be playing next weekend but want to ride into the postseason fresh off a division title and can guarantee avoiding the Chargers with a victory here, likely ensuring a matchup with an AFC South rival they’ll know well since the Colts and and Titans are playing for a bid on Sunday night. If Houston loses, it could find itself on the road in Indy or Nashville, so count on seeing all hands on deck. WR Demaryius Thomas was lost to an achilles injury, so getting rookie Keke Coutee back in the fold would help. RB Lamar Miller will be back from an ankle sprain suffered a few weeks ago, which means Deshaun Watson can count on a loaded backfield behind him. WR DeAndre Hopkins was limited all week due to an ankle sprain but should be out there dueling with Jalen Ramsey.

The Jaguars played spoiler against the Dolphins last week thanks to a strong defensive effort and will be looking for consecutive wins for the first time since opening 2-0. Ramsey’s tag-team partner in the secondary, A.J. Bouye, has been ruled out due to a toe injury, but safety Tashaun Gipson (foot) will participate. Corner D.J. Hayden is questionable with a groin strain. Offensively, Blake Bortles should be back under center instead of the ineffective Cody Kessler, but RB Leonard Fournette (ankle) isn’t likely to go and Carlos Hyde (knee) is questionable, which means T.J. Yeldon should get the bulk of the work in the backfield. Bortles is 1-3 with a passer rating of 56.7 in four career games in Houston. The Texans are 1-1-1 ATS as a favorite of a touchdown or more.

Atlanta (-2/51.5) at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Bucs would love to drag the Falcons into the NFC South basement, snapping a three-game losing streak in the process. The Falcons hope to close with three consecutive wins, sweeping Tampa Bay for the season. Matt Ryan threw for three TDs and 355 yards in a 34-29 Week 6 win, outdueling Jameis Winston’s four touchdown passes. Julio Jones caught 10 balls and will be looking to add to his gaudy receiving numbers, while rookie Calvin Ridley could reach double-digits in TD receptions if he gets into the end zone. Ryan’s job will be a lot easier if Jason Pierre-Paul can’t go since he and William Gholston are questionable and edge-rusher Carl Nassib has been ruled out. Temperatures will get into the 80s for this one, so conditioning and depth will count for this unusually hot Week 17 clash.

Miami at Buffalo (-5/39.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: This game was rendered meaningless when the Jaguars got out of South Florida with a turnover-fueled upset, so it remains to be seen how much fight the Dolphins will have as they wake up to snow flurries in Northern New York. In-game weather isn’t expected to include snow, but both teams will have to survive wind gusts that could climb as high as 40 miles per hour. This should definitely favor the Bills, who have won five of six at home in this series. Rookie Josh Allen will look to cap a promising first season in which he leads the Bills in rushing in passing.

Miami looks to finish 8-8 here and will employ everyone healthy enough to help them get it done. It remains to be seen whether everyone is still as willing to put in a solid three hours of work once they get a load of how cold and uncomfortable the weather will be. Head coach Adam Gase’s ability to get his guys to put in the effort for him may dictate whether he keeps his job. QB Ryan Tannehill has thrown for nine touchdowns against just two interceptions since returning to the starting lineup. He threw for three scores in a 21-17 win over Buffalo on Dec. 2.

Oakland at Kansas City (-14/52.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: The Chiefs closed as a 14-point favorite against the Raiders in Oakland back in Week 13 and prevailed 40-33, giving up a late scoring flurry to avoid securing the cover. They’re looking for an easier time of it at Arrowhead as they look to wrap up the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC and a West Division title. Avoiding taking a three-game into the payoffs would be nice too since it would guarantee that they’ll get to watch everyone else play next weekend instead of suiting up themselves. Kansas City is looking to finish 7-1 at Arrowhead by beating the Raiders at home for the sixth straight time.

Derek Carr has had a rough time of it but will look to finish off the season without an interception for a 12th consecutive week, bringing a streak of 325 passes without being picked into this finale. He’ll have a number of willing targets in Jordy Nelson, Seth Roberts, rookie Marcel Ateman and tight end Seth Roberts, so count on the Kansas City secondary having its hands full. Eric Berry isn’t likely to play, so the Raiders cold make this game interesting if they have success through the air. Patrick Mahomes will try and close out his MVP campaign by finishing up a December in which he’s thrown for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. RB Damien Williams, Kansas City’s third starter at the position this season, has topped 100 yards rushing in consecutive weeks and just signed a two-year extension.

Philadelphia (-6/42) at Washington, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: The Eagles will need to take care of business here and get help from the Bears in Minnesota in order to defend their Super Bowl title in the actual postseason, so they’re looking like a longshot. On the bright side, it’s surprising that they’re even in this mix given how bleak things looked when they fell to the Cowboys for a second time on Dec. 9. With Carson Wentz lost for the season, Nick Foles has led Philadelphia to a shocking upset of the Rams in L.A. and last week’s 32-30 rollercoaster ride of a home win over the Texans. Foles’ emergence has sparked Alshon Jeffery, while veteran RB Darren Sproles has come up clutch in what could be his final weeks as a pro. Despite being on the road, the defending champs are a substantial favorite in Landover against a Redskins’ team on their fourth starting quarterback.

Weather isn’t expected to be a factor, so Foles should be able to let it fly as he looks to follow up a 471-yard effort against the Texans, against whom he threw four touchdown passes. The ‘Skins will be without safety D.J. Swearinger, the latest to fall in a cursed season for a team that has lost both starting tight ends while suffering through issues up front and at receiver. Running back Adrian Peterson has been a bright spot and broke off a 90-yard run in the first matchup with the Eagles, a 28-13 loss on Dec. 3. Philadelphia will have Jason Peters and Jason Kelce available to anchor the offensive line and have one of the stronger defensive fronts in all of football to get after Josh Johnson.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-6.5/40.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: Although the Ravens only need to win to eliminate their arch rival Steelers while reclaiming an AFC North that they haven’t won since 2012, these aren’t the same old Browns they’re used to pushing around who are taking the field against them. Baltimore had won 18 of 20 before losing 10-7 in OT at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Oct. 7. If it can avoid being swept by Cleveland for the first time since ’07, it will open the playoffs right back at M&T Bank Stadium next weekend, hosting a playoff game for the first time since ’12.

Rookie Lamar Jackson has only lost once since taking over as the starter, while top pick Baker Mayfield has similarly won five of six and finds himself thriving under the play-calling of new coordinator Freddie Kitchens. Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were still employed when the Browns took down the Ravens. For that matter, so was Joe Flacco. This will be a chess match where Gregg Williams’ aggressive defense will look to bait Jackson into mistakes while being careful with all their trademark blitzes not backfiring with the speedy quarterback running right by them. The physical Ravens will look to harass Mayfield, who has thrown for six touchdowns while being intercepted only once during a three-game winning streak that has the Browns on the brink of their first winning season since 2007.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (-14.5/45.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: The Steelers find themselves in the precarious position of missing the playoffs for the first time since ’13 due to losses in four of five. This stretch has come on the heels of six consecutive wins, but the bottom has fallen out due to careless turnovers and shockingly stupid in-game decisions from people who should know better, namely Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger. Although rookie backup Jaylen Samuels has been productive, James Conner’s production has been missed. He’ll return from a foot injury that has cost him multiple games, but WR Antonio Brown and his 15 touchdowns could be missing due to a knee injury. The decision will come closer to kickoff, but reports aren’t optimistic. JuJu Smith-Schuster, fresh off a costly fumble that helped prevent OT in New Orleans last Sunday, would be Roethlisberger’s top target if Brown can’t go.

The Bengals have been without top targets A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd for weeks. They’ll come into this one with most of their top defensive players sidelined, so it’s no surprise they have lost six of seven. It remains to be seen whether this disastrous season finally costs Marvin Lewis his job, but there isn’t much hope that they’ll be able to hang here despite the fact they only lost 28-21 in the first meeting. Temperatures are expected to be in the 30s but winds shouldn’t be a factor.

Chicago at Minnesota (-5.5/40.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: - Outside of Sunday night’s Colts-Titans showdown, this is the lone matchup where both teams are playing to improve their playoff standing. While those two are playing a winner-take-all to see who gets in, the Bears are looking to secure a No. 2 seed with help from the 49ers and the Vikings are attempting to solidify their spot in the NFC’s top-six. If Chicago sees that events out in the Bay Area aren’t going its way, it’s conceivable that key players could find themselves rested in the second half of this one, which makes backing the visitors dicey. WR Allen Robinson has already been ruled out, while safety Eddie Jackson and linebacker Aaron Lynch are considered doubtful.

The Vikings don’t have the luxury of resting anyone, which is why banged-up corner Xavier Rhodes is likely to play if at all possible. Leading tackler Eric Kendricks, corner Marcus Sherels and safety Andrew Sendejo remain out, so the Bears have an opportunity to build some confidence on the offensive side of the ball after scoring only 14 points against San Francisco last Sunday. Chicago has allowed just 10.7 points over its past three games, all wins that have gone ‘under’ the posted total. The Bears won the first meeting 25-20 in a contest that featured six turnovers, putting them in position to sweep Minnesota for the first time since ’12. The Viking has have won six of eight in the series.

L.A. Chargers (-6.5/43) at Denver, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: - The Broncos come off an awful 27-14 loss in Oakland on Christmas eve and can’t even finish at .500, which likely means that Vance Joseph will be fired in the morning regardless of what happens in this final home game. LB Shane Ray may play, but the team’s biggest bright spot, rookie Pro Bowl RB Phillip Lindsey, will miss the game with a wrist injury. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders also played a large role in Denver’s 23-22 upset on Nov. 18 and is currently sidelined, which is one reason Case Keenum has struggled down the stretch.

That upset loss has the Chargers behind the Chiefs due to a divisional record tiebreaker since the teams split their matchups, so they’ll certainly have revenge on their minds. L.A. has only won three of the last 14 meetings between the teams but will be going all out to try and gain a split in order to get to 12-4. Philip Rivers is coming off a rough night in a home loss to Baltimore that produced his worst performance of the season, so he’s got to be pleased to get another crack at finding a rhythm without weather being too significant a factor at Mile High. Although temperatures will be in the mid-30’s, neither wind nor snow is expected to be an issue.

Arizona at Seattle (-13.5/38), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: - The Seahawks can still get bumped to No. 6 in the NFC by the Vikings, but having wrapped up a playoff berth through Sunday night’s huge win over the Chiefs mean they can exercise caution against a team that has been outscored 88-26 over the last three games and will finish with the NFL’s worst record if they falter here. That could spell trouble in covering such a large spread, but Pete Carroll always plays to win and will have the majority of his team available and ready to go.

San Francisco at L.A. Rams (-10.5/48.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: - Todd Gurley has been ruled out, but the Rams still want to pick up this victory to lock up the No. 2 seed in order to avoid playing next weekend. Jared Goff got back on track in a 31-9 victory at Arizona and will be facing a talented defense that had helped pull off upsets against Denver and Seattle before holding the Vikings to just 14 points in a game they could’ve also won. The Rams won 39-10 in Santa Clara back on Oct. 21 and will be the healthier group here, so it’s no surprise to see a double-digit spread.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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