5 Facts to Know for Week 17
This is what the NFL schedule-makers were hoping for in Week 17 -- four divisional titles coming down to the last game of the season and six teams still having a shot at the AFC playoffs (with the use of multiple tiebreakers, of course).
So what do you need to know before the final weekend of football is over? Let’s start with four key divisional races.
NFC South: A Sub-.500 Team Makes the Playoffs
First up is the least favorite division in the NFL right now. Many will argue that a sub-.500 team shouldn’t make the playoffs, but facts are facts. The Falcons eliminated the Saints in Week 16 and now get to host a Panthers team that is on a three-game winning streak.
In Julio Jones' last three starts, he has tallied 35.81 Target Net Expected Points (NEP). That means that Jones has added more points to the Falcons' total on balls thrown his way in those games than Larry Fitzgerald or Dwayne Bowe have contributed all season. Jone' has contributed 53.81 Reception NEP in the same timeframe as well, which is more than Michael Floyd has contributed all season. Julio Jones is one of the main reasons the Falcons have a 62.2% chance to win the South.
NFC West: Two Teams Going Opposite Directions
We’ll stay in the NFC for the next divisional race: the slugfest for the NFC West. The Cardinals and Seahawks are in the only divisional race that doesn’t pit the top teams against each other, but each team is still taking on divisional foes.
The Seahawks defense has gone from the 15th best in Week 11 to the best in our power rankings after Week 16. They face a stout Rams defense that jumped from ninth to fifth in the same timeframe. A Seahawks loss and Cardinals win can secure the division title for Arizona -- but if both teams finish with the same record, the Cardinals will have to settle for a wildcard spot.
Seattle has a 90.7% chance to win the division, something virtually unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
NFC North: Two Contrasting Styles
The final NFC division heavyweight match is in the NFC North where the Lions got to 11-4 by having the best defense against the run while the Packers achieved their record by putting up the best offense of the year so far. Something has to give in this rematch from Week 3.
The Lions have two receivers in the top-15 in Target NEP, but Matthew Stafford has been underwhelming at times, contributing about half of the Passing NEP that Tony Romo has. The Packers are one of two other teams (Broncos) that can claim two top-15 receivers in Target NEP, but Aaron Rodgers has had difficulty with physical teams this year.
The Packers are undefeated at home, and a lot is on the line, as the winner will not only get the division title but also a first-round bye. Our algorithms give the Packers a 67.8% chance to win the NFC North for the fourth year in a row.
AFC North: Finally Down to Two
The only division in the AFC to still be decided is the AFC North. The Ravens finally dropped out of the division race when they lost to the Texans, and the Bengals have a half-game lead over the Steelers with their win over the Broncos. The Week 17 matchup of the Bengals and Steelers will be a winner take all game with a lot on the line for both and our algorithms give the Steelers a 66.8% chance.
The biggest fact about this matchup is that neither team can get worse than the number five seed due to all the tiebreakers. If the Steelers beat the Bengals this weekend, they will win the division by a half game and secure the number-three seed even if the Colts win. If the Bengals win, their tie comes in handy, securing the number-three seed (and even a first-round bye if the Broncos lose to the Raiders).
Last But Not Least
With the Bengals' win on Monday Night Football, there is only one spot left in the AFC playoffs. The Ravens loss to the Texans has made the battle for the last wildcard spot a six-team race.
Cleveland is officially out of the playoff picture after hanging by a thread the last few weeks. That still leaves Buffalo, Miami, Kansas City, and Houston a game out of the last wildcard spot. San Diego and Baltimore are both 9-6, but the Chargers hold the tie-breaker advantage because of their win in Week 13.
Our algorithms have basically eliminated Miami and Kansas City, as they have a 1.9% or less chance to make the playoffs. Even the Texans have a 9.2% chance to jump into the playoffs with a win. But it really comes down to San Diego and Baltimore for the last spot; our algorithms peg the Chargers at 47.4% to get in and the Ravens at 41.5%.