NFL Week 17 preview: Playoff race approaches boiling point as Tom Brady’s season teeters
Tom Brady is no stranger to high pressure situations – although usually they come in the playoffs, as opposed to the weeks prior as his stuttering Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to secure their spot in the postseason.
Brady has now spent more of his life in the NFL than he has out of the league – he was drafted aged 22 and eight months (8,292 days) on April 16, 2000, and by the time the Bucs meet their division rival Carolina Panthers on Sunday, it will have been 8,295 days since that date.
Few seasons have been as turbulent for the seven-time Super Bowl winner, who retired and unretired in the space of a few weeks last offseason.
The Bucs are 7-8, atop the NFC South division but just one game ahead of the Panthers.
Defeat in Tampa on Sunday would leave the teams with identical records heading into the final week and Carolina ahead via the head-to-head tiebreaker – not an eventuality Brady or head coach Todd Bowles would have envisaged when the team started the year with two wins.
Carolina will be buoyed by their 21-3 win over Tampa in week 7, although that came with PJ Walker in the quarterback slot. Sam Darnold takes up that mantel this weekend, looking to back-up his 250-yard, one touchdown performance against the Detroit Lions last time out with another winning showing.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.
While Monday Night Football’s game may not possess the playoff jeopardy of Carolina @ Tampa Bay, it does represent something equally enticing – a late-season clash between two teams with genuine Super Bowl credentials, and two of the league’s best quarterbacks.
Josh Allen will be hoping to fuel the Bills 13th win on the year and seventh straight, with the team having already clinched the AFC East division.
With an identical record to the perennially contending Kansas City Chiefs but an advantage in the head-to-head tiebreaker, a Bills win this weekend would secure the all-important No.1 seed in the AFC – granting them a playoff bye and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
For the Bengals, Joe Burrow has been in imperious form of late.
The 26-year-old won the AFC Offensive Player of the week award for his 375-yard, three touchdown passing performance against the New England Patriots – and his relationship with fellow LSU alumnus Ja’Marr Chase has been the driving force behind Cincinnati’s own seven-game winning run.
The game gets underway at 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday.
Baltimore have already secured their spot in the postseason, but the final two games of the regular season will have drastic ramifications to a potential Super Bowl pathway.
Star quarterback Lamar Jackson has missed three straight games due a knee injury and failed to practice for a tenth day in a row on Wednesday. That would suggest that Tyler Huntley will suit-up for another start in place of the 2019 MVP this weekend.
A win for the Ravens would make their week 18 clash with the Bengals an AFC North championship decider after their week five win over the same opponent. It would also hand Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin the first losing season of his 15-year career.
The Steelers’ slim playoff hopes took another hit when the Los Angeles Chargers guaranteed their spot with a win against Indianapolis on Monday, but more than just Tomlin’s impressive career record is on the line Sunday night.
The Steelers-Ravens rivalry is one of the most storied and intense in the NFL, with the AFC North teams having met in the postseason four times in history and owning four combined Super Bowl titles.
Tune in at 8:20 p.m. ET on Sunday to see who takes the spoils.
Defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of November seemed to have ended any realistic dreams of Aaron Rodgers winning a second Super Bowl title, but Packers and their Cheeseheaded-supporters have seen a recent upturn in fortunes, combined with some NFC rivals crumbling, offer an unlikely route to wild-card weekend football.
Standing in their way are the division champion Minnesota Vikings, who beat the Packers in a one-sided week one matchup.
That was one of Minnesota’s few comfortable victories this season with the team proving to have remarkable mettle in tight affairs – they have won 11 games by one-possession scorelines. They are the first team in NFL history to notch so many such wins.
A big part in that has been the electric form of third-year wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who has been a nightmare for defences all season.
His latest virtuoso performance against the New York Giants last weekend took him past Vikings legend Randy Moss’ record for most single-season receiving yards in franchise history – and the 23-year-old is now just 209 yards behind Calvin Johnson’s league-wide record of 1964 receiving yards in a season.
The game starts at Lambeau Field at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Having looked destined for the franchise’s first playoff spot since 2016 for much of the season, the Miami Dolphins now face the very real possibility of squandering another seemingly promising year having lost their last four games.
Adding to Miami’s troubles this week was the revelation that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered his second concussion of a controversy ridden season during Sunday’s defeat to the Green Bay Packers.
That injury means the team is likely to move forward with backup Teddy Bridgewater in his place.
The Dolphins have not won a game without Tua this season and will need at least one victory from their remaining two AFC East clashes to end their playoff drought, depending on other results around the league.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are in must-win territory if they want to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Their miserly defense has conceded the fifth-fewest points per game this year, but the team has struggled on the other side of the ball sophomore quarterback Mac Jones ranking 32nd at the position according to ESPN’s QBR metric.
Watch the contest at Gillette Stadium at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Here’s how to catch these teams and others across the league in action, from wherever you are.
Australia: NFL Game Pass, ESPN, 7Plus
Brazil: NFL Game Pass, ESPN
Canada: CTV, TSN, RDS, NFL Game Pass on DAZN
Germany: NFL Game Pass, ProSieben MAXX, DAZN
Mexico: NFL Game Pass, TUDN, ESPN, Fox Sports, Sky Sports
UK: NFL Game Pass, Sky Sports, ITV, Channel 5
US: NFL Game Pass, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, ESPN, Amazon Prime