From left: Sports Editor Karl Winter, Assistant Sports Editor Paxton Ritchey, Staff Writer Kyle McCabe, Photo Editor Ali Levens, Sports Assistant Justin Touhey and Staff Writer Austin Hall. This group of six made its picks for the final week of the NFL regular season. Art by Madeline Duvall
The NFL’s holiday special lived up to its billing, setting us up for a final week in which 18 teams remain alive for 14 playoff spots.
A rare Christmas Day game led to an equally a rare performance, with New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara rushing for six touchdowns — the first in the league since 1929.
Boxing Day gave us a wild prime-time game in Las Vegas, in which the Raiders and Dolphins combined for 22 points in the final four minutes of play, with the Dolphins miraculously maintaining their playoff position in a 26–25 win.
This edition of COVID-19 madness in the NFL brought the Browns playing without their top-four wide receivers and falling to the lowly Jets.
It all comes down to this final week, as two division titles remain up for grabs and a 10- or 11-win AFC team will miss the playoffs.
This is the final time we have the pleasure of making fun of the bottom 18 teams in the league, those whose first game of 2021 will be their last until at least August. In nine instances this week, one PGM staff member picked differently than the other five, so it could be a moving day on the leaderboard.
Without further ado, allow staff writers Kyle McCabe and Austin Hall, Sports Assistant Justin Touhey, Assistant Sports Editor Paxton Ritchey, Photo Editor Ali Levens and Sports Editor Karl Winter to make their selections for this week, during which every game happens on Sunday.
Atlanta Falcons (4–11) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10–5) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., PST)
“The Falcons own games that mean nothing, winning four-straight Week 17 matchups. Now that the Bucs secured the wild card and can’t win the division, I expect them to pull some starters and cruise to the playoffs. Lots of Falcons are playing for their jobs. I expect them to pull this off.” — Austin
“[The Bucs] are trying to clinch the No. 5 seed with this game. They can with a win. It’s a coveted spot because it allows the team the easiest wild card road matchup in the entire playoffs, which is playing the winner of the NFC East, so they have something to play for. They’ve found their rhythm of late on offense, as Justin’s alluded to, but I’m not really high on them for the playoffs this year because they just haven’t been consistent enough. I don’t really think Atlanta has been convincing lately.” — Karl
Dallas Cowboys (6–9) at New York Giants (5–10) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., PST)
“The second-most tantalizing matchup between sub-.500 teams in Week 17 ever. If Washington loses to the Eagles, the winner of this is in. While people have convinced themselves the Giants’ defense is good, the Cowboys own this matchup, and ‘Andy Dalton hitting his stride’ is perhaps the funniest phrase of the 2020 NFL season.” — Austin
“This is perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better setup for the end of the season. The Cowboys have the hope of winning the NFC East. Here’s what’s going to happen — they’re not going to win this game. The Giants are going to spoil it for them, and then the Eagles are going to beat the Washington Football Team and the Giants are going to win the NFC East because it’s prime time for the Cowboys to choke. They’ve been on fire their last few games; the pressure is on, which means it’s time to fall and have Coach Clap get his revenge on those damn Cowboys who fired him.” — Justin
New York Jets (2–13) at New England Patriots (6–9) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., PST)
“I said I would pick the Jets the last two weeks, but then I didn’t keep my word last week and they won. I’m going to have to stay true to my word and pick them this week. Plus this is a ‘hot versus not’ — a team on a two-game winning streak versus a team on a three-game losing streak. How could you possibly pick the Patriots? You think that Bill Belichick is a better coach and Adam Gase? Get out here.” — Kyle
“I wish the storyline was ‘Jets looking for their first win,’ but they can’t even tank right, so we’re here now. There’s nothing to play for for either of these two teams, so all this game is about is playing for jobs. When this game is about playing for jobs, I’m going to go with the team whose motto is literally ‘Do your job.’ That’s the New England Patriots. These are people who know how to fill a role. They haven’t always done it well this year, but they’re still a well-coached organization. They’re going to show up. […] They’re not going to go out with a whimper for the entire last quarter of the season. Plus Bill Belichick doesn’t care about draft position.” — Paxton
Minnesota Vikings (6–9) at Detroit Lions (5–10) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., PST)
“Despite Dalvin Cook not playing, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson — the rookie — have had good campaigns this year, even though the team has been disappointing. The Lions, on the other hand, have never really been in the playoff conversation at all this year, and their defense has given up an average of 40 points over the last five weeks. So whether or not [Matt] Stafford takes the field, this game is for pride, and I think the Vikings have the better team.” — Karl
Pittsburgh Steelers (12–3) at Cleveland Browns (10–5) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., PST)
“Wouldn’t it be just so funny if the Steelers beat the Browns and then the rest of the teams vying for these spots won their games and the Browns missed the playoffs, even though they’d finish at 10–6? I don’t hate Cleveland or anything, but if you’ve been losing for that long, it feels like there’s something wrong with the world for it to finally end. Just out of wanting a sense of normalcy, I’m going to pick the Steelers and, in case you’re wondering, I’m taking all the other 10–5 teams to win so that the Browns will be the ones that miss the playoffs and they spend another year in football hell.” — Kyle
“Mason Rudolph is playing for the Steelers, which should bode well for the Browns. Hopefully Myles Garrett can contain himself. The bottom line here is that if the Browns want people to believe they’ve turned a corner as a franchise, they need to win games like this when they’re there at home [and] all they have to do is win and in. They’re coming off a really poor performance where, regardless of not having their top receivers, they should have been able to win that game. We’ve been talking about how this is might be a different Browns team than we’ve seen in the past, so I think they have enough to get the job done here. Even so, they lost by 30 points or something the first time they played the Steelers, so you never know. The Steelers are gearing up for the playoffs, so I’ve got the Browns to take this one and put pressure on the other teams that are playing for these spots in the AFC.” — Karl
Baltimore Ravens (10–5) at Cincinnati Bengals (4–10–1) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., PST)
“There were a lot of people at the end of the year who thought the Ravens could go 16–0 or 15–1. I don’t think the storylines are big for this week with the Ravens and the Bengals — I think it’s pretty obvious the Ravens win this game. The next headline will be, ‘Will the Ravens and Lamar Jackson be able to overcome their playoff demons? Will they actually finally put together a decent performance in a playoff game?’ It has yet to be done, and I’m excited to see if it happens.” — Justin
Miami Dolphins (10–5) at Buffalo Bills (12–3) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., PST)
“The Bills have won six out of the last seven against the streaky Dolphins, but I think the Fins steal one here. Ryan Fitzpatrick testing positive [for COVID-19] could be detrimental, but I think Tua [Tagovailoa] could take advantage of the Bills resting their starters after Cole Beasley’s injury put postseason health into perspective last week.” — Austin
“With these five AFC teams fighting for the four spots, just given the matchups this week, I think the Dolphins are going to be the odd man out. The Bills have been arguably the best team in the NFL over the last eight or nine weeks. They’ve been very complete. Their offense might have a little bit of trouble because the Dolphins’ defense has been really solid, but I don’t think the Dolphins’ offense has shown me enough recently that they’re going to be able to keep pace with whatever the Bills put up. This would be a really signature win for Tua if he’s able to get a win here and put them into the playoffs, but I just don’t see it happening. If I had to pick which of these five AFC teams should take the four spots, I’m sorry, but the other four are better teams than the Dolphins.” — Karl
Seattle Seahawks (11–4) at San Francisco 49ers (6–9) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“The thing that concerns me a little bit about Seattle is that their offensive line isn’t super great. They have solved a problem on defense with Jamal Adams being fully healthy now. I don’t know if they are going to win the NFC; I’m pretty high on the bad man from Green Bay winning the NFC, but the Seahawks have a shot. They are just rolling right now, and they’re playing some of the best football of the season.” — Justin
Arizona Cardinals (8–7) at Los Angeles Rams (9–6) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“Kyler [Murray] on one leg against that defensive line is not going to go well. Both teams are going to have an incredibly hard time scoring points. Week 17 can get crazy sometimes. Both teams are playing really bad football, but Jared Goff brings that team down. Let’s be honest: The Rams have won in spite of Goff a lot this year. Kyler is very hot and cold, and if he’s playing on one leg, I don’t really like that. It might be the type of game where 10 points wins it or the team with a defensive touchdown wins it. I know nothing about John Wolford, but I just don’t really have a lot of faith in the Cardinals right now.” — Paxton
“The Rams haven’t impressed me lately. Jared Goff is out. It’s not like he was doing that well, anyway, and [John Wolford] might turn into a good quarterback — but definitely not in his NFL debut.” — Ali
Jacksonville Jaguars (1–14) at Indianapolis Colts (10–5) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“Is this the worst revenge game of all time? Regardless of what happens, the Jags have the No. 1 [draft] pick. Starting ginger ‘Caillou’ Mike Glennon shows that they’re phoning in the year.” — Austin
Tennessee Titans (10–5) at Houston Texans (4–11) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“The Titans are going to want that division title. All they need is one other team to lose to be in the playoffs, so it’s going to be hard for them to miss, but they’re going to want to leave no doubt and wrap it up. The Texans are pretty much on their last legs. I did see the JJ Watt rant — if JJ Watt hasn’t already taken his teammates behind the shed, Derrick Henry’s going to do it Sunday.” — Paxton
Las Vegas Raiders (7–8) at Denver Broncos (5–10) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“Nothing is worse than a Week 16 or 17 game between two teams that disappointed heavily and had nothing to play for. I was excited for both teams — Raiders’ running game and Drew Lock especially. In this one, I’ll tilt toward the team with slightly more stability, so the Raiders, I guess.” — Austin
“The Raiders are our biggest rival. They are the most hated team in Denver. Even though we got a beat down from the Bills and lost a close game to the Chargers, which would indicate that our morale would be quite low, finishing the season strong against the Raiders is always an incentive to play well. Recently, we had a season-ending game against the Raiders where it didn’t matter for either of us, and we beat them, also at home. If we lose this game, we get swept by Raiders. It doesn’t mean anything to the playoffs, but it means everything to the Denver Broncos, so I’m going to stay with my team.” — Kyle
Los Angeles Chargers (6–9) at Kansas City Chiefs (14–1) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“I know Patrick Mahomes isn’t playing, but he’s not the only star on that team. They’ve been playing on autopilot, but this is the time where they’re just going to gear up to hopefully go through the playoffs. I don’t think they’re going to want their last game of the season to be a loss to the Chargers. I just don’t see that coming. They just seem like a team that wants to clobber when they can, and this will be a good opportunity for them.” — Ali
“[Chiefs’ backup quarterback] Chad Henne hasn’t started an NFL game since 2014, and his record is, like, 18–35. For the Chiefs, there’s no reason to risk losing any of your players in the last week of the season when the game is absolutely meaningless. [Justin] Herbert will be as good as he’s been, and he’s got a bright future ahead so long as the Chargers don’t Charger it up every year.” — Justin
Green Bay Packers (12–3) at Chicago Bears (8–7) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“It’s not looking very good for the Bears, but I’m in dead last place. What do I have to lose? Let’s go Bears, baby. I picked the Cardinals to win, so if that happens, and the Bears lose, they’re out of the playoffs. We can’t have that happen. We need the team that lost six games in a row in the middle of the season to make the playoffs. It would just be amazing. I’m going to pick the Bears. I have no reasons other than I want it to happen.” — Kyle
“I would love to pick the Bears. Maybe we’ll get into playoffs by way of the Rams winning, but I cannot take them here. I didn’t get lucky where the Packers would sit their starters. Aaron Rodgers has a special hatred for the Bears and tends to play especially well against us. [Mitch] Trubisky has been playing really well of late, and I think this will be an entirely different game from the first time we played them, when they blew us out. Our defense has just been so inconsistent and uninspiring lately that it would take a couple of miracles — things that generally don’t happen against the Packers, like a defensive touchdown. Rodgers has taken care of the ball way too well this year for something like that to happen in this game. The Packers need to win this to clinch the top seed. It’ll be a close game, and I’m excited to watch it, but I know how this goes, and it goes with Rodgers destroying us.” — Karl
New Orleans Saints (11–4) at Carolina Panthers (5–10) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“What a terrible game to round out the regular season. I’ll go with the Saints and whoever’s playing on the Saints. I don’t think the Panthers are going to win. Let’s just stay with that.” — Ali
Washington Football Team (6–9) at Philadelphia Eagles (4–10–1) (Sunday, Jan. 3 at 5:20 p.m., PST)
Paxton: Football Team
“I think Rex Ryan said it best on ESPN — there is no way that the Eagles are allowing the Cowboys to win the division. There’s going to be earpiece stuff going on. They’ve got no reason to play. The Eagles are not going to hand the division to the Dallas Cowboys. They’ll know if they have an opportunity to by the time they kick off. This is going to be the Football Team all day. The Eagles are not going to be too motivated to let Dallas sneak into the playoffs.” — Paxton
“Time for the Eagles to crush the hopes and dreams of Cowboys fans everywhere. This is one of the few times in the season where I’m picking with my heart. I know damn well the Washington Football Team will probably win this game, but the amount of joy I would get out of watching the Eagles win and the Cowboys lose — it really would be the sprinkle on top of such an inconsistent year. People fold, but nobody folds harder than the Cowboys. Go Birds.” — Justin
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