NFL picks 2016, Week 17: Experts ready to crown Lions NFC North champs, but just barely

Week 17 is a notoriously difficult week to predict. Teams with no lingering postseason hope line up a smattering of disengaged players, while teams already secure in their playoff standing rest the ones who matter most.

But one massive matchup Sunday night will feature two teams emptying their tanks in a de facto playoff game. The Packers and Lions will battle in a Week 17 showdown to determine the league’s final division champ. Whoever stands triumphant in Detroit will take the NFC North crown and earn a hosting gig for the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

After that touchdown, McCarron couldn’t lead the Bengals to another until only one minute was left in the game, settling for two field goals and gifting the Steelers two easy interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown that gave Pittsburgh a 23-7 lead early in the second half.

Can McCarron have better days ahead if he’s the player asked to take over for the remainder of the year? Sure, but Sunday didn’t build a convincing case that the 2014 fifth-round pick can lead a Super Bowl contender.

Still, the Bengals have an elite defense and did a relatively good job against a Steelers offense that eclipsed 30 points for a fifth straight game. Had they not been aided by a pick-six and great field position in the fourth quarter from McCarron’s second interception, that streak of 30-point games could have come to an end on Sunday against a Bengals defense that didn’t allow Ben Roethlisberger to throw a touchdown pass.

But that’s the biggest difference between Dalton and an inexperienced quarterback that the Bengals will likely have to contend with now. Dalton entered Week 14 with an NFL-best 107.4 passer rating, keeping things efficient and relatively mistake-free for the Cincinnati offense. McCarron’s mistakes proved costly.

Are the Bengals sunk? Probably not, but things are certainly more bleak than they were when the team arrived at Paul Brown Stadium this morning.

Giants vs. Vikings, ‘Sunday Night Football’ preview: Minnesota looks to wrap up playoff berth

After beating the Chicago Bears last week, the Minnesota Vikings are almost assuredly headed to the postseason, holding a two-game lead in the wild card race with two games remaining. They can guarantee a coveted playoff spot by beating the New York Giants at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday Night Football.

The Vikings also could have a trip to the postseason clinched before they step on the field Sunday night, if the Atlanta Falcons lose or the Seattle Seahawks win in the afternoon. Even though they are on the doorstep of their first playoff berth since 2012, however, the Vikings have greater aspirations for this season ¡ª their first division crown in six years.

Elite Kids Lorenzo Cain Jersey At 9-5, they are still within striking distance of first place in the NFC North standings, and a Vikings win (or a loss by the Green Bay Packers) would then set up a de facto divisional title game in Week 17 at Lambeau Field. A victory in the season finale would make Minnesota the division champ, plus give them the No. 3 seed and a home playoff game on the second weekend of January.

The fact that Washington is on the verge of a playoff spot is quite an accomplishment for a team that most predicted to be one of the NFL’s worst in September. The preseason computer simulations at FiveThirtyEight.com pegged them with a 1 percent chance to win the division and 8 percent odds to make the playoffs, third-lowest among all teams. Now, those numbers are both 51 percent.

Elite Kids Knile Davis Jersey Despite their 6-8 record, the Eagles are still somehow alive in the division race. Stunningly, they are just two wins away from the playoffs, even if they are a team that hardly looks playoff-worthy.

A loss on Saturday, though, and they’d be sitting out the postseason for the second straight season under Chip Kelly and staring at their first losing campaign since 2012.

The Dallas offense now dictates game tempo, chews up the clock and helps keep the suspect Dallas D off the field

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera interjected before the last word of the question about Greg Olsen needing only eight yards to become the first tight end with three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

¡°Don¡¯t tell him that much,¡± he joked. ¡°The very first thing he¡¯s going to want, he¡¯s going to want the ball early.¡±

That¡¯s not really Olsen¡¯s style. He¡¯s unselfish as offensive players go, never complaining when he¡¯s not a big part of the offense, although he typically is.

Domata Peko Game Jersey But the record, which the three-time Pro Bowl selection should get in Saturday¡¯s home finale against the Atlanta Falcons, does speak to what is shaping up as a Hall of Fame career.

Olsen likely would have set the record in Monday night¡¯s win at Washington, but he missed most of Carolina¡¯s last two series after taking a shot to the elbow.

The cutback lane on the right edge is Elliott’s top target. But what makes the Dallas wide zone counter so difficult to defend is that the running back doesn’t have to hit a specific hole. Ideally, the Dallas line forces defenders horizontally toward the Vikings’ sideline and seals off the back side, creating a series of creases and alleys from which Elliott can choose.
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The openings morph and vanish quickly, so it’s critical to the play’s timing and geometry that Elliott read the defense from the outside in, make a decision and go within his first three steps with the ball. Until then, his options are as endless and unpredictable as a full chessboard. “That’s what’s great about the wide zone,” Frederick says. “It lets you give a talent like Zeke as many options as the defense allows.”

The Dallas offense now dictates game tempo, chews up the clock and helps keep the suspect Dallas D off the field. Says tight end Jason Witten: “It’s something special to watch the way they communicate, coordinate and work together.”

It’s the perfect time to hit them with the wide zone counter: The Cowboys will use it to sell that the play is flowing left, setting up a devastating cutback lane to the right.

It’s an NFL era in which championships can once again be won with defense, as the 2015 Broncos proved

Da’Norris Searcy Elite Jersey Instead, they’re in December and the defense is carrying the offense. They’ll take it. It’s an NFL era in which championships can once again be won with defense, as the 2015 Broncos proved. And while this year’s Giants have a long way to go before they can compare themselves to that group, they’re in a position now where they don’t wonder whether they can stop anybody when it matters. They know they can.

So who will replace these Super Bowl winners and statistical marvels?
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Meanwhile, the defense — which has improved considerably since the Nov. 13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks — smothered quarterback Trevor Siemian & Co. Cornerback Malcolm Butler appeared to shadow receiver Emmanuel Sanders with success, and fellow cornerback Logan Ryan’s interception set up the Patriots’ only touchdown.

And the special teams were mostly tight, with punter Ryan Allen, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones (recovered fumble) leading the charge.

The Patriots¡¯ most complete game of the season comes at a time when they often are at their best. With a home game against the New York Jets on Saturday, followed by the season finale at Miami on Jan. 1, there¡¯s one more goal left to chase: home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

The Patriots learned how important that was last postseason, and they look primed to make sure it doesn¡¯t slip from their grasp.

The consistency the Seahawks have shown in previous years is lacking

Topics this week include Le’Veon Bell’s future with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a look back at some of the biggest deals made for head coaches, others on the hot seat, a rising star in Kansas City and more.

In no particular order, the three best running backs in the game today are Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott. But Bell is the only one on an expiring contract. His deal must be addressed after this season, setting up a storyline as intriguing at running back as Kirk Cousins’ is at quarterback.

Elite Kids Nathan Gerbe Jersey Yet something continues to feel a bit off. The consistency the Seahawks have shown in previous years is lacking.

“We’ve just been out front the whole time,” Carroll said. “We knew that, and we’re working with that.”

The goal all along has been to get back to the Super Bowl. The Seahawks have been talking about that since last season’s divisional-round loss to Carolina. The feeling is that they let one get away against the Patriots a couple years ago, and there’s an urgency to capitalize while the team’s core players are still in their respective primes.

But with Carroll’s Seahawks, nothing is simple, and there always seems to be at least a little drama. Even in Thursday night’s win, cornerback Richard Sherman went after the offensive coaches for electing to pass from the 1-yard line. He even referenced the loss to the Patriots.

“We’ve already seen how that goes,” Sherman said.

Authentic Mens Kellen Clemens Jersey Earlier in the season, Sherman exploded during a game against Atlanta. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin, meanwhile, flipped off offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for a decision to have him pass the ball on a trick play against Philadelphia.

The team’s leading rusher, Christine Michael, was released in November.

But with Carroll’s Seahawks, nothing is simple, and there always seems to be at least a little drama

if they really want to take this team to the next level, the Cowboys should go back to Tony Romo

Against the Giants on Sunday, the offense’s down-set conversion rate was 50 percent, its worst showing of the season. So the defense didn’t have the advantages it’s accustomed to, but had its best showing of the season against a very talented offense. Maybe the Cowboys should be encouraged. If this disappointing offensive effort was an Game Youth Ryan Tannehill Jersey anomaly, and they can build on their powerful defensive performance, they will be unbeatable.

But, if they really want to take this team to the next level, the Cowboys should go back to Tony Romo. This is not an overreaction to one bad game from Prescott. I have been advocating for Antonio Ramiro Romo for months. I got receipts:

Hovering over all this is perhaps the most nervous free agency case in Jazz history. Hayward is six months from the open market, right as the league and union ready a new collective bargaining deal. The new CBA should help Utah; it Elite Youth Mason Crosby Jersey will likely widen the advantage incumbent teams get, in money and years, re-signing their own guys. (Sorry, Thunder.)

Hayward has been waiting longer than anyone to see whether this version of the Jazz can win. “It’s been like this, with the injuries, for the past couple of years,” he told ESPN.com. “It’s frustrating.”

Extending Hill now is the best hedge against Hayward leaving. Losing both would eviscerate Utah’s perimeter rotation; it is Utah’s doomsday scenario. But Hill may wait out Hayward’s decision; the two are close, with shared Indiana roots and Indy-based trainers. Even so, Hill would at least listen if the Jazz approached with an offer today.

“I was never one who wanted to move from team to team,” Hill told ESPN.com. “If the opportunity to stay is there, I’d love to take it.”

Winning would make the best sales pitch for both, so Utah cannot make any future-for-present moves — including something with Favors — that set back this year’s team. And they need Favors in reserve in case Hayward or Hill bolts.

AJ McCarron will be the Bengals’ starter against the Steelers

The Cincinnati Bengals are pinning their postseason hopes on AJ McCarron as starting quarterback against the Pittsburgh Steelers in this Saturday’s Wild Card Weekend matchup. Starter Andy Dalton did have his cast removed early in the week and was able to participate in practice, taking snaps and throwing the ball with his left hand. But he is not Limited Calais Campbell Jersey yet physically ready to take the field for the Bengals and has been ruled out, according to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com.

That doesn’t bode well for the Texans, who struggled in a losing effort when these two teams matched up in Week 1. Brian Hoyer was sacked four times and also threw an interception to Peters on his first pass of the season.

Houston head coach Bill O’Brien deserves a lot of credit for leading the Elite Womens Mathew Barzal Jersey Texans to the playoffs even though the team started four different quarterbacks in 2015. The Texans have scored the least amount of points out of all eight playoff teams.

If the Texans are going to win this game, their defense is going to have to dominate. J.J. Watt leads the league in sacks and will look to chase around Alex Smith and force him to make a mistake. That’s unlikely, though, given that Smith went 312 passes without throwing a pick this year — the second-longest streak of all time.

After starting out 1-5, this appeared to be a lost season in Kansas City. But Andy Reid’s club turned its performance around and has a chance to win its first playoff game since January 1994. All but one of our eight experts at SB Nation are picking the Chiefs and five of CBS’ think KC will be victorious. ESPN is strongly leaning towards the Chiefs as well.

The Favors-Gobert combination can’t sniff Gasolian playmaking, and only Favors has shown glimpses of a threatening post game.

Favors and Gobert are more mobile than most traditional bigs, but it’s unclear if they can chase the league’s deadliest small-ball groups. “How good are we defending the perimeter against a smaller team?” Snyder asked. “How does that look?”

The MLB winter meetings are on in our nation’s capital, and rumors are swirling across baseball

The MLB winter meetings are on in our nation’s capital, and rumors are swirling across baseball. Here is what our writers are hearing. ? Winter Meetings Daily

Cashman said the Yankees need to be “bright” and “right,” but with this move, they are committing too many years to a player who is not exactly a need right now. They have Dellin Betances, who has had three All-Star appearances in three seasons.
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There is a theory that Betances could not handle the closer role because he struggled after Chapman and Andrew Miller were traded. That probably had more to do with Joe Girardi’s running Betances into the ground than the pressure mounting on Betances’ broad shoulders.
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Moreland, who won a Gold Glove this year, could push Hanley Ramirez into more of a designated-hitter role. After posting only a .720 OPS, Moreland isn’t likely in position to command more than a one-year deal — no small detail for a Red Sox team that is determined to stay below the $195 million luxury-tax threshold. The Cleveland Indians also have some interest as an alternative to free agent Mike Napoli.

Jim Bowden’s take: The White Sox got the absolute maximum return possible in a Chris Sale deal, with headliners Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech coming back from Boston. The Red Sox have put themselves in position to be the team to beat in the American League.

White Sox get a big haul from BOS — and it’s a step down for what they asked for in July, which included Betts and Benintendi.

Jerry Crasnick’s take: Now that the White Sox have traded Chris Sale to Boston, it’s only natural that general manager Rick Hahn will auction off some of his other veteran pieces in the quest to get younger, cheaper and more athletic. Frazier will be a free agent after the 2017 season, and he’s a logical Plan B if the Dodgers are unable to reach an agreement with free agent Justin Turner. At last check, Turner was Los Angeles’ preferred option at third base. But a source said the Dodgers are “aggressively” exploring their alternatives at the position.

Popular theory in the industry: CWS pushed/leaked Nats to the brink of a deal for Sale, then took that leverage to BOS to get last pieces.

Maclin was in the midst of a good day against the Texans

Limited Womens Mark Lowe Jersey It was Kansas City’s 11th straight victory, and their first playoff win since January 16th, 1994, a drought of nearly 22 years. All in all, it was a lopsided and pretty boring win by the Chiefs.

Maclin was in the midst of a good day against the Texans, catching three passes for 39 yards before leaving. He has been one of Kansas City’s best offensive playmakers this season, with 87 catches for 1,088 yards and, notably, eight touchdowns coming off a 2014 season in which ZERO Chiefs wide receivers found the end zone.

Of course, Andy Dalton was the quarterback in Week 8, while his injuries forced him out of the second Steelers game early, and the final three games of the regular season, a stint that saw AJ McCarron go 2-2. The Bengals lost to Pittsburgh and the Denver Broncos, another team they could face in the postseason, and beat the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, two very bad teams.

There is no shortage of history and bad blood between these division rivals. Their most recent matchup in Week 14 was a chippy, hard-hitting contest marred by an ugly pregame brawl than resulted in nearly $140,000 of fines handed out to players on both teams.

Watt is Houston’s best player by a wide margin and led the entire NFL in sacks in the regular season. He’s a strong, versatile defensive lineman and the Texans will be affected in a big way if he has to miss significant time. At the time of the injury, the Texans trailed, 13-0.

Game Kids Winston Guy Jersey However, they haven’t won a playoff game since the 2010 season, which is an eternity for a fan base that is accustomed to rooting for its team deep into the month of January.

One big issue, though, is that the Texans lost left tackle Duane Brown to injury in Week 17. Houston had average pass protection this year, ranking 17th-worst in the league with 36.0 sacks allowed.

the Chiefs can lean on their dominant secondary to slow down the Patriots offense

The impact of the Patriots having their full arsenal of offensive weapons for Saturday’s game cannot be understated. In the first 10 games, the Patriots averaged 32 points, 412 total yards, 320 passing yards and converted 47 percent on third down. In their final six games, with Edelman and Danny Amendola missing time, their offensive output collapsed: they averaged 24 points, 311 total yards, 231 passing yards and a 33 percent third-down conversion rate.

Dale Weise Limited Jersey Another key advantage for New England is playing this game at the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. Historically, the Patriots have been really tough to beat at home in the playoffs. They are 17-4 all-time at home in the postseason, including a 8-1 mark in the Divisional round under Belichick. Even with their sluggish performance down the stretch, the Patriots still finished with the NFL’s second-best record (7-1) and point differential (+111) in home games.

The ugliness really started when Kansas City got down to the one-yard line. Alex Smith threw a pass to Albert Wilson that got the Chiefs down three feet from paydirt with 2:52 remaining. You’re a yard away from the end zone with three minutes left. Let’s catch up with what happens next. (Oh, and by the way: The Chiefs had all three timeouts, so keep that in mind as the time ticks away.)

1-1-NE 1(2:33) (No Huddle) C.West right guard to NE 2 for -1 yards (J.Sheard; D.Watson).
They ran the ball with Charcandrick West. This is a good idea if you get into the end zone. If you don’t, the clock is running, and you won’t want to use your last timeout.

Mens Alexey Shved Jersey West didn’t get into the end zone. In fact, he went back a yard. The Chiefs wouldn’t be able to set up a play in the next 33 seconds, which is pretty embarrassing when you’re down two scores in the final five minutes of the game, and we got to the two-minute warning. A throw would’ve avoided that loss of 30 seconds.

And so, the Chiefs were more doomed than most teams. With Reid manning an astrolabe, the Chiefs embarked on a 17-play drive that took a staggering five minutes and 26 seconds, leaving them little to no chance of winning.