NFL Week 17 Predictions: Fitting 2017 Finale

So this NFL season has kind of sucked.

I’ve been pretty consistent in saying that throughout a year that has put far too many great talents on the injury list. There was way too much attention and misinformed angst over the player protests, or anything involving Papa John’s, the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, or any stupid thing a stuffy old white owner had to say.

I’m sad that the Colts seemed to have botched Andrew Luck’s career. I’m sad that Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone derailed Green Bay’s season. I hate watching DeShone Kizer blow every cover for the Browns, though watch him come through tomorrow since I put money early in the week on the Steelers before they decided to sit stars. I’m tired of John Fox and conservative coaches like him, or that Jeff Fisher might return in 2018 just because of how many jobs are expected to be open. I can’t stand Oakland’s wasted talent on offense, or that Miami thought bringing Jay Cutler out of retirement was a good idea, or that Buffalo benched Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman. I hate watching the Colts blow every halftime lead or watch the Titans make sure every game is an insufferable slog for 60 minutes. I’m so disappointed that Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston didn’t help their teams take the next step this season. I can’t believe how much the Giants and Broncos have fallen off.

That’s not to say everything has been bad. The Vikings may have something special here with the Super Bowl in Minnesota. The return of the NFC South (minus Tampa Bay) has been good, as will seeing Drew Brees in another postseason. Jacksonville’s talent on defense is finally paying off. Alex Smith actually hit some deep balls and threw for 4,000 yards this year. Sean McVay has totally transformed the Rams into watchable TV again and should be Coach of the Year. It’s exciting what Jimmy Garoppolo has done for the 49ers after a late-season trade.

But overall, this thing has kind of sucked, and Week 17 is a pretty fitting end to this regular season. While it is New Year’s Eve on Sunday night, the NFL still couldn’t find a great matchup with deep playoff implications that was worthy of a prime-time slot. The closest thing we have to a game where both teams give a damn because it matters is Carolina at Atlanta. The defending champions need to win to get in, but the Panthers still have an outside shot at the NFC South if the Saints slip up in Tampa Bay. Crazier things have happened, and let’s face it, Tampa Bay is known to ruin things anyway.

The race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC is basically over. It’d take an act of God for the Jets to win in New England with Bryce Petty at quarterback. I still think it’s a big mistake for the Steelers to blow off the Cleveland game with resting stars. I’d play a half, go up big like last week and then rest. You have the bye week to rest. Don’t rest an additional week too. You’d have to piss off the football gods something fierce to lose Ben and Bell to injury in this game.

Otherwise, I’d like to see Baltimore get the No. 5 seed and the Chargers get the No. 6 seed. I just don’t want to see the Titans, who haven’t won since I said they were arguably the worst 8-4 team ever, get in this year. I also think it would be so fitting to be able to say that the 9-7 Bills missed the playoffs on a tie-breaker because they started Nathan Peterman over Tyrod Taylor. Sure, the game may have still been a loss with Taylor, but it wouldn’t have been that brutal as The Five Pick Man’s performance.

In the NFC, I’d honestly rather see Seattle get in than Atlanta, just because I think Russell Wilson and the remaining talent on defense are more capable of putting a run together than these Falcons, who easily can be anywhere from 3-12 to 13-2 right now.

I wasn’t going to comment on the MVP race now, but why not? It’s 2017 and we’re all miserable anyway. The race itself is a microcosm of this lousy season.

Tom Brady: The Default MVP

Tom Brady is probably going to win the 2017 NFL MVP by default, because he’s the only legitimate candidate who managed to make it to Week 17. He’s certainly not finishing in style based on the last month of play. Now I think it’d be hilarious if he threw a couple of picks against the Jets, but the Patriots still won 16-3, and he’d get the award anyway. That could even happen, because who else would you vote for? Check the timeline.

1. We start with the fact that a lot of teams never even really had a viable MVP candidate. Here’s looking at you Miami, Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, Jets. I could piss off more fanbases by listing more names, but you get the point.

2. Andrew Luck couldn’t even get on the field in Indy this year.

3. David Johnson couldn’t make it through Week 1 for Arizona before injury ended his year.

4. We lost a superstar wideout in Odell Beckham Jr. to injury and Ezekiel Elliott to a six-game suspension while he was the league’s most valuable rusher.

5. Aaron Rodgers was off to a strong start in carrying a flawed team, but his collarbone broke in Week 6 and so did Green Bay’s season.

6. Deshaun Watson was a rookie phenom who made the Texans a scoring juggernaut, but a non-contact torn ACL in practice ended his season after 6.5 games.

7. The only quarterback this year who can really come close to the dramatic shift in his offense’s success than Watson is Jimmy Garoppolo, but you’re not going to vote for him for a 5-0 stretch to end the season on a bad team. But it is so intriguing for the 49ers next year.

8. How about Matt Ryan for repeat MVPs? That died around mid-October when his receivers tipped more interceptions in a couple of games than any other quarterback’s had in a full season in years. That’s continued all season for Ryan and Atlanta in an offense that is nowhere near as good as 2016’s incarnation.

9. Alex Smith actually had a good case, but the GWDs allowed by his defense against the Raiders and Jets in games he played so well killed him. Then he had the offensively inept losses against the Bills and Giants, and people were just ready to write off KC entirely. Don’t do that, but yeah, no one’s going to vote for Alex Smith as MVP.

10. Just like how no one will actually vote for Case Keenum, because he’s Case Keenum. He still has a shot to finish No. 1 in passing DVOA, which is just incredible given his career to this point. Minnesota’s third quarterback of the year and he just may be leading the NFC’s Super Bowl favorite.

11. Of course, the Eagles were that Super Bowl favorite, but then Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14. Nick Foles has gotten credit for two pretty soft GWDs since then, and also threw four touchdowns against the Giants in a win. I don’t think you can possibly argue Wentz for MVP based on his 13 games, but I expect he’ll get at least a vote so it won’t be unanimous.

12. Russell Wilson could lead the NFL in touchdown passes if he throws at least two more to get to 34 and surpass Wentz (33). He’s had a very interesting season for Seattle. I think the “absurd percentage of team’s offense, leading the Seahawks in rushing by 300+ yards, and setting the NFL record for touchdown passes in the fourth quarter in a season” are all sexy MVP arguments. He’s clearly very valuable, but he hasn’t always played that well this season. He’s had some bad turnovers early in games (namely losses to ATL and JAX) that hurt. He didn’t pull out the GWDs in those games. He had the huge fumble in Green Bay in Week 1. He just got a win in Dallas where he threw for 93 yards. It’s a flawed offense this year, and sometimes Wilson is part of the problem. Seattle may not even make the postseason, so I just can’t get behind his MVP case this year. If he had his 2015 finish this year, then yes, but that’s not the case.

13. Todd Gurley has been finishing real strong, and sometimes that’s all you need as a RB to win MVP. Finish strong and get those flashy numbers. Adrian Peterson took away a sure MVP from Peyton Manning in 2012 just because he reached 2,000 yards rushing and helped the Vikings make the playoffs in Week 17. Unfortunately, Gurley isn’t even going to suit up for the Rams tomorrow. He’s resting for the playoffs, so he’ll finish with 2,093 yards from scrimmage, which is appealing, but not as appealing to voters as 2,000 rushing yards for some reason. And he’ll have 19 touchdowns instead of a shiny 20. No chance for Gurley to finish really high and jack up those league-leading YFS and TD numbers, and it’s not even his fault. He’s helped the Rams back to the playoffs, which is of course going to have a lot of the credit go to rookie coach Sean McVay. But Gurley has had a great year and I think he’ll at least take home Offensive Player of the Year, or the Stat Whore’s Consolation Prize as I like to call it. Okay, that probably sounds more disrespectful than it needs to be, but that’s basically what the award has turned into.

14. There is a big problem with Week 17. Not only will Gurley sit out, but so will Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and of course Antonio Brown. So Brady will play against the lowly Jets and basically have no pressure from anyone else adding to their cases.

15. Brown was probably Pittsburgh’s best mainstream MVP candidate, but oh yeah, he was injured in the second quarter of that huge game with the Patriots in Week 15. That game really decided the MVP as far as I’m concerned. Had the Jesse James touchdown not been overturned, and had Ben Roethlisberger not had that awful decision to force a fake spike into traffic for a game-ending interception, then I actually think Roethlisberger would take over as the MVP favorite. He’d still be top 3 in DYAR, he’s had 29 TD to 13 INT, he’d lead the league with 4 4QC and 5 GWD, and he’d still be near the top in passing yards for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. That’s another game-winning touchdown pass in a huge game everyone was watching after game-winning drives in prime time against the Packers, Bengals, and Ravens in recent weeks. The five-pick game against Jacksonville was a disaster, but check out the numbers since that point and he’s been as good as he has been in years. That reversal and pick wrapped this regular season up for the Patriots.

16. Then you have Brady himself. The numbers, as I show below, are good enough to fit the profile of an MVP QB season. Cam Newton’s weak 2015 win aside, Brady’s numbers are on the lower end of these seasons, but good enough when you add the caveat of being 40 years old. But the 29.3% passing DVOA would only rank as Brady’s 8th-best season in his career, and he hasn’t been too good down the stretch here. When you have a stat like “first time he’s thrown an interception in five straight games since 2002”, you are hearing Father Time coming.

MVPQBStats

Anyone making the argument that Brady is carrying a bad D this year is not looking at the numbers properly. When NE’s defense stunk early in the season, the Patriots were very fortunate to be 2-2. They couldn’t beat the Chiefs and Panthers when the D was lousy. Against Houston, Brady did give up a touchdown on a fumble-six in that game, and he got away with a game-ending pick on the game-winning drive. Then the Patriots didn’t allow more than 17 points in eight straight games, almost unheard of in this era. Bad day in Miami and it was another loss. Not a great day defensively in Pittsburgh, but the Patriots got the ball back for Brady, and they again came away with the biggest interception of the NFL season with that unbelievable Roethlisberger decision at the end. You don’t have to call the New England defense good, and it certainly has benefited from multiple touchdown calls getting reversed this year. But don’t act like Brady has had to overcome this defense to get to another 13-win season. He’s had to overcome some risky throws he made himself more than anything, and the D has done well at keeping the score down the rest of the year.

So basically, Houston dropping a game-ending Brady INT in Week 3, then the end of the PIT-NE game is what’s going to bring this one home for Brady. If he implodes against the Jets in the upset of the year (after already losing in the upset of the year in Miami), then I don’t know what voters will do, but maybe just giving it to Gurley is the right thing at that point. Hell, I might just vote for Deshaun Watson anyway if that happens.

I think Brady won MVP by default in 2010 too, and this happens from time to time when no one just dominates from Week 1 to Week 17 in a special year. 2008 Peyton Manning was a default MVP too. But this 2017 race is the gold standard for a default case. It’s also just a reminder of how everything that looked so great at one point this year often ended in disaster with injury or things falling apart.

Maybe that happens to Brady too in the postseason. No one has won the regular season MVP and the Super Bowl in the same season since 1999 Kurt Warner.

2017 Week 17 Predictions

2017Wk17

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Week 11: 8-6 (Spread: 8-5-1)
  • Week 12: 12-4 (Spread: 7-9)
  • Week 13: 11-5 (Spread: 10-6)
  • Week 14: 6-10 (Spread: 7-9)
  • Week 15: 14-2 (Spread: 7-6-3)
  • Week 16: 12-4 (Spread: 7-8-1)
  • Season: 152-88 (Spread: 52-51-5)
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