Pro Football Weekly editors Eric Edholm and Kyle Nabors debate the most important game in Week 17.
Nabors: Eric, I can't believe it's already Week 17, but here we are. Another regular season has come and gone. I would almost consider it a good thing considering the dreadful year the NFL has had, but I still find myself a bit sad this week. At least the Week 17 slate is shaking up to be a good one. I've got my thoughts, but what do you think the most important game is this Sunday?
Edholm: Yeah, kind of oddly fitting that we don't have a Sunday night, win-or-die game in Week 17. Perhaps that speaks to the strange aspect that every game that holds any kind of playoff implications seems to depend on the result of another game in another NFL city. That's why the NFL had to punt on a primetime finale for the first time since 1977. There might be other games that have more historical bearings on it, but I have to go with Falcons-Panthers. There's something at stake for both teams in this one, potentially, and the fact that the defending NFC champion Falcons could be out would be a huge development. You feeling me on that choice?
Nabors: I'm interested in that matchup mostly because I spent all of 2016 screaming that the Falcons were overrated only to watch them reach the Super Bowl. Thank you, Kyle Shanahan. And I'm still in shock that here we are in Week 17 and the Carolina Panthers are sitting with 11 wins. How did we get here? In what world does this make sense?
Edholm: The Panthers look far more like a playoff team than the Falcons have lately. They've only lost to three teams, and we'll count the loss at Soldier Field as a bizarre mulligan. Two victories have come against teams that have earned first-round playoff byes, the Vikings and Patriots. The Panthers are 6-2 on the road and can finish 6-2 at home with a win Sunday. They've rediscovered a run game and found receiving options without Kelvin Benjamin. Cam Newton is closer to MVP form than Matt Ryan right now. The Panthers' 'D' hasn't allowed more than 30 points to a team not named the Saints and have held seven opponents to 21 or fewer. What worries me is that they could win and have to go to New Orleans. The Saints have beaten them twice pretty handily. I'm not certain they're built to last, but that matchup is a big factor. Is there another matchup you see with bigger implications?
Nabors: You're spot on with the Panthers, even if that performance in Chicago still gives me nightmares. But I'll go with Jacksonville at Tennessee. The Jaguars have already lost to the Titans once and would have to turn around and face them again in the wild-card round if Tennessee pulls out the win this weekend. Obviously, the Titans have lost three straight and aren't playing nearly as well as they were when these teams met early in the season. With that being said, the Jags did just give up 44 points to the 49ers, and I think most people have been looking for a reason to doubt Jacksonville all season.
Edholm: You've compelled me to look up a stat. The last team to allow 40 or more points in December and go on to win a playoff game? The 2014 Colts, who actually won twice that postseason before getting smashed in the AFC title game. But the Colts' wild-card opponent that year was the Bengals, who also allowed a 40-point game in December that season. So maybe the better stat is this: Eventual playoff teams that allowed 40+ in a December game over the past decade are 14-13 in the postseason. Kind of wild, eh? The 2008 Cardinals allowed a combined 82 points in Weeks 15 and 16 and still made the Super Bowl. But they had Kurt Warner. Blake Bortles — improved or whatever — is not Warner. I still believe in the Jags, though, to a degree. The Titans, however ... I'm out on them.
Nabors: Well, now you've got me all confused. Given this NFL season, the Titans will probably win this weekend and wind up in the AFC title game.