The penultimate week of the 2019 NFL season is here. The playoff participants are mostly clear, but seeding is still up in the air. There are some important matchups this week. There is also important draft standing implications at play.

AFC:

  • Baltimore can stitch up the one seed merely by beating the Browns. Since they met in week 4, both teams have gone in totally opposite directions. Baltimore has not lost since then, and Cleveland has devolved into a disaster. There’s a narrative around that, because of what happened before, Baltimore needs to be wary. However, the Ravens have become such a different team since then, specifically on defense, that this game shouldn’t be close. The Ravens could put the nail in Freddie Kitchens’ tenure as the Browns’ head coach.
  • The Bills are heading into New England. The division is still technically up for grabs, but Buffalo would have to win this game and against the Jets next week, while hoping the Dolphins upset the Pats next week. That’s improbable, but for Buffalo to go in and defeat New England would give them incredible momentum heading into the playoffs. The Pats’ defense is incredible, but the offense has done nothing to dissuade any concerns. This affair will be low scoring, but if the Bills can rely on some key Josh Allen plays and running with Devin Singletary, that may be just enough offense. The Bills’ defense could make life rough for the Patriots.
  • The Chiefs have the AFC West locked, but could still get a bye. If they win out and New England drops one, they are the two seed. Kansas City’s opponents have nothing to play for, but they head to Chicago this week. The Bears are eliminated from the playoffs, but have many players, like Mitchell Trubisky, trying to prove they belong in long term plans. The Bears were one of the most disappointing teams in the league this year, but they are far from a disaster and should give Kansas City a game.
  • The Texans need one win to clinch the AFC South, but the Bucs will threaten them. Tampa has lost its two best offensive players in back-to-back weeks, but still have weapons. The Texans’ defense is a huge weak spot and could get picked on by Jameis Winston. Conversely, the Bucs’ defense is their weak link, leaving room for Deshaun Watson to have a big game. They have no reason to lose this game, but we were reminded recently from what happened in Houston to Denver just how inconsistent and unreliable this team is. The Texans are no true contender.
  • The sixth AFC spot will likely be the Titans or the Steelers. Pittsburgh suffered a brutal loss to Buffalo last week, and look to get right against the Jets. The Jets have been up and down recently, getting thrashed by the Ravens last week. But, they could absolutely go and end the Steelers’ season. The Steelers’ offense has heavily struggled recently. The defense is excellent, but any lapse could put them in a bad spot. New York has talent on offense, and Le’Veon Bell has to be hoping for a big revenge game against his former team. The key for Pitt would to be rely on the run, but the Jets, up to last week, have sported a strong run stopping unit.

NFC:

  • The Saints face the Titans in Tennessee. The Titans need this game to stay alive, but it is also a critical game for the Saints in attempting to get a first round bye. New Orleans was absolutely locked in against the Colts, a week after a brutal loss to the Niners. The defense has been suspect but is still strong. Tennessee will need to play a complete game to have a chance. The secondary has been a weak spot, which could spell disaster against Michael Thomas, who is on pace to break the single season reception record. Drew Brees will also be looking to widen his lead over Tom Brady for all time touchdowns as well. The Titans desperately needed to defeat the Texans last week, but could make up for it here. New Orleans is a somewhat different team on the road versus the Superdome and will need to be locked in again to avoid a letdown.
  • The Rams are on life support. Even if they defeated the Niners this week, they need help from the Vikings to stay alive. The Rams crashed back hard this week after appearing resurgent the last two weeks. San Fran suffered a brutal loss at the last second to the Falcons. They need to win to stay on pace with Seattle for their game next week to possibly determine the NFC one seed. The Niners are extremely hurt on defense, but still have Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead, who should make life difficult for Jared Goff. Goff’s road splits are also of concern here; he’s not nearly as efficient in road contests. Both these rivals desperately need this game, but the Niners’ body of work this year is far more impressive and consistent than the Rams.
  • The NFC East showdown none of us want but we’re all getting is here. The Cowboys crushed the Rams, and the Eagles barely escaped the Redskins. Neither of these teams make any sense. And none of that matters. The Cowboys have excellent talent and the Eagles have pedigree. If they get in to the playoffs, either of them could make some noise. But they have to survive this contest first. Dallas went from full on crisis to “We Dem Boys” in a few hours, and the Eagles have barely survived their two other dreg rivals. The Eagles remain depleted on offense but got contributions from players forced to step up. No one could confidently say how this game is going to go with how inconsistent these two are, but this is the type of game the Eagles have stolen in recent years.
  • Monday night is the NFC North championship. If the Packers win, they secure that title. The Vikings would need to win this contest, against Chicago next week, and hope the Packers stumble against Detroit. So, this is a situation similar to Buffalo and New England. And yet, that really may not matter. These two teams are most likely the 3 and 6 seeds, it’s just who gets home-field is not set yet. The Packers have been fairly unimpressive recently. The Vikings have been on a roll, aside from a loss to the Seahawks. This game is in Minneapolis, where the Vikings have been great all year. Which all points to the Packers going in and ripping the Vikings’ hearts out, as they have done to the NFC North during the Rodgers era. This is before even mentioning the Vikings are likely to be without Dalvin Cook, plus the fact they are relying on Kirk Cousins in a big game. On the other hand, Minnesota has been a strong team all year and has been better than the Packers recently.

The Draft:

  • The Giants and Redskins both sit at three wins and face off this week. The winner will go from the two or three-spot all the way down to five, dependent on what the Lions (at Denver and likely to lose) and Dolphins (up next) do. No one is trying to lose in the NFL, and these two are bitter rivals. Daniel Jones is returning this week, but he has been a turnover machine and cannot possibly be entirely healthy. Washington has been competent recently, and are at home, giving them the edge here.
  • The Dolphins currently sit in the four-spot, but host the one-win Bengals. Cincy has a two-game lead on the number one pick. It is far more “damaging” for Miami to win than the Bengals. Miami would go from number four to six with a win, and three with a loss. Again, no one can possibly ask players to go lose a game. This should actually be a fun contest due to the number of players playing for their next job. The Dolphins have significantly turned things around from where they were earlier in the year and have a vision for the future. Cincy hasn’t quite done that, but the light at the end of their tunnel is likely Joe Burrow.

The Picks:

  • Houston
  • Buffalo
  • San Francisco
  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • New Orleans
  • Indianapolis
  • Cincinnati
  • Pittsburgh
  • Washington
  • Denver
  • Los Angeles Chargers
  • Philadelphia
  • Seattle
  • Kansas City
  • Green Bay