Skip to main content
Menu
The Most Important NFL Games Of Week 17

Throughout the season, we’ve usually had a little blurb highlighting the most significant and/or interesting game of each week. But for the upcoming week in the NFL, there are far too many meaningful contests to restrict ourselves to talking about just one.

So here’s a rundown of the Week 17 games that will have the most impact — in terms of how much they change everybody’s playoff odds, according to our forecast model, depending on which team wins — as the 2020 regular season comes to a close.


Who’s the most chaotic fictional football coach? | FiveThirtyEight

Washington at Philadelphia (8:20 p.m. ET Sunday)

Total weighted change in playoff odds: 101.2 percentage points

How Washington vs. Philadelphia changes the NFL playoff picture

Chance of making playoffs
Team Current if W.F.T. wins if Eagles win Avg. Chg (+/-)
Washington 52.3% 100.0% 0.0% 49.8 pts
Cowboys 25.8 0.0 54.0 26.9
Giants 21.9 0.0 46.0 22.9

Using FiveThirtyEight model simulations as of Dec. 29. Average change is weighted by the probability of each outcome. Includes teams with an average swing of at least 0.5 percentage points.

The Week 17 game with the greatest total playoff implications features the Philadelphia Eagles hosting the Washington Football Team on Sunday night. This game is linked to three teams’ destinies, with one playoff berth on the line: the spot given to the winner of the dreadful NFC East. The Washington Football Team can claim that honor with a win, though it will be knocked out of contention with a loss. And for one of the only times in history, Cowboys and Giants fans are both currently rooting for a Philadelphia win — although by kickoff time Sunday night, one of those fan bases will already know whether its team was eliminated, thanks to Dallas and New York’s head-to-head matchup at 1 p.m. ET. Our model ever so slightly favors Football Team here, since they have the better Elo rating (particularly if Washington QB Alex Smith is able to return from injury). Philly’s passing attack has been markedly better since Jalen Hurts took over, but no defense has limited opposing QB Elo performance as well as Football Team’s has this season. Elo’s spread: Washington -½

Arizona at L.A. Rams (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Total weighted change in playoff odds: 100.2 percentage points

How Arizona vs. Los Angeles changes the NFL playoff picture

Chance of making playoffs
Team Current if Rams win if Cardinals win Avg. Chg (+/-)
Cardinals 55.2% 0.0% 100.0% 49.4 pts
Bears 63.4 100.0 33.7 32.8
Rams 81.5 100.0 66.3 16.6

Using FiveThirtyEight model simulations as of Dec. 29. Average change is weighted by the probability of each outcome. Includes teams with an average swing of at least 0.5 percentage points.

Sunday afternoon’s Cardinals-Rams matchup materially affects two playoff spots and the fates of three teams: not just Arizona and Los Angeles, but also the Chicago Bears, since it will help determine which of the trio takes the last unclaimed NFC wild-card slots. For Arizona, the stakes here are quite simple: If it wins, it makes the playoffs; if it loses, it doesn’t. Meanwhile, if the Rams win, both Chicago and Los Angeles make the playoffs — though both teams can also get in even if that doesn’t happen. L.A.’s backdoor playoff option involves Chicago losing to the Green Bay Packers (who still have to play for the NFC’s No. 1 seed) in a game that kicks off at the same time. In other words, get ready for a fun Sunday afternoon of scoreboard-watching. As for the matchup itself, Elo favors the Cardinals on the road (55 percent). Although Kyler Murray is banged up and the Rams have a dominant defense, L.A. will be forced to start backup QB John Wolford in place of the injured Jared Goff with the playoffs on the line. Elo’s spread: Arizona -1½

[Everything About Sports In 2020 Was Weird … Except Who Won]

Pittsburgh at Cleveland (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Total weighted change in playoff odds: 84.9 percentage points

How Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland changes the NFL playoff picture

Chance of making playoffs
Team Current if Steelers win if Browns win Avg. Chg (+/-)
Browns 61.0% 15.7% 100.0% 41.8 pts
Dolphins 69.1 100.0 42.6 28.5
Ravens 92.0 100.0 85.1 7.4
Colts 83.1 89.4 77.7 5.8

Using FiveThirtyEight model simulations as of Dec. 29. Average change is weighted by the probability of each outcome. Includes teams with an average swing of at least 0.5 percentage points.

This contest primarily affects the Browns and the Dolphins, though it also has important ripple effects for the Ravens and Colts. If Cleveland wins, it will make the postseason for just the second time since the franchise was relaunched in 1999. If not, Miami and Baltimore would instantly be guaranteed playoff spots. In that case, the Browns could still get in the back door, but it would involve the Colts losing to the Jaguars … or the Ravens and Dolphins both winning and the Titans losing to the Texans. (In which case Tennessee and Cleveland would each finish 10-6, and the Browns would earn the wild card on tiebreakers.) Obviously, victory is the more straightforward path for Cleveland, and its odds of that will be higher as the weary Steelers likely rest their starters with only seeding to play for in the finale. Then again, Baker Mayfield and Co. couldn’t even beat the lowly Jets last week, so victory against Pittsburgh’s backups is far from certain. Our model slightly leans in Cleveland’s direction, giving the Browns a 54 percent shot at the W. Elo’s spread: Cleveland -1

Green Bay at Chicago (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Total weighted change in playoff odds: 50.4 percentage points

How Green Bay vs. Chicago changes the NFL playoff picture

Chance of making playoffs
Team Current if Bears win if Packers win Avg. Chg (+/-)
Bears 63.4% 100.0% 44.5% 24.9 pts
Rams 81.5 45.5 100.0 24.4

Using FiveThirtyEight model simulations as of Dec. 29. Average change is weighted by the probability of each outcome. Includes teams with an average swing of at least 0.5 percentage points.

This game is the other half of the NFC playoff equation we mentioned above when discussing the Rams and Cardinals. The two games are totally intertwined in terms of playoff implications, with the result of each potentially determining the fate of the other game’s loser. And that sets up the Bears and Rams to have a unique relationship on Sunday: If L.A. wins, it clinches a playoff spot for Chicago … but if Chicago wins, it only hurts the Rams, dropping their playoff odds by 33 percentage points, all else being equal. L.A., meanwhile, would clinch a spot if the Bears lose — and the good news for the Rams is that Green Bay still has plenty to play for here, as the Pack would clinch an all-important first-round playoff bye with a win over Chicago. (If that happens, the Bears would be desperate for a Rams win as their only viable playoff path.) Since Aaron Rodgers is likely to start and keep his foot on the gas in pursuit of the No. 1 seed, our model gives the Packers a 66 percent chance of winning and forcing the Bears to root for the Rams over their old crosstown Chicago rivals, the Cardinals. Elo’s spread: Green Bay -4½

[Are Defensive Play-Callers Consistent Enough To Be Exploitable?]

Dallas at N.Y. Giants (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Total weighted change in playoff odds: 48.8 percentage points

How New York vs. Dallas changes the NFL playoff picture

Chance of making playoffs
Team Current if Giants win if Cowboys win Avg. Chg (+/-)
Cowboys 25.8% 0.0% 47.8% 23.7 pts
Giants 21.9 47.6 0.0 23.6

Using FiveThirtyEight model simulations as of Dec. 29. Average change is weighted by the probability of each outcome. Includes teams with an average swing of at least 0.5 percentage points.

As we mentioned earlier, this game will determine who outside of Washington and Philadelphia keeps a keen eye on the Eagles-Football Team tilt Sunday night. The winner here is not guaranteed a playoff spot, but the loser is guaranteed to not make the playoffs. (The Giants can’t make it in the unlikely event they tie, either.) Dallas’s surge seemed unlikely a month ago, but three straight wins — with QB Andy Dalton playing surprisingly well — have vaulted the Cowboys back into the playoff hunt. New York is trending in the opposite direction, with three straight losses and starter Daniel Jones struggling while battling a hamstring injury. Because of this, we give Dallas the edge (54 percent) on the road. However, fans of ridiculous history should note that if New York and Philly both win, the Giants would be the first 6-10 division champion ever — and in 2020, that might be a fitting outcome to root for. Elo’s spread: Dallas -1

FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Elo ratings

How each team ranks through Week 16 of the 2020 season, according to our quarterback-adjusted predictions

Chance To …
Rk Team Starting QB QB Rk* Elo Rating Proj. Wins Make Playoffs Win Div. Win SB
1 Saints Brees 7 1719 11.8 100% 100% 18%
2 Bills Allen 1 1717 12.8 100 100 14
3 Packers Rodgers 3 1681 12.7 100 100 15
4 Ravens Jackson 6 1654 10.8 92 0 4
5 Bucs Brady† 8 1622 10.8 100 0 4
6 Seahawks Wilson 11 1606 11.6 100 100 4
7 Colts Rivers 15 1600 10.9 83 27 1
8 Chiefs Mahomes† 2 1598 14.8 100 100 33
9 Titans Tannehill 9 1577 10.7 95 73 1
10 Steelers R’lisberger† 10 1571 12.5 100 100 2
11 Browns Mayfield 18 1542 10.5 61 0 <1
12 Dolphins Tagovailoa 23 1540 10.2 69 0 <1
13 Bears Trubisky 19 1532 8.3 63 0 <1
14 49ers Beathard 28 1493 6.4 0 0 0
15 Vikings Cousins 13 1490 6.7 0 0 0
16 Cardinals Murray✚ 4 1488 8.6 55 0 <1
17 Raiders Carr 12 1460 7.5 0 0 0
18 Falcons Ryan 17 1455 4.2 0 0 0
19 Wash. Smith✚ 25 1453 6.5 52 52 <1
20 Cowboys Dalton 21 1449 6.5 26 26 <1
21 Broncos Lock 27 1447 5.5 0 0 0
22 Panthers Bridgewater 16 1446 5.2 0 0 0
23 Chargers Herbert 14 1442 6.2 0 0 0
24 Patriots Newton† 24 1440 6.7 0 0 0
25 Rams Wolford 32 1421 9.4 81 0 1
26 Eagles Hurts 22 1406 5.0 0 0 0
27 Texans Watson✚ 5 1392 4.3 0 0 0
28 Giants Jones 29 1383 5.5 22 22 <1
29 Bengals Allen 31 1339 4.7 0 0 0
30 Jets Darnold 30 1332 2.3 0 0 0
31 Lions Stafford✚ 20 1281 5.3 0 0 0
32 Jaguars Glennon† 26 1260 1.1 0 0 0

*Ranking among Week 16 starters, according to our QB Elo ratings.

✚ Starter is currently injured and may not play.

†Starter could be resting or replaced for performance reasons.

Simulations as of Dec. 29, 2020.

Source: ESPN

Check out our latest NFL predictions.


What makes LeBron James so great | FiveThirtyEight

Neil Paine is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Comments