With one more round of games before the playoffs begin, motivation varies wildly. There are teams fighting for better playoff positioning, others simply fighting for a playoff spot and some at the lower end that are probably playing for their coach’s job. With many teams resting their starters, Week 17 tends to have some surprising results, which can add chaos to everything else going on.
Here is a look at N.F.L. Week 17, with all picks made against the point spread.
Last week’s record: 8-7-1
Overall record: 126-109-5
The Games That Matter
Much of the focus of this week will be on playoff seeding, with some plum spots still up for grabs.
The Top Two Seeds in the N.F.C.
49ers at Seahawks, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: 49ers -3 | Total: 47
Of the various teams trying to establish their playoff positioning, few have things as simple as San Francisco: If the 49ers (12-3) beat the Seahawks (11-4), they will clinch the N.F.C. West and the No. 1 seed in the N.F.C., thus earning a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
That result seemed like a foregone conclusion earlier this week when Seattle announced that running backs Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise would be unavailable. Their injuries, combined with a season-ending injury to Rashaad Penny in Week 14, left the Seahawks with only Travis Homer, an untested rookie, at the position.
To the delight of many, Seattle activated the Beast Mode signal, summoning Marshawn Lynch from unofficial retirement to try to save their season.
Lynch has done this drill before. He sat out the entire 2016 season only to return for two seasons with his hometown Oakland Raiders. He was effective for Oakland, averaging 4.3 yards a carry over 21 games while scoring 10 touchdowns. But even a back as durable as Lynch, 33, is not immune to aging, and it is worth wondering if he can get up to speed quickly enough to make a difference.
San Francisco has been dealing with injuries to its defense and its offensive line that have made the team far less scary in recent weeks. But the carrot of a week of rest will have the 49ers highly motivated, as will a desire for revenge for an overtime loss to the Seahawks in Week 10.
After being flexed into the week’s prime-time game, the Seahawks and 49ers will already know what happened for both Green Bay and New Orleans, the other teams vying for the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. If both of those teams lose, that opens up an amusing scenario in which San Francisco can get the top spot with a tie, and a more straightforward one in which the Seahawks can vault from No. 5 to No. 1 with a win. Pick: 49ers -3
Packers at Lions, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Packers -12.5 | Total: 43
The expectation when Green Bay fired Mike McCarthy and replaced him with Matt LaFleur was that the Packers (12-3) would run an offense that better utilizes the remainder of Aaron Rodgers’s prime. With one game left this season, the Packers have clearly improved, but Rodgers has attempted 83 fewer passes than he did last season, and has thrown for 763 fewer yards. He has barely more than half as many touchdowns (24) as he had three years ago (40).
It is not that Rodgers has played worse — his rate statistics are in line with those of the past few years — he has just ceded much of the offensive production to a running game led by Aaron Jones. Jones’s 16 rushing touchdowns not only lead the N.F.L. this season, but also have him just three short of Green Bay’s franchise record, which was set by Jim Taylor in 1962.
Rodgers has seemed fine with that division of labor, and the Packers should clinch a first-round bye with a win over the lowly Lions (3-11-1). A dream scenario exists in which San Francisco also loses, which would keep Green Bay at Lambeau Field throughout the playoffs. But first things first, the Packers just need to win. They are absolutely capable of winning by multiple touchdowns, but it would be wiser to build up a healthy lead and then remove their starters, so covering a large point spread is unlikely. Pick: Lions +12.5
Saints at Panthers, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Saints -13 | Total: 46
New Orleans (12-3) weathered a storm earlier this year when quarterback Drew Brees missed five games, and in recent weeks the Saints have seemed every bit as good as they were last season, when the only thing separating them from a Super Bowl appearance was a non-call on a play that was clearly pass interference. After all their hard work they enter the season’s final weekend tied for the best record in the N.F.C., yet will most likely end up being the hosts of a wild-card game rather than earning a first-round bye.
There are certainly paths to the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, but expecting Green Bay to lose in Detroit is a bit ridiculous, and San Francisco is favored to win in Seattle as well. That leaves the Saints with enough motivation to beat the Panthers (5-10), but not enough to keep their key players in long enough to deliver a blowout.
One thing to watch is how many catches Michael Thomas finishes with. The superstar wide receiver broke Marvin Harrison’s single-season receptions record last week, and currently is at 145. If the Saints want to feed him all game to put the record far out of reach of the Julio Joneses and DeAndre Hopkinses of the world, there is nothing Carolina could do to stop them. Pick: Panthers +13
The No. 2 Seed in the A.F.C.
Dolphins at Patriots, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Patriots -15.5 | Total: 44.5
Chargers at Chiefs, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Chiefs -9 | Total: 44.5
A first-round bye is in play between the Patriots (12-3) and the Chiefs (11-4) but one could be forgiven for simply assuming New England has the No. 2 seed all wrapped up — even when considering Coach Bill Belichick’s occasional missteps against the Dolphins (4-11) over the years.
But looking beyond this week, Kansas City is pretty clearly a better team right now. The Chiefs beat the Patriots, 23-16, in Week 14, and since their bye in Week 12 have had a defense that lives up to their terrific offense — a scary thought for any team that meets them in the playoffs, including Baltimore.
If Kansas City keeps its starters in all game, beating the Chargers (5-10) by 9 at home should be easy. The Patriots pushing hard enough to beat Miami by more than two touchdowns seems far less realistic. Picks: Dolphins +15.5; Chiefs -9
The N.F.C. East
Eagles at Giants, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Eagles -4.5 | Total: 45
Redskins at Cowboys, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Cowboys -11 | Total: 44.5
How did this happen to the Cowboys (7-8)? A team with stars at quarterback (Dak Prescott), running back (Ezekiel Elliott) and wide receiver (Amari Cooper), all of whom are reasonably healthy, simply gave away its season through a series of inexplicable losses. Regardless of how things turn out against the Redskins (3-12), Dallas will finish the season with only one victory against a team that had a winning record at the time of their meeting. And with the way the Cowboys have played in recent weeks, having Las Vegas predict a blowout over Washington seems somewhat spurious.
The Eagles (8-7) have had some head-scratchers of their own this season, but can point to injuries for much of their inconsistency. And last week, when they had their backs against the wall, they delivered a win against the Cowboys.
Dallas hardly deserves a playoff spot after this mess of a season, but might get one anyway. Beating Washington at home is doable, and a Philadelphia win over the Giants (4-11) on the road, a week after Daniel Jones had the best game of his career, is hardly a given. But whichever team wins this division will undoubtedly be an extreme underdog on the road in the wild-card round, so getting too worked up in any direction is a bit of a waste. Picks: Giants +4.5; Redskins +11
The Second A.F.C. Wild Card
Titans at Texans, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans -3.5 | Total: 45.5
Steelers at Ravens, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Steelers -1.5 | Total: 37.5
Raiders at Broncos, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Broncos -3.5 | Total: 41
Thanks to losses by the Titans (8-7) and the Steelers (8-7) last week, the second wild-card spot in the A.F.C. will be decided through these three games — and a few others, in the case of the Raiders (7-8).
Even after last week’s loss to New Orleans, Tennessee has the momentum in this group. Running back Derrick Henry appears ready to return from a hamstring injury, and that gives the Titans an offense that is playoff-worthy, provided they get to the postseason. Helping matters will be a lack of motivation for the Texans (10-5), who have already clinched the A.F.C. South but will probably go into the game locked into the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, provided Kansas City beats the Chargers.
Pittsburgh, which has played without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger since the third quarter of Week 2, has acquitted itself fairly well this season, but to avoid missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year, the Steelers would need to beat the Ravens (13-2) and have Tennessee lose to Houston.
Baltimore has announced that Lamar Jackson, the favorite for the N.F.L.’s Most Valuable Player Award, will not play, and that running back Mark Ingram II is out with a calf injury. But the depth of the Ravens is terrible news for Pittsburgh, as Robert Griffin III and Gus Edwards are perfectly capable of engineering what would officially be an upset.
Oakland is technically in the mix for the wild-card spot as well, but the team should not start printing playoff tickets: To get there, the Raiders would need to beat the Broncos (6-9), have the Steelers and the Titans both lose, have the Colts beat the Jaguars and even then would need a strength-of-victory tiebreaker over Pittsburgh, which requires at least one win by a group of teams that includes the Bears, the Lions, the Patriots and the Chargers. Picks: Titans -3.5; Ravens +1.5; Raiders +3.5
Will These Teams Rest Their Starters?
In these games, a playoff team with little motivation to win is up against a non-contender that may be looking to make a statement.
Jets at Bills, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Bills -1.5 | Total: 36
No matter what happens in this game, the Bills (10-5) will have the No. 5 seed in the A.F.C. while the Jets (6-9) will simply be trying to sort out what worked this year and what didn’t. With the game in Orchard Park, it makes sense that Buffalo is favored, but Coach Sean McDermott has committed only to playing his starters for “the majority” of the game, so predicting the result is mostly guesswork. A victory would give the Bills their second 11-win season since their four-year run of Super Bowl appearances ended in 1994, and they may be looking to enter the playoffs hot, so the scale tips slightly in their favor. Pick: Bills -1.5
Bears at Vikings, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Vikings -1 | Total: 36.5
The Vikings (10-5) can technically improve from the No. 6 seed in the N.F.C. to the No. 5 seed, but either way they are going to be playing a road game against a terrific team in the wild-card round, so there is no real motivation for a win. The Bears (7-8) were crushed last week but have a chance at securing a .500 season with a road win. Pick: Bears +1
The Irrelevant Games
For these teams already eliminated from the playoffs, there is mostly pride on the line.
Cardinals at Rams, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Off | Total: Off | Pick: Rams
Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Browns -3 | Total: 44.5 | Pick: Browns –3
Falcons at Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Buccaneers -1.5 | Total: 47.5 | Pick: Falcons +1.5
Colts at Jaguars, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Colts -4 | Total: 43 | Pick: Colts -4
All times are Eastern.