Week 17 NFL Games Make Great Last-Minute Gift Ideas

Dec 10, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco (15) leads his team into Houston to take on the Texans. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 10, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco (15) leads his team into Houston to take on the Texans. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Like a dedicated coordinator, NFL fans are already game-planning for a weekend when holiday committments collide with televised pro football. But instead of Xs and Os, these pro football diehards are scripting their first 15 reasons why they need to excuse themselves from the yuletide gathering...even if just for a few minutes.


The excuse making coincides with the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Cincinnati visits Pittsburgh, where the hometown team is in free fall. Will the Steelers give their towel-waving faithful a much needed gift? Or will fans litter Heinz Field with lumps of coal-dusted boos.


On Sunday, the Browns visit Houston, who may or may not have rookie sensation C.J. Stroud. Will Cleveland faithful be dreaming of a Browns Christmas, or is Joe Flacco, the “Ghost of Interceptions Passed,” to play Santa to the Texans? Is Dallas set to recover from its Buffalo debacle, or will Miami create even more doubt about the Cowboys’ being legit Super Bowl contenders?


And, on Monday, a tripleheader is on tap and features the most anticipated game of Week 16, as the titans from each conference — Baltimore and the 49ers — square off in Santa Clara. A preview of Super Bowl LVIII, perhaps?


So whether it be needing to answer an urgent work-related text (the gall of that guy) or offering to change the diaper of someone else's baby, get those excuses for disappearing ready to go. And let’s take a deeper plunge into what promises to be another weekend packed with NFL drama.



Cincinnati (8-6) at Pittsburgh (7-7), Saturday, 4:30 ET, NBC


A huge game between two teams AFC North teams fighting for the playoffs but going in opposite directions. 


The Bengals roll into Pittsburgh on a three-game winning streak, but will be without star receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who is out a shoulder injury. Wideout Tee Higgins, who executed one of the season’s great clutch plays in last Saturday’s OT win over Minnesota, needs to again step up against the Steelers to support Jake Browning.


In place of the injured Joe Burrow, the fourth-year Browning is now one of the league’s great stories, winning his last three starts and posting a sparkling 112 rating over that stretch. His only loss as a starter, however, was against Pittsburgh in Week 12.


Regarding that Week 12 victory, the Steelers haven’t won since — and looked downright awful in those three straight defeats. The team ruled out quarterback Kenny Pickett this week, so Mason Rudolph gets the start in place of Mitch Trubisky, who was benched following two ineffective outings. This is usually when a mentally tough Mike Tomlin team takes a stand and comes with a rousing home win. To do that, they will need big effort from their defense and ground game, both of which faltered during the three-game slide.


The loss of Chase could be a big blow, but we think Browning is in command of his environment, and the Bengals’ OL will neutralize T.J. Watt. Meanwhile, Rudolph will struggle, despite being at home and going against the 30th-worst defense in the league. Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 16.



Buffalo (8-6) at Los Angeles (5-9), Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, NBC


Another two teams going in decidedly opposite directions. The Bills come off two impressive wins, beating Kansas City on the road, then demolishing Dallas at home. Despite missing key pieces, their defense has been playing lights out and now face a Chargers offense depleted by injuries (Justin Herbert out), prime-time embarrassment and resulting coaching changes.


Meantime, Buffalo’s offense may be in the middle of a personality transformation. The running game, such a bane for so long, is running on all cylinders — precisely what is needed to keep Chargers star ends Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa from teeing off on Josh Allen. Look for better balance from the Bills' offense against LA, since Allen threw for only 94 yards against the Cowboys.


The Chargers plan to stick with Easton Stick, who padded his stats late against Raiders but, despite the lopsidedness of LA's loss, still played commendably. He will again be without standout WR Keenan Allen, who missed the Vegas fiasco. And with no running game to bank on, Stick and the LA passing game will be buried by the Bills' pounding pass rush, which is fifth in the NFL with 45 sacks. 


If Buffalo runs the ball with anywhere near the punch it did versus Dallas, this game will be done early. Buffalo 34, Los Angeles 13.






Indianapolis (8-6) at Atlanta (6-8), 1 p.m. ET


Yet another two teams whose recent fortunes are at odds with one another. The Colts, winners of five of their last six games, rallied to topple the Steelers and improve their playoff chances. The Falcons, losers of two straight, fell to the one-win Panthers and nearly crushed theirs. 


Indianapolis hopes to welcome back Jonathan Taylor, who practiced full speed Thursday, but his injured thumb still puts his status as day to day. Taylor’s presence immediately improves the Colts’ running game and Indy’s chances of cracking the Falcons’ red-zone defense, second best in the NFL. Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew comes off his statistically best game with three touchdown passes, and he expects to have budding star wideout Michael Pittman Jr., who left the Steelers game with a concussion. Minchew has thrown just one interception in the last three games.


Interceptions and fumbles likely factored into why Atlanta coach Arthur Smith decided to go with Taylor Heinicke at QB this Sunday. The Colts defense is third best in the league at forcing turnovers, and the man Heinicke replaces, Desmond Ridder, is too often a turnover in waiting, as his 10 INTs and six lost fumbles attest.


Will the quarterback change help Atlanta, or are the Falcons to demoralized from last week’s unforgivable loss? Will the Colts be distracted by the suspension Tuesday of two players for conduct detrimental to the team?


We think the Colts have too much momentum for that news to derail them. If Taylor is healthy, Indianapolis' offense boasts too much firepower for Atlanta to contend with. Indianapolis 24, Atlanta 20.



Green Bay (6-8) at Carolina (2-12) 1, p.m. ET


The Packers midseason resurgence came to an end with two disappointing losses. With their playoff hopes on death watch, they catch a break with a road game at two-win Carolina.


Or do they? Green Bay came up short on the road against a Giants team not much better than Carolina, then allowed Baker Mayfield to puncture them repeatedly last week. The Packers defense was dreadful in both. Whether its pass rush can take advantage of an awful Panthers offensive line is a real question since it failed to do so against a comparably bad New York unit. If Bryce Young gets time, he might enjoy the best game of an otherwise rocky rookie season.


On the other side of the ball, Green Bay QB Jordan Love goes up against a defense much stouter than a 2-12 record would suggest. The Panthers rank third in overall defense and field the league’s third-best pass defense. Their pass rush is formidable (54 sacks), yet they are near the bottom of the league in creating turnovers. The Panthers struggle to stop the run, but can Green Bay, which averages a mediocre 103 yards per game rushing, exploit that?


All sorts of reasons point to Green Bay struggling in this game, but they need it too much. The defense will find a way to pressure Young and Love will continue play solid football. Green Bay 17, Carolina 9.



Cleveland (8-6) at Houston (8-6), 1 p.m. ET


What we hoped would shape up to be the league’s oldest quarterback squaring off against the NFL’s Rookie of the Year appears looks to be scuttled by the news that C.J. Stroud is likely to miss his second straight start. In his anticipated absence, former Browns quarterback Case Keenum will again start.


Keenum led the Texans to a clutch 19-16 win last week in Tennessee.


In the Browns’ equally dramatic win over Chicago, the 38-year-old Joe Flacco was the MVP for both teams: His 374 passing yards and clutch play late were the stuff of legends; his three interceptions, of the “say it ain’t so, Joe” or “whacko Flacco” variety, nearly cost his team a win.


This is not a question of which Flacco shows up Sunday, since both likely will. 


Aside from the Stroud injury, the host Texans could fill out a triage unit. The team submitted a mid-week injury report listing 15 players who did not practice. Foremost among them is wideout Nico Collins and All-Pro left tackle, Laremy Tunsil, who aggravated a lingering knee issue against the Titans. A Tunsil-Myles Garrett duel alone would make this the game of the week, so the hope here is that both players — Garrett has been fighting through a shoulder issue — are healthy as possible and able to go.


There’s much on the line in this game, and it’s a tough one to call. But there isn’t enough spiked egg nog at the Xmas party to make us buy into Flaccomania. Instead, we are keen on Stroud’s replacement and make a case for a Houston win. Houston 23, Cleveland 17.



Detroit (10-4) at Minnesota (7-7), 1 p.m. ET


This game figures to be a fascinating matchup between two of the elite coordinators in the NFL: Ben Johnson, Detroit’s offensive mastermind pitted against Brian Flores, Minnesota’s mad scientist of a DC. The Lions will want to run the ball with David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs. Doing so sets up Jared Goff and Detroit’s dangerous play-action game, which is even more lethal since the emergence of rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who gives Goff a dynamic threat down the seams.


But Minnesota’s defense is one of the league’s toughest to run against. And how Detroit fares on 3rd-and-long against Flores’ myriad blitz packages, featuring pass-rush specialist Danielle Hunter (15.5 sacks), could determine the outcome.


When Minnesota has the ball, Nick Mullens will be the triggerman. In his first start replacing Josh Dobbs at quarterback, Mullens threw for 303 yards against a less-than-stout Bengals defense. The Lions pass defense is a rung or two up (No. 18 in the NFL) and Aidan Hutchinson is one of the game’s most disruptive forces coming off the edge. 


The Vikings offense may have found a star in the making in running back Ty Chandler, little used until Week 10, who surely burst onto the radar of Lions' defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn with his 132-yard rushing day against the Bengals. The Lions are eighth best against the run, so it will be a big challenge for Chandler to duplicate that effort in Cincinnati.


As much as we are drawn to Flores’ skills at keeping offenses off balance, the Lions are simply the better team. After struggling for a few weeks, Detroit put it all together against Denver in Week 16. We expect them to build on that performance. Detroit 26, Minnesota 17.



Seattle (7–7) at Tennessee (5-9), 1 p.m. ET


Two weeks ago, Titans rookie quarterback Will Levis fashioned a dramatic Monday night win in Miami. In Week 15, it was Seattle’s Drew Lock who struck gold in the final minute on MNF. 


This week, the winning teams of those two memorable MNF games square off in Nashville, in a game of huge importance for the visiting Seahawks. It is entirely possible that neither author of the two Monday night wins will play Sunday. Lock likely sits as Geno Smith, missing the last two games because of a stubborn groin injury, returns to the lineup for Seattle. The last time Smith lined up behind center, he strafed the Cowboys secondary for 334 yards and three touchdowns. D.K. Metcalf also went off in Dallas and will welcome Smith’s return — the physical WR posted only seven catches total in the loss to San Francisco and the win over the Eagles. 


The Titans’ defense is hampered by the absence of Pro Bowl defensive end Jeremy Simmons, out since Week 14 with a knee injury. He is expected to be sidelined against Seattle, which makes it tougher for Tennessee to stop Seattle’s two-back attack of Kenneth Walker III and Zach Charbonnet. 


Levis joins Simmons as someone who did not practice Wednesday. The rookie signal-caller suffered an ankle injury against Houston and his listed as questionable. If he is unable to go, Ryan Tannehill will start, which will have nearby songwriters scrambling to pen heartbreak-gilded ditties about unfaithful partners, stolen trucks and Tannehill turnovers. It’s a motif as old as the Opry itself. 


The Seahawks need this game in the worst way, but despite the dramatic comeback last week, Seattle is simply not playing very well. We think Levis will gut it out and play, and Derrick Henry will bust out with a 100-yard day and control the game. It will come down to a Nick Folk field goal. Tennessee 23, Seattle 20.



Jacksonville (8-6) at Tampa Bay (7-7), 1 p.m. ET


Yet another game featuring two teams passing each other towards the same hoped-for destination. The Jags have lost three of four and Trevor Lawrence is in concussion protocol. He missed practice both Wednesday and Thursday and the precedent is for a player to not be cleared for a Sunday game if they miss both practices. If Lawrence sits, then CJ Beathard starts. Even with Calvin Ridley and Evan Engram showing bursts of late, the loss of Christian Kirk to injury in Week 13 looms especially large with Doug Pederson’s offense now turning to a backup QB. 


On the other sideline, Tampa Bay has to be feeling good about its prospects to win the NFC South, given the Saints loss Thursday night and how well the Bucs themselves played in Green Bay. 


Especially on offense. Baker Mayfield played against the Packers the way Browns fans envisioned him performing when Cleveland drafted him No. 1 overall in 2018. Was the Packers defense that bad last week? Or has Mayfield found a new level that he plans to sustain. If, against the Jags, Baker is to approach his performance at Lambeau, the OL will need to block star defensive end Josh Allen (13.5 sacks). If they do, then Mayfield may have a field day (as will his fave target, Mike Evans) against Jacksonville’s 27th-ranked defense, as no other defender other than Travon Walker (six sacks) has more than 2.5 sacks this season.


We think Jacksonville is too shaky to pull this off — UNLESS Lawrence somehow suits up and plays. Mayfield and the Bucs offense found a rhythm on the road last week and are having it shipped to Raymond James Stadium in time for kickoff. Tampa Bay 27, Jacksonville 16. 



Dallas (10-4) at Miami (10-4), 4:25 p.m. ET


The Cowboys come off their quarterly WTF game, a performance in Buffalo mind-bending in its ineptness and lack of engagement. Miami rebounded from a shocking loss to the Titans two weeks ago to paste the Jets at home.


The Dolphins again play host and Dallas again is the visitor this week. Miami’s Mike McDaniel loves to put the ball in the air, but he and offensive coordinator Frank Smith surely saw how easily Buffalo’s ground game carved up the Cowboys defense. Expect running backs Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane to be licking their chops in film study and asking to be fed on game day. 


Another factor that may shift Miami’s attention to the run is the health of Tyreek Hill. The brilliant wideout’s quest for 2,000 yards receiving took a hit when he missed the Jets game with a knee injury. He practiced this week, though if he is less than 100 percent, the chances of more snaps going to Mostert and Achane increase.


Sure, Dallas’ defense needs to regroup after an embarrassing effort last week, but it wasn’t like the offense spun a spell against the Bills. Dak Prescott dropped a couple of rungs in the estimation of some, but a bountiful effort against an up-and-down Dolphins defense could put both his team and his pursuit of a league MVP back on track. Most everyone with a star on his helmet played miserably in Week 15; CeeDee Lamb, with seven catches for 56 yards, may be an exception.  The star wideout looks to rebound against one of the game’s top corners, Miami’s Jalen Ramsey. You can bet the cameras will focus on them when they line up across from one another. 


Just as Philadelphia hit a wall and is struggling to scale it, Dallas too may be due for dry patch. The Cowboys’ defense is fast, but the Dolphins’ offense will outflank it. Miami 33, Dallas 24.





Las Vegas (6-8) at Kansas City (9-5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS


The last time the Raiders played, they set a franchise record for points and got an opposing coach fired. Little threat of that happening on Xmas morning, given the quality of the Chiefs defense and Andy Reid’s stature as a two-time Super Bowl champion. 


Aidan O’Connell and the Vegas offense go up against Chris Jones and a KC defense ranked No. 3 overall and keeping afloat a team whose standard-setting offense is still on a season-long quest to rekindle its old dominance. 


Oddly enough, the Chiefs still rank third in passing yards, but it has been seven weeks since the offense has posted a game with 400 or more total yards — easily the longest stretch since Patrick Mahomes took over as starting god in 2018. The Chiefs are still beset by dropped passes (a league-high 37), inconsistency in the red zone (ranked 14th), and inopportune penalties. This week, all three of their running backs appeared on the injury report, but Isiah Pacheco went through a full practice and should be good to go on Christmas.


The Raiders field one of the league’s better pass defenses, primarily because Maxx Crosby is such a force. But the star DE still battles a knee issue. If he’s limited, look for Mahomes to push the ball downfield against a Raiders secondary prone to surrendering chunk plays. 


On offense, the Raiders welcome back running back Josh Jacobs, but the Chiefs are stout against the run, so it’s unclear what impact the running back’s return will have. Receiver Davante Adams topped 100 yards receiving against the Chargers and is still a presence. Kansas City’s best corner Trent McDuffie will have his hands full trying the contain the stud wideout.


The Raiders come in well rested and still abuzz from their epic beatdown on Thursday Night Football. They also need this game desperately to have any hopes at an AFC wild card. It feels wrong to pick against Mahomes at home, but a hunch tells us the Raiders are going to hang a tough loss on their longtime division rival and ruin Xmas for Swifties across the nation. Las Vegas 23, Kansas City 21.



Baltimore (11-3) at San Francisco (11-3), Monday Night Football, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN



Week 16 finishes off with a bang as the teams with the two best records in the NFL do battle in a rematch of Super Bowl XLVII. 


It could very well be a review of this upcoming February's big game. 


The game features multiple matchups of strength on supposed strength. Lamar Jackson leads a Ravens offense that tops the NFL in rushing, though it lost Keaton Mitchell, a bonafide weapon, to a knee injury for the remainder of the season. The 49ers defense is No. 3 at stopping the run. We say supposed since the 49ers, missing starting defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave, did allow 234 yards rushing. 


Hargrave returned to practice Thursday. Armstead, the 49ers best run defender along the line, did not. 


The 49ers in 2022 struggled against mobile quarterbacks, such as Jackson. This season, however, San Francisco's pass rush does a better job of maintaining its lanes and angles of pursuit. The 49ers will have a leg up if they do as good a job containing Jackson as they did Jalen Hurts in their huge 42-17 win over the Eagles.


But if they allow Jackson to break containment, they have to worry not just about him running for big yardage; he's shown a knack for hitting big pass plays when outside the pocket, throwing to veteran Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie receiver Zay Flowers. The 49ers pass defense is middle of the pack, though corner Charvarius Ward is playing his best football since joining the team in 2022.


On the other side of the ball, the Ravens pass defense has slipped in recent weeks but is still a formidable top-ten unit. The 49ers passing game is both brutally efficient and dynamic. Brock Purdy is putting on a weekly clinic on how to dissect an NFL defense. Christian McCaffery, the league's leading rusher, continues his push for league MVP. He and Purdy will likely cost each other votes. 


The versatility of McCaffery and WR Deebo Samuel needs some recognition. One stat says it all: they became the first two teammates to catch five or more touchdowns and run for five or more touchdowns. This uniqueness allows Kyle Shanahan to line up these two dynamos all over the formation and create matchup problems for the defens. And they have a quarterback in Purdy who seems to diagnose mismatches quickly.


The Ravens defense is no joke. Baltimore leads the NFL in sacks with 50. Purdy, as marvelous as he is playing, has faced just one pass defense currently ranked in the top 10 — and that was Cleveland, which throttled the second-year quarterback and handed the 49ers their first loss of the season in Week 5.


But Purdy has taken signficannt steps forward — leaps even — in his development since San Francisco returned from its Week 8 bye. 


As for dealing with Jackson, expect San Francisco Fred Warner to spy him. While the rangy LB will not single-handedly stop Jackson, there may be no NFL defender better equipped to take on that challenge. The Niners defense does not blitz much yet still leads the NFL in generating turnovers. We are banking on 49ers getting a couple Monday night and winning convincingly. San Francisco 31, Baltimore 20.





Latest Player Notes

Steelers positional analysis: Kenny Pickett stands alone in QB room

2/17/2024If the Steelers were concerned about the uncertain future at quarterback when Ben Roethlisberger retired, the outlook ...

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t deserve criticism since Super Bowl

Globe StaffUpdated February 17, 2024, 9:38 a.m.Kyle Shanahan has been on the defensive all week following the 49ers’ 25-22 ...

New Raiders GM expected to be aggressive in search for top QB

February 17, 2024 - 4:19 PMIf Tom Telesco’s past offers clues about his future, expect the Raiders’ new general manager to ...

Mark Kiszla: After hating on Russell Wilson, maybe Sean Payton should give Sam Darnold some love

Sam Darnold needs a second chance to prove his worth in the NFL almost as desperately as the Broncos need a quarterback.Could ...

Grading the Week: Broncos QB Russell Wilson sounds like he can’t get away from Sean Payton fast enough

2/17/2024Apparently, Russell Wilson and Ciara didn’t buy what Sean Payton was shoveling on radio row during Super Bowl Week.A ...

When Deshaun Watson will begin throwing; how he feels about new OC Ken Dorsey, and more: Browns Insider

cleveland.comCLEVELAND, Ohio — Deshaun Watson is on track in his rehab schedule from shoulder surgery — maybe even a little ...

Jay Harbaugh stepping out of family circle for first time with Seahawks

Seattle Times staff reporterIf Jay Harbaugh’s last name gives him a hefty family legacy to live up to, his new position with ...

What the 49ers said after coming back to beat Packers

16-20 minutes 1/21/2024The 49ers earned a wild playoff win in a rainstorm Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium, coming back to ...

Why 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw wouldn’t go down after game-winning interception vs. Packers

5-7 minutes 1/21/2024SANTA CLARA — Dre Greenlaw was running zig-zags with the joy of a third-grader dodging tackles at recess.A ...

3 things that went right for Steelers offense, 3 that new offensive coordinator must fix

Mike Tomlin is going outside of his comfort zone — and the organization — to find his next offensive coordinator.Not since ...
See More Player Notes