The Steelers aren’t being challenged in the AFC North but this is now about vying for a first-round bye and possible home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They return from their bye to play Sunday at Indianapolis and cannot afford a misstep against the overmatched Colts.
Two games — and two losses — into the season, the defense looked atrocious and the futures of Coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees appeared uncertain with the Saints seemingly headed to, at best, another mediocre season. Six wins later, the defense looks like an asset and Payton and Brees at least can entertain notions of reaching another Super Bowl together.
With New England blowing out New York by 34, the Pats opted to rest their starter in the fourth quarter, bringing in backup Jimmy Garoppolo to finish the game. Garoppolo promptly led the Pats to another touchdown, capped by a run by LaGarrette Blount, his second rushing score of the day. With the win, Pats Coach Bill Belichick became the fifth coach in NFL history to reach the 200-win plateau with one team, joining luminaries George Halas, Curly Lambeau, Don Shula and Tom Landry.
Because the Patriots want to play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses, while also exploiting the Jaguars’ weaknesses, they will do their best to squeeze on the short-to-intermediate routes and make Bortles beat them deep to soften up the coverage. That plan will only work, however, if they can consistently contain the running game.
The playoff fields for the AFC and NFC largely have taken shape. But there does remain a bit of intrigue for Sunday’s Week 17 games.
Both wild cards and the No. 1 seed remain up for grabs in the AFC. In the NFC, it’s one wild card spot and some seeding, including one first-round bye, still to be settled.
The Ravens can secure one AFC wild card, and end a two-season absence from the postseason, with a victory at home over the Bengals. The Titans can seize the other with a triumph over the Jaguars in Nashville. The Chargers and Bills still have hope but need help. The Bills are attempting to make their first playoff appearance since the 1999 season, the league’s longest postseason drought.