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ProCanes NFL Week Seventeen Preview: Playoffs or Bust, Pierre’s Path, Inde-Spence-able

The NFL’s says farewell to the 2017 season in an epic Sunday slate filled with plenty of ProCane connections.

Green Bay Packers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Like leftovers from a holiday feast, nothing can be preserved forever. Today is the NFL’s regular season’s expiry date. I guess we’ll just have to focus on those Hurricane spring competitions now that our Monday and Thursday evenings are freed up. Cleveland is poised to join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go winless in a 16-game regular season. To keep competition on the up-and-up, most of the 4:25 PM EDT games not only close out the regular season and calendar year, but they also feature teams fighting for playoff seeding or a wildcard slot. If you’re worried about being late for those New Year’s Eve festivities, fear not—those afternoon games serve as the final games of the season with no primetime matchup.

The final week of the regular season usually has only one game that matters. However, given the unpredictability of the 2017 season, today’s slate of games sets up for a remarkable finish.

Playoff Seedings Entering Today (ProCanes on the Roster)

AFC

1) New England Patriots (WR Phillip Dorsett)

2) Pittsburgh Steelers (CB Artie Burns, DL Anthony Chickillo, LB Sean Spence)

3) Jacksonville Jaguars (DL Calais Campbell, WR Allen Hurns, C Brandon Linder)

4) Kansas City Chiefs (DL Allen Bailey)

5) Baltimore Ravens

6) Tennessee Titans

Outside: 7) Los Angeles Chargers (WR Travis Benjamin, LB Denzel Perryman, FS Rayshawn Jenkins); 8) Buffalo Bills (T Seantrel Henderson)

NFC

1) Philadelphia Eagles

2) Minnesota Vikings (G Danny Isidora, WR Stacy Coley)

3) Los Angeles Rams

4) New Orleans Saints (DE Al-Quadin Muhammad)

5) Carolina Panthers (TE Greg Olsen)

6) Atlanta Falcons ( P Matt Bosher)

Outside: 7) Seattle Seahawks (TE Jimmy Graham)


New York Jets vs New England Patriots 1PM EDT

Tomorrow, and for the remaining month, you’re likely to run into those ‘new year, new me’ individuals, most notably at your local gym or grocery store. The Patriots are not in the business of making new year's resolutions, as they continue to go about their usual ‘win the AFC East and be the number one seed in the conference’ business. A win today (or a Steelers’ loss) will clinch home field advantage throughout the postseason.

New England is guaranteed a bye during wildcard weekend. While Brady & Co. should get the win over a QB Bryce Petty-led Jets’ offense, New England has shown vulnerability unlike any season in recent memory. A preseason pick to make it back to the Super Bowl, the Patriots’ defense ranks near the bottom of the league with a 373.9 yards allowed per game average—better than only three other teams in the entire league. Yet when New England needs a stop, they’ve been able to get off the field at pivotal moments.

For ProCane WR Phillip Dorsett, he still remains the fifth or sixth option on an offense stacked with capable wide receivers. The impending return of WR Chris Hogan will hurt Dorsett’s playing time in the postseason. New England has already begun to design plays for their most recent acquisition, WR Kenny Britt, provides size that is lacking at the receiver position. Alongside, Rob Gronkowski, who is too fast for most linebackers and overwhelms safeties with his size and strength, the pair of pass-catchers pose as daunting matchup pieces for the Patriots offense. Dorsett, the former 2015 first-rounder, appears to have picked up a difficult New England playbook, earning the trust of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and QB Tom Brady. The speedy wide receiver should see spot playing time this postseason for a franchise that considers the season Super Bowl or bust.

Chicago Bears vs Minnesota Vikings 1PM EDT

Miami Dolphins v Minnesota Vikings
Getting low on a defender, G Danny Isidora should have a legitimate chance of getting plenty of snaps this afternoon.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

There are a couple different paths the Vikings can take to lock up a bye and advance into the divisional round of the playoffs. Put simply, beat the Bears and your dreams come true.

A win would be one more step towards Minnesota not only hosting a playoff game, but also gives them a chance to be the third franchise in NFL history to host and play in the Super Bowl since the San Francisco 49ers accomplished it in Super Bowl 19!

Expect guard Danny Isidora, who has just 167 total snaps according to Pro Football Focus, to get some playing time today. Isidora has worked as a reserve guard for the entirety of the regular season, with spot duty in relief of starting guards Nick Easton and Joe Berger. Easton was lost for the season after the team put him on season-ending injured reserve. Isidora or Jeremiah Sirles will get the call to fill-in along the offensive line as the Vikes look to make their run in January.

WR Stacy Coley, who has been inactive over Minnesota’s past six games, would be a surprise activation. Coley was the punt returner before he went on a deactivation streak.

Safety Deon Bush did not get a chance to shine against the Browns last week with the return of Bears’ S Adrian Amos. Whether or not he is able to get more playing time this week in a game that has little meaning for Chicago remains undetermined. Bush should see more than his usual special team snaps in the final game of the season.

Bears’ Punter Pat O’Donnell is tied for 12th in the NFL with 27 punts downed within the 20 and is 11th in the league in average punt yardage with 46 yards-per-punt. O’Donnell’s 3,143 net yards places the punter among the top 10 players at this position.

Houston Texans vs Indianapolis Colts 1PM EDT

It will be a tale of two running backs when the Texans take on AFC South foe Indianapolis. One of these tailbacks has compiled 12 straight 1,000 total yard seasons, rushed for 100 yards at least once this season and has been a focal point of their respective offense down the homestretch. The other back is Lamar Miller.

This has been an utterly miserable season for Miller. A career-low 3.6 yards-per-carry illustrates the hardship that Miller and Houston’s offense have endured in what was once a season with promise. While fellow ProCane RB Frank Gore continues taking handoffs for the Colts and appears to be getting better with age, Miller has seen his production and impact dip. Miller was left feeling scrooged after a ten carries for 50 yards rushing day in a 34–6 loss to the Steelers on Christmas. Even with the Texans in turmoil, it’s odd to see Miller no longer being a focal point of the offense. Whatever the reason, it does not appear to be a profitable situation—at least on the field—for No. 26.

Indianapolis Colts v Baltimore Ravens
RB Frank Gore is getting up there in age, yet he’s still able to get up and over defenders into the end zone as well, adding to his illustrious career totals.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Frank Gore is entering the twilight of his career on what is, by all indications, a bad team; yet he continues to illustrate his value. Whether in a snowstorm, torrential rain or behind a suspect offensive line, Gore keeps churning out yards. Just 175 rushing yards behind Curtis Martin for fourth on the NFL’s all-time list, Gore has tapped into that Brady-like fountain of youth. The winner of this game is will also be a loser in one respect, dropping in the 2017 draft order. A win could help the case of either Houston head coach Bill O’Brien or Colts head coach and former UM staffer Chuck Pagano to hold unto their jobs for at least another season. That’s a very optimistic outcome, but who knows, especially given the next team we’ll preview.

Cleveland Browns vs Pittsburgh Steelers 1PM EDT

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sean Spence (51) has filled in admirably for the Steelers at linebacker. With postseason almost here, Spence will be integral in Pittsburgh’s playoff push.
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The bad news got worse for the winless Browns entering Sunday. The Steelers still have something to play for in week 17. If the Patriots were to lose to the Jets, then Pittsburgh (with a win over said Browns) would have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. From a matchup standpoint, it should be entertaining to see WR Josh Gordon line up against Artie Burns. Pittsburgh’s pass defense got reinforced with the return of CB Joe Haden (fibula) on Christmas day. With the release of pass-rusher James Harrison, that should pave the way for more defensive contributions for LB Anthony Chickillo, who has three sacks, one pass defense and a touchdown this season.

Sean Spence is now starting at the left inside linebacker position for Pittsburgh. While there have been some bumps in the road in run defense, Spence has provided the speed and reliability that must reassure LB coach Joey Porter. Spence picked up his first sack in his most recent stint with the Black and Gold against Houston on Monday.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears
On a normal NFL Sunday Duke Johnson tries to evade defenders. This week Johnson and the Browns try to avoid history.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

We all wish better for TE David Njoku and RB Duke Johnson Jr. Both men have played well at different points in the season and shouldn’t be playing 15 games into a season without getting a win—which, in Njoku’s case, would be his first career victory. Njoku set a franchise-record with four touchdown receptions, the most for a Browns’ rookie tight end (including Kellen Winslow II). You should praise a performance like that. Duke Johnson became the first NFL RB to haul in 500 recieving yard in three straight seasons, outperforming the great RB Herschel Walker in that respect. Johnson’s 61 receptions and 537 receiving yards lead the team in both categories.

The headlines in Cleveland tomorrow, if they’re not about LeBron, will be about the Browns going a brutal 0–16 in the regular season and consideration regarding whether or not to retain the services of head coach Hue Jackson. There is no doubt that there will be plenty of change for the Browns in the off-season, as GM John Dorsey indicated. Could the ProCane duo be expendable in the offseason? Probably not. But with 15 or 16 losses, should anyone in the Browns locker room feel they have great job security?

Going against a Steelers’ defense that allows an average of 206 yards per game, all you can do is wish the Browns luck in the off-season.

San Francisco 49ers vs Los Angeles Rams 4:25PM EDT

There is little playoff implication in this contest, with the Rams having already won the NFC West and are a shoo-in to host a game on wildcard weekend.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at San Francisco 49ers
While Adrian Colbert did not get be the recipient of the ‘Turnover Chain’ during his UM career, he would have earned the honor based on his play with the 49ers this season.
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The story in this game will be how a surging Niners team does in consecutive weeks against a playoff squad that caused all sorts of problems for the Jaguars a week ago. The addition of QB Jimmy Garoppolo has the Niners looking like they should be a playoff contender in 2018. With safety Adrian Colbert playing the backend of the defense, the Niners could make it two upsets in a row as they look to continue their four game winning streak. Colbert let an interception fall to the ground, but that shouldn’t take away from another solid performance for the seventh round steal from the University of Miami. Since becoming a starting safety, Colbert has 27 tackles with four pass defenses on the season.

Don’t expect Rams’ coach Sean McVay to play his starters extensively considering the importance of the game the following week. It will still, however, be a step-up in competition for the Niners’ defense against Rams’ QB Jared Goff, MVP-candidate RB Todd Gurley and a host of wide receivers. This should be a fun game even though there are minimal playoff implications.

Oakland Raiders vs Los Angeles Chargers 4:25PM EDT

“In a world… where two NFL teams call Los Angeles home… both teams make the playoffs for the first time in the City of Angels.” You can see the trailers for the movie now. Yes, in their first season playing in the Stubhub Center, the Chargers could return to the playoffs with a win over the Raiders and some help from the Jaguars.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
Carted off the field a couple weeks ago, LB Denzel Perryman could make his return in a high stakes week 17 matchup.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

LB Denzel Perryman will likely be out for the second game since suffering what is described as a week-to-week hamstring injury. In his absence, the Chargers survived the Jets last week. However, this week they face a beast—an aging one, perhaps, but still vicious in spurts when you examine RB Marshawn Lynch’s game.

Safety Rayshawn Jenkins has drawn the ire of Charger fans for penalties this season. While Jenkins’ acclimation to the NFL could have gone smoother in his rookie season, no one said it would be easy. Jenkins has been caught out-of-position plenty of times coming in as relief. According to PFF’s analytics department, Jenkins is an average defender in coverage with 52 of his 64 total snaps coming in coverage with a 75.8 player grade at his position. The rookie safety should continue to get reps in the safety rotation, with a majority of his snaps coming from special teams.

It was a quiet afternoon for WR Travis Benjamin last week. He was unable to get on the stat sheet since he caught none of his five targets against the Jets. With the season on the line against a porous Oakland secondary, QB Philip Rivers should find a way to get the ball in the hands of his speedy wideout if they hope to extend their season. With a reception, Benjamin would record his first offensive stat against Oakland this season after being held off the sheet in LA’s 17–16 week six victory.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Tennessee Titans 4:25PM EDT

Jacksonville Jaguars v San Francisco 49ers
Jacksonvillle has virtually nothing to play for this week. Just don’t mention that to DL Calais Campbell.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Jaguars can finish the season no lower than the third seed. Jacksonville’s hope of finishing atop the AFC was dashed when the Jaguars lost their composure against San Francisco in week 16, losing 44-33, and Jacksonville’s chance at a bye went out the door when Pittsburgh won on Monday.

The constant for Jacksonville is the play of DL Calais Campbell. While he did not record a sack last week, Campbell bullied Niner tackles and tight ends, making his presence felt in the run game as much as a pass rusher. The Titans, who need a win to secure the final wildcard spot in the AFC, will be without RB Demarco Murray who suffered a leg injury. RB Derrick Henry will shoulder the load as Titans QB Marcus Mariota looks to captain his group out of a three-game losing skid and into a playoff berth. After recording four tackles in his first meeting against the Titans this season, Campbell could cement a Defensive Player of the Year campaign with a solid outing today.

Jags’ quarterback Blake Bortles is so desperate for a healthy wide receiver that he’s throwing to anyone with a helmet on these days. Perhaps the return of WR Allen Hurns, who has been working his way back onto the field since suffering a week 10 ankle injury. Hurns would be more than a serviceable option as Jacksonville looks to take some of the pressure off of their running game.

New Orleans Saints vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4:25PM EDT

A Saints win guarantees their playoff spot. If the Saints do fall to the Buccaneers, they would still get in with a loss or tie by Carolina.

Don’t be fooled. Tampa Bay has been playing teams tough in the month of December, despite riding a five-game losing stretch. Their last three losses have come all within a three point margin. DE Al-Quadin Muhammad was a healthy scratch once again, as the Saints decided to go with DE George Johnson in the defensive line rotation. Should the boys from Crescent City make it into the postseason, barring injury, we won’t see much from the player Miami fans know best as AQM.

Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins 4:25PM EDT

The Bills need to defeat the Dolphins and get some help to get into the postseason. Buffalo needs either Baltimore to lose to Cincinnati, or a combination of a Titans’ and Chargers’ loss in order to play into January. The lone ProCane connection that will be active for this game will be T Seantrel Henderson who works as a reserve for the Bills.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This game should come down to whether Miami can corral RB LeSean Mccoy on defense and whether they can establish the run with RB Kenyon Drake on offense. ProCane WR Rashawn Scott was promoted from the practice squad, and should be active today.

Arizona Cardinals vs Seattle Seahawks 4:25PM EDT

Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys
Holding on tight, TE Jimmy Graham was able to complete the process to score last weekend in Dallas. Will Graham and the Seahawks complete push toward the playoffs this week?
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It’s relatively simple for Seattle to get into the postseason. A win and an Atlanta tie or loss earns Seattle their sixth consecutive season with a playoff appearance.

Good things happen when TE Jimmy Graham gets the ball. The trend continued when Graham muscled a touchdown reception from two Dallas defenders last week. It was his only reception of the game, yet Graham’s presence when Seattle gets to the red zone is enough to free teammates up to get into the endzone. Graham had a six reception, 27 receiving yards and two touchdown performance against the Cardinals in week 10.

Arizona is not going to make the playoffs, yet that shouldn’t take away from the amazing season that Olsen Pierre is having in the desert. After being inactive for the entirety of the 2016 season, Pierre has come over to the Cardinals and has become a difference-maker on the defensive interior—ironically in a similar vein to what Calais Campbell did during his tenure with the team. In 13 games, Pierre has 18 tackles, four-and-a-half sacks and two passes defended.

Carolina Panthers vs Atlanta Falcons 4:25PM EDT

The most pivotal game of the final week is this matchup. Carolina can clinch the NFC South division with a win combined with a Saints’ loss. The Panthers could also get a bye in the first round should all the teams ahead of them (NO, MIN, LAR) suffer a loss. A win by the Falcons, or a loss by Seattle, sees the ‘Dirty Birds’ return to the playoff. This would end the Super Bowl hangover ‘curse’ of one or both Super Bowl participants not returning to the playoffs the following season with New England already secured a berth.

TE Greg Olsen has returned to form since coming back weeks ago from a foot injury. No longer the apple of QB Cam Newton’s eye in the passing game, Olsen is still the Panthers’ most dependable receiver. With 16 receptions, 181 receiving yards and a touchdown, the 10-year veteran adds value as an in-line blocker at the tight end position.

THE PROCANES SCORING STREAK IS AT SIX GAMES! Let’s see the regular season end on a high note.


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