With the season winding down, I thought it appropriate to look at some topics I haven’t had a chance to discuss, so without further ado, here are 10.
- Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, not giving a damn about how they look
Michaels and Collinsworth have ditched the normal suit-and-tie announcer garb for quarter-zips during the second half of this year and power to them. It’s refreshing to see something different twice a week and if any crew can spit on the (presumably) unspoken dress code, it’s these guys. They’re the best announcing duo in the league, they get the best matchups every week and Sunday Night Football has the highest production value of any game in a given week. Here’s to that setup continuing for as long as possible.
- Bilal Powell, the Jets’ only source of offense
As the Jets have rapidly crumbled over the past three weeks, Powell has been the lone bright spot. In those three games, he has 289 rushing yards—4.82 per carry—and 126 receiving yards—7.00 per reception. The Louisville product has half the rushing attempts as Matt Forte and only 213 less rushing yards. He’s performed well enough over the past two years to earn the Jets’ starting spot in the backfield next year
- The Saints’ receiving corps, a force to be reckoned with
Michael Thomas, Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks have PFF grades of 84.3, 81.5 and 80.1 (fourth option Brandon Coleman lags behind at 68.9. None have lived up to individual fantasy hype (particularly Cooks), but together they’ve formed one of the most impressive threesomes in the league. Thomas needs just 19 more yards to hit 1,000 for the season—if he does, the Saints will be just the second team this year to field such a duo (the first is Denver with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas). Did I mention that Thomas and Cooks also rank second and 10th in DYAR, with Snead close behind at 24th? If Drew Brees can keep playing at a high level for a couple years, this group could be the catalyst for a Saints’ resurgence.
- Will Fuller, disappearing
Remember when Will Fuller was destroying teams in September? The first-year player out of Notre Dame was an early Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, a constant deep threat and great after the catch, but he fell off the map entirely after Week 5. I had to double-check to make sure he didn’t miss more than a few games with injury during that time because he’s become so irrelevant. Fuller has just 288 receiving yards from Week 5 on after picking up 323 over the first four weeks. There’s still talent there—hopefully Houston can salvage it in spite of a quarterback who made the football world say, “You know what, Tom Savage isn’t that bad.”
- Adam Thielen, doing what Cordarrelle Patterson was supposed to do
The Patterson hype was off the charts two years ago. He was supposed to be a downfield threat with dynamism after the catch, but instead he became Tavon Austin 2.0—a receiver who can’t run a route or catch a pass, resulting in a bucketload of screens being thrown his way so the team can take advantage of his elusiveness in the open field. Well, Minnesota fans can rejoice because Adam Thielen is here to fulfill that role. Despite having just 31 receptions in his first two years combined, Thielen is just 40 yards away from 1,000 after a 12-reception, 202-yard performance at Lambeau Field last week. Thielen isn’t quite as jittery as Patterson in the open field, but 4.17 YAC per reception, per NFL GSIS, isn’t too shabby. More importantly, Thielen fulfills the “get open” and “catch the ball” requirements of being a wide receiver in the NFL. If Minnesota can figure out its offensive line, it becomes one of the best offenses in the league thanks in part to Thielen.
- Dave Toub, future head coach
Toub, the special teams coordinator for the Chiefs, has finally started to receive widespread recognition this season. Despite having been a special teams coordinator for the Bears, and later the Chiefs, since 2004, Toub does not have a Pro Football Reference page. This will change soon—outside of a 2-year lull between 2004 and 2005, Toub’s special teams units have never ranked below ninth in DVOA. Given that special teams are generally considered to be random, that’s incredible and Toub should finally reap the rewards this offseason.
- Doug Free, killing the Cowboys’ vibe
Free hasn’t been all that bad—his 74.6 PFF grade is respectable at worst—but put him next to Tyron Smith, Ron Leary, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin and he becomes noticeable in a bad way. Each time the Cowboys give up a sack, Free seems to be at fault and it kills the unimpeachable aura around Dallas’ line. They’re still the best in the league, but every once in a while, Doug Free reminds you that they aren’t immortal, which makes things a little less fun.
- Jalen Ramsey, backing up the trash talk
A lot has been made of Ramsey’s frequent (and unabashed) trash talking—he’s insulted everyone from Steve Smith to Aaron Rodgers, a habit the rookie should probably consider breaking. However, Ramsey does have an 83.1 PFF grade—an impressive mark for his first year. Though his comments and the obscurity of Jacksonville have taken him out of the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation, he should be there. Ramsey has been everything draftniks thought he’d be and could easily grow into a perennial All-Pro.
- Vontae Davis, spiraling downward
Here are Vontae Davis’ PFF grades from 2013 to now: 85.5, 94.6, 82.2, 42.9. That is a steep fall for someone who was arguably the best corner in the league two seasons ago and one that’s come before Davis’ time as well—he’s just 28 years old. Davis should be in his prime right now, but instead he looks lost on a weekly basis—the guy has become helpless against the players he used to shut down routinely. Who knows whether it’s because the Colts have changed coordinators from Greg Manusky to Ted Monachino or because Davis has just lost something, but the difference is massive.
- Mike McCarthy, getting away unscathed
Mike McCarthy is the Jeff Fisher of his generation. Early on this year, it looked like his job may be in danger—rightfully so—but, once again, Aaron Rodgers bailed him out with one of the most impressive five-game runs in recent memory. The Packers will probably win on Sunday and end up in the playoffs again—resulting in yet another year of praise for a coach who has consistently failed to live up to the talent on his team. The moral of the story: one Super Bowl win gets you a long way in the NFL.
On to the picks.
Week 17 Picks
Vegas Insider’s consensus lines used. Home teams listed in CAPS. Because it’s Week 17, I won’t be writing about the games that hold no playoff implications.
Texans +3 over TITANS: The Texans are 11th in defensive DVOA and the Titans are starting Matt Cassel at quarterback. I rest my case.
JETS +3.5 over Bills
Ravens +2.5 over BENGALS
COLTS -4.5 over Jaguars
Cowboys +4 over EAGLES: Even if Dallas rests everyone (and based on Monday, I don’t think they will), Tony Romo’s presence alone makes this line inflated.
Bears +5 over VIKINGS
Panthers +6 over BUCCANEERS
Browns +6 over STEELERS: The Steelers are locked into the #3 seed and have already announced that they’re resting everyone. And since the Browns are destined to mess everything up, it’s only appropriate that they lose the #1 pick by winning their last two games.
Patriots -9.5 over DOLPHINS: New England learned the value of home-field advantage the hard way last season. I don’t think they let this game slip through their hands—especially with Matt Moore still under center for Miami. Expect the Patriots to go into the playoffs with momentum—their biggest obstacle in the AFC is complacency and I expect Bill Belichick wants to put any of that feeling to rest.
FALCONS -6.5 over Saints: This game quietly means a lot—a win guarantees a first-round bye for the Falcons—and this is Matt Ryan’s last chance to cement his MVP case. At home, against a bad defense, the Falcons should move the ball easily and walk away with a win.
Cardinals -6 over RAMS
Chiefs -5.5 over CHARGERS: The Chargers are just falling apart. Philip Rivers is having the worst year of his career, they can’t catch a break in crunch time and their home games have turned into depressing reminders that the team will probably move to Los Angeles in the offseason. I can’t imagine that they’re motivated in any way after losing to the Browns next week—the only thing left is to play out the string and to hop on Zillow to look for homes in the L.A. area. Kansas City is playing for a bye, which means a probable AFC title game berth in a playoff field stacked with back-up quarterbacks. This is the only team that can beat New England before the Super Bowl—winning this week gets them a lot closer to doing so.
Seahawks -9.5 over 49ERS: The Seahawks still haven’t figured out the offensive line or their post-Earl Thomas secondary, but the 49ers aren’t well equipped to take on either of those flaws. Their defensive line is a middling 16th in adjusted sack rate and a horrific 30th in adjusted line yards. On the other side of the ball, they just aren’t capable of attacking the defense via deep balls without succumbing to turnovers.
BRONCOS -1.5 over Raiders: Count me as pessimistic about Matt McGloin. He hasn’t started a game since 2013 and his only extended appearance in the last two seasons came in Week 1 of 2015, when he threw for just 142 yards in 31 attempts as the catalyst in a 33-13 Oakland loss. Even with the Broncos playing for pride, I can’t see McGloin doing anything against their defense.
Giants +7.5 over REDSKINS: Washington should win this game, but this is too many points. Ben McAdoo has indicated that the Giants are playing all of their starters and defensively, they present a formidable challenge for Kirk Cousins. I doubt New York has its foot all the way down on the pedal, but they’ll keep it close enough to cover.
Packers -3.5 over LIONS: Betting against Aaron Rodgers in scorched-earth mode is like hitting on 20 at a blackjack table. You might as well be tossing money into a fire. The Lions are dead last in defensive DVOA and Darius Slay—their best corner—will either miss the game or play hurt. If you think that’s enough to slow down Rodgers, Nelson and co right now, there's a Nigerian prince who wants to meet you.
Last Week: 5-11-0
All stats are from pro-football-reference.com, footballoutsiders.com or profootballfocus.com unless otherwise noted
 The only game Fuller missed was Week 10.
 With the notable exception of a Ziggy Ansah sack on Monday where Smith was the culprit.