The slate of Week 17 contests places several playoff-hopeful teams in compromising positions. The AFC North remains the most exciting and unpredictable division in the NFL with all four teams miraculously still in contention to capture the division title. Monday's primetime showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns literally serves as an elimination game, as the loser will officially be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. The 2021 season has delivered parity in abundance, but the margin for error is disappearing as we quickly approach the playoffs.
With the stakes higher than ever before, we've identified three teams who find themselves in "must-win" situations in Week 17.
Current Odds: 32%. Odds with a loss: 6%
No team has ridden the rollercoaster quite like the Miami Dolphins have. The surging Dolphins have incredibly reigned victorious in seven consecutive contests and currently find themselves in the AFC's seventh and final playoff spot. It represents an amazing turnaround for a well-coached team that's been awfully competitive. The Dolphins are the only team in NFL history to both win and lose straight seven games in the same campaign.
Brian Flores and his Dolphins deserved to be showered with praise for the way they've battled through adversity, but the Dolphins face a difficult schedule over their final two weeks. They must finish strong if they hope to hold onto their playoff spot. In Week 17, they'll encounter a playoff-bound Tennessee Titans team that's seemingly getting healthy at the opportune moment. Star receiver A.J. Brown returned for the Titans in Week 16 and announced his comeback by torching the San Francisco 49ers for a career-high 11 catches, 145 yards, and a touchdown.
However, Tennessee's offense is still without Derrick Henry, and Miami's front seven should find some success against a disappointing unit in pass protection. The Dolphins have achieved plenty while embarking on an unforeseen winning streak, but a defeat to Tennessee would plummet their playoff chances to just 6%.
Current Odds: 30%. Odds with a loss: 5%
As teased in the introduction, the AFC North is racing toward a fascinating finish. The Baltimore Ravens were largely considered favorites to capture the division title just weeks ago, but injuries paired with an ill-timed losing streak have delivered catastrophic blows to their playoff chances altogether.
Star quarterback Lamar Jackson was absent from practice on Thursday, a bad sign that indicates he may be heading for his third straight absence. The Ravens have struggled mightily without their MVP at the helm, and have now lost four consecutive contests, three of which were decided by two points or less. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley was activated off the team's COVID-Reserve List on Thursday and would be in line to receive the start should Jackson fail to suit up.
Baltimore enters Sunday's contest with their literal backs against the wall. They'll host a playoff-bound, surging Los Angeles Rams team at M&T Bank Stadium. The task will be incredibly tall and the stakes will be even taller. A loss would see Baltimore's already-thin playoff hopes drop to just 5% entering a Week 18 divisional showdown with the Steelers. John Harbaugh's Ravens must defy the odds if they plan on turning their current misfortunes around.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Current Odds: 33%. Odds with a loss: 7%
The Los Angeles Chargers were absolutely stunned last Sunday. No result sent shockwaves around the world like the one we witnessed at NRG Stadium as the Davis Mills-led Houston Texans shocked the Chargers by defeating them convincingly by a final score of 41-29. Chargers starting quarterback Justin Herbert threw a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Texans defensive back Tavierre Thomas late in the fourth quarter. Mills, meanwhile, played the best game of his young career, throwing for 254 yards and two touchdowns while playing a turnover-free game.
The unexpected upset means the Chargers are now fighting for their playoff lives. Brandon Staley's Chargers enter Sunday's divisional contest against the Denver Broncos with a 33% chance of reaching the postseason, but a loss to the Broncos would drop those hopes to a mere 7%.
The Chargers have been an exciting, yet wildly inconsistent team to monitor all throughout 2021. It's difficult to predict which version of the Chargers will reveal themselves at SoFi Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Chargers are one-score favorites but must be on their best behavior if they hope to avoid a letdown like the one we witnessed a week ago.