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NFL Week 17: Headlines and Matchup Notes

Cam previews the top matchup of Week 17 with the Dolphins facing the Ravens.

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 25: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens passes during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on December 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. The Ravens defeated the 49ers 33-19. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

In a college football or basketball season it is a happening when the no.1 ranked team faces off against the no.2 ranked team in the regular season. In pro sports there are no official rankings throughout the season, and theoretically no.1 only goes up against no.2 in that sports championship game or series.

But it’s fun to put out a ranking each week to see where your favorite team is. Are they headed up or are they falling towards the basement? Last week the NFL schedule had one of these no.1 vs. no.2 battles, when the Ravens went into Levi’s Stadium to play the 49ers. The Niners were the consensus no.1 team in the NFL and the Ravens were sitting at no.2. Baltimore prevailed on the road, and for at least a week, have dethroned San Fransisco in that top spot.

The Miami Dolphins have been having a great season and have been hovering near the top all year, secured somewhere in the top five. They faced a big matchup against the Dallas Cowboys in Miami. This would be a signature win for whichever team prevailed.

Miami won at home and the victory was enough to catapult them into the no.2 spot this week. As luck would have it, there is going to be another no.1 vs. no.2 tilt this weekend, when the Dolphins head to Baltimore to play the Ravens. For no.1 to play no.2 in back to back weeks is amazing, and really a treat to have these matchups in the regular season…the schedule makers did an incredible job, seemingly prescient.

Although Miami hadn’t beaten a team at or above .500 all season before this past week against the Cowboys, make no mistake about it, they are an elite team this season. Aside from being no.2 in the power rankings, they are the no.2 seed behind the Ravens. If the playoffs started today, Baltimore the would have a first round bye, while the Dolphins would host the Colts during Wild Card weekend.

I don’t think the Colts would have any realistic shot at winning that game. However, it is football, and weird things can happen. A strange bounce or an unexpected injury for instance. But aside from that, even if Miami prevailed, it is one extra game, after a long grueling season.

This week’s game between Baltimore and Miami is HUGE.

If Baltimore wins they secure the no.1 seed and the bye. If Miami wins they ascend to the no.1 seed and the bye, but could still fall out of that spot if they lose the following week to the Bills.

This game means so much more for the Dolphins than the Ravens. Not only are they fighting to get the top seed, they are still fighting to win their own division. If they lose to Baltimore and the Bills defeat the Patriots, (they are favored by 13 points), then the Week 18 game between Buffalo and Miami will be for the AFC East crown. So not only could Miami lose the chance at the top seed and a bye, a loss this week could drop them all the way out of the division and go from the no.2 seed, to the no.5 or no.6 seed. They may not only have to play during Wild Card weekend, but they may actually be a Wild Card team that has to play on the road. There is a lot riding on this game in Baltimore.

Last week the Ravens defense easily handled the Niners and specifically QB Brock Purdy who threw four interceptions. They won’t be as dominant this week. Nobody gets the ball out quicker than Tua Tagovailoa, so the pressure that Baltimore brings won’t disrupt him as much as it did Purdy. 

Last week the Ravens needed the win more and they won. A case can be made that both of these teams desperately need this win. This game is so intriguing on so many levels. The Dolphins are heading to a cold climate, and even after the victory against the Cowboys the jury is still out as to whether they can win a tough game like this on the road. The Cleveland Browns, who are now 11-5, can still win the AFC North and overtake the Ravens if the Ravens lose this week. 

With only two games left in the season with two division leaders facing off against each other, as the no.1 and no.2 teams; one having a 12-4 record and the other 11-5, it is remarkable there are so many potential outcomes and repercussions in this game.

And then there is also the payback effect from their matchup last season. The Ravens were dominating the game, and heading into the fourth quarter, had a seemingly insurmountable 35-14 lead. The Dolphins scored four TDs, outscoring them 28-3 in the fourth quarter, to win 42-38. That loss must still be with every defensive player on the Ravens.

With all this being said, I like the Dolphins here in this spot. Vegas has them as a 3.5-point underdog. The Dolphins have the confidence of knowing they can beat the Ravens because they did it last year. And although they could have a letdown after their big win against the Cowboys, the same can be said about the Ravens after their big win against the 49ers. The Dolphins were home last week, and heading to Baltimore is a quick trip north, while Baltimore had to travel cross country last week, going to San Fransisco and back again. And finally, the Ravens team has a little dog in them. This is the kind of game where everyone is saying the Ravens are for real, they are clearly going to the Super Bowl Lamar Jackson looks different…etc. 

I don’t see it, to me they are the same old Ravens until proven otherwise. They can put up a masterful performance as they did last week, and can also throw up a stinker. And the weather is supposed to be beautiful in Baltimore on Sunday…sunny in the high 40s to low 50s. I like the Dolphins 34-27.