With one final week in the 2011 NFL regular season, we'll look at all 16 of the week's contests and pick winners for each game.
Many of the playoff teams have already been decided, but this week's slate will reveal the final wild-card teams as well as seeding. Crucial games such as the Cowboys vs. the Giants and the Broncos vs. the Chiefs will decide the final wild-card teams.
Which teams will walk away victors?
The Packers will be led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is having an historic year for the 14-1 Packers, but the Lions have an outstanding quarterback of their own in Matthew Stafford. Both teams have struggled to run the ball this year, but it's been more of a problem for the Lions than it has been the Packers.
Detroit has a solid defensive line that can get a lot of pressure on quarterbacks, but they have been susceptible to the run. Green Bay has struggled considerably on defense in terms of yards allowed, but they've shown an ability to create turnovers.
The biggest problem I see for the Packers is injuries. Running back James Starks and receiver Greg Jennings are listed as out while tackle Bryan Bulaga is doubtful. However, the Lions may have similar problems, as defensive backs Louis Delmas, Chris Houston and Aaron Berry could all be out while defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Corey Williams could be out as well.
The Lions are on a hot streak with three big wins in a row, but the Packers will still have too much firepower.
Packers 34, Lions 31
The Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans meet for bout number two this season, and both teams have something on the line.
Though Houston clinched the division a few weeks ago, they have since lost two straight and have lost seeding advantage. Win or lose, they will end up with the third seed, but they need a win to grab some momentum going into the playoffs.
The Titans, on the other hand, are still hanging onto playoff hopes by a thread. If they beat the Texans, they would still have a chance.
The Texans will need to lean on a powerful running game and a rock-solid defense to win this one. Backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate should both get plenty of carries. The Titans will need a big day from running back Chris Johnson, while quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will have to find a way to pick apart Houston's secondary.
The Texans are in the top four in the NFL in all four major defensive categories, and while the Titans have been good at keeping teams off the scoreboard, their 24th-ranked run defense needs improvement.
The Texans won't win by 34 this time around, but they should still walk away with the victory.
Texans 20, Titans 14
The Colts are coming off a surprise victory over the Houston Texans. Quarterback Dan Orlovsky looks like a star compared to the others on the roster, and he has a couple of solid receivers to throw to. The Jags, on the other hand, will lean on running back Maurice Jones-Drew and try to keep rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert out of tough situations.
Indianapolis' defense has been awful this year, but they've held their last two opponents to a combined 29 points. Jacksonville has actually been pretty solid all year, ranking fifth in total defense and 11th in scoring.
About the only thing that is on the line in this game is positioning in the 2012 NFL draft, and for that reason, I don't think the Colts will try that hard to win this game. Jags win on the legs of MJD.
Jaguars 24, Colts 17
The New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins will square off with big playoff implications on the line. The Jets must win this game to have a shot at the playoffs, and the Dolphins have the opportunity of playing spoiler against their division rivals.
The Jets' whole season has been marked by inconsistency, starting with quarterback Mark Sanchez and permeating throughout the offense and the defense. The Dolphins, on the other hand, have two very defined halves of the season, currently sitting at 5-10 after starting the season 0-7.
The Jets have the more well-known defensive mind prowling the sidelines, but the Dolphins have been shutting down offenses better than the Jets have for most of the year. New York has a considerably better pass defense, but they allow 3.2 more points per game than the 'Fins.
It's fairly tough to call who wins this game, but the absence of Reggie Bush, who is listed a definitive "out" for this game, will severely hinder the Dolphins, and Brandon Marshall will get a tough matchup with Darrelle Revis.
I think Rex Ryan and the Jets at least give themselves a chance at making the playoffs with a win in Miami.
Jets 27, Dolphins 19
The Bears will be without quarterback Jay Cutler and will instead roll with Caleb Hanie, who has really struggled since being thrown into the fire. Running back Matt Forte, the workhorse of the offense, was also injured, and to top things off, backup Marion Barber will probably be out as well.
Christian Ponder should be back at quarterback for the Vikings. Backups Toby Gerhart and Joe Webb played very well as replacements last week.
Defensively, the Bears have been better than the numbers show, and they will make life hard for the Minnesota offense. The Vikings have been decent against the run, but Hanie could find some success through the air against Minnesota's secondary, provided Jared Allen doesn't get to him first. Still, I don't know if the Bears will have enough offensively to top the Vikings.
Though the Vikings are only 3-12, I think they'll finish the season on a high note.
Vikings 23, Bears 20
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will have a good shot at being the second quarterback to top Dan Marino's single-season passing record this year. The Bills could have some success against New England's porous secondary, but they'll need a big day from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Both teams have really struggled defensively this year, but the Patriots have been able to keep teams off the scoreboard better than the Bills have.
This is an important game for the Patriots in terms of playoff seeding, so I expect them to walk away with the victory.
Patriots 35, Bills 24
Quarterback Drew Brees broke the single-season passing record last week in a win over the Atlanta Falcons, and he has this offense clicking right now. The Saints shouldn't have much trouble against the Carolina defense.
Rookie Cam Newton has been outstanding for the Panthers this year. He has carried the offense and has been an explosive playmaker. Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been quality complementary players, while receiver Steve Smith has resuscitated his career.
Both teams have struggles defensively. The Saints are average in terms of points allowed and have given up a lot of yards. The Panthers are below-average across the board.
This should be a high-scoring game, but the Saints are on a tear and should win this game.
Saints 44, Panthers 37
The Philadelphia Eagles have won three straight games after watching their playoff hopes dashed with an eighth loss. The Washington Redskins, meanwhile, started strong but have struggled mightily since.
The Eagles have gotten a spark from Michael Vick since he's been back. Running back LeSean McCoy has been a bright spot for this team throughout the year.
The 'Skins have struggled with Rex Grossman at quarterback. Running back Roy Helu has emerged for them, but he is questionable for this week's game.
Both defenses are talented, but while the Eagles have progressively gotten better, the Redskins have regressed a bit.
Neither team has a shot at the playoffs, but the Eagles are playing much better football right now and are gearing up for a run in 2012.
Eagles 30, Redskins 17
As if life wasn't hard enough already for the Rams in this matchup, their top two quarterbacks are both doubtful for the game. Running back Steven Jackson will be asked to carry the load, but there isn't much hope against a defense that has allowed just one rushing touchdown all season long. The 'Niners will also depend on their running game, but the Rams rank dead last in rush defense.
The Rams could end up stacking the box to stop the run in an attempt to force Alex Smith to pick apart their solid pass defense, but the 'Niners and their top-ranked scoring defense have a much better matchup in this one.
Unless the 49ers literally sleep through this game, it should go San Francisco's way.
49ers 27, Rams 3
Starting quarterback Kevin Kolb may be out for the Cards this week, but backup John Skelton has shown that there isn't much of a dropoff between him and Kolb, and he has an elite target in Larry Fitzgerald. If running back Beanie Wells is not able to play, however, Arizona may be in trouble.
The Seahawks have found an offensive groove that starts with running back Marshawn Lynch. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has played better recently as well.
Defensively, both teams have been playing very well lately. The Cardinals have put the clamps down on some tough running attacks, while the Seahawks have the allowed the fifth-least points per game. I think this game could come down to whether or not Wells can go for the Cardinals.
At the end of the day, I think Arizona's passing game will make enough plays to squeak out a win.
Cardinals 20, Seahawks 19
The Atlanta Falcons will look to secure a playoff spot this week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have lost nine straight games.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has had one of his best seasons with the Falcons, and running back Michael Turner has been solid on the ground. Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones have been great targets for Ryan.
The Buccaneers have really struggled offensively, which starts with quarterback Josh Freeman. Running back LeGarrette Blount has had a disappointing season, as has receiver Mike Williams.
Atlanta's defense has been pretty average throughout the year, but Tampa's defense has been downright awful, ranking 30th or worse in three of four categories. Tampa Bay may find it difficult to move the ball, especially on the ground, whereas Atlanta shouldn't have much trouble.
Atlanta needs to win this game, and it'll be a surprise if they don't.
Falcons 28, Buccaneers 14
In one of the biggest games of the week, the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals face off in a game that will ultimately decide the way the division plays out. Nobody expects the Steelers to lose to the Browns, so if the Bengals do win, not only do they make the playoffs, but they likely keep the Ravens from winning the division.
Baltimore will be led by Ray Rice and Joe Flacco, but won't have Anquan Boldin at receiver. They'll have to rely on rookie Torrey Smith for much of their passing production. The Bengals should be at full force offensively, with quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green both set to play.
Both of these teams rely on their defense in a big way. The Ravens rank fourth or higher across the board, and the Bengals' weakest link is their pass defense, which is ranked 12th.
This is a very tough pick, because both teams have a lot on the line and the Ravens have had a tendency to play worse on the road. However, I'll take the Ravens because of their ability to win in big situations.
Ravens 21, Bengals 17
It might be easy for the Steelers to look past the game against the Browns, but seeing as how they would have to win to have a shot at winning the division, I expect them to come out firing.
The Steelers have a loaded offense that includes Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown at receiver and Rashard Mendenhall at running back. Meanwhile, the Browns are pretty much the exact opposite. They have very few offensive weapons outside of Peyton Hillis, who has had a disappointing year.
Defensively, the Steelers are as good as anyone in the league. They allow the second-least points per game and top the total defense and pass defense categories. Cleveland isn't half-bad in terms of points and passing yards allowed, but their 30th-ranked rush defense is something the Steelers can exploit.
If the Steelers can keep from overlooking Cleveland, they should win this one handily.
Steelers 23, Browns 6
The Denver Broncos looked like the favorite to win the division going into their game with the New England Patriots, but after two losses in a row, they really need to win against the Kansas City Chiefs to guarantee a playoff berth.
The Broncos have been a remarkable story this year behind the leadership of quarterback Tim Tebow, but Tebow had a terrible game against the Buffalo Bills in a 40-14 loss. If Tebow can bounce back against a tough Kansas City defense, they should make the playoffs. However, he will need help from receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and running back Willis McGahee.
The Chiefs should have an improved offense thanks to new quarterback Kyle Orton, who, interestingly, was picked up by the Chiefs after the Broncos waived him. He has a chance to sink his former team this week. Receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin will be factors, but running back Jackie Battle will be out with an injury.
Defensively, both teams have played well lately. The Broncos have struggled the past two weeks, but they have a good pass rush with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. They will, however, be without safety Brian Dawkins. The Chiefs figured out how to limit Aaron Rodgers and delivered the Packers their only loss of the season.
This should be a close game, but when it comes down to the end, I'm going to go with Tebow and the Broncos.
Broncos 25, Chiefs 24
The Raiders will be quarterbacked by Carson Palmer, who shook off the rust after a rough start but hasn't been terribly impressive at any point this year. Michael Bush and the running game has been what has kept this team on track, even without star Darren McFadden. Palmer should have top receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore in the lineup, though.
San Diego had been a juggernaut for three weeks in a row before getting plastered by the Detroit Lions last week, so it's tough to tell which team will show up to play. Philip Rivers has been playing better lately, unfortunately it will not be enough to get his team into the playoffs.
Both of these teams have struggled defensively this year. Despite ranking 10th in yards allowed, the Chargers have been giving up 23.4 points per game, good for just 23rd in the league. The Raiders need ample improvement across the board, ranking between 25th and 29th in all four categories.
Anything could happen in this game, depending on which San Diego shows up. Still, I'm going with the Chargers.
Chargers 31, Raiders 21
Seen by most as the biggest game of the week, the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants will decide the division and ultimately decide which team goes to the playoffs.
The Cowboys gave away their shot at locking up the division with losses in three out of their last four games. Quarterback Tony Romo will need a big day against the Giants if they want to walk away winners. Running back Felix Jones is listed as questionable, but his presence will be very important if they are to have a balanced attack.
The Giants have a scary passing game led by quarterback Eli Manning and receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. The running game, which is ranked last in the NFL, will really need Ahmad Bradshaw to be at the top of his game.
Defensively, both teams have underachieved this year. The Giants have been affected by the injury bug primarily in the secondary, whereas the Cowboys don't have much of a secondary in the first place. What both teams do have, however, is a strong pass rush. DeMarcus Ware for the Cowboys and Jason Pierre-Paul for the Giants will both need to have huge games.
This pick will defy conventional wisdom, but I'm picking the Cowboys to avenge their three point loss to the G-Men earlier this season and finally make the playoffs.
Cowboys 41, Giants 38