Ranking the Most Watchable NFL Games of Week 17

Dan Van WieContributor IIIDecember 24, 2012

Ranking the Most Watchable NFL Games of Week 17

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    Ranking the most watchable games of Week 17 of the 2012 NFL regular season will focus on contests that reveal the identity of the final two playoff teams that qualify for postseason play. As of now, we know 10 of the 12 teams after the games from Week 16 were wrapped up.

    The schedule maker wanted the Week 17 games to matter, so all 16 games are being played against division rivals. We will rank the games that determine the final playoff spots the highest and then work our way through the games that will ultimately determine the final playoff seeds.

    There will also be mention of players that are trying to reach a specific milestone, and who is leading in specific categories coming into the final week.

    Week 17 has all games being played on Sunday, the way that the NFL used to be scheduled before the creation of Monday Night Football.

    There are only four games where both teams have a winning record. Those are Houston at Indianapolis, Green Bay at Minnesota, Baltimore at Cincinnati and Dallas at Washington.

    Week 17 offers up three home underdog games, five games with double-digit spreads, and three even or pick 'em games. All point spreads were accurate as of  the time this went to publication, and the spreads are courtesy of ESPN.com.

16) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) + 4 at Tennessee Titans (5-10)

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    Out of every Week 17 game on the schedule, no two teams have a worse combined win/loss record than do the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans. These are two bad football teams as they are a combined 7-23 this year.

    The Titans have gone 0-5 in their previous games in the AFC South, while both of the Jaguars' wins have come against AFC South teams.

    Maurice Jones-Drew is still looking like he won't be suiting up again this season, so anybody that was thinking this would be the week to watch him will be disappointed.

    The Jaguars are tied with Kansas City for the worst record in the NFL. It will be interesting to see if either team emerges with a win and loses out on the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2013 as a result.

15) Oakland Raiders (4-11) at San Diego Chargers (6-9) Even

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    This classic AFC West division rivalry game between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders is turning out to be a game between two struggling teams instead.

    The Chargers defeated the New York Jets in Week 16 and have now won two of their last three games. The Raiders have lost seven of their last eight games and look like they are ready to make some tee time reservations.

    Carson Palmer came down with a rib injury in Week 16, so no word yet if he will be able to start the season finale.

    This figures to be the final game for Norv Turner as the head coach at San Diego, and they will try to send him out as a winner.

    This is an even pick 'em game in Las Vegas as of Monday afternoon.

14) New York Jets (6-9) + 4 at Buffalo Bills (5-10)

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    The curiosity factor involving the New York Jets decision to start Greg McElroy over Tim Tebow is one reason fans will want to tune in. This game features two AFC East division rivals that have been an overall disappointment in 2012.

    Buffalo RB C.J. Spiller leads all running backs coming into Week 17 with an average of 6.5 yards per rush. Buffalo WR Steve Johnson needs 65 receiving yards to top the 1,000-yard mark for the third-straight year, which has never been done before in Buffalo team history.

    The Jets lost with Greg McElroy as the starter in Week 16 so expect him to be the starter in Week 17 as well.

    The Bills are currently looking at the 2013 NFL draft with a pick in the first nine slots. A win in Week 17 could bump them out of the top 10 in the draft order. The Jets will already be out of the top 10.

    What is a week of the NFL season without new major headlines coming out of New York about the Jets? This week, Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports.com reports that the team is ready to fire offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and that GM Mike Tannenbaum is in trouble for 2013. 

13) Carolina Panthers (6-9) + 4 at New Orleans Saints (7-8)

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    The NFC South division contest between the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints will mercifully close out the Saints' nightmare 2012 season.

    From the bounty hunting scandal and the suspensions that plagued the team throughout the 2012 season, the Saints would like to close out the year with a win to finish up the season at .500.

    Carolina is starting to make a nice run of their own, as they have won their last three games in a row and are showing some momentum playing for head coach Ron Rivera.

    For New Orleans, Drew Brees leads the NFL with 39 touchdown passes. He also leads the NFL with 4,781 passing yards, so if he can come up with 219 yards against Carolina, he will crack the 5,000-yard barrier.

    For Carolina, rookie LB Luke Kuechly is on the verge of leading the entire NFL in tackles for the 2012 season. He currently is No. 1 in that category with 151 tackles, which should garner him some consideration for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

12) Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) + 16 at Denver Broncos (12-3)

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    The final regular-season game between AFC West rivals the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos pits two teams that had a question mark to begin the season. Both teams were coming into 2012 with questions about the health of their stars. One team took off, and the other one took the year off.

    The Broncos need to win this game to secure a first-round bye and have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Denver is really on a roll, having won their last 10 games in a row. Because they need this win, don't expect Denver to pull Peyton Manning out early to rest, unless the game is a blowout.

    If Houston loses at Indianapolis, and Denver wins, they will have the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

    Kansas City is getting 16 points right now, which is another way of illustrating how far apart these teams are.

    Peyton Manning leads the NFL in Total QBR ranking with a score of 82.7 and is No. 2 in the NFL with a completion percentage of 68.1 percent. Matt Ryan is slightly ahead of him at 69 percent.

    A big game from Manning in Week 17 will be the final chance for him to impress voters for the NFL MVP award, Comeback Player of the Year and NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Denver LB Von Miller is also up for consideration for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year so he needs a big game as well.

    For Kansas City, this game marks the end of Romeo Crennel as head coach of the team. RB Jamaal Charles needs to come up with 44 yards in rushing to hit the 1,500-yard mark for 2012. The Chiefs are currently tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the worst record in the league and the rights to the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2013 coming into this game.

11) Cleveland Browns (5-10) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) Even

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    The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers close out the 2012 season with this AFC North battle. The Browns are probably playing their final game for head coach Pat Shurmur, while the Steelers are needing a win to avoid a losing season.

    Pittsburgh has fallen on hard times this year, which is understandable since they have been so good for such a long time. The Steelers are coming into this game with a three-game losing streak, and you can believe that they don't want to go into the offseason losing their final four games.

    The Steelers are a bruised and battered team, and since they have been eliminated from the playoffs, it will be curious to see how they approach the Week 17 contest. Will they give some players that haven't received many snaps a chance to start one game for evaluation purposes?

    For Cleveland, they will probably want to send Shurmur out as a winner. The team has been playing better in the second half under him. A win in Week 17 would give them a .500 record in the second half of the season.

    Cleveland RB Trent Richardson needs 50 rushing yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau as a rookie, but since he suffered an ankle injury in Week 16, he may not recover in time to reach the milestone.

    Pittsburgh WR Mike Wallace strained his hip in Week 16, so he may be sitting out the season finale due to the injury. That could also be the final curtain call for Wallace with the Steelers franchise. In addition, TE Heath Miller tore his ACL in Week 16, which means they now have more new injuries to deal with.

    This is our second even pick 'em game of the week.

10) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at Atlanta Falcons (13-2) Even

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons to close out the 2012 regular season. These NFC South division rivals were battling it out up until Week 12, when the Bucs started a long losing streak.

    The Falcons have already clinched the NFC South, while the Buccaneers are going through their second-straight end of the season collapse. In 2011, the Bucs lost their final 10 games of the year. In 2012, the Bucs have now lost their last five games.

    Atlanta owns the best record in the NFC, and they will also have the No. 1 seed throughout the NFC playoffs. As a result, this game doesn't mean much from a playoff perspective other than wanting to create some positive momentum coming into the playoff run.

    Are the Bucs riding out the string? We will see how much fight they bring to this game. Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman needs just 157 passing yards to reach 4,000 yards this year. WR Vincent Jackson comes into the game with an average of 19.3 yards per catch, which is No. 1 in the NFL.

    Tampa Bay has been one of the streakiest teams in the NFL in 2012. They own a three-game losing streak, followed by a four-game winning streak and are now riding a five-game losing streak coming into Week 17.

    For Atlanta, Matt Ryan leads the entire NFL with a 69 percent rate of pass completions. Peyton Manning is right behind him at 68.1 percent.

    This will probably wind up being the final regular-season game for TE Tony Gonzalez, as he is expected to retire after the season. If Gonzalez can somehow come up with 111 yards in receptions, he would finish his career with another 1,000-yard season.

    Atlanta could sit a number of regulars, which is why the odds-makers have made this an even pick 'em game.

9) Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) + 10 at New York Giants (8-7)

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    Will the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants mark the end of head coach Andy Reid's tenure in Philadelphia? The longest-tenured coach in the NFL was told to either take his team to the playoffs or else by owner Jeffrey Lurie at the start of the season.

    The Giants have lost their last two games in a row and in so doing have placed their ability to defend their Super Bowl championship in serious jeopardy.

    New York is in a must-win mode, but even if they do win, they need help from other NFC teams to secure the last Wild Card slot. Right now Minnesota, Chicago and Dallas are all ahead of the Giants, so they would need a minor miracle to qualify for the playoffs.

    Since the Giants had to run the gauntlet in 2012 and have been banged up with a number of injuries in 2012, it looks like their run is coming to an end. Their fans can't be too upset with the team, coming off of a Super Bowl win last year.

    For the Eagles, rookie QB Nick Foles broke his hand in Week 16, so a healthy Michael Vick looks like he will take over at QB this week. This is probably the final game for Vick as an Eagles player, as the team is expected to make a number of sweeping changes in the offseason.

8) Chicago Bears (9-6) at Detroit Lions (4-11) + 3

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    A NFC North game between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions closes out the regular season for both teams.

    Chicago is in a must-win mode, or they fail to qualify for the playoffs. Even if they win the game, they are still not guaranteed a Wild Card berth because other teams have them beat on a tiebreaker scenario.

    It is hard to imagine the Bears not making the playoffs when you consider that they started out 7-1, but that is the reality of the situation. They have to hope that other teams step up and help them, but when you don't control your own destiny, that is never an ideal situation to be in.

    Detroit WR Calvin Johnson is looking to close out the season as the leading receiver in the NFL. He needs just 108 yards in receptions to hit 2,000 yards for the year, which is a milestone the team will likely go out of their way to make sure he gets.

    Chicago WR Brandon Marshall needs just 34 yards to reach 1,500 yards on the year. Marshall has been everything the Bears were hoping for this year.

    Detroit QB Matthew Stafford needs to come up with 305 passing yards to hit 5,000 passing yards on the year. Expect the ball to be flying around inside the dome early and often.

7) Baltimore Ravens (10-5) + 3 at Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)

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    The AFC North division game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals will help to finalize the seeding order for the AFC playoff teams.

    The Bengals have already clinched a Wild Card slot again for the second year in a row, while Baltimore has already clinched the AFC North division title.

    Baltimore defeated Cincinnati 44-13 back in Week 1 to open up the season, so no doubt the Bengals are looking for a little revenge this week. A win over the Ravens would give the Bengals a nice momentum boost prior to the playoffs.

    Baltimore QB Joe Flacco needs 217 passing yards to reach 4,000 for the year. WR Anquan Boldin hurt his shoulder in Week 16 but needs just 79 receiving yards to reach 1,000 yards for the season.

    Cincinnati WR A.J. Green is two touchdowns behind Green Bay WR James Jones for the NFL lead (13 to 11).

6) Arizona Cardinals (5-10) + 15 at San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1)

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    The Arizona Cardinals finish out their 2012 season while the San Francisco 49ers look to fine tune their game in preparation for the postseason.

    This game appeared to be basically meaningless a week ago, but when Seattle upset San Francisco in Week 16, the 49ers now need to defeat Arizona to win the NFC West division title. It is hard to imagine the 49ers losing this game, as they are favored by 15 points to defeat the Cardinals.

    The 49ers were struck with some key injuries on offense against Seattle, and Arizona has a talented defense that will try to take advantage of the depleted unit. With Mario Manningham suffering a knee injury and Vernon Davis coming down with a concussion, their availability is up in the air for this weekend.

    Colin Kaepernick had his least effective performance so far in his first six NFL starts. With the playoffs right around the corner, head coach Jim Harbaugh no doubt wants to see Kaepernick get back on track with a big game to close out the year.

    Due to all of the injuries in Sunday Night Football, the 49ers may not have any choice but to activate first-round draft pick WR A.J. Jenkins and ask him to pick up some of the workload in Week 17.

    Look for 49ers LB Aldon Smith to try to come up with a big game, as he trails Houston DE J.J. Watt by one sack coming into the final week of the season. Arizona gives up a ton of sacks, so Smith is looking to take advantage of this matchup.

5) St. Louis Rams (7-7-1) + 10 at Seattle Seahawks (10-5)

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    The St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks are two of the more pleasant surprise teams from the 2012 season. In the final regular-season game for these NFC West rivals, the Seahawks have the most riding on this game.

    Seattle needs to defeat St. Louis and hope that Arizona upsets San Francisco, which would allow Seattle to win the NFC West division title. The Rams will have their hands full with a Seattle team that is absolutely on a roll right now.

    The Seahawks have been averaging 50 points a game for the last three games. They are playing great football on both sides of the ball and seem to coming into the playoffs with tremendous momentum.

    If the 49ers defeat Arizona, then Seattle will take the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs.

    For St. Louis, their motivation is that a victory over Seattle would propel them to a winning record, which is a very good result for how far Jeff Fisher had to bring this team in 2012. Should the Rams pull off an upset win, that would give them great momentum coming into the 2013 season.

    Seattle QB Russell Wilson is vying for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award while LB Bobby Wilson is doing the same for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Wilson needs to throw for at least 132 yards to break the 3,000-yard mark as a rookie.

    With 10 more rushing yards, Marshawn Lynch will crack the 1,500-yard mark this year. Speaking of 10 more rushing yards, that is exactly how many Steven Jackson needs to reach 1,000 yards this year.

4) Miami Dolphins (7-8) + 11 at New England Patriots (11-4)

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    The New England Patriots will look to secure home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs in this battle between two AFC East rivals. The Patriots hung on to turn away the Jacksonville Jaguars in the final minute of regulation in Week 16, as they bounced back from losing to San Francisco the week before.

    The Miami Dolphins have strung together a nice three-game winning streak, and they would like to make it four straight and bump New England out of the top-two seeds in the AFC playoff picture.

    If Houston and Denver win, the best that New England can hope for is the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs.

    Tom Brady will be competing with the likes of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson for the 2012 NFL MVP award at the end of the season.

    New England WR Brandon Lloyd needs 98 yards in receptions to have a 1,000-yard season.

    For Miami, RB Reggie Bush needs just 40 yards to come up with his own 1,000-yard season.

    Lots of milestones should be reached all over the NFL in Week 17.

3) Houston Texans (12-3) at Indianapolis Colts (10-5) +5

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    While RG3 is trying to impress the voters, Indianapolis Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck can do the same thing by leading his team to an upset win over the Houston Texans.

    There is plenty of intrigue coming into this game. The Texans need this win to retain the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. If the Texans lose, they could lose out on a first-round bye and fall all the way down to the No. 3 seed.

    The Colts have already secured their Wild Card playoff slot, but the interesting development for them is that they now have head coach Chuck Pagano back with the team this week. ESPN.com reported that Pagano was the first person there at Colts' headquarters today, and he is eager to start coaching the team again.

    No doubt his players will be ready to bounce off the walls in the locker room—as if the Texans needed things to get any harder to clinch home field. Little reminder that the Texans have never won a game in Indianapolis in their franchise history.

    As for individuals to watch for, Indianapolis Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck just set a new all-time rookie passing record in Week 16 by throwing for 4,183 yards. He will look to add to the record in Week 17. 

    J.J. Watt has a slim one-sack lead for Aldon Smith for the NFL title as No. 1 in sacks. Watt is also vying for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, so the voters will be watching him closely.

    RB Arian Foster had an irregular heartbeat in Week 16 but is supposedly looking better on Monday. Foster leads all NFL running backs with 14 rushing touchdowns. WR Andre Johnson needs just 43 yards in receptions to come up with 1,500 for the year.

    Foster sent out this tweet today to his followers to assure them he was doing okay.

    I appreciate all the concern and support. I am doing well. Saw a cardiologist today and everything is back to normal.

    — Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) December 24, 2012

    This is looking like it will shape up to be a great game to watch.

2) Green Bay Packers (11-4) at Minnesota Vikings (9-6) + 3

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    We gave the Dallas Cowboys versus Washington Redskins game as No. 1 most watchable game in Week 17. If you prefer, you can consider that game 1-A and the Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings game as 1-B. They are both going to be great contests to watch.

    The Minnesota Vikings have ridden the amazing legs of Adrian Peterson all year to be on the verge of making the playoffs in the NFC as the final Wild Card team. That seemed improbable coming into the season, as Christian Ponder still had plenty of question marks. Yet somehow Peterson was able to take charge and lead the Vikings to one win after another.

    Green Bay on the other hand has won their last four games in a row and has also won nine of their last 10 games. They look like they will be a dangerous team to face in the playoffs. With a win, the Packers will secure a first-round bye and also guarantee that they play at least one home game at Lambeau Field.

    The stakes are huge for both teams in this game, so expect to see a hard-fought, emotional contest.

    In terms of milestones, Peterson needs to gain 102 rushing yards to have his 2,000-yard rushing season. Ponder will need to throw for 299 yards if he wants to have a 3,000-yard season.

    Aaron Rodgers needs just 70 yards to have a 4,000-yard season. Rodgers already holds the highest QB Passer Rating in the NFL with a score of 106.2, so he is looking to close out the regular season with another strong performance. 

    WR Randall Cobb needs just 46 yards in receptions to have his first 1,000-yard season. WR James Jones leads the NFL with 13 touchdown receptions and is just one ahead of Dez Bryant.

1) Dallas Cowboys (8-7) + 3 at Washington Redskins (9-6)

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    The NFC East division title is on the line in this contest between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins. The game will be the featured game on Sunday Night Football, so it will be the final game of the 2012 regular season. That is just one more reason why it is our top-ranked most watchable game of Week 17.

    For the winning team, they will walk away with the NFC East division title. For the loser, they can only hope that they earned a break of two to secure the last Wild Card slot for the NFC. This is what the fans want to see, where each team has an equal chance to win the division, and let the best team win.

    Hopefully the referees will let the players play and not become too big a factor in the game.

    For Robert Griffin III, this game is his last chance to leave a favorable impression on the voters for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. It will help his chances if he is the only rookie quarterback that is able to lead his team to a division title.

    Washington rookie RB Alfred Morris needs to gain 87 rushing yards to hit the 1,500 rushing mark in his first NFL season. Quite an accomplishment if he can make it.

    Dallas QB Tony Romo needs 315 passing yards in this game to reach 5,000 yards for the year. Romo has been playing some great football coming down the stretch, so this figures to be an offensive explosion as both teams lay it all on the line.

    WR Dez Bryant came up with a huge game in Week 16 by catching nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, despite playing with a broken finger.


    Thanks for checking out the presentation.