In a tradition that never gets old, the final week of the NFL season is going to provide high drama the likes of which Shakespeare could only dream of writing about.
The sheer number of games left with playoff implications, either just to make it into the second season or to solidify seeding, is remarkable. It's a testament to the job the NFL does every year with scheduling that there is this much at stake.
Some teams embrace this kind of pressure, while others will find themselves wondering what happened in their quest for immortality. Here are the teams that will shine in the biggest matchups of the weekend.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
We might as well start with the biggest matchup of the weekend. The Cowboys and Redskins are two teams that have taken a similar path to get to this moment. Both appeared to be done in early November before a late-season surge left them in control of their destiny.
Now, after 16 weeks, all that work they have done comes down to this. The Cowboys are 4-3 on the road; the Redskins are 4-3 at home. There is so little separation between these two teams that you are really left splitting hairs in some spots.
The Cowboys defense has been decimated by injuries this season, yet they are still middle of the pack in yards allowed (14th) and slightly below-average in points allowed (21st). All things considered, that is not too bad.
The Redskins defense can stop the run but have had problems controlling the pass. They allow nearly 40 yards more per game than the Cowboys and almost one more point per game.
Tony Romo is always going to get unfair criticism, but he has been incredible for the Cowboys during this turnaround. His accuracy has never been better; he isn't making those stupid mistakes that stop drives in their tracks.
Robert Griffin III is the most dynamic quarterback in the NFL right now. His combination of speed outside the pocket and accuracy, either in the pocket or on the run, makes him so hard to stop. He is going to be a nightmare for the Cowboys if they can't create pressure with their front seven, which has been a problem all season.
Ultimately, the difference will come with the Redskins' inability to contain the pass. Ever since the Cowboys lost to Washington on Thanksgiving, something has felt different about this team. They are playing as well as they have in a long time.
The Redskins will have their time in the future, but this year, it's all about the Cowboys in the NFC East.
Cowboys 31, Redskins 28
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Unlike the first game, this one looks to be completely one-sided for the Packers. As much as you love what Adrian Peterson is doing for the Vikings this season, it is hard to envision him being able to carry the load against a red-hot Packers team.
After a slow start to the season, the Packers have plenty to play for in the final week of the season. They are still locked in a battle with San Francisco for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, a first-round bye and at least one home game in the postseason.
Ultimately, the difference in a matchup like this becomes about what you trust more: The Unstoppable Force (Adrian Peterson) or Immovable Object (Aaron Rodgers)?
While there is no lack of trust in Peterson, Rodgers is not only on fire entering this game, but he has infinitely more weapons at his disposal than Peterson. The Packers need this win just to rest and get relatively healthy for the playoffs. They will dominate this game.
Bonus prediction: Peterson will break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record in this game.
Packers 27, Vikings 17
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have been flirting with serious contention in the AFC North for the last two seasons, but there are two huge hurdles that have been standing in their way: Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
They took care of one monster in Week 16. Now they need to topple the beast known as the Ravens.
Dating back to the start of the 2011 season, the Bengals are 1-6 against their division rivals and have been outscored 148-94.
The Ravens destroyed the Bengals 44-13 in the season opener, but these two teams have changed a lot since that time. Joe Flacco has reverted to being the Bad Flacco that frustrates like no one else. Andy Dalton has gotten stronger as the season has moved on, increasing his accuracy and limiting the turnovers that hurt the offense in the first half of the season.
The Ravens have a lot more problems than just Flacco. Their defense is not nearly as dominating as we are accustomed to seeing. They rank just 26th in yards allowed per game and 13th in points allowed.
Plus, and this has been an issue for a few years, the Ravens tend to ignore Ray Rice, though he did get involved in the action against the Giants last week, and he is one of the best playmakers in the NFL. They need to make a concerted effort to get him the ball in this game.
In the end, the Bengals have to prove they can win on this stage sooner rather than later. This is as good a chance as they have ever had to defeat their division foe.
Bengals 24, Ravens 17
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