NFL Week 17 Predictions: Teams That Will Secure Playoff Destiny in Season Finale
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The playoff picture is set in the AFC, but for a handful of NFC squads, their playoff hopes will live or die in Week 17.
No Week 17 matchup has more playoff implications than the showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.
Tony Romo will take on Robert Griffin III in the battle for the NFC East crown, and this should be one of the most exciting games of the 2012 season.
So who will emerge victorious Sunday? Let's take a closer look.
The key to this game comes down to the play of both quarterbacks.
Always a lightning rod for criticism, Romo has continually put up great numbers in the regular season but routinely come up short in the playoffs. In 114 regular-season games, the 10-year veteran has posted a cool 96.1 quarterback rating, posting a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Who will win the NFC East?
However in four playoff appearances, Romo has thrown just four touchdowns and posted a quarterback rating of 81. Good numbers, but not great.
This season Romo has overcome injuries at running back, offensive line and receiver to string together one of the better seasons in his decade-long career. The three-time Pro Bowler has already thrown for a career-high in yardage (4,685) and has tossed 26 TDs.
The Cowboys need Romo at his best Sunday, meaning he can't afford costly turnovers that have plagued him in big situations.
Facing the Redskins defense, Romo will have to account for pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan and crafty veteran London Fletcher, as both players have a knack for forcing turnovers and disrupting the quarterback's timing.
Romo finally has a full arsenal weapons at his disposal Sunday, as Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Miles Austin and Jason Witten comprise a formidable foursome.
While it'll be tough to slow the Cowboys' offense, the best strategy for the Redskins is to fight power with power.
Washington's defense is solid, but the Redskins aren't in a position to make the playoffs because of that unit.
It's all about RGIII.
The sensational rookie is revolutionizing the quarterback position and is on the verge of bringing postseason football back to the nation's capital.
You can bet Dallas pass-rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will try their best to corral the ultra-athletic, strong-armed quarterback, but RGIII will prove to be too much for Dallas' defense to handle.
Playing in front of a home crowd that reveres him as a savior, RGIII will deliver Sunday and send the Cowboys packing their bags for the offseason.
Prediction: Redskins beat Cowboys, 24-21, and earn NFC East title.
With the Redskins winning the NFC East, the last playoff spot will come down to the No. 6 spot in the NFC.
Among the teams that are alive for the final wild-card spot are the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and New York Giants.
But to me, one team is far and away the favorite to emerge from Week 17 as the final playoff team: The Chicago Bears.
The Vikings—in particular Adrian Peterson's historic comeback—are a great story, but Minnesota has the unfortunate task of facing the red-hot Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Sorry Vikings fans, but unless Green Bay rests all its stars, there's no way the Vikings can slow down Aaron Rodgers and Co.
In New York, the Giants have a slim shot at sneaking into the playoffs, but they need too much help to get there. At just 8-7, the Giants simply haven't played well enough down the stretch and can't be trusted. Their once great defensive line has disappeared, and their high-flying passing attack has had its wings clipped.
That leaves us with the 9-6 Chicago Bears—a team that's still clinging on to playoff life because of its great defense and few offensive stars.
Which team will win the final NFC wild-card spot?
While Brian Urlacher's play has slipped considerably in 2012, the Bears have gotten All-Pro play out of their two starting corners, Tim Jennings and Charles "Peanut" Tillman, and very solid play from their defensive line.
Julius Peppers paces the Bears with 11.5 sacks and anchors a tough defensive front that can put serious heat on the QB.
In facing the Detroit Lions, Peppers and his teammates get to square off against an offensive line that's surrendered 28 sacks and lacks any Pro Bowl players.
Lovie Smith's team certainly has its own offensive line woes, but no team forces turnovers like the Bears do and Matthew Stafford has been as turnover-prone as any quarterback in the league in 2012.
As long as the Bears can control the clock with Matt Forte and the running game, the Lions don't have a single cornerback or safety who can match up against Brandon Marshall or even towering rookie Alshon Jeffrey.
Keeping Jay Cutler upright is easier said than done against Ndamukong Suh, but Detroit's secondary is so bad that even Cutler should be able to tear them up.
Expect the Bears to put the heat on Stafford and ultimately come up with a few turnovers that give them the win and the final playoff spot in the NFC.
Prediction: Bears win 24-16 and secure final wild-card spot.
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