Week 17 NFL Picks: Predicting Winners of Games With Playoff Implications
Hardcore NFL fans and fantasy football finalists will be paying attention to every game in Week 17, but as far as the NFL playoffs are concerned, there are only a handful of games that matter.
In the NFC, three teams are vying for the final wild-card spot, the second first-round bye is still fluid, and the NFC West title is still up for grabs.
In the AFC, all of the teams are locked in, but the seedings have yet to be finalized.
Here's a prediction for all of the games that affect the postseason.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings were very impressive in knocking off the Houston Texans 23-6 at Reliant Stadium in Week 16. Can they put together another win over another quality NFL opponent?
If they can, they clinch the final NFC wild-card spot.
In the teams' first matchup, Adrian Peterson ran for 210 yards and a touchdown, but the Vikings lost 23-14 at Lambeau Field.
Despite Peterson's stellar performance, Christian Ponder threw two interceptions and generated a QB rating of 41.9. The Packers' secondary took away the receivers on the outside and forced Ponder to attempt to work the middle of the field against the linebackers.
He was unsuccessful.
The Packers also ran the ball very well in that game. As a team, they racked up 152 yards on the ground.
They were able to win this game without Clay Matthews on the field as a defensive playmaker. With him back and healthy, the prospects aren't good for the Vikings in this must-win game.
The Packers can still earn a first-round bye with a win. Even though the game will take place in the Metrodome, they will turn the Vikings away.
Prediction: Packers 21, Vikings 10
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Chicago's defense dominated the Lions in the Week 7 matchup. They won 13-7 on the strength of four Detroit turnovers.
The Bears also got 96 yards rushing from Matt Forte in that game. Forte's status is still listed as questionable for Sunday, per ESPN. But believe it or not, he isn't the biggest key to the Bears' success in this game—or moving forward.
This team has to find another passing option to complement Brandon Marshall. Marshall has 113 receptions. The next closest WR/TE on the roster has 24 (Earl Bennett).
The Bears have started going to rookie Alshon Jeffery on deep routes to create balance, and they must continue that trend. It could make the Bears' offense dangerous and give the weary defense a break on the sidelines.
The Lions' offense hasn't stopped turning the ball over at an alarming rate. They have given it away nine times in the last four games. They'll give the Bears opportunities; Jay Cutler and the offense must take advantage.
I believe they will.
Prediction: Bears 30, Lions 17
Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
The Packers could sneak past the Niners for the No. 2 seed, and the Seattle Seahawks could steal the NFC West crown, if the Niners lose at home to the Cardinals.
But I can't see that happening.
The Cardinals' offense is atrocious. They've scored just 208 points this season, and they are dead last in first downs and yards per play.
The Niners' defense will be smarting from the 42-13 beating they took from the Seahawks in Week 16. This is the perfect team for them to take their frustrations out on. The Cardinals haven't even shown flashes of breaking out of their offensive doldrums.
In their first matchup, the Niners smashed the Cards 24-3. This should be another easy win.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Cardinals 0
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
This Sunday night game will be classic. One game for the NFC East division title is a special event. Robert Griffin III has but one more final touch to put on what should be an easy Rookie of the Year coronation and a considerable run at league MVP.
In the first meeting with the Cowboys, the Skins won a 38-31 shootout at Cowboys Stadium. RGIII threw four touchdown passes, and the Cowboys turned the ball over three times and rushed for only 35 yards.
If they hope to come up with a different result in this game, Dallas must find a way to run the ball, and their defense has to play better. The Cowboys haven't had a 100-yard rushing performance all season, and the defense has held only one opponent in seven weeks under 20 points.
The Skins' offense is so balanced with Alfred Morris rushing for no less than 87 yards in each of the last five games and RGIII's dual-threat abilities, that I can't see the Cowboys being able to slow this offense down.
Tony Romo and the offense will be under tremendous pressure to keep pace. Though Dallas' attack has been clicking of late, they will need to be near-perfect to win.
Prediction: Redskins 35, Cowboys 28
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Based on the Bears and Niners wins, the outcome of the Eagles-Giants game won't factor into the playoff picture. However, I do predict the Eagles will upset the Giants behind a spirited performance from Michael Vick in his final game as an Eagle.
The Giants have fallen apart in the last few weeks, and their play has dug a hole that they won't be able to escape from this time.
Prediction: Eagles 28, Giants 17
Projected NFC Playoff Seeds
1. Atlanta Falcons
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Washington Redskins
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Chicago Bears
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Though he isn't expected to play Sunday, the psychological impact of their leader returning for the playoffs should have a positive effect on the team. The Ravens can still earn the No. 3 seed, which would give them a playoff game.
The Bengals are locked into the sixth spot, but head coach Marvin Lewis has told CBS Sports he won't rest his starters.
That said, we should see a competitive battle between the two best teams in the AFC North, and a possible playoff preview. If the Ravens win and the New England Patriots lose, the two teams would meet the following week in the wild-card round.
In their first matchup, the Ravens dominated the Bengals 44-13, but that was the first week of the season. Baltimore was still relatively healthy on the defensive side of the ball.
This matchup will come down to how well the Ravens play against the run. They are only 24th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. Against the Giants in Week 16, they got ahead early and took the run out of the equation.
They would love to see a fast start in this one as well.
The Bengals don't have a dynamic player out of the backfield, so that will give the Ravens a break in one sense. Cincinnati has struggled to move the ball through the air, and the Bengals' biggest issue heading into the playoffs is scoring.
Andy Dalton has averaged just 203 passing yards in the last four games.
During that time he has thrown one touchdown and three interceptions. That won't get it done in Week 17, and the Ravens will win.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Bengals 17
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
Many are down on the Texans because of their recent struggles. They lost by 17 points at home to the Vikings and were blown out by the Patriots in New England in Week 14.
Those were bad losses. But make no mistake, this is clearly the best team in the AFC South. They have swept through the division this season with a 5-0 record, including a 29-17 win over the Colts in Week 15.
Arian Foster gashed the Colts' 3-4 defense for 165 yards on the ground, but most importantly, the Texans' pass rush gave Andrew Luck fits on third down.
The Colts only converted 1-of-8 opportunities on third down, and Luck was sacked five times. You can't win that way, and there is no reason to believe the O-line will protect Luck any better this week.
The Colts are at home, but they are locked into the fifth spot. The Texans still have something to play for, and they need to win to re-establish confidence heading into the playoffs.
Prediction: Texans 31, Colts 14
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
The Dolphins have never beaten the Patriots at home with Tom Brady playing the full game. They won in New England in 2008, but Brady had already suffered his season-ending knee injury. They also won in New England in the season finale of the 2005 season.
In that game, Bill Belichick rested his starters after the first quarter.
Needless to say, with the Patriots still trying to lock down playoff positioning, this is an uphill climb for the Fins.
Their 10th ranked run defense has been decent all season, and it has kept them in most games. However, they are 25th in the NFL against the pass, so we can expect to see Brady attack the Dolphins through the air often.
In their first meeting, the Pats won 23-16 as Brady found Wes Welker 12 times for 103 yards.
Brady simply outperformed the Fins' rookie Ryan Tannehill on third down. The Pats converted 7-of-15 third-down opportunities while the Dolphins were 3-of-13 in the same situations.
At Foxboro Stadium, the going will only get tougher for the rookie quarterback.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 13
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
The Broncos will need to win this game to lock down the first-round bye. Seeing as though they play the Chiefs at home, it's hard to imagine a scenario where KC comes out on top.
The Chiefs did keep it close in the first matchup as they lost 17-9 in Week 12. The Chiefs' only hope is to receive a huge performance from Jamaal Charles. He did run for 107 yards against the Broncos in the first game, and he exploded for 226 in Week 16 versus the Colts.
The end result in both games was still a Chiefs' loss, though.
This team can't beat the Broncos.
Prediction: Broncos 26, Chiefs 9
Projected AFC Playoff Seedings
1. Houston Texans
2. Denver Broncos
3. New England Patriots
4. Baltimore Ravens
5. Indianapolis Colts
6. Cincinnati Bengals
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