After four grueling months of football, only Week 17 of the NFL season is left to determine the final two postseason spots and the playoff positioning of nine others.
The NFC East and one NFC wild-card slot remain the only two undecided postseason fates, while the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts stand as the only teams locked into a playoff seed. That reality means a majority of the season finales Sunday will have a direct postseason impact.
In fact, only six of the remaining 16 games won't have a say in how the final playoff field looks in 2012.
In the following slides, we will break down and predict each of the ultra-important Week 17 games.
No team wants to enter the postseason on a low note, but you wonder how long the Falcons will keep their foot on the gas with home-field advantage locked up in the NFC. There's no reason for Atlanta to risk injury into the second half.
That said, the Bucs have lost five straight and look ready to pack it in. One record of note: The Bucs need to allow just 252 passing yards Sunday to break the all-time record for a single season, set last season by Green Bay (4,796).
Pick: Falcons 24, Buccaneers 17
Final: Buccaneers 22, Falcons 17
Few season finales will feature as much potential unrest as Jets-Bills, as both clubs could be facing drastic changes after the conclusion of the 2012 season. New York has iffy job security at quarterback, head coach and general manager, while Buffalo can say the same at quarterback and head coach.
Who wins this AFC East tilt might just be the team that has one less disaster in it Sunday. At home, we'll take the Bills over the circus Jets.
Pick: Bills 20, Jets 16
Final: Bills 28, Jets 9
Based on a number of dominoes falling Sunday, the Ravens and Bengals could end up playing a third game this season in the wild-card round. Both teams are locked into playoff spots, so positioning is all that's at stake in this season finale.
Maybe not for Cincinnati, however. Fresh off exorcising his Steelers demon in Week 16, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton can also knock off the Ravens for the first time in his career (0-3).
Pick: Bengals 27, Ravens 21
Final: Bengals 23, Ravens 17
All things considered, the Bears have to feel pretty good about their chances of making the postseason. Despite a 2-5 finish after a 7-1 start, Chicago can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the sinking Lions and a Vikings loss to the Packers. Detroit has lost seven straight games, while Minnesota hasn't beaten Green Bay in its last five tries.
The real reason to pay attention to Chicago-Detroit, however? Calvin Johnson is just 108 yards away from the first 2,000-yard receiving season in NFL history, a monumental achievement that is worth celebrating despite Detroit's disappointing season.
Pick: Bears 26, Lions 16
Final: Bears 26, Lions 24
Talk about an unwatchable game. The Jaguars have lost four in a row and are now locked into a top-two draft pick, while the Titans are coming off a 55-7 beatdown in Green Bay that Tennessee didn't even show up for. There's not even a fantasy angle to tout here.
Despite giving up in Week 16, the Titans are still the better bet at home. Three times this season, Tennessee has rebounded from three-touchdown losses to win the next week.
Pick: Titans 24, Jaguars 13
Final: Titans 38, Jaguars 20
The Chuck Pagano factor is real, and Indianapolis has pulled off some crazy wins at home this season. But even the return of the head coach isn't enough for me to believe that this Colts team is ready to beat a good football team, especially one with so much on the line.
The Texans are hurting, but a win locks up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Indianapolis is already locked into the No. 5 seed.
Pick: Texans 27, Colts 21
Final: Colts 28, Texans 16
With a fifth win in six games, the Panthers can likely save the job of head coach Ron Rivera. The Saints, on the other hand, appear to have their coaching situation locked up in the long term. According to NFL.com, New Orleans has agreed to a five-year extension with currently suspended coach Sean Payton.
Drew Brees hasn't lost to Carolina at home since 2008, but Cam Newton is playing well enough right now (10 total touchdowns, 101.5 passer rating in December) to think the Panthers can get over the Superdome hump Sunday.
Pick: Panthers 34, Saints 30
Final: Panthers 44, Saints 38
The Giants are mathematically still alive, but doesn't it feel like this team is dead? New York needs to beat the Eagles and have the Cowboys, Bears and Vikings all lose to sneak into the postseason. Alone, each of the four scenarios seems possible. But put together, the Giants obviously need a huge stroke of luck Sunday.
Starting at quarterback for the Eagles will be Michael Vick, who has a 6-2 career mark against the Giants. Do Vick and Andy Reid—likely to be fired in the coming days—have one last surprise in store for their Philadelphia swan song?
Pick: Eagles 30, Giants 27
Final: Giants 42, Eagles 7
The 7-8 Steelers are essentially being handed their eighth win of the season, but it won't matter in terms of a playoff push. Pittsburgh has already been eliminated from the AFC postseason.
However, getting back to .500 should be in the cards. The Browns are starting Thaddeus Lewis at quarterback because of injuries to Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy, meaning the Steelers should roll at home. No Trent Richardson (ankle) will make it difficult for Cleveland to crack double digits.
Pick: Steelers 23, Browns 9
Final: Steelers 24, Browns 10
Two scenarios can lock into place with a Broncos win Sunday: Denver clinching a first-round bye and potentially home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (needs Houston loss in early game) and Kansas City laying claim to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
The Broncos hold the NFL's longest win streak at 10 games, while the Chiefs have just one win over their last 12. It would take the upset of the season for Kansas City to leave Denver with a win.
Pick: Broncos 27, Chiefs 10
Final: Broncos 38, Chiefs 3
Despite 51 years of history, few Packers-Vikings matchups have had as much on the line as Sunday's will. Minnesota can clinch a playoff spot with a win, while the Packers need a win to secure the NFC's No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that accompanies it.
Adrian Peterson is also just 208 yards away from Eric Dickerson's record and 102 away from becoming the seventh member of the 2,000-yard club.
In the end, however, the Vikings need an efficient and turnover-free version of Christian Ponder to win. The Packers' secondary and pass rush are playing too well recently to envision that scenario unfolding.
Pick: Packers 28, Vikings 20
Final: Vikings 37, Packers 34
The Patriots should have a pretty good idea if Sunday's finale will mean anything in the overall AFC playoff picture. If Houston beats the Colts in the early afternoon game, New England can all but count on playing during Wild Card Weekend. Kansas City would have to upset Denver for a win to vault New England into the conference's top two seeds.
That said, the Patriots still need to beat a Dolphins team that is playing well to close 2012. It is difficult to see Ryan Tannehill going into New England and winning, but the Patriots have looked vulnerable the last two weeks.
Pick: Patriots 24, Dolphins 20
Final: Patriots 28, Dolphins
Might the end of one era coincide with the beginning of another in this Week 17 matchup? The firing of Norv Turner looks like a mere formality in San Diego, while second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor is receiving his first-ever NFL start for Oakland.
In seeing what they have in Pryor in a meaningless game, the Raiders are making a rare smart decision. However, the results could be predictably ugly.
Pryor has played just seven total snaps this season and remains a work in progress at the position. In Turner's last game in San Diego, the Chargers should roll.
Pick: Chargers 27, Raiders 13
Final: Chargers 24, Raiders 21
San Francisco knows what's on the line Sunday: A win over the Cardinals clinches the NFC West, while a win and Packers loss in Minnesota clinches a first-round bye.
Not having Justin Smith (triceps) would likely be a major blow for the 49ers in most weeks, but Arizona is turning to Brian Hoyer—its fourth different starting quarterback this year—in the season finale.
If San Francisco can't find a way to beat Hoyer, who signed just over two weeks ago, the 49ers have much bigger problems ahead.
Pick: 49ers 30, Cardinals 10
Final: 49ers 27, Cardinals 13
Unless Hoyer and the Cardinals can upset the 49ers, the Seahawks are locked into the No. 5 seed in the NFC. At this point, playoff positioning isn't Seattle's main goal; continuing what has been a dominant stretch of wins is.
The Seahawks have won four straight games and six of the last seven, including blowout victories over Arizona (58-0), Buffalo (50-17) and San Francisco (42-13).
St. Louis is no pushover, but expecting the Seahawks to fall on their faces at home is probably as unlikely as the Cardinals going into San Francisco and getting a win.
Pick: Seahawks 31, Rams 16
Final: Seahawks 20, Rams 13
In what's becoming an annual tradition, the final game of the NFL regular season will decide the NFC East winner.
One unavoidable aspect to watch Sunday night is whether Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan blitzes Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Griffin completed six of seven passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns (158.3 passer rating) against seven blitzes in the first meeting.
Can the aggressive Ryan patiently remain conservative in the biggest game of the season? That dynamic might be the ultimate decider in the NFC East title game.
Pick: Redskins 30, Cowboys 27
Final: Redskins 28, Cowboys 18