NFL Predictions Week 17: Stars Who Will Shine Brightest on Sunday
With the playoffs on the line in the final week of the regular season, certain stars will kick into an extra gear in Sunday's Week 17 action to give their teams a boost entering the postseason.
Several marquee names will be scrapping for playoff position against division rivals, and are sure to perform big with favorable matchups and their respective franchise's 2012 campaigns at stake. As fine as the competitive line is in the NFL, there is sure to be plenty of excitement this weekend.
Here is a look at a quartet of Pro Bowl starters that will light it up in the final week of the regular season and give their teams a great chance at a playoff berth—or to move up in the standings.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
It's been a relatively disappointing stretch for Brady and the Patriots' explosive offense.
In Foxboro, the Pats will welcome the Miami Dolphins to town in the season finale. Their AFC East rival gave them a fight in the first matchup, but New England emerged victorious by a score of 23-16 despite an ugly performance on offense.
That exact score was the outcome of the Pats' most recent game against the 2-13 Jacksonville Jaguars.
You know what that means: It's time for a Brady-Belichick bounce-back blowout. The Dolphins may have one of the better scoring defenses in the league, but the secondary is extremely suspect. Cornerbacks Shaun Smith and Nolan Carroll are also banged up, although Smith is listed as probable for Sunday's game (h/t ESPN).
With a shot at the No. 1 seed in the AFC still within reach—or at the very least, a first-round bye—the Patriots are due for an offensive explosion. The Patriots haven't put together four strong quarters on offense in a couple of weeks.
It sounds absurd, but they're due. Brady is due, and betting against Brady at home in December is never a wise wager. The hype for the Pats as a Super Bowl contender will be reinvigorated, with the embarrassing showing in Jacksonville becoming an afterthought anomaly.
Projected Numbers: 33-of-40, 390 yards, 4 TDs
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
If his Thanksgiving Day showing against the Cowboys were any indication, it would appear that RGIII would be destined for an even better performance in the friendly confines of FedEx Field.
In a game with unprecedented pressure and expectations, Griffin should once again perform and prove that he may be a rookie, but he doesn't play like one. The biggest concern is his likely lack of mobility due to a sprained LCL ligament.
However, Dallas held him to only 29 yards on seven carries the first time around, as Griffin torched the Cowboys secondary from the pocket for four touchdowns with dynamic play-action and pinpoint accuracy.
Griffin may not average the ridiculous 11-plus yards per attempt he did in the first meeting, but it will be a similarly explosive day.
The Cowboys have failed to establish the run all season, which will give Washington the early edge in time of possession. With powerful RB Alfred Morris anchoring the top-ranked rushing attack in the league, Dallas' suspect safeties will be baited in on play fakes, which will open up shots for Griffin deep.
That will lead to a big day once again for RGIII against the Redskins' NFC East rivals, and will result in a division crown and home playoff game to boot.
Projected Numbers: 20-of-30, 315 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 5 carries, 35 yards, 1 TD
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Even a 210-yard performance on just 21 carries wasn't enough for Peterson to push the Vikings to victory in their last meeting with the Green Bay Packers.
However, a shocking development occurred last week: Peterson was held to under 100 yards against the AFC-leading Houston Texans, but QB Christian Ponder didn't make any awful decisions and the Minnesota defense stepped up big time to secure a supremely impressive 23-6 road win.
Suddenly, the Vikings find themselves one win away from the postseason, and a triumph over the Pack in this NFC North clash could even set up a rematch in the opening round of the playoffs.
With 208 yards needed to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, AP will be determined to do everything in his power to get there. It would cap off a remarkable season after blowing out his knee just over a calendar year ago.
Even against eight and nine-man boxes, the Packers weren't able to stop Peterson in Week 13. With even a slight improvement by Ponder from the previous encounter (12-of-25, 119 yards, one TD, two INTs), Peterson should be treated to a fantastic day.
Projected Numbers: 33 carries, 200 yards, 2 TDs; 2 catches, 20 yards
Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears
Even though he's double-covered and locked onto on almost every snap by strong-armed, strong-willed QB Jay Cutler, Marshall has had a phenomenal 2012 campaign.
He has already set career-high totals in receptions (113), receiving yards (1466) and touchdowns with 11. Other than rookie WR Alshon Jeffery, there isn't any other consistent threat at Cutler's disposal to draw coverage away from Marshall.
Considering how shoddy the Bears' pass protection is, too, it's hard to believe Marshall has put up these kind of gaudy numbers.
The Bears need the Vikings to lose to the Packers and take care of business against NFC North bottom dweller Detroit this weekend to get into the playoffs. Who on the Lions can even begin to imagine covering Marshall?
As phenomenal as Detroit's Calvin Johnson has been in breaking the single-season record for receiving yards, it will be Marshall who is the best receiver on the field on Sunday in Ford Field.
Projected Numbers: 15 catches, 175 yards, 2 TDs
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