The last week of the 2012 NFL regular season will reveal the last few pieces of the playoff puzzle, and teams will know their path to the Super Bowl on Monday morning.
All eyes will be on the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins, as their matchup has the highest stakes of any game this weekend. The winner will take the NFC East crown and guarantee itself a postseason berth.
But the results of several other contests across the country will also help determine the schedule for Wild Card Weekend.
Here are my picks for the games with playoff importance this weekend, and how the Wild Card matchups will look due to the results.
Projected NFC Wild Card Matchups
No. 3 Green Bay Packers vs. No. 6 Minnesota Vikings
No. 4 Washington Redskins vs. No. 5 Seattle Seahawks
San Francisco 49ers over Arizona Cardinals
The NFC West race is not over, and the 49ers could fall all the way to the fifth seed if they lose this game. However, a win will seal their second consecutive division title.
Fortunately, San Francisco is playing the Cardinals, and it will have no trouble getting the result it needs in this contest.
Seattle Seahawks over St. Louis Rams
The Seahawks would love to switch opponents with the Niners this week considering how much trouble St. Louis has given San Francisco this season. But Seattle will have to get a victory and hope for a shocking upset from Arizona.
That will not happen, and Seattle will settle for the Wild Card. This will set up a matchup with the winner of the showdown between Dallas and Washington.
New York Giants over Philadelphia Eagles
The defending champions are on the outside looking in on the playoff race. New York needs to beat Philadelphia and hope for the Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears to lose.
The Giants will finish their season with a victory over a division rival, but that will be little consolation when they fail to get the massive amount of help they need to reach the playoffs.
Chicago Bears over Detroit Lions
The Bears do not control their own destiny, but they do have a much better chance to earn a postseason berth than New York. With a victory over the Lions and a Vikings loss, Chicago will be in the playoffs.
Beating a severely disappointing Detroit team will not be a problem, but losing five games in the second half of the schedule will ultimately doom Chicago to a frustrating end to its season.
Minnesota Vikings over Green Bay Packers
Other than the matchup between Dallas and Washington, this contest has the most playoff intrigue. The Vikings are playing to get into the postseason, but the Packers will be motivated because a victory would seal a first-round bye.
While both teams have clear incentives in this contest, Minnesota will be more desperate to get a favorable result. This, along with home-field advantage and plenty of action for Adrian Peterson, will help the Vikings get into the playoffs.
Washington Redskins over Dallas Cowboys
Who will win the NFC East?
The Cowboys lost three of their last four games in 2008 to miss out on the playoffs, then failed to reach the postseason in 2011 after losing four of their last five. While it has played better this December, Dallas is still coming off an overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints and is in a pressure-packed situation.
This is a team with a track record of losing big games during playoff races, and the pattern will continue this weekend. Robert Griffin III and the Redskins will win Week 17’s marquee matchup.
Projected AFC Wild Card Matchups
No. 3 New England Patriots vs. No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals
No. 4 Baltimore Ravens vs. No. 5 Indianapolis Colts
Houston Texans over Indianapolis Colts
Houston can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory on Sunday, while the Colts are stuck in the No. 5 seed regardless of the results around the league.
The Texans have far more to play for in this game than the Colts, and they have a better team. This will lead to a comfortable victory.
Denver Broncos over Kansas City Chiefs
This is the easiest game of the week to pick, and this result will benefit both teams.
A victory will give the Broncos a first-round bye, and it will land the Chiefs the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, as noted by The Kansas City Star’s Adam Teicher.
New England Patriots over Miami Dolphins
The Patriots will have their sights set on a first-round bye, but that will require a loss from either Houston or Denver.
While New England will not get the help it needs in order to move up the standings, it will ensure that it does not drop to the No. 4 seed with a victory over the Dolphins.
Baltimore Ravens over Cincinnati Bengals
Determining which team has more to play for often allows for an accurate prediction in games with playoff importance. In this contest, the Ravens can improve their seeding, but the Bengals cannot.