With playoff spots and seeds on the line in the final week of the 2012 NFL season, certain teams will thrive under pressure while others will fail to rise to the occasion.
A few teams will be playing de facto postseason games in Week 17, as a loss will end their seasons while a victory will allow them to play into January. This will coax a few spectacular performances as well as severely disappointing ones.
The matchups this week will be heavily influenced by which team is able to respond well to circumstances, and this will produce a few surprising results.
Here are my predictions for three of this Sunday’s games with playoff intrigue: one will bring about an upset while another will feature a team choking away its season, and a third will end in a blowout.
Upset: Minnesota Vikings over Green Bay Packers
These two teams met at the beginning of this month, and the Packers managed to squeeze by in a hard-fought 23-14 victory.
But Green Bay will be facing a different team this time around, and despite having a superior record and a four-game winning streak, it will not be able to take down the Vikings.
Minnesota is essentially playing for its season in this game, as a loss will make it unlikely that it reaches the postseason. With a physical offensive line and the most violent running back in football in Adrian Peterson, the Vikings will be extremely motivated and will win the battle in the trenches.
With a home crowd providing a supportive atmosphere, the adrenaline will keep pumping through the Minnesota players for all 60 minutes in this game. The Vikings will reach the playoffs with an upset over the Packers.
Choke: Washington Redskins over Dallas Cowboys
The Redskins and the Cowboys are two evenly matched teams, and loss in itself would not be enough to accuse Dallas of choking. However, if the team performs as it has in similar situations in the past, this would be a perfectly acceptable description of their performance.
In 2008, the Cowboys went into a Week 17 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles knowing a win would send them to the postseason, but the team put up a pitiful performance and lost 44-6.
Last year, Dallas was in the exact same scenario it currently faces: a matchup in the final game of the year to decide the NFC East. In 2011, the game was against the New York Giants, and the Cowboys trailed 21-0 at halftime before going on to lose 31-14.
The team’s trend of coming out flat for important late-season games will continue. It will once again be completely ineffective, and the poor performance and lopsided score line in this game will be Dallas’ latest choke.
Blowout: Houston Texans over Indianapolis Colts
The Texans have plenty riding on this week’s game, while the Colts face absolutely no tangible consequences from losing.
Houston will seal home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory, but a loss could force them to play on Wild Card Weekend. Both the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have soft matchups this Sunday, and each team can jump over the Texans if they fail to beat Indianapolis.
The Colts, however, will remain in the No. 5 seed whether they win or lose, and the coaching staff will have to evaluate whether or not it will risk playing its starters for all four quarters.
Due to the circumstances surrounding this game and the offensive firepower Houston possesses, the final score will be heavily slanted in the Texans’ favor.