The 2013 NFL season has been a perpetual crescendo that culminates in booming, hard-hitting drama in Week 17. Division champions will be determined, playoff berths will be officially secured, and order for the impending draft will become clearer.
All 32 teams have something at stake in the grand finale, whether it's evaluating their talent and seeking optimism for the future or, preferably, gearing up for a postseason run.
It's always a bit of a conundrum for teams on how to approach these games if they aren't fighting for their playoff lives, so upsets are bound to happen along the way.
Below is a look at some underdogs in Week 17 that will cover their current spreads as of Monday, Dec. 23, preceded by a complete list of lines and picks as the regular season comes to a close.
|Away Team||Home Team||Pick (Spread)|
|Carolina Panthers||Atlanta Falcons||Panthers (-7)|
|Green Bay Packers||Chicago Bears||N/A|
|Houston Texans||Tennessee Titans||Titans (-7)|
|Washington Redskins||New York Giants||Giants (-3.5)|
|Cleveland Browns||Pittsburgh Steelers||Steelers (-7)|
|Baltimore Ravens||Cincinnati Bengals||Bengals (-5.5)|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Indianapolis Colts||Colts (-10.5)|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Dallas Cowboys||Eagles (+2.5)|
|New York Jets||Miami Dolphins||Dolphins (-6.5)|
|Detroit Lions||Minnesota Vikings||Vikings (-3)|
|Buffalo Bills||New England Patriots||Bills (+9)|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||New Orleans Saints||Saints (-12.5)|
|Denver Broncos||Oakland Raiders||Broncos (-12.5)|
|San Francisco 49ers||Arizona Cardinals||49ers (-3)|
|Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||Chiefs (+10)|
|St. Louis Rams||Seattle Seahawks||Seahawks (-10)|
Philadelphia Eagles (+2.5) over Dallas Cowboys
At least the Cowboys showed up on defense against Washington in Week 16. While the offense did not quite capitalize on facing such a favorable matchup, Dallas' D stood tall enough to set the stage for Tony Romo's fourth-quarter comeback.
Romo hit Dez Bryant for a game-winning touchdown and a 24-23 victory at FedEx Field, giving the Cowboys a shot at the NFC East title at home against the Eagles.
That saved head coach Jason Garrett's job for the time being at least, according to ESPN's Ed Werder, who reported on Dec. 22 that Dallas had to win the division or else he would be let go:
Source says current expectation is Jerry Jones will fire HC Jason Garrett and coaching staff unless the Cowboys win NFC East, make playoffs.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 22, 2013
However, Philadelphia was far more impressive, knocking off the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears on Sunday night in prime time 54-11.
It's going to be a match of wits between Eagles head coach and offensive mastermind Chip Kelly and Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, whose unit has been atrocious for the majority of the season.
Considering how few mistakes Nick Foles (25 touchdowns, two interceptions) makes under center for Philadelphia and Romo's previous penchant for blowing games on the biggest stages, this seems set up for Dallas to lose the division at home.
Foles has a superior running back in LeSean McCoy to rely on. ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the milestone McCoy reached this past Sunday:
LeSean McCoy: 3rd player in Eagles history with 2,000 yards from scrimmage in single season (Brian Westbrook, Wilbert Montgomery)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 23, 2013
Plus, there is a reported escalating saltiness between Romo and his top back in DeMarco Murray, who apparently is unhappy with his QB's audibles out of running plays:
There is enough turmoil with Jerry Jones' Cowboys. Even after a crucial win, the tabloid material continues to leak out. It seems that the Eagles are less concerned with who gets the touches and are exceptionally balanced as a result.
Philadelphia will avenge Week 7's 17-3 home loss to Dallas, take home the division title and the NFC's No. 3 seed by winning outright in a shootout.
Prediction: Eagles 45, Cowboys 38
Buffalo Bills (+9) over New England Patriots
It seems as though the Bills finally put everything together in shutting out the Miami Dolphins 19-0 in Week 16.
As if not to be outdone, the prolific Patriots stiffened their own defense, stymieing the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and tacking on two late defensive touchdowns in a 41-7 blowout win.
The job Tom Brady has done for New England in 2013 has been nothing short of remarkable. Adjusting to a whole new supporting cast of receiving targets, Brady has held his own and simply keeps winning. Check out just how much, per the Patriots' official Twitter account:
Tom Brady has now won 11 division championship - the most in @NFL history by a starting QB.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 23, 2013
Brady shared his thoughts on winning yet another division crown after the game, per Patriots.com:
Every year is special, but we've really earned it this year. The NFL has a lot of stiff competition. Winning 11 games is very hard. We have faced adversity all year. Of course, other teams have, too. But our mental toughness has really gotten us through this. This was the biggest game of our season, but then next week is our biggest game of the season. The games get bigger the more you win. We have to beat Buffalo
Even New England's high-powered offense will have its hands full in facing Buffalo at home, though, because the Bills lead the NFL in sacks (56) and are second in the league with 22 interceptions.
The Patriots are also 30th against the run, a problem that was masked in Week 16 by Baltimore's inept rushing attack. Between Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Buffalo should present some problems on the ground.
That tandem, along with the defensive front's ability to generate pressure, will keep the Bills within striking distance in this one.
As he's done time and again, though, the legendary Tom Terrific will pull out yet another win at home to reaffirm the Patriots' superiority in the AFC East.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Bills 24
Kansas City Chiefs (+10) over San Diego Chargers
This spread is obnoxious in its disparity, because while the Chargers are fighting for a shot at the playoffs and the Chiefs have already clinched, Kansas City is the more complete team.
San Diego has a more explosive passing attack, but Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles is still sensational. Even in a 23-7 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16, Charles managed 103 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown, along with five receptions for 38 yards.
Jamaal Charles has 12 games this season with at least 100 yds from scrimmage & TD. Only player with more in season- Emmitt Smith, 1995 (13)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2013
The flow of the game dictated that Kansas City passed a lot, which head coach Andy Reid tends to do at times. That is not the strength of QB Alex Smith, so look for the Chiefs to get back to the ground game more often in this one.
Which Week 17 underdog is likeliest to win outright?
The Chiefs can't budge past the fifth seed in the conference no matter the outcome of this game, but pride is on the line.
Even if Charles is reined back, talented rookie Knile Davis is a powerful runner and a capable receiver himself. Plus, Smith needs some reps to regain confidence after throwing two picks in his last outing.
CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco was not too impressed in assessing the Chiefs with a letter grade:
I was in holiday spirit Sunday. Gave the Chiefs a D- instead of an F on our halftime show. So there's that.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) December 23, 2013
Kansas City cornerback Dunta Robinson is eager to prove, along with the rest of his teammates, that his 11-4 team belongs in the conversation with other elite clubs after a poor effort against Indy, per the Kansas City Star's Terez A. Paylor:
We gotta look in the mirror and we gotta decide what kind of team we want to be moving forward. Yeah, OK. You dominate Oakland. Yeah, you dominate (Washington). But what are we going to do when we face other powerhouses? We’re a much better team than we showed today.
That this game is at Qualcomm Stadium in a warmer climate actually helps Smith what with his lackluster arm strength. The Chiefs had to have learned something, too, after giving up a season-high 41 points in losing to the Chargers in Week 14.
Look for KC's talented defense to have a bounce-back performance along with Smith, which will be enough to end the season and enter the playoffs on a high note.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Chargers 20