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NFL Week 17 Picks: Examining Crucial Matchups in Final Weekend

Dec 15, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) looks on during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Vikings defeated the Eagles 48-30. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport
R. Cory SmithSenior Writer IDecember 24, 2013

As silly as the playoff race has gotten in the NFL, the simple chore of picking teams to win in Week 17 seems more difficult than figuring out which team will win the final AFC Wild Card.

Teams with playoff hopes will be fighting for their postseason lives and will be facing off with division rivals who would love nothing more than to end their dreams.

With two big games that will decide the NFC North and East, let's start the picks with a team that needs a win and some help to make the playoffs.

Away TeamHome TeamPick
Carolina PanthersAtlanta FalconsPanthers
Green Bay PackersChicago BearsBears
Houston TexansTennessee TitansTexans
Washington RedskinsNew York GiantsGiants
Cleveland BrownsPittsburgh SteelersSteelers
Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsBengals
Jacksonville JaguarsIndianapolis ColtsColts
Philadelphia EaglesDallas CowboysEagles
New York JetsMiami DolphinsDolphins
Detroit LionsMinnesota VikingsLions
Buffalo BillsNew England PatriotsPatriots
Tampa Bay BuccaneersNew Orleans SaintsSaints
Denver BroncosOakland RaidersBroncos
San Francisco 49ersArizona Cardinals49ers
Kansas City ChiefsSan Diego ChargersChargers
St. Louis RamsSeattle SeahawksSeahawks
NFL.com

 

Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Baltimore Ravens)

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 10: Wide receiver A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates with teammates after catching a batted ball for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 10, 2013 in Balti
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With a win and a Baltimore Ravens loss in Week 16, the Cincinnati Bengals have already clinched the AFC North title. But they likely won't sit any starters when they play the Ravens because they are still vying for seeding in the playoffs. They have the potential of gaining a first-round bye if the New England Patriots lose to the Buffalo Bills.

As for the Ravens, a Week 16 loss to the Patriots not only cost them a chance to win the AFC North crown but also relinquished control of their own destiny. Now Baltimore desperately needs a win as well as a loss from the Miami Dolphins in order to get into the playoffs.

But with a running game that ranks 28th in the league in yards per game and a passing game that has failed to amass more than 275 yards in the last nine games, the Ravens will be hard pressed to get going offensively against a Cincinnati defense that ranks in the top 10 in both categories.

If the Ravens plan to get going against the Bengals, they will need Joe Flacco to throw at least one touchdown, which he has failed to do in two straight games. Rather than making great throws as of late, he has been drawing attention for plays like this one, per the SportsPickle Twitter account:

While the Ravens will need to win this game to have a shot at making the playoffs, the Bengals are playing much better and will get it done on both sides of the ball behind Andy Dalton under center.

Prediction: Bengals 27, Ravens 20

 

Green Bay Packers (vs. Chicago Bears)

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 15:  Running back Eddie Lacy #27 celebrates a fourth quarter touchdown with defensive end Mike Daniels #76 of the Green Bay Packers against the Dallas Cowboys during a game at AT&T Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The entire NFC North lost in Week 16, setting up a showdown of two squads who will not only battle for the division title but also the chance to be the sole team above .500 in the North.

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have both fought hard to get back in contention for the division crown, but the Packers have the upper hand even if Aaron Rodgers is unable to return from a collarbone injury.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker spoke about the difficult test that Chicago will have against the Packers:

The biggest difference between the two teams is Green Bay's ability to run the ball and Chicago's inability to stop it. Even without Rodgers behind center for the last seven games, Eddie Lacy has carried the Packers offense. He set the Green Bay rookie rushing record in Week 16, as ESPN's Numbers Never Lie reported:

The Bears rushing defense has not only been statistically the worst in the NFL this season, but it allows a full 26 more yards per game than the Jacksonville Jaguars, which have the 31st-ranked rushing defense in the league.

Tucker also pointed out a statistic that shows the Bears defense was at its worst after giving up 289 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles:

If Lacy is cleared to return to play after re-aggravating an ankle injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Packers will defeat the Bears, regardless of whether Matt Flynn or Rodgers is behind center.

Prediction: Packers 38, Bears 27

 

Philadelphia Eagles (at Dallas Cowboys)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 22: Running back LeSean McCoy #25 of the Philadelphia Eagles is congratulated by quarterback Nick Foles #9 after scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in during the third quarter of a game at Lincoln Financial Field on
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys pulled off big wins in Week 16, with both coming in different fashions.

After the Cowboys came from behind on their final drive to defeat the Washington Redskins on the road, the Eagles crushed the Bears in a game that meant nothing for Philly but could have clinched a division title for Chicago.

Now the two teams will face off for the NFC East title in the final week of the regular season, which has become familiar territory for the Cowboys. Dallas is now playing in its third-straight season finale for the NFC East and has lost the last two, both on Sunday Night Football.

The 2013 Cowboys' finale will also be on NBC on Sunday night, as the Eagles' Instagram account reported:

While Dallas fans will be hoping for an NFC East title and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 , a third straight .500 season seems more likely against the Eagles.

Philadelphia has been one of the most potent offensive attacks in the NFL since Nick Foles officially took over the starting role in Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders. Since then, the Eagles have averaged 34.5 points per game and have scored 49 or more points twice.

With LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, sharing the backfield with Foles, the Eagles should have no problem putting points on the board against Dallas. Facing a Cowboys defense that ranks last in the league in terms of yards per game, McCoy and Foles could earn game balls on SNF for the second straight week:

Regardless of the Cowboys' history in final games that decide the winner of the division, they will be facing an Eagles team that looks like one of the best squads in the NFL at the end of the season.

Prediction: Eagles 44, Cowboys 31

 

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