Week 17 of the 2013 NFL season will bring about a variety of emotions from fans, players and coaches around the country.
Some will feel joy over late-season postseason berths being won, some will express relief over the end of a dreadful year, and some others still will feel the dejection that comes with being eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the season.
Heading into what should be a very entertaining final week of what's been a very unpredictable campaign, here's a look at projects for each of the final 16 games on the schedule.
Panthers at Falcons
The Panthers have been the most surprising team in the league this season, as Cam Newton has Carolina headed to the postseason.
Now, with a Week 17 date in Atlanta, Ron Rivera's team will simply be looking to wrap up the division while remaining healthy, but obviously a victory would be a nice Christmas present, as it would give them a bye through Round 1 of the playoffs.
Cam Newton: 4th game-winning drive in 4th quarter/OT this season (2 combined in 1st 2 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2013
Yes, Matt Ryan is always capable of pulling off an upset, but does anyone really see Atlanta taking down a team that's coming off a convincing win over Drew Brees and the Saints, even at home?
I certainly don't, because while this game will be closer than most expect, the Falcons won't be able to put up enough points on the Panthers' dominant defense.
Redskins at Giants
This season has been a nightmare for both of these teams but probably more so for the Redskins than Giants.
Since Week 1, Robert Griffin III struggled to match the level of excellence he reached as a rookie in 2012, and as a result, this Washington squad sits at 3-12 heading into the final week of the year.
At the other end of the field, the Giants have bounced back from their dreadful 0-6 start to a certain degree, going 6-3 over the last nine games, so finishing at 7-9 would represent an encouraging turnaround.
And while the win will cost the Giants a little bit in terms of positioning for the upcoming NFL draft, gaining momentum to build off of for next season rather than suffering an embarrassing loss to Kirk Cousins and the lowly Redskins at home would be the best thing for the franchise.
The Giants will win by at least a touchdown, and despite the loss, Cousins will play admirably well and continue to generate leverage for the Redskins to trade him for a first- or second-round pick from a team in need of a franchise quarterback.
Ravens at Bengals
This is an incredibly meaningful game for both teams but for the Ravens in particular because, if Baltimore doesn't win, the Dolphins will automatically make the playoffs, signaling a stunning collapse by the defending Super Bowl champions.
But with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green leading the Bengals to four wins in their last five games, including three with at least 40 points on the board offensively, Joe Flacco's going to have to be much better than he has been lately to keep pace with Cincinnati's offense.
Yes, the Ravens won their last meeting on a field goal in overtime, but the Bengals will be motivated to end the postseason hopes of their rivals, because with a loss, the Bengals would likely be forced to face Kansas City in Round 1, which is a daunting task.
It'll be more of an offensive affair than the last time around, but Cincinnati will find a way to win and avenge its loss in Baltimore earlier this season.
Flacco's struggled to find consistency late in the year for the Ravens, with just three touchdowns against five picks in his last three, and as a result, the Ravens' chances at a repeat bid have dwindled.
Against a defense that ranks among the league's best against both the rush and the pass, the Ravens won't be able to get enough done to get the win.
Texans at Titans
In what will be a meaningless game between two disappointing squads, the Texans will head East to take on the 6-9 Tennessee Titans.
That being said, there is definitely an incentive for these guys to show up to play because this is a final opportunity for players looking to retain their starting jobs in preparation for next season.
Asked if he'll work to keep CJ, #Titans coach Mike Munchak says "One step at a time.''— Teresa Walker (@TeresaMWalker) December 23, 2013
And, as of now, Chris Johnson needs roughly 50 yards to record his sixth straight 1,000-yard season, and assuming he plays, he'll get there but just barely.
For the former All-Pro back, it's been another disappointing season, but if he can show Mike Munchak and the Titans something special in potentially his final game with Tennessee, maybe he'll be back next season.
For the Texans, it's a late chance for the players to show the team's brain trust that they're worth keeping around once a new staff is in place following the end of the season.
The Titans will win because there's just no way the Texans will generate enough offense, regardless of whether it's Matt Schaub or Case Keenum under center.
Jaguars at Colts
Simply put, this should be a blowout.
The Colts are coming off an all-important victory over the Chiefs, and at 10-5, Andrew Luck's squad has to be the heavy favorite against a very mediocre Jaguars team.
That being said, the Jags have managed four wins in their last seven contests, so they won't be ready to roll over and die, although doing so would likely improve their ability to get their hands on Teddy Bridgewater or whatever quarterback they most covet.
With a win, the Jaguars would likely end up with a less desirable pick in the draft, so one wouldn't be shocked to see the Colts run off with a very lopsided victory.
The Colts know that if they win, they'll likely avoid facing KC in the Wild Card Round, so Indy will be motivated to win.
Jets at Dolphins
The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins will be playing for their seasons on Sunday, as Miami needs to defeat Rex Ryan's bunch in order to lock up a postseason berth.
For the Jets, they'll be playing for something different: Ryan's job security.
New York Jets players back Rex Ryan despite struggles: Rex Ryan's New York Jets will miss the playoffs for the... http://t.co/NiZRaEqGZD— NFL Breaking News (@NFLBNN) December 19, 2013
Ryan's got the support of his players, and they must be aware of the fact that a win would certainly be aiding the longtime coach's cause of returning in 2014.
But Ryan Tannehill's Dolphins have overcome too much adversity not to come out and get the win at home, and regardless of what's being said, it's unlikely that John Idzik's decision on Ryan will hinge too much on the outcome of a meaningless game in the standings.
Lions at Vikings
Minnesota and Detroit each endured through disappointing seasons, as both teams entered the year with postseason aspirations, only to fall behind both the Packers and Bears in the NFC North standings.
Neither team is headed for the postseason, and really all that these teams are playing for are the futures of Jim Schwartz and Leslie Frazier, a pair of coaches who may not be back next season.
In what'll be one of the less intriguing showdowns of the day, Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush will produce enough to oust the Vikings.
The Lions put up the third-most passing yards in the league, and against the last-ranked pass defense in the league, Detroit will end the year at 8-8.
Browns at Steelers
With both the Browns and Steelers under .500, it's remarkable that one is still technically in the postseason hunt, as Pittsburgh's 7-8 record has the Steelers hanging on for their playoff lives.
In order to make the playoffs, Mike Tomlin's bunch needs the Chargers, Ravens and Dolphins to lose, as well as a win over Cleveland, which seems to be the least of the team's worries.
Luckily, Cleveland's been a hapless team since starting 3-2 and has lost six straight to fall to 4-11.
That includes a lopsided loss to Pittsburgh at home, and though Ben Roethlistberger's squad isn't perfect, between he, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, there's more than enough firepower to get past Jason Campbell and the Browns, though Cleveland's defense has been surprisingly stingy on the whole.
Packers at Bears
This will be a doozy, as these two teams will be playing for the NFC North crown on the final day of the regular season.
As of now, the Bears have to be considered favored because until Aaron Rodgers returns, the Packers aren't anything close to as dangerous as they were early in the year.
MM: Aaron Rodgers wants to play but the evaluation process is ongoing. "Frustrating and stressful" for Aaron.— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) December 23, 2013
And though Jay Cutler's Bears didn't look like anything special against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, the Bears are 5-2 at Soldier Field, and Matt Flynn isn't exactly the type of quarterback that inspires fear in the eyes of opposing defenders.
Chicago's fifth-ranked passing attack will have a field day against one of the league's most porous defenses, and neither Flynn nor Eddie Lacy will rack up enough yardage or points to keep pace.
Cutler's only going to get better with each game since returning from injury, and he'll use this game as a warmup for what'll likely be a Wild Card Game against the Saints, 49ers or Cardinals.
Broncos at Raiders
The Broncos and Raiders will close out the season in what won't be a game that means a lot for either team.
For the Broncos, it'll likely be a chance to rest some key players because, at 12-3, they're guaranteed to earn a bye through to Round 2 of the postseason.
And the Raiders, at 4-11, have long since been eliminated from playoff contention, but a win over a legitimate Super Bowl favorite to end the season would be a positive to build on for next season.
Denver's going to have to replace a big part of the defense going forward as well, according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports 1, so this will be an early opportunity to try to compensate for what is undoubtedly a big loss:
Broncos have confirmed Von Miller is done for the year with a torn ACL: http://t.co/yb3gxb1mIy— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) December 23, 2013
As was the case during his time in Indianapolis, there's a chance we won't see Peyton Manning on the field, but either way, Denver should roll to 13-3 and the top seed in the AFC.
Bills at Patriots
When these two rivals meet in Week 17, the Bills will have a chance to take a Round 1 bye away from New England.
But that won't be easy, as the Patriots have won four of their last five and are coming off one of their most impressive outings of the season, a 41-7 win over the Ravens.
And, during these two teams' first meeting of the year, the Pats took down E.J. Manuel and the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in dramatic fashion, winning 23-21.
Now, with Thad Lewis possibly in for the Bills at quarterback, Buffalo will look to build off a blowout win of their own over another postseason hopeful in the Dolphins.
That being said, while the Patriots and their sixth-ranked passing offense will be a good matchup for the Bills' fifth-ranked pass defense, New England always seems to squeak out just enough points to defeat Buffalo, so that's what I expect to happen on Sunday.
Buccaneers at Saints
In a clash between a probable postseason squad and a floundering 4-11 team, the Saints will enter the game as heavy favorites to win at the Superdome.
Yes, it's worth noting that last time these teams played, it was as close as could be, with Drew Brees leading New Orleans to a nail-biter in a 16-14 win.
But with playoff implications on the line, Brees will do enough to take the Saints to 11-5, which would keep the Saints in the postseason zone.
The Buccaneers are last in the league in passing yards per game, and that won't cut it against the Saints offense, which is second in both passing yards per game and passing yards allowed per game.
Mike Glennon will continue to perform reasonably well in his audition to keep the starting job long-term, but he won't be able to keep pace with Brees, Jimmy Graham and the rest of New Orleans' vaunted air assault.
49ers at Cardinals
This game will be one of the most intense battles of the season for these two bruising teams, as the 49ers and Cardinals will be facing off with the postseason on the line.
With these two within a game of one another, the tensions will be high in Arizona, but even at University of Phoenix Stadium, Jim Harbaugh's boys should be able to come away with a win.
Earlier this season, the 49ers dispatched of the Cardinals 32-20, which was a turning point in their season, but this Arizona team has improved immensely since then.
Down the stretch, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald have put together an impressive run that's featured wins over the Colts and Seahawks, but the 49ers are proven performers in clutch situations, so expect to see Colin Kaepernick lead San Francisco to victory.
With two stingy defenses, this could be a low-scoring affair, but Kaepernick, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis have the 49ers offense back on track, and the team will put enough points on the board to lock up a playoff berth.
Chiefs at Chargers
The Chiefs are coming to the end of what has been a feel-good season during Andy Reid's first at the helm, and though they can't catch the Broncos for AFC North supremacy, they'll look to extinguish the Chargers' postseason hopes on the road.
With a win, the Chargers will remain in contention for the final spot but need a loss by the Dolphins as well to make that a reality.
Despite the Chiefs' success this season, Alex Smith isn't capable of producing the same sort of passing production as Philip Rivers, as we saw during San Diego's upset of KC earlier this season.
The Chiefs are 11-4 for a reason, but may be without some top weapons in Week 17:
Chiefs' Reid could rest starts against Chargers: Chiefs coach Andy Reid says he hasn't decided whether to rest... http://t.co/28nvThKTCl— KCTV5 - Kansas City (@KCTV5) December 23, 2013
If that's the case, Rivers and the Chargers will get the win against the league's 23rd-ranked passing defense and do everything they can to climb into a last-minute playoff berth.
Rams at Seahawks
St. Louis isn't playing for a postseason berth, and Seattle's already locked up a bye to the second round, so this won't be the most exciting clash on tap this weekend.
That being said, Pete Carroll isn't the type of coach who will be looking to rest too many guys, especially after the recent struggles of the Seahawks offense.
Yes, Seattle's defense (four picks against Arizona in Week 16) has been very good for the most part, but risking having Russell Wilson (108 yards passing vs. the Cardinals), Marshawn Lynch and the offense out of sync during the postseason won't be of much interest to Carroll.
I expect the Seahawks to come out rejuvenated and motivated to prove that they're the team to beat in the NFC, and they'll top St. Louis for the second time this season.
Eagles at Cowboys
This season has been one in which the Eagles and Cowboys have each endured through peaks and valleys to end up with a golden opportunity in their showdown to end the season.
As was the case when Dallas and Washington clashed in D.C. on December 30th, whichever team wins will take home the NFC East crown.
On paper, it's a relatively even tilt between two very productive quarterbacks, but there are a couple of factors working in the Eagles' favor.
For one thing, there's history:
Cowboys playing 8th win-or-go-home game in Week 17 or playoffs with Tony Romo as starting QB. They're 1-6 in past 7 games, 0-3 in week 17.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
Given the Cowboys' struggles, particularly now without Romo at the helm, it's tough to imagine the Cowboys defeating the surging Eagles, who have a host of dangerous offensive weapons in Foles, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper.
And, unfortunately for the Cowboys, Kyle Orton isn't going to be enough to upset the Eagles.
It'll be close, but without Romo, I have the Eagles taking the division.