Week 17 in the NFL might as well be a playoff game for many teams fighting to get in, and you can be sure we'll see some spectacular individual efforts by players on winning teams.
Last season, rookie running back Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a winning cause in Week 17 to propel Washington into the playoffs over Dallas.
Like Morris, there will be a few players who'll carry their teams to victory in the season's final game while ensuring a playoff berth. Here's a look at a few players who are in great position to do the same when their teams need them the most.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
As good as Nick Foles has been since taking over for Michael Vick, Philadelphia's offense revolves around running back LeSean McCoy, who became the third Eagles running back to eclipse 2,000 yards from scrimmage during Week 16, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info:
The Eagles will be in Dallas for a definitive NFC East showdown. The winner will advance into the playoffs, while the loser will be eliminated.
Philadelphia has won six of its last seven games. Therefore, it should be no surprise that McCoy's confidence is sky high heading into this critical contest.
“Just the confidence level is out of this world,” McCoy said, via CSNPhilly.com. “We feel like every play is going to work, every play is going to be effective. There’s always this feeling like, ‘We can’t lose.’”
The veteran running back shredded Chicago's porous run defense in Week 16, and he's totaled at least 100 yards in each of his last six starts, dating back to Week 10.
The Cowboys feature a leaky defense that has allowed 127.9 rushing yards per contest, which is only slightly better than what Chicago averages this season. McCoy will be heavily featured against this exploitable unit, and he'll thrive.
Projected Stats: 165 total yards, two touchdowns.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
It's quite possible that the Miami Dolphins will lose to the New York Jets, the San Diego Chargers will lose to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens will lose to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17. Should all three teams lose, then the Pittsburgh Steelers would make the playoffs with a win over Cleveland.
You can be sure Ben Roethlisberger is well aware of this fact.
The veteran quarterback has been torrid since throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a losing cause against New England on Nov. 3. Including that game, Roethlisberger has thrown 19 touchdowns and just five interceptions in his last eight starts.
This is the kind of run that made Joe Flacco a very rich man, and it's one Roethlisberger will continue in Week 17 against the Browns.
Cleveland features a tough passing defense that allows 224.4 yards per game (No. 9 in the NFL). Roethlisberger was held to just 217 yards the first time the two teams met, but he threw for two touchdowns in a winning cause—the only two offensive touchdowns for Pittsburgh in that game.
Scott Brown of ESPN.com wonders if Cleveland (4-11) will be mentally up for the game, since the playoffs are long gone: "They [Steelers] pounded their turnpike rival last month, and the Browns may have trouble getting up for this game even if it is against the team they love to hate."
Conversely, Pittsburgh will be fighting for its playoff life.
Roethlisberger is going to show up in a big way for his team, which will sneak into the playoffs as the AFC's No. 6 seed.
Projected Stats: 275 yards, four touchdowns.
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
It's do-or-die time for Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears (8-7) in Week 17, as the Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) come into Soldier Field to play for the NFC North crown.
While many fans are likely alarmed by Chicago's poor showing in Philly, head coach Marc Trestman believes in his team's ability to bounce back, as Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com reported:
We've had periodic weeks where we've had some tremendous adversity in terms of losing games and have come back to step up and play. So our history says that we can get this thing done, and that's a good sign.
Given Jay Cutler's struggles against Philadelphia in Week 16, it's likely Trestman will be inclined to let his trusty running back carry the load on offense once again.
Green Bay's defense has been spotty—at best—against the run in 2013, allowing 125.3 yards per game (No. 26 in the NFL) and 14 total rushing touchdowns.
Forte contributed to those numbers when he went off for 125 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 9. He also pitched in five catches for 54 yards, totaling 179 yards on the day to lead Chicago to victory.
Look for Forte to have another brilliant game against the Packers in Week 17 as he carries the Bears into the postseason as NFC North champs.
Projected Stats: 175 total yards, two touchdowns.
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