The 2013 NFL playoff race will reach its climactic conclusion in Week 17.
With only eight teams having clinched a playoff berth with one game to go, the stakes have never been higher.
Here's an early look at my picks for all 16 games in Week 17.
|Carolina Panthers (-7)||Atlanta Falcons|
|Baltimore Ravens||Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5)|
|Tennessee Titans (-6)||Houston Texans|
|Indianapolis Colts (-4)||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Miami Dolphins (-6.5)||New York Jets|
|Minnesota Vikings||Detroit Lions (-2.5)|
|New York Giants (-3.5)||Washington Redskins|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)||Cleveland Browns|
|Denver Broncos (-13)||Oakland Raiders|
|New England Patriots (-8.5)||Buffalo Bills|
|New Orleans Saints (-12.5)||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Arizona Cardinals||San Francisco 49ers (-3)|
|San Diego Chargers (-7.5)||Kansas City Chiefs|
|Seattle Seahawks (-10.5)||St. Louis Rams|
|Green Bay Packers (N/A)||Chicago Bears|
|Philadelphia Eagles (-7)||Dallas Cowboys|
Lines via VegasInsider.com
Baltimore Ravens Over Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have already secured the AFC North division title, but can improve their playoff positioning with a win over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens—as long as the New England Patriots lose in Week 17.
By contrast, the Ravens must win and get help in order to return to the postseason.
With Baltimore already having proven it can beat Cincinnati this season, look for the Ravens to earn a hard-fought road win at Paul Brown Stadium this weekend.
The Ravens beat the Bengals back in Week 10 despite racking up just 189 total yards. Baltimore had tremendous defensive success in that game against Cincinnati, pressuring quarterback Andy Dalton into five sacks and three costly interceptions.
Look for Baltimore's top-10 defense to desperately pull out all the stops and implement a similar game plan in Week 17 as the Ravens look to cover the 3.5-point spread and earn a AFC wild-card berth.
Arizona Cardinals Over San Francisco 49ers
The surging Arizona Cardinals are still alive for a playoff berth coming into Week 17. They will need a win and help from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in order to qualify for the postseason as an NFC Wild Card.
Regardless of what happens between the Bucs and Saints in New Orleans, watch for the Cardinals to win their fifth straight home game by beating the San Francisco 49ers, who have already clinched a playoff berth.
Which team will make the playoffs in the NFC?
Arizona is coming off an incredible win at Seattle in Week 16 and clearly has much more to play for than San Francisco, who are flying high after a memorable Monday night win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16. The Cardinals nearly outplayed the 49ers in their first meeting back in October, too.
San Francisco came away with a 32-20 win at Candlestick Park, but were out-gained 403-387 and only led by two points heading into the fourth quarter. In the end, the Cardinals' four turnovers proved to be the difference.
Over 10 weeks later, the Cardinals are a different team, per defensive end Calais Campbell via AZCardinals.com: "We are a very confident team right now. We feel if we get to the playoffs we can do some damage. We just have to get lucky."
This time around, look for a confident Cardinals defense and a dynamic Arizona passing attack to capitalize at home, pulling out a much-needed win to at least give themselves a shot at the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles Over Dallas Cowboys
With ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter reporting that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will likely miss the rest of the season with a herniated disc in his back, you won't have a hard time finding many experts and analysts who like the Eagles to win Sunday night's winner-take-all showdown in the NFC East.
Cowboys QB Tony Romo has been ruled out the rest of the season due to his back injury, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
More details: RT @mortreport: Tony Romo diagnosed with herniated disc. Surgery necessary, per sources— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
Bleacher Report NFL lead writer Michael Schottey offers two logical explanations as to why the Cowboys have yet to officially rule out Romo for Week 17:
Two things there: 1) Behooves Cowboys to make Eagles “plan” for Romo. 2) @AdamSchefter may be more “in the loop” than Garrett in Dallas.— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) December 23, 2013
In addition to the obvious advantage Philly will have if Romo can't suit up or is far from 100 percent physically, the Eagles have been an impressive road team in 2013, going 5-2 behind enemy lines this year. Only Seattle and Kansas City have fared better through 16 weeks.
On top of that, you're talking about one of the league's best offenses in the Eagles squaring off against one of the league's most porous defenses in the Cowboys in perfect field conditions at AT&T Stadium.
Led by the NFL's leading rusher in LeSean McCoy, the Eagles boast the NFL's most potent rushing attack and are sure to reel off chunks of yardage against the Cowboys' 27th-ranked run-stopping unit.
When you add in the fact Nick Foles is making smart decisions with the football and Philly's defense has stepped up tremendously over the second half of the season, it's no surprise the Eagles are touchdown favorites on the road.
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