With four playoff berths and four division titles up for grabs in Week 17, the 2013 NFL regular season is sure to conclude in dramatic fashion.
Ten teams are still alive for a playoff berth heading into the weekend, but half a dozen of those teams will be eliminated. Some will come up short on the field but others will have their seasons end in bitter fashion, with the chips failing to fall in their favor.
Without further ado, here are my predictions for January's wild-card matchups based off of my picks for Week 17's pivotal matchups.
*Click here to view Week 17's playoff scenarios via NFL.com.
|Week 17 Predictions|
|Key AFC Week 17 Matchups||Key NFC Week 17 Matchups|
|Ravens Over Bengals (-6)||Panthers Over Falcons|
|Colts (-11.5) Over Jaguars||Saints (-13) Over Buccaneers|
|Dolphins (-6.5) Over Jets||Cardinals Over 49ers|
|Steelers (-7) Over Browns||Seahawks (-10.5) Over Rams|
|Broncos (-13) Over Raiders||Packers Over Bears|
|Patriots (-10) Over Bills||Eagles (-7) Over Cowboys|
|Chargers (-9.5) Over Chiefs|
|Lines via Covers.com|
Projected AFC Wild Card Matchups
No. 6 Miami Dolphins (9-7) at No. 3 Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Assuming the four teams vying for the final AFC Wild Card spot all win in Week 17, the Miami Dolphins will be headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
If the New England Patriots win, the Indianapolis Colts knock off the Jacksonville Jaguars at home and the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals lose to the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, it'll be Indy that winds up with the No. 3 seed in the AFC.
This matchup would be a rematch of Week 2's memorable showdown that saw the Dolphins beat the Colts 24-20 on a late touchdown run from Charles Clay.
Based on that meeting, in which both teams took care of the ball, had success through the air and on the ground and converted at least six times on third down, you'd have to give a narrow edge to the home team.
Projected Winner: Indianapolis Colts
No. 5 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
As already mentioned, the combination of a Colts win and a Bengals loss will send Cincinnati to the No. 4 seed in the AFC. In that scenario, the Bengals would host the Kansas City Chiefs on Wild Card Weekend regardless of how the Chiefs fare at San Diego in Week 17.
These two teams have not met in 2013, but the edge would have to go to the Bengals, who are among the league's best home teams this season (7-0 heading into Week 17) and much better than the Chiefs defensively.
While the Bengals have dropped their past two home playoff games, the Chiefs have lost six playoff games in a row going back to 1994.
Projected Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
Projected NFC Wild Card Matchups
No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (11-5) at No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
The San Francisco 49ers have already clinched a playoff berth, but a loss at Arizona in Week 17 and a New Orleans Saints win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Superdome would see the Niners fall to the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
Assuming the Philadelphia Eagles can top a potentially short-handed Dallas Cowboys team in Sunday night's winner-take-all NFC East championship game, Jim Harbaugh's reigning NFC champions would be headed east for a wild-card showdown with Chip Kelly's explosive Eagles.
Picking a winner in this potential matchup is nearly impossible. But given Philly's erratic play at home in 2013 and San Francisco's defensive prowess and championship pedigree, I'd give the slight edge to the 49ers, who have been to the NFC Championship Game in each of the past two years.
Projected Winner: San Francisco 49ers
No. 5 New Orleans Saints (11-5) at No. 4 Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
In a scenario where the New Orleans Saints take care of business, the Carolina Panthers win and the Arizona Cardinals top the 49ers at home, New Orleans would earn the NFC's first wild-card spot, setting them up for a matchup against the NFC North champion.
I like the Packers to beat the Bears in the Windy City in Week 17, setting Green Bay up with a home playoff game next month. With or without Aaron Rodgers under center, the Packers will have an excellent shot to win on the road. Keep in mind that Chicago boasts the league's worst rush defense and surrendered 54 points in its Week 16 loss at Philadelphia.
Head coach Mike McCarthy admitted that Rodgers has been itching to play over the past few weeks, per Sporting News:
Aaron wants to play, has wanted to play for the last couple of weeks. He fully accepts, understands everything going on with his injury, so this is really a decision for Ted Thompson and I representing the organization. That's how it works.
If Eddie Lacy, who injured his ankle in Week 16, can suit up and continue running hard for the Packers' seventh-ranked ground attack, there's no doubt that Green Bay has the weapons to sneak past a terrible Bears defense and into the postseason.
As for a potential wild-card showdown with the Saints, Green Bay would likely be headed home early unless Rodgers could return to the lineup. Even outside in the elements, a short-handed version of the Packers would have a difficult time keeping pace with the Saints' high-powered aerial attack.
Projected Winner: New Orleans Saints
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