Much like the Arizona Cardinals did in Week 16, beating the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, there are a few NFL teams ready to send a strong message to the rest of the league with big wins in Week 17.
With just one week left before the playoffs, there's no better time to do it, too.
Heading into the postseason with positive momentum is something every NFL head coach aspires to achieve. It's certainly not a prerequisite for playoff success, as we saw in 2012 when Baltimore won the Super Bowl after losing four of five to close out the regular season.
But there's no doubt teams would rather head into the tournament on a winning streak than limping in. Here's a look at the entire slate of games for Week 17, followed by a closer examination of a few teams that will earn huge statement wins.
|Cleveland Browns||Pittsburgh Steelers||PIT|
|Washington||New York Giants||NYG|
|Baltimore Ravens||Cincinnati Bengals||CIN|
|Houston Texans||Tennessee Titans||TEN|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Indianapolis Colts||IND|
|New York Jets||Miami Dolphins||NYJ|
|Detroit Lions||Minnesota Vikings||MIN|
|Carolina Panthers||Atlanta Falcons||CAR|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||New Orleans Saints||NO|
|Buffalo Bills||New England Patriots||NE|
|St. Louis Rams||Seattle Seahawks||SEA|
|Green Bay Packers||Chicago Bears||CHI|
|San Francisco 49ers||Arizona Cardinals||SF|
|Denver Broncos||Oakland Raiders||DEN|
|Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||KC|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Dallas Cowboys||PHI|
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Steelers need some serious help to get into the postseason: Miami, Baltimore and San Diego must lose in Week 17 and Pittsburgh must win, as detailed by Will Brinson of CBS Sports:
Steelers fans can count on Pittsburgh to do its part Dec. 29 at home against a reeling Browns squad that has lost six straight games down the homestretch.
Still having a horse in this race is important to us. We are excited about getting back in front of our fans, and doing it in Heinz Field against a division opponent... I like the way the group is laying in it. We will focus on the task and challenge that is in front of us, the preparation and play against the Cleveland Browns.
Pittsburgh is coming into the game having won two big games in a row against tough opponents (Cincinnati and Green Bay). The Browns won't approach the contest with the same level of playoff intensity you'll see from the Steelers, and it could end in a blowout victory for the home team.
Ben Roethlisberger has been brilliant during the team's second-half surge.
He played well against Cleveland in Week 12, throwing two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Antonio Brown has blossomed into one of the league's top playmakers in 2013, and rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is coming on strong.
Pittsburgh's defense is terrific at shutting down opposing passing attacks, and the Browns don't have the running game to take advantage of the team's porous run defense.
Projected score: Steelers win 31-17.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
The New Orleans Saints haven't lost a game at home in 2013, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won but a single contest on the road.
Oh, and the Saints need a win to get into the playoffs.
Terrance Harris of NOLA.com shared his thoughts on what will likely be a hugely motivating factor for the Saints:
The Saints would be left out of the playoffs should they lose, and Arizona and San Francisco both finish with better records.
This is the convoluted position the Saints find themselves in the wake of their late-season slide. Once thought to be a lock for one of the top two seeds in the NFC, the Saints have lost three of their past four games to throw their postseason chances up in the air heading into the regular-season finale.
It's important to note that the three losses have been against really good teams (Seattle, St. Louis and Carolina) with powerhouse defenses on the road.
But there's no place like home for Drew Brees, whose struggles on the road (12 touchdowns and nine interceptions) have been a big reason the team posted a 3-5 road record in 2013.
Tampa Bay is no pushover.
The Bucs won four of five games before losing to San Francisco and St. Louis the past couple weeks, and head coach Greg Schiano is approaching the upcoming contest as if it were a playoff game.
"Obviously, it's a game with implications and we're fortunate to be involved in it," Schiano said, as noted by Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. "Even though it's not our implications, it's our implications. It's our playoff game."
Playoff game or not, the Bucs won't win in New Orleans on Dec. 29.
The Saints will show up sharp on both sides of the ball, and the home crowd will make the Mercedes-Benz Superdome a deafening environment to aid in a huge win.
Projected score: Saints win 38-13.
St. Louis at Seattle
Seattle can't afford another loss at home, because the San Francisco 49ers can win the NFC West if they beat the Arizona Cardinals and the Seahawks lose to the Rams.
Bye-bye, home-field advantage.
Thankfully, St. Louis' strengths don't match up well against Seattle. After seeing their 14-game home winning streak end at the hands of Arizona in Week 16, the Seahawks will take out their frustrations on the Rams.
Quarterback Kellen Clemens won't fare any better than Carson Palmer did in Week 16, when he threw four interceptions. Since taking over for Sam Bradford in mid-October, Clemens has managed just seven touchdown passes, throwing five interceptions.
The Rams have been beating good teams of late, thanks to a ferocious defensive front that has helped generate 49 sacks this season, good for No. 3 in the NFL. However, Russell Wilson is a savvy quarterback who makes beating pressure look easy more often than not, and the Seahawks will feature a run-heavy approach on offense to start with.
With so much at stake, and thanks to the league's best and loudest fans, Pete Carroll's Seahawks will easily win at home.
Projected score: Seahawks win 31-10.
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