It's hard to pick out a few games out of the many vital games coming up on the NFL schedule for Week 17, but all the headliners are coming out of the NFC.
If the Miami Dolphins can't beat the New York Jets and claim the final playoff spot in the AFC, that's on them. Meanwhile, there are two division titles still to be decided in the other conference along with another showdown between NFC West adversaries with double-digit wins.
That's just the beginning of what's to come in pro football this coming Sunday, Dec. 29, but let's take a closer look and project scores for the most important impending contests, along with picks for the rest.
Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) vs. Chicago Bears (8-7)
This is the NFL, though. Thanks to solid play in a second stint with the Pack, backup QB Matt Flynn has done enough to position Green Bay for this matchup at Soldier Field with the archrival Bears for the NFC North title.
Rodgers' status is still up in the air and won't be known until Thursday, Dec. 26, as he said on his ESPN radio show:
We’ve done a scan and we’re going through the process of evaluation. Probably not what everybody wants to hear, but I can say definitively [on] Thursday—one way or another—it will be a definitive conclusion to this week’s unknown. We wanted to give everybody a rest for Christmas, be able to enjoy their Christmas.
Chicago is coming off a horrendous 54-11 loss, so it will be interesting to see how first-year head coach Marc Trestman can get his bunch to respond after such a whooping.
It helps that the Bears play at home, have an inventive offensive mind in Trestman at the helm and should be able to put up points on the Packers' talented but underachieving defense.
But whether it's the star Rodgers or the steady Flynn, Green Bay should have no trouble putting points on the board either.
ESPN's Ed Werder has been told by doctors that for Rodgers to play before eight weeks out is too risky:
Aaron Rodgers has not yet reached seven weeks since fracturing his collarbone. NFL docs have told me too risky to play before 8 weeks— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 21, 2013
Considering Rodgers injured himself in Week 9, it is possible that he could indeed return. However, it's unclear how effective he would be. That gives Chicago the edge for the time being, but this pick could change as game day draws nearer.
Prediction: Bears 35, Packers 31
San Francisco 49ers (11-4) vs. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
It's hard to believe the Cardinals could be left out of the playoff picture despite winning 11 games in what has been a second consecutive outstanding head coaching job by Bruce Arians.
Arizona overcame four Carson Palmer interceptions to beat the class of the NFL in the Seattle Seahawks on the road in Week 16, but taking that kind of pounding and playing San Francisco this Sunday will be too much to overcome.
Palmer is an accident waiting to happen, and while it's hard to imagine he'll toss four more picks against the Niners' vaunted defense, his offense isn't likely to see as much production.
Carson Palmer has thrown multiple interceptions for the 7th time this season, tied with Geno Smith for the most multi-Int games this season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2013
Which team with a better record is in more danger of losing?
That doesn't mean it won't be close, though. Even the physical Niners want no part of the Cardinals' top-ranked rush defense, and the opposing secondary features the likes of star cornerback Patrick Peterson as well.
As long as Palmer's more dynamic counterpart, Colin Kaepernick, takes care of the football—he's thrown just one interception in his last five starts, all Niners wins—he should keep Arizona just honest enough through the air.
The X-factor that shifts this game in San Francisco's favor is tight end Vernon Davis. Although he was held without a catch in Week 16, Davis had eight receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the team's 32-20 win over the Cardinals on Oct. 13.
Whether the focus of Arizona's defense is on Davis or the other weapons, his presence will be either overcompensated for or not accounted for enough, giving the Niners a puncher's chance at stealing the division from Seattle.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Cardinals 23
Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) vs. Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
The Rodgers situation is interesting, but the conflicting reports surrounding Cowboys QB Tony Romo are just as fascinating.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Romo would miss Week 17 and the remainder of the season with a back injury, while owner Jerry Jones is saying there's still hope:
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
Jerry Jones to DMN: “There is nothing structurally that will rule him out if he feels good and is cleared to play.” http://t.co/92HRHFuPIr— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 24, 2013
Whatever the case may be, it's hard to ignore the 54 points the Eagles hung on the Bears in a must-win situation. Dallas has an even worse defense than Philadelphia's, with the latter unit at least being capable of stopping the run (12th in the league).
Romo is a polarizing figure who tends to play great for extended stretches, but his decision-making and untimely miscues have held him back from further success.
The defense is largely to blame for Romo trying to press too often. It could happen again in this one, what with the roll the Eagles seem to be on offensively.
Thanks to brilliant play from Nick Foles (25 touchdown passes, two interceptions) and excellent running from the electric LeSean McCoy, this is a legitimately balanced attack that can put up points on anyone in a hurry.
That will help the Eagles avenge an earlier home loss to Dallas—before Foles rose to prominence—and clinch the NFC East in AT&T Stadium, giving Chip Kelly a division crown in his first year overseeing this exciting team.
Prediction: Eagles 48, Cowboys 38
|Away Team||Home Team||Winner|
|Carolina Panthers||Atlanta Falcons||Panthers|
|Balitmore Ravens||Cincinnati Bengals||Ravens|
|Houston Texans||Tennessee Titans||Titans|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Indianapolis Colts||Colts|
|New York Jets||Miami Dolphins||Dolphins|
|Detroit Lions||Minnesota Vikings||Lions|
|Washington Redskins||New York Giants||Giants|
|Cleveland Browns||Pittsburgh Steelers||Steelers|
|Green Bay Packers||Chicago Bears||Bears|
|Denver Broncos||Oakland Raiders||Broncos|
|Buffalo Bills||New England Patriots||Patriots|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||New Orleans Saints||Saints|
|San Francisco 49ers||Arizona Cardinals||49ers|
|Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||Chiefs|
|St. Louis Rams||Seattle Seahawks||Seahawks|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Dallas Cowboys||Eagles|
Picks are personal opinion