Two games with win-or-go-home stakes for both teams? It must be Week 17 in the NFL. The battles for the NFC East and NFC North will indeed send one team to the postseason and the other home for the winter.
In addition to those two must-see clashes, there are 11 other games on the schedule that will impact playoff qualification and/or positioning.
If you love football, this is going to be a Sunday you won't soon forget. Here's a look at my predictions for each game. Those division matchups and another crucial game are broken down in depth just beneath the table.
|Sunday, Dec. 29||Time||TV||Location||Prediction|
|Carolina at Atlanta||1 p.m.||Fox||Georgia Dome||Carolina|
|Baltimore at Cincinnati||1 p.m.||CBS||Paul Brown Stadium||Cincinnati|
|Houston at Tennessee||1 p.m.||CBS||LP Field||Tennessee|
|Jacksonville at Indianapolis||1 p.m.||CBS||Lucas Oil Stadium||Indianapolis|
|NY Jets at Miami||1 p.m.||CBS||Sun Life Stadium||Miami|
|Detroit at Minnesota||1 p.m.||Fox||Mall of America Field||Minnesota|
|Washington at N.Y. Giants||1 p.m.||Fox||MetLife Stadium||N.Y. Giants|
|Cleveland at Pittsburgh||1 p.m.||CBS||Heinz Field||Pittsburgh|
|Green Bay at Chicago||4:25 p.m.||Fox||Soldier Field||Green Bay|
|Denver at Oakland||4:25 p.m.||CBS||O.co Coliseum||Denver|
|Buffalo at New England||4:25 p.m.||CBS||Gillette Stadium||New England|
|Tampa Bay at New Orleans||4:25 p.m.||Fox||Mercedes-Benz Superdome||New Orleans|
|San Francisco at Arizona||4:25 p.m.||fox||U of Phoenix Stadium||San Francisco|
|Kansas City at San Diego||4:25 p.m.||CBS||Qualcomm Stadium||Kansas City|
|St. Louis at Seattle||4:25 p.m.||Fox||CenturyLink Field||Seattle|
|Philadelphia at Dallas||8:30 p.m.||Fox||AT&T Stadium||Philadelphia|
Green Bay Packers Win the Division
Whether Aaron Rodgers plays in the final game of the season is obviously important for the outcome of this game, but even with Matt Flynn at quarterback, the Packers are going to beat the Chicago Bears.
To put it plainly, Mike McCarthy is a better head coach than Marc Trestman. The former has somehow kept his team afloat without its franchise quarterback and perennial MVP candidate.
Who wins the NFC North?
The latter has implemented a stellar offensive system that has the Bears scoring enough to win.
Chicago is third in the NFL in scoring. It has scored more than 400 points in a season for just the fourth time in franchise history.
The last two times this happened, the Bears went to the Super Bowl. That's all fine and dandy, but this year's defense is in shambles. It's ranked 30th in points allowed and isn't forcing turnovers the way it did under Lovie Smith.
On Sunday night, the Bears were blown to smithereens by the Philadelphia Eagles. The team looked unprepared and seemed to make no halftime adjustments to stop the Eagles' attack.
Philly ran for 298 yards in what looked like a BCS game.
Aside from Trestman's failures before and during the 54-11 loss, his late-game decision-making has been putrid all season. Five of the Bears' seven losses have been by eight points or less. This is a product of peculiar strategies and poor play-calling.
More than Rodgers' potential presence, and more than the faulty run defense, Trestman's inexperience at the helm will cost the Bears this game.
The Philadelphia Eagles Will Take the Dallas Cowboys
Even though the Bears' defense is pretty bad, the Eagles still deserve credit for such a dominant offensive performance. After all, it isn't as if the Bears are the only team the Eagles have lit up.
Who wins the NFC East?
Philly hasn't scored less than 30 in three weeks, and the team is averaging 34.5 points over its last seven games.
Romo is much maligned, but the entire NFL is about to see just how much Romo means to this team—if he is indeed out. Philadelphia's defense played very well against the Bears' high-scoring attack.
It seems safe to assume the team should perform well against a Cowboys team that could be led by Kyle Orton. No disrespect to Orton, but it's clear he's no Romo. Dallas will miss its starter's escapability and arm strength.
San Francisco Will Stop Arizona
I love how the Arizona Cardinals are playing, but no team is playing quite as well as the San Francisco 49ers. For my money, the 'Niners are the best team in the league right now.
The Cardinals are coming off a huge win over the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. That's a feat even the 'Niners failed to accomplish earlier in the season. However, San Francisco is a much different team now.
All aspects of the team's offense are clicking. The return of Michael Crabtree has freed the mind and arm of Colin Kaepernick. No longer are the 49ers that one-dimensional offensive team that put inordinate amounts of pressure on its defense.
The run game is still featured, but the passing game is making its mark. Kaepernick has three passing touchdowns and no picks in the last two games. Frank Gore and the running game has been as consistent as ever.
This aspect of the Niners' game has eclipsed the 160-yard mark the last three weeks.
As good as the Cardinals defense has played—and it's been very good—the Niners have enough facets of their offense clicking to gut out a low-scoring game.
All stat references from Pro Football Reference.
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