In past years, Week 17 in the NFL season hasn’t meant a whole lot. You’d have a large slate of games where many teams’ second-string warriors battle it out, all leading to relatively pointless end results.
However, this year the landscape has drastically changed. Several key divisional games with major playoff implications are on the schedule for Week 17. Let’s take a look at three matchups that will come down to the wire and determine where several teams will be next week—either sitting on their couches or preparing for the playoffs.
Eagles vs. Cowboys
The marquee matchup of the week is scheduled for Sunday Night Football, where Philadelphia and Dallas will battle it out for the NFC East crown.
Obviously the biggest storyline coming into the game is Tony Romo’s health. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this week that Romo is out for the season with a herniated disc in his back. With Romo out, and a Dallas defense that covers opposing receivers about as well as a high school team, many Cowboys fans are expecting another typical December letdown for “America’s Team.”
Frankly, it is hard to disagree.
The Eagles are coming into this game scorching hot after an absolute destruction of the Chicago Bears last week, 54-11. Chip Kelly has his team clicking on all cylinders and his quarterback, Nick Foles, looks like a potential MVP candidate. Since Foles returned to the starting lineup in Week 9 against the Raiders, he is 134-for-201 with 2,006 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and only two picks, and in that time he has led the Eagles to a 6-1 record.
Chip Kelly was quoted after the Bears game by CSN Philly's John Gonzalez as saying, “very simply, we’re from Philadelphia and we fight. That’s it.” Expect the Eagles to continue fighting and take the NFC East crown on Sunday night.
Prediction: Eagles 38 Cowboys 21
Packers vs. Bears
Aaron Rodgers is finally back!
The Packers officially announced today that Rodgers will start vs. Chicago this Sunday. This news obviously has a huge impact on the NFC North title game. The Packers are 5-2 this season with Rodgers, and 2-4-1 without him.
A healthy Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, however, he may not even have the biggest impact in this game. That honor could potentially belong to Packers star rookie running back Eddie Lacy. Although he sat out practice Thursday, Lacy is expected to play, and should to have a big game against a Bears run defense that allows an appalling 161.5 yards per game.
For Chicago, after throwing up all over themselves last week, getting embarrassed by Philadelphia and leaving the door open for the NFC North title, how much hope do they have left?
The Bears’ faithful still have dreams of a deep run into the playoffs, and fortunately for them, that dream is still alive. If the Bears' defense can put on their big-boy pants and step up for one game, and if the ever-inconsistent Jay Cutler can put together a solid, turnover-free performance, then the Bears will have every chance to win.
Expect Cutler to play well, fighting for his future life in Chicago, but with the return of Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy’s ground attack for the Packers, I expect Green Bay to win and continue into the playoffs.
Prediction: Packers 35 Bears 31
Jets vs. Dolphins
The final AFC playoff wild card spot has come down to four teams (Miami, Baltimore, San Diego, Pittsburgh), with Miami having a slight edge. If Miami can beat the Jets, they would just need a Baltimore loss or a San Diego win to make it to the postseason.
First thing’s first: They need to beat the Jets.
The Dolphins have struggled running the ball this season, ranking 26th in the league with only 89.9 yards per game, placing more pressure to produce on young quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Back on December 1 in Miami’s first meeting with the Jets, Tannehill threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns. If he can repeat that performance, the Dolphins will have every chance to come out victorious.
As far as the Jets putting up a good fight on the road goes, the early prognosis looks doubtful. In their last four away games, the Jets are 0-4 losing by a combined score of 135-46. With this possibly being Rex Ryan’s last game as head coach, an erratic Geno Smith, and no hope of any postseason game for the third year in a row, the Jets should not be expected to perform up to par.
Expect Miami to win at home, getting a little help elsewhere, and going on to make the playoffs.
Prediction: Miami 24 Jets 10