NFL Picks Week 17: Predicting Sunday's Marquee Matchups

Alex EspinozaCorrespondent IIIDecember 28, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 16: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers rolls out to look for a receiver chased by Cory Wootton #98 of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 16, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 21-13.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

All 32 NFL teams will be in action on Sunday, in what promises to be an entertaining finale to the regular season.

With two division crowns up for grabs, 10 teams fighting for four playoff spots and contenders shouldering for first-round byes, there is plenty to play for this weekend. Here's a look at the entire Week 17 schedule followed by predictions for a trio of Sunday's top contests.

NFL Picks Week 17
AwayHomeWinner
Cleveland BrownsPittsburgh SteelersSteelers
Washington RedskinsNew York GiantsGiants
Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsBengals
Houston TexansTennessee TitansTitans
Jacksonville JaguarsIndianapolis ColtsColts
New York JetsMiami DolphinsDolphins
Detroit LionsMinnesota VikingsLions
Carolina PanthersAtlanta FalconsPanthers
Tampa Bay BuccaneersNew Orleans SaintsSaints
Buffalo BIllsNew England PatriotsPatriots
St. Louis RamsSeattle SeahawksSeahawks
Green Bay PackersChicago BearsPackers
San Francisco 49ersArizona Cardinals49ers
Denver BroncosOakland RaidersBroncos
Kansas City ChiefsSan Diego ChargersChargers
Philadelphia EaglesDallas CowboysEagles
Alex Espinoza's Picks

 

Baltimore Ravens (8-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)

This matchup between AFC North foes holds major implications for the entire conference, as the Ravens are one of four teams vying for the sixth and final playoff berth. Likewise, the Bengals still have a shot at overtaking the New England Patriots for the No. 2 AFC seed, so there is plenty to play for on both sides.

These two clubs met in Week 10 and it went down to the wire, as a last-second A.J. Green Hail Mary TD tied the game up in regulation before the Ravens escaped with a 20-17 overtime win.

Both of these teams enter the contest having won four of their past five, but the Ravens will be trying to rebound from last week's lopsided 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots. Cincinnati, meanwhile, claimed the division title with a 42-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

And as the Ravens are well aware, the Bengals are undefeated at home this year:

Though the Ravens were able to pull off the close victory last time, the Bengals are humming along right now, especially on offense. As such, I expect Andy Dalton to pick apart the Baltimore defense and lead the Bengals to a victory, greatly hurting the Ravens' playoff chances in the process. Last week, Dalton exploded by going 27-of-38 for 366 yards and four touchdowns.

Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense are simply too inconsistent to keep up with the Bengals when they're firing on all cylinders, and last week's defensive performance by the Ravens doesn't bode well for them on Sunday.

Prediction: Bengals win 21-13

 

Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) at Chicago Bears (8-7)

It's only fitting that the Packers will be at full strength for Sunday's matchup with the rival Bears, in a contest that will crown the NFC North champion. On Thursday, Green Bay announced that Aaron Rodgers will return to the huddle for the first time since injuring his collarbone against Chicago in Week 9:

To start the season, Rodgers guided the Packers to a 5-2 record and they averaged 30.3 points per game. Without him, Green Bay went 2-5-1 while averaging 21.5 points per contest, illustrating how valuable he is to this offense.

Both of these clubs suffered losses in Week 16, with the Packers falling 38-31 to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bears losing 54-11 to the Philadelphia Eagles.

While Rodgers has been practicing for the Packers recently, it's only natural to expect a little bit of rust as he returns from a 10-week layoff. Still, he should be able to exploit a Bears defense that was picked apart last week by Nick Foles and the Eagles rushing attack.

Rodgers was knocked out of the game the last time these two teams met, but now the quarterback is poised to get payback by knocking the Bears out of the playoffs.

Prediction: Packers win 34-23

 

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at Dallas Cowboys (8-7)

On the other end of the spectrum to the Packers are the Cowboys, who lost their starting quarterback Tony Romo on Friday due to season-ending back surgery.

It comes just two days before Dallas is set to host the Eagles in a matchup that will determine the winner of the NFC East, putting the Cowboys in a tough position to win. According to Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said it was a hard decision to make.

"We spent the week exhausting all options in regards to Tony’s situation — treatment, rehab, all of the different things,” Garrett said. “We consulted a lot of different people on this. And we just felt like, as we discussed it, as yesterday wore on, that this was the best decision for him and our organization moving forward. We felt like it was better to have this done sooner rather than later."

Now the Cowboys' playoff hopes hinge on the arm of backup Kyle Orton, who has never appeared in a postseason game. Meanwhile, the Eagles will be led by second-year signal-caller Nick Foles, who has taken the league by storm this year.

Since taking over for Michael Vick earlier this season, Foles has posted 2,628 yards, 25 touchdowns and two interceptions. He got a lot of help from LeSean McCoy and the running game in last week's 54-11 rout of the Bears, in Philadelphia's highest-scoring game of the season.

These two teams are headed in opposite directions right now, and it looks inevitable that Chip Kelly will lead the Eagles to the division title in his first year as an NFL coach.

Prediction: Eagles win 41-21