The 2013 NFL regular season will come to a close once each Week 17 contest has been decided. There are still many teams vying for playoff berths and others that would love to play spoiler. After all, the final week of the season is comprised of divisional matchups—what better way to end a season than to beat a rival.
That being said, there will certainly be some highly contested games this week. Many teams are set to face off against an opponent for a final time in 2013—others are preparing for a playoff run. No matter what lies ahead, they will all want to end the year with some momentum.
Let's break down and predict the outcomes of a few games that are sure to come down to the wire. These projections will be followed by an entire list of predictions for Week 17.
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
This contest has playoff implications written all over it. While the Cincinnati Bengals have already clinched the AFC North title, they are still fighting for position. The Bengals—pending various outcomes—can finish as the AFC's No. 2, 3 or 4 seed for this year's playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Ravens need a win against Cincinnati and losses by either the Miami Dolphins or San Diego Chargers to sneak into the playoffs as the AFC's No. 6 seed.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has not been on point in the late goings of the 2013 season. He has not thrown a touchdown pass in each of his last two games and has now thrown for 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions on the season.
Running back Ray Rice has improved slightly over the past three weeks, averaging 3.9, 4.7 and 3.6 yards per carry, respectively. However, he has not reached the end zone over the past five weeks.
Despite the struggles of these two stars, the Ravens continue to play solid football as a team. Their defense continues to impress and is ranked ninth in the league. The Ravens have been able to emerge victorious against the Bengals in five of the last six times these teams have faced off.
The Bengals, however, are beginning to catch fire late in the season. Quarterback Andy Dalton is coming off of an impressive four-touchdown performance in Week 16 against the Minnesota Vikings. Dalton has thrown for over 4,000 yards this season and has tossed 31 touchdowns against 16 interceptions.
Defensively, the Bengals continue to roll despite being decimated by injuries. Cincinnati boasts the league's fifth-ranked defense and is allowing an average of just 19.2 points per game.
The Bengals have also been fantastic at home this season, as they have a perfect 7-0 record when playing at Paul Brown Stadium. That advantage could be the difference-maker in this one.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Ravens 23
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
This game has all the makings of an instant classic. For the Packers and Bears, it's win or go home. The winner of this game will clinch the NFC North title, and the loser will miss out on the playoffs entirely.
Luckily for the Packers, quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns this week after a broken collarbone sidelined him for the past seven games. Over Rodgers' absence, the Packers were able to remain afloat with a 2-4-1 record.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy announces Aaron Rodgers WILL start on Sunday vs. the Bears: http://t.co/Yazd5Josk7— Eye on Football (@EyeOnNFL) December 26, 2013
Now that one of the NFL's most talented signal-callers is back, the Packers' highly explosive offense is expected to regain its form. However, if Rodgers shows signs of rust early on, the game could quickly begin to slip away from Green Bay.
After all, the Packers defense has not been impressive this season. It is currently ranked 26th in the league and is allowing 26.7 points per game. That's not good news against a high-octane Bears offense.
Led by quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears offense has been resurgent this season. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have become one of the NFL's most prolific duos. With running back Matt Forte in the backfield, this is one of the league's most balanced offenses.
The same cannot be said for a Bears defense that gave up 54 points to the Philadelphia Eagles just one week ago. This unit has been lackluster all season, as it is ranked 29th in the league and is giving up an average of 29.7 points per game.
Chicago's 32nd-ranked run defense must certainly have Packers running back Eddie Lacy licking his chops for this one.
The difference here will be the defense that is actually capable of making a stop. This game has shootout written all over it and will come down to which team can make a stand when it matters most.
Prediction: Packers 33, Bears 30
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
The 49ers have already clinched a playoff berth and could potentially bolster their position with a win on Sunday along with a loss by the Seattle Seahawks. That outcome would allow San Francisco to clinch the NFC West and obtain a first-round bye.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, need a little help. If they are able to defeat the 49ers on Sunday, they will also need a New Orleans Saints loss to clinch a playoff berth.
Arizona has been a bit of a surprise team down the stretch. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been solid throughout the second half of the season; however, he is coming off of a four-interception performance last week against the Seahawks.
Rookie running back Andre Ellington has been a nice surprise this season. He is averaging 5.7 yards per carry for the year and has received double-digit carries in each of his last four games. He will surely be a factor on Sunday.
However, it has been Arizona's defense that has kept this team in games. The Cardinals have the NFL's sixth-ranked defense and are only allowing an average of 20.1 points per game. This unit stepped up in a big way last week, holding the Seahawks to just 10 points in Seattle.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a small step back this season but remains efficient. He has thrown 19 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions on the year and is a very effective runner as well, compiling 500 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
The San Francisco offense is very talented and balanced. If it can catch fire early, it could prove to be problematic for a good Cardinals defense.
Speaking of good defenses, the 49ers are one of the league's best. Led by a stellar linebacker corps, their defense ranks third in the league and is allowing an average of just 16.8 points per game.
The Cardinals do have home-field advantage here; however, the 49ers have been a great road team this season, boasting an away record of 5-2. The surging 49ers have won their last five games and show no signs of slowing down.
This talented team from San Francisco is likely to end the Cardinals' Cinderella story.
Prediction: 49ers 23, Cardinals 21
Here is a list of predictions for Week 17's remaining games:
|Cleveland Browns||Pittsburgh Steelers||PIT|
|Washington||New York Giants||WAS|
|Baltimore Ravens||Cincinnati Bengals||CIN|
|Houston Texans||Tennessee Titans||TEN|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Indianapolis Colts||IND|
|New York Jets||Miami Dolphins||MIA|
|Detroit Lions||Minnesota Vikings||DET|
|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||GB|
|San Francisco 49ers||Arizona Cardinals||SF|
|Denver Broncos||Oakland Raiders||DEN|
|Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||SD|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Dallas Cowboys||PHI|
Sean O'Donnell's Predictions