NFL Picks Week 17: Predictions for Every Regular-Season Finale

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterDecember 26, 2011

NFL Picks Week 17: Predictions for Every Regular-Season Finale

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    Week 17 of the 2011 NFL regular season brings major playoff implications, possible NFL draft changes and a whole slate of games that should excite fans of every team.

    Who will win in the final week of the season? We've broken down the games in this space every week, giving you not only the final score but also the keys for each team.

    Not one to break tradition, let's get started.

Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles

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    What's at Stake:

    Draft Positions 

     

    When Washington Has the Ball:

    The Washington Redskins get most of their points through the air, with Rex Grossman having some great weeks mixed in with horrible play. To beat the Philadelphia Eagles, the Skins' best chance for points will be on the ground.

    Roy Helu should be questionable again this week with a toe injury. If he can't go, Washington will be in a load of trouble against an aggressive defense that loves to get after the quarterback.

    The Eagles should get a big game from defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole against a Washington offensive line that has allowed 40 sacks this season.|

     

    When Philadelphia Has the Ball:

    The Philadelphia Eagles are gaining almost 400 yards per game this season. With Michael Vick healthy and the offense clicking, 400 yards should be easy to reach this week.

    LeSean McCoy has had a great season, and he'll be asked to perform multiple roles this week against the aggressive Washington outside linebackers and safeties. When the Redskins see the pass they come to the backfield full force. If McCoy can chip and release into the flats, he'll find himself open for easy dump-offs from Vick.

    Washington has to keep Vick corralled, and with talents like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, that's possible.


    Prediction: Philadelphia 35, Washington 20

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans

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    What's at Stake:

    Wild Card Berth

     

    When Tennessee Has the Ball:

    I'm hoping to see Jake Locker this week, but the Titans have the slimmest of playoff hopes, so that means more Matt Hasselbeck. Not that there's anything wrong with Hasselbeck, but I'm a Locker fan.

    The Titans need to win, and Houston really has nothing to play for. That could mean seeing the B-team from the Texans.

    Tennessee will have trouble moving the ball if they see the first-team defense from the Texans, though. The Houston defense is no joke and will be able to shut down whatever the Titans throw at them.

     

    When Houston Has the Ball:

    A lot will depend on if the Texans decide to play their starters this week. I would err on the side of giving a banged-up roster a full week off and letting the younger players get reps against a playoff contender.

    If Houston uses its starters, Arian Foster will see one of the best young defenses in the game. The combination of Karl Klug, Jurrell Casey, Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy should have fans in Tennessee excited.

    I'm really expecting the Texans to rest their starters, at least on offense, which means a winnable game for the Titans.

     

    Prediction: Tennessee 14, Houston 13

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars

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    What's at Stake:

    The No. 1 Overall Pick 

     

    When Indianapolis Has the Ball:

    You never know what you're getting from the Colts.

    Dan Orlovsky goes from terrible to brilliant; same with Donald Brown. The Colts may play as well as they did Thursday night against Houston, or they could come out flat with nothing to play for this week on the road.

    If the Colts lose, they are guaranteed the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. If they win, things can get complicated depending on what happens with the St. Louis Rams. Most likely though, the Colts will have that pick.

    The Jaguars will key on Donald Brown and try to confuse Orlovsky with their coverages. The Jaguar defense is beat-up, which will limit what they can do in the secondary.

     

    When Jacksonville Has the Ball:

    Maurice Jones-Drew has had a phenomenal, All-Pro season on a bad team. If you need a reason to tune in this week, watch MJD. He's been great all year and deserves mention.

    The Jaguars' game plan will be feeding MJD with the ball and limiting what rookie Blaine Gabbert has to do. If there's any defense that Jacksonville should be able to move the ball against, it's the Colts'.

    Indianapolis lacks the beef and talent up front to stop the run game. A big game should be expected of Jones-Drew and the Jacksonville backfield.

     

    Prediction: Jacksonville 24, Indianapolis 13

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers

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    What's at Stake:

    Home-field Advantage

     

    When Detroit Has the Ball:

    The Lions have wrapped up a playoff berth with a chance to clinch the No. 5 seed this week. The Green Bay Packers have clinched the No. 1 seed, which means we'll see very little of the starters in green and yellow.

    The Lions can take it easier this week, but I do think we'll see Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in this game. That's really what the Lions will need to score a victory against the Packers' sub packages.

     

    When Green Bay Has the Ball:

    Aaron Rodgers should not be seen with a helmet this week. Let Rodgers and key offensive players rest this week since there is nothing to gain, and the team would benefit from a two-week break before the divisional round of the playoffs.

    A key to watch in this game will be backup quarterback Matt Flynn. Flynn enters free agency this offseason and is one of the most intriguing players expected to be available. A great game by Flynn will do much for his stock as a potential starting quarterback in 2012.

     

    Prediction: Detroit 31, Green Bay 21

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

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    What's at Stake:

    The AFC North and a Wild-Card Berth

     

    When Baltimore Has the Ball:

    Expect to see starters on both sides of the ball as the Baltimore Ravens try to clinch the AFC North and the No. 2 seed in the conference. That means a bye and at least one home game. With the No. 1 seed belonging to the New England Patriots and their recent playoff history, the Ravens may not see the road during the playoffs if they win this week.

    Ray Rice has to be the key this week. The Cincinnati defense is good, and playing risky football won't get the Ravens the win they need. Riding Rice and working in play-action will be enough to get a victory.

    The Bengals need a great game from Geno Atkins in the middle of the line, not to mention from Rey Maualuga and his linebackers behind Atkins.

     

    When Cincinnati Has the Ball:

    The Bengals' offense is so multiple, but the Ravens' defense is too. This should be fun.

    Baltimore will need a big game from Lardarius Webb and Ed Reed in covering A.J. Green deep and across the middle. Green is not just an athlete—he's a great route-runner and a player who can go up and get the ball.

    That's where Reed comes in.

    The trouble with covering Green deep with two defenders is that it opens up the run game. Cedric Benson is a big, pounding back who can really wear down a defense. Once a defense comes up to stop Benson, tight end Jermaine Gresham gets open underneath.

    The Ravens will bring the heat and try to get the big Cincinnati offensive line in trouble with their speed off the edge. Terrell Suggs and co. will be expected to step up big this week.

     

    Prediction: Cincinnati 21, Baltimore 17

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

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    What's at Stake:

    A Long-Shot Wild-Card Berth

     

    When New York Has the Ball:

    The Jets' very slim Wild Card chances rest on not only this game but what happens in others. Rex Ryan will play his starters.

    Mark Sanchez has struggled this season, and facing a Miami defense that knows how to turn up the pressure, he could be in for a long day. New York will want to get the run game going, but Miami is ranked third against the run this year. 

    Cameron Wake is the guy to watch on defense for Miami. He's big, fast and can really get after the quarterback. If the Dolphins want to force Sanchez into mistakes, Wake is the guy to do it.

     

    When Miami Has the Ball:

    Reggie Bush has been great for the Dolphins this season, finally showing the potential that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Bush should be able to have a big game this week against a New York defense that's slow and over-aggressive.

    Bush can be used in a variety of ways, especially in combination with a solid passing attack from Matt Moore. The Dolphins have nothing to lose and will attack famed New York cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.

     

    Prediction: Miami 31, New York 24

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints

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    What's at Stake:

    Possibly the No. 2 Seed

     

    When Carolina Has the Ball:

    Cam Newton, Cam Newton, Cam Newton.

    That's the game plan.

    Newton sets up everything for the Carolina offense with his running and passing abilities. Newton's arm is a weapon, especially with Steve Smith streaking deep. Newton's legs are scary enough that they open up opportunities for running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

    The Saints will have their hands full with Newton. The weakness of the Saints' defense is their lack of a pass-rush, then their lack of speed at linebacker. Those two things equal big holes for Newton and co.

     

    When New Orleans Has the Ball:

    The Saints could be playing for the No. 2 seed, depending on the outcome of the San Francisco 49er game. That means we'll see Drew Brees and the rest of the New Orleans starters.

    The Saints are great at throwing the ball and creating running lanes by spreading out defenses. The Panthers aren't great, or even good, on defense and will find themselves lacking when looking at the weapons on the New Orleans sideline.

    What the Panthers can do is try to get after Brees and make him throw late. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are capable of pressuring Brees off the edge. If they can come up big this week, the Panthers have a chance.

     

    Prediction: Carolina 31, New Orleans 27

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons

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    What's at Stake:

    Wild Card Seeding 

     

    When Tampa Bay Has the Ball:

    Can this season hurry up and end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

    The team will take the field with the knowledge that there's a 99 percent chance Raheem Morris is fired as head coach once the day ends. That won't help a team in a free-fall find the motivation to win against a playoff team.

    Tampa has nothing to lose, which means they can air it out with Josh Freeman to Mike Williams. I expect to see a fun, loose offense from Tampa this week.

    The Falcons will want to play a vanilla, base defense with just enough wrinkles to win without showing any of their plans for the playoffs.

     

    When Atlanta Has the Ball:

    The Falcons will be playing for playoff positioning, so that means they're going to go all out in their attempt to beat the Buccaneers.

    Tampa has some skill at cornerback and good, young defensive linemen, but they won't be able to match up with the Falcons' overall team speed. Nor do they have anyone to cover Tony Gonzalez. Tampa has the worst-ranked defense in the NFL for a reason.

    Atlanta's offense will roll, with time to spare.

     

    Prediction: Atlanta 41, Tampa Bay 13

San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams

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    What's at Stake:

    The No. 2 Seed in the NFC

     

    When San Francisco Has the Ball:

    The 49ers will be playing to lock up the No. 2 seed this week. With that said, I do expect to see a lot of the starters this week—at least until the game is comfortably under control.

    Frank Gore will see massive holes against the St. Louis defense that's desperate for help at defensive tackle and outside linebacker. Gore will give way to Kendall Hunter, who should also see big holes all day—even with the second team in.

    I'm excited to see Chris Long against Anthony Davis in this game. Davis needs to show he can handle an elite pass-rusher, and Long is officially in the elite category.

     

    When St. Louis Has the Ball:

    It's doubtful that we'll see Sam Bradford this week as the Rams look to limp out of the 2011 season.

    No one would admit it, but the Rams' front office has to be thinking about the possibility of getting the first overall pick if the Indianapolis Colts win and the Rams lose. Indy plays the Jaguars, so this is very possible.

    Could the front office sit Bradford down, knowing it gives them the best chance to lose? The No. 1 overall pick, and rights to Andrew Luck, will be more valuable than any first overall pick in NFL draft history.

    This is an early game on Sunday, at the same time as Indianapolis vs. Jacksonville, so the Rams won't know until after the game if they've landed the No. 1 overall pick.

     

    Prediction: San Francisco 27, St. Louis 10

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots

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    What's at Stake:

    The No. 1 Seed in the AFC

     

    When Buffalo Has the Ball:

    Ryan Fitzpatrick will be playing to secure his job going into 2012.

    Yes, Fitz signed a new deal earlier this season, but as I outlined last week, the Bills can get out of his contract and pay nothing.

    The team will be looking for something from Fitzpatrick that gives them confidence going forward. The Buffalo offense will be able to move the ball against New England,—that's guaranteed—but can they score? Without Fred Jackson this offense has struggled in the red zone. 

    The Patriots' pass-rush is getting better each week and could be a difference-maker against offensive tackles in Buffalo who aren't great against speed rushes.

     

    When New England Has the Ball:

    A win for the Patriots means home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They'll be coming out firing to clinch the No. 1 seed and to also avenge an early-season loss to the Bills.

    In that first game Tom Brady threw four interceptions and looked rattled by the Buffalo defense. Brady will look to improve upon that outing and fine-tune the offense before taking a week off before the divisional round of the playoffs.

    A team like Buffalo is dangerous. They have nothing to gain and nothing to lose, which means they could come out firing and attack the Patriots' offense. Losing Tom Brady would be devastating, so if the score gets out of hand either way, expect to see Brian Hoyer in at quarterback.

     

    Prediction: New England 31, Buffalo 23

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

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    What's at Stake:

    Draft Positions

     

    When Chicago Has the Ball:

    Josh McCown will be the man in Chicago this week at quarterback. Kahlil Bell will be your starter at running back.

    That's all you need to know about the Bears' offense. 

    In all fairness, McCown wasn't horrible against Green Bay, but he's not good enough to power the Bears to a win over the Minnesota Vikings. In fact, feel bad for McCown that he has to face Jared Allen behind this offensive line.

    Allen should have a huge game against J'Marcus Webb at left tackle. Minnesota's defense isn't great, but their weakness is in the secondary, and that plays to the weakness of the Chicago offense.

     

    When Minnesota Has the Ball:

    Joe Webb has been very good in his limited play this year. Webb and Toby Gerhart will be featured this weekend for Minnesota, and that's not a bad duo to end the season with.

    Webb is electric, and the kind of player who can give the Chicago defense fits. Tim Tebow, a similar athlete to Webb, was able to make things happen against this defense, so the Vikings would be wise to mimic the Broncos' game plan for their Week 17 showdown.

    Chicago has a veteran defense that won't allow themselves to give up this weekend, but they also lack the speed to do battle with a quarterback who can get outside the pocket and run.

     

    Prediction: Minnesota 21, Chicago 20

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

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    What's at Stake:

    The AFC North

     

    When Pittsburgh Has the Ball:

    The Steelers will be playing for a shot at the AFC North, with the Baltimore Ravens holding the keys to the division. If the Ravens lose to the Bengals and Pittsburgh wins, the Steelers take the North. If both the Ravens and New England Patriots lose and the Steelers win, Pittsburgh gets the No. 1 overall seed.

    Pittsburgh will most likely rest Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback again this week. They shouldn't need him to beat the Cleveland Browns, but stranger things have happened in Week 17. Pittsburgh can't overlook the Browns, or they'll find themselves on the backside of an upset.

    Cleveland has a stout defense, and if facing Charlie Batch they'll be able to get to the pocket and rack up sacks. Batch is much easier to bring down than Big Ben, and the Cleveland defense has the pass-rushers to make plays.

     

    When Cleveland Has the Ball:

    Seneca Wallace isn't doing enough for Cleveland fans to pine for him to start next season, but he's playing serviceable football. Peyton Hillis has rebounded nicely the last few weeks, helping his chances of getting a big-money deal as a free agent this summer.

    The Browns will ride these two as much as possible this week, but don't expect much give from the Pittsburgh defense. 

    The Steelers will lock down on the Browns' offense, keeping the scoring from the Cleveland side to a minimum.

     

    Prediction: Pittsburgh 17, Cleveland 3

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos

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    What's at Stake:

    The AFC West

     

    When Kansas City Has the Ball:

    Kyle Orton faces his old team this week when the Kansas City Chiefs travel to Denver. Orton knows this defense, and he knows it well. Expect to see a big impact from him in this one.

    Kansas City has a favorable matchup over the Denver defense at key positions. The Kansas City wide receivers are much better than the Denver secondary, and the Chiefs' offensive line matches up well against Denver's base defensive line.

    Where Denver has the advantage is when they rush Von Miller. Branden Albert is a good tackle, but he'll be eaten alive by Miller when the Broncos unleash their Rookie of the Year.

     

    When Denver Has the Ball:

    Tim Tebow threw the ball eight times in the first meeting of the year between the two teams. The Broncos barely won, needing help from their defense and a big day from Lance Ball to wrap things up.

    This week should be different.

    Tebow has become more comfortable as a passer, but that doesn't mean John Fox will want him  dropping back. The Chiefs can bring heat off the edge, and Tebow is weak against a stout pass-rush. If I'm running the Denver offense, I would try to keep things between the tackles with Willis McGahee and Tebow on the ground.

    Kansas City has the defense to win this game, but they have to play disciplined football for the entire game. They can't let the Tebow Time fourth-quarter magic bother them.

     

    Prediction: Kansas City 24, Denver 21

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

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    What's at Stake:

    Draft Positions

     

    When Seattle Has the Ball:

    This game should be fun to watch since neither team has anything to play for other than bragging rights in the division for next season.

    Seattle should ride Marshawn Lynch this week, asking him to pound against a defense in Arizona that's allowing 120 yards per game on the ground. Lynch is among the most violent runners in the NFL and could have a career day against an Arizona defense that gives up yards after contact by the bunches.

    The Cardinals' defense can be very tough, but it is their special teams the Seahawks have to worry about. They'll want to avoid Patrick Peterson at all costs.

     

    When Arizona Has the Ball:

    It's expected that John Skelton will start again this week, putting the future of Kevin Kolb in question if not in jeopardy after a disappointing 2011. 

    Skelton has been very good, and if not for key drops by his receivers, the Cardinals might be playing for a playoff spot this week. Arizona loves to air it out, but if they do so this week they will find two safeties in Seattle who are masters at attacking the football.

    Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are brilliant, and they will be the keys to the Seattle defense all day. Also keep an eye on one of my favorite players, Red Bryant, going against Levi Brown on the right side of the Seattle defense.

     

    Prediction: Seattle 31, Arizona 17

San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders

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    What's at Stake:

    The AFC West

     

    When San Diego Has the Ball:

    The San Diego Chargers may be playing for Norv Turner's job, and a win could make the decision to fire Turner that much tougher.

    Having said that, I expect Turner to be fired Monday morning. 

    San Diego is supremely talented, and they match up very well with the Oakland Raiders at every position outside of the offensive line. Philip Rivers has top five quarterback skill, but has played more like a second or third-tier guy this season behind a line that can't stay healthy or play up to expectations.

    Watch the Raider defensive line and linebackers this week. Kamerion Wimbley and Richard Seymour are both having Pro Bowl seasons, and will be keys to the Raiders getting a win and keeping their playoff hopes alive.

     

    When Oakland Has the Ball:

    If the Denver Broncos lose to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Raiders win, they'll take the AFC West. The Raiders have a shot at the Wild Card as well, but they'll need help if Denver wins their game.

    Carson Palmer should find many windows this week if the offensive line can keep Antwan Barnes and Shaun Phillips out of the backfield, but can his receivers get open? San Diego has smart cornerbacks who do a fine job pressuring receivers off the line. They also have a ball-hawking safety in Eric Weddle who can flat-out fly to the ball.

    Oakland won't have it easy this week. They need to get Michael Bush involved early and limit how many deep passes they have to attempt against a talented San Diego secondary.

     

    Prediction: Oakland 24, San Diego 17

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

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    What's at Stake:

    The NFC East

     

    When Dallas Has the Ball:

    Tony Romo will be playing hurt this week—and I do think Romo plays, as long as his arm is still attached.

    When these two teams met earlier this season, Romo had a great game attacking the Giants' defense. I expect the Dallas game plan to include a lot of passing across the middle and up the seam to force the linebackers of New York, the weakness of this defense, into action.

    The Giants will do what they do best on defense, and that's rush the passer. With Romo nursing an injured hand they'll want to make him move from the pocket as much as possible, which means moving with the ball in just his injured hand. 

     

    When New York Has the Ball:

    The New York Giants are winning with the passing game. This week will be no different.

    Eli Manning will test the overhyped Rob Ryan defense, with offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride sending three and four-receiver sets out the majority of the time. Putting pressure on the Dallas secondary will be a key, but so will be stopping DeMarcus Ware.

    If Dallas has any chance to win this game, it will be because of Ware. He'll need a big game coming off the left side of the Giants' offense to slow down Manning and the passing game of New York.

     

    Prediction: New York 27, Dallas 24