NFL Picks Week 17: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 24, 2014

NFL Picks Week 17: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks

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    It's all come down to this.

    After a long offseason, weeks of training camp, a month of preseason games and 16 weeks of regular-season action, the playoff fates of any number of NFL teams will come down to Sunday's slate of games.

    In Pittsburgh, the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals will battle for the AFC North crown. Ditto for the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South and Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

    With pressure-packed pigskin pageants all across the NFL, it's going to be a tough week for the National Lead and Division Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report to correctly forecast the week's games.

    Let's see if they're up to the task.

Roll Call/Standings

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    Tom Puskar/Associated Press

    It's going to be a pressure-packed week for a few of our prognosticators as well.

    A less-than-stellar 10-"win" week from picks leaders Brad Gagnon and Gary Davenport left the door open for another writer or two to get into the mix. NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller availed himself of that opportunity, closing to within one game of Gagnon and Davenport.

    It's down to the wire, folks!

    Matt Bowen: NFL National Lead Writer 10-6 (158-81)

    Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 10-6 (162-77)

    Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 11-5 (151-88)

    Erik Frenz: AFC East Lead Writer 8-8 (143-96)

    Brad Gagnon: NFC East Lead Writer 10-6 (162-77)

    Andrea Hangst: AFC North Lead Writer 10-6 (144-95)

    Christopher Hansen: AFC West Lead Writer 10-6 (148-91)

    Zach Kruse: NFC North Lead Writer 9-7 (152-87)

    Rivers McCown: AFC South Lead Writer 7-9 (133-106)

    Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 11-5 (161-78)

    Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 7-9 (146-93)

    Michael Schottey: NFL National Lead Writer 11-5 (155-84)

    Chris Simms: Former NFL Quarterback, NFL Analyst 10-6 (157-82)

    Brent Sobleski: NFC South Lead Writer 6-10 (150-89)

    Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 6-10 (146-93)

    Sean TomlinsonNFC West Lead Writer 9-7 (140-67)

    Aggregate: 9-7 (159-80)

Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-9)

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    The Pick: Atlanta Falcons (11-5)

    Week 17 starts with a bang.

    Or maybe it's a whimper.

    At any rate, the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons meet Sunday at the Georgia Dome with the NFC South title and the right to host a playoff game on the line, despite finishing the year with a sub-.500 record.

    NFC South Lead Writer Brent Sobleski says it's the visiting Panthers who are peaking at the right time:

    Two teams enter. One team leaves as the NFC South champion. Even a broken back didn't prevent Panthers quarterback Cam Newton from playing last week with the team's playoff hopes on the line.

    The Panthers have won three straight games. The team also found a running game behind a revamped offensive line. And cornerback Josh Norman, who will draw coverage duties on Julio Jones, has really come on strong in recent weeks. Neither team will finish the season at .500 this year, but it's Carolina who is coming together at the right time.

    However, the Falcons are coming off quite a win of their own after downing the Saints 30-14 in New Orleans, and the majority of our writers expect quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones and the home team to prevail.

    Panthers: Gagnon, McCown, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier

    Falcons: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Tomlinson

Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    The Pick: Baltimore Ravens (16-0)

    This is the second week in a row the panel has been unanimous in picking the Baltimore Ravens against a team starting a third-string (or worse) quarterback.

    Last week it didn't work out so well.

    The Houston Texans flattened the Ravens in Week 16, thanks in large part to a terrible performance by Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.

    Flacco didn't mince words about a first half that saw him complete three of 18 passes (well, five if you count the two picks) and compile a passer rating of 0.0, via Garrett Downing of the team's website:

    I think they did a good job creating that disruption up front and making me feel uncomfortable. It just threw things off. We never really got anything going or got into a groove of any kind. We couldn't move the ball, couldn't make first downs, couldn't get any completions, just couldn't get ourselves going and moving forward. It just wasn't good.

    This week the Ravens face a reeling Cleveland Browns team that will likely start undrafted rookie Connor Shaw or the recently signed Tyler Thigpen at quarterback.

    If the Ravens can't beat the team they used to be, they have no business talking about a playoff trip anyway.

    Browns: Connor Shaw or Tyler Thigpen? Oh yeah, no way this ends badly.

    Ravens: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Dallas Cowboys (11-4) at Washington Redskins (4-11)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Pick: Dallas Cowboys (15-1)

    Yes, I know that's not Tony Romo.

    Of course, after Dallas trounced the Indianapolis Colts to lock up the NFC East last week, it's possible we won't see much of Romo (or injured tailback DeMarco Murray) Sunday when the Cowboys travel to the nation's capital.

    Still, there's a slim chance the Cowboys could secure a first-round bye, and head coach Jason Garrett told reporters he has no intention of resting players in Week 17:

    We play the early game up there, so all the scenarios everybody is talking about, no one will know what those are. So we've got to go play our best football. The way to do that is focus on cleaning up this game when the players come in tomorrow and getting ready for the next challenge. That's what we're going to do.

    AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown, however, isn't buying it:

    Nominally this would be an easy call to pick Dallas. DeSean Jackson only gets up for games against the Eagles, after all.

    But given the fact that Dallas is essentially reliant on a Seattle loss to improve its playoff seeding, I think the team takes it easy on Washington. We'll see some rest for Romo, Murray and Dez Bryant. If that doesn't happen, Dallas wins, but Washington keeps it closer than you'd imagine. It did win in Dallas, after all.

    McCown is alone in his upset pick, with the rest of our writers choosing Dallas to end the season at 12-4.

    Cowboys: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Redskins: McCown

Indianapolis Colts (10-5) at Tennessee Titans (2-13)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Pick: Indianapolis Colts (15-1)

    If Week 16 was any indication, Andrew Luck in his kerchief and Chuck Pagano in his cap have already settled in for a long winter's nap.

    The Colts looked flatter than flat in getting destroyed by Dallas in Week 16 after clinching the AFC South title in Week 15, despite Pagano previously insisting the Colts wouldn't take their foot off the gas:

    We're going to play 16 games. We're going to prepare to try and win this football game. Forget being in the playoffs or not. That's just our mindset. That's how we roll. ... We have a philosophy and we're going to stick with that philosophy and we're not going to worry about anyone else's philosophy.

    Could have fooled us against Dallas, Chuckles.

    Regardless of how much playing time Luck and Co. get against the Titans, AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown believes the Colts will finish the regular season strong:

    Who can quit harder? The Colts essentially took a bye week in Week 16 and have absolutely nothing to play for. The Titans need a loss and a Tampa Bay win to jump to the No. 1 pick.

    The pick here is Indy, mostly because Tennessee is playing like a tire fire right now. Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton is currently expected to return for the game, and that'll raise the level of the passing game just enough for Indy to get a lead to sit on. Expect a lot of bottom-of-the-roster playing time in this one.

    It's hard to argue with him, mainly because the Titans are titanically terrible.

    Colts: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Titans: Hansen

New Orleans Saints (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-13)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: New Orleans Saints (15-1)

    Last week's 30-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons didn't just eliminate the New Orleans Saints from playoff consideration. It was a microcosm of their entire season.

    Defensive lapses. Bad throws by quarterback Drew Brees at the worst possible moments. The inability to win at home, where the Saints have now dropped a staggering five straight.

    However, as NFC South Lead Writer Brent Sobleski wrote, the Buccaneers still have something to motivate them when these teams meet Sunday in Tampa:

    The Buccaneers still have plenty to play for with one game remaining. The No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL draft is on the line. With a loss, the Buccaneers will secure the top spot and then have a choice between Oregon's Marcus Mariota or Florida State's Jameis Winston. A win does nothing for the franchise at this point. The Saints should win easily.

    It's that time of year, folks: when losing is better than winning.

    Saints: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Buccaneers: Gagnon

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at New York Giants (6-9)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (8-8) ***Coin Flip***

    On Thanksgiving Day, the Philadelphia Eagles blasted the Cowboys in Dallas. The 9-3 Eagles had a firm grip on the NFC East.

    Since then, the Eagles haven't won a game, with Saturday's loss in Washington crushing the team's playoff hopes.

    As Andrew Porter of CBS Philadelphia reports, fans have settled on a scapegoat for the team's slide—and it isn't Mark Sanchez:

    Chip Kelly, despite being one win away from a 20-12 record in his first two seasons as NFL head coach, is receiving the majority of blame for the Eagles' collapse down the stretch.

    In Monday's Audio Roadshow Poll on the 94WIP Morning Show, 54% of fans said Kelly is most to blame for the collapse. Mark Sanchez and Bradley Fletcher, tallied 20-percent of the vote a piece.

    NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon expects the Eagles to keep right on sliding Sunday in the Big Apple:

    New York is playing good football, especially on offense, and we've yet to see how the Eagles play with nothing on the line. But I'd imagine there's no wind left in those sails, and that secondary could have a lot of trouble with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. With nothing to lose, the G-Men should roll in their season finale to finish the season on a four-game winning streak.

    It took a coin flip to settle the vote, but the panel begrudgingly disagrees.

    Eagles: Bowen, Davenport, Frenz, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski

    Giants: Freeman, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Tanier, Tomlinson

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) at Houston Texans (8-7)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: Houston Texans (15-1)

    Neither the Houston Texans nor the Jacksonville Jaguars are (realistically) alive for the playoffs, but each team has something at stake in Week 17.

    For the Texans, it's a chance to finish the 2014 campaign 9-7, quite an achievement given the team's issues at quarterback and last year's 2-14 fiasco. There's also a slim chance the Texans could sneak into the postseason.

    For the Jaguars, there's a chance to close the year on something that's rarer in Jacksonville than a mellow six-year-old on Christmas Eve: a winning streak.

    Unfortunately, AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown doesn't see the Jags getting that particular gift from Santa in Week 17:

    This game means a lot for the Texans; a win, a Kansas City Chiefs win and a Cleveland Browns win hand them the sixth seed. The Jaguars also have incentive to lose, as a loss locks them into the No. 3 pick.

    But life in the NFL isn't that simple. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley will have his guys up for this game, and Case Keenum probably has not morphed into a special snowflake with time on practice squads. I'm expecting more of a narrow Texans win than a dominating display. I'd definitely pick Jacksonville to cover if we went that way with our predictions, I'll put it that way. Their defense should cause at least some discomfort for the Texans.

    With the exception of NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen, our experts agree.

    Jaguars: Bowen

    Texans: Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

San Diego Chargers (9-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

    The Kansas City Chiefs are out of the playoffs (for all intents and purposes), but there's one role they can still play in Week 17: the Grinch who stole San Diego's playoff hopes.

    The Chargers kept those playoff hopes alive with a wild comeback win last week over the San Francisco 49ers, and despite his injured back, Philip Rivers will be under center when the Chargers travel to Arrowhead on Sunday, according to head coach Mike McCoy.

    "Everyone has had some form of injury that they deal with at some point of time during the year," McCoy said. "Philip will play on Sunday."

    Rivers is 13-5 in his career versus the Chiefs, who had lost eight of the last 10 meetings in this series prior this season.

    However, by a relatively narrow margin our panel tossed those numbers out the window, picking the Chiefs to make Cindy Lou Who cry boo-hoo.

    AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen explains:

    It would be easy here to pick the Chargers. They roared back from down 21 to save their season on the road Saturday in Santa Clara, and a road win this week guarantees them a playoff spot. The Chiefs, on the other hand, rolled over in Pittsburgh Sunday and now need wins by the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars plus a win Sunday to make the postseason.

    What's easy is not always correct, and the Chiefs will win Sunday. Most important, the Chiefs still feel like they have a shot because it's technically possible. We can't make the assumption here that the Chargers would want it more and that would somehow make the difference in a game between two evenly-matched AFC West foes.

    This game is also at Arrowhead in Kansas City, where the Chiefs haven't lost to anyone but the Denver Broncos since Week 1. Since the game is an early start, the Chiefs should be able to insulate the team from bad news in other games and stay focused on winning the only game they can control.

    While the Chargers have won their last two on the road, they've hardly been road warriors this season. In fact, they've allowed an average of 28 points on the road compared to about 17 at home. They've also allowed nearly 34 points per game over their last five road games. The Chiefs are struggling offensively, but they also score about seven more points per game at home than on the road. The home-road splits for both of these teams favor the Chiefs by a wide margin.

    When bad Philip Rivers shows up, the Chargers are in trouble, and he's showed up a lot lately because of San Diego's issues with pass protection. The Chargers lost right guard Johnnie Troutman for the rest of the season on Saturday, and center Chris Watt also exited with a calf injury. Rivers also doesn't have wide receiver Keenan Allen—his No. 1 wide receiver and best playmaker.

    If there's one thing the Chiefs are good at, it's rushing the passer, and they could terrorize Rivers on Sunday. The Chargers might decide to try to run it on the Chiefs, but they haven't been a good rushing team in quite some time. Running would also likely keep the score close and therefore would keep Jamaal Charles involved in Kansas City's offense.

    What he said.

    Chargers: Bowen, Gagnon, Kruse, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Chiefs: Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Hangst, Hansen, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms

New York Jets (3-12) at Miami Dolphins (8-7)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: Miami Dolphins (15-1)

    Sunday's AFC East meeting in Miami is a tale of two coaches.

    Rex Ryan of the Jets will all but certainly be fired soon after the season. Joe Philbin of the Dolphins, on the other hand, will return in 2015, says team owner Stephen Ross, despite a tenure that can best be described as uneventful.

    AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz wrote that the Dolphins have a decided edge in that one:

    Don't tell these two teams that this is a meaningless game; the Jets are playing for the pride of their head coach, who is probably coaching his final game with the team, and the Dolphins are fighting to finish above .500 for the first time in a half decade. The Dolphins are the better team on both sides of the ball, though, and a home win appears to be in order.

    Look for a big day from the Dolphins' defensive line as they tee off on Geno Smith behind a porous offensive front that's yielded 46 sacks (sixth-most in the NFL) this season.

    He's not getting much argument from our panel on this one.

    Jets: Simms

    Dolphins: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Chicago Bears (5-10) at Minnesota Vikings (6-9)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (15-1)

    Jay Cutler is back!

    After turning to Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, the reeling Chicago Bears have come to their senses, re-installing Cutler as the team's starter under center.

    Or, as Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago reports, it could be that Clausen has a concussion and the Bears have no choice.

    After all, in the opinion of Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated, Cutler is the starting quarterback for the 2014 All-Disappointment team:

    Cutler posted impressive numbers in 2014 (he actually has a career-high in TD passes: 28), but the ramifications of his rather nonchalant descent into ineptitude could spark a franchise-wide rebuild. While Chicago's defense deserves more of the blame for a 5-10 record, the $126.7 million contract extension handed to Cutler last offseason hangs like an albatross over the team's future.

    With a single exception, our writers see that disappointment carrying over right into Week 17.

    Bears: Freeman

    Vikings: Bowen, Davenport, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Buffalo Bills (8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: New England Patriots (12-4)

    Thanks to Buffalo's loss to the Oakland Raiders last week, the Bills will once again be staying home when the playoffs begin.

    The New England Patriots, on the other hand, locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC with their win over the New York Jets and Denver's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

    With neither team having much to play for in Week 17, NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier smells an upset of sorts in the offing:

    Not to be dreary, but the Patriots have nothing to play for, nor do the Bills. Bill Belichick will mumble non sequiturs when asked about resting his starters, but we all know how this is going to go: Tom Brady will play two series, Rob Gronkowski will spend the whole afternoon in a roomful of kittens and Jimmy Garoppolo will spend the fourth quarter throwing to Matt Slater.

    I would pick the Patriots if the game mattered, of course, but even then this game had the potential to turn out like last week's Patriots-Jets game. The Bills have been ornery all year, and they can cause all sorts of chaos on defense. If the Bills finally get a quarterback and an offensive identity next year, the Patriots may finally have to break a Week 17 sweat.

    I always kid myself into thinking that that same sentence has not been written every December for the last decade or so.

    Tanier's points are valid, but the Bills are victims of the Raiders rule.

    Lose to Oakland, and our panel casts you out like a leper.

    Bills: Freeman, Hansen, McCown, Tanier

    Patriots: Bowen, Davenport, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Kruse, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tomlinson

Oakland Raiders (3-12) at Denver Broncos (11-4)

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    The Pick: Denver Broncos (16-0)

    There's trouble brewing at Mile High.

    It isn't just that quarterback Peyton Manning threw four interceptions in last Monday night's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. No, it's more than that. Over the past month or so, Manning has looked every bit his age.

    The loss cost the Broncos home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, which is no small deal given Manning's struggles on the road in 2014, according to Mike Foss of USA Today:

    Of his 15 interceptions this season, Manning has thrown 11 playing away from Denver. It's not surprising to learn that all four Broncos losses have come away from Mile High. Six of those 11 interceptions away came at the hands of the Patriots and Bengals. It so happens that Denver's path to the Super Bowl will likely start at home against Cincinnati before returning to New England, where they lost 43-21 to the Patriots in Week 9.

    However, the Broncos are at home to face the Raiders in Week 17, and AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen thinks an angry Denver team will take care of business and lock up a first-round bye:

    The Denver Broncos could be resting their starters in this game, but they blew it in Cincinnati and now need to win to make sure they get the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. The Raiders haven't been able to take their recent home success on the road, and the Broncos have played much better at home than in hostile territory.

    Oakland could keep it competitive, but the odds aren't in its favor. The Broncos will make it a point to fix their run defense, and the Raiders need it to keep the pressure off quarterback Derek Carr. Running back Latavius Murray really didn't start gaining yards on the ground last week until Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus left with an injury.

    Then there's Manning, who everyone thinks has lost his touch after throwing 12 interceptions in the last eight games, which included two in Oakland. Manning threw a season-high five touchdowns against the Raiders even though he struggled for most of the first half, and that was in Oakland.

    Denver's defense will take the pressure off Manning, and that should result in a much better performance. Manning has proved he can still make plays; he's just making more mistakes because the Broncos have played a lot of road games against playoff-caliber teams. Sunday they play at home against a team that will be picking high in May's draft for a reason.

    Yeah. Like anyone's arguing.

    Raiders: You ruined the Bills' playoff hopes. Just be happy and lose before you really botch next year's draft position.

    Broncos: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Arizona Cardinals (11-4) at San Francisco 49ers (7-8)

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    The Pick: San Francisco 49ers (11-5)

    If there's trouble in Denver, then it's the freaking Christmas Apocalypse in the desert.

    The Redbirds' injuries under center appear to have finally caught up with them. Third-stringer Ryan Lindley was horrible in a blowout loss to Seattle in Week 16, a game that probably cost the Cardinals the NFC West.

    In fact, Lindley was so bad that head coach Bruce Arians announced, via ESPN's Josh Weinfuss, that rookie Logan Thomas will start Sunday in San Francisco:

    I think we need to find out what [Thomas] can do for the future in the playoffs, if it were to come to that. That's my job, to make sure that we cover every base. I thought in no way would it be a reflection of the way Ryan played, only the chance for Logan to show that he can do something.

    NFC West Lead Writer Sean Tomlinson doesn't see that working out a whole lot better:

    Sure, the 49ers have redefined toxic wasteland lately, especially after blowing a 21-point lead in Week 15. But Logan Thomas will nervously stumble onto the field this week, and there's simply no reason to believe he's ready to start an NFL game.

    Maybe there's a little bit of optimism to be found with him starting instead of being inserted into a game cold as he was in Week 5 against the Broncos. But he was sacked twice on only 10 dropbacks then, and including the preseason he's completed only 47.9 percent of his attempts this season. Get well soon, Drew Stanton.

    He'd better, or the Cardinals are headed for one-and-done.

    Cardinals: Frenz, Hangst, Miller, Schalter, Simms

    49ers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Schottey, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Detroit Lions (11-4) at Green Bay Packers (11-4)

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    The Pick: Green Bay Packers (14-2)

    In a Week 17 that features more than a few big matchups, none are bigger than the battle for the NFC North being waged on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

    Sure, both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers are already in the playoffs, but there's a division title and first-round playoff bye on the line.

    NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter sees power changing hands in the division Sunday:

    The Lions offense has been moribund for a few weeks running, and the Packers have owned this matchup since Brett Favre was a third-string rookie in Atlanta. That said, the Lions gave the Packers a scare on the road in 2013 and handled Green Bay earlier this season.

    The Football Gods have escorted Detroit through some very close shaves this year; with a division title, first-round bye and home-field advantage in reach, I like the Lions to pull the upset.

    However, whether it's the possibility of inclement weather, decades of the Packers slapping the Lions around or Aaron Rodgers' ruthless efficiency at home, Schalter has very little company on that particular limb of Bleacher Report's Christmas tree.

    Lions: Schalter, Sobleski

    Packers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Tanier, Tomlinson

St. Louis Rams (6-9) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4)

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (16-0)

    Maybe we were a little hasty.

    Maybe we were hasty when, after the New England Patriots were blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this season, we threw dirt all over the dynasty in Dorchester.

    And maybe, just maybe, we were hasty to do the same with the one in the making in the Pacific Northwest after the Seattle Seahawks committed the cardinal sin of losing back-to-back games.

    Since then, the Seahawks have won eight of nine, including their current five-game winning streak, during which the team has allowed all of 33 points.

    Virtually all that stands between the Seahawks and another NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, per, is a win over the St. Louis Rams at home Sunday afternoon.

    A win that every one of our writers believes the Seahawks will get.

    Rams: Yes, the Rams beat the Seahawks in St. Louis. No, the Seahawks haven't forgotten that either.

    Seahawks: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

    In many respects, the best was saved for last in Week 17.

    Like the Packers and Lions, both the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have already punched their tickets for the postseason. All that remains now is determining the AFC North champion.

    Well, that and the slim chance the Bengals could earn a first-round bye with a win and a few breaks earlier in the day.

    The Bengals exorcised some prime-time demons with their emphatic Monday night win over the Broncos, but AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst thinks Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton may be hard-pressed to pull off two night wins in a row:

    The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals took care of their respective business in Week 16, leading both teams to playoff berths. Now, it's all about the AFC North.

    The Bengals were formidable against Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense, putting up their best defensive performance of the year, while running back Jeremy Hill broke the 140-yard mark for the fourth time. At the same time, the Steelers also rediscovered their defense while featuring two of the best skill-position players in Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

    However, the Steelers have more firepower, have a quarterback who can accurately hit a receiver without repeated screen passes and a front seven that is more disruptive than the Bengals this season. They also have more experience winning big games such as these. The win goes to the Steelers, who are the more intimidating of the two teams.

    The panel joins her in picking the Steelers, just as they join me in wishing you and yours a very happy holidays.

    Bengals: Frenz, Schalter, Schottey, Sobleski, Tomlinson

    Steelers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Simms, Tanier


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