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

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 30, 2015

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

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Well, this is it.

    It seems like only yesterday the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots were kicking off the 2015 NFL season. But now only one Sunday of football remains in the regular season.

    Much has been decided. To no one's surprise, those Patriots once again sit atop the AFC East. To everyone's surprise, the NFC East has also been decided—in favor of the Washington Redskins.

    However, there remains much up for grabs as well. The AFC South. The NFC North. Seedings and first-round byes in both conferences.

    And with that in mind, here's how the National Lead Writers and NFL Analysts here at Bleacher Report expect Week 17 to play out.

Roll Call/Standings

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Much may be left to be decided in the NFL, but among our writers, the season picks title is (barring an unforeseen disaster) just about a done deal.

    Last year, National Lead Writer Matt Miller finished as runner-up, a single correct pick off the pace. Miller spent most of this season at or near the top of the leaderboard, and by virtue of a 25-7 mark over the past two weeks, Miller's four-game lead entering the season's final week will be hard to overcome.

    Just as in the NFL, it's all about peaking at the right time.

    Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 9-7 (148-92)

    Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 9-7 (147-93)

    Brad Gagnon: NFL Analyst 11-5 (144-96)

    Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 12-4 (152-88)

    Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 11-5 (139-101)

    Brent Sobleski: NFL Analyst 11-5 (146-94)

    Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 8-8 (135-105)

    Sean Tomlinson: NFL Analyst 10-6 (143-97)

     

    Consensus: 11-5 (148-92)

New York Jets (10-5) at Buffalo Bills (7-8)

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    The Pick: New York Jets (5-3)

    It's been quite a year for the New York Jets.

    In Todd Bowles' first season as head coach, the Jets have won 10 games for the first time since 2010. In Week 16, New York vanquished its nemesis, defeating the New England Patriots in overtime.

    And with a win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Gang Green is in the playoffs.

    And according to what both Bowles and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, it was a return to basics that saved the day:

    After losing to the Houston Texans last month, Todd Bowles announced a back-to-basics approach on offense, saying they needed to return to algebra after an unsuccessful foray into trigonometry. The Jets scored only 17 points in each of their back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bills and Texans, apparently botching their cotangents and cosines.

    On Monday, Ryan Fitzpatrick spoke candidly, if not specifically about the change and how it needed to occur. The Jets' quarterback, explaining the slump, said "we were just trying to reinvent the wheel. We were putting people in a bunch of different positions and situations. I think that was hurting me more than helping me, just in terms of my decision making."

    Make no mistake: This game is no gimme for the Jets. A hostile environment. Their former head coach. A Bills team that hasn't seen the playoffs this century that would like nothing more than to spoil New York's postseason plans.

    NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon smells an upset. "The Bills are calling this their Super Bowl," Gagnon said, "and I think they're as good as the Jets. At home, they should play spoiler against a division rival that can't be trusted."

    But if the majority of our voters are correct, that isn't going to happen.

    And for the first time in a good long while Jets players won't be cleaning out their lockers just yet.

    Jets: Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Bills: Davenport, Gagnon, Sobleski

New England Patriots (12-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-10)

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The Pick: New England Patriots (8-0)

    A great deal has been made of the New England Patriots' rather curious decision to kick off after winning the overtime coin toss last week against the Jets.

    And it isn't hard to see where the second-guessers are coming from. After all, the Jets took the overtime kickoff, marched the length of the field, scored a touchdown and won the game.

    Still, as Gagnon recently wrote, statistically speaking, the call really wasn't as wonky as most believe:

    Prior to Sunday (i.e. when Belichick made his decision), there had been 67 regular-season overtime games played under the current format. Exactly 32 were won by the receiving team, 32 were won by the kicking team and three ended in ties.

    But interestingly, the 2012 season significantly favored teams that got the ball first. Those that received the kickoff to start overtime in the first season under the new rules went 14-7-1, which means that recent precedents actually favor Belichick's approach.

    Since the start of 2013, teams that have kicked off to start overtime have won 58 percent of the 43 games that didn't end in a tie. And only 10 of the 67 overtime games since the start of 2012 (15 percent) were won as a result of a touchdown on the first possession.

    Despite last week's setback, the only thing standing between the Patriots and the AFC's top seed is a Miami Dolphins team that's vying for top seed in the competition to be the NFL's most disappointing team in 2015.

    And our panel places the statistical odds of that happening at 100 percent.

    Patriots: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Dolphins: This Dolphins team? Against an angry Pats squad trying for home-field advantage? Um...no.

New Orleans Saints (6-9) at Atlanta Falcons (8-7)

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Pick: Atlanta Falcons (6-2)

    The Atlanta Falcons have given their fans whiplash in 2015.

    A 5-0 start. The 2-7 faceplant that followed. All that was capped by last week's thrilling victory over the previously undefeated Panthers.

    The fact is the Falcons aren't as good as their start. Or as bad as the collapse that followed. They are a team with elite talent at some positions and huge holes in others.

    But they are at least headed in the right direction. And Jeanna Thomas of SB Nation believes that a strong finish for the Falcons could bode well for 2016:

    The six-game losing streak, particularly after such a strong start to the season left "some scars and some marks," according to (head coach Dan) Quinn, who said that missing the postseason stings. He is pleased with the way the team bounced back in Weeks 15 and 16, and he's looking forward to the opportunity to finish strong against the Saints in Week 17, especially after the Saints snapped Atlanta's five-game winning streak in their first meeting this season. A win this Sunday should give the team confidence heading into the offseason and as they look toward the 2016 season.

    "It's ... a division game, and knowing the attitude and the style that we want to play with, but for sure it is [important]," Quinn said. "Everything counts, and it's a really important one for us. And obviously, when we went down there the first time, we didn't have a chance to play our best ball. They played a good game. That's why we're so jacked to play this one."

    Three-quarters of our scribes expect the Falcons to get that momentum-building win.

    After which it's fixing to be a very interesting offseason in advance of the Falcons' final year in the Georgia Dome.

    Saints: Freeman, Gagnon

    Falcons: Davenport, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Baltimore Ravens (5-10) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)

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    GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

    The Pick: Cincinnati Bengals (6-2)

    Here we go again.

    In each of the last four seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals have advanced to the postseason.

    In each of the last four seasons, the Bengals have been one-and-done. And after losing to the Denver Broncos last Monday night, the Bengals are perilously close to another trip down Disappointment Drive.

    Since starting the season 8-0, the Bengals are a so-so 3-4. Last week's setback may have cost the Bengals a first-round playoff bye (they need a win and a Denver loss to secure a bye), setting up a dangerous Wild Card Round game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers or Jets.

    Quarterback Andy Dalton all but certainly won't be recovered enough from his broken thumb to play in that game. As if that wasn't bad enough, on the last play of the Denver loss backup AJ McCarron suffered a sprained wrist that puts his availability for a (now) very important Week 17 tilt with the Baltimore Ravens in doubt.

    McCarron suffered the injury while diving for a fumbled snap that ended the game in overtime, and the second-year pro told ESPN.com he accepts the blame for the defeat:

    It's my fault. I told the guys that. The snap caught me a little by surprise. I was looking just to see how they were adjusting to [wide receiver] A.J. [Green] coming in motion, and it just kind of slipped through my hands and hit my rib protector and bounced off. It's my fault. Simple as that.

    Given that the Ravens have more players on injured reserve than any team in the NFL this year, they don't want to hear any whining about injuries. And as the Ravens showed the Steelers last week, they are more than capable of playing spoiler.

    But NFL.com's Ian Rapoport tweeted that there's still a chance McCarron plays this week, and our experts look for he and the Bengals to keep the pressure on the Broncos by downing Baltimore.

    Ravens: Gagnon, Tanier

    Bengals: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-12)

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    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)

    The Pittsburgh Steelers really stepped in it a week ago.

    Heading into Week 16, the Steelers were surging, the team no one wanted to play in the Wild Card Round.

    Then came a 20-17 loss to the injury-ravaged Baltimore Ravens, a loss that took the playoff hopes of the Steelers out of their hands and placed them in fate's.

    Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin made it no secret that as much as the Steelers need this win to keep those hopes alive, they also desperately need to wash off the stink from last week's debacle, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler:

    Getting that stench of last week's performance off us. We'll be measured in a big way in how we do that.

    There's a scenario that hasn't transpired in order to get in the dance. But the other part of that scenario is us winning. I'm not looking for comfort. I'm just trying to meet the challenges of this week. You set yourself up for failure if you view it any other way.

    Luckily for the Steelers, this week they face that which will cure all that ails a National Football League team.

    A Cleveland Browns team for whom a victory in Week 17 would actually be a bad thing.

    After all, when you've been this bad for this long this year, you might as well see it through and not louse up your draft position.

    Steelers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Browns: Can't wait to see how the Clowns botch another high pick next April.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (8-7)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Pick: Houston Texans (7-1)

    Before the 2015 season began, it was assumed that by this time in the schedule the Indianapolis Colts would have already been crowned AFC South champions—again.

    Well, you know what they say about assumptions.

    Instead of the Colts, it's the Houston Texans who enter Week 17 with the chance to claim a division title.

    In fact, as ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli reported, it's highly unlikely that the Texans won't come out of Sunday's action with the AFC South crown:

    It's still very likely the Texans win the AFC South. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Colts need the Steelers, Dolphins, Jaguars, Bills, Broncos, Falcons, Raiders and Ravens all to win in Week 17 in order for the Texans to lose the AFC South. The Texans themselves can control their own fate. That Jaguars win would come at their expense on Sunday afternoon.

    Regardless of the improbability of that cosmic mess of a scenario coming together, head coach Bill O'Brien insisted the simplest path to the playoffs is victory:

    I believe that we have to focus on the Jacksonville Jaguars, I really do. Believe me, I understand all those things and the scenarios. But I think this team has to really do what we’ve tried to do all year, especially in the last half of the season, is to show up every day and get better. Try to improve and try to win. Go out there on the game field and win. I think that’s the most important thing.

    That's exactly what the panel expects the Texans to do against a Jaguars team that just can't seem to take the "next step."

    Jaguars: Gagnon

    Texans: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Tennessee Titans (3-12) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8)

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    Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    The Pick: Indianapolis Colts (5-3)

    All you need to know about the 2015 Indianapolis Colts can be summed up in one sentence.

    The Colts would kill to have Tennessee Titans backup Zach Mettenberger starting for them in Week 17.

    Starter Andrew Luck? Hasn't played in weeks thanks to a lacerated kidney.

    Backup Matt Hasselbeck? Doubtful with a shoulder injury, as Mike Wells of ESPN.com reported.

    Third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst? Placed on injured reserve earlier this week.

    Let's put it this way. On Tuesday, per Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com, the Colts signed Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley.

    And one of them might start Sunday.

    And yet, as Dan Hanzus of NFL.com pointed out, the Colts could still make the playoffs...if hell freezes over:

    So how does that happen? Well, nine separate things need to break Indy's way to save the season. Nine! Here's what has to happen:

    » Colts win over Titans

    » Jaguars win over Texans

    » Broncos win over Bengals in Week 16 UPDATE: Done!

    » Ravens win over Bengals in Week 17

    » Bills win over Jets

    » Falcons win over Saints

    » Broncos win over Chargers

    » Dolphins win over Patriots

    » Steelers win over Browns

    » Raiders win over Chiefs

    Keep hope alive, Colts fans!

    Well, unless you've seen Freeman or Lindley play, anyway.

    Titans: Freeman, Miller, Sobleski

    Colts: Davenport, Gagnon, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson

Washington Redskins (8-7) at Dallas Cowboys (4-11)

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The Pick: Washington Redskins (5-3)

    As the Washington Redskins prepare for a Week 17 matchup with their rivals in Dallas, one large question looms over the team.

    To play or not to play?

    The Redskins really don't have anything to play for. The NFC East is won. They are locked into the No. 4 seed, win or lose.

    Head coach Jay Gruden admitted to ESPN.com's John Keim that he was unsure which players would start and which players would sit in Dallas:

    The injuries will be a major part of that, but the guys that play, they have every intent of trying to win this football game. It’s a big game for us to keep our momentum, but we also have to be smart about the guys that are a little bit [hurt] and get them well for the playoffs.

    It's a safe bet you won't see quarterback Kirk Cousins on Sunday. Or wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Defensive end Jason Hatcher. Left tackle Trent Williams. Defensive backs Dashon Goldson and DeAngelo Hall. So on and so forth.

    And yet the Redskins are still the pick this week.

    Why?

    Well, it might have something to do with Kellen Moore being the fourth starting quarterback the Cowboys have used this season.

    Redskins: Davenport, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson

    Cowboys: Freeman, Gagnon, Tanier

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

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    The Pick: New York Giants (5-3)

    Heading into 2015, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was given personnel control. He remade the team in his image with moves galore.

    And a team that won 10 games each of the last two seasons won just over half that many.

    While speaking with Dave Zangaro of CSN Philadelphia, Kelly took full blame for the Eagles' slide this year: "One hundred percent. That’s all on my shoulders. It’s the same thing I said a year ago, it’s unacceptable. We have got to find a way to do a better job, and we have to put these guys in a better position to make plays. So it’s 100 percent on my shoulders."

    Apparently the Eagles agreed. The team announced Tuesday evening that it fired Kelly. 

    He isn't going to be alone. As Dan Graziano of ESPN.com wrote, the belief is that, one way or another, Sunday's home tilt with the Eagles will be Tom Coughlin's final game as head coach of the New York Giants:

    If he really wanted to do this right, Coughlin would announce this week that Sunday will be his final game as Giants coach. If he did that, Sunday would be a celebration of his time with the team. Who'd show up and boo a two-time champion coach on his way out the door? It would be a chance to remind everyone of the joy Coughlin and his two title teams brought and for fans to thank him as he leaves. It would be a special day.

    He still could force ownership's hand and make them fire him. This still has a chance to get ugly. But after the way Sunday night went, and given the way Coughlin and his players have sounded since that game ended, one wonders whether maybe Coughlin looks this whole thing over and decides it's just not worth the effort he's putting into it anymore.

    One hot seat special, coming up!

    Eagles: Davenport, Gagnon, Tomlinson

    Giants: Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier

Detroit Lions (6-9) at Chicago Bears (6-9)

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    The Pick: Detroit Lions (5-3)

    Sunday's final matchup features a pair of NFC North teams battling with the division title on the line.

    Then there's this game.

    To say it's been a disappointing season in Detroit would be an understatement, but it's still puzzling to see reports like the one from NFL.com's Elliot Harrison that Sunday could mark Calvin Johnson's last game with the Lions:

    Much chatter in league circles regarding whether Sunday marked Calvin Johnson's last home game in Detroit. Maybe he has slowed down, despite logging another TD grab in the win over San Francisco. This is a weird day and age we're living in, where 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns through 15 games is indicative of slowing down. Incidentally, those were Johnson's exact 2014 totals (though he played in two fewer games). He and Matthew Stafford have misconnected often (Johnson has caught just 78 of 134 targets). But it might be wise to not bury the guy's career quite yet.

    It's hard to imagine Johnson in another jersey. It's not hard to imagine teams lining up to sign him.

    This is an impossible game to forecast. Two wildly up-and-down teams with nothing to play for but pride led by quarterbacks who are just as apt to be lights-out as god-awful.

    I closed my eyes and threw a dart. Accidentally stabbed myself while doing so.

    So picking Detroit seemed to be the way to go.

    Lions: Davenport, Freeman, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson

    Bears: Gagnon, Miller, Tanier

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at Carolina Panthers (14-1)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Pick: Carolina Panthers (8-0)

    Week 16 didn't go so well for the Carolina Panthers.

    Not only were the Panthers exposed as mortal in losing 20-13 to the Atlanta Falcons, but the Arizona Cardinals looked like the NFL's best team in absolutely demolishing the Green Bay Packers.

    Now, what appeared to be a foregone conclusion is in doubt. If the Panthers lose at home and the Cardinals win, the NFC playoffs would travel through Glendale instead of Charlotte.

    However, head coach Ron Rivera told ESPN.com's David Newton it's Redbirds head man Bruce Arians he sympathizes with. The Panthers game was moved back to 4:25 p.m., robbing Arians of a chance to know ahead of time if the Cardinals are playing for anything in Week 17:

    That's kind of a tough deal, because whether you rest players or you don't based on what happens, to me, that should be your option. I know the league has got to do what it feels is best for television. But if I was in that situation, I would rather be able to know.

    To me, that's a valuable decision you have to make as a head coach. I'd rather make the decision rather than have somebody make it for me.

    Of course, if our panel's unanimous pick is any indication, it isn't going to matter.

    Of course of courser, given our luck with unanimous picks this season, maybe it will after all.

    Buccaneers: Win or lose, at least the Bucs made progress in 2015.

    Panthers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Oakland Raiders (7-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Pick: Kansas City Chiefs (8-0)

    Uh oh. Another unanimous pick.

    If we are suffering from something of a unanimous jinx this year (two 8-0 calls last week alone went belly-up), then it's a jinx the Texans shouldn't love.

    Yes, an Oakland win at Kansas City is one of several things that have to happen for the Colts to win the AFC South.

    But if the Chiefs lose, they could fall to the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

    And the fourth-seeded Texans want no part of this Chiefs team.

    This is a team that has won nine in a row heading into Sunday's finale, a team that has become only the second in NFL history to start a season 1-5 and make the postseason.

    A team that ESPN.com's Bill Barnwell thinks has a better chance of making it all the way to Super Bowl 50 than it is being given credit for:

    The Football Power Index is fonder of the Chiefs than most. It gives Kansas City an 11.3 percent chance of making the Super Bowl, the fifth-highest rate in the league entering Monday night's game. Those are better odds than the Broncos (8.1 percent) or Seahawks (7.9 percent) are getting. Although the Chiefs are not exactly the prohibitive favorites to make the trip to Santa Clara (the Cardinals are at 51.3 percent), they have a better chance of making noise in the postseason than you might think. Be afraid. Be at least a little bit afraid.

    Be afraid, Houston. Take care of the Jaguars.

    And then root like heck for the Raiders.

    Raiders: Hope they stay in Oakland. LA Raiders just doesn't sound right. Never did.

    Chiefs: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

San Diego Chargers (4-11) at Denver Broncos (11-4)

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Pick: Denver Broncos (8-0)

    Peyton Manning is a dirty, juicing cheater.

    There, that ought to liven up the comments section a bit.

    Of course, the Broncos have bigger things to worry about in Week 17 than a baseless report containing an accusation that the accusers are now saying wasn't an accusation.

    If the Broncos win against San Diego on Sunday, they capture not only the AFC West, but also the conference's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye—a bye that would allow Manning an extra week to heal his balky foot.

    Of course, Manning told ESPN's Lisa Salters (via Kevin Patra of NFL.com) that he's ready to go Sunday if the Broncos need him:

    I got to do whatever coach feels is best for the team. It's been an interesting year, I'm not going to lie about that. I've had a good attitude about it ... I've learned a lot about myself. I've been a good teammate. I've tried to help Brock in anyway I can. It's new to me. It's new to me. So I'll do whatever is best for the team come next week. If they need me to play and be in there, then I'll be ready. If they don't feel the best for the team, then I'll respect that decision and do what I can to help the team.

    This week at least, it will once again be Brock Osweiler under center for Denver.

    And our voters believe that will be enough.

    Then begins the real intrigue. Would the Broncos really sit a healthy Manning in the playoffs?

    Now that's a story.

    Chargers: If this was the Chargers' last year in San Diego, it was one sad ending.

    Broncos: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Seattle Seahawks (9-6) at Arizona Cardinals (13-2)

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    The Pick: Arizona Cardinals (8-0)

    Back in Week 13, after the Arizona Cardinals downed the Minnesota Vikings, I wrote that the Redbirds, and not the Carolina Panthers, were the NFC's most complete team:

    If these two teams meet in the NFC title game—even if that game is in Carolina—my money is on a repeat of 2008, when a lower-seeded Arizona team bumped off the home-favorite Panthers. I trust the Arizona defense more than the Carolina passing game. Trust the Cardinals' ability to weather storms after a brutal second-half schedule.

    They don't have the NFC's best record. And they aren't getting the most press in the conference, either.

    But Thursday night the Arizona Cardinals showed yet again that they are a well-rounded team without a glaring weakness. They are the NFC's most complete football team.

    In fact, they might just be the most complete team in the whole league.

    If Week 16 was any indication, I might just be onto something.

    It isn't just that the Cardinals downed the Green Bay Packers. They absolutely destroyed them. The Arizona defense outscored the Green Bay offense. The Cardinals had more sacks than the Packers had points.

    And this week the soaring Cardinals face a Seahawks team that just fell at home to a so-so St. Louis Rams squad, a team that might have a worse offensive line than Green Bay's.

    With home field throughout the NFC playoffs still up for grabs, the Cardinals aren't about to take their foot off the gas.

    And that's bad news for the two-time defending conference champs.

    Seahawks: There isn't going to be a third time.

    Cardinals: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

St. Louis Rams (7-8) at San Francisco 49ers (4-11)

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    Billy Hurst/Associated Press

    The Pick: St. Louis Rams (8-0)

    With a win Sunday in San Francisco, the St. Louis Rams will finish the season 8-8. It would mark the first time since 2006 that the Rams won as many games as they lost.

    Last week, the Rams didn't just earn a season sweep over NFC West bully Seattle. As Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com wrote, they also set the stage for what could be an impressive finish inside the division:

    The Rams improved to 7-8 on the season, allowing them to match their highest win total since coach Jeff Fisher arrived in 2012. It also gives them a three-game winning streak for only the second time under Fisher and gives them a chance to get to 8-8 for the first time since 2006 if they can get a win next week in San Francisco. It also ensured the Rams a winning record in the NFC West division, where they improved to 4-1.

    Yes, this Rams team has a real shot to finish 5-1 in the division. This Rams team was responsible for one of the two losses the Arizona Cardinals have to date.

    This Rams team, that has at times seemed incapable of getting out of its own way.

    Get that win at San Francisco, and the Rams will enter 2016 on a four-game winning streak, just as the Carolina Panthers did this season.

    Of course, the question then becomes where that 2016 season will take place for the Rams.

    Rams: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    49ers: Look at the bright side. OK, so there is no bright side. Sorry.

Minnesota Vikings (10-5) at Green Bay Packers (10-5)

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (6-2)

    This is just how an NFL regular season should end. Two teams with identical records dueling it out for a division title on one of the most hallowed fields in football.

    For the winner, the No. 3 seed in the NFC and a home game in the Wild Card Round. For the loser, packing their bags for a postseason road trip.

    Twice in the past couple of months the Minnesota Vikings have had the chance to earn a "statement" win. Twice, in losses to the Packers and the Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings came up short.

    Still, as Rolling Stone's Steve Greenberg reported, the Vikes have been on quite the roll of late:

    Maybe these guys are afterthoughts, but they've been off-the-charts good the last two weeks in blasting the Chicago Bears and the Giants by a combined score of 87-34. Minnesota's defense sacked Eli Manning four times and jolted him with three interceptions, including a pick-six by Harrison Smith and a swipe-and-return by Captain Munnerlyn that set up a four-yard touchdown drive. Adrian Peterson had 104 yards and a TD on the ground and wrested the NFL rushing lead from Tampa Bay's Doug Martin.

    Bridgewater, meanwhile – well, only a fool would take him lightly at this point. He's no Rodgers. Carolina's Cam Newton, Arizona's Carson Palmer and Seattle's Russell Wilson all are better players, too. That's just reality. Yet Bridgewater put on a caretaker's clinic, especially on third downs, against the clueless Giants.

    If the Vikings are rolling, the Packers are reeling, pasted last week in the desert in no small part because of an offensive line that did a wonderful impression of a turnstile.

    And if, as our writers predict, the Vikings go into Lambeau Field and take the division from the Packers on their own field...

    Well that would be the greatest indignity of them all.

    Vikings: Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Packers: Davenport, Freeman