As we enter the final week of the regular season, teams are fighting for playoff spots, pushing for the top seeds, home field advantage and resting starters in the hope that they begin the postseason with relatively healthy teams. This means this week has the widest variety of games you will see. Some games will play like a playoff game (see Dallas @ Washington) and others will play like a preseason game where players audition for next year’s team (see Oakland @ San Diego). Either way, the playoffs are nearly upon us and this week decides it.
Last week I finished 12-4, which is a great week for me this season. The games I messed up were Pittsburgh over Cincy, Dallas over New Orleans, Houston over Minnesota and the New York Giants over Baltimore. Nothing to be ashamed about. Here are the playoff scenarios for this final week.
Sunday, 12/30 – 1:00 pm ET
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-9 @ Atlanta Falcons 13-2
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons
Tampa Bay has given up on the season with disagreements between players and coaches derailing a once promising season. The Falcons may not need to win this one, but I think they get it anyway.
New York Jets 6-9 @ Buffalo Bills 5-10
Prediction: Buffalo Bills
Neither team has a shot at the playoffs and both could be facing some tough offseason decisions. I’ll take the Bills in a home game. You know both teams want to finish the year off right, but I just think Buffalo’s offense finds a way to play well enough to win the regular season finale.
Chicago Bears 9-6 @ Detroit Lions 4-11
Prediction: Chicago Bears
The Bears need this one and some help to clinch a playoff spot and the Lions have been inconsistent enough to give it to them. Lions QB Matthew Stafford has been a bit turnover-prone and that is a bad thing against the Bears defense. I do think Lions WR Calvin Johnson breaks 2,000 receiving yards in a season, making him the first to do so ever. Why? Well… he’s Calvin Johnson.
Carolina Panthers 6-9 @ New Orleans Saints 7-8
Prediction: New Orleans Saints
This is another one that means nothing to the playoff landscape and I like the Saints and QB Drew Brees. Brees will not let the Saints’ high-powered offense take the final game off and I still don’t trust the Panthers enough to pick them in a game they lose on paper.
Philadelphia Eagles 4-11 @ New York Giants 8-7
Prediction: New York Giants
The Giants need a win and I think they get one. This could easily turn into an upset pick and I initially was wavering after two subpar weeks from the Giants, but they are finally home again and that should be the difference.
Cleveland Browns 5-10 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 7-8
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers
I think the Steelers are mad about missing out on the playoffs and a game, at home, against the Browns is the perfect fix. I know Cleveland beat the Steelers in the first meeting, but they beat a Steelers team missing their top-two quarterbacks and the Browns needed to force six turnovers just to have a shot. I also think head coach, Mike Tomlin, will get the Steelers motivated to finish strong.
Houston Texans 12-3 @ Indianapolis Colts 10-5
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts
I normally side with the Texans – they are 12-3 for a reason – but the Colts are looking for momentum against the “big boys” going into the postseason. The Texans have shown some weaknesses in their defense in past weeks and the Colts could exploit that at home where QB Andrew Luck has been phenomenal. Also, head coach Chuck Pagano is returning to the sideline for this Week 17 matchup.
Jacksonville Jaguars 2-13 @ Tennessee Titans 5-10
Prediction: Tennessee Titans
The Titans have underperformed all year after many, including myself, thought Tennessee would potentially challenge for the playoffs. Nobody really expected anything from Jacksonville and now both teams are playing for pride. I think Tennessee is the better team here and I think they win this game.
Baltimore Ravens 10-5 @ Cincinnati Bengals 9-7
Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals
This game has two divisional rivals who could both potentially meet in the playoffs. However, they are both locks for the playoffs and that could make this game a bit of a slow one. A win doesn’t really benefit either team and who wins will probably come down to who keeps their starters in the longest. I think Cincy wins because they want to say they beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore going into the postseason.
Sunday, 12/30 – 4:25 pm ET
Green Bay Packers 11-4 @ Minnesota Vikings 9-6
Prediction: Minnesota Vikings
I like how Minnesota has been playing all year. They have talent, starting with RB Adrian Peterson and they kick it up a notch when they are playing at home. Green Bay is a phenomenal team with the ability to put up points, but I think Minnesota gets this one. As for the potential rushing record. Peterson has 1,898 rushing yards on the season with 2,105 being the magic number (Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record). That’s over 200 yards needed for the record. Never underestimate Peterson, but it seems like a bit of a longshot. I could see him putting up around 180 and making it interesting though. He ran for 210 in their last meeting against Green Bay.
Miami Dolphins 7-8 @ New England Patriots 11-4
Prediction: New England Patriots
The Patriots have been struggling in wins lately and the last time these teams met, Miami gave the Patriots fits in a 23-16 in a New England win. I think this game is interesting, but New England ultimately gets back on track just in time for a playoff push.
Oakland Raiders 4-11 @ San Diego Chargers 6-9
Prediction: Oakland Raiders
Call this a gut pick. Oakland has been awful this season and San Diego has been just better than awful. The game is in San Diego, which at this juncture doesn’t mean much. Why Oakland then? QB Terrelle Pryor. The second-year pro out of Ohio State is getting his first pro start this week. While he will never be a Manning, Brees or Brady, he has tremendous physical upside and always has since his days as a Buckeye. He won’t play a perfect game, but he does make plays and I think he will against a dejected San Diego team, which is potentially facing a total overhaul this coming offseason.
Arizona Cardinals 5-10 @ San Francisco 49ers 10-4-1
Prediction: San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco got walloped last week in Seattle and they need to win in order to win the NFC West. How important is that? A loss here and a Seattle win could mean another meeting between those two teams in Seattle during the postseason. No team in the league wants to be playing in Seattle this season. San Francisco needs to win this one and they should be able to against the lowly Cardinals who are just begging for the offseason to begin.
St. Louis Rams 7-7-1 @ Seattle Seahawks 10-5
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks
The game is in Seattle where the Seahawks have yet to lose, they need to win to have a chance at the NFC West title and their opponent is St. Louis. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is closer than the Seattle games from past weeks, but this is Seattle’s game. They will win.
Kansas City Chiefs 2-13 @ Denver Broncos 12-3
Prediction: Denver Broncos
This is another game where the dominant team in the matchup needs the win for playoff seeding, while the other team is already positioning themselves for April’s NFL draft. The Broncos and QB Peyton Manning will take care of business.
Sunday, 12/30 – 8:20 pm ET
Dallas Cowboys 8-7 @ Washington Redskins 9-6
Prediction: Dallas Cowboys
This is the game to watch this week. Dallas needs to win to take the NFC East and make the playoffs, Washington can lose this one (giving up the division) and still make it in, but making the playoffs would require losses from both Chicago and Minnesota, which is a lot to ask for. I like Dallas in this one because Dallas and QB Tony Romo have been playing very well as of late. I like their offense and their defense is capable of slowing a high-powered Redskins offense led by QB Robert Griffin III. RG3 will be very dangerous in this one and could take over the game, but I just think Romo and the Cowboys finally find a way to get back to the playoffs. I expect to see another incredible game from Cowboys WR Dez Bryant, who has been on fire. Who on Washington will stop him?