World-Herald NFL editor John Rodino breaks down the league's Week 17 matchups, including key statistics, what to watch for and game of the week.
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Cowboys (8-7) at Redskins (9-6)
Time: 7:20 p.m.
TV: TV: NBC
Line: Redskins by 3½
Last meeting: Redskins won 38-31 on Nov. 22
Lowdown: A rivalry that heated up back when Tom Landry and George Allen coached takes center stage. This NFC East title game is do or die for Dallas. Washington can lose and still get in the playoffs if other teams fall. The Redskins didn’t show all their cards on offense in last week’s victory over the Eagles in quarterback Robert Griffin III’s return from a sprained knee. Expect them to turn him loose on his run-pass options this time. Counterpart Tony Romo will try and solve the Redskins’ various coverage schemes, and he has one of the hottest receivers in Dez Bryant. Running backs could be the wild card. The Redskins’ Alfred Morris topped 100 yards in the Thanksgiving meeting. The Cowboys, without DeMarco Murray, ran for only 35.
Prediction: Redskins 20-14
Eagles (4-11) at Giants (8-7)
Line: Giants by 7
Last meeting: Eagles won 19-17 on Sept. 30
Lowdown: Plenty of subplots here. The Giants must win and have several other teams lose in order to get an NFC wild card. Defending Super Bowl champions occasionally miss the playoffs the following season — the Steelers in 2009 most recently. Michael Vick, who directed the Eagles’ earlier victory over the Giants, could be elsewhere in 2013. Philly can save a lot of money if he’s released by Feb. 6. It also looks as if coach Andy Reid is finished.
Prediction: Giants 17-12
Jaguars (2-13) at Titans (5-10)
Line: Titans by 4½
Last meeting: Jaguars won 24-19 on Nov. 25
Lowdown: Where to start with these have-nots? Will Jacksonville, in line for one of the top draft choices, go with a quarterback? Or trade for Tim Tebow? Either way, there would be a glut at the position, with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. The Titans, with no victories against teams with winning records, have a lot of needs: a play-making receiver opposite injury-prone Kenny Britt, tight end and impact defensive lineman.
Prediction: Titans 21-13
Panthers (6-9) at Saints (7-8)
Line: Saints by 4½
Last meeting: Panthers won 35-27 on Sept. 16
Lowdown: It was no surprise New Orleans played spoiler against Dallas last week. The Saints are 7-4 since a 0-4 start. But Marques Colston’s fumble that bounced all the way to the Cowboys’ 2-yard line, setting up the winning field goal in overtime, brought back memories of the Raiders’ “Holy Roller” play. If they make upgrades on defense, the Saints, with coach Sean Payton coming back, won’t have to rely on such luck next season.
Prediction: Saints 31-24
Jets (6-9) at Bills (5-10)
Line: Bills by 3
Last meeting: Jets won 48-28 on Sept. 9
Lowdown: After walloping the Bills in the season opener, things deteriorated for the Jets. Turnover-prone quarterback Mark Sanchez couldn’t shake his slump and lost his starting spot to Greg McElroy last week. But Sanchez starts this game because McElroy is hurt. Questions swirled all season about Tim Tebow’s limited role. Will New York get rid of Sanchez and Tebow? Will McElroy get a shot in 2013? Will the Jets seek a stop-gap veteran?
Prediction: Jets 14-13
Ravens (10-5) at Bengals (9-6)
Line: Bengals by 2½
Last meeting: Ravens won 44-13 on Sept. 10
Lowdown: Talk about the wacky world of the wild card. We knew, after disposing of the Giants last week, that the Ravens, as AFC North champions, would host a first-round playoff game. If they beat the Bengals on Sunday — and the Dolphins defeat the Patriots — the Bengals and Ravens would meet again in a wild card game. Remember when there were three back-to-back affairs to start the 2009 postseason?
Prediction: Ravens 23-20
Browns (5-10) at Steelers (7-8)
Line: Steelers by 10
Last meeting: Browns won 20-14 on Nov. 25
Lowdown: Third-stringer Thad Lewis starts at quarterback and backup Montario Hardesty at running back for the Browns. Banged-up rookies Brandon Weeden (shoulder) and Trent Richardson (ankle) tried to practice but weren’t at full speed. Playing it safe is a wise decision. They are the foundations of a franchise in transition. Tight end Heath Miller (knee), one of Pittsburgh’s most reliable players, is out — the latest in a season of troubles for the offense.
Prediction: Steelers 26-10
Texans (12-3) at Colts (10-5)
Line: Texans by 6½
Last meeting: Texans won 29-17 on Dec. 16
Lowdown: The race for the AFC’s top seed goes down to the wire, and the Texans have more than enough motivation. They also want to get back into rhythm for the playoffs after a flat showing in last week’s loss to the Vikings. It will be another emotional game for the playoff-bound Colts, with coach Chuck Pagano back running the show. The Texans sacked Andrew Luck five times in the earlier meeting.
Prediction: Texans 30-21
Bears (9-6) at Lions (4-11)
Line: Bears by 3
Last meeting: Bears won 13-7 on Oct. 22
Lowdown: What good does Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton calling the Lions “dirty” do? Have the Detroit players not heard that? The Bears, in must-win mode for any chance at an NFC wild card, shouldn’t need extra incentive. Chicago held Lions super receiver Calvin Johnson to three catches for 34 yards in October. Megatron now owns the single-season yardage record (1,892) and goes for 2,000 in Sunday’s finale.
Prediction: Bears 24-17
Bucs (6-9) at Falcons (13-2)
Line: Falcons by 5
Last meeting: Falcons won 24-23 on Nov. 25
Lowdown: The Buccaneers haven’t been able to get over the hump since a season-ending four-game skid kept them out of the 2008 playoffs. The current five-game losing streak ended postseason hopes and put a damper on the outstanding rookie seasons of running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David. The Falcons are the NFC’s top seed for the playoffs, so don’t expect the regulars to get more than a series or two.
Prediction: Bucs 19-16
Dolphins (7-8) at Patriots (11-4)
Line: Patriots by 10½
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: Patriots won 23-16 on Dec. 2
Lowdown: The Patriots should play Tom Brady and the other regulars Sunday since they could grab the AFC’s top seed — if Houston and Denver lose. The Dolphins are trying to finish at .500 in coach Joe Philbin’s first year. A longtime offensive coordinator, he’ll be watching offseason developments closely as top receiver Brian Hartline and running back Reggie Bush can become free agents.
Prediction: Patriots 20-7
Raiders (4-11) at Chargers (6-9)
Line: Chargers by 9½
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: Chargers won 22-14 on Sept. 10
Lowdown: Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer is out with broken ribs. Terrelle Pryor, not Matt Leinart, will make the start. Surprised? You’d probably need an entire exhibition season to tailor the offense around the dual-threat Pryor, who has little NFL experience. We just don’t know what direction this franchise is going, or whether coach Dennis Allen will keep his job. You might say the same about the Chargers and coach Norv Turner.
Prediction: Chargers 26-14
Cardinals (5-10) at 49ers (10-4-1)
Line: 49ers by 16½
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: 49ers won 24-3 on Oct. 29
Lowdown: The 49ers want to clinch the NFC West and have their eyes on the conference’s No. 2 seed. They’ll have to regain their edge after a rocky two weeks. They held off New England’s huge rally on Dec. 16 and then got stuffed at Seattle last Sunday night. Definitely a learning period for young QB Colin Kaepernick. The Cardinals will use their fourth starting QB, Brian Hoyer. Running back Beanie Wells said he is auditioning for the other 31 teams.
Prediction: 49ers 28-10
Rams (7-7-1) at Seahawks (10-5)
Line: Seahawks by 11
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: Rams won 19-13 on Sept. 30
Lowdown: The playoff-bound Seahawks, bidding to go 8-0 at home, can win the NFC West with a victory and a 49ers loss. Seattle’s Russell Wilson needs two touchdown passes to break Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record of 26 in 1998. The Rams’ Steven Jackson is 10 yards shy of an eighth straight 1,000-yard rushing season. His team, under first-year coach Jeff Fisher, turned around last season’s 2-14 disaster. The Rams should re-sign Jackson.
Prediction: Seahawks 23-17
Chiefs (2-13) at Broncos (12-3)
Line: Broncos by 16
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: Broncos won 17-9 on Nov. 25
Lowdown: The Broncos might be playing for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Houston’s noon game at Indianapolis will affect how the Broncos (and Patriots) play it. The Texans (12-3) beat the Broncos and lost to the Patriots (11-4) in the regular season. So it’s uncertain how much we’ll see of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. The Chiefs may be looking for a quarterback in the draft, after a losing run with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn.
Prediction: Broncos 33-10
Packers (11-4) at Vikings (9-6)
Line: Packers by 3
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: Packers won 23-14 on Dec. 2
Lowdown: The NFC North champion Packers are striving for the conference’s No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye. They’ve brought back past star Ryan Grant to keep the injury-riddled ground game going. Expect Minnesota to run Adrian Peterson a lot — the Vikings are going for a wild card spot and Peterson has a shot at 2,000 yards. He had 210 in the earlier loss to Green Bay. Somehow, comeback player of the year doesn’t seem enough for him.
Prediction: Packers 27-21
Capsules and predictions by John Rodino. Predictions not related to point spreads. Record last week: 11-5. Season: 157-83. Information from the Associated Press was used in this outlook.