The 10 storylines of Week 17

  • By Pat Kirwan
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Top 10 storylines for Week 14

So many interesting storylines abound in Week 17 that it was difficult to get it down to the top 10.

Bill Parcells starts a brand new endeavor in a most unusual way from projects past. Many of the playoff-bound teams will be reaching deep into their depth charts to finish up without an injury. Can a playoff hopeful get a little luck and overcome the odds to make the playoffs? Is there any emotion left for the teams that have been out of the playoff race for weeks now? And it's time to say goodbye to some of the great players who are walking away from the game. Oh, and one more thing ... there is a team on the verge of the greatest regular-season achievement of all time.

I think Week 17 will have me on the edge of my seat from Saturday night until the gun sounds late Sunday night.

1. 16-0 is 60 minutes away

It seems as if every playoff-bound team except New England is resting players and dancing around the question of how long starters will play. The Patriots make no excuses; they offer no camouflage. They just intend to play their best in hopes of going undefeated. In the process of winning them all, many other records will fall and -- whether you like it or not -- they will be the greatest team of all time ... if they win the Super Bowl. When they hold up the Lombardi Trophy in February it will be the unofficial end to the theory that dynasties can't be built in the salary cap era.

Jon Way / Associated Press
Bill Parcells officially begins the task of rebuilding the Dolphins organization.

2. The Parcells Plan starts now

I experienced firsthand one of the Parcells plans when he took over the Jets organization. He will turn the Dolphins around and, as he said yesterday, he has a plan. He said he is gathering information and he meant it. I would guess he will turn to some of his favorite people who have great expertise in specific areas and are currently retired to help him evaluate all aspects of the organization.

A person out of football right now could privately get to work on player evaluations, salary cap issues, and coach evaluations. Several football minds have Parcells' trust and could give it to him straight about what they see. Dick Haley could start breaking down the personnel and the strength of the draft as it relates to the Dolphins' needs. Mike Sweatman could dissect the special teams. Dan Henning could study the offense inside-out. And maybe Parcells could get his buddy Ron Wolf to look at the structure of the organization. What about the defense? That's Parcells' favorite.

3. A miracle in the house

Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs had to defeat the Jaguars on the last day to knock them out of the playoffs and then hope the Bengals, Broncos, and Titans all lost. No one gave them a chance of having all of that happen, but it did. Of the five teams vying for the last two playoff spots this weekend, the Saints have the toughest path -- and of course no thinks it can happen. Can they beat the Bears in Chicago and then have the Redskins and Viking lose?

4. Time to say goodbye

Week 17 last season was supposed to mark Brett Favre's last game. Well, it wasn't and he's better than ever -- and no one is saying goodbye to Favre this year. It is time to say goodbye to Bryant Young. It didn't matter what scheme was in place in San Francisco, Young played them all over his career and he played them well. It didn't matter if his team was the best in the league or the worst in the league; he always played well.

I remember like it was yesterday sitting down with Young at the 1994 combine before he was drafted and talking about the importance of football in his life. He was awesome then, and money and fame never changed him. The NFL would be wise to find a place to keep Young in the NFL family. The league office, the 49ers' office, or some team that wants to have good people around them.

5. Back in the saddle

Two players who have answered the critics have one more game to solidify their position as the guy in the driver's seat. Donovan McNabb and Jamal Lewis have proven once again that they are stars in this league and only a fool would see it differently. McNabb always seems to be defending himself, which is difficult to understand. Do his critics know how few quarterbacks there really are on the planet?,/p>

I can tell you there aren't 32 men on the face of the earth who can do what McNabb can do. In the last two weeks, with his leg finally healed from major surgery, he has thrown for 471 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He is about to finish the season with his best rushing total since 2003. He's back, and one more big game should quiet the noise. Lewis, meanwhile, bet on himself this year and took a one-year contract to reinvent his career. In the last two weeks, he has rushed for 297 yards and now has 1,176 rushing yards this season and another 247 receiving yards. I hope he adds to his 11 touchdowns this weekend and gets a fat contract for 2008.

6. Momentum isn't all its cracked up to be

Everyone talks about the importance of momentum as a key to playoff success, but last year Chicago and New Orleans both lost their regular-season finales before reaching the NFC title game. I don't think momentum is as important as health this time of year. Can the Steelers or Cowboys afford another injury the likes of Willie Parker or T.O.?

7. What if ...

A number of teams are going to play their backups this weekend. What if Jim Sorgi leads the Colts to a win over Tennessee and knocks them out of the playoffs? What if Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens plays poorly this weekend -- does that reopen the debate about Chad Pennington? What happens in Oakland if JaMarcus Russell throws three interceptions in his first 23 passes, like he did last week? There are some real offseason stories setting up this week.

8. No T.O.? Yes, problem

Dallas is going to rest many starters in its final game against the playoff-hopeful Redskins. When these teams met in Dallas in November, the Cowboys won by five points and Terrell Owens caught four touchdown passes and gained 175 yards. I have had a few NFL people tell me they will not look very good if they have to play a playoff game without Owens on the field. No T.O. could mean eight in the box for the run and more blitzing of Tony Romo.

US Presswire
In a must-win game, the Vikings need to find more ways to get the ball in the hands of Adrian Peterson.

9. A plan for the Vikings

I would like to see the Vikings go into Denver and throw on first down, especially in the first half of the game, and set up the run for the second half. The second thing I would like to see is use more draws and screens to get the ball in Adrian Peterson's hands on second and third downs. A few weeks ago, they dominated their first-down calls with the pass and it was effective. Two weeks ago against the Bears, the draw play was much more effective than the zone run scheme, which the Bears reacted to very quickly.

10. Big incentives just inches away

The last week of the season usually means a number of players are very close to big incentives and have one more game to earn the money. For example, someone in the sack race has a pot of gold waiting for him. But almost every one of the players in the race for the title is on a playoff-bound team and the coaches may want to rest them. The same could be true for the rushing title. LaDanian Tomlinson leads the race, but Brian Westbrook and Peterson have to play for 60 minutes and they're not far behind. I remember defensive backs needing one more interception or a receiver needing one more touchdown to earn incentives, and them not being to happy about getting shut down.

Bill Belichick NFL Films' Steve Sabol talks to Patriots coach Bill Belichick about his preparation for every game situation, while Playbook looks at the Giants' improving running game. Patriots vs. Giants

More from Playbook:

Patriots' defensive front
Sterling Sharpe and Brian Baldinger analyze the Patriots defensive front and Mike Mayock looks at how they've excelled at building their team.

Patriots receivers
Sterling Sharpe and Brian Baldinger examine how the Patriots' coaches utilize the specific skills of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte' Stallworth.

Can Pats be stopped?
Jon Runyan discusses protecting against the Pats' alignments, and how to take advantage of them.
'72 Dolphins vs. '07 Patriots
Tom Brady The comparisons are inevitable.

If the New England Patriots do finish the regular season with a 16-0 record, it's only natural to wonder just how good they are next to the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the last team to go unbeaten and untied in the regular season.

A fairly compelling case could be made that, if the Patriots do end up with a perfect record, they will go down as the greatest team in NFL history.

Consider that the Pats are within six points of becoming the highest scoring team in a single NFL season, breaking Minnesota's 556 in 1998. With 48 touchdown passes, Tom Brady is two away from breaking Peyton Manning's league record of 49 in 2004. With 21 touchdown receptions, Randy Moss is two shy of breaking Jerry Rice's NFL record of 22 in 1987.
Carucci: Measuring greatness
Matchups to watch
Kyle Vanden Bosch Here are some interesting matchups to watch in Week 17:

Titans DE Kyle Vanden Bosch vs. Colts LT Tony Ugoh: Tennessee needs to win to earn the final playoff spot in the AFC, and one of the keys to their success will be this matchup of a seventh-year vet against a rookie.

Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware vs. Redskins OT Chris Samuels: The 'Skins will be the final NFC playoff team if they can win this game. To be successful, they need to block Ware, who has great first-step quickness off the edge. Samuels is strong and very athletic, and he does not make many mistakes.

Saints QB Drew Brees vs. Bears LB Brian Urlacher: Knowing Brees, he doesn't care about the individual records; he cares about getting back to the payoffs. Urlacher, who was not selected to Pro Bowl, will do everything possible to help the Bears win and play spoiler. He has been outstanding in his last two games.

Patriots WR Randy Moss vs. Giants CB Aaron Ross: Like everybody that has played the Patriots, the Giants will double-team Moss on most plays -- but Ross, who is good in man coverage, will most likely be on Moss for much of the game.
More matchups to watch
Start 'Em & Sit 'Em
Kurt Warner Start of the week: Kurt Warner -- It's hard to predict what will happen in Week 17, since postseason teams will rest their starters on both offense and defense. That alters the dynamics of the matchups and makes it difficult to set the best possible lineup.

QB to start: Marc Bulger -- The Red birds have been awful against the pass in recent weeks -- Chris Redman went for 315 yards and two touchdowns against them last week -- so Bulger should make some noise.

QB to sit: Peyton Manning -- Manning has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL in recent weeks, as he's thrown for eight touchdowns in his past three starts. But with the No. 2 seed in the AFC clinched and little to play for in Week 17, Manning will see limited work against Tennessee.
More Start 'Em & Sit 'Em
Playoff picture
The road to Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Ariz. may start on Jan. 5, but the last spots in the 12-team playoff field are coming down to the season's final week.

Where do the contenders stand?
If the season ended today ...
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We're here to help with this wonderful collection of NFL cheerleaders.
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Week 17 games
New England at N.Y. Giants 8 p.m. ET ( NFL Network)
San Francisco at Cleveland, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Detroit at Green Bay, 1 p.m. (FOX)
New Orleans at Chicago, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Jacksonville at Houston, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Carolina at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Buffalo at Philadelphia, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Cincinnati at Miami, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Seattle at Atlanta, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Minnesota at Denver, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)
Pittsburgh at Baltimore, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
Dallas at Washington, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)
Kansas City at N.Y. Jets, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
San Diego at Oakland, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
St. Louis at Arizona, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)
Tennessee at Indianapolis, 8:15 p.m. (NBC)

» Complete schedule


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