The Weekend Scoop  


Cowboys can earn NFC East title, avoid decade-long drought

  • By Pat Kirwan
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Ten hot topics for Week 17

Week 17 represents the last chance to make the postseason, be a spoiler or save a coach's job. There is a lot to play for, and contrary to what the Colts are doing by shutting players down, many teams will play to win.

1. Can Dallas finish strong?

The Cowboys are one of the storied franchises in the NFL, but haven't won in Week 17 since 1999. They have one last chance to end that streak and need a victory more than ever. The Eagles come to Dallas with the NFC East title on the line.

2. Spoiler in the Cards?

Last week, seven teams with nothing to play for but pride had the chance to be a spoiler. I thought the Panthers had the best chance to deliver and they did with a rout of the Giants. This week, the Panthers can make the Saints miserable but can't impact their playoff situation. So it's down to the Raiders hosting the Ravens. Oakland did it last year when they knocked the Bucs out of the playoffs in Week 17 and got their coach and general manager fired. The Raiders have wins over the Eagles, Steelers, Broncos and Bengals this year so it is possible.

Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press
Brett Favre and the Vikings need a win to have a shot at earning a bye.

3. Time to pick it up

No teams have more to be concerned about than New Orleans and Minnesota. Both teams seem to have lost their mojo and need a win before the playoffs start, especially the Vikings, who are playing for a bye. I'd like to see both teams play their starters for the entire game and get back to the high scoring and solid defense that were their trademarks for much of the season.

4. Just play the game!

I love the way the Steelers go about their business. They let their play do the talking most of the time, but that wasn't the case when LaMarr Woodley said the Patriots and Bengals would "lay down" this weekend to keep the Steelers out of the playoffs. Pittsburgh needs to win a tough game in Miami to even keep its slim playoff hopes alive.

The Steelers only have themselves to blame for being in this position with losses to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns during a five-game losing streak. Now their terrific young linebacker thinks the Bengals and Patriots will lose on purpose to keep the once mighty Steelers out of the playoffs. Don't think so!

5. Source of motivation

The Bengals already locked up a division crown and could earn the No. 3 seed. They didn't have one player make the Pro Bowl and that's the first time this decade a 10-win team in the playoffs wasn't represented. It is hard to understand how this could happen. The only other AFC team without a Pro Bowler was 3-12 Kansas City. I hope the Bengals take their frustration out on their opponents starting with the Jets and well into the playoffs.

Wade Payne / Associated Press
Titans RB Chris Johnson can make history in the season finale.

6. Chasing milestones

Three players to keep an eye on are Titans running back Chris Johnson, Browns running back Jerome Harrison and 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.

Johnson needs 75 yards to break Marshall Faulk's NFL record of 2,429 total yards in a season and I think he gets it. Johnson is 128 yards rushing short of 2,000 and should get that as well. Finally, he needs 234 rushing yards to break the single-season mark. Since he has never rushed for that much in a game he should fall short, although he is facing a Seattle team that has played like the season ended weeks ago.

As for Harrison, he has exploded with 434 yards rushing in the past two weeks and needs 214 yards to have the greatest three-game stretch in league history. In 1976, O.J. Simpson had 647 yards rushing over three games.

Davis was thrown off the field just a year ago by his coach. This season, he's a captain of the 49ers and needs two touchdowns to break the all-time tight end touchdown record of 13 held by Antonio Gates.

7. How have Super Bowl winners finished?

7. How have Super Bowl winners finished? They usually win games in December. Since 2000, the eventual Super Bowl champs have gone 31-10 in the last month of the regular season. Only the 2006 Colts had a losing record (2-3) before they won the Lombardi Trophy. At the end Sunday, look back at the December record of the playoff teams for a hint about what's to come in February.

8. Don't expect a lot of openings

Week 17 games are always followed by several coaches being fired. As usual, there is much speculation about the potential openings this year. There's little doubt Jim Zorn will get the news Monday in Washington, but don't be surprised if many owners resist the temptation to fire their coach. There is labor uncertainty and most owners won't want to pay the fired coach as well as a new coach, especially if a lockout becomes a reality in 2011. The one driving force that could see a coach or two getting a pink slip is a large number of no shows at a game. Check the attendance of the games where coaches are in trouble.

9. That's Moore like it

John Fox has a very bright light shining in his locker room in Matt Moore, who looks like the guy to rebuild this franchise around. Moore has one more chance to solidify his position and faces the Saints without WR Steve Smith. A win in this game would be a big statement. Moore is 3-1 as a starter compared to Jake Delhomme's 4-7 mark. In his four starts, Moore has also bested Delhomme in several other key areas, including completion percentage (63.1 percent to 55.5), passing yards per game (207 to 183) and passer rating (106.8 to 59.4).

10. Beyond the playoffs

The Falcons are out of the playoff picture but are driven by the opportunity to have their first back-to-back winning seasons in team history. It will be no easy task as they head to Tampa Bay. The Bucs beat the Saints last week and feel like they have to win to save their young coach's job. The Texans have more to play for than their playoff hopes. They are looking for their first winning season in franchise history. Brian Cushing and Eric Winston both told me this week that they want to be part of the team that did it first and they want it now. blogs
A look ahead to Week 17
Well, this is it folks. The final week of the regular season. No more Thursday or Monday games. Just 16 Sunday kickoffs, some with everything on the line and some, well not so much.

But overall, Jason La Canfora says this looks like a heck of a week, as there are legit reasons to follow almost every contest.
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Matchups to watch
Gil Brandt breaks down some interesting matchups to watch in Week 17:

Eagles QB Donovan McNabb vs. Cowboys QB Tony Romo: With the winner of this game taking the NFC East and the loser relegated to wild-card status, there's a chance these two quarterbacks can meet again next week in the first round of the playoffs.

Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Texans QB Matt Schaub: It will be interesting to see what Bill Belichick does to minimize the effect of Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson. New England as a team is not playing as well on the road as it has in previous years.

Steelers LB James Harrison vs. Dolphins OT Jake Long: Long was the first player selected in the 2008 draft and has played well. He is a huge player with outstanding strength and very long arms. He has very good hand placement, and good mobility for his size.

Bengals RB Cedric Benson vs. Jets LB David Harris: Harris is a third-year player who is performing at a Pro Bowl level. He has 36 more tackles than the second-leading tackler on the Jets' top-rated defense.
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Start 'Em & Sit 'Em
Start of the week: Ben Roethlisberger -- The Steelers still have a shot to reach the NFL's postseason, so Roethlisberger is a safe option with a tremendous matchup against Miami. The Dolphins have allowed a combined five touchdown passes to the last two quarterbacks they've faced.

QB to start: Matt Schaub -- Schaub has turned into one of the top quarterbacks in fantasy football. He has already put up career bests across the board, and this week's matchup against a Patriots team that has nothing to play for is favorable.

QB to sit: Peyton Manning -- If you watched last week's contest against the Jets, you know that Manning is not going to play the entire game against Buffalo. In fact, he might be active for the first series or two before backup QB Curtis Painter replaces him under center.
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Week 17 games (all times ET)
Sunday, Jan. 3
Indianapolis at Buffalo, 1 p.m. (CBS)
New Orleans at Carolina, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Jacksonville at Cleveland, 1 p.m. (CBS)
New England at Houston, 1 p.m. (CBS)
N.Y. Giants at Minnesota, 1 p.m. (FOX)
San Francisco at St. Louis, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Atlanta at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Pittsburgh at Miami, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Chicago at Detroit, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Philadelphia at Dallas, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)
Kansas City at Denver, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
Baltimore at Oakland, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
Tennessee at Seattle, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
Washington at San Diego, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)
Green Bay at Arizona, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)
Cincinnati at N.Y. Jets, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)

» Complete schedule



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