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.