Viewer's guide: Week 17


Around The NFL's Kevin Patra fills you in on the key storylines for each matchup. Here's your guide as you settle into your couch for the last week of regular-season NFL action.

At this point Connor Shaw could be in line to start Week 17 for the Cleveland Browns. Starting a third-string quarterback for the finale three consecutive years would somewhat epitomize the Browns. It wouldn't however, help take advantage of a weak Ravens secondary, leaving Cleveland to try to pound the rock on the ground against the NFL's No. 4-ranked run defense (86.9 yards per game).

Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said he was concerned about his team's struggling running game. But after two weeks of hibernation, Justin Forsett should find room to roam against the NFL's worst run defense, allowing 142.4 yards per game on the ground. Also facing a banged-up secondary, Joe Flacco should dice up a Cleveland team that has nothing to play for.

Pregame reading material
Whitner on Gilbert: It's time to grow up
Manziel on QB job: 'I have to take this a lot more seriously'
Steve Smith expects criticism from couch QBs

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Ravens.

The Jaguars have allowed an NFL-high 66 sacks this season. J.J. Watt had three of those the last time Jacksonville faced Houston. Watt leads all defensive linemen in sacks (17.5), tackles for loss (25), QB hits (47), passes defensed (10) and total TDs (5). If Blake Bortles is going to have one final game to show improvement during his rookie year, he'll have to avoid the NFL's most destructive force and possible league MVP.

Let your Case Keenum flag fly, friends. The quarterback -- pulled off a hunt -- won his first NFL game last week. Behind a good offensive line and relying on Arian Foster's rushing attack, Keenum should be able to guide the Texans to another win. However, the signal-caller will have to avoid the scattershot interceptions against a plucky Jacksonville defense that has improved in recent weeks.

Pregame reading material
Which Jags and Texans made the Pro Bowl?
This Houston TE is a '15 fantasy sleeper
How the Texans can still make the playoffs

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Texans.

Philip Rivers will lead the Chargers in a must-win game against the NFL's No. 2 passing defense, allowing 200.2 yards per game. The Chiefs' defense is much worse against the run, allowing 128.3 yards per game, 28th in the NFL. However, San Diego has struggled on the ground, especially with Ryan Mathews remaining out. The Chargers are averaging 83.7 rush yards per game (29th in NFL), 3.36 yards per rush (31st) and have just five rush TD (31st). Needless to say, a playoff spot will rest on the shoulders (and back) of Rivers.

With Alex Smith's lacerated spleen forcing Chase Daniels into the lineup, the Chiefs will look to exploit the ground game. (We should note that Daniels didn't perform poorly last year against the Chargers). K.C.'s run game should be primed to explode in the final home game of the season. Jamaal Charles has gotten 12 rush attempts or less in four consecutive games. The Chiefs have gone 1-3 over that stretch. Against a Chargers defense that made Frank Gore look young again, allowed 355 yards on the ground last week (8.9 yards per carry) and has allowed 100-plus rushing yards in eight of the last 10 games, Charles and the Chiefs running game should be galloping all over Arrowhead Stadium.

Pregame reading material
Te'o to taunters: 'Find a new joke'
Rivers playing with bulging disc
How can either team make the playoffs?

Who will win? Three out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Chiefs.

In a battle for pride, we'll see what Rex Ryan has primed for Ryan Tannehill, in what is likely the coach's final game for Gang Green. In Week 13, the Jets ran 49 times and passed just 15 but still lost, we shall see if they let Geno Smith toss it more this time around. Focusing on Ryan's defense, it will be interesting to watch if his pressure will rattle Tannehill, whose quick-strike program would seem to take advantage of the Jets' secondary struggles.

Jarvis Landry's season has been lost amid other storylines, but when I remember the Dolphins of 2014, it'll be mostly Landry highlights. The rookie has hauled in 79 receptions this season, which leads the Dolphins. It is also the most in team history for a rookie, passing the mark set by Terry Kirby (75) in 1993. Landry hasn't wowed in the return game, but he's Tannehill's most reliable target and is a threat to be explosive every time he touches the ball in open space. With growth next year, Landry could become the top target in the AFC East.

Pregame reading material
Philbin, GM Hickey to return to 'Fins
Wilkerson waiting for extension
Geno: Coaching 'change could be good'

Who will win? Four out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Dolphins.

Just when Bears fans thought they might have seen the last of Jay Cutler, Smokin' Jay saunters out of the shadows. After watching Jimmy Clausen make the proper checks and reads last week (and earning praise for it), perhaps it will dawn on Cutler how he could run the Bears' offense with efficiency. Or he could succumb to a Vikings defense that has gelled recently and can get after the quarterback. If Bad Jay shows up against Harrison Smith and Co., Cutler could add to his NFL-leading 24 giveaway total.

Teddy Bridgewater has completed 70 percent of his passes in four consecutive games, highlighting him as the NFL's most consistent rookie quarterback in 2014. Teddy also has a passer rating of 110-plus in three of his last four games, tying Fran Tarkenton's rookie record for most games in franchise history with a 100-plus passer rating (three). Bridgewater will face a generous pass defense that is apt to giving up big plays. In their two seasons under Marc Trestman, the Bears have allowed the most points per game in franchise history (29.9 in 2013 and 28.6 in 2014).

Pregame reading material
Vikes part ways with Ben Tate
With Clausen concussed, Cutler will start
Could Jay be a Titan next year?

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Vikings.

Tom Brady wants to get his offense rolling in a meaningless Week 17 matchup against a fierce Bills front four. The Pats own the No. 1 scoring offense and will host the Bills and their No. 4 total defense Sunday. The Patriots have faced three teams currently ranked in the top five in total defense this season (Lions, Broncos and Bills). In those games, the Patriots have scored no fewer than 34 points and won each game by at least 15 points -- Brady had four touchdowns in the last matchup with the Bills. We'll see how much Tom Terrific actually plays Sunday.

The Bills will stick with Kyle Orton at quarterback instead of seeing if EJ Manuel learned anything while watching for 11 games this year. In Week 6, Orton tossed for 299 yards and two touchdowns. The Bills couldn't run on the Patriots in the previous matchup and have struggled to move the ball on the ground the last few weeks. If Orton is forced to carry the load against a defense holding opponents to 19.7 points per game, it could be a long day -- on the flip side, Belichick could decide to play his backups and Orton could find Sammy Watkins skating around wide open all game!

Pregame reading material
Wilfork could miss $1.25M bonus by sitting
Brady wants to work out kinks in offense
Where is Buffalo projected to pick in the draft?

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Patriots.

It could be Mark Sanchez's last hurrah with Chip Kelly. The free-agent-to-be has stumbled in the last three games, all losses, as the Eagles fell out of the playoffs. In those three contests, Sanchez has thrown for 59.8 fewer yards than his first four games and a TD-INT ratio of 4-4. Pressure has discombobulated Sanchez and could again Sunday, as the Giants have 43 sacks this season (fourth-most in NFL). However, Big Blue has also allowed 72 plays of 20-plus yards (tied for third most in NFL). When Sanchez gets a big play chance he needs to hit it.

In Week 6, Eli Manning was demolished by the Eagles, getting sacked six times and slobber-knocked countless other times. The Giants might want to block Fletcher Cox, who, fresh off a Pro Bowl snub, could be in a mood to wreck the Giants' offense. However, while the Eagles are on a major slide, the Giants are playing their best football of the season. In his last five games, Manning has completed 69.8 percent of his passes. Thanks to his growing rapport with Odell Beckham, the Giants' offense has been clicking just in time to give Tom Coughlin another year at the helm and Ben McAdoo another year to run his offense.

Pregame reading material
Beckham headlines Pro Bowl snubs
Coughlin tells ODB to tone down TD celebrations
Maclin hopes to re-sign with Philly

Who will win? Four out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Giants.

The Saints boast the No. 1 total offense (416.3 yards per game) and gain 6.1 yards per play (third most). Their running game has been stymied, with just two rushing touchdowns in their last seven games after 12 in the first eight. Drew Brees hasn't had a terrible season, stat-wise, but his turnovers have killed the Saints at the worst times. Luckily he'll end a forgettable season against Lovie Smith's limp defense that has allowed QBs to complete 69.0 percent of passes (highest in NFL). The Bucs' defense lacks punch sans Gerald McCoy (on IR) and Brees should be able to carve it up Sunday to put a cherry on top of his poop-pie of a season.

What is left to say about the Bucs' offense? If it can't move the ball against the NFL's 31st-ranked total defense (390.9 YPG), which allows 6.1 yards per play (second-most in NFL) then the whole thing needs to be blown up. The Bucs will have the No. 1 overall pick if they lose Sunday. They could use it on a quarterback, but the offensive line is where the major overhaul needs to happen.

Pregame reading material
With loss, Bucs will secure No. 1 overall pick
Vaccaro says Ryan will return in '15
Galette: After loss, locker room felt 'like a funeral'

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Saints.

With only a longshot bye to play for, Andrew Luck and the offense could use this matchup to right themselves. The Colts averaged 31.8 PPG in their first 12 games, but only 16.3 PPG in their last three. Reggie Wayne nursing an injury and T.Y. Hilton not being 100 percent has thrown the offense into disarray. Facing one of the worst defenses in the NFL -- 29th in yards per game, 31 in rushing yards allowed -- should allow Pep Hamilton's group to regain some confidence heading into the playoffs.

The two-win Titans are in play for the No. 1 overall seed and should be playing their young guys. Unfortunately, Chaz Whitehurst is the only quarterback left healthy. Bishop Sankey hasn't shown a consistent ability to carry an offense and the passing game outside of Delanie Walker has been depressing. The defense around Jurrell Casey has also disappointed. The Titans have a lot of evaluating to do, most of it has already started and it's not looking good.

Pregame reading material
How can Titans lock up No. 1 overall pick?
Hilton makes first Pro Bowl
Indy set as AFC's No. 4 seed

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Colts.

The Cowboys have only an outside prayer at a first-round playoff bye (Seattle loss and Arizona loss, or Green Bay-Detroit tie). Therefore we will see how much Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray play. We'd think not a lot depending on how the game goes -- but then again Murray was ramming his surgically repaired hand into piles during last week's blowout win over the Colts, so what do we know? Romo leads the NFL in completion percentage (70.3) and passer rating (114.4) this season. No Cowboys QB has ever led the league in both categories in the same season. He'll have a good chance to keep both those numbers high while facing a whipped Redskins secondary that allows a passer rating of 109.8 to opposing QBs (NFL worst) and is the No. 28 scoring defense (26.3 points per game). Of course, the Redskins are also the team that knocked apart Romo's back.

Robert Griffin III played his best game of the season last week. We'll see if he can make it back-to-back weeks. The Redskins combined for more than 100 yards rushing in their previous meeting with Dallas this season, with Alfred Morris earning 73 yards on 18 carries. The 'Skins need that balance to keep RGIII's play action useful. If the quarterback can take another step forward under Jay Gruden, perhaps the two can make it through the offseason.

Pregame reading material
Brandt: Romo deserves MVP
Dez headed toward franchise tag?
Does Gruden really judge his QBs by wins and losses?

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Cowboys.

The Panthers could become the first-ever repeat NFC South Champions. Who wouldn't want that???

Carolina has rode Jonathan Stewart while the Panthers have compiled 100-plus rushing yards as a team in 10 consecutive games. The combination of Stewart on the ground and a more accurate Cam Newton has given the Panthers a chance to capture the crown on the road, after going two months without winning a game. Facing a Falcons defense dead last in yards per game (404.4), yards per play (6.2), passing yards per game (291.1) and third down conversion allowed (47.2), Newton and Stewart should put up great numbers.

Julio Jones (hip) has sat out practice, but we expect the wideout to play. Even at less than 100 percent, Jones is a game-changer who can make big catches over defenders and, at the very least, commands attention that will open the offense. With Steven Jackson (quad) also injured, we'd like to see more of rookie Devonta Freeman this week against a Panthers defense giving up 115.3 yards per game on the ground (19th).

Pregame reading material
Silver: Falcons' revival pulls playoffs within reach
Rivera back to 'Riverboat Ron' ways
Who would winner host in the playoffs?

Who will win? Three out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Falcons.

Over the past four games, Latavius Murray has been a steady horse in the Raiders' running game. The second-year back has averaged 83.3 yards per game, 5.4 yards per carry, has eight carries of 10 or more yards and two touchdowns. The Raiders need a lot of surrounding talent for the next coach, but it's evident they have a good young quarterback, a solid offensive line and a young running back that displayed a spark.

With questions about Peyton Manning's play swirling, the Broncos need to win at home for a playoff bye. Manning's 311 yards last week snapped a four-game streak of fewer than 260 yards passing, but he threw four interceptions -- it was the fifth time in his career Manning has thrown at least four picks. Against the Raiders' 21st-ranked run defense, expect Manning to rely on C.J. Anderson. If Peyton looks off against the Raiders -- who have bombed on the road -- there will be some already nervous Broncos fans who will have conniptions.

Pregame reading material
Rosenthal: Manning looked mortal in Week 16
Oakland GM McKenzie: Foundation has been built
Davis, Raiders positioning self for L.A. move after '15

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Broncos.

Last week Reggie Bush showed more speed and playmaking ability than any other time this season. He and Joique Bell (Achilles) could take advantage of the Packers' deficient run defense up the gut, which would give the Lions' offense a pulse and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sideline. Matthew Stafford's wayward year needs help from the running game. Beyond this season the Lions quarterback hasn't performed in big games. Stafford has played 31 games in his career against teams that finished the season with a winning record (includes 2014 teams with 9-plus wins). He has won three of those games. Sunday's game is a career changer for Stafford, if he can finally show up.

We do know Rodgers will show up. The Packers' quarterback has still not thrown an interception at home this season while racking up 23 TD passes. His 34 TDs and 396 pass attempts without an INT at home are both NFL records. The Green Bay offense has struggled with physical defenses whose D-line can push the pocket and make Rodgers uncomfortable. But Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are great at adapting the second time around. Expect Rodgers to roll the pocket and use quick crossing routes to get the ball out of his hands, which has been successful against Detroit's defense.

Pregame reading material
Rodgers on calf injury: 'I'll be OK'
Raiola's suspension after stomp upheld
Who will NFC North winner host in postseason?

Who will win? Four out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Packers.

The question will be: Can Shaun Hill lead the Rams to any points against the Legion of Boom in Seattle? The Seahawks have allowed a total of 33 points in their last five games. Eight teams (including Seattle) scored 33-plus points in Week 16 alone. No method of trying to score is easy against Seattle, but expect the Rams to try and ride Tre Mason. In Week 7, Mason had 18 carries for 85 yards and a score. The Rams workhorse needs to perform even better in order to pull off the road upset.

The Seahawks' offense is built off the running game and Russell Wilson's improvisation. Against a Rams defense that has allowed 12 or fewer points in five of its last eight games and can get after the quarterback, expect Wilson to make plays on the run that leave you speechless once again. The quarterback's smarts, knowledge of the defense and dual-threat ability will give headaches to the blitz-happy Rams D.

Pregame reading material
Bennett says Seahawks' D is best ever
You need to see Beast Mode's run again
Fisher doesn't expect fines for Rams-Giants fracas

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Seahawks.

Logan Thomas was supposed to start at quarterback for the Cards, but Bruce Arians had seen enough of the rookie in practice this week to flip back to Ryan Lindley. Sadly neither will get much help from a stymied run game. The Cardinals are averaging an NFL-low 3.25 yards per rush this season. That would rank as the fourth-lowest yards per rush of any playoff team since 1980, behind the 1994 Patriots (2.79), the 1986 Patriots (2.93) and the 1997 Dolphins (3.12). Facing a stout 49ers defense, Lindley will need to target Larry Fitzgerald often to open up the running lanes.

Last week's implosion against the Chargers was the icing on top of the 49ers' miserable season. We'll see if they add a cherry this week. Colin Kaepernick's offense has scored fewer than 20 points in seven of the last nine games (16.1 PPG). He faces a Cardinals defense that has held 12 of 15 opponents to 20 points or fewer. The Niners ground game got going last week (355 yards), but will probably have trouble duplicating that performance against Arizona's 8th-ranked run defense (102.2 yards per game).

Pregame reading material
Stanton has '85 percent' chance to be playoff-ready
Baalke says Niners want Gore back
GM confirms Michigan reached out about Harbaugh

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the 49ers.

Jeremy Hill rushed for 147 yards in Week 16, giving him his fourth game this season with 140-plus rush yards. Hill is only the third rookie in NFL history to rush for 140 yards in four different games, joining Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson (five times) and Curtis Martin. Expect Hue Jackson to ride Hill again in prime time against the Steelers' No. 6-rated run defense. A.J. Green (arm) is on pace to play Sunday which will be huge for Andy Dalton against a Pittsburgh secondary that loves giving up big plays.

Pittsburgh's 2014 offense with Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown has surpassed single-season franchise marks in points per game (27.3), yards per game (415.4) and passing yards per game (300.5). In their Week 14 meeting in Cincy, Bell ground down the Bengals' defense, rushing for 185 yards on 26 carries as the Steelers piled up 543 total yards of offense. Bell should have similar production again this week against a defense giving up 122.1 yards per game on the ground.

Pregame reading material
Battista: Steelers' playoff return fueled by D
Green says he'll play
Who will AFC North winner play in playoffs?

Who will win? Four out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Steelers.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews the biggest matchups in Week 17 and makes its picks for the last week of the season. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.