NFL Week 17 game picks: Panthers > Falcons; 'Hawks in playoffs

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It's Week 17. End of the road for 20 teams. End of the preliminary stage for a dozen others. Who's who? Well, some of that remains TBD.

While many playoff situations were settled last weekend -- like the Lions and Cowboys tanking, and the Chiefs winning the division -- much is still up for grabs this weekend. Not only wild-card spots in both conferences, but also seeding. This week always brings out the spreadsheet monger in all of us, as we try to decipher the complexities of postseason scenarios. For example, take a gander at the Panthers-Falcons blurb below. Before you roll your eyes at all the ifs ands or buts dominating sports airwaves at this time of year, try to remember that, every once in a while, all the ducks line up (in a row, right?) for some Damon Huard-led team to make it to the playoffs.

On to one of your Week 17 thoughts ...

Right, but a cool thing about football is that when you hold the other team to zero points, you don't have to score much.

OK, so now that we got that preamble out of the way, let's dive into some game picks -- the last of the regular season. I worked hard to provide you insightful stats -- along with random sci-fi references -- all year. Lie to me and tell me you enjoyed it. Or just follow the usual protocol, which is to read the picks below and then proceed to tell me how horrifically wrong I am: @HarrisonNFL is the place. Much love and Happy Holidays.

Now, let's get to it!

Elliot Harrison went 13-3 on his predictions for Week 16, giving him a record of 156-84 thus far this season. How will he fare in Week 17? His picks are below:

Redskins
24
Pick
Giants
10
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 1 PM ET
Look, I'm not that big of a company shill. I can admit the truth. And this is a garbage game. Yet, football heads like myself will watch anyway. We're like those dudes who are so into cars that they will look in awe at an '86 Nissan Sentra if it's mint condition, or spend 50 bucks on a car show in Fullerton. Respect the fact that Jay Gruden hasn't been sitting anybody, and likely won't for this game. The Redskins want to go .500, which actually would be rather impressive, considering how many dudes ended up on IR or spent significant time on the shelf this season. Oh, yeah: I haven't written anything about the Giants yet. Did you know that Eli Manning can tie the franchise record for most games played (216) this week? Do you know which (really) famous former Giant currently holds that mark? ( @HarrisonNFL)

Patriots
27
Pick
Jets
13
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 1 PM ET
The Jets' offense hasn't exactly revved it up like a forest green '67 Camaro with a 350 (cars!), but we will see Bryce Petty again this weekend. Matt Patricia's defense shouldn't have to do much scheme-wise to contain New York's passing game. Playing it straight with coverage should suffice -- Petty isn't exactly surgical in the air game, and the Jets' alternative at quarterback is a guy who's yet to take a regular-season snap. Interesting that the Patriots tied the record for most consecutive seasons with a first-round bye (eight). I say interesting because every other team in NFL history with at least six straight first-round passes comes from the 1970s. Call it the pre-Tagliabue era. No parity whatsoever in the disco years.

Vikings
26
Pick
Bears
13
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 1 PM ET
Fans who root for their team to lose so that they get a higher draft pick are almost as weird as people who don't like dogs. While I get it (sort of) -- picking higher makes it easier to retool the team -- your GM still has to knock the selection out of the park. And like we saw with these Bears last April, you can move up to build for the future. How about rooting for Chicago to knock the Vikes off their 2-seed perch? For that to happen, John Fox's team must run effectively, because Minnesota gives up jack$^&* through the air. Nine times this year, the Vikings have given up less than 200 net yards passing.

Lions
24
Pick
Packers
16
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 1 PM ET
Seems the Packers have already shifted to the 2018 offseason, at least if last week's game against the Vikings was any indication. Determining what to do with the defense in the coming months might be as difficult as figuring out whether or not "Die Hard" truly is a Christmas movie. (Apparently the screenwriter recently answered that question: It is! Perhaps he can help figure out what kind of investment the Pack should make toward the pass rush.) The Lions, meanwhile, have nothing to play for, while speculation about Jim Caldwell's status runs rampant.

Ugly numbers: In nine games with Hundley at quarterback, Jordy Nelson has caught 30 balls for 214 yards and 0 touchdowns. I did better numbers with the Patriots in Tecmo Super Bowl, and both their quarterback (Marc Wilson) and receivers (guys you've never heard of) sucked. Poor Jordy.

Colts
26
Pick
Texans
17
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 1 PM ET
Jacoby Brissett and an opportunistic defense send the Colts off into a murky offseason with a win. While questions circle around Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano, Week 17 is an opportunity to evaluate the young talent in a still-competitive environment. Especially when it comes to Indy's defense, which is sure to get retooled this offseason. For Houston, pulling out a win after being blown out multiple weeks in a row would improve the vibe in the building. Bill O'Brien has been questioned much since Deshaun Watson went down on the practice field. Tough times ... The Texans' offensive struggles minus Watson have been well-chronicled at this point, but it's worth noting that Indy has averaged 9.6 fewer points this season than last. Think Mr. Luck makes a difference?

Steelers
30
Pick
Browns
13
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 1 PM ET
Can DeShone Kizer play turnover-free? Believe it or not, this AFC North matchup does carry some juice, given that the Steelers can still garner home-field advantage with a victory -- and a Jets win in Foxborough. (All that must happen in that latter circumstance is Bryce Petty throwing for like 460 and six touchdowns.) Here's wondering how much burn Le'Veon Bell will get in this game. The most worked back in football has already touched the football 406 times this season. What a stud. Speaking of studs ... Cameron Heyward is talked about less than many lesser players, and it's a shame. Heyward has racked up 11 of his 12 sacks against interior offensive linemen this season. Only Aaron Donald can match that -- and everyone this side of Neil Diamond sings that guy's praises.

Cowboys
20
Pick
Eagles
16
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 1 PM ET
When Ezekiel Elliott doesn't get the ball in goal-to-go situations, it's like those times on "Saved by the Bell" when the writers tried to have Screech carry a show. You might not have been into Zack Attack's frosted tips, but he was THE GUY. Zack got the girl. Put another way: Stop trying to pass it to Jessie and Lisa -- just give the damn ball to Kelly Kapowski. Why is Dallas trying to throw touchdown passes to Terrance Williams on first-and-goal from the 3. Feed Zeke. The Raiders just ran right through the Eagles' front.

(Not) Fun facts: Nick Foles' completion percentage (56.6), yards per attempt (5.3) and passing yards per game (200.0) all rank last among playoff quarterbacks.

49ers
27
Pick
Rams
16
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 4:25 PM ET
Love everything about this matchup -- well, save for the part about the Rams resting their key players. With the 49ers finally getting quality quarterback play, it reminds me of a, well, young Steve Young going up against Jim Everett and the Rams. Although, frankly that never really happened, as Young never got to start against Los Angeles until he was 30 years old. But Jimmy Garoppolo's ability to throw on the move -- and from different arm angles -- is Young-esque. Actually, his sidearm touchdown last week was Stafford/Kosar-ish. San Francisco's run defense, which hasn't allowed 100 yards rushing in over a month, won't have to worry about Todd Gurley (he's one of the guys getting rest). On the subject of MVP candidates -- yes, Gurley certainly is one -- Garoppolo's presence has altered the trajectory of an entire organization. Consider: The 49ers had four wins in a span of 21 days with Garoppolo as the starter. Prior to that, the 49ers had four wins in the previous 726 days.

Chargers
20
Pick
Raiders
17
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 4:25 PM ET
This game could even end up 13-7. The Raiders have been sluggish on offense all season, and haven't managed to put up more than 17 points in any of their last three games. In fact, Oakland hasn't scored more than 24 points since Week 9. Meanwhile, the Chargers are banged up at running back, which could cause the deciding matchup to be Philip Rivers and the Bolts' receivers against Oakland's secondary. That Raiders group played Nick Foles well in Philadelphia this past Monday, but Rivers > Foles.

Fun fact: Only one team has made the playoffs after beginning its campaign 0-4. That was the '92 rendition of these Chargers. You probably have heard that note already. Yet, what you might not know is that only two other squads since 1990 started 0-3 and reached the postseason. That would be the 1998 Bills (on the strength of Flutie Flakes) and the 1995 Lions. Despite so many people always saying that Barry Sanders never played with anyone, you can now tell them that Detroit had two receivers (Herman Moore and Brett Perriman) in '95 who combined for 231 catches, 3,174 yards and 23 touchdowns. So, uhh, that set an NFL record for catches by a receiving duo -- and dispels a not-great '90s myth.

Chiefs
17
Pick
Broncos
14
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 4:25 PM ET
Rookie Patrick Mahomes is getting the start at QB. But will Andy Reid play the rest of his starters all game? Doubt it. Can the Broncos make it to 17 points? Doubtful. BUT Kansas City's defense has stunk for much of the season, so if a few guys like Justin Houston get rest, then Paxton Lynch could have a day. Perhaps strong enough to score once while the defense produces a touchdown off a Mahomes interception in the second half. Oh, man -- how do you pick a game like this? The Chiefs don't need it, as they are the No. 4 seed no matter what. Meanwhile, Denver's hoping against hope that Lynch will show something. Alex Smith surely has, proving many a doubter flat wrong. His 104.7 passer rating is the highest mark in the NFL -- and, given that Smith is sporting a clipboard for this game, it will break Len Dawson's franchise record set all the way back in 1966. Of course, Lenny the Cool's 101.7 that year is akin to posting a 118 passer rating now, give or take a couple of points. Stats II was not a strength in college.

Jaguars
28
Pick
Titans
21
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 1 PM ET
The score might look high, but here's guessing Blake Bortles serves up another meaty steak for a guy in the wrong-colored jersey -- yes, of the pick-six variety. Thus, Marcus Mariota's offense will generate 14 points, and that's it. Methinks Doug Marrone will play his starters, mostly because the Jags were thoroughly unimpressive last week in San Francisco. Tom Coughlin, for one, will not want to see this franchise -- which has lost so much over the years -- head into the postseason riding back-to-back cruddy performances. Speaking of lackluster play, Mariota surely would love a 2017 do-over. Career worsts in yards per attempt, yards per game, touchdowns, interceptions and passer rating -- oh my!

Saints
30
Pick
Buccaneers
20
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 4:25 PM ET
The Saints are still playing for the division, as a loss in Tampa coupled with a win by the Panthers in Atlanta would hand Carolina the NFC South title. Dennis Allen's defense has been a great story in the NFL this year, changing the entire culture around a team that used to be completely quarterback-centric. While New Orleans is giving up just 19.7 points per game, that figure gets even better when the Saints leave the Superdome -- 16.4 ppg allowed on the road. Moreover, that average would be even lower if you threw out the Week 1 anomaly in Minnesota. If the Bucs are to win, Jameis Winston must control his emotions, stay within himself and attack the middle of the field. These Saints are bona fide Super Bowl challengers. In addition to the immense improvement on defense, New Orleans is the only team in the NFL that sits in the top five in both rushing and passing. Word.
Bills
22
Pick
Dolphins
20
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 4:25 PM ET
Buffalo could be the worst team to make the playoffs this year. If we're talking Jolly Ranchers, the Bills would be grape. That said, I sure hope they make it. Haven't their fans been through enough? Trent Edwards leading the league in passing in September, building hope ... only to be crushed by Stevie Johnson drops. And take your pick of the Drew Bledsoe 2003-04 catalogue. Or Leodis McKelvin giving the Patriots a free W on a kick-return fumble. Or Petermangate. The Dolphins manage to play one good game a month, so they might be due. Nah, too soon. They'll blow somebody out in the opener next year on their way to a high-flying 2-3 start. If the Bills lose, or the Chargers win, then Buffalo will set a new NFL record for most consecutive seasons since the 1970 merger without making the playoffs. The Saints are currently tied with them, having also missed the postseason 17 years in a row. That's misleading, though, as New Orleans actually went 20 years with no chance of making the Super Bowl -- an inglorious streak that traveled from 1967 to 1986 (yep, an additional three empty seasons before the merger). You know who ended that run? Can you say ... PLAYOFFS?!

Seahawks
28
Pick
Cardinals
20
Sunday, Dec. 31 @ 4:25 PM ET
The Seahawks are vying for that final NFC playoff spot. The Cardinals aren't going to Seattle to get their butts kicked. This a heckuva intriguing game. Seattle clearly isn't the same football team that cruised into the postseason in each of the past five years. Despite the Seahawks' recent dominance of the NFC West and spectacular home-field advantage, Bruce Arians is 3-1 in Seattle. Drew Stanton will start for the second week in a row, after leading the Cards to a win over the Giants (20 for 34, 209 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions).

I wasn't planning on typing a note about Russell Wilson here ... until our research department and @RealJackAndrade sent a note that the Seahawks quarterback accounted for 97.2 percent of his team's offensive touchdowns this season, the highest figure in the Super Bowl era. Unbelievable.

Panthers
23
Pick
Falcons
22
Monday, Dec. 31 @ 4:25 PM ET
Carolina's in the wild-card mosh pit, although the NFC field is decidedly smaller -- with only the Falcons and Seahawks vying for that No. 6 seed. Now, it's important to note that the Panthers can still win the NFC South if they take this matchup Sunday and the Saints lose in Tampa. Going further, if the Vikings and Rams lose, Ron Rivera's outfit can slide all the way into the No. 2 spot and get a first-round bye. Interesting, huh? Carolina must stop the Falcons' offense at their place. No guarantee, even if that offense has been a clunky, Matt Ryan-brand engine. Here's where things get weird: If the Falcons lose ... and the Seahawks fall to the Cardinals ... and the Saints falter in Tampa and the Rams lose -- but Minnesota wins -- then the Panthers would be the No. 3 seed, setting up a rematch of this very game next week. Confused yet? Grab a TI-81 graphing calculator and we'll work through it together.

(Not) Fun fact: Atlanta is 8-1 vs. non-playoff teams this year and 1-4 against teams headed for the postseason. Oops.

Ravens
19
Pick
Bengals
16
Monday, Dec. 31 @ 4:25 PM ET
Do you ever feel like Joe Flacco is like that one pair of Steve Maddens that you wore to a party a few years ago when you, like, clearly outkicked your coverage with a phone number you snagged ... but then over time, you realize it wasn't the shoes, and that you are so money you don't even know you're money? That's Flacco, baby. He crushed it in the 2012 playoffs -- and even in the 2014 postseason against the Steelers and Patriots -- but the reality is that the defense has always been the backbone of Ravens success. You probably know by now the Bengals are the team that leaves 18 messages on the answering machine.

(Not) Fun fact: Flacco and Andy Dalton have stunk in games against each other. Neither has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions, and neither has a passer rating approaching 80 (72.6 and 76.9). Oof.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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