Divisional matchups galore in regular season's final week

For all of the supreme parity we've experienced this season, and for all of the teams that were still in the playoff hunt deep into December, and despite the league's onus on divisional games in the final weeks, there isn't really much to play for in Week 17. Outside of four games or so, not a whole heck of a lot is really at stake. We have one game that, in and of itself, will decide a division -- the lowly NFC West -- and a few instances in which, if a top team manages to flop against a lowly opponent, then maybe we see a division title switch (AFC South, AFC North). But in terms of who is in and who is out, it's basically down to what could be a wild battle for a final wild card spot in the NFC, assuming no division leaders choke.

The storyline:

So the NFC North isn't at stake, but the Bears are pushing to secure a first-round bye, something they covet. They'd love nothing more than to keep the Pack out of the postseason in this heated rivalry. If Green Bay wins, it secures the final NFC wild card spot. * #### Why you should watch:

The Packers are rolling with Aaron Rodgers back, and the Bears' offense is coming off a dismantling of the Jets. The Packers are still kicking themselves for giving away the first meeting. Devin Hester is in a sick, sick zone right now. * #### Did you know?

Hester has the NFL record for combined kickoff and punt return touchdowns. ... Chicago's Julius Peppers has six sacks in his past six games. ... Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings has six touchdowns in his past six games. ... Green Bay's Brandon Jackson has a career-high 1,010 yards from scrimmage this year. *

The storyline:

The NFC West championship game. Can Seattle win a division at 7-9 with Charlie Whitehurst at the helm? Can the Rams win in what, over the years, has been a very tough road environment with rookie Sam Bradford at the helm? * #### Why you should watch:

The only singular game that will decide a division, and now it's in prime time! The final regular season game of the season. Bradford is the real deal, and the Rams' defense has been stout all season. Seattle's inability to run the ball all season could undermine it, particularly if Matt Hasselbeck can't play. * #### Did you know?

Bradford has a rookie record 335 completions this year. ... St. Louis' Steven Jackson is the only Ram ever with six consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. ... Seahawks safety Earl Thomas leads all NFC rookies with five interceptions. ... Seattle's Leon Washington is tied for the NFL lead with three kickoff return touchdowns this year. *

The storyline:

The reigning Super Bowl champs against the little engine that could. If the Bucs win and get some help, they could still get into the playoffs. * #### Why you should watch:

The Bucs have been unable to beat the big boys all season, but have the ultimate motivation now. Josh Freeman threw five touchdowns last week. The Saints come in off a short week and know a longer trip through the postseason than last year is likely ahead. * #### Did you know?

The Buccaneers are the first team since 1970 to start 10 rookies and have a winning season (excluding the strike-shortened 1987 season). ... Tampa Bay's LeGarrette Blount leads all rookies with 941 rushing yards. ... Saints quarterback Drew Brees has an NFL-record three 400-completion seasons. ... New Orleans' Pierre Thomas has eight touchdowns in his past nine division games. *

The storyline:

A Colts win secures yet another AFC South title. There was a controversial ending between these teams under similar circumstances to end the season a few years back. * #### Why you should watch:

This could very well be the final game of Jeff Fisher's long run with the Titans, the longest of any current coach in the NFL. Peyton Manning is shaking off a midseason slumber. Could the Colts make another late charge with Joseph Addai back in the run game? * #### Did you know?

Titans defensive end Jason Babin has a career-high 12.5 sacks this season. ... Tennessee's Marc Mariani leads the AFC with a 12.9-yard punt return average. ... The Colts have won seven consecutive home games against division opponents. ... Both Indianapolis defensive ends (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) were named Pro Bowl starters. *

The storyline:

The Giants are trying to curtail a late-season collapse in which they went from a likely division title to the brink of missing the playoffs in just six quarters. * #### Why you should watch:

This division game takes on more spice with the Giants needing to win to get in. Is Eli Manning's turnover-itis enough to keep the wounded Redskins defense in the game? You'd think the Giants would go with the power run game with great regularity. Donovan McNabb plays his final game as a Redskin, but won't make the field as the No. 3 QB. Rex Grossman posted a 60 passer rating last week, and loves him some turnovers, too. * #### Did you know?

Manning has won eight of his past nine starts against the Redskins. ... New York's Justin Tuck has eight sacks in his last seven games vs. Washington. ... Redskins linebacker London Fletcher has three career interceptions against the Giants. ... Washington's Chris Cooley ranks second among NFL tight ends with 72 receptions. *

The storyline:

The Jags have tumbled late again, but could still get in with a victory and a Colts loss. This is a matchup of two division rivals that just can't get over the hump. * #### Why you should watch:

This is likely Gary Kubiak's final game with Texans (he's just their second coach). MJD might be back for the Jaguars. Andre Johnson might be back for the Texans. The Jags' late-game mojo has fizzled, but could they pull off their greatest comeback yet to actually win the division? * #### Did you know?

The Jaguars have beaten the Texans three consecutive times. ... Jacksonville's David Garrard is third in the NFL with a 108.3 fourth-quarter passer rating. ... Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has 300-plus passing yards in four consecutive games. ... Houston's Neil Rackers has made 51 consecutive field goals from inside 45 yards. *

The storyline:

The Eagles are trying to lock down the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Jason Garrett is trying to lock down the Cowboys' head coaching job beyond an interim role. * #### Why you should watch:

This is Michael Vick's last chance to bolster his MVP credentials, which would rival only Kurt Warner as the most improbable ever. The Cowboys are likely going with Stephen McGee at quarterback. I'm not sure how that's going to work out for them in Philly, though, he fought hard against the lowly Cards. * #### Did you know?

The Eagles are NFC East champs for the first time since 2006. ... Philadelphia is playing Dallas in Week 17 for the third consecutive year. ... Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has a career-high eight touchdowns. ... Dallas' Miles Austin needs 21 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the second straight year. *

The storyline:

A year ago, the Browns, with Brady Quinn at QB no less, knocked their hated rivals from the playoffs with a big Thursday night win. Could they knock the Steelers from the AFC North title this time around? * #### Why you should watch:

Peyton Hillis has slowed down the stretch and the Steelers have the best run defense in the NFL, though, maybe he has one last surprise. Colt McCoy is scrappy outside the pocket. This could be Eric Mangini's swan song with the Browns, a regime that lasted a year longer than pretty much anyone expected. * #### Did you know?

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 11-1 against the Browns. ... Pittsburgh's James Farrior has a sack in five of his past six games. ... Browns tight end Benjamin Watson has a career-high 696 receiving yards. ... Rookie T.J. Ward leads Cleveland with 98 tackles. *

The storyline:

If the Steelers slip up and the Ravens take care of business, Baltimore snags the AFC North title. * #### Why you should watch:

Joe Flacco threw four picks in a Week 2 loss to the Bengals, the difference in Baltimore being the No. 2 or No. 5 seed right now. I'm guessing he'll be a little fired up for this one. The Bengals are suddenly hot without Batman and Robin getting in the way. The Bengals have won three straight over the Ravens. Marvin Lewis, the defensive coordinator of the Ravens' Super Bowl team, could be coaching his final game for the Bengals back in Baltimore. * #### Did you know?

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is 9-3 against the Ravens in his career. ... Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham leads all AFC rookies with 52 receptions. ... Flacco has 13 touchdowns and one interception at home this year. ... Baltimore is 10-0 when Ed Reed has at least two interceptions in a game. *

The storyline:

Will Bill Belichick do what most coaches would do and rest as many key guys as possible with the top seed wrapped up? Or will he turn what might be the final game of the Tony Sparanao era into another lopsided blowout? * #### Why you should watch:

Tom Brady could continue to assault the record books. Cameron Wake will have one last chance to add to his All-Pro stats. Miami has been markedly better on the road than at home this season, for what it's worth. * #### Did you know?

The Dolphins are trying to go 7-1 on the road for the first time since 1984. ... Miami's Ronnie Brown has five rushing touchdowns in four career games at New England. ... The Patriots lead the league in points per game. ... New England's Devin McCourty is tied for the rookie lead with six interceptions. *

The storyline:

Only the Raiders could potentially go 6-0 within their division (with a win at Arrowhead) and miss the playoffs. Raise your hand if you had the Chiefs in position to rest starters in Week 17 with a division crown already secured. * #### Why you should watch:

It is always interesting when these rivals meet. Matt Cassel has quietly had an MVP-type season (no coincidence his quick return from appendicitis keyed Kansas City's playoff run). These are two of the best rushing teams in the NFL. * #### Did you know?

The Raiders have won three straight games at Kansas City. ... Oakland's Darren McFadden ranks second in the NFL by averaging 128 yards from scrimmage per game. ... The Chiefs are 7-0 at home this season. ... Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe has a franchise record 15 touchdown catches this year. *

The storyline:

The Jets essentially backed into the playoffs for the second straight year. They need a little something to feel good about right now. * #### Why you should watch:

Ryan Fitzpatrick better emerge from his funk and give the Bills' brass a decent final impression from 2010. Can you believe I picked C.J. Spiller as my preseason AFC Rookie of The Year? What the hell was I thinking? Eh, maybe he shows up today. * #### Did you know?

Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson needs two receiving touchdowns to establish a new franchise record. ... Buffalo's Chris Kelsay has five career sacks against the Jets. ... Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson has six rushing touchdowns in six games against the Bills. ... New York's Brad Smith ranks second in the NFL with a 28.6-yard kickoff return average. *

The storyline:

The Falcons can't wait for the playoffs to begin. The Panthers can't wait to find out for sure which underclassmen QBs will declare for the draft. * #### Why you should watch:

This could be John Fox's last game with the Panthers. This will likely be Mike Smith's last regular season game with the Falcons before he gets a fat new contract extension. Matt Ryan, assuming he plays, can continue his exceptional season (especially in domes). Falcons backups like Harry Douglas and Jason Snelling are pretty darn good. * #### Did you know?

Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson has a sack in six consecutive outings. ... Carolina's Richard Marshall has an interception in three straight games against the Falcons. ... When Matt Ryan has at least a 100 passer rating, the Falcons are 15-0. ... Atlanta's Michael Turner leads the NFC in rushing. *

The storyline:

The Broncos' coaching search begins about five minutes after this game ends. * #### Why you should watch:

Tebow, Tebow and more Tebow. If not for Tim Tebow, you might be able to count the number of people in the stands with a study abacus. I wonder if the Chargers are regretting the hard-line stance they took with their key restricted free agents right about now? * #### Did you know?

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has a 118.8 passer rating in nine career starts against the Broncos. ... San Diego is tied for the league lead with 44 sacks. ... The Broncos are 15-5 at home against the Chargers since 1990. ... Denver's D.J. Williams leads the team with 116 tackles. *

The storyline:

Brett Favre's potential final appearance in an NFL uniform is sure to obscure and dwarf the interesting little story the Lions have become. * #### Why you should watch:

If Favre plays, will Ndamukong Suh end his career with a bone-crushing sack? Could another freakish storm of some sort sweep through Detroit and force this game to be played next Tuesday on the sand somewhere in South Beach? * #### Did you know?

The loser of this game will finish in last place in the NFC North. ... Minnesota's Percy Harvin has a return, rushing and receiving touchdown this year. ... Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is tied for the NFC lead with 12 touchdowns. ... Detroit's Ndamukong Suh leads all rookies with nine sacks. *

The storyline:

Mercifully, the season is now over for both of these outfits, who need to begin 2011 with upgrades at quarterback. * #### Why you should watch:

If you're a fan of either of these teams, it's the last chance to see them for a long time ... And anything can happen in the NFC West in 2011. * #### Did you know?

Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald is the only player in franchise history with four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. ... Arizona leads the league with 12 return touchdowns. ... 49ers running back Brian Westbrook has five touchdowns in his past two games against the Cardinals. ... San Francisco's Vernon Davis leads all tight ends with 19 touchdowns since 2009. *

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