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NFL Week 17 game picks: Packers top Vikings; Jets finish strong

Week 17 game picks are in ...

It's the last week we will be able to delve into the matchups that make an NFL season so fun. This was far and away the most difficult year to pick games, based on all the mediocrity and disproportionate amount of injuries in the league. This weekend's games will not be any easier to pick, as we have a couple of teams with little to play for (Seahawks and Redskins), while other organizations will do their best to manage injury concerns as they cruise into the postseason.

Because it's not already weird with Brandon Weeden ballin' ...

Will the Texans bring home the AFC South crown? How about the Broncos and Chiefs in the AFC West? The answers to those questions and more can be found below, with some fun facts and history thrown in. As for the rest, your thoughts are welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it!

Elliot Harrison went 9-7 on his predictions for Week 16, giving him a record of 143-97 so far this season. How will he fare in Week 17? His picks are below.

Key matchup: No. 1 versus No. 1. The Bills' top-ranked running game must gain ground against a Jets front that has allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL. LeSean McCoy was the best player on the field when the Bills beat the Jets in Week 10. However, with nothing to play for, it's doubtful Rex Ryan will start him with his knee injury. Thus, Mike Gillislee and Karlos Williams, both of whom have had their moments this season, must produce against arguably the league's premier group up front.

 **Playoff implications:** If the 
 Jets win, they are in. The only question will be whether they are the fifth or sixth seed. If Todd Bowles' group does finish in the sixth spot, and the 
 Patriots secure home-field, then we could be looking at a potential 
 Patriots divisional round showdown. The last postseason game New York won came at New England following the 2010 season, when the 
 Patriots were the No. 1 seed. #Rex 

Key matchup: New England's wide receivers versus Miami's secondary. The Dolphins don't have a Darrelle Revis to man on Rob Gronkowski. So do they man bracket him with Reshad Jones over the top? Can any Patriots receivers make plays with Julian Edelman still out? Miami is 28th in yards per pass attempt allowed and tied for 28th in passing touchdowns allowed.

 **Playoff implications:** Win here and the 
 Patriots will secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They've already secured a bye for the sixth straight postseason, an amazing feat in this salary-cap era. 

Key matchup: Atlanta's Julio Jones and Roddy White versus New Orleans' Delvin Breaux and Brandon Browner. If Breaux locks up on Jones with safety help over the top, can White beat Browner, as nearly everyone else has? Browner has 23 penalties on the season, much of those coming because of his speed disadvantage. But the 34-year-old White isn't burning anyone at this stage of his career. Breaux produced a huge interception in last week's win ... Broseph.

 **He said it:** I asked 
 Drew Brees 
 during his Tuesday appearance on "NFL HQ" if it was better for young quarterbacks to sit, given the impressive play of fourth-year pro 
 Brock Osweiler and second-year pro 
 AJ McCarron on 
 Monday night, and the trend to throw guys like 
 Jameis Winston right into the fire. "Listen, it's difficult coming in as a young quarterback," he said. "Had I had to play right away, I don't know what it would've looked like. I certainly would have had my struggles." Interesting. Sounded like he was all for letting guys learn, listening to his tone. Oh, and Brees also said both he and Sean Payton 
 will be back in New Orleans in 2016. 

Key matchup: Detroit's offensive line versus Chicago's front seven. Can Matthew Stafford keep up his vastly improved play? The Lions quarterback will need time, and he'll need a ground game that doesn't average three yards and a cloud of mud. Detroit's last six games: a much better 4.2 yards per rush.

 **Historical symmetry:** You always hear about the 
 Bears rivalry, but did you know the 
 Lions and 
 Bears have been locking up since 1934 (when the 
 Lions moved to Detroit)? Previously, the 
 Lions were the Portsmouth Spartans. In 1932, these two franchises played 
 the first postseason game in NFL history, which is also, thus far, the 
 *only* postseason game in this long-standing series. The Spartans and 
 Bears finished that season tied for first place, and a blizzard forced the ensuing tiebreaker game to be held at Chicago Stadium -- the indoor home of the Chicago Blackhawks. The popularity and coverage of the unofficial '32 championship game led league owners to institute a 
 *real* NFL title game in 1933. 

Key matchup: The Eagles versus an emotional uprising. Odell Beckham, Jr. is back. Speculation regarding Tom Coughlin's future will hang in the air. Will the Giants do the opposite of what the Eagles seemed to do this season -- that is, play for their coach? While we're at it, how will Philly's players respond under interim coach Pat Shurmur, with Chip Kelly now gone? No strategic matchup should affect the outcome more than the emotional underbelly of this NFC East rivalry.

 **Historical symmetry:** This isn't the first time in this long-standing series that a 
 Super Bowl-winning coach was rumored to be retiring while another controversial front man was on his way out. Go back 25 years, and you have the storyline of Bill Parcells and Buddy Ryan. When they faced off for the last time in 1990, Parcells' previously undefeated 
 Giants (10-0) took it on the chin against Ryan's 
 Eagles defense, losing 31-13. But Parcells would have the last laugh when Scott Norwood's field goal 
 sailed wide right two months later, giving Parcells his second ring. Ryan, meanwhile, was fired after Philadelphia lost a wild-card matchup with the 
 Redskins. #SBXXV 

Key matchup: Complacency versus resignation. Washington cannot move from the cleanup spot in the NFC playoff tournament. They will host the No. 5 seed (potentially the Seahawks) no matter what. Will the Cowboys show up against their NFC East rivals with only the 2016 draft order on the line? Dallas is assured a top-eight pick, but the Cowboys could move as far up as second overall.

 **Historical symmetry:** The 
 Redskins and 
 Cowboys have linked up on the final game of the regular season many times, sometimes even with playoff spots on the line. But only twice have they met with the winner taking the NFC East. The last time was in 2012, when 
 Robert Griffin III and a pesky defense beat Dallas in D.C. The other was in 1979. Roger Staubach, playing in his final regular-season game, threw two touchdowns in the final three minutes to beat the 
 Redskins at Texas Stadium. 

Key matchup: Easy pickins', here -- though hopefully not for whoever starts for the Colts, which, it looks like, could be Josh Freeman, Ryan Lindley or Stephen Morris. Can either the former Buccaneer, former Cardinal or former Miami Hurricane make hay against a Tennessee defense that has allowed 34 points per game over the last four contests?

 **Playoff implications:** If Indy wins, the 
 Texans lose, the 
 Falcons beat the 
 Saints, the 
 Bills beat the 
 Jets, the Smurfs beat Gargamel, the 
 Dolphins beat the 
 Patriots, the 
 Ravens beat the 
 Bengals, He-Man beats Man-e-Faces, the 
 Broncos beat the 
 Chargers, the 
 Steelers beat the 
 Browns, Keith Richards beats aging and the 
 Raiders beat the 
 Chiefs ... 
 *then* the 
 Colts will taste the postseason. 

Key matchup: Which young, inexperienced quarterback will blink first? Cincinnati's AJ McCarron fared admirably Monday night, especially considering he was facing the Broncos' No. 1-ranked defense at their place. Can Ryan Mallett put on a clinic on the road against the Bengals' D?

 **Playoff implications:** The 
 Bengals can earn a first-round bye with a win over the 
 Ravens and a 
 Broncos loss to the 
 Chargers. That is huge, considering that's something they've never secured in the Marvin Lewis era. All six of Lewis' previous playoff appearances with Cincinnati have ended in wild-card round defeats. 

Key matchup: Austin Davis versus a Pittsburgh secondary that allowed Ryan Mallett to throw for 274 yards and a touchdown last week. With Johnny Manziel (concussion) having been ruled out, the Browns turn again to Davis, who gets to round out his AFC North dance card, which already includes appearances in losses to the Ravens and Bengals. Yes, the last time he saw the field, Davis was throwing zero touchdown passes in a 37-3 defeat to Cincinnati. But then, the last QB to beat Pittsburgh was Ryan Mallett ... so does starting Davis actually somehow improve Cleveland's chances?

 **Playoff implications:** Well, 
 Steelers fans will be the first to tell you that Mike Tomlin always loses to junky teams (like to the 
 Ravens twice this year, including 
 last week's jaw-dropper), so maybe stopping the Davis-led 
 Browns is the first concern. Presuming Pittsburgh 
 *does* win, they'll also need 
 the Jets to lose to the Bills -- which, we must point out, 
 has happened before this season, in East Rutherford, no less. 

Key matchup: Houston's secondary versus the Allen boys. The Texans' DBs have performed well of late, but you can't ignore what Robinson and Hurns are doing. Even in last week's loss at New Orleans, the two wideouts combined for 14 catches, 258 yards and three touchdowns.

 **Relevant stat:** Houston has gone as far as the defensive backfield has allowed it to. During the 
 *wins* of this 6-2 run, the 
 Texans have allowed opposing passers a sub-70 passer rating. The two losses? 124.4 

Key matchup: Oakland's pass protection versus the Chiefs' pass rush. Derek Carr has only been sacked 25 times this season, but a season-high four of those came in the 34-20 loss to Kansas City back in Week 13. The Broncos sacked Carr that many times in Oakland this season as well, in another Raiders loss. In Oakland's seven wins, Carr has been sacked only nine times. Neither Justin Houston nor Tamba Hali dressed for the Chiefs last week, and they still won. Both could return in Week 17.

 **Playoff implications:** If Kansas City wins this AFC West game, and if the 
 Chargers bring their best product 
 out on the field in Denver to beat the 
 Broncos, the 
 Chiefs will have gone from being written off at 1-5 to winning the division at 11-5. 
 Anyone remember Jamaal Charles? 

Key matchup: Denver versus the inevitable Week 17 trap game. It seems every year, a team loses a contest like this. Last year, the Falcons hosted the 6-8-1 Panthers with the NFC South on the line and got hammered, 34-3. Granted, that Carolina team was much better than this Chargers outfit, but you never know. In fact, San Diego had a playoff spot on the line last year against the Chiefs in Week 17, only to lay an egg in an ugly loss. It happens.

 **Relevant stat:** You know Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will dial up pressure on 
 Philip Rivers. Careful, as Rivers isn't exactly 
 AJ McCarron. The veteran 
 Chargers quarterback has posted a 100.8 passer rating, with nine touchdowns and two interceptions, versus the blitz this season. Of course, 
 against the Broncos in December, Rivers was 1-of-7 with a pick against some well-timed blitzes ... and a passer rating of 0.0. 

Key matchup: Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula versus a Bucs defense that has struggled in three straight losses. The Panthers' passing "attack" looked certifiably anemic in last week's loss in Atlanta. Cam Newton and Co. produced all of 113 net passing yards. On the offense's final snap, protection broke down, leading to Newton being stripped. On that subject, how much does Shula want Newton carrying the ball? His MVP candidate QB scored a rushing touchdown against the Falcons, but he also took some big shots. He's not exactly one to protect himself. Better to have your quarterback upright on the road in the NFC Championship Game than not upright at all.

 **Playoff implications:** 
 Panthers win = home-field throughout the playoffs. Wasn't that easy? 

Key matchup: Whoever gets the carries in the Seahawks' backfield versus the Arizona run defense. In last week's loss to St. Louis, Seattle employed Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Christine Michael and Will Tukuafu. They rumbled 16 times for 21 yards ... get excited. With Marshawn Lynch still working his way back to the field, all of that means Russell Wilson will probably be scrambling all over the place. You know the Cardinals will blitz, which is something they do with more frequency than any team in the NFL. Sure would be nice to slow them down with the run.

 **Playoff implications:** Arizona can secure home-field throughout the playoffs with a win over the 
 Seahawks and a 
 Panthers loss. The 
 Seahawks aren't really playing for anything. At best, they can take the fifth seed. They'll be traveling to either Washington, Green Bay or Minnesota. 

Key matchup: Case Keenum and the Rams' passing game versus the 49ers' secondary. St. Louis has received better than expected play from the former Texans backup. Can Kenny Britt, who has touchdowns in two consecutive weeks ( including on Richard Sherman last week), and Tavon Austin (who did squat last week) take advantage of a defensive backfield that has allowed opponents 8.11 yards per pass play? That's the second worst mark, ahead of only New Orleans. Being compared to the Saints' defensive backfield is a fireable offense.

 **Historical symmetry:** It was 20 years ago that 
 49ers safety Tim McDonald uttered the phrase "same old 
 Rams," after San Francisco pasted the 5-1 upstart 
 Rams by five touchdowns in St. Louis. That was the 
 Rams' first year in Missouri, with that game being played at Busch Stadium. 
 *"Not the 'same old Rams' "* would become a mantra for the '99 
 Super Bowl champs. How time flies. 

Key matchup: Green Bay's receivers versus the Vikings' secondary. Can James Jones, Davante Adams or Randall Cobb provide Aaron Rodgers any windows to throw into? If you watched the Packers' blowout loss to Arizona last week, you probably noticed much of the Cardinals' pressure came with Rodgers holding the ball. Packers wideouts were getting nowhere fast. It doesn't help that Rodgers' receivers have dropped 23 balls this year, including several in the end zone.

 **Historical symmetry:** Remember this 
 Week 17 matchup from 2012? The 
 Vikings were trying to secure a playoff spot -- and 
 Adrian Peterson had his eyes set on Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set back in 1984. In one of the finest regular-season games of recent vintage, Minnesota won behind nearly 200 yards from Peterson (although he fell short of Dickerson's mark by 8 yards). The 
 Vikings would lose in the Wild Card Round at Lambeau 
 the next week, however, when 
 Joe Webb was forced to start in place of an injured 
 Christian Ponder. 

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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