Washington (+9.5) at Philadelphia, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Washington/Philly matchup is meaningless, but the Redskins have been playing in those type of games for weeks now. They have remained generally competitive, although Rex Grossman still commits far too many turnovers. Evan Royster impressed when taking over backfield duties last week, but Roy Helu (toe) is expected to return to the lineup Sunday. Expect a timeshare between the two Washington backs…The Eagles have won three straight and will try to end their disappointing season on a high note. Michael Vick has played better of late and gets a banged up Redskins secondary this week with his full complement of weapons. LeSean McCoy picked an awful time for fantasy owners to have his worst game of the season in Week 16, however, since he has a shot at the rushing title, expect him to play through his ankle injury Sunday.
Predictions: Rex Grossman throws for 240 yards with a touchdown to Jabar Gaffney, while Washington's RBBC produces 100 total yards and a TD run by Roy Helu. LeSean McCoy responds with 120 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, while Michael Vick adds 275 passing yards with scoring strikes to Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin, as Philly ends the season with a four-game winning streak. Eagles 27-20.
New York Jets (+2) at Miami, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Jets haven't alternated wins and losses one time this season in a year that won't see them playing in their third straight AFC Championship game. Mark Sanchez has produced 30 touchdowns this year, but his YPA has dropped for the second straight season following his rookie campaign, sitting at an ugly 6.4 in a time when passing stats are the highest in league history. His career completion percentage of 55.1 is glaring, and he's already lost eight fumbles in 2011. It's too early to write off the former No. 5 overall pick, but Jets fans also have every right to be concerned…The Dolphins lost last week in New England, but they took a 17-0 lead into halftime, as they continue to play better in the second half of the season. Matt Moore has an 11:2 TD:INT ratio over his past six games. Over his last eight contests, he's also got 8.3 YPA. He should absolutely be given every opportunity to be the team's starter in 2012. Brandon Marshall gets Darrelle Revis this week, but the team was unafraid to target him heavily the last time they met. Jake Long is out with a biceps injury, and Reggie Bush is questionable after leaving last week's game with a minor knee ailment.
Predictions: Mark Sanchez throws for 225 yards with a touchdown to Plaxico Burress, while Shonn Greene runs for 70 yards and reaches the end zone. Reggie Bush plays through his injury, resulting in 90 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Matt Moore adds 230 passing yards with a TD toss to Brian Hartline, as the home team prevails. Dolphins 20-17.
Carolina (+8.5) at New Orleans, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Panthers scored 48 points last week and are now 4-1 over their past five games, with three of the victories coming on the road. Cam Newton is having one of the most impressive rookie seasons ever, and he's produced 13 touchdowns to just two turnovers over the past five contests. He gets a Saints defense this week that can be beat through the air, and he'll likely need a big game to keep up with New Orleans' potent offense…The Saints enter riding a seven-game winning streak and with plenty to play for, as they would secure the No. 2 seed if they win and San Francisco loses. It's possible they pull their starters if SF enjoys a huge lead, but coach Sean Payton plans to go “full throttle” and this offense has been clicking so well, three quarters from them is better than most others' full games. Drew Brees has a 24:5 TD:INT ratio over seven home games this season. He should shred a Carolina secondary that has allowed an NFL-high 8.2 YPA on the year.
Predictions: Cam Newton throws for 250 yards and finds Steve Smith for a score, while the QB also adds 40 rushing yards and a TD on the ground. DeAngelo Williams runs for 70 yards, while Jonathan Stewart gets a goal-line score. Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas total 150 yards from scrimmage, with Ivory getting a short touchdown run. Drew Brees adds 325 passing yards and three touchdowns, with Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Sproles the recipients, as New Orleans wins it. Saints 31-21.
Detroit (-3.5) at Green Bay, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: With the No. 1 seed locked up and no chance at a perfect season, the Packers have nothing to play for Sunday and are expected to rest the majority of their starters. Detroit should be plenty thankful, as it gives them a much better chance to get the No. 5 seed and avoid having to travel to face the Saints in round one of the playoffs (or 49ers). It would be a mild surprise if Aaron Rodgers doesn't give way to Matt Flynn almost immediately. Flynn has got 6.1 YPA with a 3:4 TD:INT ratio over 88 career pass attempts, but he faces a Lions' defense that has been hit hard by injuries…Detroit has won three straight, including an impressive 38-10 blowout over the Chargers last week. Matthew Stafford has a 9:0 TD:INT ratio over the past three games, and while that's come against admittedly weak competition, he's undeniably played extremely well. His 7.5 season YPA isn't off the charts, and having Calvin Johnson is the single biggest advantage a quarterback can have right now in the NFL, but Stafford is on pace to finish the season with 4,819 passing yards and 38.5 touchdowns while also limiting turnovers. Most importantly, he's stayed healthy, and he's started just 28 games in a career that's really just beginning. He should be able to move the ball Sunday against a Green Bay defense that has ceded the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing QBs this season. It would make some sense for the Lions to sit Kevin Smith (ankle), but it sounds like he's going to play.
Predictions: Matt Flynn takes over early, throwing for 230 yards with a touchdown to James Jones. John Kuhn adds a goal-line TD, while Kevin Smith responds with 90 total yards and hits pay dirt. Matthew Stafford adds 300 passing yards with scoring strikes to Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew, as Detroit comes out on top. Lions 24-20.
San Francisco (-11) at St. Louis, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Rams come in 2-13 and still with a shot at the draft's No. 1 pick, as the team has scored more than 20 points in just one game this season. In fact, over their last four contests, St. Louis has averaged a paltry 6.5 points, and they face a San Francisco defense this week that has allowed an NFL-low 13.5 ppg in 2011. Kellen Clemens is in line to get another start under center, and the best that can be said about his work in relief so far has been his ability to limit turnovers. Steven Jackson gets a 49ers' run defense that allowed its first rushing score and 100-yard rusher of the season last week…San Francisco can clinch the No. 2 seed with a victory and is sending a whopping eight players to the Pro Bowl, so Jim Harbaugh's NFL coaching debut has been a massive success. The 49ers are much more vulnerable on the road, and the team can ill afford to overlook a Rams team that's more than 10-point underdogs, as securing a first round bye is imperative (as well as ensuring the likely matchup with New Orleans is at home). Alex Smith has just one touchdown over the past three games, and he'll be dealing with a thin WR corps, as the team released Braylon Edwards this week, and both Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams are banged up. Expect a big workload from Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and the running game.
Predictions: Kellen Clemens throws for 210 yards, while Steven Jackson fights for 75 yards from scrimmage, but the Rams don't reach the end zone. Frank Gore runs for 90 yards and a touchdown, while Alex Smith adds 230 passing yards and a score to Vernon Davis, as San Francisco secures the No. 2 seed in the NFC. 49ers 23-6.
Indianapolis (+3.5) at Jacksonville, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Thanks in part to Dan Orlovsky taking over at quarterback, the Colts have won back-to-back games after starting the season 0-13 and run the risk of losing out on Andrew Luck if they win again Sunday. The team almost certainly doesn't care about that and will continue to go all out, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say they have the decided advantage at QB in this week's matchup. Still, this is a team with a poor defense having to travel to play outdoors against a Jacksonville team that isn't bad defensively. Now might be the time to sell Indy high…The Jaguars are just 1-5 over their past six games, and while it may be premature, Blaine Gabbert looks like a real swing-and-miss as last year's No. 10 overall pick. It would be a truly remarkable feat for Maurice Jones-Drew to win the rushing title playing for an offense that has averaged just 259.2 yards-per-game this season, which is easily an NFL-low (the next worse is St. Louis with 281.7 ypg). Expect MJD to get a heavy workload Sunday, and he faces an Indy front seven that has yielded the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season.
Predictions: Dan Orlovsky throws for 200 yards with a TD to Pierre Garcon, while the Colts' RBBC produces 75 scrimmage yards and a TD run by Donald Brown. Maurice Jones-Drew counters with 130 combined yards and hits pay dirt twice, while Blaine Gabbert adds 180 passing yards with a touchdown to Jarett Dillard, as the home team prevails. Jaguars 21-17.
Buffalo (+11.5) at New England, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Bills ended their seven-game losing streak with a victory over the Broncos last week, scoring 40 points in the process. They beat the Pats the first time these teams met earlier this season, but the offense has taken a major step back over the second half of the year, and the defense remains a problem, although it's been nice to see C.J. Spiller enjoy some success. Ryan Fitzpatrick has a 2:5 TD:INT ratio over the past three games, although he faces a New England secondary this week that has given up the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season…The Patriots come in riding a seven-game winning streak, and they can secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a victory as heavy favorites. The team's defense is shaky, and they actually entered halftime down 17-0 while playing at home last week, so they certainly have some flaws, but the offense is a juggernaut. Tom Brady should easily surpass Dan Marino's NFL single-season passing record Sunday (although he'll remain behind Drew Brees' performance from this year), as he should shred a Buffalo defense that has allowed 27 passing scores while struggling to pressure the passer this season.
Predictions: Ryan Fitzpatrick throws for 240 yards with a touchdown to Stevie Johnson, while C.J. Spiller totals 110 yards and records a TD run. Stevan Ridley answers with 70 rushing yards, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis punches in a goal-line score. Tom Brady throws for 325 yards and three touchdowns, with Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez the recipients, as New England secures the AFC's top seed for the postseason. Patriots 31-17.
Tennessee (-3) at Houston, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Titans still have an outside shot at the playoffs, whereas the Texans are locked into the No. 3 seed, so it's clear which team has more to play for Sunday. However, Houston is supposedly planning on not resting any of its starters, which makes some sense considering the team won't want to enter the postseason on a three-game losing streak. Plus Andre Johnson needs to get some reps returning from his hamstring injury, and T.J. Yates needs more playing time as well. So Tennessee will be facing a team, while reeling, that won't lay down for them. Chris Johnson at times looked pathetic (especially while blocking) playing through an ankle injury last week, but he's expected to give it a go in the regular season finale. The Titans get a Texans' defense that has taken a major step back with DC Wade Phillips not on the sidelines…Ben Tate somehow scored negative fantasy points despite not fumbling, and Houston's defense allowed an 80-yard TD drive in less than a minute and a half in a loss to the Colts last week. In doing so, the Texans became the first team in NFL history with 10 or more wins to lose to a team with one win or fewer. They look like an extremely vulnerable squad entering the postseason, so expect them to try to right the ship, even in a meaningless game Sunday.
Predictions: Matt Hasselbeck throws for 225 yards with a touchdown to Jared Cook, while Chris Johnson totals 80 yards with a TD run. Arian Foster produces a similar line, while T.J. Yates adds 220 passing yards with a touchdown to Joel Dreessen, as Houston gets back on track. Texans 20-17.
Chicago (pick 'em) at Minnesota, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Bears have lost five straight games, as their season ended when Jay Cutler went down with an injury. Josh McCown was an upgrade over Caleb Hanie last week, and he gets a Vikings' secondary this week that has given up an NFL-worst 109.1 QB rating to opposing passers this year. Kahlil Bell also impressed last week and gives the team reason not to overpay Matt Forte during the offseason…Minnesota ended a six-game losing streak last week with a 33-26 victory in Washington, although it came at a huge cost, as Adrian Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL while also suffering damage to his meniscus. It's a brutal blow to the franchise, and Toby Gerhart is looking at a heavy workload Sunday. Joe Webb somehow produced three touchdowns while attempting just five passes in relief last week and has created a quarterback controversy in Minnesota. At minimum, the 25-year-old sure is a nice insurance policy as a backup, as Webb is the fastest quarterback in the league and also has a 103.7 QB rating this season. Christian Ponder is set to start Sunday, and he'll want to end the season on a high note with a capable option right behind him.
Predictions: Josh McCown throws for 250 yards with a touchdown to Kellen Davis, while Kahlil Bell adds 110 yards from scrimmage and hits pay dirt. Toby Gerhart responds with 90 total yards and a short TD run, while Christian Ponder adds 230 passing yards with a touchdown strike to Percy Harvin, as Minnesota wins on a late field goal. Vikings 23-20.
Pittsburgh (-7) at Cleveland, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: The Browns are 1-8 over their past nine games, and they have scored more than 20 points in just one game this season. Their defense has actually been solid, and they typically don't get blown out, but they face a Steelers team this week fighting to possibly be the AFC's No. 2 seed. With Colt McCoy still dealing with serious aftereffects from a concussion, Seneca Wallace will get the start again Sunday, and he gets a Pittsburgh defense that has allowed the least fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2011. Rookie wideout Greg Little leads the NFL in both drops (14) and broken tackles (17), which is quite the feat…The Steelers pitched a shutout last week, winning with Ben Roethlisberger resting his ankle injury. The team needs the Bengals to beat the Ravens to have a shot at the No. 2 seed, which not only comes with a bye, but it would mean they would have to play on the road in round one if not. There's a real chance Baltimore loses in Cincinnati, so Pittsburgh will be all hands on deck Sunday. Despite early reports Roethlisberger will play just 25-30 snaps, expect him to be full go, unless the Ravens somehow are up big at halftime of their game. The Browns have actually played well against the pass this season, and the Steelers will want to limit Roethlisberger's hits, so expect a ground heavy attack, with the team hoping it can win with a strong defensive performance.
Predictions: Seneca Wallace throws for 170 yards with no touchdowns, while Peyton Hillis fights for 80 total yards and reaches the end zone. Rashard Mendenhall produces a similar line, while Ben Roethlisberger throws for 225 yards with a touchdown to Heath Miller, as the road team prevails. Steelers 23-13.
Baltimore (-1.5) at Cincinnati, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: The Ravens get the conference's second seed with a win Sunday, but they have performed far different when on the road (3-4) than at home (8-0) this season. Joe Flacco's YPA drops nearly a full point (from 7.5 to 6.6) when going on the road during his career compared to playing in Baltimore, and he's also taken 28 more sacks in one fewer game. Cincy has recorded 44 sacks this year, so this should be a defensive battle Sunday, with Ray Rice the Ravens' offensive centerpiece…The Bengals nearly blew a 23-0 fourth quarter lead last week, and they didn't thanks largely to Early Doucet falling down in the end zone. As a result, the team controls its own destiny Sunday, as they are in the playoffs with a win over their division rivals. Andy Dalton gets a tough test facing a Ravens' secondary that has allowed just a 69.1 QB rating to opposing passers while recording an NFL-high 47 sacks this season. Cedric Benson doesn't have any lesser of a task, as Baltimore has allowed just 3.5 YPC on the year, so expect a defensive battle, with home field the difference.
Predictions: Joe Flacco throws for 220 yards with a touchdown to Torrey Smith, while Ray Rice adds 90 yards from scrimmage and a TD run. Cedric Benson fights for 70 rushing yards and scores from the goal line, while Andy Dalton adds 180 passing yards with a touchdown to A.J. Green, as Cincy makes the playoffs. Bengals 17-14.
Tampa Bay (+12) at Atlanta, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: The Bucs have lost nine straight games and have scored 20 points just once during that streak. The defense has been a major weakness, while Josh Freeman, Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount have all taken major steps back this season. Coach Raheem Morris looks almost sure to be fired after the year, but this is a big spread against an Atlanta team that might have nothing to play for and could be resting its players if the Lions win earlier in the day…The Falcons are coming off an embarrassing loss in primetime Monday night, and their effort will likely come down to if they can still improve from the sixth to the fifth seed, which would be huge, avoiding another trip to New Orleans (or to SF). Atlanta plays well at home, and Tampa Bay appears to have quit long ago, so the Falcons should have little trouble if they play their starters, but that's the main question when evaluating this game.
Predictions: Josh Freeman throws for 240 yards with a touchdown to Kellen Winslow, while LeGarrette Blount adds 70 rushing yards and a TD run. The Falcons' starters play only a half, as Michael Turner runs for 50 yards with a touchdown, while Matt Ryan and Chris Redman combine for 240 passing yards with scoring strikes to Harry Douglas and Julio Jones, as Atlanta wins it. Falcons 27-17.
Kansas City (+3.5) at Denver, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: The Chiefs lost in overtime last week, but they continue to play competitively defensively, while Kyle Orton has been a major upgrade over Tyler Palko at quarterback. Orton will be plenty motivated Sunday, as he faces the team that cut him earlier this season. Denver will also have plenty of incentive, as they win the AFC West with a victory. The Broncos defense just hasn't been the same since Von Miller injured his thumb, however, so Kansas City should be able to move the ball Sunday…Denver has followed up a six-game winning streak by allowing 81 points over the past two weeks, which both were losses. Last week Tim Tebow threw pick-sixes on consecutive plays (the second one was later ruled a fumble lost), as the offense fell apart in Buffalo. It should be a playoff type atmosphere this week, with the Broncos' season on the line facing the quarterback the team opened with as its starter.
Predictions: Kyle Orton throws for 240 yards with a touchdown to Dwayne Bowe, while Dexter McCluster runs in the first rushing TD of his career. Willis McGahee responds with 75 yards and a TD on the ground, while Tim Tebow adds 200 passing yards with a touchdown toss to Demaryius Thomas, as Denver gets into the postseason with a victory. Broncos 20-17.
San Diego (+3) at Oakland, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: With their playoff lives on the line, the Chargers got blown out 38-10 in Detroit last week, and the only silver lining for the franchise is that it hopefully brings the end of Norv Turner's tenure as head coach. Him removing Ryan Mathews during two drives once the team got inside the 10-yard line (that resulted in a field goal and a turnover on downs) was just the most recent example of him not getting it. You might want to use your best players in crucial situations, Norv. San Diego wouldn't surprise if they played great Sunday, since the team typically performs best when expectations are lowest. Vincent Jackson is questionable with a groin injury…The Raiders' overtime win last week ended a three-game losing streak and kept their playoff hopes alive, but they will need some help Sunday in order to reach the postseason. They can even make it as a wild card, so Oakland should be focused in its matchup against the Chargers. The team's defense remains a weakness, and Carson Palmer will have to limit turnovers, but he's got 9.2 YPA over the past two games and should be able to move the ball against a mediocre San Diego defense, especially since Oakland's WR group is back to health. Michael Bush has got just 3.2 YPC over the past five games, but he remains a workhorse active as a receiver, so he's a strong fantasy start in Week 17.
Predictions: Philip Rivers throws for 275 yards with touchdowns to Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd, while Ryan Mathews adds 80 total yards and scores. Michael Bush answers with 110 yards from scrimmage and hits pay dirt, while Carson Palmer throws for 250 yards with scoring strikes to Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, as Oakland wins it. Raiders 27-21.
Seattle (+2.5) at Arizona, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: Seattle's three-game winning streak came to an end last week in a loss to the 49ers, but they are still 5-2 over the second half of the season, with an improving defense and strong rushing attack. Tarvaris Jackson hasn't thrown a pick in any of the past four games, although he has lost a fumble in each of the past three. He hasn't been terrible this season, but if the Seahawks truly aim to have upside moving forward, it's imperative they upgrade the quarterback position during the offseason…Like the Seahawks, the Cardinals had a winning streak (four games) end last week, and they have played much better over the second half of the year (they are 6-2 over their past eight contests). With Kevin Kolb still dealing with the aftereffects of suffering another concussion, John Skelton is likely to get another start Sunday. Skelton has got 7.9 YPA with a 6:2 TD:INT ratio in fourth quarters this season. He's recorded a 4:11 TD:INT ratio in quarters 1-3, however. Him starting is good news for fantasy owners of Larry Fitzgerald, while Beanie Wells has a tough matchup against a Seattle front seven that has ceded just 3.8 YPC on the year.
Predictions: Tarvaris Jackson throws for 210 yards with a touchdown to Doug Baldwin, while Marshawn Lynch totals 100 yards and scores for the 12th game in a row. Beanie Wells counters with 75 rushing yards and a TD of his own, while John Skelton throws for 220 yards with a touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald, as the home team prevails. Cardinals 20-17.
Dallas (+2.5) at New York Giants, Sunday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: With the winner being the NFC East champion and the loser out of the playoffs, it was a no-brainer for NBC (and the NFL) to "flex" this game Sunday night. Both these teams are similar in the fact they are enigmatic, capable of losing yet also beating any team in football. Each is more dangerous as underdogs than favorites. The Giants put themselves in this position by beating the Jets 29-14 last week, and they won 37-34 in Dallas the first time these teams met in 2011. Eli Manning has been fantastic this year, but he has a 1:4 TD:INT ratio over the past two games, and the Cowboys can generate a good pass rush. Victor Cruz has already set a franchise record for receiving yards in a season even though there's still a game left and he barely saw the field over Weeks 1 and 2 (totaled 38 snaps). Cruz could improve as a blocker, but his 16 broken tackles rank second in the NFL among WRs…The Cowboys lost 20-7 at home versus the Eagles last week, but that came with two caveats, as Tony Romo left early with a hand injury, and the outcome mattered little after the Giants had won earlier. Romo has dealt with swelling in the hand, but he's fully expected to play Sunday night, and Felix Jones, who was also rested after playing early last week, should give it a go despite a hamstring injury. It's a truly even matchup in what amounts to a playoff game Sunday night in primetime, and while Dallas is playing on the road, it's important to note just how well Romo had been playing before last week (he had produced eight touchdowns with zero interceptions over the previous two games), and he finally is playing with a loaded WR corps all healthy at the same time, which is the difference Sunday.
Predictions: Eli Manning throws for 300 yards with touchdowns to Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) and Victor Cruz, while Ahmad Bradshaw runs for 70 yards with a score as well. Felix Jones plays through his injury, resulting in 70 rushing yards, but it's Tony Romo who shines, throwing for 300 yards with scoring strikes to Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, as Dallas wins on a late field goal. Cowboys 24-21.
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