NFL Picks Week 17: Score predictions for Sunday games, Monday

By The Sports Xchange 
The Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, right, and the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford will battle in a key Week 17 NFL game which will decide the NFC North division winner and determine the playoff fate of both teams. File photo by Jeffrey Phelps/UPI
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BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-7) AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-9-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Paul Brown Stadium. TV: CBS, Carter Blackburn, Chris Simms.
SERIES HISTORY: 42nd regular-season meeting. The Ravens lead the series, 21-20. Baltimore snapped a five-game losing streak against its AFC North foe with a 19-14 victory on Nov. 27. Prior to that game, the Ravens had not beaten Cincinnati since Nov. 10, 2013. The Ravens have not swept the season series since 2011.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens are focused on salvage a winning season. As a result, coach John Harbaugh will play all of his regular starters.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are decimated with injuries and will be without several key playmakers, including tight end Tyler Eifert, guard Clint Boling and receiver A.J. Green.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is still in concussion protocol and his status is uncertain.
Baltimore will aggressively attack Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton because he has so few weapons. Dalton has already been sacked 40 times this season.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown for a career-high 4,050 yards with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He has also been able to spread the ball around to several receivers. That trend will likely continue this game. The key for Flacco is to avoid costly mistakes against the undermanned Bengals.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Ravens WR Steve Smith vs. Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick. The 37-year-old Smith and Kirkpatrick have already traded barbs this season. This matchup could get heated again, especially with Smith likely playing his final NFL game. Smith has been solid and has 67 receptions for 765 yards. He also leads the team with five touchdown receptions and 12 catches over 20 yards. Kirkpatrick, a pending free agent, is also having another solid year and leads the team with three interceptions. In likely his last game, Smith should be targeted several times by quarterback Joe Flacco, so Kirkpatrick will have a busy afternoon.
--Ravens LG Marshal Yanda vs. Bengals DT Geno Atkins. Yanda is one of the league's top interior linemen and earned a trip to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl. Yanda moved from the right side of the line to the left side because of a sore shoulder and an injury to rookie Alex Lewis. Despite the switch, he has been just as dominant. Atkins is one of the premier pass rushers in the league and is one of just two Bengals selected for this year's Pro Bowl. He has created matchup problems against Baltimore. Atkins has managed 8.5 sacks on the season This will be a good battle between two veterans.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
BALTIMORE RAVENS
--Questionable: T Alex Lewis (ankle)
CINCINNATI BENGALS
--Out: WR A.J. Green (hamstring), T Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder)
--Doubtful: LB Vontaze Burfict (knee, concussion), TE Tyler Kroft (knee, ankle)
--Questionable: RB Jeremy Hill (knee)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Ravens WR Mike Wallace. The eight-year veteran has resurrected his career with the Ravens. Wallace has been Baltimore's prime downfield threat and a favorite target for quarterback Joe Flacco. Wallace has caught 68 passes for a team-high 984 yards. He also has caught four touchdown passes. Wallace has showed some frustration when he doesn't consistently get the ball, but coach John Harbaugh has been impressed with his competitiveness. Wallace will look to finish the season strong against the Bengals. He is just 16 receiving yards away from becoming the 12th player in Ravens' history with 1,000 yards in a season.
FAST FACTS: Ravens QB Joe Flacco has thrown for a career-high 4,050 yards. He is the first Ravens quarterback to pass for at least 4,000 since Vinny Testaverde in 1996. Flacco owns seven of the top eight passing yardage totals in team history ... Ravens rookie RB Kenneth Dixon has caught a touchdown pass or run for a score in two of his past three games. ... WR Steve Smith, who is likely playing his final NFL game, ranks seventh in NFL history with 14,697 receiving yards. ... WR Mike Wallace leads Baltimore with 984 receiving yards. ... LB Terrell Suggs has 114.5 sacks, most in Baltimore history. Suggs has three sacks and two forced fumbles in the past two games against the Bengals. ... Bengals QB Andy Dalton is one of three quarterbacks in NFL history with 3,000 passing yards in each of his first six seasons. Dalton has 3,980 yards and can become the second player in team history with two 4,000-yard seasons. ... Cincinnati RB Jeremy Hill has run for a touchdown in three of his past four games and has at least nine touchdowns in three consecutive seasons -- the second-longest streak in franchise history. Hill leads NFL with 29 rushing touchdowns since 2014. ... Bengals DT Geno Atkins has four sacks in the past three games and 8.5 on the season. Since 2010, Atkins leads all NFL defensive tackles with 51.5 sacks.
PREDICTION: Despite missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, the Ravens are feeling a sense of urgency to finish with a winning record, especially with last year's disappointing 5-11 finish. They will look to exploit the Bengals, who will be challenged to overcome injuries to some of their top players.
OUR PICK: Ravens, 27-17.
--Todd Karpovich
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-12) AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-8)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Lucas Oil Stadium. TV: CBS, Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots.
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd meeting. Indianapolis leads the series, 21-10. Jacksonville won the first meeting this year, a 30-27 win in London where the Jaguars raced out to a 23-6 lead after three quarters and then hung on after the Colts scored three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes. Jacksonville won last year's second meeting, 51-16, the most points scored by a Jaguars team in a regular-season game. That ended a six-game Colts winning streak in the series.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Nothing is at stake in this game as one team is searching for a head coach and the other has a head coach searching for his team.
The Jaguars fired Gus Bradley and THEN ended their franchise record nine-game losing streak with a shocking 38-17 win over Tennessee. The Colts came into this season off a disappointing 7-8 record in 2015 and need a win Sunday to achieve the same level of disappointment a second consecutive year.
When Jacksonville team owner Shad Khan announced that he was firing Bradley, he said general manager Dave Caldwell "will now be charged with exploring all options to hire the best head coach possible."
It has since been revealed that the Jaguars hired the search firm of Korn Ferry Institute to compile a list of the best coach possibilities.
It is unclear what would happen if Caldwell has a name that is not on the search committee's list.
As for the game, Colts coach Chuck Pagano said, "Our message this week is to finish. We need to find a way to go into the offseason on a high note. It's much better than the alternative. We have a game to win."
Offensively, the Colts want to control tempo and the clock. That means continuing to show improvement running the football. Getting off to a fast start will be crucial.
Colts QB Andrew Luck has thrown just 12 interceptions, along with 29 touchdown passes, this year. He has a 64 completion percentage and a 96.8 passer rating. Almost unnoticed, he has not been sacked for two games.
Jacksonville would like to have a balanced mixture of run and pass; but, with only one of its top three running backs healthy, that may be difficult. Chris Ivory is the lone running back of the team's three leading rushers who will play as both T.J. Yeldon and Denard Robinson are injured. Ivory has a hamstring issue that limited his play last week.
So QB Blake Bortles may throw more, which was a good thing last week when he passed for 325 yards and posted his first triple-digit QB rating of the year.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Jaguars QB Blake Bortles vs. Colts secondary. With Jacksonville likely to air it out this week due to a lack of healthy running backs, this will be the only way the Jaguars can gain a win. Bortles will need to play as well as he did last week, when he threw for 325 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in compiling a rating of 103.5, his best mark this season. Bortles finally found the connection with Allen Robinson that he had been missing all season as Robinson caught nine of the 12 passes sent his way. He finished with a season-best 147 yards. The Jaguars could catch a break if CB Darius Butler can't play; he's in the NFL's concussion protocol following an injury last week in the team's loss at Oakland.
--Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey. An elite receiver against a potentially elite cornerback. Hilton already has proven himself to be among the best receivers in the league. He was named to his third straight Pro Bowl last week. He leads the New York Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. by 30 yards for tops in NFL receiving yards. Ramsey likely will be assigned to cover Hilton much of the game, like he did in the first meeting in London. Ramsey and some others did a credible job there, holding Hilton to seven catches for only 42 yards. Ramsey has played at a peak level the last couple of weeks. He totaled four tackles, five pass breakups and an interception two weeks ago against Houston, and followed that with 4-5-1 totals last week. The interception resulted in a 30-yard return for a touchdown. Whoever wins the Hilton-Ramsey battle will give his team a decided edge in the game.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
--Out: DT Jordan Hill (calf)
--Questionable: WR Allen Hurns (hamstring), RB Chris Ivory (hamstring), WR Marqise Lee (hip), WR Neal Sterling (concussion)
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
--Out: CB Darius Butler (concussion)
--Doubtful: WR Donte Moncrief (shoulder)
--Questionable: LB Chris Carter (shoulder), CB Rashaan Melvin (knee)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Colts TE Erik Swoope. The former college basketball player with no previous football experience at any level continues to impress. Swoope had a big game against Minnesota two weeks ago, scoring his first touchdown, and had a nice downfield catch against Oakland last week. He has 14 catches for 275 yards. Swoope will be a free agent in the offseason but is expected to be re-signed.
FAST FACTS: Jags QB Blake Bortles has 3,604 yards passing and is one of three QBs in team history with two seasons of 3,500 yards. WR Allen Robinson had 147 yards receiving last week and leads team with 68 catches, 801 yards and six TDs. ... Since 2012, Colts QB Andrew Luck has 130 passing TDs, third most by a player in his first five seasons. ... Colts RB Frank Gore has 1,227 yards from scrimmage (964 rushing) and is the only player in NFL history with 11 consecutive seasons with 1,200 yards from scrimmage. He needs 36 yards rushing for his ninth 1,000-yard season, which would be fifth in NFL history. ... Colts WR T.Y. Hilton leads the NFL with 1,353 yards receiving.
PREDICTION: OK, who was that team that played in the Jags uniform last week? Assuming a return to some semblance of normalcy, the Colts should win at home to finish .500 again.
OUR PICK: Colts, 28-21.
--Frank Cooney
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-2) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (10-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Hard Rock Stadium. TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn.
SERIES HISTORY: 100th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead the series, 52-47. But the Patriots have won two of the last three, including a 31-24 decision in Week 3 at Foxboro.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots, who have won the AFC East and earned a first-round bye, can secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win or an Oakland loss.
The Dolphins have clinched a playoff spot and can claim the No. 5 seed with a win and a Kansas City loss.
Miami wants to utilize running back Jay Ajayi as much as possible. But the Dolphins also must continue to get plays from all throughout the lineup -- offense, defense and special teams.
New England is likely to score at least 30 points, which is why Miami needs contributions from defense and special teams, as they've been getting while winning nine of their last 10 games.
Defensively, the Dolphins are unlikely to stop running back LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 123 yards when these teams met in September. Miami's run defense is 30th in the NFL (141.8 yards per game) and has allowed 12 teams to rush for more than 100 yards. The Dolphins must find a way to absorb the damage they allow on the ground.
Pass defense will be critical for Miami, which is bad news when you face Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Most likely Miami won't be able to stop New England from scoring, so it will have to outscore the Patriots, and if the Dolphins get big plays throughout the lineup, as they've done recently, victory is possible.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Dolphins pass defense. Baltimore and Buffalo shredded Miami's pass defense, so you'd have to assume this would be an easy job for Brady. Miami's pass rush will likely be ineffective because Brady delivers the ball so quickly. Coverage will be at a premium, and that's not favorable for the Dolphins. Turnovers and third-down stops will be key for Miami; if the Dolphins can thrive at both, it would become a more manageable game. But, if they struggle, it could get ugly.
--Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi vs. Patriots run defense. Ajayi has three 200-yard rushing games, including last week's 206-yard effort at Buffalo. That game included a 57-yard run in overtime. If Ajayi gives the Dolphins' offense a solid foundation, the play-action pass becomes a huge factor in Miami's favor. Ideally, Ajayi leads the way offensively, which would be a problem for New England.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
--Out: WR Danny Amendola (ankle), CB Cyrus Jones (knee)
--Doubtful: WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
--Questionable: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle, shoulder), QB Tom Brady (thigh), LB Dont'a Hightower (knee), WR Matt Slater (foot)
MIAMI DOLPHINS
--Out: QB Ryan Tannehill (knee)
--Doubtful: LB Jelani Jenkins (knee), CB Byron Maxwell (ankle)
--Questionable: RB Jay Ajayi (shoulder), LB Spencer Paysinger (knee), DE Mario Williams (ankle)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount. New England's lead back has had his most impressive season while turning 30 this season. He's set career highs for carries, yards and touchdowns, leading the NFL in the latter category with 17 scores. But, Blount has slowed a bit over the last couple weeks, picking up just 31 yards on 17 carries (1.8 avg.) in Denver and a mere 50 yards on 20 attempts (2.5 avg.) against the Jets, failing to reach at least 3 yards a carry for the third and fourth time this season. Blount had averaged at least 4 yards a carry in the previous four contests and it would be nice to get the big back rolling again heading into the postseason, given this week's matchup with a Miami defense giving up 4.9 yards per carry.
FAST FACTS: Patriots QB Tom Brady has 12.5-1 TD/INT ratio (25 pass TDs vs. 2 INTs), the second highest in NFL history. He ranks second in NFL with a 110.7 rating and can clinch a fifth season with a 100 or higher rating, fifth most in league history. ... Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount had two rush TDs last week and leads the NFL with a franchise-record 17 rushing TDs. He aims for a fifth game in a row with a rushing TD. ... Patriots CB Malcolm Butler had two INTs last week and leads the team with four. ... Dolphins QB Matt Moore has six passing TDs vs. two INTs in the past two weeks. He passed for 281 yards and three TDs in his last start vs. the Patriots on Dec. 24, 2011. ... Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi rushed for 206 yards and a TD last week and is the fourth player in NFL history with three games of 200 rushing yards in a season. He ranks fourth in team history with 1,213 rushing yards. ... Dolphins LB Cameron Wake has 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an INT in his past 10 games; he has a sack in three straight games. He's tied for second in the NFL with five forced fumbles.
PREDICTION: With a chance to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs last year, the Patriots flubbed Week 17 in Miami and saw Denver use the home field to edge it for the AFC's Super Bowl berth. The bet here is that they won't present Oakland with a similar opportunity this year, as New England figures to take advantage of a shorthanded Dolphins secondary and limit Ajayi's success, forcing Moore to do the heavy lifting. That's not a good proposition for Miami in this one -- or in the postseason.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 30-24.
--Bucky Dent
CHICAGO BEARS (3-12) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-8)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, U.S. Bank Stadium. TV: Dick Stockton, David Diehl, Kristina Pink.
SERIES HISTORY: 111th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 57-51-2. The Vikings are 34-21 at home, but this is the first meeting at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings were 5-1 and coming off their first loss of the season when these teams met at Soldier Field on Halloween night. The Vikings were favored, but they came out flat and lost 20-10 to continue the slide that eventually turned a 5-0 team into the current 7-8 squad that was eliminated from the playoff race last week. The Vikings have won four straight at home against the Bears, including last year's 38-17 win at TCF Bank Stadium.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vikings must stop running back Jordan Howard. In the first meeting this year, the rookie ran for 153 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries (5.9). He also caught four passes for 49 yards, giving him 202 yards from scrimmage. Howard's 153-yard total and long run of 69 yards are season highs.
The Vikings need to win the turnover battle, which is something they didn't do while giving up 72 points in back-to-back losses to the Colts (34-6) and Packers (38-25). Bears QB Matt Barkley might help in this area. He threw eight of his 12 interceptions in the past two weeks.
The Vikings need to give some semblance of pass protection for QB Sam Bradford, whose completion percentage (71.3) is on pace to set an NFL record. Bradford needs better protection than he had when he was sacked five times in the loss at Chicago on Halloween. There is no running game for Minnesota as RB Adrian Peterson sits out what may be his final game for Vikings or in the NFL.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Vikings SS Andrew Sendejo vs. Bears RB Jordan Howard. Sendejo isn't a Pro Bowler by any stretch. But the Vikings got a reminder of his worth in the first meeting when he was unable to play because of injury. Rookie seventh-round draft pick Jayron Kearse started and contributed to the Bears getting the early momentum and a lead they would never relinquish. Kearse took such a bad angle on Howard's early 69-yard run that he was benched for a while as the Vikings went with second-year pro Anthony Harris, the backup to free safety Harrison Smith. Howard ranks seventh in the league in rushing with 1,178 yards. He's also averaging 5.1 yards a carry. Sendejo is fifth on the team with 72 tackles. Obviously, it will take more than him to stop Howard. The line needs to control the gaps to allow the linebackers room to make tackles.
--Vikings OL Nick Easton, Joe Berger and Jeremiah Sirles vs. Bears DE Akiem Hicks. Hicks was a wrecking ball to the right side of the offensive line and offensive coordinator Norv Turner's game plan in the first meeting. That was a long time ago. Turner resigned the next day. And the Vikings have a different look on the right side. Sirles is the right tackle, having replaced T.J. Clemmings, who had to move to left tackle because of Jake Long's season-ending injury. Berger was the center but is now the right guard because of Brandon Fusco's concussion. And Easton is the new center. In the first meeting, Hicks had two sacks and four more hurries. His sacks came over Fusco at right guard and Berger at center.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
CHICAGO BEARS
--Doubtful: LB Leonard Floyd (concussion)
--Questionable: S Deon Bush (ankle), CB Bryce Callahan (hamstring, knee), QB David Fales (right thumb), CB Cre'von LeBlanc (knee), T Bobby Massie (toe), LB Pernell McPhee (shoulder), CB Tracy Porter (knee, shoulder), LB Willie Young (knee)
MINNESOTA VIKINGS
--Out: RB Adrian Peterson (knee, groin), S Andrew Sendejo (knee)
--Doubtful: G Alex Boone (back), WR Stefon Diggs (hip), WR Laquon Treadwell (ankle)
--Questionable: WR Charles Johnson (knee)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings WR Adam Thielen. One of the more improbable NFL feel-good stories could reach another milestone if this former Division II player has 40 receiving yards to top 1,000. A third-year player from Minnesota State Mankano, Thielen wasn't drafted and wasn't signed as a free agent immediately after the draft. He had to go through a tryout at the team's rookie minicamp first before getting a contract. This year, he is a starter and perhaps the team's best receiver. Or at least a close second behind Stefon Diggs. After career highs of 12 catches, 202 yards and two TDs in the loss to Green Bay, Thielen has 68 catches for 960 yards and five touchdowns.
FAST FACTS: Bears QB Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions the last two weeks. ... Chicago rookie RB Jordan Howard has 1,178 yards rushing, third most by a rookie in franchise history. ... Chicago LB Jerrell Freeman has 100 tackles, his fourth 100-tackle season. ... Vikings QB Sam Bradford's completion percentage (71.3) is on pace to break the NFL record, while his interception percentage (0.8) would break Brett Favre's franchise mark of 1.3 in 2009. With 10 more completions, Bradford will surpass the team record of 379 set by Daunte Culpepper in 2004. ... Vikings WR Stefon Diggs has 34 receptions for 367 yards and three TDs in the last four division games. ... Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph has 72 receptions, second-most by a Vikings tight end in a season. He is tied for second among NFC tight ends with six TD catches. ... Minnesota DE Danielle Hunter has 12 sacks.
PREDICTION: If Bradford and Barkley continue throwing as they have been, the Vikings should catch enough passes to win easily.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 28-18.
--Frank Cooney
BUFFALO BILLS (7-8) AT NEW YORK JETS (4-11)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, MetLife Stadium. TV: CBS, Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein.
SERIES HISTORY: 112th regular-season meeting. Bills lead the series, 59-52. The Jets beat Buffalo 37-31 in Week 2, snapping a five-game losing streak against their AFC East foe. Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman was fired the next day, which was a bad harbinger for Buffalo.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Both teams had disappointing seasons. The Bills, however, are dealing with more turmoil and an uncertain future with the firing of coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan earlier in the week. Those events could serve as a major distraction.
The Bills have also opted to play backup quarterback EJ Manuel instead of regular starter Tyrod Taylor. As a result, they will use their No. 1 rushing game to pound away at the Jets, even though stopping the run might be the strength of New York's defense. Buffalo running backs LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee will get a full workload.
Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick could be playing his final game for the franchise, so he might want to showcase his skills to potential suitors. He has a solid weapon in receiver Brandon Marshall. Fitzpatrick threw for 374 yards in the first meeting.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Jets WR Robby Anderson vs. CB Stephon Gilmore and/or CB Ronald Darby: The re-re-re-entrance of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick into the Jets' lineup would seem to open up opportunities for WR Brandon Marshall, but Marshall missed practice Wednesday and is a candidate to sit out a thoroughly meaningless season finale after playing through injuries all season. While Fitzpatrick has not established the rapport with Anderson that QB Bryce Petty enjoyed with the rookie, it makes sense to pair Anderson against an opponent's top corner to see what the Jets can expect out of him as a sophomore.
--Bills interior offensive line vs. Jets defensive tackles. This is an intriguing battle in a game that has no playoff implications. The Bills have the league's top rushing offense and will likely carry the load with quarterback EJ Manuel making his first in a year and a half. LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee figure to split the workload -- each has found seams behind a stout offensive line. The Bills' inside blockers -- Ryan Groy, Richie Incognito and John Miller -- have to win against a Jets defense led by Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammed Wilkerson.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
BUFFALO BILLS
--Out: CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion), T Cordy Glenn (back)
--Questionable: LB Preston Brown (foot), LB Zach Brown (illness), TE Charles Clay (knee), G John Miller (hip), WR Sammy Watkins (foot), DT Kyle Williams (back)
NEW YORK JETS
--Out: RB Matt Forte (knee), LB Lorenzo Mauldin (ankle), DT Steve McLendon (hamstring), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (hamstring)
--Doubtful: CB Nick Marshall (hamstring)
--Questionable: WR Robby Anderson (hamstring), CB Juston Burris (knee), WR Brandon Marshall (hip, shoulder), RB Bilal Powell (knee), DT Sheldon Richardson (back), RB Brandon Wilds (hamstring), DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle, knee)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. The 12-year veteran could be looking for a new home in the offseason as the Jets retool their roster once again. Fitzpatrick has already been benched twice this season, only to reemerge as the starter. The latest opportunity arrived because of a season-ending shoulder injury to Bryce Petty. The decision to start Fitzpatrick has rankled the fan base, which has been clamoring for rookie Christian Hackenberg to take over the starting role. Fitzpatrick has thrown for 2,500 yards, with 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. In last year's finale against Buffalo, Fitzgerald had three interceptions in the fourth quarter as the Jets fell out of the playoff race.
FAST FACTS: Bills QB Tyrod Taylor is one of six quarterbacks in NFL history to have 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in consecutive seasons. ... Bills QB EJ Manuel passed for 245 yards and two touchdowns in his last start against the Jets, on Nov. 17, 2013. ... Bills RB LeSean McCoy has 13 rushing touchdowns, tied for second most in a season in franchise history. ... Bills WR Sammy Watkins had 154 receiving yards and a touchdown reception last week. ... Bills TE Charles Clay is one of five NFL tight ends with 50 receptions and three touchdown catches in each of past four seasons. ... Bills LB Lorenzo Alexander has 11.5 sacks, tied for fourth in the NFL. ... Bills CB Stephon Gilmore has five interceptions, tied for second in the league. ... Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 374 yards with a touchdown and had a 116.5 rating in the last meeting. ... Jets RB Matt Forte is one of two active players in the NFL, along with Frank Gore, with at least nine consecutive seasons with 1,000 yards from scrimmage. ... Jets RB Bilal Powell has 973 scrimmage yards (600 rushing). He needs 27 yards to join Forte as the only running back duo with 1,000 scrimmage yards each in franchise history. ... Since entering the NFL in 2006, Jets WR Brandon Marshall ranks second in NFL with 941 receptions and 12,061 receiving yards.
PREDICTION: Many of the Bills' players are not happy with the firing of coach Rex Ryan or the decision to bench quarterback Tyrod Taylor. That animosity could carry over to the field and help the Jets, who will also face an offseason full of uncertainty.
OUR PICK: Jets, 20-13.
--Todd Karpovich
DALLAS COWBOYS (13-2) AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (6-9)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Lincoln Financial Field. TV: FOX, Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver.
SERIES HISTORY: 116th meeting, including postseason. Dallas leads, 65-50. In 112 regular-season meetings, Cowboys lead, 62-49. Dallas has won six of the last nine and won this season, 29-23 in overtime. Dallas won last year's game in Philadelphia, 20-10.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cowboys won the NFC East and secured home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Eagles will miss the postseason for the third consecutive season and are trying to avoid their second double-digit loss campaign in the past 12 seasons.
Quarterback Tony Romo, who missed the entire season after suffering a back injury in the preseason and then was demoted in favor of rookie sensation Dak Prescott, is expected to play in Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Prescott will start, then Romo and Mark Sanchez are expected to play but it has not been determined how long they will do so, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The rotation appears to be a change in plans for the Cowboys, who previously indicated they would not risk an injury to Romo in a meaningless Week 17 game on the road to end the regular season..
RB Ezekiel Elliott's 1,631 rushing yards rank third in NFL history for a rookie behind George Rogers (1,674 in 1981) and Eric Dickerson (1,808 in 1983). Elliott needs 178 yards to pass Dickerson, an output that seems unlikely for two reasons: Elliott's season high is 159 and, like it or not, his workload is expected to be diminished to give veteran Darren McFadden more carries.
"No game is meaningless," said Prescott, who has passed for 3,640 yards and 23 touchdowns against four interceptions. "There's quality reps against a quality opponent that's in our division that we'll play for years to come, that I'll face off against. So any reps that I can get against a good team to make myself better to get some momentum going into the playoffs, I'll take it."
Philadelphia's season began to slide when it faced off with Dallas for the first time on Oct. 30. The Eagles were 4-2 and held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead before collapsing, and the Cowboys rallied for a 29-23 overtime victory.
Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has been learning lessons all season while passing for 3,537 yards and 14 touchdowns. Yet he also has been intercepted 14 times and his 78.2 quarterback rating ranks 25th in the NFL.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Eagles RB Darren Sproles vs. Cowboys LB Sean Lee. The Eagles like to get the ball to Sproles as a runner and a pass receiver. It will be Lee's job to stop him. Lee never comes off the field. He leads the Cowboys with a career-high 173 tackles. He has 12 tackles for loss and two pass deflections. He will be called on to diagnose screens and passes to Sproles.
--Eagles DE Brandon Graham vs. Cowboys RT Doug Free. With Fletcher Cox dealing with nonstop double-teams, Graham has been the Eagles' most consistent pass rusher. Free is a nine-year veteran with 113 starts.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
DALLAS COWBOYS
--Out: CB Morris Claiborne (groin), DT Tyrone Crawford (shoulder, hamstring), LB Justin Durant (elbow), DE Demarcus Lawrence (back), DT Terrell McClain (ankle), T Tyron Smith (knee), DT Cedric Thornton (ankle)
--Questionable: CB Anthony Brown (concussion), DE Jack Crawford (foot), DE Randy Gregory (abdomen), G Ronald Leary (back), LB Sean Lee (knee), RB Darren McFadden (illness)
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
--Doubtful: G Allen Barbre (hamstring)
--Questionable: LB Jordan Hicks (ankle), LB Mychal Kendricks (quadricep), WR Jordan Matthews (ankle), G Isaac Seumalo (ankle).
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Eagles RB Byron Marshall. With Ryan Mathews placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, the Eagles have just two healthy RBs -- Darren Sproles and Marshall, an undrafted rookie who was signed off the practice squad two weeks ago. He had a pair of double-digit-yard runs in his NFL debut against Baltimore.
FAST FACTS: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott leads NFL rookies in yards passing (3,630), TDs (23) and rating (105.6). He has 13 wins, tied for most by rookie QB in NFL history. RB Ezekiel Elliott leads NFL with 1,631 yards rushing and ranks 3rd with 15 TDs on the ground. WR Dez Bryant had 3 TDs (2 rec., 1 pass) last week and has 67 career TD catches, 2nd most in franchise history. LB Sean Lee has 145 tackles, his 3rd season with 100-plus....Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz' 352 completions are the most in season in franchise history. He ranks 2nd among NFL rookies in yards passing (3,537) and TD passes (14). RB Darren Sproles is only player in NFL history with 30-plus TD catches (30), 20-plus TDs rushing (22), PR-TD (7) and KR-TD (2. DT Fletcher Cox has 8.5 sacks & FF in past 10 home games. S Malcolm Jenkins had 2 INTs, including 34-yard INT-TD in Week 16. He has 4 INT-TDs since 2014, tied for 2nd most in NFL.
PREDICTION: The Cowboys are playing only for pride and they have a lot of it. Dallas has won four straight games at Philadelphia, a streak that dates back to 2012. One more win would tie the Cowboys' longest road winning streak over the Eagles, set in 1968-72 and 1975-79.
OUR PICK: Cowboys, 32-24.
--Frank Cooney
CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-14) AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Heinz Field. TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon.
SERIES HISTORY: 128th regular-season meeting. Pittsburgh leads the series, 69-58. The Steelers have a 12-game winning streak at home. Pittsburgh beat the Browns 24-9 in Cleveland last month and have won seven of the past eight. The Steelers have also beaten the Browns twice in the playoffs (1994 and 2002).
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers have won the AFC North and are locked in as the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. As a result, coach Mike Tomlin said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell, wide receiver Antonio Brown and center Maurkice Pouncey might get the day off.
This provides Cleveland with an opportunity finish the season with two straight wins and earn a victory in Pittsburgh for the first time since 2003.
If quarterback Robert Griffin III cannot play because of a concussion, the Browns will go with rookie Cody Kessler, who is looking to show he can be the everyday starter.
Whether it's Griffin or Kessler, Cleveland will need to avoid costly mistakes to escape with a win. The Steelers' backups, however, also want to show Tomlin they are worthy of more playing time and will be a challenge for Cleveland. Pittsburgh backup quarterback Landry Jones has shown he can make plays and will test the Browns' secondary.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Steelers WR Eli Rogers vs. Browns CB Joe Haden. Rogers has an opportunity to showcase his skills, with Antonio Brown likely getting the game off. Rogers has 42 receptions for 533 yards and three touchdowns mainly as the slot receiver. He will likely matchup with Haden, who is one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Haden has just three interceptions, mainly because teams avoid his side of the field.
--Browns WR Terrelle Pryor vs. Steelers CB Ross Cockrell. Pryor has had a solid season, with 70 receptions for 913 yards and four touchdowns. He also dominated this matchup in the earlier game, with five receptions for 97 yards. The Steelers have improved their pass defense, which ranks 15th. Cockrell is still looking for his first interception and trying to prove he can be a lockdown corner.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
CLEVELAND BROWNS
--Out: CB Trey Caldwell (hamstring)
--Questionable: CB Joe Haden (neck, groin), LB Cam Johnson (groin), RB Duke Johnson (ankle)
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
--Out: S Robert Golden (ankle), TE Ladarius Green (concussion), DE Stephon Tuitt (knee)
--Questionable: LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle), TE Xavier Grimble (ribs)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Pittsburgh LB Jarvis Jones. The Steelers' first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft is looking to finish strong. Since opening the season as a starter, Jones has fallen down the depth chart. He was a healthy scratch last week for what was ostensibly the AFC North championship against the Ravens. With James Harrison likely to get more rest as Pittsburgh gears up for a playoff run, Jones has to take advantage of the extended playing time. The Steelers did not pick up the fifth-year option on Jones and are unlikely to re-sign him. As a result, Jones might also be able to catch the attention of scouts from other teams searching for pass rushers next season.
FAST FACTS: Browns QB Robert Griffin III has run for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the past three games. Griffin, however, is under concussion protocol and his status is uncertain. ... Browns QB Cody Kessler ranks second among rookie quarterbacks with a 65.6 completion percentage (min. 150 att.). ... Browns RB Isaiah Crowell ran for two touchdowns last week. He is the first Browns running back with 800 or more rushing yards (800) seven or more rushing touchdowns (7) since 2012. ... Browns WR Terrelle Pryor leads team with 913 receiving yards. He can become the seventh wide receiver in team history with 1,000-yard receiving yards in a season. Browns CBs Joe Haden (19 interceptions, 100 passes defended) and Tramon Williams (20 interceptions, 97 passes defended) are two of four players in the NFL with 15 or more interceptions and 95 or passes defended since 2010.... Steelers Ben Roethlisberger is 10th QB in NFL history with 300 or touchdown passes (301). He also has 3,819 passing yards and needs just 181 more for his fifth career season with at least 4,000 passing yards. Roethlisberger has passed for 895 yards (298.3 per game) and six touchdowns in the past three games against Cleveland. ... Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell has run for 835 yards (139.2 per game) and six touchdowns in the past six matchups. He has the third-highest scrimmage yards per game average (157) in NFL history. Bell ranks second in the NFL with 1,268 rushing yards and third with 1,884 scrimmage yards. ... Steelers WR Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 106 catches and ranks second with 12 touchdown receptions. ... Steelers LB James Harrison is the franchise leader with 79.5 sacks.
PREDICTION: Even though the Steelers will be playing with mostly backups, they still might be too deep for Cleveland. The Browns have also traditionally struggled in Pittsburgh and already earned the elusive first win so the pressure is off going 0-16.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 24-10.
--Todd Karpovich
CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-9) AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-7)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Raymond James Stadium. TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Chris Spielman, Peter Schrager.
SERIES HISTORY: 33rd regular-season meeting. Carolina leads the series, 20-12. Carolina had won six straight until Tampa won this season's first matchup, 17-14 in Charlotte.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Buccaneers can secure a playoff spot but need a win combined with a Green Bay loss, a Washington tie and victories by all of the following teams: Dallas, Indianapolis, Tennessee and San Francisco.
While the Panthers are wrapping up arguably the most disappointing season in the NFL this year, the Bucs are in turmoil thanks to their RB situation. With Doug Martin beginning a four-game suspension, Jacquizz Rodgers will lead the NFL's 22nd-ranked run game.
Rodgers rushed for more than 100 yards in the Bucs' win at Carolina earlier this season in his first start. But the Bucs have struggled running the football this year and the Panthers are fourth against the run. Even without Luke Kuechly, they should be able to contain them.
That puts most of the pressure on Winston. Making things harder will be the loss of TE Cameron Brate, who was placed on IR with a back injury. Brate is the go-to guy in the end zone, along with Mike Evans, and has eight TDs. Winston has thrown five interceptions the past two weeks.
Carolina QB Cam Newton needs to snap out of a slump that has seen him fail to complete 50 percent of his passes in five of his past six games. The Bucs, who aren't necessarily great at anything on defense, won't be the toughest secondary Newton has faced. But it'll help him if RB Jonathan Stewart can provide 75-100 rushing yards.
And the guy the Bucs can never stop is TE Greg Olsen, even though LB Lavonte David is athletic enough to cover him.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Panthers TE Greg Olsen vs. Bucs LB Lavonte David. Olsen leads the Panthers with 77 catches for 1,051 yards and always destroys Tampa Bay. David will be the guy who is primarily responsible for covering him in the pass game.
--Bucs C Joe Hawley vs. Panthers DT Kawann Short. Hawley will need some help blocking Short, who has six sacks and one forced fumble this season and is a real force in the run game.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
CAROLINA PANTHERS
--Out: QB Derek Anderson (illness), DE Charles Johnson (foot)
--Questionable: QB Cam Newton (right shoulder), TE Greg Olsen (elbow), RB Jonathan Stewart (foot)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
--Out: DE William Gholston (elbow)
--Questionable: T Gosder Cherilus (groin, ankle), CB Vernon Hargreaves (abdomen).
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Panthers LB Shaq Thompson. The 2015 first-round pick has shown steady improvement throughout his second season and racked up a career-high 11 tackles Sunday against the Falcons. With LB Luke Kuechly already ruled out for the season finale, Thompson will get another chance to man the middle when the Panthers go into their nickel package.
FAST FACTS: Panthers QB Cam Newton has 3,272 passing yards, his sixth consecutive season with 3,000. He has 14 TD passes and four INTs in eight career meetings. In his past four vs. the Bucs, he has 10 TDs (six passing, four rushing). ... Carolina RB Jonathan Stewart has 278 rushing yards and two TDs in his past three road games. He has five rushing TDs in his past five division games. ... Carolina TE Greg Olsen has 1,051 yards, making him the first NFL tight end with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Since 2013, he leads NFL tight ends in receptions (311) and yards (3,979). ... Bucs QB Jameis Winston has 27 TD passes, tied for the most in franchise history. In his past four home games, he has seven passing TDs and two INTs. ... Bucs RB Doug Martin is suspended four games for violating the NFL's policy for performance-enhancing substances, and the former Pro Bowl player said he will seek treatment immediately. ... Bucs WR Mike Evans has 91 receptions, second most in a season in team history. He ranks third in the NFL with 11 TD catches.
PREDICTION: The Bucs have a sliver of hope for the playoffs, which should be enough to motivate them to get their ninth win.
OUR PICK: Bucs, 24-20.
--Chris Cluff
HOUSTON TEXANS (9-6) AT TENNESSEE TITANS (8-7)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Nissan Stadium. TV: CBS, Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta.
SERIES HISTORY: 30th regular-season meeting. Texans lead the series, 15-14, and have won six in a row, including a 27-20 decision in Week 4 in Houston.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Texans' offense is expected to try to build a rhythm with new quarterback Tom Savage after a rough start last week.
Savage was added to the injury report with a knee injury. However, he participated fully and is on schedule to start Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
Savage came up limping during a 12-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals during his first NFL start, but the injury isn't regarded as serious. It's unlikely he'll depart Sunday's game unless it becomes a blowout or he is more seriously injured, as he needs every rep he can get with a playoff assignment on the horizon for next weekend.
With Marcus Mariota out of the mix, the Titans will rely more than ever on their running game. It won't be easy as the Texans defense is ranked first overall in the league. That puts the onus squarely on the offensive line, which had been playing very well, but struggled last week in Jacksonville.
The Titans won't want to put too much on QB Matt Cassel, who will be making his first start of the year in the season finale. Defensively, look for the Titans to put the heat on Tom Savage and make him try to beat them. Still, they will need a pass rush to keep their weak secondary from being exploited.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Titans LT Taylor Lewan vs. Texans DE Jadeveon Clowney. This is a battle of former first-round picks and 2016 Pro Bowl selections. Lewan needs to not only protect Matt Cassel but help open holes for DeMarco Murray and the Titans' run game, which needs to rebound after being held to a season-low 58 yards last week in Jacksonville.
--Titans RBs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry vs. Texans LB Benardrick McKinney. McKinney has emerged as a mobile, active, aggressive linebacker in his second NFL season. Murray and Henry provide power and speed for one of the NFL's top rushing attacks.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
HOUSTON TEXANS
--Out: DE Jadeveon Clowney (elbow, wrist), RB Lamar Miller (ankle), RB Jay Prosch (ankle, knee), LB John Simon (chest)
--Questionable: LB Brian Cushing (ankle), CB Johnathan Joseph (ribs, shoulder, illness)
TENNESSEE TITANS
--Questionable: CB Jason McCourty (chest)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Titans QB Matt Cassel. The old veteran, brought in this season to help mentor Marcus Mariota, gets a chance to play Sunday due to Mariota's season-ending leg injury. Cassel has been bouncing around the league the past few years and is on a one-year deal. The Titans might have interest in retaining him, especially if he performs well Sunday.
FAST FACTS: Texans QB Tom Savage has 436 passing yards in the past two games and 387 yards in the past two games against the division. ... Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins is one of nine receivers in NFL history with 50 catches and 800 yards in each of his first four seasons. He has 453 yards and four TD catches in the past four games against Tennessee. ... Houston LB Benardrick McKinney is the only NFL player with 125 tackles (128) and five sacks (5). ... Titans QB Matt Cassel threw a TD pass in relief last week. He passed for 201 yards and three TDs in his last start vs. Houston on Oct. 17, 2010, with Kansas City. ... Titans RB DeMarco Murray ranks third in the NFL with 1,266 rushing yards, his third season with 1,000 yards. Since 2014, he leads the NFL with 3,813 yards and is tied for second with 28 rushing TDs. He has 1,609 scrimmage yards, eighth most in franchise history. ... Since 2011, DT Jurrell Casey is fifth among NFL DTs with 54 tackles for loss.
PREDICTION: Flip a coin on this one. Will the Texans play all their guys with a division title securely in their hip pocket? And will the Titans bounce back from the disappointment of blowing a shot at a surprise AFC South crown to finish with their first winning season since 2011? Ultimately, it might come down to the loss of Mariota, as Cassel is nowhere near as dynamic as the kid who came into his own this year. Houston preps for the playoffs with a low-scoring win and finishes 10-6.
OUR PICK: Texans, 17-13.
--Bucky Dent
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-8) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (10-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Georgia Dome. TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin.
SERIES HISTORY: 95th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 49-45. After sweeping the season series a year ago, the Saints will be going for a split this year after the Falcons took a 45-32 win on Monday Night Football in Week 3 in New Orleans. Still, the Saints have had great success against the Falcons since the arrival of Sean Payton and Drew Brees in 2006, going 15-6 against their long-time archrivals. The series has been defined by tight games since 1991 with 28 of those contests decided by seven points or less. The two teams also met in an NFC wild-card game in 1991 with the Falcons prevailing 27-20 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to move on to the divisional round.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons have won the NFC South and can earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a win or losses by both Seattle and Detroit.
The Falcons victimized the Saints' linebacker corps in their previous meeting. Devonta Freeman ran for a season-high 152 yards on 14 carries that night as the Falcons amassed 217 yards rushing. He also led the Falcons with five receptions for 55 yards.
Since then, the Saints have released middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and placed weakside linebacker Stephone Anthony (knee) on injured reserve. Dannell Ellerbe, Craig Robertson and safety Roman Harper started last week against Tampa Bay in a nickel package.
"They are not allowing the explosive plays," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "They are playing good run defense. We recognize that it's going to be a battle."
Regardless how much running there is, this game will feature two of the best QBs in the league -- Atlanta's Matt Ryan and New Orleans' Drew Brees.
Ryan is getting mention as a league MVP candidate. He has completed 346 of 498 passes for 4,613 yards, 34 touchdowns and seven interceptions and has a passer rating of 115.5 that leads the league. Among quarterbacks who average 9 yards per attempt, Ryan's 69.5 seasonal completion percentage is third all-time behind Slingin' Sammy Baugh (1945) and Joe Montana (1989).
Brees is 37 and still playing at a high level. He has completed 442 of 623 passes (70.9 percent) for 35 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and has a 103.1 passer rating.
The Falcons rank second in total offense and lead the league in scoring while the Saints are 25th in yards allowed and 30th in scoring defense. The Falcons are second in passing yards and seventh in rushing, which means the Saints will have their hands full even though they have done a much better job against the run this season.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints OTs Andrus Peat and Zach Strief vs. Falcons LB Vic Beasley. Beasley has been a terror in his second NFL season, with a league-leading 14.5 sacks, so the No. 1 priority for Peat and Strief will be in keeping Beasley from coming off the edge and getting a free run at Drew Brees. Beasley didn't record a sack in the first matchup on Sept. 26, so Peat and Strief will have to be at their best, and perhaps get some tight end help, to keep that record intact in the rematch.
--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Saints LCB Sterling Moore. The Saints were without their top cover cornerback in Delvin Breaux, who was sidelined by a fractured fibula, but they still did a solid job on Jones, allowing just one reception for 16 yards on seven targets. Moore, who has held his own against some of the league's top wide receivers while Breaux has been out, had a lot to do with keeping Jones down and will have to do it again because Breaux is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
--Out: CB Ken Crawley (knee)
--Questionable: LB Dannell Ellerbe (foot), LB Craig Robertson (shoulder)
ATLANTA FALCONS
--Out: WR Taylor Gabriel (foot), TE Austin Hooper (knee)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Saints DE Cameron Jordan. Teammates think Jordan was snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting. He will be trying to finish the season on a strong note. After a pair of double-digit sack, Pro Bowl seasons, Jordan produced another solid season with 7.5 sacks. He also ranks fifth on the team with 64 tackles and has been one of the keys to a much-improved run defense. The Saints rank 13th at 98.9 yards per game after finishing 31st a year ago. The six-year veteran also has broken up four passes and has one forced fumble.
FAST FACTS: Saints QB Drew Brees has passed for 4,000 yards in 11 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in NFL history. ... Saints RB Mark Ingram has scored six TDs (five rushing) in the past four meetings. ... Saints WR Brandin Cooks has 1,154 yards receiving, his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. ... Saints WR Michael Thomas leads NFL rookies in receptions (82) and yards (981) and is tied for first with eight TD catches. ... Saints LB Craig Robertson has 107 tackles, his first 100-tackle season. ... Saints S Jairus Byrd had two interceptions last week, his sixth career multi-INT game. ... Falcons QB Matt Ryan leads the NFL with a 115.5 passer rating and is third with 4,613 yards and 34 TDs. ... Falcons WR Julio Jones ranks second in the NFC with 1,313 yards receiving. ... Falcons LB Deion Jones and S Keanu Neal are the only two rookies with at least 100 tackles each (100 each exactly).
PREDICTION: With last Sunday's TD passes to Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea, Falcons QB Matt Ryan has distributed his 34 TDs to 13 receivers. No quarterback in NFL history has hit that many TD targets in one season. He should target a bye week with a regular-season flourish.
OUR PICK: Falcons, 42-32.
--Frank Cooney
OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-3) AT DENVER BRONCOS (8-7)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Sports Authority Field at Mile High. TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson.
SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 61-49-2. The Raiders have won two in a row. In last meeting in Denver, Raiders won 15-12 as Khalil Mack had five sacks of Brock Osweiler -- all of them in the second half. The most historic meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 1, 1978, when the Broncos defeated the defending champion Raiders 20-17 to win their first AFC championship.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Raiders, who have clinched a playoff berth, can secure the AFC West division and lock up a first-round bye with a win or with a loss by Kansas City. Oakland can earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and a New England loss.
With Derek Carr lost to a broken leg, Matt McGloin will step in at quarterback. The Raiders will hope to succeed with the kind of game plan that was so successful in the first meeting, when they rushed 43 times for 218 yards.
Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch will both see action for Denver. No matter who takes the snaps, though, the first task remains the same: Protect the quarterback. Denver's offensive line didn't allow any sacks last week, but it permitted plenty of pressure, forcing Siemian to throw before he wanted time and again. If the Broncos can't keep Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin out of their passers' faces, the offense will again struggle.
Denver's struggling run defense must do a better job containing Latavius Murray and Oakland's ground game; the Raiders are one of five teams to rush for at least 150 yards at Denver's expense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Broncos OTs Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung vs. Raiders edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Mack and Irvin have combined for 18 of the Raiders' 25 sacks; no other players on their roster have more than 2.5 sacks. Okung hasn't allowed a sack since November and has finally looked comfortable after struggling at midseason, but Stephenson has consistently allowed pressure, with Dee Ford whipping around him to affect multiple Siemian throws last week.
--Raiders QB Matt McGloin vs. Broncos pass rush. Even with DeMarcus Ware sidelined, the Broncos will try to generate a pass rush that makes McGloin uncomfortable. Although McGloin has a low sack rate -- one every 30.6 pass plays -- he has 11 career interceptions and will throw some passes up for grabs. If the Broncos can generate enough pressure to force him into quick throws and poor decisions, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. could finally be in position to make plays they haven't made often as opposing quarterbacks avoid throwing at them.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
OAKLAND RAIDERS
--Out: QB Derek Carr (ankle), T Austin Howard (shoulder)
--Doubtful: S Karl Joseph (toe)
--Questionable: WR Amari Cooper (shoulder), WR Michael Crabtree (ankle), WR Andre Holmes (shoulder), DT Stacy McGee (groin), G Kelechi Osemele (ankle), RB Jalen Richard (shoulder), LB Perry Riley (hamstring), LB Malcolm Smith (hamstring)
DENVER BRONCOS
--Out: TE A.J. Derby (concussion), S T.J. Ward (concussion), LB DeMarcus Ware (back), CB Kayvon Webster (concussion), DE Derek Wolfe (neck)
--Questionable: LB Brandon Marshall (hamstring)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman. In the past two weeks, he finally began playing like the contributor the Broncos expected him to be when they selected him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. With more playing time because of concussions suffered by Virgil Green and A.J. Derby, Heuerman played 29 snaps last Sunday and was second on the Broncos with three receptions for 32 yards. With a 17.1-yard average on his seven receptions this year, Heuerman has been effective finding gaps in deep zone coverage.
FAST FACTS: The Raiders have clinched their first playoff berth since 2002. Raiders RB Latavius Murray ranks fifth in the NFL with 12 rushing TDs, the most by a Raider since 1990. He rushed for 114 yards and three TDs in the last meeting. ... Oakland WR Amari Cooper ranks fourth in the AFC with 1,110 receiving yards. He is the ninth player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. ... Raiders DE Khalil Mack has 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in his past 10 games. He is the first Raider with 10 sacks in back-to-back seasons since Derrick Burgess in 2005-06. ... Broncos QB Trevor Siemian passed for 283 yards and two TDs in the last meeting. Rookie QB Paxton Lynch passed for 223 yards and a score in his last home start. ... Broncos RB Devontae Booker ranks fourth among NFL rookies with 555 rushing yards. ... Denver WR Demaryius Thomas leads the team with 86 catches and 1,036 yards. He needs four catches to become the third player in NFL history with five consecutive seasons of 90 receptions, 1,000 yards and five TD catches.
PREDICTION: This game will be determined by the running game, and the Raiders have enough ground beef to keep the pressure off McGloin and secure that first-round bye.
OUR PICK: Raiders, 23-20.
--Chris Cluff
ARIZONA CARDINALS (6-8-1) AT LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-11)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale.
SERIES HISTORY: 76th meeting. The Cardinals lead the series, 37-26-2. The Cardinals have won 14 of the last 20 matchups in a rivalry that dates to 1937, when the Cardinals played in Chicago and the Rams were based in Cleveland. Arizona is 19-19 against the Rams on the road but has won nine of the past 11. This marks the first time the Cardinals have played at L.A. Memorial Coliseum since 1989, when they met the Raiders, and the first time against the Rams since 1979. The Rams beat the Cardinals earlier this season, 17-13.
KEYS TO THE GAME: When the schedule was released, this Week 17 matchup looked like it could mean something in the NFC West. But now it is more about draft position and not getting players hurt. And the biggest question is: Who will replace fired Jeff Fisher as Rams coach?
Interestingly, each team is looking forward to next year with its respective quarterback. The Rams hope 2016 No. 1 overall draftee Jared Goff begins to play up to expectations and the Cardinals seem to think 37-year-old Carson Palmer can continue to have expectations.
"Physically, he works out like a maniac and he takes great care of himself," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "So you know, I'm looking at Drew Brees and these guys aren't getting old anymore. Sports science is such an unbelievable thing now with diet and exercise and the things they can do. Peyton (Manning) played really well all the way up to the end and (Tom) Brady's up there, too, so there's no reason why he can't."
But Palmer would need to rally from an off year to play up to his own high expectations.
Goff may get a chance to look good sooner than later. Arizona has allowed four passing touchdowns with no interceptions in each of its last two games (vs. Saints, Seahawks).
Meantime, the best offensive weapon in this game is Cardinals RB David Johnson. A second-year pro out of Northern Iowa, Johnson is the only player in the history of the NFL to amass 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first 15 games to start a season. Johnson also became the first Cardinals player to gain more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in a season.
Johnson also has 33 career touchdowns in 31 games, adding to his franchise record for a player in his first two seasons. Johnson has 14 more touchdowns than the previous record holder, Ottis Anderson with 19 from 1979-80. Johnson should be able to add to his total against a Rams defense that is worn down and frustrated.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Cardinals RG Evan Boehm vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald. Boehm, a rookie who was drafted to play center, will be making his first NFL start and he couldn't have picked a tougher opponent to face than Donald, whom coach Bruce Arians calls one of the two most dangerous defensive players in the entire league. Boehm didn't get his first taste of playing guard until last weekend at Seattle and, although he held his own, he made at least three mental mistakes, according to Arians. He'll get some help from right tackle Earl Watford, but Watford is new to playing tackle and he's only been so-so this season when filling in as a starter.
--Cardinals DT Calais Campbell vs. Rams OL Greg Robinson. Both players are motivated to end the season on a high note. Campbell, a fixture up front for the Cardinals the past nine years, could be playing in his final game for the franchise -- he is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Arizona hasn't shown any real signs of negotiating to bring him back. He has been solid all season, however, playing his best football the past month. Campbell could have a field day against Robinson, unless interim coach John Fassel elects to bench Robinson for a second straight week. The former first-round pick has fallen out of favor but could get another shot to redeem his season by playing against the Cardinals. It could be at left tackle or at guard, Fassel has indicated. Either spot will make Campbell lick his chops.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
ARIZONA CARDINALS
--Out: T D.J. Humphries (concussion)
--Questionable: WR John Brown (illness), CB Marcus Cooper (back, calf), LB Sio Moore (ankle), DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)
LOS ANGELES RAMS
--Doubtful: WR Kenny Britt (shoulder), T Rob Havenstein (ankle), CB Lamarcus Joyner (ankle)
--Questionable: WR Mike Thomas (hip)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones. After registering four sacks in his first four games with the Cardinals, Jones dropped off. He has 9.5 sacks overall, but just 2.5 in his last six games. Set to become an unrestricted free agent, Jones will be intent on reaching double digits. He would like to pad his stats to increase his next contract and the Cardinals didn't trade away a second-round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper to get Jones for just one year. Jones should have ample chances for sacks against the Rams, who allowed the third-most this season at 42. If he gets a half a sack or more, it would mark just the third time in franchise history (1983, 1984) that the Cardinals had multiple players with 10 or more sacks in the same season. Fellow OLB Markus Golden has 10.
FAST FACTS: Cardinals QB Carson Palmer is averaging 296.8 yards passing in his last nine division road games. WR Larry Fitzgerald is second in the NFL with 102 receptions, his fourth 100-catch season. Since 2004, he leads the NFL in receptions (1,120) and yards (14,346). ... Arizona DT Calais Campbell has 6.5 sacks, his eighth consecutive season with at least five. ... Rams RB Todd Gurley is averaging 94.7 yards from scrimmage in three meetings. ... Rams WR Kenny Britt has 1,002 yards receiving, making him the first Ram with 1,000 since Torry Holt in 2007. ... Rams DT Aaron Donald has four sacks in his past four home games. Since 2014, he leads NFL DTs with 28 sacks. ... Rams LB Alec Ogletree has 132 tackles, fourth most in franchise history. ... Rams P Johnny Hekker put an NFL-record 50 punts inside the 20-yard line.
PREDICTION: The road team has won the last four meetings between these teams, including a 17-13 Rams victory at Arizona in Week 4. So it is the Cardinals' turn to be a rude guest.
OUR PICK: Cardinals, 35-28.
--Frank Cooney
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-4) AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-10)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Qualcomm Stadium. TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl.
SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Chiefs possess a 57-54-1 series lead with five consecutive wins, including a 33-27 OT win in Week 1 after trailing 27-10 in the fourth quarter.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chiefs, who have earned a playoff berth, can seize the AFC West division title and earn a first-round bye with a win and an Oakland loss.
It took overtime back in the season opener before the Chiefs were able to beat San Diego at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won that game with 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and the extra time.
That proved necessary because the Chargers held a 21-point lead midway through the third quarter. The Chiefs' defense played poorly, giving up three touchdowns in the first half, and allowing San Diego to convert six of seven third-down plays.
But in the second half, both sides of the Chiefs came out of the locker room and elevated their play. The defense was stifling and the offense scored three touchdowns, including the winner in OT on a 2-yard run by quarterback Alex Smith.
He ended up throwing for 363 yards, his most productive game of the season. They could also use a big contribution from running back Spencer Ware, who had 199 total yards in the opener. In the last three KC-SD games, Ware has 38 touches for 352 yards and three touchdowns. The Chiefs could use mor
NFL Picks Week 17: Score predictions for Sunday games, Monday Reviewed by Bizpodia on 19:55 Rating: 5

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