NFL Week 17 picks: Who will win all 16 games and why
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Tony Siragusa
*Keys to the game: Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson declared it "all hands on deck" after QB AJ McCarron (sprained wrist) and TE Tyler Eifert (concussion) were cleared to practice midweek. Cincinnati has more downfield weapons than Baltimore's secondary can cope with, but look for Jackson to come out with a heavy dose of RBs Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard in an attempt to control the clock and force the Ravens to drive the length of the field.
Ravens QB Ryan Mallett performed admirably in last week's upset against Pittsburgh - becoming Baltimore's fourth different starting quarterback in a six-week span. But moving the ball against the Bengals' far superior defense on the road is a different matter. Mallett has a rifle for an arm, but he too often tries to force balls into very tight windows and Cincinnati enters with a plus-nine turnover differential on the strength of 19 interceptions.
With McCarron ailing and Ravens coach John Harbaugh taking an extended look at a slew of young players, the Bengals' main priority is simply protecting the ball.
*Matchup to watch - Ravens RT Rick Wagner vs. Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap: Wagner shook off a lingering knee injury to play one of his best games against Pittsburgh last week. He'll face one of his biggest challenges of the season in Dunlap, who is coming off a monster three-sack, four-QB hit game at Denver in just 55 snaps on defense.
*Player spotlight - Bengals TE CJ Uzomah: It's no coincidence that Cincinnati's offense began to sputter in Denver right around the time Ryan Hewitt left with a knee injury that leaves his availability for the postseason in doubt. Uzomah, a rookie, will again be pressed into extended duty as the blocking tight end.
*Fast facts: Ravens WR Kamar Aiken needs five catches to set the franchise record for consecutive games (nine) with at least five receptions. He's currently tied with Derrick Mason (eight games in 2007). ... Bengals WR A.J. Green has 28 catches for 570 yards and five touchdowns in the past four meetings.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Bengals are highly motivated by the prospect of securing a first-round bye, which could help get QB Andy Dalton back for their playoff opener. The Ravens continue to play extremely hard, but beating a far healthier team on the road is too tall a task.
*Our pick: Bengals 27-16
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Soldier Field, Chicago - TV: FOX
*Keys to the game: The short passing game and ball control used by the Bears over the past few games may not be enough against the Lions, who have been increasing their offensive output at a rapid rate as QB Matthew Stafford has turned it up. Because Detroit gets consistent upfield push, the Bears will try to attack with short, quick passes. RB Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford will be primary targets with a slew of backup wide receivers unable to challenge Detroit's secondary. QB Jay Cutler isn't afraid to take a hit - or take a chance putting the ball up - and that could be the difference against a snarly Lions' defense.
In the loss to Detroit earlier this season, the Bears put their defensive backs in too many one-on-one situations with outside receivers. The Bears couldn't stop Calvin Johnson - six receptions, 166 yards - in jump ball situations or keep Golden Tate in front of them. More zone looks should contain Stafford. He had eight 20-plus-yard completions in Week 6. The Lions use short passes in place of a running game and rank 31st in the NFL in rushing. The Bears have the 27th-ranked run defense in the NFL and Detroit would like to feature RB Ameer Abdullah. He has averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in three of the past four games.
*Matchup to watch - Bears RG Vladimir Ducasse vs. Lions DT Haloti Ngata: The Bears bulldozed Tampa Bay behind Ducasse and RT Kyle Long last week. Ngata has been more and more active in the run defense as the season has gone on. Ducasse is effective on the move and can do damage if he reaches the second level.
*Player spotlight - Bears TE Zach Miller: He has six or more receptions in three consecutive games and five touchdowns in the past eight games.
*Fast facts: Cutler has completed passes to 12 different wide receivers or tight ends this season. ... The Lions have won five consecutive meetings.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
*Our pick: Lions 29-23
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at NRG Stadium, Houston - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
*Keys to the game: The Jaguars had no answer for WR DeAndre Hopkins when Houston beat Jacksonville 31-20 on Oct. 18. Hopkins caught 10 passes for 148 yards and two scores in that game and gets QB Brian Hoyer back in the lineup following a concussion-caused two-week layoff. The Texans will try to exploit mismatches against the Jaguars' cornerbacks but might pay extra attention to grinding out yards on the ground entering the playoffs with a lowly 3.6-yard average as a team.
Jaguars RB T.J. Yeldon (knee) was still not on the practice field at midweek and is likely to miss his third consecutive game. That puts the game in the hands of QB Blake Bortles, who has been hurt by sluggish starts - including a 24-0 deficit last week - that puts the offense into two-minute mode. Keeping him bottled up in the pocket and applying tight coverage to receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson is the chief concern for the Texans.
*Matchup to watch - Jaguars OT Sam Young vs. Texans DE J.J. Watt: Young is expected to be pushed into a starting spot for the third time this season. He graded out well last Sunday when Jermey Parnell (hamstring) left the game against the Saints, but Watt is a different beast. Young will need help from a tight end to contain Watt. In the first matchup with Houston, so much attention was paid to Watt that OLB Whitney Mercilus (two sacks) had a career day.
*Player spotlight - Texans WR Jaelen Strong: Coaches think Strong is peaking at the right time. Since reporting at 231 pounds after being drafted in the third round out of Arizona State, Strong has dieted and exercised his way down to 197 pounds and is noticeably faster in the open field.
*Fast facts: Jacksonville will have double-digit losses for the fifth consecutive season. ... Hoyer has multiple touchdown passes in seven of his nine games this season.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Starting with LT Luke Joekel's ankle injury Week 1, breakdowns in the offensive line kept the Jaguars from making the leap to contender status, and playing subs against J.J. Watt is no way to swim on the road.
*Our pick: Texans 30-20
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
*Keys to the game: The Dolphins were blown out 36-7 at New England on Oct. 29, and little about the current state of the team indicates Miami is primed to play the role of spoiler with the Patriots trying to lock up home-field advantage in the AFC.
Miami alternates between being dedicated to the run and being a pass-first offense, with the offensive line struggling to win the battle up front on either account. While the Patriots are still trying to get as healthy as possible for their playoff run, it has quietly been the defense that has steadied the fort. That includes limiting the Dolphins to 15 yards on 13 carries in the first meeting. Miami is getting a bit of a push from rookie RB Jay Ajayi teaming with Lamar Miller, but they can only be as effective as the scoreboard remaining within reach and the play-calling remaining balanced.
Backed against a wall, QB Ryan Tannehill threw a pair of interceptions at New England and has struggled to read multiple fronts similar to what the Patriots will throw at him. If New England can build an early lead, expect a strong emphasis on trying to get newly-signed RB Steven Jackson significant carries. Miami is ranked 30th against the run and the Patriots would be well served to establish some confidence in the ground game with a pair of cold-weather playoff games potentially on tap.
*Matchup to watch - Patriots FTs Alan Branch and Malcom Brown vs. Dolphins C Jamil Douglas: Douglas, a rookie filling in for injured Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey, was a goat last week, snapping the ball on the wrong count on fourth-and-goal with 27 seconds left. He's expected to start again with Pouncey dealing with foot and ankle injuries. Branch is a quiet veteran presence while Brown is coming into his own as a first-round rookie.
*Player spotlight - Dolphins CB Tony Lippett: The fifth-round pick out of Michigan State saw his most extensive action of the season with 39 snaps last week and recorded five tackles. He's expected to see a heavy workload again as the third cornerback against the Patriots' spread offense.
*Fast facts: The Patriots have secured a first-round bye for the sixth consecutive season, the longest streak since the current playoff format began in 1990. Their seventh straight AFC East title tied the 1973-79 Rams for the longest streak in league history. ... Tannehill has 22 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and an 87.1 passer rating this season. He was 27-12-92.8 in 2014.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Dolphins are closer to a reality show than spoiler with the wife of their best cornerback blasting their franchise quarterback on Twitter this week. New England gets to use South Florida as a warm-weather testing ground for a running game that will be needed come mid-January.
*Our pick: Patriots 34-23
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Georgia Dome, Atlanta - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Sam Rosen, Matt Millen, Peter Schrager
*Keys to the game: Ironically, it was the Saints' record-setting porous defense that helped hand Atlanta its first loss of the season, 31-21, in New Orleans in Week 6 as the league began to catch up with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme. Atlanta is 3-7 over its past 10 games and has a shot at redemption at a Saints defense that has allowed a single-season NFL record 43 touchdown passes entering its finale. Even in last week's upset at Carolina, it was the Falcons' maligned defense that had to continually come up with late-game stops as the defense sputtered.
Atlanta should move the ball against a New Orleans defense that ranks among the league's bottom two units in every major category. The Saints jumped out to 14-0 and 24-7 leads in the first meeting, but Falcons RB Devonta Freeman did rush for 100 yards on just 13 carries. If Atlanta can avoid an early double-digit deficit and remain balanced, New Orleans' secondary is ripe for the picking even with the Falcons lacking a dynamic threat outside of WR Julio Jones.
It will be incumbent upon Saints QB Drew Brees on his ailing foot to start fast and keep the pressure on. He is minus a proven threat in the backfield, but should enjoy time in the pocket with Atlanta entering with a league-low 19 sacks on the season. Given time, Brees will utilize his backs and tight ends to complement the meager ground game and steadily move the chains.
*Matchup to watch - Saints TE Ben Watson vs. Falcons pass defense: Watson was targeted a game-high 12 times in the first meeting, coming down with 10 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. With MLB Paul Worrilow (knee) limited and SS William Moore (ankle) done for the season, the Falcons are mixing their personnel and exposed to a veteran tight end who can quickly find spaces in coverage.
*Player spotlight - Saints RB Travaris Cadet: Not tendered a contract by the Saints last winter, Cadet bounced from New England to San Francisco before re-joining the Saints for practice on Christmas Eve. Three days later, he caught three passes for a career-high 69 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown, while C.J. Spiller was a healthy inactive.
*Fast facts: Brees has eclipsed 4,000 passing yards for an NFL-record 19th consecutive season. ... Falcons OLB Brooks Reed, signed to a five-year, $22 million contract with $9 million in guaranteed money over the offseason, played four snaps on defense last week. He has been credited with 14 tackles and no sacks in 12 games after being bothered by a groin injury the first half of the season.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Saints QB Drew Brees is hobbled by a foot injury, but the Falcons are powerless to pressure him with any consistency. Falcons QB Matt Ryan is struggling with his consistency in a scheme that he appears uncomfortable in, but the Saints have a horrendous pass defense. Edge? Falcons at home with their ability to run the ball.
*Our pick: Falcons 34-30
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Orchard Park, N.Y. - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn
*Keys to the game: The storylines are plentiful - Bills coach Rex Ryan trying to keep his former team out of the playoffs; Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick returning to the stadium where he started 53 games from 2009-12 with a chance to lead Buffalo's division rival into the postseason.
Fitzpatrick completed 15 of 34 passes with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions in the first meeting. That was back before Fitzpatrick underwent thumb surgery. Over his past five games he has thrown for 13 touchdowns and one interception. Fitzpatrick is making good decisions with the ball because the backfield trio of Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Stevan Ridley are consistently providing manageable passing situations.
With RB LeSean McCoy a longshot to play due to a sore knee, the Bills' rushing load will fall on rookie Karlos Williams and late-season pickup Mike Gillislee. QB Tyrod Taylor will also utilize his legs, especially since he lacks a strong downfield threat outside of WR Sammy Watkins. The Jets bring the league's top-ranked run defense to town, but Buffalo must stay committed to the run as long as the Bills don't fall into a big deficit. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry in the first meeting, which led to Taylor leading a very efficient passing game - albeit one that had WR Robert Woods and TE Charles Clay healthy at the time.
*Matchup to watch - Jets CB Darrelle Revis vs. Bills WR Watkins: Revis has lost a half-step and Watkins' vertical speed is a concern, but the second-year receiver managed just 14 yards while catching three of seven targets in the first meeting.
*Player spotlight - Jets WR Quincy Enunwa: The Jets are 9-2 when Enunwa plays but went 1-3 during his four-game suspension stemming from a domestic violence arrest in 2014. The 6-2, 225-pound receiver has emerged as a valuable target for Fitzgerald, including a clutch reception in overtime last week following an earlier drop of a potential game-winning touchdown. However, his biggest contributions this season have come as a de facto blocking tight end in a system that doesn't usually utilize a traditional tight end.
*Fast facts: Quarterbacks have a 51.2 passer rating when targeting Revis in primary coverage this season. ... Watkins has caught 49 of 81 targets for 911 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Of those totals, 606 yards and eight touchdowns have come on passes of 20-plus yards.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Jets' run defense has improved greatly since the Bills trampled them for 148 yards in the first meeting. New York will control field position and Bills QB Tyrod Taylor has little outside of WR Sammy Watkins in his attempt to drive the ball the length of the field.
*Our pick: Jets 26-19
Philadelphia Eagles (6-9) at N.Y. Giants (6-9)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin
*Keys to the game: Coaches are the headliners for two underachieving teams with little else on the line. Chip Kelly was fired five days before the game by the Eagles and Giants players are bracing for goodbye to Tom Coughlin. The Eagles won't change much without Kelly given just three practice days to install a plan, but bank on RB DeMarco Murray getting on the field more often. He rushed for 112 yards - and the Eagles racked up 158 -- against the Giants in Week 6. The Eagles will let QB Sam Bradford sling it, too, considering New York is 328 yards shy of the highest single-season passing yard total allowed (4,796).
QB Eli Manning and the Giants should have matchups in their favor all across the formation but need the offensive line to hold up. WR Odell Beckham Jr. is motivated after a one-week suspension and Philadelphia expects to be without its top two cornerbacks. The Eagles have had trouble getting off the field on third down all season. They are 25th on third-and-seven or more, allowing opponents to convert 29.1 percent of those situations.
*Matchup to watch - Giants OG Justin Pugh vs. Eagles DT Fletcher Cox: Cox is playing as well as any interior lineman and had a key sack and forced fumble in the first meeting this season.
*Player spotlight - Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul: The 28-year-old expects to hit free agency and might need a prove-it deal that rewards production following a rocky ride in 2015. He anticipates multiple surgeries in the offseason to be fully functional with his hand that was severely injured in a fireworks accident. "I have lot of work in offseason," he said. "As you see on film you can see the club is preventing me from making tackles. Last week there were a couple of plays I could have played, that I could have made the tackles, but I was limited. Once I move away from the club, I'll be perfectly fine."
*Fast facts: Manning has started 182 consecutive games, the NFL's longest active streak. ... Eagles WR Jordan Matthews has 14 receptions the past two games, averaging 131.5 yards.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The reality of a lost season likely hit the Eagles a week early as coach Chip Kelly was ushered out on Tuesday. The Giants muster enough fighting spirit to send coach Tom Coughlin out a winner.
*Our pick: Giants 33-25
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland - TV: CBS
*Keys to the game: The Browns rushed for 15 yards on 14 carries in losing to the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh last month. The ground game has improved since, but element of a truly mobile quarterback could be missing with Johnny Manziel expected to be sidelined by a concussion. That leaves the signal-calling to Austin Davis, who is athletic but highly inconsistent. Manziel did throw for 372 yards in a losing effort at Heinz Field and the Steelers' secondary was again exposed against a backup quarterback in Baltimore last week.
Even if Davis is able to mount a respectable offense, can he possibly keep pace? The Browns allow a league-high 135.0 rushing yards per game. When they focused on Steelers RB DeAngelo Williams on early downs last month, QB Ben Roethlisberger simply picked apart the secondary for 379 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked one and picked off once - two numbers that must improve if the Browns want to be a factor deep into the game.
Knowing the Browns will struggle to sustain drives, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger needs to reign in the desire to attack an injury-thinned secondary. When the Steelers win or are tied in turnover ratio this season, they are 9-1. When they lose it, they are 0-5.
*Matchup to watch - Steelers WRs Antonio Brown and Martavis Brown vs. Browns secondary: Pittsburgh's duo combined for 317 receiving yards in the first meeting, when Pierre Desir and Tramon Williams started. Rookie Charles Gaines and k'Waun Williams are now getting extended playing time, but any tandem Cleveland sends out will be grossly overmatched.
*Player spotlight - Browns ILB Christian Kirksey: Cleveland had one sack, three quarterback hits and five tackles for loss in the first meeting. Kirksey was responsible for 1-1-2 of that stat line, along with a pass defensed.
*Fast facts: This is the fifth consecutive season the Steelers and Browns have closed the regular season against each other. Pittsburgh has won the past four encounters. ... With 84 passing yards, the Browns will reach 4,000 as a team for the first time since the Bernie Kosar-led offense threw for 4,018 in 1986.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Steelers could have all eyes on the Jets' score in Buffalo and still should be able to take care of business. With QB Austin Davis leading the Browns into battle for their meaningless finale, Cleveland doesn't have the balance on offense or playmakers on defense to be competitive.
*Our pick: Steelers 37-17
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Steve Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein
*Keys to the game: The Colts are averaging 14 points per game in December, and even the Titans are capable of putting up a pair of scores on the road to make the season finale interesting. A loss seals the No. 1 overall pick for the Titans and keeps alive the faintest of playoff hopes for the Colts. QB Zach Mettenberger (0-9 career as a starter) won't get much assistance from a Titans line overwhelmed all season with 50 sacks allowed (38 of Marcus Mariota; out with a knee injury) and just 3.9 yards per rush as a team. With LT Taylor Lewan (concussion) uncertain for Sunday, don't expect another 44-throw game against the Colts, who won the Sept. 27 meeting, 35-33.
When Mettenberger does throw, he has found success pitching it to Dorial Green-Beckham, who has a pair of 100-yard games this month. TE Delanie Walker has caused the Colts problems, and needs just six receiving yards to get to 1,000 this season.
Indianapolis has serious quarterback issues of its own. It's very likely the Colts will run a handoff drill for an offense and put the game in the hands of their own defense. That's the best course with Stephen Morris, Josh Freeman or Ryan Lindley potentially starting against a Dick LeBeau blitz wheel. The Colts should be able to move the chains with RB Frank Gore, who scored twice in the first meeting, doing the heavy lifting against a Titans run defense giving up 111 yards per game.
*Matchup to watch - Titans OT Byron Bell vs. Colts DE Robert Mathis: Mathis is fresh off being Defensive Player of the Week in the AFC. Presuming that Lewan is out, Bell shifts over to left tackle and will have a big assignment trying to keep Mathis at bay. The Titans have allowed 50 sacks, including 12 of Mettenberger in three starts.
*Player spotlight - Gore: The team's leading rusher needs 109 yards to hit 1,000 for the ninth time in his career. Only Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders and Walter Payton (all with 10) have more.
*Fast facts: The Colts have won eight consecutive meetings. ... Mariota set a Titans rookie record with 19 touchdown passes this season.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Giving new life to the idea of armchair quarterbacks, the Colts dust off another starter only to ride their running game to 8-8 in what is likely coach coach Chuck Pagano's sayonara song.
*Our pick: Colts 16-9
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale
*Keys to the game: Winning a ninth game might not be worth the risk of injury for the Redskins, who are assured a home wild-card game next weekend and lack great depth at key positions. The Cowboys wouldn't be heartbroken to miss WR DeSean Jackson and TE Jordan Reed, who have scarred Dallas with big games in recent seasons. What they could get is a run-heavy attack and even a cameo by Robert Griffin III, who has the kind of skill-set to pick apart the Cowboys.
With a minus-18 turnover ratio, the Cowboys are conservative until the score demands hitting the accelerator. QB Kellen Moore makes his first home start and has a chance to solidify a roster spot next season - perhaps as a third arm - with a strong showing. RB Darren McFadden is just three yards away from the second 1,000-yard season in his career and pounding the ball is the best course of action for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Moore isn't afraid of this spot, and the Redskins will have chances to pounce on a pass or two because of their clingy coverage scheme.
*Matchup to watch - Cowboys WR Dez Bryant vs. Redskins S DeAngelo Hall: Old rivals renew acquaintances under unfamiliar circumstances. Hall, now at safety, will let Breshaud Breeland handle man coverage of Bryant. The veterans know each other's tendencies and have been known to go toe-to-toe in this heated divisional showcase.
*Player spotlight - Redskins RT Morgan Moses: Even head coach Jay Gruden said Moses looked "awful" playing all 75 snaps last week at Philadelphia with a bum ankle. Moses wants to play but with bigger fish for fry next week, his day might be short.
*Fast facts: A loss gives Dallas its worst season since 1989 (1-15). ... Redskins QB Kirk Cousins is the first quarterback in team history with 300-plus yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in consecutive games.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
In what could quickly take on the appearance of a mid-August exhibition with backups all around, the Redskins waltz into the playoffs with a fourth consecutive win behind a solid running game.
*Our pick: Redskins 21-15
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver
*Keys to the game: Mistake-free is the way QB Alex Smith lives in Kansas City. The Chiefs are plus-15 in turnover margin, and Smith has a 16-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio in his career against the Raiders. His once-maligned offensive line has jelled nicely and Smith is carving through defenses with targets getting open at every level - WR Jeremy Maclin had two touchdowns in the first meeting against the Raiders and TE Travis Kelce can only give Oakland's secondary fits.
The Raiders should be playing fast and loose. They were in the thick of the first meeting with Kansas City before three fourth-quarter interceptions, not one of Derek Carr's better days but also a matter of circumstance. RB Latavius Murray rushed for 86 yards, the Raiders outgained the Chiefs 361-232 and the game was there for Oakland to take. If the Raiders can strike early and avoid the din of Arrowhead, they'll have another fourth quarter tug of war on their hands.
*Matchup to watch - Chiefs CB Marcus Peters vs. Raiders WR Amari Cooper: Cooper caught just two passes for 10 yards with his effectiveness minimized by a foot injury which didn't recover sufficiently on a short week the last time they met. Peters is one of the NFL's top rookie defenders with eight interceptions and 25 passes defensed, and had a 55-yard return to set up a touchdown in the previous meeting with Oakland.
*Player spotlight - Raiders LB Ben Heeney: Mario Edwards (neck) is out for the season and the Chiefs used their jumbo package - an extra tackle at tight end and a fullback - to keep LB Khalil Mack out of the backfield in the first game. Heeney is all speed and excels in blitz packages.
*Fast facts: The Chiefs have made the playoffs eight times since 1994. They went 0-8 in those playoff games. ... Mack has 15.0 sacks, and with 1.5 on Sunday would set a new single-season franchise record.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Chiefs stay patient in a close game and with RB Charcandrick West leading the way end the regular season with a 10th consecutive win.
*Our pick: Chiefs 24-20
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta
*Keys to the game: QB Case Keenum has led the Rams' three-game winning streak by doing what he does best - lean on his ground game, avoid mistakes and let his defense dictate field position. St. Louis won the first meeting, 27-6, at home in Week 8 with rookie RB Todd Gurley rushing for 133 yards and the defense racking up three sacks while allowing on 189 total net yards.
The formula in the rematch should be similar, even with 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert a different matchup than deposed starter Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers are down their top two running backs, leaving an uninspiring quartet of Kendall Gaskins, Du'Juan Harris and rookies Jarryd Hayne and Mike Davis. Seattle found out last week what happens when you can't take advantage of the Rams' 20th-ranked run defense that tends to give up big chunk plays - the aggressive defensive line can flat out wreck a one-dimensional opponent.
It's critical for San Francisco to keep the score within reach so the running game remains viable, even if it's not a huge factor. Gabbert will be a sitting duck in third-and-long and the 49ers will have a difficult time driving the length of the field, so hitting on a few vertical strikes in the passing game will be critical.
*Matchup to watch - Rams LDE William Hayes vs. 49ers RT Trent Brown: Brown, the No. 244 overall pick last spring, is expected to make his second consecutive start. The veteran Hayes led the Rams with nine tackles last week, including three sacks, four tackles for loss and a whopping six hits on Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.
*Player spotlight - Hayne: The former rugby star and fan favorite has just 17 carries for 52 yards on the season. With Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn out and little else to play for, the 49ers have an opportunity to give Hayne and Davis extended snaps to see how they may factor into the team's future.
*Fast facts: The 49ers have won a league-high eight consecutive regular-season finales. ... San Francisco's top six draft picks from the 2015 NFL Draft combined to play 260 snaps last week.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Rams are surging with a formula of a strong ground game, controlling the clock and forcing opponents to put together extended drives. The 49ers do none of those things well and fade early with the offseason calling.
*Our pick: Rams 27-17
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson
*Keys to the game: No one will ever accuse Chargers QB Philip Rivers, one of the league's most fiery competitors, of mailing it in. He'll keep San Diego mentally engaged for as long as the Chargers make a game of it with an opportunity to deal their bitter rivals a costly defeat with potentially the division title and a first-round bye on the line.
Keeping it a game could prove the issue, however. Denver thoroughly dominated in a 17-3 victory in San Diego in Week 13, manhandling the Chargers' makeshift offensive line. Since then, Rivers has increasingly relied on RB Danny Woodhead in the underneath passing game to complement San Diego's meager rushing attack. Woodhead enters with 704 receiving yards, an NFL high among running backs, and is the key to using the Broncos' aggressive upfield pass rush against them.
Broncos QB Brock Osweiler continues to manage games well, relying on the quick passing game and getting a solid assist from RBs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Osweiler does take a lot of sacks rather than get rid of the ball or risk forcing throws into tight windows, and San Diego's opportunity lies with creating long passing situations and trying to flip the field via turnovers.
*Matchup to watch - Chargers OLB Melvin Ingram vs. Broncos RT Michael Schofield: Abused by the Bengals' Carlos Dunlap on Monday night, Schofield must turn around and face one of the league's hottest pass rushers. Ingram has a sack in four consecutive games and 5.5 overall during that span. Denver has issues all over the offensive line, so it has to be judicious in how much assistance Schofield receives.
*Player spotlight - Chargers WR Malcom Floyd: One of the most popular players in franchise history will hang up his cleats following the game. He needs two touchdown catches to tie John Jefferson (36) for ninth place on the franchise's all-time list.
*Fast facts: Chargers S Eric Weddle, who was fined $10,000 for watching his daughter perform in the halftime show last week and later put on injured reserve with a groin injury, will not travel with the team. ... Broncos QB Peyton Manning is expected to be active this week, but as the second-team quarterback for the first time in his career. Osweiler and Manning have both thrown nine touchdown passes, but Manning has thrown 17 interceptions in nine-plus games compared to Osweiler's four in six-plus games.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Broncos' defensive line will control the line of scrimmage and keep Chargers QB Philip Rivers in fend-for-his-life mode, while counterpart Brock Osweiler manages short fields and Denver locks up the division title.
*Our pick: Broncos 26-21
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. - TV: FOX
*Keys to the game: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians laid the expectation early in the week that Arizona will play to win and he has no intention of scoreboard watching the Carolina game being played at the same time to see if his team has a chance to earn home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. Arizona already is guaranteed a week off, and he doesn't want a team riding a nine-game winning streak to lose its edge by essentially taking a three-week break.
Conversely, the Seahawks might be more willing to rest dinged-up starters as even a victory doesn't guarantee the top wild card spot pending the outcome of the Sunday night game between Minnesota at Green Bay. Running back Marshawn Lynch (back) has been ruled out, and starters SS Kam Chancellor (tailbone), LT Russell Okung (calf) and TE Luke Willson (concussion) could all be rested to prepare for the playoffs.
At the same time, Seattle doesn't want to enter the postseason riding a two-game losing streak after suffering numerous breakdowns in last week's home loss to St. Louis. In beating the Seahawks 23-17 in Seattle in Week 10, Cardinals QB Carson Palmer spread the ball around to nine receivers as Arizona built a 22-7 lead. Seattle's defense adjusted, pressured Palmer into multiple mistakes in the second half and the Cardinals ultimately had to rally from a 29-25 fourth-quarter deficit.
*Matchup to watch - Seahawks CBs DeShawn Shead & Jeremy Lane vs. Cardinals wide receivers: Seattle has had Richard Sherman shadow the opponents' best receiver at times this season, but the Cardinals are so deep at wide receiver that it's probably best to leave him on the left side of the defense. Shead and Lane alternated opposite Sherman last week and will be tested by Palmer. Michael Floyd, who has five 100-yard receiving games in his last seven games, had 7-113-2 at Seattle in Week 10 and caught the game winner at Seattle last season.
*Player spotlight - Seahawks offensive line: Coach Pete Carroll said the offense made mistakes on each of the first five running plays of the game last week and Seattle fumbled five times as a team. Much of it was due to issues along the offensive line, including a pair of poor snaps by C Patrick Lewis and numerous breakdowns in assignments.
*Fast facts: With the addition of Kasen Williams last week, the Seahawks now have three former University of Washington wide receivers on their 53-man roster, along with Jermaine Kearse and Kevin Smith. ... Palmer has won 26 of his past 30 starts and 10 of his past 11 at home.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
This will be the Seahawks' first game at the University of Phoenix Stadium since their crushing loss to New England in Super Bowl XLIX in February. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians isn't about to let up, seeing this as another opportunity for his well-balanced team to assert its authority in the NFC.
*Our pick: Cardinals 30-23
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Dick Stockton, David Diehl, Krista Pink
*Keys to the game: The Panthers go down to the wire needing a win to nail down home-field advantage despite just one loss this season. Favored by nearly two touchdowns, it's difficult to envision Carolina being upended by the Bucs with this much on the line. Of course, they were more talented than Atlanta and lost in the Georgia Dome last week.
The Panthers intercepted QB Jameis Winston a season-high four times in Week 4, but he's a different quarterback three months later and the Panthers' pass rush has lapsed. Carolina's greatest concern should be Tampa's fourth-ranked rushing attack, led by RB Doug Martin, one of only two backs to gain 100 yards against Carolina this season.
Panthers QB Cam Newton stewed over last week's loss for a few days this week and has a laser-lock look in his eye entering the regular-season finale. With that in mind, Carolina must play aggressor and for this offense that means taking shots to WR Ted Ginn. Ginn scored a pair of touchdowns at Tampa Bay and with RB Jonathan Stewart (foot) expected to get involved after two weeks off, the Panthers present myriad problems for the second- and third-level defenders of the Bucs. This is also a matchup in which TE Greg Olsen has excelled against overmatched linebackers in Tampa's zone scheme.
*Matchup to watch - Bucs WR Mike Evans vs. Panthers CB Josh Norman: Will there be an extended hangover for Norman, who was shredded by Julio Jones last week? Two weeks removed from the Odell Beckham Jr. flap, Norman can fall back on his strong play against Evans - who had five catches total in the past two meetings. Evans had 3-32 in a Bucs loss to Carolina in Week 4.
*Player spotlight - Panthers LB Luke Kuechly: Martin is playing for more than pride. He is more than 60 yards behind Adrian Peterson for the NFL rushing title. Kuechly missed the first meeting recovering from a concussion.
*Fast facts: With 283 passing yards, Winston would join Newton and Andrew Luck as the only rookie with 4,000 in their first season. ... Newton is the first quarterback in NFL history with at least 30 touchdown passes (33) and eight rushing touchdowns in a season.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Panthers are built to beat back one-dimensional teams and the Bucs lack the same bite on defense to contend with a riled up Cam Newton.
*Our pick: Panthers 28-14
Sunday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Lambeau Field, Green Bay - TV: NBC
*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
*Keys to the game: Green Bay dominated the first meeting five weeks ago, 30-13, but the Packers are licking their wounds following a shellacking at Arizona in which QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times and the offense put up eight points. With injuries impacting the offensive line, Rodgers will be asked to get rid of the ball quickly. Trouble is, receivers are gaining minimal separation and Minnesota jams and bumps at the line to slow up Rodgers' targets further.
The Packers want more than anything to revert to the high volume and success of running the football that has eluded them the last two games. RB Eddie Lacy ran for 100 yards in the first meeting but is scuffling behind unfamiliar blocking to the tune of 87 yards in the past three games combined.
The Packers anticipate a flood of power football from the Vikings. RB Adrian Peterson has the inside track to win a third rushing title with 1,418 yards, but the Packers again could use LB Clay Matthews as a spy on all three downs. The Vikings didn't have the answer for that tactic in the first meeting but moving QB Teddy Bridgewater out of the pocket could complicate Matthews' assignments. Penalties, more than defensive scheme, killed Minnesota in the previous meeting. The Vikings had eight penalties for 110 yards in the last meeting. With Peterson as the focal point, the Vikings aren't built for first-and-20 situations and likewise want to dodge any big deficits.
*Matchup to watch - Packers LT David Bakhtiari vs. Vikings DE Everson Griffen: Bahktiari (ankle) was unable to play last week and Green Bay could go into a sixth consecutive game without its preferred front five. The Vikings have five players with at least five sacks, led by Griffen (8.5).
*Player spotlight - Vikings LB Anthony Barr: A second-year defender capable of having a huge impact, Barr has a big fan in head coach Mike Zimmer because of his play of late. "There's a big difference when he's in the ballgame because he sees things. Sometimes, I'm really amazed at a guy that's a second-year linebacker that didn't play behind the line in college," Zimmer said.
*Fast facts: Zimmer is 0-3 vs. Green Bay. ... Rodgers has won 10 of his past 11 against Minnesota with 28 touchdowns and three interceptions.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Does Vikings coach Mike Zimmer have Aaron Rodgers' number? Rodgers hit only 47 percent of his passes in the first meeting and is slumping. The Vikings draw the Packers at the right time to claim the NFC North title.
*Our pick: Vikings 24-23
--Derek Harper and Jeff Reynolds