NFL Predictions | Week 17: NFL Football Picks, NFL Football Predictions


Massimo Russo is a Co-Editor for He blogs featured stories for pro football and the Dallas Cowboys, providing insights, trends and general topics, along with his weekly game-by-game matchup breakdowns and predictions during the NFL season


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NFL Predictions | Week 17: NFL Football Picks, NFL Football Predictions
By Massimo Russo: Co-Editor Silver and Blue Report & Hook’em Report

Dallas Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys fan, Dallas Cowboys FanWho do you think will win? Check out our own expert NFL picks every week for NFL games: Pro Football Predictions. Our NFL Predictions are subject to change prior to games. We provide the best and most educated National Football League picks based on relevant statistic and resources, along with: key injuries, Historical results, and accurate comparisons.

aaron rodgers, Green Bay Packers, Packers

Aaron Rodgers returns back under center for the Packers in a winner take all NFC North title game at Soldier Field.

Week 17
Happy Holidays
Sunday, December 29
1:00 PM ET
Carolina Panthers 11-4 @ Atlanta Falcons 4-11 – TV: FOX

As expected, Steve Smith (Knee) hasn’t been practicing this week, as he’s trying to get himself healthy for the playoffs. Ted Ginn will start across from Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon, a receiver that was expected to do more within the Panthers system this season should be more involved in the game-plan with Smith nursing his injury. Hixon caught two balls for 18-yards and a touchdown in Carolina’s dramatic Week 16 win over New Orleans. His second catch was the most important one of the day for the Panthers, as Hixon made a game-winning grab with slightly under a half a minute left in the game. Although Smith being out might be bad news for Carolina, the offense is still based off the run with DeAngelo Williams, who should be able to work effectively against Atlanta’s dreadful against the run defense, and playing in the dome that favors players with speed and nifty-moves, Cam Newton should be able to use his swift-feet outside of the pocket against Atlanta’s lack-luster front. Carolina’s smash-mouth style offense working off the zone-read will keep Newton upright and be able to sustain drives against the Falcons’ defense that’s been horrendous in keeping opposing offenses off the field and trying to make stops on third down. To make matters worse for Atlanta’s chances in trying to pull off the upset, they haven’t been able to get Steven Jackson going all season. And going up against Carolina’s run-stuffing defense that’s ranked second in the league against ground-attacks, I’m expecting Matt Ryan to be forced to throw the ball 40 plus times. That should make way for lots of pressure coming from the Panthers’ D-line against Atlanta’s terrible offensive line. Look for Carolina’s offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s plan to keep things simple and play ball-control offense with a mixture of DeAngelo Williams getting touches on first and second downs and Mike Tolbert to be more involved than he was last week against New Orleans as a third down power-running back, particularly in the redzone to help the Panthers clinch the NFC South and a first round bye. As far as Atlanta’s offseason agenda goes, Arthur Blank and the Falcons organization better make improving the offensive line one of their main priorities along with trying to revamp the defense.
Pick: Panthers 24, Falcons 14

Baltimore Ravens 8-7 @ Cincinnati Bengals 10-5 – TV: CBS
The defending champs still have a pulse with a few ways to land them into postseason play. A win and a loss by either San Diego or Miami is the better path to help defend their crown, but Baltimore can also clinch regardless of the outcome if Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh all lose. If the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers win, Miami will claim a final wild-card spot. Cincinnati, the AFC North champs have something to play for as well. They still have a shot at a first-round bye needing to win and have New England lose at home against Buffalo in order to overtake the Patriots for the second seed in the AFC playoffs. Cincinnati has lots in their favor going for them in this matchup. The Ravens are coming in with hobbled legs, as Joe Flacco’s left knee injury he suffered against Detroit in Week 15 appeared to have a negative effect on his performance in Baltimore’s blowout loss to New England in their own backyard last week. Ray Rice (Quad) is expected to play, but without him being able to give the Ravens’ run game a burst, Flacco has been in position of running an offense outside of what their ultimate plan for success is centralized around by establishing the run to setup the play-action pass. Somehow, someway, Rice needs to have his best game of the season running the football to help negate a loud crowd on the road. The Bengals haven’t been all that spectacular on the ground themselves with Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. However, Jay Gruden hasn’t gone astray from feeding Bernard and Green-Ellis the football and has kept defenses honest. Cincinnati’s offensive line has been solid in pass-protection from time to time and has helped enough for Andy Dalton to complete 62.2-percent of his passes and throw for over 4,000-yards with 31-touchdown passes in distributing the football to multiple pass-catchers. And in this ball game, I like him to utilize Bernard in the screen-game and run some bubble-screens and quick slants to neutralize Baltimore’s pass-rush. I’m banking on the Bengals to be the better team converting on third down and edging the Ravens in field position and turnovers.
Pick: Bengals 24, Ravens 17

Houston Texans 2-13 @ Tennessee Titans 6-9 – TV: CBS
Case Keenum (Thumb) has been getting enough reps in practice and looks ready for Houston’s finale. The key here is looking at the future of Texans on whether or not he’s capable of being their franchise quarterback going forward with Matt Schaub on the bench. To me, the main problem on the offensive side of the ball has been the slew of injuries they’ve had at running back, the most significant loss, Arian Foster due to a back injury that required surgery. Not having your main player that makes your offense go spells disaster, and Foster can do so much at the position in all aspects of the game a runner can give you. How Foster’s offseason training and rehabbing goes will be very vital come training camp for the Texans outside of a cloudy quarterback and coaching situation. Keenum has shown some goods, but I’m not sold on him going forward as their signal-caller from watching him struggle at the line of scrimmage on reading coverage’s and against the blitz. And I’m not expecting interim coach Wade Phillips to return either, as team owner Bob McNair will be in search of a new head coach with the Kubiak-plan out the window. The Titans should be able to gain a good deal of yards with Chris Johnson and Shonn Green against Houston’s run-defense that got gashed against Denver last week. And don’t underestimate Tennessee’s passing game with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. He threw four touchdown passes against Arizona’s top-notched defense a couple of weeks ago at home. Titans end their season with a “Music City” bang.
Pick: Titans 30, Texans 20

Jacksonville Jaguars 4-11 @ Indianapolis Colts 10-5 – TV: CBS
Scenario: Indianapolis can claim the two seed and a first round bye with a win and losses from Cincinnati and New England. If only one of those teams lose, the Colts will move up to the AFC’s third seed with a win as well. Think this could be a trap-game for Indy? Well, Jacksonville has been playing competitive football, unlike the level they were playing at in Week 4, when the Colts blew them out the water 37-3, a game Indianapolis’ ground game made big-plays. The same formula should be used this week for Indianapolis, who displayed some physicality on the road in Kansas City with Donald Brown and Trent Richardson changing the pace in the backfield, and Jacksonville doesn’t do enough on developing anything in the avenue of stretching defenses with their passing game. Other than Chad Henne being a good game manager, he won’t beat you over the top. Henne isn’t setup to have a good pocket in this contest and will likely need to use his feet, as Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis, the second league-leader in sacks (17.5) will be barking in his ear for four quarters.
Pick: Colts 26, Jaguars 15

N.Y. Jets 7-8 @ Miami Dolphins 8-7 – TV: CBS
I’m going to go on the “Mike Sherman-Meter” here on the inconsistency of Miami’s running game. It’s plain to see, when Miami struggles at getting things going with Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, Ryan Tannehill and the passing game flounders. You can point at their offense facing Buffalo’s dynamic pass-rush being the focal point of Tannehill getting sacked seven times and going 10 of 27 last week in their goose-egg performance, but the protection issues Miami’s had this season and deficiencies on the ground has been their downfall. With that being said, Miami was able to establish the run and create running lanes the last time they faced the Jets in Week 13 at the Meadowlands. Miami ran for 125-yards, and Tannehill played with poise and scrambled when he had to against New York’s pass-rush in that contest. The Jets are about grounding and pounding with Chris Ivory, Bilal Powel and Geno Smith making plays with his feet and extending plays outside of the pocket. In this matchup, Miami’s secondary has an extreme edge manning up on a non-threatening New York receiving-corps, whose leading receiver, Jeremy Kerley has only 38-receptions on the season. That’s what team owner Woody Johnson needs to grasp up in his thinking-cap for 2014 and beyond. I wouldn’t mind them keeping Rex Ryan at helm, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg can only do so much for Geno without the kid having any weapons at his disposal. Miami’s scenario is this; a W and a Baltimore loss will clinch them a wild-card berth and playoff appearance for the first since 2008. They’ll be able to do this, as long as Mike Sherman has a plan in place to get Lamar Miller going early. You don’t want to get caught up in a slobber-knocker, a type of game the Jets want to catch you in. So…run the ball Mike Sherman. I repeat, run the ball Mike Sherman.
Pick: Dolphins 20, N.Y. Jets 13

Detroit Lions 7-8 @ Minnesota Vikings 4-10-1 – TV: FOX
Jim Schwartz and Leslie Frazier are potentially coaching the last game for their respective teams. Coaching, it matters lots in this league, and you need structure along with it from top to bottom in order to win Super Bowls. The Vikings are still scrambling for a franchise quarterback and clearly aren’t riding the (Christian Ponder Bus), while the Lions still have a good young gun-slinger with Matthew Stafford and the games best receiver Calvin Johnson to build upon. Defensively, Detroit’s good upfront on the line and the offensive line has three youngsters, tackles Riley Reiff, Jason Fox and rookie guard Larry Warford that have potential to improve their game. Reggie Bush, a huge addition to the offense this season is likely to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark needing just 26-yards to reach it against a subpar Vikings defense. Detroit has some goods in store, but lack the right general to keep things aligned. Minnesota has more areas of need to work on through the draft and free agency, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. That’s just my small tale of the tape on the state of both franchises. In all honesty, I really think Detroit’s players never respected Schwartz enough or played with enough passion. I mean, gee, that wasn’t the 07/11 Giants they lost to in an extremely important game in front of their home crowd. That was a 26-interception on the season Eli Manning and New York offense that’s missing Victor Cruz they faced for crying out loud. And although Minnesota got thumped out in Cincinnati last week, they’ve been much better at home, including their recent dismantling of the current NFC East leader Philadelphia on Dec. 15.
Pick: Vikings 27, Lions 24

Washington Redskins 3-12 @ N.Y. Giants 6-9 – TV: FOX
You have to take into account of New York’s possibility of winning 7 of their last 10 games after starting the season 0-6 to finish the season 7-9. Yeah, they caught some breaks in between their four-game win streak of beating teams with backup quarterbacks, but they really were in the picture before Tony Romo led the Cowboys on a game-winning drive on Nov. 24 against them. Had New York won that game, they would’ve moved to 5-6 and the motive could’ve turned into another one of those late-season surges from Tom Coughlin’s G-men. I can’t imagine John Mara, Steve Tisch and Jerry Reese considering making a coaching change, and Coughlin isn’t thinking about doing anything but coach the Giants in 2014, as far as when asked if he plans on returning. “Sure, absolutely,” Coughlin said. “I mean, probably even more because there are a lot of those that are telling you that you didn’t do very well and you’re not a very good coach and you’re not this and you’re not that, so perhaps you have something to prove.” As far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t have much to prove. Bottom line; as long as he wants to continue coaching, I’d always trust him to gear up the team in big games and correct mistakes by making the right adjustments to get things aligned properly. Coughlin’s staying put.
Pick: N.Y. Giants 27, Redskins 21

Cleveland Browns 4-11 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 7-8 – TV: CBS
Pittsburgh has a chance to be only the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting the season 0-4. Lots of luck needs to be on their side for things to fall in place, however. They need to continue their winning ways against Cleveland and extend their winning streak to 10 games at home against the Browns and have Baltimore, Miami and San Diego lose. Pittsburgh’s defense isn’t one of the more fearsome units to go up against like years past, but the offense has been a handful to deal with, particularly in the passing game. And for the first time, Le’Veon Bell rushed for 100-yards last week on the road in Green Bay to help the offense top 30-points in consecutive weeks. Thanks to an improved level of play from the offensive line, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 14-touchdown passes and only 2-interceptions in his last 6 outings, and he’s been sacked only 6 times in differential to him being brought to the ground 35 times in his first 9 games. Pittsburgh has the favorable matchups going up against a struggling Cleveland defense that could be without Joe Haden (Hip), their best defensive back. Josh Gordon strikes fear into the heart of NFL defenses, but the Browns are dreadful on the ground with an ineffective running game. That’s not the pedigree for success to win on the road against a hostile crowd that will be waving their “Terrible Towels” from start to finish.
Pick: Steelers 31, Browns 17

4:25 PM ET
Green Bay Packers 7-7-1 @ Chicago Bears 8-7 – TV: FOX

Right when they need him most, the Packers get their main man back in a winner take all battle for the NFC North title. You know…the guy that’s thrown 186-touchdown passes to only 50-interceptions in 93 games played after replacing the legendary Brett Favre and went on to win a league and Super Bowl MVP. Aaron Rodgers’ return to Green Bay’s offense sparks all the implications of this matchup to be a shootout, as both defenses are susceptible against the pass, and more importantly on the ground. Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy has been grinding it out on the ground with a sprained ankle over the past couple of weeks, and is in line to play through it again. Chicago’s Matt Forte and the running game never got things going last week in Philadelphia, due to falling behind early and needing to throw playing catch up in their blowout loss to the Eagles. Although both teams have a tone of weapons on the outside, slot and screen-game, the focal point for both Chicago’s defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and Green Bay’s Dom Capers will be to limit both runners from setting the tone early and force the quarterback into long-distance passing-downs. The Bears have allowed 161.5-yards per game against the run, and are coming off another putrid performance last week, as the Eagles gashed them for 289-yards. Hopefully, Tucker’s unit gets a lesser-workload from Lacy, who’s hobbled, but I don’t think that will be the case. Lacy should get a good amount of touches, and James Starks will be a big part of the screen-game working out of the backfield against a vulnerable Bears’ linebacker-group. The same issue for Green Bay in this contest on trying to contain Matt Forte leaking out of the backfield and tight end Martellus Bennett, and the Packers will be without Clay Matthews (Thumb) rushing off the edges to pressure Jay Cutler. Green Bay gets Randall Cobb back, a stellar route-runner that can line up just about everywhere and motion around at the line of scrimmage, and even though he isn’t expected to play lots of snaps, he can still make a difference because of his big-play ability once the ball gets in his hands in open space. Jay Cutler should be able to buy enough time in the pocket to sling the ball to his giant-receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to sustain drives and rack up some points. Here’s my verdict: with both defenses in position to potentially throw their poker-chips in on the run, Aaron Rodgers sees two weak-links at safety, Chicago’s Chris Conte and Major Wright on the deep end of the Chicago defense that plays suicidal coverage with the safety playing in single-high, vulnerable linebackers and corner’s that he can exploit in the slot. Back to the laser-beam, seam-route passes, and then boooombs away, deep-middle, deep-ball to Jordy Nelson.
Pick: Packers 34, Bears 28

Denver Broncos 12-3 @ Oakland Raiders 4-11 – TV: CBS
Wes Welker (Concussion) is unlikely to be cleared for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Raiders, but he should be ready come playoff time with an extra week off as the Broncos earned at least a first round bye. The Broncos have bigger plans though, as they need a win or a Patriots loss to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Peyton Manning and Denver’s explosive offense has things in their favor going up against a Raiders defense that’s been giving up a wide-load of huge-plays in recent weeks. Denver should be able to exploit Oakland’s defense with multiple spread alignments and mix things up on the ground with Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball with a balanced attack. The Raiders will start Terrelle Pryor under center, as coach Dennis Allen is simply interested in getting another look at Pryor, who hasn’t started since Week 10. Matt McGloin performed decently, but with enough flaws in his six starts at quarterback by completing 55.9-percent of his passes for 1,547-yards and as many touchdown passes to interceptions with 8 apiece. I expect McGloin to be back with the Raiders at least as a backup in 2014, as the franchise continues to search for a quarterback worthy of being the prime future signal-caller for the silver and black. Quarterback isn’t the only position Oakland will be taking a glance at this Sunday. Running back Darren McFadden (Ankle) could be playing his final game in a Raiders uniform, due to being an injured-prone player. Rashad Jennings will likely be the main ball-carrier, so in the limited amount of touches McFadden gets, he’ll need to make the best of them with an eye-opening remembrance of his tremendous athleticism. Manning tacks onto his record of 51-touchdown passes in a single season with 3 to 4 more scores from his arm by working things in the slot, on the outside, middle and in the screen game all over Oakland’s defense to lockup the number one seed in the AFC playoffs.
Pick: Broncos 41, Raiders 24

Buffalo Bills 6-9 @ New England Patriots 11-4 – TV: CBS

The best thing to have in place for an offense that can neutralize a defensive line that can get after the quarterback is an offense that uses multiple running backs, constantly changing the pace like New England does. Buffalo’s defense leads the league in team sacks with 56, and the must-do for them like any defense facing Tom Brady is to give him an uncomfortable pocket. And that can only be done if they limit New England’s herd of backs Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden, which ever route the Patriots take on who they utilize. So you wonder why New England’s offense can still get it done without Rob Gronkowski. They have a balanced attack and have slot receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman that they motion around creating confusion on the back seven of opposing defenses. How big of a loss was losing Wes Welker? Take a glance at Edelman’s production: 96-catches, 991-yards and 6-touchdowns. Amendola was really Welker’s replacement, but injuries have slowed down his production. Other than that, Amendola and Edelman have made up for the loss of Wes and even with Gronkowski out, they’ll be able to keep Buffalo’s defense guessing with a mixture of the running game and quick passing-plays to Edelman and Amendola working out of the slot. And I’m expecting Shane Vereen to be in the mix out of the backfield as a pass-cather. Buffalo should be able to run on New England’s defense with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, but when it comes down to passing downs, you can bet the house on Brady to deliver and for the rookie E.J. Manuel to make some costly mistakes against New England’s defense that has a nag of creating turnovers. Pats win to clinch a first round bye, but chances of Denver losing out in Oakland are slim to none for them to overtake them for the 1 seed.
Pick: Patriots 38, Bills 24

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-11 @ New Orleans Saints 10-5 – TV: FOX
These scenarios are driving me insane! New Orleans will make the playoffs with a victory, but they can also get in with a loss if San Francisco beats Arizona. If they lose and the Cardinals win, the Saints will be eliminated from playoff contention. The best scenario for them would come with a victory combined with a Carolina loss. That would hand New Orleans the NFC South division and a first-round bye. If the Saints and Panthers both win, New Orleans will settle for a wild-card spot. You all got that? They should know by kickoff whether or not they have a shot at the division with the Carolina game slated for the early games. Nevertheless, I’m expecting New Orleans’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to put a hit-squad out on Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon, a quarterback that’s proven to be shaky when under immense pressure against the blitz. If Tampa Bay has a shot, they’ll need the running game and Bobby Rainey to get a heavy-dose of 20 to 25 carries. But this is evaluation week with a few teams taking a glimpse at their potential long-term quarterbacks. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be shocked if head coach Greg Schiano has the kid sling it more than often to see if he can stay afloat with Drew Brees in a shootout. Either way, not a good matchup for Tampa Bay, as New Orleans will be all geared up in playoff-mode looking to right the ship to end their two game skid and head into the postseason on a positive note.
Pick: Saints 34, Buccaneers 17

San Francisco 49ers 11-4 @ Arizona Cardinals 10-5 – TV: FOX
The 49ers are playing for playoff seeding, while the Cardinals could be just the second team in the history of the game to win 11 games and still miss the playoffs. The 49ers need a win and a Seattle loss to win the NFC West and a Carolina loss to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Arizona needs a win and a New Orleans loss. I know people, lots of scenarios all over the place this weekend in the regular-season finale Week. Here’s the deal between these two clubs; Bruce Arians has definitely installed some new tweaks in the Arizona offense, and although the running game hasn’t been anything dynamite, the Cardinals still hand the football off to Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington to keep the oppositions defense honest. But if they combine them for 36 plus touches like they did in Seattle last week, they won’t find any open lanes against San Francisco’s ball-hawkers, linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks, speedy backers that are arguably the most talented tandem at running down runners, but most certainly the best when you force them into coverage on covering tight ends and sometimes slot receivers. That’s what Arians and the Cardinals offensive game-plan will evolve around on how they can put Willis, Bowman and Brooks in spots to their disadvantages away from the line of scrimmage. On the outside, Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald are both physical receivers that are capable of beating their man on press coverage’s and are options in the red zone that can win the jump-balls. Look for both back sevens of the defense to play more at the line of scrimmage to try to disrupt routes, and the big matchup of this game is Arizona’s Patrick Peterson manned up against San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree in an all-out, dog-fighting physical battle that can determine the outcome of third down efficiency for both quarterbacks. Ultimately, I like San Francisco, the team with the better offensive line to win the battles upfront, and for tight end Vernon Davis to be the x-factor for Colin Kaepernick on finding him on key passing downs. Carson Palmer has been better at home, but with pressure coming from all angles, the duress he’ll be under isn’t the right set of keys for him to drive Arizona into the postseason, unless, someway, somehow, his offensive line ups their game. Niners close it out late in the fourth behind their top-flight offensive line, Frank Gore’s legs, and Kaepernick’s improvising.
Pick: 49ers 20, Cardinals 16

Kansas City Chiefs 11-4 @ San Diego Chargers 8-7 – TV: CBS
The Chiefs are locked in as the 5th seed in the AFC playoffs, and head coach Andy Reid is debating on his approach this weekend on starting or resting his key players. “If you look at the history of it, it’s about a 50-50 shot over the last three or four years of people who have done it. It’s what you’re most comfortable with as a coach,” Reid said. “The obvious benefit is you rest your guys. You kind of get back a little fresher than what they were at the end of the season. You take a risk of the timing part of it. So those are the things that you have to evaluate.” As for the Chargers’ scenario stands, they need a W and a Miami and Baltimore loss or tie in order to clinch the 6th seed of the AFC playoffs. They could also get in with a tie and losses by the Dolphins and Ravens, who both play earlier in the day. All in all, they should know what’s at stake for them come kickoff time at Qualcomm Stadium. Losing Justin Houston rushing off the edge has stumped Kansas City’s defense and they’ll need their pass-rush to come to the party if they want to slow down Philip Rivers’ precision-passing operating in many exotic spread alignments to spread out the defense. Here’s what’s been a huge plus factor for San Diego’s offense; they’ve turned to the running game making the offense well balanced. Ryan Mathews has ran for over 100 or near 100-yards over his last three games with 25 plus carries, and as a team, the Chargers have ran the ball for grand total of 469-yards. I like San Diego’s chances of keeping the same plan going in this matchup, and with the Kansas City’s backups and starters sharing reps in practice, I’m assuming Jamaal Charles, Alex Smith, Dwayne Bowe and gang will only play a few series to stay in the flow of things before they rest their bodies up for playoff football. I don’t think San Diego will have their Cookies crumble the right way for them to get into the postseason based on scenario, but hiring Mike McCoy could be the start of something special.
Pick: Chargers 30, Chiefs 21

St. Louis Rams 7-8 @ Seattle Seahawks 12-3 – TV: FOX
If Seattle wins or if San Francisco loses, they’ll clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. In their first meeting, the Rams’ defense rattled Russell Wilson’s pocket, sacking him seven times, three recorded by Robert Quinn and Chris Long each. That was when Seattle’s offensive line was bruised and battered without key starters to anchor the line and protect Wilson from having to run for his dear life. Robert Quinn, the league leader in sacks (18) has been a wrecking-machine, registering five sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in his last two games overall for the Rams. So…we know the Rams can create havoc upfront, but the main plan for success against Seattle is to limit Marshawn Lynch from setting the tone from the get-go and keeping him from reaching the endzone. Taking him out of the screen-game is also vital, as Lynch is also an option out of the backfield for Wilson. Offensively, you need a physical runner, and the Rams have one with Zac Stacy, who received 33-carries last week against Tampa Bay rushing over the century-mark. Here’s the problem though; the Rams don’t present anything majorly problematic at receiver against the best secondary in football in this matchup. This is a bread and butter deal for Richard Sherman and gang to man up at the line of scrimmage and crowd the box on Stacy. Kellen Clemens can work things intermediately, but that won’t be good enough for the Rams to be able to punch it in the endzone. Seattle wraps up the NFC West and secures the 1 seed behind Lynch’s heavy-dose of carries, Russell Wilson’s improvising and a couple of pickoffs from their secondary.
Pick: Seahawks 23, Rams 13

Sunday Night Football in America 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
Philadelphia Eagles 9-6 @ Dallas Cowboys 8-7

Heart-breaker; someway, somehow it always seems for the Dallas Cowboys. After Tony Romo led the Cowboys in a come from behind win at Washington, bad back and all, throwing a 4th and goal touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray to keep Dallas’ season breathing and forcing a third straight winner take all for the NFC East crown, there will be no Romocember this time around, as Romo underwent back-surgery, ending his season earlier this week. That leaves Dallas’ playoff hopes against the red-hot Eagles with backup Kyle Orton under center. Now, Orton has experience at the position and has played at a pretty-good level, but in this matchup, going up against an Eagles speedy-blitz rush, Orton isn’t capable of eluding the rush or extending plays from the pocket like Romo can. That factor should elect head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to feast off the running game and throw running back DeMarco Murray in position for a heavy set of touches. Leaning on Murray, a back that’s averaging 5.4-yards per attempt that leads all NFL backs with at least 150 carries is the proper pedigree for Dallas’ offense to have success in creating balance and putting Orton in high-percentage passing-downs. Mainly, controlling time of possession and protecting the football will be vital for Dallas to keep Nick Foles and Philadelphia’s prolific offense on a limited possession count. Romo may be the big loss for Dallas here, but the major boo-boo is not having linebacker Sean Lee (Neck), the Cowboys’ best run-stopper to run down league-leading rusher LeSean McCoy. In their first meeting on Oct. 20, Dallas’ defense was able to contain McCoy and covered their gaps at the line of scrimmage well, closing McCoy’s running-lanes. They also were able to rattle Foles and make him indecisive from the pocket, but just like seasons change, Foles has become dynamite ever since in the avenue of decision making, and Chip Kelly’s system has thrown in more motioning in the fold along with the continuation of using the play-action off the zone-read. Foles can use his feet and make plays on the run off of it, and looking at last week’s offensive onslaught he and the Eagles displayed against Chicago using spread formations with DeSean Jackson motioning around and keeping the backs in as blockers and used in the screen-game, I can’t imagine Chip Kelly not doing the same against Dallas’ putrid defense that has the tendency to get caught out of position on the back seven of their defense. And on a fast-track, Philadelphia’s precise route-running receivers, Riley Cooper, DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek should be able to get separation from Dallas’ DB’s without a pass-rush coming from the Cowboys’ lack-luster front. You know, the more I watch DeMarcus Ware on a weekly-basis, the more I wonder if he’s running out of gas. He needs to be a huge factor in this game, and I just don’t see that happening. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin doesn’t like to gamble enough or take chances by manufacturing pressure, but he better have some tricks up his sleeve on ways to pressure Foles. So prove me wrong Monte.
Pick: Eagles 34, Cowboys 24

You can follow Massimo Russo on Twitter @NFLMassimo and @SilverBlueRpt

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