Next Sunday could be the best Sunday of your (regular-season) life
DEC 23, 2013 8:00a ET
It didn't take long for the Eagles to jump all over the Bears on Sunday night — and for the Packers front office, coaching staff and medical personnel to get ready for an onslaught this week. Because those Aaron Rodgers questions are only intensifying now.
The playoff picture heading into the regular season's final Sunday is rather vanilla in the AFC (with only one playoff spot and some seeding left to sort out). But the NFC is one big post-Christmas feast, with the Packers traveling to Soldier Field to decide the NFC North (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX) before the Eagles go to Dallas to see if they can send the Cowboys home with another Week 17 flop (8:30 p.m. ET on NBC). In the NFC, every division title is up for grabs, as are both wild-card spots and both first-round byes.
For a full rundown of the standings and the playoff scenarios, click here.
Yet, the playoff scenarios are but one part of the fun that remains in Week 17. From the pursuit of records and statistical marks, to coaches' jobs on the line and the "race" for the No. 1 draft pick, there will be something riding on the line in just about every game — just the way the NFL likes it.
The week's biggest storylines
• Big injuries will be the big stories this week, and none will be bigger than the status of Rodgers, the Packers QB who has been sidelined since suffering a broken left (non-throwing) collarbone in Week 9 against the Bears — Week 17's opponent. The question of whether Rodgers will play has dogged coach Mike McCarthy for weeks . . . don't expect it to let up now.
• Across the sideline could be another QB story, and it has nothing to do with injury. Since returning to the starting role two games ago, the Bears' Jay Cutler has been less than stellar. And on Sunday night, he gave way to backup Josh McCown in the final drive. The problem is that while filling in for Cutler while he was injured, McCown was one of the top QBs in the league — he still has 13 TDs to only one interception on the season. Many wondered out loud whether McCown should give way to Cutler once the guy paid like the starter was healthy. With the season on the line, does head coach Marc Trestman go back to McCown in the do-or-die finale?
• There will be several other big injuries contenders will be monitoring closely, most notably: Panthers WR Steve Smith and Broncos LB Von Miller will get MRI exams Monday on banged-up knees, while Packers teammates Clay Matthews (thumb) and Eddie Lacy (ankle) are also not sure bets to play next week.
• The Cowboys don't have any pressing injury concerns, but you can bet their fans are more than a tad on the worried side. For the third straight season, the Cowboys enter Week 17 in a win-or-go-home situation . . . let's just say the other two didn't go so well.
Record watch — Broncos bucking some serious trends
• Manning reached the 5,000-yard mark for the first time in his career Sunday, and now sits just 265 yards behind Drew Brees' single-season record of 5,476 yards.
• The year Brady threw his 50 TDs (2007), his Pats set the NFL scoring mark with 589. The Broncos stand at 572 (the fewest points Denver has scored this season is 20, and the Broncos put 37 on the Raiders in Week 3).
• The Broncos tied an NFL record with their 13th 400-yard game on Sunday.
Record watch — giving love to the rest of the league
Some other notable marks went down and milestones were reached in Week 16:
• According to STATS, Inc., Panthers second-year LB Luke Kuechly tied an NFL record Sunday with 24 tackles. The Jets' David Harris also had 24 tackles in a game, Nov. 4, 2007, against Washington. STATS has tracked tackles since 1994, and lists Kuechly as having the most in the NFL since entering the league last season.
• Lacy, tearing through the Packers' rookie rushing record books this season, took out his biggest page yet on Sunday:
• Pierre Garcon took down one of the more hallowed team records, belonging to Art Monk, on Sunday:
What's significant about Monk's mark? His 106 catches in 1984 marked the first time in NFL history a player made 100 grabs in a season. And after the game, he gave Garcon his due:
18 down, 4.5 to go — worried, Strahan?
FOX NFL Sunday's Michael Strahan set the gold standard for pass rushers in 2001 with a record 22.5 sacks. Ten years later, Jared Allen got close but finished a half-sack short. This season, Rams defensive end and late-season Defensive Player of the Year candidate Robert Quinn had three sacks on Sunday to give him 18 on the season. Taking down the record will be no easy task, however, as the Rams play at Seattle in Week 17, and the Seahawks will be playing for a division crown, the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs and some redemption after losing at home for the first time in two years in Week 16.
The 'race' for the No. 1 pick down to 2 — but really 3
Unfortunately for Washington fans, this is not a race they are going to win, regardless of the outcome or one's viewpoint. You see, most people wouldn't consider finishing with the league's worst record a "win." But when it brings with it the top overall pick in the following draft, finishing last sure beats finishing, say . . . 7-9, out of the playoffs and picking 12th.
But it will be the Rams reaping the rewards in the draft of the Redskins' futility on the field. St. Louis acquired Washington's first-round pick in the upcoming draft as part of the deal when it sent the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft to the 'Skins before the 2012 draft, when Washington took Robert Griffin III after the Colts took Andrew Luck. Here's what's left to decide who gets the first pick:
• Houston (2-13) holds the NFL's worst record and clinches the No. 1 overall pick with a loss at Tennessee.
• Should both teams win, the Texans will finish as the only team with less than four wins and will pick first.
Nothin' like a hot seat to keep you warm during the winter
OK, this isn't the kind of hot seat you want. But several guys could be coaching for their jobs next Sunday. Here are the most noteworthy ones.
• Detroit: Earlier this week, Lions running back Reggie Bush defended Detroit's coaching staff, putting the team's late-season struggles on the players. Well, that swoon is now a full-blown meltdown, as the Lions were eliminated from the playoffs with a loss to the Giants, their third straight loss and fourth in five games. So after the game, beleaguered head coach Jim Schwartz blamed . . . the fans, of course. Failing to make the playoffs, wasting another season of Calvin Johnson's prime AND calling out the fans? Sure doesn't seem like a recipe for sticking around much past Black Monday.
• Washington: What more needs to be said? The Redskins traded away multiple first-round picks for a guy who 1) suffered a torn ACL and you took the brunt of the criticism, 2) argued with you over playing time all preseason, 3) struggled and fought with you in the media all season, 4) you benched at the end of this season despite him actually being seemingly healthy. Pretty much everybody agrees that right now, things don't look good for Mike Shanahan.
• New York: Tom Coughlin's Giants ended the Lions playoff hopes. That (along with those two Lombardi Trophies) could earn him another shot in the Big Apple. But on the other side of MetLife Stadium? FOX NFL Sunday's Jay Glazer reported Sunday that Rex Ryan told his Jets on Saturday he is getting fired. So of course his team went out and handled the Browns . . . and Ryan took shots at Glazer's report.
• Dallas: Then there are the Cowboys. First, head coach Jason Garrett shoved a team employee after Sunday's win. That was played off as just playin' around (though it sure didn't look that way).
Then owner Jerry Jones gave Garrett the dreaded vote of confidence: "He really showed me a lot". Oh yeah, then Jones added Tony Romo has a 'little back issue'. But let's face it, Garrett's future all comes down to next week against the Eagles . . . and even then we won't know what will happen, win or lose.
But come next Sunday, we all win.