Cheat Sheet: Week 17 full of drama

BY Peter Schrager • December 24, 2012

Ah, Week 17 of the NFL season.

A time for coaches on the hot seat to make one last plea to their owners with a statement win. A time for backup quarterbacks (Matt Flynn, anyone?) to showcase their skills and inflate their marketplace values for countless suitors. A time for draft orders to be set, records to be broken and for playoff pictures to be framed.

Here are the 10 things I’d like to see in Week 17:

1. Adrian Peterson within striking distance of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record at the start of the fourth quarter.

Though it’s unlikely Adrian Peterson will run for 208 yards against the Packers on Sunday, it’d make for one heck of an exciting final 15 minutes if the Vikings were playing for their playoff lives while Peterson was stalking Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards in 1984. In 2003, Jamal Lewis entered a Week 17 Sunday night showdown with the Steelers just 154 yards shy of 2,105. He came up short, as Pittsburgh held Lewis to 114 yards on 27 carries.

The Vikings showed they can, in fact, win games without Peterson rushing for 200 yards last Sunday in Houston (Peterson was held to 86.) But it’d be pretty cool if there was a shot at the record come 7:30 p.m. EST. For Vikings fans, it’d be even cooler if they were up by 20.

2. Some Sanchez, McElroy . . . and Tebow vs. the Bills.

I love a good Monday morning Jets train-wreck story in the New York City tabloids as much as the next guy, but I’ve had enough with this McElroy and Sanchez garbage in New York. I want to see all three of the Jets quarterbacks on Sunday!

And I want to see them rotating drive after drive after drive like the circus carousel they are. It was reported that Tebow declined the opportunity to enter the game in the wildcat package last weekend against the Chargers. Whether that’s true or not, I’d like to see him given the shot, under center like a real-life NFL quarterback. We’ve been teased with the gift of Tebow all season.

After 16 weeks, a 6-9 record, and a disastrous 27-17 loss to the Chargers last weekend, why not see all three “quarterbacks” in action Sunday? And yes, those are quotation marks around the word quarterback.

Well, looks like it won't happen. McElroy is out with a concussion, and Sanchez has been named the starter. Leave it to the Jets QBs to disappoint me again.

3. A vintage Larry Fitzgerald afternoon.

What a wasted season it has been for Larry Fitzgerald. In a 2012 campaign that has seen huge statistical efforts from NFC receivers Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Randall Cobb, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Victor Cruz, Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston — Larry Fitzgerald, arguably the very best of all of those receivers, was more or less nonexistent for 16 weeks. John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer aren’t exactly Unitas, Namath and Fouts. I know that. But I’d love to see Larry Fitzgerald have at least one vintage Larry Fitzgerald game. The man is in the prime of his career and should be challenging Johnson and Bryant and Marshall for All-Pro bids. Instead, he’s wasting away with poor quarterback and offensive line play in the Arizona desert. Fitzgerald’s missing out with such shoddy play. But so are we, the fans.

4. A sign of life from the Detroit Lions at home versus the Bears.

The Lions have lost seven in a row, including their past four at home. Though they may lead the league in endorsement deals (and yes, when it comes to fashion brands and the NFL, Matt Stafford is the Van Heusen of quarterbacks), the Lions have been one of the league’s greatest disappointments this season. After giving up late fourth-quarter leads to the Packers, Texans and Colts, Detroit laid complete eggs against the Cardinals and Falcons the past two weeks.

If this team has any fight, any pride or any life left in it whatsoever, it will compete against the Bears on Sunday. If the Lions don’t, let’s hold off on the commercials for a few months, guys.

5. A sneak peak of Brock Osweiler and Ryan Mallett.

Scrolling through the list of first- and second-year quarterbacks making plays this season, we’ve got Luck, Griffin, Weeden, Tannehill, Wilson, Cousins, Foles, Kaepernick, Dalton, Ponder, Locker, McElroy. Even Blaine Gabbert has made an impact this season.

The two guys who haven’t done anything at all? The two guys I’m most intrigued by. Ryan Mallett is now finishing his second season as Tom Brady’s understudy in New England, while Brock Osweiler is finishing his first year rocking the clipboard for Denver. I loved both of these players coming out of college (I’m a sucker for 6-foot-7 dudes with cannons for arms, I suppose), and hope to at least get a peak at their progress since we’ve last seen them man offenses in the preseason.

6. A hint of the Steelers team we thought we were seeing this year.

Back in August, I picked the Steelers to win the AFC this season. There, I said it. I thought there’d be a “Let’s get the band back together” feel to this season, the veterans would come together and Todd Haley would spark a fire under an offense that had gotten stale toward the end of last year.

After they lost to Oakland in Week 3, I thought they’d figure it out. When the Steelers lost to Tennessee in Week 5, I thought the same thing. Cleveland (Week 12)? San Diego (Week 14)? Dallas (Week 15)? I still thought they’d put it together.

Well, after Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, the 2012 season was over before Week 17 and they still haven’t put it all together. Here I am, looking at a 7-8 team, and I still think — underneath the injuries, age and odd personality issues in that locker room this season — there’s a formidable football team in Pittsburgh.

Steelers fans, and NFL fans as a whole, haven’t seen the 2012 Steelers squad we expected to see all season. With Cleveland in their building and nothing to play for but pride, let’s root to see that squad Sunday.

7. One last effort for Norv and Andy.

Sunday most likely will mark Norv Turner’s last game as head coach of the San Diego Chargers. The Bolts have won two out of their past three and look to wrap up on a positive note against the Raiders on Sunday.

Norv hasn’t always been the most popular guy among Chargers fans and his time in San Diego will likely be remembered more for the things he couldn’t accomplish than what he did. But he’s still one of the best QB gurus, play-callers and all-around guys in the league. Turner will resurface as a coordinator in the future, but we might never see him as a head coach again. If this is indeed his last game on the sidelines in that capacity, it’d be great to see his Chargers come out and put together one last effort for him.

As for Andy Reid, this script has been written for months. It has been a tumultuous year in Philly — both professionally and personally. It’ll be tough to beat the Giants in New York, given the dire quarterback situation in Philly, but a strong effort from the young Eagles for their longtime coach would be a better way for him to exit than a 30-point blowout.

8. A close one in Washington.

Four years ago, the Eagles beat the Cowboys 44-6 in the final week of the regular season, setting up a Philadelphia run to the NFC Championship Game. Last year, the Giants blew out the Cowboys with a playoff berth on the line in Week 17.

Dallas is 2-10 in Week 17 games since 2000. With a nation watching, let’s just hope for a good game. I’m not asking for an all-time classic, but hell, I wouldn’t complain if that’s what we got.

9. No major injuries.

So many teams will be playing in meaningless Week 17 games that just hoping for no injuries is a reasonable request. For playoff teams, there could be few things worse than a devastating injury to a key player in a meaningless contest to end the regular season.

10. Something from the Bucs.

It seems like forever ago, but the Buccaneers were once 6-4 and looking like a real playoff contender in the NFC South. They’ve since lost five consecutive games, with the past two games coming in embarrassing fashion — a 41-0 loss to New Orleans and a 28-13 loss to the Rams. Tampa lost its final 10 games of the season a year ago. Bucs fans haven’t seen a December win in two years.

The Falcons, who've locked up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, shouldn’t beat the Buccaneers on Sunday. If they do, there will be serious questions to be answered in Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, Raheem Morris isn’t there to blame anymore. He’s actually in Washington, preparing for a December game that actually matters on Sunday.

Ten things. I’m not asking for much.

And now, let’s get to the picks.

Week 16 record: 9-7

2012 Overall Season Record: 141-98-1

Week 17 Trivia Question: Calvin Johnson has 11 100-yard receiving games this season, tying him with which Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver for the most in an NFL season?

Sunday 1 p.m. ET

Tampa Bay at Atlanta: I have faith in the Baby Bucs. I think they have some pride, some heart and some desire to end what was once a very promising 2012 season on a happy note. The Falcons don’t need this game and shouldn’t worry about having to make a “statement” with a victory. Save the statements for the Divisional Round, where all eyes (and skeptics) will be focused on them.

The Pick: Buccaneers 24, Falcons 20

New York Jets at Buffalo: The Jets and Bills played in a nationally televised game in Week 1. At the time, I said it was “the most important” game of the NFL’s first week, as it’d give us a real idea of these two “wild-card contenders’ true identities”. Further proof that I’m an idiot. That game meant nothing. Neither does this one.

The Pick: Bills 27, Jets 13

Baltimore at Cincinnati: With Andy Dalton and A.J. Green in Cincinnati, the Bengals have made the playoffs twice, but they still haven’t beaten the Ravens. I have a feeling Baltimore might be resting some troops, while Cincinnati goes full speed. Take Cincinnati, cue the “Everything’s still wrong with the Ravens” storyline Sunday night, and ignore it all come next week.

The Pick: Bengals 30, Ravens 20

Chicago at Detroit: I have no reason to believe the Lions will come to play Sunday. They haven’t in the team’s past two games and I certainly don’t see it happening in this one. Chicago will be playing with a playoff berth still very much alive. Take the Bears and a 10-win season for Chicago.

The Pick: Bears 27, Lions 20

Jacksonville at Tennessee: This is a pretty terrible game. This matchup makes the Jets and Bills look like the ’76 Steelers vs. the ’99 Rams. If you’re watching this and (a) aren’t from Nashville or Jacksonville or (b) don’t have some sort of wager tied into the outcome, you are a TRUE NFL fan. Maybe the truest fan of all. They should make a “30 for 30” documentary on just how true a fan you really are.

The Pick: Jaguars 31, Titans 22

Houston at Indianapolis: Fans in Foxborough and Denver are rooting hard for the Colts on Sunday, as an Indianapolis win could shake up things as far as AFC playoff seeding goes. Chuck Pagano will be on the sidelines, the home crowd will be in a frenzy, and Houston did not look particularly good last week versus the Vikings. But this defense has put together a pattern of big bounce-back games after embarrassing losses. Wade Phillips’ unit will bottle up Andrew Luck and Co., and the Texans will maintain the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The Pick: Texans 24, Colts 16

Carolina at New Orleans: Though he’s getting clobbered by many in the media for yet another act of immaturity in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, even Cam Newton’s biggest critics can’t deny he’s having a heck of a finish to what was once considered a lost 2012 season. After starting the year 2-8, Carolina has gone 4-1 in its past five games. Over the past six games, Newton has accounted for 15 touchdowns and has thrown just one interception. He’ll finish the season on a high note, potentially saving Ron Rivera’s job in the process.

The Pick: Panthers 34, Saints 30

Philadelphia at NY Giants: In a matter of weeks, the Giants went from a 6-2 team with a comfortable two-game cushion in the division standings to an 8-7 team on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The Giants need a lot of help to get in. They’ll do their part. Alas, it will be too little too late.

The Pick: Giants 27, Eagles 17

Cleveland at Pittsburgh: Steelers running back Isaac Redman sounded like most Steelers fans after Sunday’s loss in Cincinnati, telling reporters, “I’m not surprised at all. Stuff just happened the whole year. It’s frustrating. Turnovers at key moments of games have just crushed us all year long.” It has been nine years since the Steelers finished a season with a losing record. They won’t lose this one. I don’t think they will, at least. Then again, I’ve been picking the Steelers win games all season long.

The Pick: Steelers 34, Browns 20

Sunday, 4 p.m. ET

Oakland at San Diego: Few Chargers fans will be wearing “Win one for Norv!” shirts Sunday, but I think his players will put together one final worthy effort for the longtime coach. Oakland is going with either Matt Leinart or Terrell Pryor in this one. In other words, San Diego shouldn’t lose. I know, I know. We've heard that before.

The Pick: Chargers 34, Raiders 21

Arizona at San Francisco: The San Francisco defense just isn’t the same without Justin Smith in the lineup. In their past five quarters — without Smith on the field — the 49ers have given up 66 points. If he’s out for the playoffs, that’ll haunt the 49ers. If he’s out for Sunday’s game against struggling Arizona, it probably won’t matter all that much.

The Pick: 49ers 27, Cardinals 13

Green Bay at Minnesota: I know Green Bay is red hot and coming off its most impressive win of the 2012 season, but I’m going with the Vikings. I doubted them against the Bears three weeks ago, thought they’d struggle in St. Louis two weeks ago, and didn’t think there was any way Christian Ponder would do enough to beat the Texans in Houston in Week 16. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Fool me once? Fool me twice? Fool me three times? You get the point. I don’t see Adrian Peterson breaking Eric Dickerson’s record, but I do see the Vikings playing January football. I think Minnesota fans would be more than OK with that tradeoff.

The Pick: Vikings 27, Packers 23

St. Louis at Seattle: In Jeff Fisher’s first three years as Tennessee’s head coach in the mid-'90s, the Titans won eight games. In two of his past five years in Tennessee in the late 2000’s, the Titans won eight games. The dude is Mr. 8 Wins. I don’t see it happening Sunday, though. No one has won in Seattle this season. I don’t think anyone will.

The Pick: Seahawks 31, Rams 23

Miami at New England: The headline Monday was “Tom Brady reportedly yells at Patriots teammates after Sunday’s game”. So, what? Shouldn’t he yell at his teammates after yet another lackluster start to a game? Don’t expect the Patriots to start slow out of the gates for a third consecutive weekend. Expect a big lead and some Ryan Mallett in the second half.

The Pick: Patriots 34, Dolphins 17

Kansas City at Denver: The Broncos have won 10 games in a row and are playing for a bye and a home playoff game. With Tim Tebow as the quarterback, they lost a Week 17 game to Kyle Orton and the Chiefs 7-3 at home last year. Peyton Manning isn’t Tim Tebow. And sadly for Chiefs fans, Brady Quinn isn’t Kyle Orton. No upset this time around.

The Pick: Broncos 28, Chiefs 6

Sunday night

Dallas at Washington: Washington hasn’t won a division crown since 1999, while the Cowboys are just 2-10 in Week 17 games since 2000. FedEx Field is going to be crazier than it has been all season long, but I think the Cowboys — going against recent history — will find a way to stop Griffin and come out on top. I’ve long been accused of being a Tony Romo “fanboy.” Fair enough. I think he silences critics (for now) and gets the job done on the road Sunday night.

The Pick: Cowboys 31, Redskins 20

Playoff Matchups, if picks are right:

No. 1 Houston (bye)
No. 2 Denver (bye)
No. 3 New England vs. No. 6 Cincinnati
No. 4 Baltimore vs. No. 5 Indianapolis

No. 1 Atlanta (bye)
No. 2 San Francisco (bye)
No. 3 Green Bay vs. No. 6 Minnesota
No. 4 Dallas vs. No.  5 Seattle

Week 17 Trivia Answer: In 1995, Michael Irvin had 100-plus receiving yards in 11 of the Cowboys’ first 14 games, an NFL record.