So here we are, fellow gridiron goers. The bitter sweetness that is the close of the 2013 regular season happens this Sunday. With the play-in games created by various division dramas and conference craziness concluding to create a concrete diagram, the playoffs are in effect bringing us the best football all the way up to the Super Bowl. However, 20 other teams and their fan bases will be packing it up until next August, no longer relevant characters for this showing. These play-in games will make up the Regular Season Finale of The Student of the Game’s NFL Match-Up Mania.
Bears v Packers
Whether the draw is as the NFL’s oldest rivalry or the race for the NFC North, this is a game worthy of primetime placement. A fitting stage for QB Aaron Rodgers to return to the field and end Packer pains placed by back up QB Matt Flynn who contributed to an embarrassing blunder vs the Steelers last week. Nonetheless, they can still take advantage of the 54-11 Bear beat down via the Philadelphia Eagles the previous Sunday for an NFC North title. Let’s also give credit to the disappointing Detroit Lions who took themselves out of the race thanks to a loss to the Giants. All this mediocrity helped make this Week 17 pairing the Divisional Championship it has become.
With the heaps of helplessness hurled about by this division in the final few weeks of the season, it’s going to come down to who is the least likely to screw things up. Even after several week of hiatus, if Rodgers returns, he and Rookie of the Year candidate RB Eddie Lacey will create a balanced offense. I’ve said time and again that a balanced offense is more than Chicago’s ‘D’ can handle. However, if Flynn is forced onto the field, QB Jay Cutler still must avoid mistakes at all costs. I don’t think Cutler has the mental resolve to resist flinging the football into risky situations, and the Packers still win in a closer game.
Cowboys v Eagles
I’ve mused for weeks how solid the Bengals defense is despite the roster’s losses via injury and how deflated the Ravens offense is. For me, the X-factor is which QB Andy Dalton are we going to get? The one worthy of Strype Hype who manages a team past the Packers and Patriots or the one who is a kitten rather than a tiger. I think the defense will do enough to give Dalton a chance to win the game. With that the “Ginger Ninja” will do his part to eliminate the Ravens.
Bucs v Saints
There’s no reason to believe this will happen, but the scenario exists. If Tampa heads into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, shuts down a Hall of Fame caliber QB in Drew Brees and scores on Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan’s squad with rookie QB Mike Glennon as the field general and the 3 string RB Bob Rainey as the starter, the Saints might be eliminated from the playoffs.
The Bucs need to have the game they did in the OT loss Seahawks, they just have to do it for the entire 4 quarters . . . or maybe like they did in Week 2 where Tampa was a missed Field Goal away from beating them at Raymond James Stadium.
Niners v Cards
So this Week 17 game has finally arrived and I’ve been saying it in print and on radio for months that it is one that would matter. San Francisco is hoping to take advantage of Seahawk blunders to win the division, but the Cardinals must win this game to try to prevent being a 10 game winner that gets eliminated from the postseason. The problem that still remains is if the Saints win, the Cards may be an 11 game team not in the playoffs.
With the Niners playing as they did on Monday, I see Head Coach Bruce Arians and company watching that tape closely to pressure Niner QB Colin Kaepernick and pray Niner WRs and TEs drop passes as they did on Monday night. That and QB Carson Palmer cannot throw an INT — let alone 4 of them.
Phins v Jets
Divisional game physics are funny . . . especially in the AFC East. One week you are toppling a team who is among the top of the entire conference that is lead by a Future Hall of Fame Coach and QB. The next, you are supplanted by a team that’s been speculated to move to Canada in the offseason with a 3rd string QB starting off the practice squad — for the second time this season!! That extremism in dichotomy is exactly the life of the Miami Dolphins in their previous 2 weeks.
In light of these 2 performances essentially canceling each other out, the ‘Phins must beat the division rival Jets in hopes to surpass Baltimore should they lose. If both teams win, the Ravens would get the spot as 2 team ties in win-loss record are broken by head-to-head outcomes. Since Baltimore beat the Dolphins in Week 5, sophomore QB Ryan Tannehill would be sacked permanently from post season contention. But then if the Chargers win and create a 3 way tie, the team with the best conference record moves forward. This would be Miami and the state of Florida would have a team in the playoffs for the first time since QB Chad Pennington was starting in the NFL. (Also playing for Miami at the time.)
Step 1 for all this craziness is actually Jets rookie QB Geno Smith and whether he continues to be the hero he was surmounting a 10 point deficit to Cleveland last week or goes back to throwing INTs.
Chargers v Chiefs
San Diego in this game is the model of what “needing help” is to make it to the playoffs. But if the Ravens and Dolphins both lose at 1pm on Sunday, the Chargers can win their way into the playoffs. This time 3 weeks ago, I would have said this is a highly unlikely scenario. But since then, the Chargers have beaten the Chiefs, upset the Broncos and the Chiefs have locked into the 5th seed in the AFC. A team that has found success and is playing for a desperate hope against a team that has nothing at all to gain. Should Miami and Baltimore falter, don’t be shocked to see the Bolts in the postseason.
Kyle Nash — @TheSoTG on Twitter
Founder and host of The Student of the Game show
VP of Operations and Editor for The National Gridiron Network
COO and NFL Contributor for The Sports Chronicles
Special Contributor for Pro Player Insiders
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