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It is week 17 of the NFL regular season and the playoffs are in sight. This is what football is all about; the chips are down and teams must perform to make it to the playoffs.

In the AFC , it’s all about seeding in the playoffs between the Broncos , Patriots , Bengals and Colts and then the exciting battle for the final sixth playoff seed between Miami , San Diego , Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The NFC is that bit more interesting again with every division still up for grabs , including two head-to-head deciders with playoff places on the line between the Packers and Bears in the North and the Cowboys and Eagles in the East.

Now to give my picks for these key games of Week 17 and most significantly, predict who will be the 12 teams participating in the playoffs.

Ravens @ Bengals , 6pm.

This game in the AFC North really does have that playoff feel about with a lot to play for in both teams minds. Cincinnati is still playing for the AFC No. 2 seed and a first round playoff bye ahead of the Patriots , while the Ravens simply need a win to make the playoffs. For the match-up itself , the Ravens lack of any genuine running game has the potential to really hurt them in this game , as many NFL men know , there is no better way to silence a home crowd then a solid running game. However , in the Ravens favour , they have always been a team for the big occasion not like the Bengals , who consistently fall short when then pressure is on and in Joe Flacco , they have a clutch QB who has done it on the biggest stage unlike Dalton , who has yet to prove his worth in the big games. So now is Dalton’s opportunity right before the beginning of the playoff’s to exercise the demon’s of the past and to put on a show in front of his home fans. After seeing how very poor the Ravens were last week in their defeat last week though to the Patriots , I am hesitatingly putting my faith in the Bengals to win this one due to their unbeaten home record this year , smothering defence and that’s its just about a time the Bengals put one over their AFC North in a big game.

Verdict : Bengals.

Jets @ Dolphins , 6pm.

This really could not be a bigger game for the Miami Dolphins , they need to win to make the playoffs and even then they need help from the Bengals against the Ravens. The last two weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions for the Dolphins , with the utter jubilation of finally beating the Patriots at home a fortnight ago and then the embarrassment of last weeks shutout against the Bills on the road. For the Dolphins to win , Tannehill must perform to the level he did against the Patriots in what was his real breakout display on national television. The cards still seem to be firmly stacked in Miami’s favour for this one as the Jets have lost their last four straight road games since October and Rex Ryan is surely in charge of his last game with the Jets. Dolphins should win this one with home advantage , solid defence and a competent display by Tannehill.

Verdict : Dolphins to win and make playoffs.

Browns @ Steelers , 6pm.

Another must win game here for the Steelers , but they really do need a miracle tomorrow to make the playoffs which would include Miami , San Diego and Baltimore losses. The Browns defence is key in this one as before week 14 , Cleveland had proceeded to prevent any team from putting up over 370 offensive yards on them , but they have done the exact opposite in the last 3 weeks giving up over 400 offensive yards in each of those games. It also doesn’t bode well for the Browns that the Steelers have scored 68 points in their last two games and have lost their last 9 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh I believe will win the battle but not the war to make it to the playoffs.

Verdict : Steelers

Chiefs @ Chargers , 9.25 pm.

Must win game this for the Chargers to make the playoffs with a lot of aid from the Bengals and Jets. As for the Chiefs , they have their playoff berth already sealed but need a win to regain their momentum and confidence ahead of an impending wildcard playoff game next week more then likely in Indianapolis , following four defeats in their last 6 games. The Chargers who have been explosive with their running game the past 3 weeks , posting totals of 144 , 177 and 148 rushing yards respectively , should give a struggling Chiefs defence still without key man Justin Houston , a tough time of it. I think the Chargers who have been on a roll of late winning their last 3 and after already beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead a month ago , will get the victory in this one thanks to more great play from clutch quaterback Phillip Rivers and the fact that the Chiefs have nothing of great note to play for.

Verdict : Chargers , but too much help needed to make playoffs.

49ers @ Chiefs , 9.25 pm.

This one is surely up there for game of the week , what a match-up this is between two of the NFL’s hottest teams , with the 9ers winning their last 5 in a row and the Cards winning their last 7 of 8 games. The Cardinals are playing to make it the playoffs along with a miracle in New Orleans from the hapless Buccaneers. As for the 49ers , their playing for just about everything , hoping that Seattle falls to win the NFC’s first seed or that the Panther’s lose out to Atlanta earlier in the day , which would hand San Francisco a first round playoff bye. The Cardinals are on a massive high after pulling of the biggest upset of the season last week in Seattle , thanks to some magnificent defensive play against Russell Wilson of all people, However , Carson Palmer cannot afford to throw four interceptions again this week and expect to get away with it against an ever-improving Colin Kaepernick and fit again Michael Crabtree to aim at. The Cardinals will need to run the ball effectively to win this one , but that will be tough against the fifth ranked rush defence in the league. This is anybody’s ball game here , really could go either way. I will put my money with the 49ers though in this one as Kaepernick is capable of making some plays unlike Palmer who is much more mistake prone. It should be a close , physical contest but I really think the 49ers are a team with all the right ingredients at the moment to go on another long playoff run and maybe win it all.

Verdict : 49ers win , but stay in 5th seed due to wins for Carolina and Seattle.

Packers @ Bears , 9.25 pm.

As a diehard Packers fan myself , could you ask for a juicier clash to end the regular season , a win-and-in game to the playoffs and the NFC North title. The most storied rivalry in NFL history will gain another new chapter on Sunday at Soldier Field as two struggling teams with the stories of their season centring around their quaterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler go head-to-head yet again. The preview talk for this win has understandably centred around the return of arguably the best quaterback in the NFL Aaron Rodgers for the Packers and may I also say that the return of Randall Cobb is another monumental boost to an already talented receiving core of Green Bay. The other big plus for the Packers in this one is their potential Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy coming up against an embarrassingly poor Bears rush defence. Lacy , if he can fight through his ankle injury yet again is surely poised to have a massive afternoon against this Bears rush defence that is allowing 161.5 rushing yards per game. However , If the Pack have Lacy and Rodgers returning , Cutler has the two headed monster of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall to throw to and tear apart what has already been a pretty woeful Packers defence all around this year. It is probably fair to assume that the Packers defence is playing for their defensive coordinator Dom Caper’s job on Sunday , but Capers and the Packers can surely take heart from the fact that Cutler-led Bears teams are just 1-7 against the Packers. Surely it is time now for Mr. Jay Cutler to prove his doubters wrong and guide his team to the playoffs under pressure , like his counterpart Rodgers has done so many times before. This is another extremely difficult game to call , especially because I can’t remember many times where there has ever been more then 7 points between these teams at the end of games. This game definitely has the potential to be a shootout in Chicago but with forecasts calling for a cold an snowy evening , surely one of these two mediocre defences will finally step up and win their team the game. I’ll pick my beloved Packers though in this one mainly due to the return of Rodgers and Cobb and of course , Eddie Lacy coming up against that Bears rush defence.

Verdict : Packers

Eagles @ Cowboys , 1.30 am.

What would an NFL week be without the soap opera of the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones’ world. Well , I suppose Jones’s cannot be blamed this week if the Boy’s lose as we all know , star quaterback Tony Romo is out of this one , which greatly diminishes Dallas’ hopes of winning this one against the exciting and explosive Eagles offensive machine. What ever happens with backup QB Kyle Orton , who I expect to perform well on Sunday Night due to his previous record of performing competently in pressure-filled situations in Chicago , this game will most definitely be won or lost by that record setting Cowboys defence. The Cowboy’s secondary has let receiver’s run around them like kids at a playground all season long and don’t expect much to change on Sunday against one of the best in the business this year at quaterback , Nick Foles. Then to think , I haven’t even mentioned the excellent ’Shady’ McCoy , leading rusher in the NFL , so things don’t look good at all for the Star. Who knows though in the NFL? Maybe this will finally be the day that the Cowboy’s defence steps up without having the luxury of Tony Romo bailing them out like always and the fact that the last time they played Phily , Foles had arguably his worst game of his young career. No matter what happens in this one and watching these two teams this season , anything could happen , I believe this game is for the Eagles to lose with Romo out and that putrid Cowboy’s defence.

Verdict : Eagles.

The 12 Playoff teams

After making my predictions for Week 17 , I’ll begin with the AFC and the 6 teams that will compete in the playoffs for the right to represent the AFC in February at the Super-Bowl. The Patriots I think will seal up a first round bye and 2nd seed in the AFC this week followed by a Bengal victory for 3rd seed and a Colts win for the 4th. The battle for the 6th seed will be intriguing but at the end of the day I think the Dolphins will acquire it as they look to have a much easier assignment then the Ravens in facing the Jets at home.

Finally in the NFC , the Seahawks should all but surely beat the Rams at hom for the 1st seed and the same goes to the Panthers v Falcons for that first round bye and 2nd seed. 49ers then to beat the Cards in a cracker for the fifth seed and Saints get that 6th seed against the Bucs at home. As for the two divisional showdowns in the North and East , It’s difficult to see past the Eagles winning the NFC East and 3rd seed in Dallas with Romo out. In Chicago , things should be quite interesting as well , but with Rodgers back and the explosive Eddie Lacy coming up against that incredibly porous Bears rush defence , the Packers should have the edge in this one and carry on their NFC North domination.

Get watching folks! It’s going to be a good one!

Pundit Arena,Tadhg Creedon.

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