And as we reach a tight final week, so to does the NFC. With 2 spots, including the NFC East championship, up for grabs and 5 teams to fill them, there will be a lot of fans finding themselves rooting for unlikely teams.
Minnesota need to beat Green Bay to ensure themselves of a wildcard spot. Should they slip up Chicago are the next inline provided they win in Detroit, meaning that for one week only, Bears fans are also Packers fans. If both of those lose then the door is open for the New York Giants to sneak in, but only if they win AND the Redskins beat Cowboys.
Toby's Game of the Week: Green Bay Packers (11-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (9-6), Sunday 4.25pm ET
Hands up if you said in the pre-season that, come week 17, Minnesota would be in a "win and in" situation? No one? Thought not. With so many question marks over their heads in September about the defense, Adrian Peterson's knee and Christian Ponder, to sit here at 9 wins is astonishing itself, never mind the chance of playoffs.
As for Green Bay, well after a rough start to the season that included getting beaten by both the "Fail Mary" and ChuckStrong, they're exactly where we thought they would be, NFC North Champions with a chance to seal a bye week with a win.
So what happens in this game? With both teams needing a win, and knowing each other so well, it's going to be a tight battle. Their week 13 match-up finished with Green Bay winning 23-14, scoring 13 unanswered points in the 2nd half. It was a game notable for Adrian Peterson's 210 rushing yards, at 10 yards a carry. A repeat performance would see All Day break the single season rushing record by just 3.
I can't really see beyond a similar scoreline this time around. For as good as the Minnesota defense has been recently, averaging 14 points allowed per game over the last 3 weeks, it's going to be a struggle to slow down a Green Bay offense that, despite continued injuries at receiver, has propelled the Packers to a 9-1 record since their shock defeat in Indianapolis. Without even a slightly effective run game, Aaron Rodgers has been his usual brilliant self and would be in MVP discussion were it not for the fact that his 2011 MVP winning season was even more spectacular. It would take a performance from Minnesota's defense line much like that of Seattle's in week 3 to slow down the Packers offense enough to leave the window open for the Vikings. Unless...
Christian Ponder can produce. He was a surprisingly high 1st round pick in 2011, and showed flashes of serious talent and ability during his rookie season. However, 2012 hasn't been a great showing from him. Outside of one or two games, such as the victory over San Francisco early in the year, Ponder has been very disappointing, and fans will be wondering if they shouldn't look at bringing in competition for the starting job in the off-season. After all, if Ponder can't put up good numbers against 8 or 9 men boxes, when will he?
Guest Game of the Week: Dallas Cowboys (8-7) @ Washington Redskins (9-6), Sunday 8.30pm ET
By Conor Philpott, V2 Journal (@cphilpott95, @V2Journal)
Fedex Field is the venue for this weekends Sunday Night Football and for V2s game of the week. It's the final week of the regular season and there is plenty up for grabs, particularly in this rather tasty match up. It's truly a winner takes all encounter, the victor will claim the NFC East crown, also securing a home Wildcard spot. There is a possibility that their NFC East colleagues in New York could sneak in if Dallas lose and the Giants win. In the NFC North, we have the Vikings and Packers clash, where Adrian Peterson is trying to break Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record of 2,105 yards, the last time the Packers met the Vikings, Peterson rushed for 210 yards, he will need to have a similar type of performance to beat the record. Peterson needs 208 yards to beat the record and I feel it may be an insurmountable task for the Vikings running back.
Things have changed since I last previewed the Cowboys for their week 9 clash against the Falcons. Back then, they were 3-5 and the outlook was relatively bleak, the playoffs seemed to be a pipe dream. The Cowboys are on a pretty good run of form winning 5 of their last 7. The key to their renaissance has been their passing attack and the emergence of Dez Bryant as a bonafide top receiver in this league. Bryant's stats from week 9 to week 16: 47 receptions 823 yards, ten touchdowns. Bryant had his struggles earlier on in the year, I recall the Chicago game where he had a couple of big drops and was in my opinion at fault for a Tony Romo interception. Most fans will be aware of the whole situation Bryant has off the field with his "handlers". Maybe they have steered him in the right direction who know but Bryant is certainly on the right track at the moment. He can feel aggrieved for missing out on the Pro Bowl (as a Buccaneers fan I can also say that Vincent Jackson could also be annoyed at Victor Cruz's inclusion!) and his performance last weekend against the New Orleans Saints was arguably the finest performance by any receiver in the league this year (9 catches, 245 yards and 2 TDs.). Tony Romo has also improved somewhat, while I was one of those who believed that Romo was doing a fine job at the QB position and that improvements were needed in other areas (Bryant was one of those who could have been replaced as a number one receiver) such as the offensive line, Romo wasn't superb in some of his earlier outings this year. Like the rest of the offense though, things have improved dramatically, from the Week 9 game against the Falcons, Romo has thrown for 17 TDs and only 3 interceptions. Romo has a 68% completion percentage, and an average QB rating of 108.6 across this 8 week spell. Simply, I don't think there are many other Quarterbacks who are playing better than him right now. The Cowboys and Romo have a reputation of not performing well in December or when the pressure is on, this season, they seem to have shrugged off this tag a bit. I think their defence could do with some work however, they are not creating turnovers at all and if they are to make it to the playoffs, they will need to generate some. The Cowboys have only created a measly 16 turnovers all season, and their defence is bordering on quite poor. They lie 19th in terms of yards given up but 23rd in points given up per game. Perhaps most importantly for a game against the Redskins with incredible talents like Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III able to run the football, they lie 17th in run defence, they will need to put out all the stops this weekend to stop the Redskins in their tracks. Their offense has been key to their victories in the last while, and their defence has been relatively average bar one decent outing against the Bengals. The Redskins can also fling it as they proved in their victory over the Cowboys earlier on in the year, RG3 threw for 4 TDs. The Redskins offense is a potent machine, the Cowboys will need to step up their efforts to keep Romo and co. in the game.
The Redskins have continues their winning ways since I last talked about them in Week 14. The Redskins have won their last 6 games, what makes this more remarkable is that they won one game without rookie sensation RG3. Fellow rookie Kirk Cousins filled in for the Redskins QB in the latter stages of the Ravens game, spearheading a drive that led to a TD at the end of regulation which tied the game and then led the Redskins to a game winning field goal in overtime, quite remarkable stuff. Cousins also deputised for the injured Griffin in the game against the Cleveland Browns. Cousins made one particularly amazing play. While it's not exactly advisable to throw into triple coverage, Cousins threw to Leonard Hankerson who made a brilliant play for the TD. I mentioned the Redskins prolific rushing attack above, they rank first in the league despite having 29 less attempts than the 2nd place Seattle Seahawks. Running back Alfred Morris can feel hard done by in the Pro Bowl stakes, he is 4th in the league in rushing, ahead of Frank Gore by some distance. We all know about RG3 and his ability to run the ball he has totalled some 752 yards this year, quite astonishing. The Redskins offense is 4th in the league in terms of points scored per game, they are certainly up there with the best, a lesson the Cowboys learned on Thanksgiving day when the Redskins beat them 38-31. For all their great work on offense, the Redskins defence can often let them down (the Cowboys rallied from a 25 point deficit to get back in the game) the Redskins give up around 2.6 points per game quite a high number, the Cowboys are worse off in this department but the saving grace of the Redskins defence has been their ability to generate turnovers, they lie 2nd in the NFC and 4th in the league in total turnovers created with a total of 28. The seemingly ageless London Fletcher has chalked up five from the linebacker position while DeAngelo Hall and Rob Jackson have also been key in the interception stakes. I like what the Redskins are doing, they may have sold the farm to get RG3 but they have quite a few pieces in place to be successful in the coming years, with no first round picks until 2015, the Skins will need to use free agency and their later picks well to grow as a team, they can upgrade parts of their secondary but they have some great pieces in place already.
Prediction; I tend to pick a lot of 50/50 games (That's my excuse for getting predictions wrong anyway!) and this again is quite the toss up. At home, I'm inclined to go for the Redskins, the Cowboys pass rush registered 3 sacks on Thanksgiving against the Redskins and I think they may need to surpass that to have a chance in this game as it is hard to see their defence ,with its inability to generate turnovers, keeping the Redskins in check. The Skins did a decent job initially against the Cowboys in the first half of their last encounter, ultimately leaving Dallas too big of a mountain to climb. I can see something similar happening on Sunday, I believe the Redskins will do enough early on to build a lead over their counterparts. The Redskins by 10.
Bold Prediction. I have been accused by some people over being too conservative with my predictions so for the last week of the regular season let's kick it up a notch! Tony Romo throws for 400 yards, becoming the 3rd QB in 2 years to pass Dan Marino's former single season passing record. How's that for bold?
|TB @ ATL||ATL||ATL||ATL||ATL|
|NYJ @ BUF||BUF||BUF||NYJ||BUF||BUF||BUF|
|BAL @ CIN||BAL||CIN||BAL||CIN|
|JAX @ TEN||JAX||TEN||TEN||TEN|
|HOU @ IND||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU|
|CAR @ NO||NO||NO||NO||NO|
|PHI @ NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG|
|CLE @ PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT|
|OAK @ SD||SD||SD||SD||SD|
|ARI @ SF||SF||SF||SF||SF||SF|
|STL @ SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA|
|GB @ MIN||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB|
|MIA @ NE||NE||NE||NE||NE|
|KC @ DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN|