LOS ANGELES, December 28, 2015 — With 16 weeks of the NFL regular season down, Week 17 is upon us. This is the week where everyone takes phrases they have not used for 358 days and says them repeatedly. We learn who controls their own destiny and who needs help. This year there has been the least amount of competitive balance in a long time. Some years it seems almost everybody has a shot at the playoffs. This year most of the issues involve seedings.
Only three of the eight Week 17 NFC games have playoff implications. All six NFC playoff spots have been clinched. The only issue is seedings. Here is the NFC playoff picture with one week to go, complete with permutations, combinations and predictions.
Permutations and Combinations:
The Carolina Panthers saw their unbeaten season end, but at 14-1 they are still currently the top seed. They have already clinched the NFC South and a first round bye and cannot fall lower than the two seed. As long as they win next week or Arizona loses, the Panthers retain the top seed.
The Arizona Cardinals are 13-2 and have already clinched the NFC West and a first round bye. Right now they are the two seed, and cannot fall lower. If they win next week and Carolina loses, the Cardinals can steal the top seed and home field throughout the playoffs.
The Green Bay Packers are 10-5. At the moment they are the three seed, which means they would host a Wild Card game. They cannot finish higher. Next Sunday they have a showdown with archrival Minnesota in Green Bay for the NFC North crown. If the Packers lose, they would fall to the five seed and have to play all of their playoff games on the road.
The 8-7 Washington Redskins are the only playoff team in either conference that has their playoff spot determined. They won the NFC East and are locked into the four seed. They can rest their players in Week 17 if they choose.
The 10-5 Minnesota Vikings right now are the five seed. In Week 17 they travel to Green Bay. If the Vikings win, they capture the NFC North and move up to the three seed. This would allow them to host their Wild Card game rather than have to do everything on the road. If the Vikings lose and Seattle wins, Minnesota would fall to the six seed.
The 9-6 Seattle Seahawks tight now are the six seed. If they win next week and Minnesota loses, the Seahawks jump to the five seed. That is as high as Seattle can go.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at Carolina Panthers (14-1)
Seattle Seahawks (9-6) at Arizona Cardinals (13-2)
Minnesota Vikings (10-5) at Green Bay Packers (10-5)
The Panthers play an early game while the Cardinals play a later game. The Cardinals most likely will know by the time their game starts whether the Panthers won or lost. If the Panthers win and clinch the top seed, Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians may choose to rest everybody rather than risk injuries. Having said that, the desire to knock out Seattle could cause Arians to keep his foot on the gas. Expect Arians to play his starters no matter what.
The Packers and Falcons play early games while the Seahawks have a later game. Seattle may find they have clinched a playoff spot and determined their seeding before their game even starts. Still, Pete Carroll may not want to back into the playoffs with two straight losses. Expect him to play his starters even if it is not necessary.
Regular season predictions:
1.) Carolina Panthers (15-1) — Angry and at home, they will destroy Tampa Bay to pieces.
2.) Arizona Cardinals (14-2) — They beat Seattle in Seattle, and are playing like demons possessed.
3.) Green Bay Packers (11-5) — They beat Minnesota in Minnesota. Minnesota is playing better overall, but at home the Packers will win.
4.) Washington Redskins (8-8) — They are only facing the 4-11 Cowboys, but there are three factors. The game is in Dallas. The Redskins may rest everyone. The Cowboys will play like Jerry Jones is preparing to fire anyone and everyone. He is, and they will respond.
5.) Minnesota Vikings (10-6) — Going into Green Bay and getting a win is too much to ask for a Week 17 showdown.
6.) Seattle Seahawks (9-7) — Assuming Arizona plays their starters, Seattle is heading into a buzzsaw. Seattle backs its way into the playoffs.
NFC Playoff Predictions:
Wild Cards: 6.) Seahawks at 3.) Packers, 5.) Vikings at 4.) Redskins
Divisionals: 3.) Packers at 2.) Cardinals, 5.) Vikings at 1.) Panthers
NFC Title Game: 2.) Cardinals at 1.) Panthers
NFC Champion: The Arizona Cardinals are the best team in football. They will hold up the George Halas Trophy. Then they will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Forget the AFC. The Arizona Cardinals will win Super Bowl 50.