Week 17 NFL Preview

 It’s the final push for NFL teams as the regular season ends on Sunday, January 1. All 16 games in Week 17 are division contests.
With one week to go, there are still 16 teams in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

And for the 16th consecutive year, at least five teams will qualify for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before. San Francisco, Houston and Detroit are already in. Joining those clubs will be the NFC East winner (New York Giants/Dallas) and the AFC West champion (Denver/Oakland). And a sixth club could potentially come from the AFC’s last remaining Wild Card spot (Cincinnati/Oakland/Tennessee).

In the AFC, four of the six playoff spots have been secured – New England (AFC East, first-round bye), Houston (AFC South), Baltimore (playoff berth) and Pittsburgh (playoff berth). The Patriots can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win or losses by both Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Two division titles are still on the line in the AFC – the North and the West.

Baltimore wins the AFC North and secures a first-round bye with a victory or a Pittsburgh loss. The Ravens also gain home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and a Patriots loss. Pittsburgh wins the AFC North and secures a first-round bye with a victory and a Baltimore loss. The Steelers also gain home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and losses by the Ravens and Patriots.

Denver wins the AFC West with a victory or an Oakland loss. Oakland clinches the division with a win and a Denver loss.

There are still four clubs alive for the AFC’s final Wild Card spot – Cincinnati (9-6), Oakland (8-7), Tennessee (8-7) and the New York Jets (8-7).

Five of the six playoff teams and three of the four divisions have been determined in the NFC – Green Bay (NFC North, home-field advantage), San Francisco (NFC West), New Orleans (NFC South), Detroit (playoff berth) and Atlanta (playoff berth).

The NFC East division title will be on the line in Week 17 when the New York Giants host the Dallas Cowboys (NBC, 8:20 PM ET). Win and you’re in. Lose and you’re out.

“You want to put yourself in position for games like this,” says Giants guard CHRIS SNEE. “This is when the playmakers step up and when the good teams prove themselves. We just have to go out and beat a team that was a tough game the first time we played them.”

San Francisco clinches a first-round bye with a win or a New Orleans loss. The Saints secure the first-round bye with a victory and a 49ers loss. Some of the key games with playoff implications in Week 17:

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (12-3) at ST. LOUIS RAMS (2-13) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)               
The NFC West-division champion 49ers secure a first-round bye with a win over the Rams or a New Orleans loss to Carolina. San Francisco leads the NFL in scoring defense (13.5 points per game) and turnover differential (+26).

“Our guys feel good about what they’ve accomplished,” says 49ers head coach JIM HARBAUGH about the team’s 19-17 win at Seattle last week. San Francisco has won 12 games for the first time since 2001.


CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-9) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-3) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)      
The Saints claimed the NFC South title with a 45-16 win over Atlanta on Monday night. New Orleans secures a first-round bye with a win over Carolina and a San Francisco loss at St. Louis.
“It feels great to be division champs,” says Saints quarterback DREW BREES, who has passed for 5,087 yards, the most in a season in NFL history. “Our hopes and aspirations were winning the division and the next step is getting the No. 2 seed.”

BALTIMORE RAVENS (11-4) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-6) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)             
A lot is on the line for both teams when the Ravens visit the Bengals in an AFC North showdown. Baltimore clinches the division and a first-round bye with a victory. If New England also loses, the Ravens secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Entering Week 17, Cincinnati has a one-game lead for the final Wild Card spot. With a win on Sunday, the Bengals clinch a playoff berth.

“It’s going to come down to a good week of preparation and executing on Sunday,” says Bengals quarterback ANDY DALTON, who has teamed with A.J. GREEN to become the first rookie tandem with a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard receiver in NFL history. “You can’t ask for it any other way. This is where we want to be, with a chance for the playoffs.”

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (11-4) at CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-11) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)               
The Steelers can still win the AFC North and secure a first-round bye. Pittsburgh will travel to Cleveland to face the Browns on Sunday. The Steelers secure the AFC North and a first-round bye with a victory and a Baltimore loss. Pittsburgh gains home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and losses by the Ravens and Patriots.

“It’s all about playing good football at the right time,” says Steelers defensive end BRETT KEISEL. “We need to build off of this win and hopefully get another one next week and carry that into the playoffs.”

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (6-9) at DENVER BRONCOS (8-7) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)
Denver heads into Week 17 tied with Oakland for first place in the AFC West. The Broncos clinch the division with a victory over Kansas City or a Raiders loss. Denver will attempt to give the AFC West a “worst-to-first” division champion for the second consecutive year (Kansas City).

“This is a game we need and it’s a must-take game,” says Denver running back WILLIS MC GAHEE, who joined RICKY WATTERS as the only players in NFL history to rush for at least 1,000 yards with three different teams. “We need to go into that game and play lights-out football.”

      SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (7-8) at OAKLAND RAIDERS (8-7) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)  
The Raiders are still alive for the postseason and can advance by winning the division or securing a Wild Card berth.

Oakland wins the AFC West with a win and a Denver loss. If the Broncos win the division, the 

Raiders can still earn a playoff berth with a win combined with a Cincinnati loss and either a Tennessee loss or New York Jets win.

“This team is not going to quit,” says Raiders head coach HUE JACKSON. “We are a group of men that will fight and keep playing and we’ll play it out to the end.

            DALLAS COWBOYS (8-7) at NEW YORK GIANTS (8-7) (Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)      
It’s win and you’re in. The 2011 regular season concludes on Sunday night with the NFC East division title on the line. The winner of the game will clinch the division and host a Wild Card contest next week. The loser’s season is over.

“At the beginning of the year, our goals were to win the division, make the playoffs and ultimately keep winning once we’re there,” says Dallas wide receiver MILES AUSTIN. “Having those in front of us right now is big and we’re focused on it.”

In Week 14, the two teams met in a game that went down to the very end as New York’s JASON PIERRE-PAUL blocked a game-tying field goal attempt in the contest’s final seconds to give the Giants a 37-34 victory. New York scored 15 points in the game’s final minutes to erase a 12-point deficit.

“We learned they’re a great team and a fighting team,” says Giants safety ANTREL ROLLE. “We’re both fighting for the same thing at this point. Backs are against the wall. The best man continues and the loser goes home. That’s the way both teams are definitely going to approach this game.”
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