Week 17 Playbook: Previewing Packers-Bears, Eagles-Cowboys, more Week 17 games
Green Bay (7-7-1) at Chicago (8-7) – 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: Bears head coach Marc Trestman has said he and his team are prepared for the return of Aaron Rodgers, but they’re probably more concerned about the status of Packers running back Eddie Lacy. On Thursday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Lacy should be good to go despite an ankle injury, which is bad news for a Chicago front seven that can’t seem to stop anyone in the run game. The Bears have allowed 161.5 yards per game on the ground, the worst total in the NFL, and they’re coming off a 54-11 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in which they allowed 289 rushing yards on 36 carries. Lacy has 1,112 yards on 263 carries in his rookie season, and he’s run for 290 of those yards and four touchdowns in his last three games. Even if he’s not fully healthy, Lacy will have every opportunity to be as much a difference-maker in this game as Rodgers might be.
“I think we counted at least 20 missed tackles in the game, which is way, way too many,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Monday after reviewing the tape of Chicago’ loss to the Eagles. “You’re playing a good offense. They’re going to have you spread out and get the ball to people in space, and you’ve got to get a tackle. We didn’t do that.”
The Packers are also hoping to get receiver Randall Cobb back sooner than later — perhaps even for Sunday — which would add even more weapons to Green Bay’s offense. Of course, the Bears have their own studs in the passing game; receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery might be the league’s best 1-2 combo, and tight end Martellus Bennett is especially effective when Trestman packages him in route combinations with Marshall and Jeffery. Green Bay’s primary pass-rusher Clay Matthews will be out of this game with a thumb injury, which puts the burden on a Packers secondary that will be stretched to its limits against Jay Cutler’s targets.
If the Packers can overcome that issue, they have a good shot at winning the NFC North — just one week after they were unsure whether they’d even make the playoffs. – Doug Farrar
Philadelphia (9-6) at Dallas (8-7) — 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC: Like the Bears they beat so decisively last Sunday, the Eagles are in a one-and-done playoff for their division. And like the Bears, the Eagles will battle a team with a quarterback situation that has been uncertain this week. Unlike the Bears, the Eagles will not face their opposition’s regular starter as Cowboys coach Jason Garrett revealed Friday that Tony Romo underwent back surgery and is out for the season. With Romo out, it will be up to Kyle Orton, who’s thrown just 15 regular-season passes since the Cowboys signed him as Romo’s backup before the 2012 season. Backing Orton up will be the recently-signed Jon Kitna, who last played in the league in 2011.
How do you feel about Romo now, Cowboys fans? Miss him more just yet?
That said, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said Thursday his team would not fall for the “banana in the tailpipe” trick, alluding to one of the better moments in Beverly Hills Cop, and insisted Philly would not slack off at all just because their opposing quarterback is not a superstar.
“I don’t think this changes their offense much just because of who the backup is,” Kelly said. ” I think they are going to stick to what they do. They obviously have got playmakers in Dez Bryant and [Jason] Witten. They are going to run the ball with DeMarco Murray, who didn’t play against us in the first game … I don’t anticipate Kyle [Orton] coming in and they are going to start running the option up‑and‑down the field. I think they will stick to their plan in terms of what they do.”
What the Eagles do should be of more concern to a Dallas defense that has been dismantled all season by the league’s more effective passing games; the schemes put out by Kelly and run by quarterback Nick Foles certainly qualify. That said, when these teams faced off on Oct. 20., Foles was pressured ceaselessly and knocked out of the game in the third quarter. It was a rare sub-par start this season, and he’s been ridiculously efficient since. His 118.8 passer rating this season is 5.8 points higher than that of Peyton Manning, who’s in second place. – DF
Baltimore (8-7) at Cincinnati (10-5) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: How badly do the Bengals want to keep the Ravens out of the playoffs? Cincinnati still has an outside shot at a first-round bye, so it’s not exactly a throwaway game for the AFC North champs. The difference between sitting in the No. 3 seed (and getting Miami, Baltimore, San Diego or Pittsburgh) or dropping to No. 4 (and hosting Kansas City) could be substantial, too.
But it’s the Ravens with the real air of desperation here. They needed four wins in a row from Weeks 12-15 to scrap back into the wild-card race, but then laid an egg in Week 16 vs. New England. As a result, Baltimore does not control its own fate — a win plus a loss by either Miami or San Diego presents the simplest path to the playoffs.
Baltimore snuck past Cincinnati a few weeks back with a 20-17 overtime win on the strength of (what else?) a Justin Tucker field goal. The Ravens actually led that game 17-0 at halftime before allowing the Bengals to storm back.
Cincinnati did so as it has accomplished most of its feats this season: with A.J. Green making big plays outside and the defense putting the clamps on its opposition.
The Bengals’ defense has been particularly stout in front of its own fans, where it will be Sunday. Cincinnati has posted a 7-0 mark at home, thrice holding teams to 10 points or less. Despite their recent win streak, the Ravens have not exactly been scorching on offense either. They scored just seven against the Patriots last week and failed to reach the end zone in a Monday night win at Detroit the week before. The Bengals’ run D (No. 6 in the NFL) might eliminate the Bernard Pierce-Ray Rice duo, putting the heat on a hobbled Joe Flacco in the pass game.
Baltimore must find a better way to deal with Green, if there is one. He went off for 151 yards in the earlier matchup and looks even more dangerous now that Andy Dalton has found a way to spread the ball around some.
A Cincinnati loss could set up a rematch next week, when the playoffs begin. – Chris Burke
San Francisco (11-4) at Arizona (10-5) — 4:25 p.m ET, FOX: The Cardinals’ official Twitter feed had but a one-word reaction to the 49ers’ dramatic Week 16 win, saved by a late pick-six from NaVorro Bowman: “Ouch.”
Had Matt Ryan and the Falcons punched the ball in the end zone there, the Cardinals could have headed to Week 17 in control of their own playoff destiny. Instead, San Francisco has a playoff spot clinched, and Arizona needs Tampa Bay to knock off the Saints just for a shot. That’s a rough fate for a Cardinals team that has overachieved all season and yet may still miss out on the playoffs with 10 or 11 wins.
“It would be a shame, but that’s the way it is,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “I’m not about changing rules or anything. Just a bad year for that to happen. It’s only happened one other time, and we’re in a great division, so it could happen to us.”
The 49ers could use a little help of their own in Week 17: If they win and St. Louis upsets Seattle, the 49ers would jump the Seahawks for the NFC West title. Should Carolina also lose, Jim Harbaugh’s team would be the conference’s top playoff seed.
With so much on the line, this could be one of Sunday’s best games. The first meeting of the season between these division rivals wasn’t half-bad either. San Francisco claimed victory in that back-and-forth affair, 32-20, putting up 10 unaswered points in the fourth quarter after Arizona had clawed within two.
That game occurred back in Week 6. Arizona lost the next week as well, against Seattle, to slip to 3-4. Since then, the Cardinals have evolved into one of the league’s toughest outs — they’re 6-1 in their last seven games, the lone loss a three-pointer at Philadelphia. Only once (Week 15 at Tennessee) in that stretch has Arizona allowed more than 24 points, and the defense really cranked it up last Sunday in Seattle, limiting the Seahawks to 192 total yards.
Repeating their shutdown of Russell Wilson against San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick will be tough but not impossible. The Cardinals sacked Wilson four times, while their aggressive secondary kept his receivers in check.
San Francisco boasts its own stout defense — currently ranked No. 3 in both points and yards allowed. That D forced the Cardinals into four turnovers back in that Week 6 matchup, including two interceptions from Carson Palmer. – CB