NFL Nation: Final Word NFC 2012 Week 17

Final Word: NFC West

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

Three of a kind. Not since 1991 have three NFC West teams finished a season with winning records. It could happen in 2012 if the St. Louis Rams upset the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The Rams would finish 8-7-1 with a victory. Seattle and San Francisco already have 10 victories apiece. The 1991 NFC West race finished with New Orleans (11-5), Atlanta (10-6) and San Francisco (10-6) ahead of the Los Angeles Rams (3-13). Also with a victory, the Rams would become the second team since the merger to post an undefeated division record without qualifying for postseason.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Steven Jackson is nearing another milestone. closing in on his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
Making history. The Seahawks have never finished a season ranked first in fewest points allowed. Seattle enters Week 17 having allowed 232 points, fewest in the NFL by 21 points. Chicago has allowed 253. The 49ers have allowed 260. Seattle has allowed 17 or fewer points in its past four games, the Seahawks' longest streak since 2003 and 2004.

Milestone weekend. Steven Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aldon Smith are chasing milestones as the regular season wraps up.

The Rams' Jackson needs 10 yards rushing for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season, which would tie LaDainian Tomlinson and Thurman Thomas for fourth behind Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin (10) and Barry Sanders (10).

Seattle's Wilson has 25 touchdown passes, within one of Peyton Manning's rookie record. Wilson, with a 98.0 NFL passer rating, also has a shot at breaking Matt Hasselbeck's single-season franchise record (98.2).

Smith, with 19.5 sacks, needs three to break Michael Strahan's single-season record for sacks. Houston's J.J. Watt (20.5) is nearer the record, however.

Stopping the bleeding. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points and allowed more than 700 yards over their past five-plus quarters. That is nearly as much yardage as the 49ers allowed over a 12-quarter stretch of games against Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis. The trend is about to end. The 49ers' Week 17 opponent, Arizona, has 735 yards in its past four games. The Cardinals' Brian Hoyer is making his first NFL start at quarterback.

Crabtree's time. The NFC West is in danger of finishing without a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002. The 49ers' Michael Crabtree needs 67 yards against Arizona to become the team's first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald needs 215 yards to reach 1,000 for the sixth consecutive season. Seattle's Sidney Rice needs 252 yards for 1,000. Crabtree is averaging 91.5 yards per game since Week 13, sixth-most in the NFL.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

Final Word: NFC North

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 17:

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Michael ConroyTo beat Green Bay, Minnesota will have to slow down Aaron Rodgers, who has been dominant in domes.
Tough task: Excitement has been at a season high in the upper Midwest, where a Minnesota Vikings victory against the rival Green Bay Packers would clinch a playoff berth. (The Vikings can also clinch with losses by the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.) The Packers have less to play for -- they can clinch a first-round playoff bye with a victory or with losses by the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks -- but the Vikings will have to earn a victory Sunday. The Packers have won these types of games routinely in their recent history. They have defeated the Vikings five consecutive times, and in 10 of the teams' past 13 games, and overall they have won their past 12 NFC North games. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers historically has been better in domes; in his past nine indoor games, Rodgers has completed 71 percent of his passes, thrown 27 touchdowns and two interceptions while averaging 317 yards per game, according to figures compiled by the Packers. In his career, Rodgers is 6-3 against the Vikings, and in his past two games at the Metrodome, he has a passer rating of 141.6. Eight of ESPN's 14 experts have picked the Packers to win, and the Vikings are three-point underdogs at home. I'll just say this: If the Vikings win Sunday, they'll deserve to be a playoff team.

Balanced offense: You wonder if Rodgers' history against the Vikings and at the Metrodome could tempt coach Mike McCarthy to veer from what has become the Packers' most balanced offensive attack in five years. Starting with the teams' first matchup in Week 13, the Packers have rushed for at least 100 yards as a team in five consecutive games. That's their longest streak since 2007, and they haven't had a longer one since 2003, according to the Packers. The Vikings are one week removed from stifling the Houston Texans' power running game (34 yards on 16 carries). The most effective way to limit Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson is to keep him off the field, a task best accomplished by grinding out rushing yards. But the Packers' top method of scoring on Sunday might be through the air.

Rudolph factor: Peterson's 210-yard performance against the Packers this month has been a hot topic. He'll have a harder time churning out yardage this Sunday, in part because of an abdominal injury that slowed him against the Texans, as well as the presence of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. So it's worth noting that Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph had one of his best games of the season against the Packers, catching a touchdown among his six receptions in Week 13. Rudolph has caught 60 percent of the Vikings' passing touchdowns this season (nine of 15), by far the highest percentage in the NFL, and the fourth-highest over the past 20 years in the league. The Packers would be well-advised to track Rudolph on every passing play, but most importantly in the red zone.

At stake: The Chicago Bears want to avoid becoming the second team in 23 seasons to miss the playoffs after a 7-1 start. In order to do that, they'll need to defeat the Detroit Lions on Sunday and have the Vikings lose to the Packers. That puts them in the unusual situation of rooting for the Packers, their longtime rival, but the Bears need their help. It's fair to wonder about the long-reaching implications of this game. If the Bears lose and/or don't make the playoffs, they will have missed the postseason in five of the past six years. Coach Lovie Smith has one year remaining on his contract. Would general manager Phil Emery bring him back based on that extended history? If so, would he give Smith a contract extension to avoid lame duck status in 2013? It is not too dramatic to suggest the Bears face a franchise crossroads over the coming days and weeks. It's worth reiterating that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is 6-1, with 11 touchdown passes and one interception, against the Lions in his career.

Forcing mistakes: The first thing that comes to mind with the Lions is receiver Calvin Johnson. But the team's seven-game losing streak amid his run to NFL history illustrates that opponents have found plenty of ways win even when Johnson gets his catches and yards. How so? Mostly through turnovers -- the Lions have committed 29 -- and touchdown returns. Opponents have 10 touchdown returns against the Lions, and it's worth noting that the Bears have nine defensive touchdowns this season and lead the NFL with 40 takeaways. The Bears did a nice job against Johnson in the teams' first meeting this season, but regardless of whether he gets his yards, the Bears' clearest path to victory is to extend the Lions' mistake-prone ways.

(Statistics courtesy ESPN Stats & Information unless otherwise noted.)

Final Word: NFC South

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 17 games:

The record book. Although his play has been dismal recently, Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman can make a lasting impression if he throws one touchdown pass against Atlanta. He needs just one scoring strike to set a new franchise record for career touchdown passes, which tells you a lot about the history of this franchise and its quarterbacks. Freeman currently is tied with Vinny Testaverde with 77 touchdown passes. A touchdown pass would also give Freeman the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season. He currently is tied with Brad Johnson, who set the team record (26) in 2003.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/John BazemoreMatt Ryan has put together a stellar record in the Georgia Dome, going 33-4 there in his career.
At home in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons haven’t lost at home this season. In fact, they’ve won 11 straight home games dating back to last year. That’s the longest streak in franchise history and the longest active winning home streak in the NFL. Quarterback Matt Ryan is 33-4 at home in his career. Since 2008, the Falcons are 23-1 at home against teams that did not finish with a winning record.

Touchdown machine. In his last five games, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been responsible for 14 touchdowns (passing and rushing). That’s the most of any player in the league in that span. Newton also has a shot at Peyton Manning’s record for most passing yards in the first two seasons of a career. Manning threw for 7,874 yards in his first two seasons. Newton has thrown for 7,672 yards.

A (bad) place in history. We’ve talked a lot all season about New Orleans’ struggles on defense. There were a few minutes later in the season when it looked like things were starting to improve slightly. But this defense has a chance to set an NFL record for most yards allowed in a season. If the Panthers can manage 282 yards, the Saints will break the record (6,793 yards) set by the Colts in 1981.

The 5,000 club. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees currently has 4,781 passing yards on the season. If Brees reaches 5,000 yards, he’ll be the first player in history to hit that mark three times. Brees went over 5,000 yards in 2008 and last season.

Final Word: NFC East

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesMichael Vick played his best game of the season in the Eagles' first meeting with the Giants, earning a Total QBR of 90.1 in that game.
Bringing out his best. Michael Vick, who will start Sunday's game for the Philadelphia Eagles against the New York Giants, has not played since he suffered a concussion in Week 10. But the Eagles' Week 4 victory over the Giants in Philadelphia was one of only two games that Vick has finished this season in which he did not turn over the ball. His Total QBR in that game was 90.1, which is his season high, and ESPN Stats & Information tells us that he was 8-for-12 for 125 yards and a touchdown when the Giants sent five or more pass-rushers. The Giants are going to have to figure out how to pressure Vick with just their front four, but they haven't been doing that to anyone lately.

Super Bowl curse? The Giants need to win and have three other teams -- the Vikings, Bears and Cowboys -- lose in order to make the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team. If they do not make it (or even if they do make it and lose a playoff road game next week), they will be the seventh consecutive Super Bowl champion to fail to win a playoff game the following season. The last defending Super Bowl champion to win a playoff game was the 2005 New England Patriots.

Going for the sweep. The Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day in Texas. If they beat them again Sunday night at FedEx Field, they will not only win the NFC East for the first time since 1999, they'll have swept the Cowboys in a season series for only the second time in 17 years. They beat them twice in 2005. Incidentally, only the Browns (20), Lions (19), Bills (17) and Jaguars (13) have played as many or more seasons since their most recent division title than the Redskins have.

No defense for this. The Cowboys are playing without five of their defensive starters because of injuries, and it has shown. Over the past eight weeks, no team in the NFL has allowed more yards per game than the Cowboys' 409.9. The Dallas offense, with Tony Romo performing at the most consistently clutch, level-headed, responsible level of his career, has shown a propensity to hang in games and win them at the end. And the defense has been able to lock down a game or two with a big turnover at the end. But they are not getting stops to the extent that they need to get them, and if they lose this game Sunday that's likely to be the reason why.

Pinpoint precision. The Cowboys can't count on Robert Griffin III and the Redskins to help them out in the turnover department, either. Washington's 14 turnovers are the fewest in the league this year. Further, Griffin is one of the most accurate passers in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information, completing a league-high 50.0 percent of his passes on throws 20 or more yards downfield. Stats & Info also reports that only 13.9 percent of Griffin's passes have been incomplete because of being underthrown or overthrown, the third-lowest figure in the league, and that only three of his five interceptions have been as a result of an off-target pass.

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