There are so many excellent story lines heading into week 17 of the NFL season. Sifting through them, what are some key notes for fans to remember?
The Washington Redskins must keep the Rams from the #1 pick
One can’t ignore how hard it is for the Washington Redskins to tank so quickly after the trade for Robert Griffin III in which they handed the St. Louis Rams three first round picks for the right to the #2 pick in 2012. With one game left to go another loss in New York and a win by Houston might hand the Rams the #1 pick in the 2014 draft. That would be the final humiliation to their woeful season while St. Louis fans can continue to celebrate the speedy turnaround of their franchise under Jeff Fisher.
Jay Cutler has the most to win or lose
A lot of teams and players have loads to play for in week 17, but none have quite the stakes as Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Not only is a playoff berth on the line at Soldier Field against Green Bay, an undercurrent is hinting that his chances at a long-term contract also hinge on winning. At age 30, Cutler has not had his best year. He missed six games because of ankle and groin injuries and has looked like the same inconsistent quarterback he’s always been when he plays. Chicago has wanted to see progress. Coming through in a big game against a bitter rival would count. Failing to do so on the other hand might validate the doubts many have had about him for years.
The Seattle Seahawks have to blow out St. Louis
Home field advantage means something a little different to the Seattle Seahawks, at least it did until last week. Up until that point the team appeared invincible in front of their fabled 12th man. Then, out of nowhere, they were unceremoniously dumped an Arizona Cardinals team that lost in that very same building 58-0 the year before. The defeat not only hindered the Seahawks’ playoff aspirations, it also badly tarnished the mystique of their home field advantage. If they want to recapture it before other teams begin to feel that they have a chance when visiting, they have to make a statement. That will involve not just beating the St. Louis Rams, but blowing them out if possible.
Bruce Arians might lock up Coach of the Year by beating the 49ers
For all the great things Andy Reid, Marc Trestman and Chip Kelly have done this NFL season, not to mention Bill Belichick, the title for Coach of the Year may be successfully defended for the first time since the great Joe Gibbs back in 1982 and 1983. Bruce Arians won the award last year after taking over for the cancer ridden Chuck Pagano and leading Indianapolis to the playoffs. This time he could earn it for turning around an Arizona Cardinals team that went 5-11 in 2012 to being on the cusp of a playoff berth. Arians knows the stakes. He has to pull off another tough victory after his stunner in Seattle by upending the red hot San Francisco 49ers. It would not only rob his rival of a division title, but with some help from New Orleans it get his team into the post season.
Tony Romo is risking more than a game if he plays
Say what you will about his decision-making late in critical games, but it’s nearly impossible to question the toughness of Tony Romo. The guy has taken a lot of hits over the years and never complained. However, things are beginning to get a little hazy heading into week 17. Suffering from a herniated disk in his back, Romo was initially expected to miss the finale. It has led to painful back spasms that would certainly be detrimental to anybody on the field. Owner Jerry Jones believes though that if managed properly Romo could be cleared for action against the Philadelphia Eagles. While certainly brave, such action can’t be ignored as potentially dangerous in regards to Romo himself. Herniated discs are not minor injuries and one wrong hit could have bad repercussions. Is sacrificing a week and giving a veteran like Kyle Orton the ball really such a terrible backup plan?