Finally, we've gotten to Week 17.
We've had an exciting NFL season with drama to spare, and it has led us this final week with some do-or-die matchups to conclude the season and decide the playoff picture.
NFL teams have made projecting the playoffs relatively easy this year, as all six AFC teams are set and four of six NFC teams are set as well. Where these teams will ultimately find themselves come Wildcard weekend, though, remains to be seen.
The matchups to watch this weekend are few, but these few games will have major ramifications on the final playoff seedings and matchups. Expect the final seedings to shake out something like this.
Cincinnati Bengals (6) vs New England Patriots (3)
The Cincinnati Bengals are already locked in to that sixth seed, meaning they'll play either the Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans or Denver Broncos.
The Patriots are currently slated as the third seed, and they'll likely stay there after a home game against the Miami Dolphins.
The only way for the Patriots to move up is for either the Broncos or the Texans to lose. The Texans will be the team to watch, as they have struggled lately and have a tough Week 17 matchup against the Colts.
The Colts haven't displayed the ability to beat the AFC's best teams, though. That means the Patriots will probably be stuck in the third seed, playing the Bengals on Wildcard weekend.
This matchup will be one of the NFL's great dynasties against one of the upstart franchises in the NFL. The Bengals need to prove they're here to stay after consecutive playoff appearances. The Patriots need to prove that their window is still open.
Sounds like fun.
Indianapolis Colts (5) vs Baltimore Ravens (4)
Like the Bengals, the Colts are locked into their spot as the fifth seed. No drama here.
The Ravens are more likely than not stuck with their fourth seed as well. They have an outside chance of moving into the third seed should the Patriots lose, but who really expects the Patriots to lose to the Dolphins?
That means we will hopefully get to see the return of Ray Lewis against one of the best rookie quarterbacks in NFL history. On the other side of the ball, Joe Flacco and company will get to take on former Ravens Tom Zbikowski and Cory Redding.
Best of all, we'll get to see a healthy and happy Chuck Pagano on the sideline, coaching against his former team.
This will be a heartfelt, hard-fought battle between two teams who have the utmost respect for one another.
First-Round Byes: Denver Broncos (2), Houston Texans (1)
If the Texans win, which I expect them to, they will secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Broncos, with a win over a pathetic Kansas City Chiefs team, would be the second seed.
Chicago Bears (6) vs San Francisco 49ers (3)
The 49ers are suddenly looking very vulnerable after a brutal loss at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. Don't expect them to look vulnerable for long though, as they get to host the hapless Arizona Cardinals this week. A home win this week would lock them into that third seed.
The Chicago Bears, meanwhile, are currently on the outside looking in. Bears fans are Packers fans this week, as they need the Packers to defeat the Minnesota Vikings to get into the playoffs.
As hard as it will be for Bears fans to cheer for green and gold, they should be satisfied with Sunday's result. The Packers will be motivated to lock their second seed, so they should hammer an inferior Vikings team.
That means all the Bears would need to do is win and they'll be in. That's a realistic expectation against the struggling Detroit Lions, against whom the Bears have won eight of their last nine.
That will give us the Bears versus the 49ers in a defensive matchup. Watching Colin Kaepernick try to pick apart this ball-hawking defense will certainly be a treat for football fans.
Seattle Seahawks (5) vs Washington Redskins (4)
The most important game this Sunday is without question the Redskins versus the Dallas Cowboys in Washington. The winner is the NFC East champion and will earn the honor of hosting the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs.
That might not be such an honor. Though the Seahawks are almost certain to be stuck in the fifth seed, they are the NFL's hottest team. Riding three straight blowout victories, the Seahawks seem to have the perfect balance of offense and defense. They will provide a challenge for any team in the playoffs.
I expect the hosting team to be the Redskins. They have a new attitude with Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan leading the show. It will be tested against the Cowboys, but the Redskins should prevail thanks to their ground game.
That will lead to a playoff matchup that features the two most bruising running games in the NFL, along with two dynamic rookie quarterbacks. Russell Wilson and Griffin will be the story in this game, but it will be the running games that decide the result.
First-Round Byes: Green Bay Packers (2), Atlanta Falcons (1)
The Packers can secure a first-round bye with a win over the Vikings, but the Falcons have already secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
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