Biggest Story Lines For Week 17 of the 2013 NFL Regular Season

Rex Ryan and the New York Jets have exceeded all expectations this season. At 7-8 and with a chance to go .500, reports indicate that the Jets are planning to announce that Ryan will return as their head coach for a sixth season in New Jersey. Aided by a suddenly well-equipped front office, the future looks bright for the Jets. Getting water from a rock this season in terms of talent, Ryan has done one hell of a coaching job. With another stellar offseason, the Jets could be knocking on the New England Patriots door in the AFC East.

At some point in the not-so-distant future, Bill O’Brien is likely to become the third head coach in Houston Texans franchise history. ESPN reported on Saturday that the Penn State head coach is currently in contract negotiations to take the same role with the 2-13 Texans, who fired Gary Kubiak earlier this month. O’Brien became a hot coaching candidate after leading the Patriots offense to top-three rankings in total yards and points scored back in 2011. He chose to take on the difficult task of rebuilding a Penn State program that was in the process of mending fences after the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. He now appears headed back to the NFL…only this time as a head coach.

Washington+Redskins+Announce+Head+Coach+Mike+QDH9n5S2pWOlBlack Monday, as it has become to be known, will impact multiple current head coaches in the NFL. Among those likely to be let go after today’s slate of action are Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings’ head man Leslie Frazier. All signs point to both being relieved of their duties at some point tomorrow. Dennis Allen (Oakland Raiders), Mike Munchak (Tennessee Titans), Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys), Jim Schwartz (Detroit Lions) and Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) could all join them in the unemployment line as well.

Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb are both slated to start for the Green Bay Packers in their win-or-go-home matchup with the division rival Chicago Bears today. Head coach Mike McCarthy has indicated that he plans to let Rodgers air it out, which could negatively impact Green Bay’s ability to win in what promises to be a frigid Soldier Field this afternoon. After all, Eddie Lacy has been one of the best running backs in the NFL and is going up against a historically bad Bears’ run defense. Here is to hoping that McCarthy’s comments were nothing more than a smokescreen. Either way, the additions of Rodgers and Cobb from injury will have an impact in the outcome of today’s game.

Adrian Peterson has been ruled out for the Minnesota Vikings Week 17 matchup against the Detroit Lions. Peterson, who tallied the second-most rushing yards in NFL history last season, will finish the 2013 campaign with 1,266 yards on the ground.

Peyton-Manning-BroncosThe Denver Broncos are set to break multiple NFL records on offense when they take on the last place Oakland Raiders this afternoon. Among the records that could go down are: single-season passing yards mark, 400-yard passing games and 300-yard passing games. Quarterback Peyton Manning already possesses the single-season touchdown mark and the most games with four touchdown passes. In addition, the Broncos are going to break every single major franchise record on the offensive side of the ball.

Barring a New Orleans Saints loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a win over the San Francisco 49ers today, the Arizona Cardinals will be the latest double-digit win team to miss the playoffs. If the Cardinals do indeed take care of business against San Francisco and Tampa Bay doesn’t help their cause, they will become just the third 11-5 team in NFL history to miss the playoffs, joining the 1985 Denver Broncos and 2008 New England Patriots. While there could be an argument made for re-aligning the playoffs in the future, it seems unlikely that the NFL will decide to preclude division winners from making the postseason. In reality, the Cardinals are just a victim of circumstance in a historically good NFC West this season.

78121095_crop_northFormer NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens believes that the Dallas Cowboys are better off with Kyle Orton under center than Tony Romo in today’s do-or-die game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Romo, who has arguably had the best season of a stellar career, underwent back surgery on Friday and is out for the remainder of the season, potential playoffs included. The veteran will be 34 years old on opening day next season, the same exact age that Troy Aikman was when he was forced into retirement.

The Kansas City Chiefs may aid their division rival San Diego Chargers’ hopes of earning a postseason berth today. Locked into the No. 5 overall seed in the AFC, Kansas City really has nothing to play for in Week 17. This means that Andy Reid and Co. will likely go heavy with reserves after the first quarter or so. San Diego needs to beat Kansas City and have both the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins lose in order to earn a spot in the playoffs. Stranger things have happened…that’s for sure.

The San Francisco 49ers placed Mario Manningham on injured reserve Friday. The veteran was attempting to rebound from a torn ACL he suffered late last season, but just didn’t have what it takes to be effective on the field. This means that Quinton Patton will suit up as the 49ers No. 3 receiver today against the Cardinals. It also means that Manningham, who is a free agent after the season, has likely played his final game in a 49ers uniform. He recorded 42 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown in 12 games last season. The placement of Manningham on injured reserve means that San Francisco has one spot open on its 53-man roster. With the return of Walter Thurmond from suspension, the Seattle Seahawks cut former 49ers’ cornerback Perrish Cox on Friday. Could Jim Harbaugh and Co. pull the ultimate troll job by picking him up?

Kansas City and San Francisco lead all NFL teams with eight Pro Bowl invites each. Among the biggest surprises for each team were Dexter McCluster, Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry in Kansas City as well Mike Iupati and Ahmad Brooks in San Francisco. Of course, either/both teams could make the Super Bowl, meaning that the NFL will have to replace a ton of people in its new Pro Bowl format.

The NFC West will send the most players (19) to the Pro Bowl with the AFC West coming in second (16). The AFC South is sending a ridiculously low four players with the last place Texans sending more than the first place Colts. Odd, I know. Interestingly enough, the last place Cleveland Browns will send five to Hawaii, which represents the most in the AFC North.

The Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars and both New York teams were shutout in Pro Bowl voting this season. It’s the first time since the modern adaption of the useless all-star game that Green Bay hasn’t sent a representative. Eddie Lacy, who is an alternate, may get to go to Hawaii if either San Francisco or Seattle earns a trip to the Super Bowl.

Among the biggest Pro Bowl snubs were: Lavonte David (linebacker, Tampa Bay), Evan Mathis (guard, Philadelphia), Marcell Dareus (defensive tackle, Buffalo), Bobby Wagner (linebacker, Seattle), Nick Foles (quarterback, Philadelphia) and Donte Whitner (safety, San Francisco).

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Minnesota VikingsMinnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman may have interest in returning to the Twin Cities, but a lot of it will depend on who comes in as their new head coach and whether general manager Rick Spielman will return. Freeman has started just one game for the Vikings this season after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early on. Matt Cassel is set to become a free agent and the Vikings seem open to entertaining offers for first-round bust Christian Ponder. Freeman will likely keep his options open, as he looks to find a spot to compete for a starting job. Pure conjecture here, but the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets all seem to make sense and could use some training camp competition. Again, we are way too early in the process to get a proper gauge. The NFL free agency period begins in early March, and Freeman will likely be one of the most coveted quarterbacks on the open market.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson continues to be targeted by the NFL headquarters in New York City for perceived dirty play. The high-priced free agent was fined $60 thousand for a hit on St. Louis Rams’ receiver Stedman Bailey last week and has been fined a total over over $200 thousand on the season. To put that into perspective, those numbers equate to about five percent of his base salary this season. Goldson has also been suspended for one game and had another suspension overturned this season. The Pro Bowl safety might want to consider altering the way that he plays, which is nothing less than an indictment on the NFL itself.

Speaking of fines and overturns, 49ers’ linebacker Ahmad Brooks was successful in his appeal for a $15 thousand fine the NFL levied against him following a questionable late-game personal foul penalty against the New Orleans Saints earlier in the season. If you remember, the penalty seemed to have cost San Francisco the game. NFL appeals Matt Birk reversed the fine after reviewing the play. While the recent Pro Bowl selection is richer due to this decision, it doesn’t help the 49ers in their race for the NFC West title.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore could be playing his final game as a member of the organization today when they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Reports indicate that the Saints are considering releasing the veteran receiver. Moore, who put up a 1,000-yard season in 2012, has been hampered by injury this year. He has put up only 33 receptions for 384 yards and one score in 12 games this year. Like Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson before, don’t expect Moore to get a lot of play on the open market. He’s nothing more than a product of the Saints’ pass-happy system.

Broncos’ wide receiver Wes Welker will miss his third consecutive game with a concussion when he sits out Denver’s all-important season finale against Oakland this afternoon. It seems that the decision to hold him out was made by team doctors because Welker is traveling with the Broncos to Northern California. Expect him to be ready for Denver’s initial postseason game two weeks from now.

Among the teams that need everything to go right today in order to fulfill an unexpected seeding in the playoffs, San Francisco is riding a five-game winning streak into its matchup with an equally hot Cardinals team. Colin Kaepernick and Co. are riding high following a late-game victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, but needs help, even if it wins today. The St. Louis Rams need to go into Seattle and beat the Seahawks, while the Carolina Panthers have to fall to Atlanta in order for the 49ers to earn a first-round bye and home-field advantage. The likeliest scenario here, dependent on a 49ers win, is that they end up with the No. 5 overall seed and play the winner of the Bears/Packers game next week in the wildcard round. As I mentioned before, Arizona needs help to get into the playoffs as well.

Even more interesting, the Pittsburgh Steelers stand a remote chance to earn a postseason berth after starting the season with four consecutive losses. At 7-8, Mike Tomlin’s squad needs to win its matchup with the Cleveland Browns and have a number of different things happen in order to make it to the second season. The Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins all have to lose. Not likely, but still impressive considering how the season started.

In a bit of outstanding news, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has earned a trip to the Pro Bowl less than two calendar years after being considered a menace both on the off the field. Despite a ton of talent, the Arizona State product went undrafted back in 2012. He has proved every skeptic wrong by 29 of a possible 31 games and performing like the Bengals’ best defender with both Leon Hall and Geno Atkins sidelined. Burfict has recorded 156 tackles, eight passes defended, three sacks and an interception thus far this year. It’s always nice seeing a youngster overcome obstacles and turn his life around. Good for you, Mr. Burfict.