Last Week: 10-6, pushing the season forecast to 166-74. Because the last week features many teams that have questionable motivations or unpredictable emotions, this week’s actual game forecasts will be brief. In light of that, I will instead list the MVP and most unsung player for every team, and then my predictions for the score. Detroit (8) at Green Bay (1): Packers MVP: Aaron Rodgers, the MVP of the entire league. Arguably the best QB season in NFL history. Unsung: Scott Wells. The veteran center has played better than ever before and was the one stable rock up front. Lions MVP: Tough choice, but I’ll go with Calvin Johnson over Matt Stafford. The best big-play wideout in the league put up amazing numbers in oft-amazing fashion Unsung: Jeff Backus. Played every snap (again) at left tackle and was (again) better than Lions fans think he is. The Game: I expect Green Bay to rest the regulars to some extent, while the Lions can secure the coveted #5 seed with a win. That’s the difference between facing the Giants/Cowboys winner or traveling to New Orleans. That is powerful incentive to win, though it won’t be easy at Lambeau Field. Lions 33, Packers 28. NY Jets (21) at Miami (23): Jets MVP: David Harris. Didn’t post the astronomical tackle numbers of years past, but still will lead the team in tackles, INTs, and sacks to go with 9 PDs and a touchdown. Unsung: TJ Conley. The punter landed 30 of his 87 punts inside the 20, 13 inside the 10, and tied for the league lead in fair catches. All rank in the top 3 in the league. Dolphins MVP: Reggie Bush. Put together his first 1,000 yard rushing season and proved he could handle a lead back role. Unsung: Matt Moore. The journeyman backup QB currently sits 4th in QB rating in the AFC at 89.8 and produced 15 TDs to 7 INTs. Not bad for a guy they thought would never play…but not good enough for him to keep the job. The Game: New York ostensibly still has something to play for, but the Dolphins would love nothing more than to snuff out that light. That’s what happens when your loudmouth coach breeds such enmity towards the team, Jets fans…Dolphins 22, Jets 16. Carolina (22) at New Orleans (2): Panthers MVP: Cam Newton. The Offensive Rookie of the Year restored hope and quickly emerged as a dynamic dual-threat passer. Unsung: Charles Johnson. Hard to go unsung with his contract, but his 9 sacks and 11 tackles for loss probably escaped your attention. Saints MVP: Drew Brees. In literally any other season, Brees would have run away with the NFL MVP. Thanks for breaking Marino’s overrated record! Unsung: Jermon Bushrod. The best left tackle you’ve never heard of, blossomed when given more responsibility. Brees knows his value. The Game: The Saints have the potential to earn the #2 seed with a win, and they’ll still play at full throttle for the home fans. The Panthers are up-and-coming and would like a nice pelt on the wall, but their injury-ravaged defense doesn’t force turnovers and stands little chance in the Superdome. Saints 37, Panthers 24. Tennessee (13) at Houston (11): Titans MVP: Nate Washington. Stepped into a huge void as the #1 wideout and produced his best year in spite of wildly inconsistent QB play and little help on the other side. Unsung: Colin McCarthy. Akeem Ayers had more tackles, but the other rookie starting LB showed more playmaking acumen for the future. Pretty nice to get two solid starters at LB from one draft, especially when McCarthy was only supposed to play special teams this year. Texans MVP: JJ Watt. Tough to go against Arian Foster, but the reason this team dramatically improved was the defense. Despite only being a rookie, Watt stepped in and raised the intensity and physicality from day one. Had 6 sacks and more solo tackles than Demeco Ryans. Unsung: Glover Quin. Again, the defensive transformation from laughingstock to laudable has many reasons. Quin proved a natural fit at safety after transitioning from corner, a very solid all-around safety that the team has never had before. The Game: The book got out on TJ Yates, and with the Texans already locked into the 3 seed, they aren’t going to risk injuries to Foster or Yates to scuttle any chance of winning in January. Tennessee is erratic but does have some playoff chances of their own, and I think they rise to the occasion. Titans 20, Texans 10. Chicago (25) at Minnesota (28): Bears MVP: Jay Cutler. The Bears went from surefire playoff contender to chaotic mess overnight when he got hurt. It was not a coincidence. Unsung: Israel Idonije. Still under the radar even after a breakout 2010. He followed it with another solid effort that made those around him better. Vikings MVP: Jared Allen. Threatened the single-season sack record and provided consistent effort and results even after the season was lost. Unsung: John Sullivan. The undersized center had his best season, earning a contract extension in the process. Finally! The Game: Hard to see Chicago losing six in a row after starting 7-3 even with their injury problems. The Vikings without Peterson have little chance to beat anyone. Chicago 13, Minnesota 12 Washington (24) at Philadelphia (12): Ethnic Slurs MVP: London Fletcher. Getting almost 200 tackles is mighty impressive. A 5’8” guy doing it at age 36 is incredible. The #1 Pro Bowl snub. Unsung: Josh Wilson. Had his best year at corner, forcing teams to stop picking on him. Could really break out in 2012. Eagles MVP: Jason Babin. His 18 sacks helped the Eagles lead the league in sack percentage. The most unheralded of their free agent spending binge wound up being their most valuable one. Unsung: Alex Henery. The rookie kicker steadily improved on kickoffs, and other than one very bad day (the SF game) he looks like a great long-term solution. The Game: Depends on which Philly team shows up, never an easy forecast. I’ll take Vick to have a big numbers day in a meaningless game. Eagles 28, Ethnic Slurs 20. San Francisco (5) at St. Louis (32): 49ers MVP: Justin Smith. The veteran defensive end raised his level of play and spearheaded a more enthusiastic defense. Finally getting the recognition he’s deserved for years. Unsung: Carlos Rogers. The Ethnic Slurs let him go because he couldn’t catch the ball or consistently cover anyone. Six INTs and 18 PDs suggest they made a huge mistake. Rams MVP: James Laurinaitis. They asked the 2nd year middle backer to do a little of everything, and he proved to be good at all of it. Unsung: Darian Stewart. The Rams secondary was ravaged with injuries, but Stewart gamely held his own with little help. Not bad for a league-minimum salary guy that wasn’t supposed to do more than play special teams. The Game: I suspect the Jim Harbaugh Niners will not let up their guard in pursuit of the No. 2 seed and a bye. Niners 24, Rams 6. Buffalo (26) at New England (4): Bills MVP: Fred Jackson. The Bills were a playoff-caliber team with him but have won just once since he got hurt. One of the best all-around backs in the league. Unsung: Marcell Dareus. Played to his draft slot (#3 overall), bagging six sacks and making himself a general nuisance for opposing offenses. Patriots MVP: Rob Gronkowski. Everyone else will say Tom Brady, but Gronk’s emergence as a big-play threat made everything else work so much easier. Unsung: Julian Edelman. The backup slot receiver and punt return man wound up being the best nickel back the Pats have had in years. The Game: No way Bill Belichick wants to lose a game heading into the playoffs to a lowly division rival. Expect a shootout. Patriots 38, Bills 33. Indianapolis (27) at Jacksonville (30): Colts MVP: Jeff Saturday. The veteran center somehow managed to stay strong despite unprecedented depths for his franchise tenure. Unsung: Antoine Bethea. Tough to find positives on such a lousy team, but Bethea chalked up 129 tackles and 7 PDs. He tied for the team lead in tackles for loss, albeit with just 2. Jaguars MVP: Maurice Jones-Drew. The only offensive weapon for the largely punchless team, MJD still managed to lead the league in rushing yards. Unsung: Jeremy Mincey. On a defense teeming with underrated talent, Mincey was consistently strong at rushing the passer (team-leading 6 sacks). The Game: Colts repeat 1986, going 3-0 following a 0-13 start. Indy 20, Jacksonville 13. Kansas City (20) at Denver (12): Chiefs MVP: Tamba Hali. Tough to choose between him and Derrick Johnson, but Hali’s tour-de-force conquest of the Packers gets him the nod, and perhaps Romeo Crennel the fulltime coaching gig. Unsung: Justin Houston. The 3rd round rookie started real slow but finished strong, providing hope for a legit pass rushing complement to Hali for years to come. Broncos MVP: Von Miller. Not the obvious choice, but the defense had a whole lot to do with all those wins produced by a certain #15. Arguably the best rookie linebacker since Derrick Thomas. Unsung: Zane Beadles. Developing into one of the better guards in the league, and he thrived blocking for Tebow on the move. The Game: Two years ago Kansas City rained on Denver’s playoff parade in the exact same situation. I think exiled Bronco Kyle Orton authors a similar story here for the Chiefs in a wholehearted plea to keep Crennel as coach. Kansas City 24, Denver 16 . Baltimore (7) at Cincinnati (9): Ravens MVP: Ray Rice. Led the team not only in rushing (over 1100 yards) but also receptions (74 to date, the team lead by 20). When he was the focus of the offense, the Ravens almost invariably won. Unsung: Matt Birk. Had his best season in Baltimore with consistently excellent run blocking and reliable up-the-gut protection for Flacco. Bengals MVP: A.J. Green. The rookie wideout made the Pro Bowl and quieted all the talk of missing the T.Ocho show. Unsung: Andrew Whitworth. The hulking left tackle played great all-around football but also emerged as a legit leadership figure for a team that had a vacuum. The Game: Baltimore wins the AFC North and the #2 seed with a win, but the Bengals can lock up the final Wild Card with a home victory. Given Joe Flacco’s struggles on the road and what figures to be a rare boisterous crowd in Cincinnati, I’ll take the Jungle denizens. Cincinnati 20, Baltimore 13. Tampa Bay (31) at Atlanta (6): Bucs MVP: Connor Barth. It’s that kind of year when the kicker is the team MVP, but Barth was outstanding every time he got a chance. Unsung: Preston Parker. Showed he can handle being the #3 wideout and punt return specialist pretty successfully. Falcons MVP: Matt Ryan. The quietest 4000 passing season ever, but once again the offense ran (mostly) efficiently through Matty Ice and his rock-solid leadership. Unsung: Tony Gonzalez. We often forget how great he is. Gonzo reminded us with a strong season of near 80 catches and 900 yards as the #3 option on almost every passing play. The Game: Atlanta is playing for the #5 seed; the Bucs stopped playing in mid-October. Falcons 30, Bucs 17. Seattle (16) at Arizona (18): Seahawks MVP: Marshawn Lynch. His emergence into beast mode sparked a strong run that kept playoff hopes flickering a lot longer than expected. Unsung: Cam Chancellor. The lanky safety got a lot of penalties but established himself as an up-and-coming stud on the back end. This could be a group award for the entire youthful staring secondary. Cardinals MVP: Calais Campbell. 71 tackles and 8 sacks are monstrous numbers from a 3-4 DE. He blocked two kicks and 10 passes to boot, setting himself up for a nice free agent payday. Unsung: O’Brien Schofield. Returned from a terrible knee injury to quietly put up 5 sacks and mercifully spare us from any more Joey Porter antics. The Game: Both teams lost last week to take some luster off it, but this game figures to be one of the most spirited of the weekend. Second place and a .500 finish are quite important for both teams. I like the Cardinals at home in a 20-17 squeaker. Pittsburgh (3) at Cleveland (29): Steelers MVP: Troy Polamalu. Once again the defense was elite with him, merely good without him even though he guesses wrong a lot more than people think. Unsung: Heath Miller. Doesn’t have outstanding stats but there aren’t many more reliable chain-moving TEs in the game. Browns MVP: D’Qwell Jackson. Should be a Pro Bowl starter and the Comeback Player of the Year, a legit force at middle linebacker on an underrated defense. Unsung: Jason Pinkston. The rookie guard was thrust into action and held his own, proving he is a worthy starter for years to come. Not bad considering he’d never played guard before. The Game: Pittsburgh does not lose to Cleveland. Period. Not even with no Big Ben or Woodley. Steelers 17, Browns 6. San Diego (19) at Oakland (17): Chargers MVP: Philip Rivers. He had a very uneven season, but 4300+ yards and a late hot streak kept the Chargers alive a lot longer than they deserved to be. Unsung: Nick Hardwick. Pro Bowl alternate was the one steady constant on an unsteady unit all year. Raiders MVP: Shane Lechler. The best punter in NFL history was directly responsible for 2 Raiders wins and contributed to many others, even though he had his weakest season statistically. Unsung: Tommy Kelly. He’s been an overpaid punchline, but this year the big man earned it with 8 sacks, two forced fumbles, one INT and five PDs. The Game: Last week’s whipping in Detroit sucked the life and hope from the Chargers, who know they are a dead team walking lead by dead men walking. Oakland 26, San Diego 20. Dallas (15) at New York Giants (10): Cowboys MVP: Tony Romo. Bet you are surprised to learn his QB rating is over 102 despite a rotating cast of receivers. Unsung: Laurent Robinson. One of those rotating cast members that had an unexpected breakout season. Think the Rams want him back? Giants MVP: Jason Pierre-Paul. 16 sacks are great, but he has at least 18 more tackles than any other player in double-digit sacks, and more tackles for loss. A legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate in just his second season. Unsung: Jake Ballard. Almost 16 yards per reception for a supposed plodding TE is darn impressive. Better than the man he replaced, Kevin Boss. The Game: Romo has been fantastic against the Giants, but something tells me Tom Coughlin will outcoach Jason Garrett and lead New York to the division title. In the season finale, the Giants win the NFC East with a 30-27 victory.
Risdon's Week 17 Meteorology, Team MVPs For 2011