Wild, Wild NFC West

The NFC West tops Athlon's NFL editor debate for Week 17.

The NFC West tops Athlon's NFL editor debate for Week 17.

Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 17 in the NFL:

Follow us on twitter: @AthlonBraden / @AthlonSteven / @AthlonRush

1. Who will win the NFC West and does it matter?

Nathan Rush: The NFL needs the Rams to win the NFC West. That way, there would be an 8–8 team with the No. 1 overall pick (and likely Offensive Rookie of the Year) Sam Bradford at quarterback to work with in the Wild Card matchup. The Seahawks would be the first team in history to make the postseason with a losing record, and they have no marketable star to speak of. The stats tell two stories. The good news: St. Louis defeated Seattle, 20–3, in Week 4. Also, backup Charlie Whitehurst (0–1 record, TD, 3 INTs, 54.7 rating over five-year career) is starting in place of an injured Matt Hasselbeck for the Hawks. The bad news: the Rams are 2–5 on the road this year, while four of the Seahawks’ six wins have come in front of the 12th Man at Qwest Field. This game certainly matters and should be better than expected.

Steven Lassan: Although neither the Rams nor Seahawks will win in the first round, a spot in the playoffs and the NFC West title is on the line, so this game definitely matters. Winning in Seattle won’t be easy for the Rams, but I think they will find a way to get the victory. The Seahawks have an unsettled quarterback situation and have lost five of their last six games, with the only win coming against Carolina. The Rams are 3-2 over their last five games and the losses were to playoff teams – New Orleans and Kansas City. Quarterback Sam Bradford is having an outstanding season, and he’ll only add to it with a win on Sunday night.

Braden Gall: Just because the 2010 NFC West is the single worst division in NFL history has no bearing on how exicted I am to watch two sub-500 teams battle for a playoff spot. Qwest Field will be absolutely electric late Sunday night and the game holds more meaning than any in Week 17. As a fan it's tough to pick between the Sam Bradford rookie quarterback storyline and the Pete Carroll with a back-up QB in his first year back in the NFL storyline. The home field advantage should give the Hawks the edge despite Charlie Whitehurst getting the start. Will either team be able to win said postseason game? Uh, no.

2. Who is more likely to lose this weekend: Green Bay or Indianapolis?

Nathan: Green Bay is more likely to lose to Chicago. People can say that the Bears don’t have anything to play for, but that’s just not true. This is a chance for Jay Cutler and Co. to eliminate their rivals from the playoffs and do it at Lambeau Field. Chicago knows how dangerous Green Bay is and should not take this opportunity for granted. If the Bears roll over and hibernate, allowing the Packers to walk into the playoffs, it will come back to haunt Lovie Smith’s team.

Steven: I think both teams will win this weekend, but Green Bay is more likely to lose. I doubt the Colts will have much trouble with the Titans. Despite it being a divisional matchup, the Titans have packed it in for the offseason. The Packers and Bears are in must-win situations, with Green Bay needing a win to clinch a playoff spot. Chicago still has an opportunity to gain the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC, so I don’t expect the Bears to rest any starters. With a lot on the line for Chicago, the Packers will be in for a tough battle.

Braden: The Packers are more likely to lose. Both teams can still make the playoffs with losses. That being said, the Bears are a much better team than Tennessee. The Bears are locked into a first-round bye but have an outside chance at home-field should Atlanta lose to Carolina (highly unlikely). The two factors to make sure not to discount are Titans players fighting for their professional careers and Bears players keeping hated rival Green Bay on the couch this winter. That being said, I think both teams win and both make the playoffs — and no one wants to face Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning in the playoffs.

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Athlon editors tackle the five biggest questions for Week 17 of the NFL.

3. Over/Under Tim Tebow passing yards in 2011: 2,300 yards?

Nathan: Tim Tebow will definitely throw for more than 2,300 yards next season. Tebow has one 300-yard passing game in two career starts, while fellow rookie Sam Bradford has one 300-yard passing game in 15 starts. Bradford already has 3,300 yards; Tebow will easily top 2,300 yards next season. I don’t know why people doubt Tebow. All he has ever done is win games and pile up stats. I don’t think that will change. Like it or not, the Tebow aura is not a myth, as anyone who has dealt with him can tell you. The Broncos franchise quarterback is the real deal.

Steven: I’ll say over – if he’s the starter. Although Tebow has looked solid in both starts this season, the Broncos have to decide if they want to bring back Kyle Orton as the starter for 2011. Tebow still needs a lot of work and could benefit from learning for another year. However, since he’s already started two games and impressed along the way, I doubt the Broncos will sit him in 2011. Tebow will have his ups and downs, but if he starts all 16 games, he’ll throw for over 2,300 yards.

Braden: With a new staff stepping into place, there is no way to tell how many starts Tim Tebow makes for Denver next fall. I will say under. His 300-yard mirage is not going to be how Tebow makes his living in the NFL. He could have an incredibly efficient and successful season in Colorado without topping the 2,000-yard mark. His greatest assests are his leadership, work ethic and physicality — not precision down-the-field passing ability. I would be ecstatic with a 1900-18-9 passing line, coupled with a 450-7 rushing line, if I was a member of the Orange Crush.

4. Who is the NFL's Coach of the Year?

Nathan: It’s a boring answer, but I’ll go with the Patriots’ Bill Belichick. He has New England sitting at 13–2 with homefield advantage, poised for a fifth Super Bowl appearance in 10 years. Belichick has made all of the right moves — from picking up Danny Woodhead to trading Randy Moss. He’s the best in the business and should be acknowledged as such.

Steven: New England’s Bill Belichick and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin deserve consideration for this award, but I’m going to go with a coach who did more with less this season. How about Kansas City’s Todd Haley or Chicago’s Lovie Smith? Neither team was expected to be a playoff contender this season, but both have berths clinched going into Week 17. Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris also deserves credit, with the Buccaneers still in the playoff hunt going into this Sunday. If I had to choose between Smith and Haley, I’d go with Smith for NFL Coach of the Year.

Braden: In my opinion, normally the team with the best record doesn't have the Coach of the Year because they are expected to be highly successful. So looking back at Athlon's "3rd in the AFC East" prediction, you have to give Bill Belichick the nod. This defense has taken massive steps forward from the start of the year and Tom Brady has played arguably his best football with his youngest and least talented set of skill players. With a full season under their belts, this offense now looks stacked at the skill positions — after trading Randy Moss away. A scary thought for the rest of the AFC playoff teams. Todd Haley, Lovie Smith, Mike Smith and Raheem Morris all deserve loads of credit for what they have accomplished this season as well.

5. What should happen to FOX News' Tucker Carlson?

Nathan: “I believe fervently in second chances.” Tucker Carlson stopped wearing bow ties “in a heartless and cruel way. I think, firstly, he should have been executed for that.” Other than being the heir to the Swanson TV dinner and chicken broth fortune, wearing bow ties was all Carlson was known for until he stopped cold turkey in 2006. Now, he’s just a windbag with no discernible identity who went on an incoherent rant about Michael Vick. In fact, it is Carlson and not Vick who threw it all away. Carlson was once a rising star who decided to shun the niche identity he had crafted as “the” political commentator with a bow tie. Had he embraced his persona and not changed his styles and opinions to favor whichever way the wind was blowing, his comments on all subjects might carry more weight. Vick has taken steps toward redemption through ongoing hard work and improvement in his field, while Carlson’s downward spiral has taken an embarrassing turn. That’s punishment enough.

Steven: Carlson’s comments were ridiculously out of line. Everybody agrees what Michael Vick did was wrong, but to be executed for it? Please. The prisons are full of criminals that should be executed for murdering innocent people. Again, there’s nothing right about Vick’s crimes, but there are far worse committed everyday. I thought Vick has handled everything exactly the way he needed to and has been taking the right steps towards redemption. Carlson has a right to hold and express his opinion, but his comments were way out of line – especially on a national news network. I’d suspend Carlson just on the basis of his ridiculous comments, but I doubt we’ll see anything done.

Braden: Without getting too political, is it any shock to hear this type of garbage on that network? Carlson's words are asinine and he should be chained-up in his backyard, mutilated, fed scraps and forced to fight to the death with all of the other ignorant TV talking heads. (We could have a bracketed tourney format with representatives from every network! Can you imagine the Olbermann-Beck Thrilla In Armani? Wait, that would be in-humane and then I would be executed. I am getting ahead of myself, so I digress...)

Crimes against animals are terrible but not even in the same ballpark as crimes againt humanity. This is a nation of second chances and Vick appears to be making the right choices in life to turn his situation around — and he deserves credit for it. However, when heaping praise upon Vick, we need to remember all the abusive, pathetic decisions he has made for a majority of his life. Everyone loves a comeback story, especially when they can play quarterback at a Pro-Bowl level, but shouldn't names like Rodgers and Manning get more credit for having never run a dog fighting corporation? Or having never been addicted to meth? Or having never beaten his wife or children? We forget too easily in this country that the toughest decision is to never screw up in the first place.

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