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December 28, 2012
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Week 17: Big Games and Big Numbers

Scott Taylor
Senior Writer, Fantrax


Here is the most interesting thing about statistics: Quite often, they don’t mean squat.

Take, for instance, the marvelous story of Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Last Saturday night, Johnson made 11 catches for 225 yards and according to the National Football League’s statistical mavens, he (a) set the NFL record for receiving yards in a season with 1,892, breaking the mark of 1,848 set by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in 1995; (b) he recorded his 11th 100-yard receiving game in 2012, tied with Hall of Famer Mchael Irvin (1995) for the most in a season; (c) he set an NFL record with eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games, surpassing Charlie Hennigan who had seven in 1961 and Irvin, who had seven in ’95; and (d) he registered his NFL-record-setting fourth consecutive game with 10 or more receptions.

And despite all that, the Lions were drilled 31-18 by the Atlanta Falcons and fell to 5-10 on the season.

Then again, some stats tell a pretty clear story. Take for instance, the play of this year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks. With the exception of Seattle’s Russell Wilson – who has directed a marvelous ground game to go with the Seahawks; ball-hawking, lock-down defense, the four other rookie quarterbacks have all surpassed the 3,000 yards mark in passing.

Indy’s Andrew Luck (4,183 yards and in the playoffs), Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden (3,385), Washington’s Robert Griffin III (3,100) and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill (3,059) have reached 3,000 passing yards this year, the highest number rookies to reach the mark in a season in NFL history.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s Russell Wilson has perhaps a better statistic. At least, it makes sense. Last Sunday night he threw for 171 yards with a career-high four touchdowns and a 115.3 passer rating in the Seahawks’ 42-13 win over San Francisco. Wilson’s 25 touchdown passes this season are the second-most among rookie quarterbacks all-time, one shy of Manning’s record 26 in 1998.

Statistically, the NFL has a huge week coming up. Besides the simplest of all statistics -- wins-losses, final finish – there are some big personal numbers that NFL stars will be chasing.

Here is a look at the Top 10 Numbers to Watch in Week 17 of the NFL:

10. There are 15 teams still in contention to reach the 2012-13 NFL playoffs:

9. In the AFC, all six postseason spots have been determined, although all six teams are still battling for playoff position. The four division winners are the Houston Texans (AFC South), Denver Broncos (AFC West), New England Patriots (AFC East) and Baltimore Ravens (AFC North). The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals have locked up the Wild Card berths. Houston and Denver have the best records in the AFC at 12-3 with the Texans holding the edge based on the team’s head-to-head victory over the Broncos in Week 3. Houston will clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win or losses by Denver and New England. The Broncos will grab the AFC’s No. 1 seed with a win and a Houston loss. And the 11-4 New England Patriots will capture the top seed in the conference with a win and losses by both Houston and Denver. Those three teams are also battling for a first-round bye with Houston and Denver in control.

8. In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons have won the NFC South and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers are the NFC North champs and are in control for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. The Packers will lock up the No. 2 seed with a win over the Minnesota Vikings or losses by San Francisco and Seattle. In the running for that final Wild Card spot are the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Washington. The Vikings are in control and can qualify for the postseason with a victory. Period.

7. The NFC West has come down to 10-4-1 San Francisco and 10-5 Seattle. Both teams have clinched at least a playoff berth. With a win or a Seattle loss, the 49ers will win the division. Seattle will clinch the NFC West with a win and a San Francisco loss. The NFC West winner will clinch a first-round bye with a victory and a Green Bay loss.

6. The NFC East division title will be decided on Sunday night at 7:20 on NBC as the 9-6 Washington Redskins play host to the 8-7 Dallas Cowboys. The winner claims the NFC East.

“It’s amazing how you play every week and you don’t think about what’s ahead but your opponent,” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo told “But, in a lot of ways, the only reason you play is to get your team into that position and to get in the playoffs so you have a chance. When you get in, anything can happen.”

5. One thing about Romo this season: You can’t blame him for the Cowboys struggles. He’s third in the NFL in passing yards with 4,685, sixth in touchdown passes with 26 and fourth in completion percentage (quarterbacks with more than 500 attempts) at 66.3. Romo has been better than expected and as a result, the defenseless Cowboys still have a playoff life.

4. The Chicago Bears still have a shot at a playoff berth and a big reason for that has been the play of wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall has already set team records with 113 catches and 1,466 yards. If the Bears intend to win this week in Detroit, Marshall will have to add to those numbers.

3. Denver has won the AFC West and is currently tied with Houston for the best record in the AFC. The Broncos are in control for a first-round bye and will earn it with a victory or a New England loss. If Denver wins and Houston loses, the Broncos will clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. T’s hard not to like the Broncos. This is a team that has won 10 straight games. Losing seems counter-intuitive.

2. There are a lot of people who would prefer not to equate kickers to football players, but in Minnesota, the Vikings have no shot at the post-season without Blair Walsh. The Vikes rookie kicker has not only

set a rookie scoring record with 128 points and a single-season record for touchbacks (honest, touchbacks, with 49), but he also has nine 50-plus-yard field goals, the most in a single season in NFL history and has made 32-of-35 field goal attempts (91.4 pct.) and all nine 50-plus-yard attempts. He needs only three more field goals to tie Gary Anderson’s franchise record for three-pointers in a season. No wonder he was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team on Wednesday.

1. Speaking of Pro Bowlers, Adrian Peterson needs 207 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s record for most rushing yards in a season as the Vikings play the Green Bay Packers at the Metrodome on Sunday. The Vikings need to win the game to make the playoffs, but Peterson has a strained abdominal muscle and that might hamper his efforts to break Dickerson's record of 2,105 yards, set with the Los Angeles Rams in 1984.

"Adrian is a little bit sore with his abdominal muscle," Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier told the Associated Press. "We’ll have to see how he does this week, how much work that we'll give him as we get ready for this ballgame, which will be a huge ballgame for our team."

The Packers, who have already clinched a playoff spot, are still concerned about Peterson’s run at the record. That monster Packers defense does not want Peterson setting the record against them.

"You'd love to see a guy who has worked so hard and has overcome so much to win that crown," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews told the Associated Press. "But ultimately that is against our defense. I don’t think any of us want to see that happen. We'll do our best to try and contain him. He's a fantastic guy, he’ll make his plays, but let's hope we don't give up 200 yards to him."

Scott is an author, broadcaster and journalist who travels extensively for Fantrax.

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