Falcons', Seahawks' playoff hopes highlight Gunner's picks

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Falcons', Seahawks' playoff hopes highlight Gunner's picks

Derrick Gunn makes his Week 17 NFL picks.

Eagles vs. Cowboys, Sunday, 1 p.m. on FOX
We've just about reached the finish line of the 2017 NFL season, and while this game is meaningless to the Eagles in terms of playoff positioning, it does have significance for a few reasons. The players say they'd like to finish off this run with a franchise-best 14 regular season wins, and they'd like to head to the postseason on a winning note. But at what cost are the Eagles willing to achieve those goals?

It's no secret the offense needs some work after their Christmas night performance against Oakland, but how long do you keep the starters in? Nick Foles says he's preparing this week to start and work on a few things. Over the last two games, the defense has started at a sluggish pace but finished strong. As for Dallas, the Cowboys are going home after Sunday to begin a long offseason. Head coach Jason Garrett says all healthy bodies will play. 

I say minimize the risk and get the starters out no later than halftime. You can't afford to have another key player injured before the start of the second season. Ezekiel Elliott will play the Birds for the first time this year, and you know Dallas will try to establish their run game. It will be interesting to see how Doug Pederson handles this one. I say Dallas wins this one by default because Pederson pulls everybody he can and we get to see what Nate Sudfeld, who has never played in a regular game, looks like under center.

Green Bay at Detroit, Sunday, 1 p.m. on FOX
What a disaster this season has been for the Packers. Once Aaron Rodgers went down, so did their hopes of a deep playoff run. Now the Pack heads to Detroit to close out the year with Brett Hundley at quarterback, who has been up and down. Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams and running back Aaron Jones are not likely to play. The Lions should ensure the Packers’ first losing season since 2008.

Pick: Lions

Houston at Indianapolis, Sunday, 1 p.m. on CBS
Both teams have lost quarterbacks this season and coaches Chuck Pagano and Bill O’Brien are both on the hot seat. A win in this game for either coach doesn’t guarantee their job is safe. I’ll take the Colts at home just because I have to pick one of them.

Pick: Colts

Chicago at Minnesota, Sunday, 1 p.m. on FOX
Bears head coach John Fox has failed three straight years to turn his team around. So is his tenure over? Vikes QB Case Keenum has had an outstanding season and has helped put Minnesota in a prime position for a first-round bye with a win. The Vikings will get to sit the first round of the playoffs out.

Pick: Vikings

New York Jets at New England, Sunday, 1 p.m. on CBS 
Rumors of Jets head coach Todd Bowles being let go after three seasons were squashed Friday, when he was given a two-year extension. The Pats can wrap up a first-round bye with a win. No need to think much about this one. The Jets will end up with their second straight 5-11 season.

Pick: Patriots

Washington at New York Giants, Sunday, 1 p.m. on FOX
Is this the last time Washington fans will see Kirk Cousins in a Redskins uniform? The Giants are depleted in the secondary. Safety Landon Collins and cornerback Janoris Jenkins are out with injuries, and cornerback Eli Apple is suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Cousins will pick the Giants apart.

Pick: Redskins

Cleveland at Pittsburgh, Sunday, 1 p.m. on CBS
The Steelers are hoping New England will stumble, but they'll have to settle for being the No. 2 seed. Antonio Brown is out, but it doesn't matter. The Browns will become the second team in NFL history to finish 0-16.

Pick: Steelers

Carolina at Atlanta, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on FOX
Plain and simple, Atlanta wins and it's in. Carolina could still win the NFC South, but only if New Orleans loses and the Panthers win. I see the Falcons slipping in the playoff back door.

Pick: Falcons

Kansas City at Denver, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on CBS
The Chiefs are locked into the No. 4 seed. Both teams will get a look at their future signal callers. Chiefs rookie Patrick Mahomes gets the start, making his NFL debut. The Broncos’ Paxton Lynch has gotten game reps at this level, and because of that experience, I’ll take Denver.

Pick: Broncos

Jacksonville at Tennessee, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on CBS
Even though they have already won the AFC South, the Jaguars will play their starters. The Titans must win and get help to get in. This game is so big for Tennessee that Demarco Murray was considering playing with a torn MCL, though he has been ruled out. The Titans will win, but it may not save them.

Pick: Titans

San Francisco at L.A. Rams, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on FOX
The Rams are taking an interesting approach. They could end up with the three-seed but are expected to sit Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald and others. QB Jimmy Garoppolo has Niners fans excited about the future because he's led his team to four straight wins. Since the Rams don't seem to care about this outcome, I’ll pick the Niners.

Pick: 49ers

Buffalo at Miami, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on CBS
The Bills are in a must-win situation and still need help. They beat the Dolphins two weeks ago. They'll do it again.

Pick: Bills

Oakland at L.A. Chargers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on CBS
The Raiders are going nowhere but home after Sunday. As for the Chargers, like a number of other teams, their playoff equation is two parts — a win plus losses elsewhere. I don't see the Chargers’ season extending beyond this game, but I do see them beating Oakland.

Pick: Chargers

Arizona at Seattle, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on FOX
Russell Wilson has been to the playoffs every year he's been in the league. If the Seahawks win this one, Wilson becomes the first QB in NFL history to have double-digit wins in his first six years in the league. Making a sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs depends on the Seahawks winning and Atlanta losing. Wilson will make history by beating the Cards, but Seattle’s playoff run comes to an end.

Pick: Seahawks

New Orleans at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on FOX
What a turnaround for the Saints from 0-2 to the top of the NFC South. The Saints have been better this season with Drew Brees throwing less. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are a dynamic 1-2 running punch. The Saints will win to clinch the division title.

Pick: Saints

Cincinnati at Baltimore, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. on CBS
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has more lives than a cat. In 15 years with Cincy, he's 0-7 in playoff games, and this season will be his second straight losing campaign. The Ravens will not lose control of the five-seed, and the Bengals’ front office will come to its senses and finally replace Lewis.

Pick: Ravens

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
Seriously, Doug?
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

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Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.