Week 17 NFL schedule: Top storylines and rooting guide

Andy Lyons

We break down the big story lines in Week 17, and what to make of Sunday's schedule. New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

The 2013 NFL regular season officially comes to an end today. The playoff picture will be settled, and we'll know where the San Francisco 49ers are headed by the end of the evening. Of course, it will take until then to get a complete picture thanks to Eagles-Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.

The 49ers have clinched a playoff berth, but now they are trying to figure out where they will be positioned next weekend. They are currently the No. 5 seed, ahead of the New Orleans Saints. Today's games could land the 49ers as high as the No. 1 seed and as low as the No. 6 seed. It makes today's rooting guide all the more pertinent. We once again rank the games in order if importance.

1. St. Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks

The 49ers have their own work to do, but if they beat the Arizona Cardinals, this game becomes that much more important. A Seahawks loss propels the 49ers into at least the No. 2 seed, as they would claim the tiebreaker over Seattle. The Rams are playing some decent football, but can they go into Seattle and knock off the Seahawks. Seattle is coming off their first home loss in two years, so anything is possible. However, it's going to be incredibly tough for the Rams to pull this off.

Rooting interest: Go Rams!

2. Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons

For immediate purposes, this game only matters if the 49ers beat the Cardinals and the Rams beat the Seahawks. If those two things happen, a Falcons win over the Panthers vaults the 49ers into the No. 1 seed. This is an early game, so we'll know the result heading into the 49ers and Seahawks contests. This game is also notable in that if Carolina loses and New Orleans wins, the Saints would reclaim the division and the first round bye. If the 49ers win, they remain the 5 seed, but if the 49ers lose they still drop to the 6 seed due to head-to-head with Carolina.

Rooting interest: Let's hope the Falcons can complete the upset they tried to get last week!

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints

I considered moving this above the Panthers-Falcons contest. The 49ers are a slim favorite over the Cardinals, and it's going to be a tough game in Glendale. If the 49ers were unable to defeat the Cardinals, a Saints win drops San Francisco to the No. 6 seed. That guarantees a second round matchup with the Seahawks (assuming the 49ers win their first round game). The 5 seed potentially pushes that off an extra week.

Rooting interest: We're pulling for the Bucs. Even if the 49ers were upset by the Cardinals, a Saints loss gets that third NFC West team into the playoffs.

4a. Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys
4b. Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

These two really go together as they will help determine who the 49ers play in the first round (barring the 49ers climbing into the division lead). We've already broken down the various scenarios based on these four teams winning and losing, so check them out HERE.

Rooting interest: I think I'm rooting for the Cowboys and Bears. I think the 49ers can beat all four of those teams, but I think the Cowboys and Bears are the weakest. The Eagles are looking better and better, while the Packers are dangerous with Aaron Rodgers back in the saddle.

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