Um, listen, not that this isn’t always the case, but your guess is as good as mine on most of these games. You’ve got exactly five teams playing for a chance to make the post season (three vying for the six seed in the NFC and two for the six seed in the AFC). One of them (New Orleans) needs so much help it isn’t even worth talking about. Another (Cleveland) needs an assist from an Indianapolis team that has nothing to play for itself and couldn’t begin to care whether Cleveland or Tennessee rounds out the conference playoff board. Beyond that, there’s some jockeying for seeding in the AFC between Pittsburgh and San Diego, but neither team appears all that worried about whether it seeds third or fourth (which strikes me as odd given the fact that it means the difference between facing dangerous Jacksonville or also-ran Tennessee/Cleveland next week). Beyond that, nothing much matters, except to the Patriots who are playing for 16-0. Some playoffs-bound teams will be resting starters. Some teams that have been eliminated are clearly demoralized and ready to get on with the off-season program of service and repair (or, in some cases, plain old rebuilding). And no one has any idea of what to expect in the majority of these tilts. Least of all me. So here’s my take on what might happen. Or it might not. Who really knows?
New England (-14) at NY Giants
I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve been rather perplexed this week by the preponderance of chatter regarding the question of whether the Giants will rest starters. Does anyone believe it really matters? I mean, here’s the thing: the Patriots aren’t going to be resting starters. At least not until the game is well in hand, anyhow. And there can’t be too many people out there (outside of New York, anyhow) who really believe the Giants starters (or what’s left of them) can actually pose much of a threat to a motivated Patriots squad, can there? So why get caught up in conversations about non-issues? I won’t. Pats by 21.
Seattle (+2.5) at Atlanta
That’s right, the 3-12 Falcons are favored to beat the 10-5 Seahawks. Why? Because Seattle will be taking the week off in preparation for a visit from Washington or Minnesota. Trouble is, the Seahawks might still accidentally win this game. Possibly. Or maybe not. Ah, hell, I’ll take the home team and give the points, but only here. Not a dime of real money goes within 100 miles of this ridiculous charade.
Carolina (-2.5) at Tampa Bay
See Seattle-Atlanta above. Only this time I’ll take the road team over the home squad’s backups. But, again, it’s just for fun.
New Orleans (-2.5) at Chicago
Hey, if the Saints win and the team with the league’s best rushing offense (and a shot at making the playoffs manages to lose to the team with the league’s third-worst rush defense (and no shot at making the playoffs) and the Cowboys’ backups manage to beat the Redskins’ starters, New Orleans makes the playoffs. Exciting, huh? You know what? I think I’ll take the Bears. Why not?
San Francisco (+10) at Cleveland
Too little, too late. It all might have been different but for one horrible call in Arizona. But it isn’t. And what are you gonna do? Next year, Browns fans. Next year. Cleveland by a touchdown.
Detroit (+4) at Green Bay
Imagine going from being one of the hottest teams in your conference at the mid-point of the season to wrapping up with a game against a division rival that has nothing to play for (having sewn up the two seed), but in which you still end up getting four points? That’s gotta be a tough pill to swallow. Green Bay by six.
Jacksonville (+6) at Houston
The Jaguars will probably be the most dangerous team on any NFL field a week from now. Here, they’re just another squad taking a day off and getting ready for its next real game. Oddly enough, Jacksonville still won’t lose this game by six. More like three is my guess.
Buffalo (+7.5) at Philadelphia
Pride will only get you so far in the NFL. Both of these teams learned that this season. The Bills learn it one last time. But they at least move ahead of Philly in the draft order, so that’s something. Eagles by six.
Cincinnati (-3) at Miami
Oh, crap. Do I have to come up with something to say about this game? No? Wonderful. Thank you. Bengals by a touchdown.
Dallas (+9) at Washington
A win here and the Redskins get to go to Seattle next weekend. And then they can play the Cowboys’ starters in the divisional round. How nice. Washington by 10.
Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Baltimore
Of course Ben Roethlisberger’s gonna sit. Forget the ankle and shoulder issues. The guy gets sacked every other time he drops back to pass. And the Steelers should have no real trouble handling a Baltimore team that clearly gave up on the season after losing to New England. So why risk your starting QB as you head into the playoffs? Pittsburgh by four.
Kansas City (+6) at NY Jets
One of these teams is going to win this game. So … um, yeah. That’s pretty much what’s gonna happen. Might as well be the Jets. By three.
St. Louis (+6.5) at Arizona
Steven Jackson has 947 rushing yards on the season so far. What do you suppose the odds are he’s got a financial reason to wanna pick up another 53 here? Of course, in the end that means all of nothing. The Rams aren’t pulling off an upset here behind 53 rushing yards. It may, however, be enough to get St. Louis rolling. And I’m gonna guess that roll brings them to within a few yards of a win. Arizona comes out ahead, but only by a point or two.
Minnesota (-3) at Denver
The Vikings run offense, behind Adrian Peterson, leads the league in yards per game (164), yards per carry (5.3), and rushing touchdowns (22). The Broncos run D is the third worst in the league, giving up 141 yards per game and 4.5 a carry. Denver has allowed 14 rushing touchdowns this season. So as long as the Vikings are able to keep their heads in the game and their eyes off the Washington-Dallas score, they should have no trouble winning by a touchdown or more. Which will at least send them into the off-season feeling slightly better about themselves.
Tennessee (-6) at Indianapolis
I’m not sure this game’s the gimme for Tennessee that a lot of folks think it is. I mean, yeah, Tony Dungy is gonna pull starters at some point. But that’s probably only gonna happen after Peyton Manning gets a chance to throw some passes to newly healthy Marvin Harrison. And it’s really only ever gonna happen on offense, because the defensive backups have been playing for weeks; they’re what Dungy’s got at this point. Tennessee, which has a ton to play for, should still be able to pull off a win, but I’m not willing to give six points to Indy at home under any circumstances.