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Week Seventeen Picks

December 28th, 2008

You know, I’d feel bad about the fact that I don’t have time to look very closely at this weeks games (what with holiday stuff and all), except that looking closely has done all of nothing for me the last few weeks. Or for much of this season, truth be told. So maybe a little bit of gut is in order. Or not. Here’s what my instincts — which, truth be told, are no more trustworthy than my highly questionable intellect — tell me to look for (but not to expect) from the final Sunday of the 2008 regular season.

St. Louis (+14.5) at Atlanta
This one’s simple. Atlanta’s in the playoffs and looking for a chance at the NFC South title and the conference two seed (which comes with a first-round bye). St. Louis has been done since about week two and is heading for the second or third pick in the 2009 draft. And part of the reason these teams are in the situations they’re in is that one features one of the best rushing offenses in the league, while the other features one of the worst rushing Ds. You figure out which is which. Falcons by no less than 17.

New England (-6) at Buffalo
The media, and Patriots fans, have been focused this week on the question of whether the Pats will get some help from the Jets or the Jaguars and cap a season that’s gone much better than it had any right to with a playoffs bid. Fair enough. But that leaves out the questions of whether New England will beat Buffalo, which is hardly a given. The Bills want this game, both because it gives them a chance to end a disappointing season on a high note and because it would mean eliminating a division rival that’s been picking on them for 10 straight meetings. And the Bills, though they’re not a great team, can play tough football when they put their minds to it. Chances are, the Pats, who come in with something real at stake, come out with a win. But I don’t expect it to be easy and I’m not giving six. The Patriots win straight up, but the Bills make them work for it and keep the margin to four.

Kansas City (+3) at Cincinnati
This, my friends, is exciting. Or it is if you’re a top five prospect in the 2009 draft, anyhow. The outcome here will determine whether the Chiefs pick second and the Bengals fourth or the Bengals third and the Chiefs fourth. So, you know, I hope all you highly rated offensive linemen, defensive linemen and running backs enjoy the game. No one else outside of Ohio and Missouri will be paying attention. Kansas City’s probably less awful, but Cincinnati’s certainly less the road team, so what the heck, I’ll take the Bengals straight up. But I’ll look for a push with the points.

Detroit (+10.5) at Green Bay
So it would appear as if 0-16 is an inevitability. Congratulations, Detroit, on another stunning achievement. Packers by two touchdowns.

Chicago (+2.5) at Houston
The Bears aren’t winning the NFC North (see Giants-Vikings below), nor are the backing into the playoffs with help from Philadelphia (which they might get) and Oakland (which is where Chicago’s hopes fall apart), but they’re gonna have to play like they have a legitimate shot. That’s the difference here. (OK, that and the fact that the Texans rarely pass up a chance to turn the ball over.) Chicago by a point.

Tennessee (-3) at Indianapolis
All in all, this is one of the better week seventeens we’ve seen in a while. Lots of meaningful matchups. And under other circumstances — specifically, had the Colts got off to a better start — this meeting of AFC South rivals might well have turned out to be one of the best of them. It didn’t. The actual circumstances are these: Tennessee is the AFC one seed. That’s not gonna change no matter what happens in this game. Indianapolis is the conference five seed. That’s not gonna change either. And both of these teams have to be prepared for the distinct possibility that they’re gonna meet again either two weeks hence in the divisional playoff round, or a week after that in the AFC Championship. That makes this about as close to a pre-season affair as you’ll see this late in the year. Probably the Colts come out ahead, because they’re at home, but you never really know. And I wouldn’t put money on it either way. Let’s just call it a push with the points.

NY Giants (-6.5) at Minnesota
The Giants can talk about playing hard all they like; the bottom line is that they don’t need a win here and the Vikings do. The Giants are locked into the NFC one seed. The Vikings are playing for the NFC North crown. That makes it a one-sided game in the second half, even if the New Jersey chooses to make it competitive in the first. Minnesota by seven.

Carolina (-3) at New Orleans
All Carolina needs to do is win and they get a week off and the guarantee of at least one home game in the playoffs. Seems like they should be able to pull that off against a Saints squad that has already thoroughly squandered every bit of its potential. Panthers by six.

Cleveland (+11) at Pittsburgh
Neither team has anything to play for. Pride? Heh. The Steelers have nothing to prove and the Browns has nothing to be proud of. I’ll take the Steelers straight up and the Browns with the points.

Oakland (+13) at Tampa Bay
Bucs by 14. I’m not sure what else to say.

Dallas (+1) at Philadelphia
This game wouldn’t be tough to pick if the Eagles were even remotely consistent. They’re not. Except that they always seem to find a way to lose when it matters. And officially this game matters. Philadelphia can conceivably still land in the post-season with a win and some substantial help. Still, I’m thinking even the players know there’s no way they’re threading that particular needle. So my guess is the Eagles go into this game believing there’s nothing on the line and come out with a win. Let’s say Philadelphia by a field goal.

Jacksonville (+12) at Baltimore
I was gonna say the only places where anyone believes the Jaguars have a chance in this game are New England and Jacksonville, but then I realized that the folks in Jacksonville probably aren’t paying close enough attention to have an opinion. Ravens by 10.

Miami (+2.5) at NY Jets
It’s entirely possible that the Dolphins will find a way to lose this game. Only, I just can’t see what that way might be. Miami wins by four and takes the AFC East title a season after finishing 1-15. (Enjoy the trip home, fellas. You earned it. But the Ravens are gonna rip your heads off next weekend.)

Seattle (+6.5) at Arizona
Part of me thinks the Cardinals have to win this game in order to go into the playoffs on an up note. And then another part of me asks whether I believe there’s any note Arizona can go in on that’s gonna give them a prayer of getting out of the first round. Seattle by three.

Washington (+3) at San Francisco
The 49ers are looking to go into the off-season with some hope for the future. The Redskins are gearing up for another off-season of spending like drunken sailors. What does that have to do with the probable outcome of this game? Nothing. Washington by six.

Denver (+8) at San Diego
Three weeks ago, the Broncos has a three-game lead in the AFC West. This week, they surrender the division title to the Chargers, who’ll go into the playoffs at 8-8, but who just might be the only team in the AFC that can stop the Colts. Weird. San Diego by 10.

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