Week Seventeen Picks
Give the NFL credit. A couple years back, the league tweaked its scheduling system so that all week 17 games would be played between division rivals. The thinking was that the move provided the best chance for limiting the number of meaningless games in the final week of the season. It seems to have worked. Of the 16 games on the schedule this weekend, only three have no post-season implications. So that worked. Doesn’t mean we’ll have 13 killer games (there’s more than one matchup here in which only one team has something to play for), but it should mean we won’t have two good games and 14 duds, the way we did with some weeks 17 of years gone by. I’ll take it. Here’s what not to expect.
Washington (+8.5) at Philadelphia
The poor, pathetic, disappointing 7-8 Eagles. Right? I mean, they should be playing for something this weekend, the way the Cowboys and Giants are. But, you know, too little too late. And now the best they can do is finish the season 8-8, which will be the exact same record as the loser of the NFC East title game, and one game behind the division champ. The NFC East is a joke. Eagles by two touchdowns.
Detroit (-3) at Green Bay
With the dream of 19-0 two weeks gone, the NFC one seed locked up, and ongoing injury concerns along the offensive line, the Packers are expected to rest some starters. The Lions are in the playoffs, but a win would mean the difference between being seeded fifth or sixth. And that’s the difference between a wild card round trip to the fairly week Giants or Cowboys or the dangerous Saints. That’s something to play for. And it’s why I expect the Lions to come out ahead, though I think it’s a push with the points.
NY Jets (+3) at Miami
The Dolphins should win this game. You know, what with being the better team on both sides of the ball and playing at home and all that. But the thing about the Frat Boys is that they’re hard to kill. Just when you think you’re rid of them, they show up again to plague you. Like vermin. In the end, I suspect New Jersey needs too much help to actually qualify for the playoffs. But I think the Frat Boys at least will do their own part, edging the Dolphins by a point.
Carolina (+7.5) at New Orleans
Sean Payton says his team is playing to win regardless of what the scoreboard tells him about San Francisco-St. Louis. I have a hard time believing that. If the 49ers win, the Saints are the three seed regardless of how this game turns out. And I can’t imagine Payton risking injuries to key starters if the Niners are ahead by 20 heading into the fourth quarter. That said, I do think the Saints will play hard up to the point at which there’s no chance of a Rams win. And that alone should be enough to ensure a win. I’m not giving seven and a half, though. I’ll go with Saints by four.
San Francisco (-10.5) at St. Louis
The Niners earn a week off with a win. The Rams are gonna have the next several months off no matter what happens. St. Louis also has an outside chance of wresting the first pick in the 2012 draft from the Colts with a loss here. And even if none of that were true, this game would still pit the stingiest defense in football against the least productive offense in the league. It all points in one direction: 49ers by 13.
Chicago (+1.5) at Minnesota
Ugh. Vikings by a field goal.
Tennessee (-2.5) at Houston
The Titans need a win to stay in the mix for the final AFC playoff spot. The Texans have nothing to win or lose here with regard to the playoffs; they’re the three seed no matter what. And while there’s an idea out there that the Texans don’t want to go into the post-season on a three-game losing streak, I’m not sure that’s their biggest concern. If the Titans do win and do capture the six seed, these two teams will be back in this spot a week from now with something real on the line. I don’t think you want to show your opponent more than you have to in that situation. I think the Texans will play, but I think they’ll play conservatively. And with the Titans playing all-out, I suspect Tennessee with earn a chance to come back to Houston and get beat. Titans by a point.
Indianapolis (+3.5) at Jacksonville
Let’s just say that a loss here would be a Luck-y break for the Colts. Jacksonville by a touchdown.
Buffalo (+10) at New England
The Patriots are a win away from securing the top seed in the AFC. Also, according to Vince Wilfork, the Pats are eager to make up for their loss in Buffalo back in week three. Oh, and, in the time between then and now, the Bills have gone from promising upstarts to one of the worst squads in football. That should be enough. New England by 17.
Pittsburgh (-7) at Cleveland
Forget about the outside chance that the AFC North champion could also be the conference one seed. It doesn’t matter. Even if the one seed were off the table, the Steelers and Ravens both would have plenty to play for this week. Because the team that takes the division title is getting a week off and at least one home game in the playoffs. And the team that has to settle for a wild card slot and the five seed is getting a trip to first round Oakland or Denver and a near guarantee of having to play all of its post-season games on the road. That’s more than enough incentive to play hard. And with the Browns on the other side of the line of scrimmage, playing hard should be more than enough to guarantee a win for the Steelers. Pittsburgh by 10.
Kansas City (+3) at Denver
Romeo Crennel is right: This game isn’t about Kyle Orton vs. Tim Tebow. It’s not gonna be that easy for the Chiefs. That said, the game will, in many ways, come down to Tim Tebow vs. the Kansas City defense. And that’s good news indeed for Crennel’s squad. Kansas City’s DBs do an outstanding job of picking off opposing quarterbacks. And Tim Tebow is becoming quite adept at throwing interceptions. I expect to see both trends continue. And I expect to see the Chiefs pull off another big upset as a result. Kansas City by a point.
Baltimore (-2) at Cincinnati
The Bengals are the only team in the mix for the final AFC wild card slot who can win their way into the playoffs. That is, if the Bengals can find a way to hold off the Ravens at home, they’re in the playoffs. That would put them in an enviable position if only it weren’t for the needing to hold off the Ravens bit. Because the Ravens are a win away from sewing up the AFC North title and the conference two seed. And that probably makes them a bit more than the Bengals can handle. Baltimore by a field goal.
Seattle (+3) at Arizona
These teams are as evenly matched as their identical 7-8 records imply. Neither of them does anything particularly well and neither of them is going anywhere as a result. So, evenly matched division game, you take the home team, right? Right. Except I can’t stop looking at the one area where these teams aren’t even: giveaway-takeaway. The Cardinals are a horrendous -12. The Seahawks, on the strength of 21 picks, are a respectable +7. That, I think tips the scales. Seattle by a field goal.
Tampa Bay (+11) at Atlanta
I’m assuming that by the time this game starts (or at least very early on) the Falcons will have nothing to play for. Detroit will have sewn up the five seed and Atlanta will be looking at a wild card round trip to New Orleans or San Francisco (which is to say an early exit from the playoffs). I still think the Falcons beat the Buccaneers, but only by six.
San Diego (+3) at Oakland
The Chargers are done. The Raiders are trying to play their way into the post-season for the first time since 2002. The math is simple. Oakland by 10.
Dallas (+3) at NY Giants
Can we assume that with the NFC East title on the line, the good Giants will show up and play their way into the post-season? No. But we can assume that the one and only Tony Romo will show up and find a way to hurt his team at the biggest moment. I expect him to do it the old fashioned way: by throwing a stupid pick. New Jersey by four.